Saturday, December 31, 2016

Light in Darkness


Scripture
 
John 8:12   Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Observation

The festival was just ending and more than likely there had been a great ceremony of light. It may have followed the lighting of the candelabra in the court of women, which would have symbolized the pillar of fire. Jesus uses the actual circumstance as a visual aid, to help the people understand where he has come from. The very nature of God is uncreated light — not a light that comes from a fire or a candle, but simply light emanating from the Father. Through the incarnation Jesus brings this light to the world. The darkened pathways are lit by his holy presence and he leads those who will follow him to life. John often uses the language of walking in his writings. The spiritual life is a long walk in the direction of the light, but to wander from the light means that one may suddenly discover that they are lost in darkness.

Application

I haven’t finished celebrating Christmas yet! For all the years that we lived in Russia we simply started celebrating Christmas on December 24th and it lasted all the way through to January 7th. Then, the Christmas tree stayed up until old New Year on January 14th. What I discovered was a wonderful experience of relaxing and celebrating the Christmas season after all the pre-Christmas rush. I have to confess, I like it very much! So, while this season is continuing in my heart and life, we still have our advent wreath out and have burned the candles every day this week. It’s that beautiful reminder that the light of Christ has entered this world and is illuminating the pathway for us all. The light leads us back to the Messiah.

The light of the Messiah is meant to lead us on a spiritual journey that leads to life. It’s a little confusing to imagine why anyone would want to wander around the darkness, stumbling into things, and yet, that is what so many of us do. We refuse to accept the light. Maybe we refuse because it makes us a bit uncomfortable. It’s easier to stumble over our sins and problems in the dark because then we don’t have to actually look at them or take responsibility for our actions. We can simply blame them on the fact that they are in our way! That way we blame the problems, and not the fact that we are refusing to walk in the light.

The promise of light in the darkness means that Christ shines his light into the dark crevices of our lives. That may not feel very comfortable and yet, it is the only way in which we can come out of this bruised and battered life. We can begin to see the obstacles and we can go around them, or deal with them, removing them from our pathway. The spiritual journey will continue to draw us toward the source of light, if only we are willing to keep moving. God doesn’t draw us along by some sort of magic power, but we are to be in agreement and desire to move forward. God provides the light, we have to keep our feet moving! Together we end up on an incredible journey that leads us toward Christ.

The light has come and this is the season in which we celebrate his arrival. It’s time to stop stumbling in the darkness, accept the light and walk in the direction of new life.

Prayers

Lord, I am grateful for your light. Please help me not to refuse that which you have provided. Amen.


Friday, December 30, 2016

The Power of the Word


Scripture
 
Rev. 1:16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

Observation

John is exiled to the island of Patmos where he is suffering for his faith. While this is a most unpleasant circumstance, he continues with his usual practices and is communing with the Spirit on the Lord’s day. It is in this space that he receives a heavenly vision and a revelation of Christ, himself.

The vision of Jesus is both physical and symbolic, with the glory of his countenance, “the same that was manifested at the Transfiguration.” (People’s NT Commentary) The stars in his right hand symbolize the seven churches who find favor and protection in the hand of the Lord. The sharp, two-edged sword coming from his mouth represents the power of the word which will ring in justice as it is “continually pointed against his enemies as a sword.” (John Wesley) These understandings are already in our minds as we recall Eph. 6:17 “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” and Heb. 4:12   “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” We are reminded here in Revelation by the living Word that there is great power in the written and spoken word of Jesus.

Application

The more time I spend studying the Word of God, the more I realize how much I don’t know. The depth of knowledge, insight and understanding to be found in the word is infinite, and we are invited into this never-ending understanding of God. There is always something more to learn, a higher plane for which to reach, a spiritual climb to endeavor. We are never to be satisfied with where we are spiritually, or with the amount of knowledge or understanding of God which we may have gained.

We are to continually study to know more about God through the word for our own spiritual growth, but also to tap into God’s power through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Knowing the word of God empowers us for life, for we learn the ways in which God works. The written word of God is a revelation of the living Word, therefore, the more that we know the written word, the more that we become partakers of the living Word. When I participate with the Triune God, then I am empowered by God. This means that the written word comes alive through you and me. This is transformational power in which the word has, and continues to become flesh and the world sees the Word at work.

Jesus Christ is Truth and as such, truth is revealed through the written word. The written word of God doesn’t make everyone comfortable because our holy God sets up expectations for his children. They are to live lives of holy love and justice in this world and sometimes that doesn’t mesh with society. In this way Jesus’ presence in the word is a two-edged sword, which is pointed against evil and injustice. This also means that the preached word, when it genuinely comes from the Scriptures, is powerful and has a unique place in the life of the church. The preached word should have the power to convict and transform when preached from a heart in tune with the author of the word.

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that study of the Bible is not important. To grow as a follower of Jesus Christ time must be spent in the word of God. This is not just to be an item that we tick off our to-do list for the day, but it is to be intentional time, asking the Lord to speak to us through the word, and learning something new every day.

I began this journey of more devoted time in the word about eight years ago, and what I wrote earlier is true — the more time I spend in the word, the more I realize I don’t know. My hunger for the word has grown, not diminished. I wish I had more time to study at even greater depths, but I am grateful that years ago I read the book, “The Divine Mentor” and my time in the Scriptures changed dramatically. Since that time I have been following a reading plan. This year I switched over to the Daily Office Lectionary.  In the past I’ve used a plan of reading through the Bible in a year. The truth is that the type of plan doesn’t matter — but the important part is having a plan. Then, don’t just read to finish this as a task for the day, but slow down enough to imagine yourself in the scene, and ask the Lord to speak to you through the Scriptures.

I’m so grateful for this journey in the word and I look forward to all that I still have to learn. There is incredible power in the word. Sometimes it’s a bit of encouragement, chastisement, healing or wisdom. That’s the amazing thing — it’s different every single day. It’s a place to meet with Jesus and continue to develop a relationship which will continue to grow throughout eternity. Yes, there is incredible power in the word.

Prayers

Lord, thank you for leading me on an incredible journey through your word. There is so much more I need to learn, and I want to know you more. Please help me to have eyes to see and ears to hear what you want me to know about you. Amen.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Flowing Rivers


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

Observation

The religious people had gathered for the festival and were listening to the different teachers. Jesus was grabbing the attention of many who were searching spiritually. They were thirsty for good spiritual drink and he was showing them the way to living water.

On a hot day in the middle east, cold water is a welcome blessing and necessary for life. Jesus challenged them to embrace the metaphor and believe in him.

The promise is of the Spirit that will flow out of him and into all those who believe. Flowing rivers of spiritual water will bring life to those who believe, and quench the thirst of those to whom they minister in Christ’s absence.

Application

Driving down a mountain highway with a raging river out your window is an exhilarating experience. I watch the frothing water as it swiftly flows over the rocks while gravity draws it ever downward into the dry valley below. With great speed it is drawn toward the cracked and barren land, soil that is in desperate need of moisture and life that water will bring.

This is the way in which the Spirit is to flow through those who believe in Jesus Christ. The life-giving water, flowing through us at such speed that it spills out and transforms everything that it touches. The banks of the river are green and lush because they receive the gift of life on a daily basis. The thirsty souls that are dying in the desert are being nourished as the life-giving Spirit pours out of the life of the believer, reaching out to the needy as rapidly as possible.

At least this is the way it is supposed to be!

There are other rivers which have muddy bottoms and move along at the speed of a sloth. Pools of water collect, become stagnant and an overgrowth of algae threatens to choke off any other life. When we keep all that God is pouring into us for ourselves we will become the slow-moving-muddy-bottom river that begins to choke off life.

We are meant to be continually growing spiritually with living waters flowing out of our hearts and lives. If we are being filled with the Spirit, we must be willing participants in Jesus’ mission. We are not supplied water to simply quench our thirst, but to be channels of grace to a thirsty world.

Drink deep from the well of living water and then share a cup of cold water with your thirsty neighbor. Anything short of this may actually be sinful.

Prayers

Lord, may your Spirit flow in and through me. If there are any obstacles to the flow of your Spirit, please root them out so that I may participate in your mission. Amen.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

An Invitation to Childlikeness


Scripture
 
Mark 10:13   People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.  14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. 

Observation

The reputation of Jesus had spread and now, parents of young children wanted to bring their little ones to Jesus, that he might touch them. This would not have been unusual as the mortality rate of children in that era would have been about 50%. Can you imagine the hope that Jesus would have brought to these children and parents? They wanted him to touch their babes, hoping against hope that this would be a form of protection against anything that might cut their lives short. The parents’ hope was that life would be found through Jesus.

The disciples saw the children as more of a nuisance; that they were getting in the way of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus saw them in a completely different light. They represented the hope of new life which could be transformed in the presence of the Messiah. The children were also symbolic of all people who come to Christ. With the hope that Jesus can provide eternal life all people are to come to the Messiah and ask for his hand of blessing on their lives. Without this attitude of childlikeness we will fail to receive what Christ has for us.

Application


The seriousness of life has a way of creeping in on us and taking away the joy of childhood. Remember when we were young and the simplest of things brought us great pleasure? I think about being enthralled at the flicker of candlelight during the Christmas season. Listening to the music my mother played on the grand piano would make my heart soar. The smell of cinnamon rolls baking in the oven and the anticipation of dad coming in the door at the end of the day with his joyful greeting heightened my senses. In fact, as a child I seemed to be aware of so much that was happening around me. Sadly, the older I get the more that I take these things for granted and I fail to see what is really happening around me.

The kingdom of God is happening around us and God is at work in the smallest of details. When we look up into the skies, seeing the stars, planets and moon do we see the hand of the Creator at work? When the birds begin the day with their morning song do we recognize that all of creation is awakening to praise God? To become like a child is to slow down enough and to allow God to awaken our spiritual senses that we recognize that he is at work in and around us every single day.

The invitation to childlikeness does not mean that we are ignorant adults, but that we live our lives in union with Christ who is actively engaged in kingdom business. It’s as if there is another world at work, on a different plane, but we won’t see it or participate in it if we fail to become like a child. As our sensitivities to spiritual matters increase, the more that we are able to gaze into the kingdom and Jesus’ work in his realm. It takes childlike faith and awareness to actually see the kingdom at work.

Jesus is not only the hope of parents desiring a long life for their children, but Jesus is our hope. The child who was born at Christmas invites us into the mystical majesty of eternal life in the kingdom. We must be willing to step with faith into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and allow him to lead us in our naivety into kingdom life. It’s a leap of faith to respond as a child and yet it is in this action that we find our hope in Christ. It’s time to relax in the arms of the Savior, have our senses awakened to, and live in the kingdom.

Prayers

Lord, please help me to live with childlike abandon and trust in you. Amen.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

This is Not Burdensome


Scripture
 
1John 5:1   Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.  2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,  4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.  5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Observation

Real, genuine belief in Jesus, transforms the world. What begins as belief in the Messiah becomes filled with God’s love for the world. Jesus, God’s son, became human so that we, too, could become children of God, born out of the Father’s deep love for us. Our response to that love drives us to a deeper relationship with our Father, one in which we desire to follow his commandments. All of a sudden we are no longer following a list of rules but we live out the commandments because they become natural. When we are in Christ, we live a life of love. This holy love breeds a faith that can conquer the world because it will always lead to Jesus, God’s son. While this understanding may seem heavy, it is not burdensome for it simply flows from a heart overflowing with love.

Application

I grew up in a tradition with lots of rules about how we were to live our lives. I must confess that at times it seemed burdensome and I would wish that I didn’t seem so odd compared to others. I didn’t go to movies and I didn’t go to dances and people would make fun of me for what I didn’t do. My mother sent a note to school when we were square dancing in gym class, telling them I could not participate. As I sat on the floor watching the other students I remembering wondering what was wrong with what they were doing. Somewhere along the way we had mixed up love for God with legalism and it had become burdensome.

As I’ve grown, read and studied more about my faith I have come to some different conclusions. The admonition against movies was changed in our tradition to a broader concern regarding the influence of media on our lives. When I love God with all my heart and want to live as the Father’s child, I will want to please him. There are movies I won’t watch. There are sites I won’t go to on the internet. And this is not burdensome because it comes from my relationship with Christ. I would feel exceedingly uncomfortable watching certain things because the love of Christ wouldn’t take me there — and I wouldn’t want to take Christ there either. No longer am I motivated by a rule, but I am motivated by my relationship with Christ and it’s his holy love which transforms me, leads me and guides me.

I returned home from Africa a week ago today. While there we had incredible times of worship with our young leaders from across the continent. Dancing is a normal part of the worship of Christ in that culture. As we have become a global church we have recognized that there are cultural dances which are beautiful and are born out of our love for Christ. Again, the barriers have come down and the lists have changed as we embrace our love for the Messiah and expressions of that love which vary around the globe.

Those first century Jewish Christians had been raised in a religious environment which led to strict interpretations of the law and the commandments. The love of God released in the birth of the Messiah transformed the hearts of God’s people and suddenly living by the commandments became a response to holy love. Living as God’s holy people was no longer burdensome, but a joy.

If we believe that following Jesus is a burden because it makes us seem odd, then maybe we haven’t allowed ourselves to fall deeply in love with our Savior. We are not called into a rigid and restrictive life of legalism. We are invited to fall in love with the Messiah; to open our hearts to the holy love found within the Trinity. In this way we are born of God, and God’s love draws us into kingdom living because our desires are for him, and him alone. This becomes the victory which conquers the world — and it is not burdensome.

Prayers

Lord, thank you for your incredible love. Please help me to relax and live in that love. Amen.


Monday, December 26, 2016

The Great Persecution


Scripture
 
Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him.

 That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.  2 Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.  3 But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

Acts 8:4   Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.  5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.  6 The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did,  7 for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured.  8 So there was great joy in that city.

Observation

The highs and the lows of life can be felt in the life of the disciples. The ministry had been expanding greatly since the day of Pentecost but now Stephen had just been martyred. A young man, Saul, was in a great frenzy, determined to persecute these followers of Jesus. But somehow God was at work in the midst of this great persecution which became the way in which the gospel was sewn. Saul’s later encounter with Christ on the Damascus road transformed his frenzy into an all-consuming passion for Christ. Philip spread the gospel to Samaria and the results were spectacular as the power of God was revealed. The providence in the persecution was witnessed by great joy in Samaria. The sadness on the part of the believers was replaced by joy as people embraced Jesus as the Messiah.

Application

Who could imagine that persecution could actually be a good thing? Isn’t it something that we avoid at all cost? And yet, God used the great persecution for the benefit of the gospel. People were strengthened in their faith and the good news about Jesus was spread in ways they could not have imagined.

Persecution is often defined contextually. While there may be those who would say that intolerance of Christian faith is persecution, there are other who are losing their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ. The context varies around the globe. There is, however, a bit of reality in the fact that when we face persecution, we are also confronted with our own convictions. If our faith is never questioned, we never have to hone what it is that we really believe. In some ways we can become undisciplined Christians, almost sloppy because there is so little required of us. When the pressure is applied and we are hard-pressed for responses, then we must know what it is that we really believe. What are we willing to die for?

The early Christians had to embrace a faith which they knew was unpopular. They were willing to suffer the consequences of their belief in Jesus, the Messiah and as a result, spread the gospel throughout the world.

Embracing unpopular opinions has always been the way of Christianity. If we are looking for acceptance by the world, we are looking in the wrong place. Living into the life and calling of Jesus is counter-cultural and will not result in the praise of society. Radical obedience to the gospel is what is required and in living this obedience we become instruments, sharpened for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom business.


Christians around the world are suffering and may be brought into our midst. May we embrace those who are a part of the diaspora, for God may have sent them to light our path.

Prayers


Lord, please help me not to fear the difficult times of life, but may you use them to sharpen me for your kingdom’s use. Amen.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Love Revealed


Scripture
 
1John 4:9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Observation


The arrival of the Messiah was the revelation of God’s love to the world. God had continually been reaching out to humanity but in this act, there was completion. With the birth of the baby Jesus, new life was born here on earth and the hope of life for all. The ultimate act of self-sacrificial love was on display for all to see when God became man so that man might unite with God.

Through this the love of God is poured in and through those who partner with God and reach out to those around. Love revealed in the birth of a baby, and in our love for one another.

Application

It’s Christmas morning and many young children are rushing to the tree to see what may be awaiting them. The world will tell them that Santa Claus came during the night and delivered gifts to them. With wide-eyed excitement they will tear into the packages and bask in the joy of the moment. As parents we love to shower our children and grandchildren with gifts. The gifts are an expression of our love for them.

Today also happens to be Sunday. In much of the world people always go to church on Christmas morning — it’s a part of their tradition. At the same time there are those who are reluctant to go to church today because it inhibits the scheduled family traditions. But isn’t church the place where we would want to be on Christmas morning, as we celebrate the arrival of the Messiah? This is the ultimate revelation of God’s love to the world — that he would send his only son. Our love for God is revealed when we reflect that love back to God and to others. Making worship of God a priority on Christmas day is a way of showing our love to God. I can’t imagine anything better to do on Christmas day than to go to church and worship our heavenly Father who sent his Son to set us free.

The birth of the Messiah revealed God’s unabated love for creation. Let us soak in that love and become agents of revelation as we love God and others.

Merry Christmas.

Prayers

Lord, may I be united with you through your love. Amen.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Light is Dawning


Scripture
 
Luke 1:78     By the tender mercy of our God,
        the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79     to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
        to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Observation

Luke does such a beautiful job of bringing characters into the narrative story of Jesus Christ. We are blessed by the words of Mary in her canticle and here he provides the words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Both Mary and Zechariah’s words draw us into the advent, or the arrival of the Messiah. While Zechariah’s son, John, would help to prepare the way, now his words are about the coming Messiah who will soon break into the darkness of this world.

God’s incredible love is revealed in the light that is dawning from on high. The people who are sitting in darkness are living with suffering and without peace. Little do they know that the Prince of Peace will soon arrive and bring with him the light that will shine the way to peace. The light is dawning, hope fills the air, and the way to peace can be found.

Application

Each Sunday of Advent we have lit a candle, experiencing the first rays of light into our world. Before one ever sees the morning sun rise in the east, we see the beautiful flickers of light on the horizon. We anticipate the dawn of a new day as the sun finally breaks over the earth. Today is Christmas Eve and our hearts are filled with anticipation because we have been experiencing advent and the flickers of light on the horizon. We already know the end of the story — that the Messiah will soon be born. It is with the arrival of that child that a new day dawned and a new kingdom was established here on earth, and for all of eternity.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season. The bright lights of life can overshadow the flickers of advent and we can simply be so distracted that we fail to see the dawn of a new day. The overly fluorescent light of the world can actually be the darkness in which we sit in the shadow of death. Maybe we need to intentionally tune out the noise of the world and settle into the quiet peace of the coming dawn.

If we have the privilege of being with family and friends during this Christmas season, may we slow down enough to experience the Messiah. Our world desperately needs him and the peace that he brings. Our world is experiencing tensions in relationships and aggression from those who would wish to disrupt our lives. May we live into the peace which the Messiah brings and watch for the light which is dawning. He will guide us into the way of peace as live in union with him. Take a little time today to stop, slow down, listen and see the light of Christ dawning on the horizon.

Prayers

Lord, your light is dawning this day. Please help me to see your peace on the horizon. Amen.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Peculiar Power and Blessing


Scripture
 
Luke 1:66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Observation

The birth of John the Baptist foreshadowed the advent of something unusual. It was as if the first act was unfolding, people could sense it, because so much had transpired surrounding John’s conception and birth. They pondered the situation, the same as Mary pondered her circumstances. It brought them to a place of thinking and wondering about outcomes. Obviously this child was to be something different, or unique.

The pronouncement that “the hand of the Lord was with him” has been interpreted in many ways. It’s John Wesley who declared that this was “the peculiar power and blessing of God.” John was marked from infancy, to be someone destined to do great work for God. It was the prediction of supernatural events and a great career in service to God. John would not be an ordinary child for the grace of God was already visibly present in his life. So much so, that the people acknowledged the peculiar power and presence of God.

Application

It’s easy to take babies and little children for granted and not think too much about who they will become in adulthood. However, every great leader of this world has begun their life as a dependent infant. God has a way of working, pouring out his prevenient grace, even on the life of an infant. This was true for John the Baptist, and also for Jesus. The people of the first century were invited to observe the ways in which God was working and await the results. The parents of these boys carried with them the heavy weight of responsibility in guiding the young lives but providing space for God to be at work. They recognized the peculiar power and blessing upon their lives.

Adults have a unique responsibility to serve as gentle guides for unfolding young lives. We don’t have to all be parents. We may be grandparents, aunts, uncles, or loving members of a church community, but we should recognize the hand of God at work in the lives of children. Who knows who or what some of these children will become? We do know that the hand of God is peculiarly at work in the lives of little ones and we must never become a stumbling block to their faith.

Christmas reminds of the innocence and potential, all wrapped up in the life of a baby. May we treat every new life as if the hand of the Lord were upon them. Together with God may we imagine what this child might become. And as a community of faith may we pour ourselves into guiding children into all that they might become in Christ Jesus. This is the peculiar power and blessing of God, revealed through new birth.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the precious young lives that I have the privilege of encountering. Please help me to be a force which helps to guide and direct them toward you. Amen.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Stubbornness



Scripture


Isaiah 29:16  You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”? (ESV)

Observation


The advent of God's presence among his people would turn things upside down. The potter would become the clay when the incarnate God came to earth. To make clear God's power and role in creation the potter was now the clay and providing the opportunity for the clay to be re-formed into the image of the potter.

For those who did not understand they would fight against his presence. They were the voices who refused to accept him as the master who had formed and created them. Instead, in arrogance, they began to believe that they could handle everything themselves, assuming that God really did not understand what was going on. The result was that they remained brittle and stubborn in their flawed state.

Application


The stubborn declaration, "He did not make me" is the echo of much of humanity. It is a rejection of the Messiah and of his role in creation. Somehow we think that we all got here without the help or assistance of our Divine creator. And yet, the more that we understand about creation and the details of it all, the more we realize the complexity and the need for super intelligent intervention.

Beyond the realm of the scientific battles, there are our personal spiritual battles of self-centeredness. We would like to embrace the idea that we are in control of all that we do in our lives and we forget about our dependence up on our Creator.

This morning I was watching our granddaughter wake up on the baby monitor. This is one of those miracles of modern technology, but it also made me think about my relationship with God. Just as I can watch my grand baby on this monitor, so God sees every single one of us. God knows who we are and what our needs are for this day, just as this baby’s parents know her needs. The baby doesn’t say to the parents, “Now make sure you feed me regularly and change my diapers.” The parents already know exactly what she needs and have prepared to take care of her. They have the diapers and the wipes, and they have food in the house. Our Creator has provided all that we need for this day, which is why he invites us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Jesus, the Messiah, came to earth as an innocent and dependent baby to reveal to us the very character of God. Throughout his ministry Jesus often used the illustration of small children to remind us of the ways in which we were to interact in the kingdom. When stubbornness rules in our hearts we become brittle and broken. Sadly, we talk back to the Creator and tell him how to do things.

The advent of the Messiah means that things have been turned upside down. The baby came so that we could become children of God. Embracing the Messiah is letting go and joyfully accepting our role as children of God on high. In this, there is no place for stubbornness.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to live in sweet dependence upon you this day. Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

When You Wonder What God Wants


Scripture
 
Luke 1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Observation

Mary was a very young woman and was caught off-guard by the visitation of the angel Gabriel. He begins with a verbal greeting that leaves her wondering about his words. The first word, “Greetings” is used here, but also by Jesus when he meets the women after his resurrection. In both cases it signals a call to women to enter into the gospel story in a very profound way. The word “favored” is also used for others such as Noah, Moses and David, all called to participate in reveal the character of God to this world. The phrase, “The Lord is with you,” is also said to Gideon. Therefore, the words were common and yet the meaning was not and it left her perplexed, wondering what it was that God wanted.

Application


We may not have a personal visitation by the angel Gabriel, but God is still in the business of visiting and communicating with his children through the presence of the Holy Spirit. This past week I had the privilege of worshipping with an incredible group of about 500 young people from the continent of Africa. They had gathered for a youth conference just outside the city of Johannesburg. Every morning there was a 6am prayer gathering. As the week went on the group began to dwindle. This was understandable as they were up praising the Lord with concerts until late at night and often only drifted off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. However, the faithful few were still there the last morning, at 6am, ready to learn more about prayer and spend time with the Lord. It was in that space that we were ushered into a time of listening to the voice of God. Instead of a one-sided conversation (such as prayer often can be), we became still and asked God to speak and to lead. The young people were a blessing to me as they actively sought to know the will of God in their lives.

We should be wondering what God wants from us, and we should be desiring his leading. Mary was found by the angel in solitary place where they could have a serious conversation. She was willing to listen and ponder what she had been told.

One of the best things that happened to me last week was a lack of internet. I’d been running at high speed for weeks on end. Suddenly that all came to a screeching halt and I couldn’t even access my e-mail. Instead, I got up at 5:30 in the morning so I could join the group at 6 — and I practiced listening. And yes, in the midst of that I began to wonder what it was that God wanted from me. Could I be quiet enough to hear his still small voice?

God is at work and moving in our world, but we have to be willing to listen and wonder what God wants. Mary walked forward in radical obedience to the will of God. Many of the young people from the African Continent last week heard the call of God in a new and powerful way and responded last week. I believe God may just use them to change the world! When God speaks we must listen, but act with a heart of obedience, even when we are wondering about what he wants.

Prayers

Lord, please help me to listen and yes, wonder about your leading. But at the same time, walk in obedience. Amen.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Power of Faith in Community

The Power of Faith in Community

Scripture

Luke 1:17
With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Observation

The prophetic word had come to Zechariah that he would have a son. This child would call out to the people and turn their hearts toward God. Revival would result in a restoration of family relationships, a reconciliation. Families and communities would corporately prepare to accept the coming Messiah.

Application

John's message of preparation rings through the ages and to us during this season of advent. It is a message of intergenerational hope to be found in the good news of Jesus Christ. It also points to the power which can be found in a multigenerational faith community. The young people are brought to Christ and will follow righteousness, while at the same time the older generation will begin to share or understand the views of the younger generation. The perspectives will be united because of Christ and the common mission of the gospel.

The presence of the Messiah points toward parental fidelity which occurs when Christ is the center of the home. The social corruption of the world will be hard pressed to break the bonds created in a strong community of faith. The greater the number of links within the community the more difficult it is to break. The enemy has been attacking the family unit on a massive scale. This battle is not to be fought alone, but as God's people unite, both as families and communities of faith; people of every generation and race, grounded in the Messiah. John was preparing the way, Jesus was making it a real possibility and the Holy Spirit empowers us to live in the reality.

The prophetic voice is heard by us today. We must respond by intentionally working at our family relationships. Good marriages and parental relationships don't just happen by accident but by effort. Intergenerational worship won't just happen, but is possible when we respect one another and choose to learn from young and old.  The power of the Holy Spirit emanating from a community of faith bound together in the purpose of knowing Christ is transformative. May our hearts be turned this advent season.

Prayer

Lord, please help me be still and listen to your voice and leading. May my home be a place that glorifies you. Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Stretching the Truth to Get What You Want


Scripture
 
Luke 23:2 They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”

Observation

An entire assembly of people gathered to speak up against Jesus to the Roman authorities. The problem was that he hadn’t really done anything wrong — at least not in the eyes of the government. The Roman officials wouldn’t be interested in hearing about the religious debates among the Jews so they had to stretch the truth. They had to make it sound like Jesus was out to undermine the authority of the Roman government. They did stretch the truth on the first count because Jesus had not forbidden the people to pay taxes. On the contrary, he had told them to give to Rome what belonged to Rome. So they had engaged in an outright lie. On the second count, they stretched the truth because Jesus did come as the Messiah, but not as an earthly king to overthrow the political system of the day. They used his own words and twisted them into a false truth to try and get what they wanted.

Application

We are all probably guilty of taking scenarios and twisting them to get the outcome that we want. We can twist and stretch the truth until it reaches a breaking point and simply will not match up with reality. The sad part is that along the way all kinds of damage can be done. Think about what happened to Jesus; he was mocked, and eventually crucified. The people let him suffer the consequences of things that he had not done.

When we stretch the truth for our own personal benefit, someone else will be hurt. One wonders what was so important to the Jews that it was worth crucifying Jesus? Were their own egos at stake and did that mean that they would go to any extreme to save themselves? Maybe so, but in reality when they thought they were saving themselves, they were missing out on true salvation. When we stretch the truth to try and save ourselves we will actually be putting ourselves in a more difficult situation, one that could lead to our own personal ruin. Stretching the truth is never worth it in the long run.

Getting to know the author of truth — Jesus, is always worth it. And since Jesus is Truth, it’s best to stick to the reality of who he is. Walking and journeying with Jesus leads us to a life of truth. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it will brings us healing. Confronting the reality of a situation may not be pleasant at the time, but it will be helpful and healing in the long run. Trying to get what we want is also a problem. Learning to live with what the Lord wants for us is the way to go. When we are content with what he has for us, we don’t have to stretch the truth, because we won’t be wanting to get what we want anyway.

There is no place for lying or stretching the truth in the life of a believer. Follow the one who is Truth, and allow him to satisfy our deepest longings.

Prayers

Lord, please help me to live in your truth. Amen.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Glance

A Glance

Scripture

Luke 22:61
The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.”

Observation

Peter had declared vehemently that he would never deny the Lord and yet, here he had just done it three times. Suddenly the cock crowed and he became acutely aware of what he had done. In that moment the Lord looked at Peter. With all the people present Jesus was able to catch the eye of Peter and in that glance there was an overwhelming sense of understanding.

Application

Jesus knew Peter so well that he could predict how he would respond in the stress of the moment. The glance may have meant many things, but I sincerely doubt it was a look of condemnation. However, there was a sense that Jesus really did know more than Peter had been willing to accept. Even in that moment there would be a sense that Jesus should be trusted because he knows us better than we know ourselves. When he points out an area of weakness, he's serious about it. We ought to pay attention and listen to the Lord's guidance and instruction.

Considering all that Jesus would be facing in the coming hours the fact that he took a moment to look at Peter also reveals the incredible depth of love and lack of self centeredness on his part. In the midst of his pain he was still concerned about others. The glance at Peter may have expressed the love of a friend who knew what had just happened but also revealed love filled with forgiveness. Jesus sees us in the good and the bad and turns his face toward us, always reaching toward us with God's grace.

The Lord turns and looks at us each and every day. There is nothing that can be hidden from him and yet, he does not look on in condemnation. It was Peter who condemned himself and generally condemnation comes from ourselves and not from the Lord. The Lord looks on in love knowing that we are in self-inflicted pain. Jesus knew that this would be very difficult for Peter and that he would feel like a failure. Jesus poured himself out so that Peter, and all of us can be restored through his love.

The glance is filled with love and grace.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your love and the way in which you keep your eye on us. Amen.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Hopeful Promise


Scripture
 
Isaiah 8:18 See, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.

Observation

The prophet Isaiah spoke of a coming Immanuel — “God with us.” God who is at the same time Father and Son, would become incarnate so that believers might be called children. The advent season is one of anticipation for those who will be the LORD’s children. The promise is one of great hope for the children are a sign of the kingdom.

Application

The promise is apparent on a couple of levels. There is the hope of family. Because of the first coming of the Messiah we are invited into the family. Jesus made it possible for us to become his brothers and sisters, and hence we all may become children of God. The Messiah would usher the children into his presence and they would be transformed. We may not all have positive experiences with our earthly families but this promise is something quite amazing. How can mere humans become children of God? Only because the Son of God offered himself up to become human. In this way the connection was made between God and man and the adoption plan was made complete. Because Immanuel became “God with us,” we can become “with God.” As children we become joint-heirs in God’s eternal promises which are beyond our comprehension. We are, even now, invited into a place of deep fellowship with our eternal Father.

While we enjoy the current relationship with our Father, we are also invited to be a sign of the kingdom. Children have a family resemblance. We tend to look and have mannerisms and characteristics of our parents, even when we try hard not to! There are things that are simply ingrained in the family DNA. As God’s children we look and act like the family and as we carry that resemblance we become signs of the coming kingdom. We live as kingdom citizens now, but we become the hopeful promise of the return of Christ. Christ will come again and those bearing the family name and resemblance point the way to life in the kingdom.

The advent seasons reminds us that we are the recipients of the great gift of adoption. We also become the beacons of the hopeful promise of Christ’s return as we live as members of his family. May we live faithfully and reflect well on the family name as God’s children.

Prayers

Lord, thank you for the promises and the ways in which they have been fulfilled. I am grateful. Amen.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Awe-filled Worship


Scripture
 
Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;  29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Observation

The kingdom of God will never be overthrown by the things of this world. It is a kingdom which cannot be shaken and when we are transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives we enter into kingdom citizenship. This is an eternal citizenship in the kingdom of God and therefore, we should offer thanks to God. It is our thanksgiving that becomes our worship to God but this thanksgiving must be all-consuming. Every part of our being must be subject to service in the kingdom, and therefore every act and thought becomes an acceptable form of worship. The consuming fire of God’s holiness leaves us in awe of the power and Majesty of God. As a result our worship is transformed beyond prayer and praise but infiltrates every cell of our being, all which respond by giving thanks in reverence and awe.

Application


Today many of us will go to a church and we will say that we are there to worship God, and yet, there will be plenty who will come away with criticisms. For some, today will be a Children’s Christmas program and there are a few adults who will intentionally go somewhere else or go home because, they will argue, “it’s just not for them.” Well, isn’t that the truth! It’s not for them, and it’s not for you or me. The children’s program, or the advent musical is not for us, but it is a form of worship and gratitude before God. I’m guessing the children’s program may just be one of the most exciting forms of worship for God. Remember what Jesus said about letting little children come to him? They are important in God’s sight and their uncorrupted praise and worship may be the purist form that we will experience and from them we ought to learn more about worship.

When we begin to think that our “worship experience” is about us, then we have allowed the commercialism of the day to affect our thinking and our understanding of God. Going to church should not be an entertaining experience, but a place where we experience God because somehow heaven meets earth in that thin space of true worship. Awe-filled worship happens when we focus on God, the one who is the receiver of all of our thanksgiving. God is a consuming fire of holy love who purifies all of those who are near and in God’s presence. Therefore our worship experience can become one of cleansing and purification, and a readiness for the activities of the week, or for a face to face encounter with Jesus, the Messiah.

Enter into the sanctuary with hearts prepared for awe-filled worship of God. Worship does not begin or end with a group of songs, but is continuous and on-going, everyday in the life of a believer. Bring that attitude and spirit of worship with you into the sanctuary today.

Prayers

Lord, words cannot express the gratitude in my heart for all that you have done. May everything that happens in churches across the world today bring glory to you and not to us. Amen.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Conspiracy Theories


Scripture
 
Is. 8:11   For the LORD spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying:  12 Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread.  13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.  14 He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  15 And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

Observation


The people of God were consumed with great fear which may not have been based in reality. They were constantly imagining all the threats that may have been against them and developing conspiracy theories. The talk and chatter of these theories would stir up dread among the people and a great sense of hopelessness.

The prophet speaks the words of the LORD and helps to redirect the attention of the people. The focus is not to be on conspiracy theories but on the LORD. Our LORD is holy and should be feared or revered, much more so than potential human threats. The vision then moves to one in which we can envision the Christ. He becomes the cornerstone, the one over which people will stumble and be broken. He becomes the place of sanctuary for the people of God, the place in which we may find rest for our weary souls and peace to replace our fears.

Application


It seems that conspiracy theories are all the rage. The sad part is that conspiracy theories lead us to believe the very worst of people and then, we begin to think that we know what they are thinking. To be honest, my husband and I have done that to each other a few times in our married life. We’ve actually gotten frustrated at one another over what we thought the other one was thinking — when that wasn’t what they were thinking at all. Fear, anger, frustration — all born out of an unbridled imagination.

Frozen by fear that is brought on by conjecture alone inhibits us from being the holy people of God. Our trust is not in the human systems of this world, but our trust is in the LORD of hosts. This doesn’t make sense to those who want to receive all of their answers from the material world. In that sense Jesus really does become the stone over which they stumble. A personal encounter with the Messiah shatters our understanding of that which will save us in the time of need. He becomes the sanctuary in the time of difficulty and our shelter so that we need not fear. The conspiracy theories of this world are almost nonsensical to God.

We can live in fear of the daily news cycle, or we can place our faith upon the Cornerstone which causes the things of this world to fall and be broken. I would rather put my trust in the LORD than worry about and fear the things of man.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your incredible gift, the Cornerstone of peace and rest. Amen.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Salvation through Sanctification

Salvation through Sanctification

Scripture

2 Thessalonians 2:13

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Observation

The apostle was grateful for the work that had been done in the hearts and lives of the Thessalonians. They had been transformed and saved by being sanctified. This was made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit and their belief in truth, that is, in Jesus Christ!

Application

Far too often we separate the concepts of salvation and sanctification and fail to understand the relationship between the two. I know that in my tradition we have tended to make this into a two-tiered process with the result that some have thought that sanctification was an optional plan for only a few super-spiritual individuals. There seems to be an attitude that we can opt out of that sanctification bit and still be saved, and that's okay. The problem with that is that it's a complete misunderstanding of what Christ has done for us. By being born in human flesh Jesus lived daily sanctifying human life and setting right that which had been corrupted through sin. Through his death and resurrection the process was made complete and the pathway was created for all to follow in his footsteps and be made holy, just as he is holy.

You can never separate salvation from sanctification. Jesus came to provide the way for us to become God's holy people and the result is that we are saved through sanctification. God's desire is for all to be holy and Jesus' activity provided the way to make it possible.

When we humbly follow after Jesus Christ we are never satisfied with "just being saved." If we have convinced ourselves that we can be satisfied there I would suggest that we are being fooled by the enemy. The Christian life is transformational, one in which we are ever drawing closer and following after Jesus Christ. The closer we are to him the more his holiness is reflected in us. There is nothing about our personal behavior that makes us holy, but our nearness to Christ sanctifies. How could you ever be saved without being near to Jesus? It's not possible. We are saved when we are made holy, restored in the image of God. The command is to be holy and without holiness no one can see the Lord.

Prayer

Lord, at this Christmas season we are reminded again and again the incredible impact of your birth. Thank you for your sacrifice, and please help me to follow closely after you. Amen.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Provision Made


Scripture
 
Luke 22:7   Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.”  9 They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?”  10 “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’  12 He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.”  13 So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Observation

The disciples were living by faith as they followed Jesus day by day. While he had tried to tell them that the end was coming, they didn’t seem to comprehend what it was that he was saying to them. It was time for the Passover and before Jesus would become the sacrificial lamb, Jesus and his disciples would celebrate together. The symbolism of that night would ring out in history and so Jesus made provision for all of the details. They would need a space where they could gather and have this celebration together.

Peter and John were instructed to go and make preparations for the meal. Interestingly, they didn’t just take off and try to figure things out for themselves. Immediately they asked for Jesus’ instruction and it’s in Jesus’ response that we know that he had already worked out the details. They were to go to the city and follow a man carrying a jar of water. This was unusual because women were the ones who hauled water, not the men. It appears that this was a prearranged signal, because Jesus had already made provision. All the disciples needed to do was believe that Jesus had already taken care of the details and follow through on his instruction. All the provision had already been made.

Application

The disciples' response in this situation becomes a template for us as modern-day followers of Christ. We are given our specific assignment by our Lord which is not the same as anyone else’s, but allows us to play our particular role in the kingdom. Peter and John were to go and prepare the passover meal. At this point in the story I have to confess that I probably would have responded differently. I like to think that I’m a “can do” person and if God gives me a task, I jump to it, but I may have missed turning around and asking the Lord for direction. Peter and John’s question of Jesus, “where do you want us to make preparations for it?” teaches me a great deal about what they had learned about being a disciple, and what discipleship ought to mean for me.

After spending much time with Jesus they had learned that Jesus always made provision. In some of the earlier stories of the disciples they try to figure things out on their own and get frustrated that Jesus would even ask them to do such a thing. By now they’ve learned that whenever Jesus asks them to do something, the first thing they do is go back to Jesus and ask him how they’re supposed to do it. They have come to realize that Jesus already knows how it’s supposed to work and they don’t have to figure it out on their own. They were to walk in obedience and so are we.

The man carrying the water jar becomes a visible sign of Jesus’ provision. Every detail had already been cared for and they didn’t need to worry. If we will listen and be obedient to the Lord, we will discover the markers along the way as well. We will have our own signs of promise that this is the way and we are to walk in it for the provision that has already been made.

In the meantime there is no need to worry or fear. Learning to stop and ask the Lord for direction before acting becomes empowering.  Becoming dependent upon the Lord's leadership will bring great peace.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to stop and ask the question. Amen.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Looking at Worthless Things


Scripture

 
Psalm 119:37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways. (ESV)

Observation

This section of Psalm 119 contains a series of instructions for those who are to keep God’s word. This verse reminds us of the inner threat to a life of faithfulness. That threat comes from a heart divided which results when the eyes begin to wander. What is seen with the eyes enters into the heart. Therefore we are to stop “looking at worthless things.” The enticement of those worthless things will take us in a direction away from the things of God. New life must be found in the ways of the Lord and for that to happen, we must follow after God.

Application

The world has always been capable of creating worthless things that catch the attention of God’s people. Writing in the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem encouraged believers to “avoid an addiction to the theater, with its portrayal of sinful conduct, the lewd and unseemly antics of actors and the frantic dancing of degenerates.” (Mystagogical Lectures 1.6) He went on to talk about the gladiators who spent much time working-out and becoming beautifully fit so that they could fight with animals, and the grief of gambling on the horse races. Doesn’t sound like a lot has changed in this world, does it?

I think of the hours we can spend looking at worthless things. It’s so easy to get drawn into the vortex of social media. Seriously — as I was reading and writing this morning I went to check something on Facebook and before I had this post finished, I was scrolling through someone’s pictures of their home which they have decorated for Christmas. Sounds nice — but I don’t even know these people!!! I thought about the irony of the moment. Here I was, being convicted by a scripture reading about worthless things and I was being enticed to waste time looking at pictures that have no relevance to me or my life. Someone else mentioned the other day about being sucked into the YouTube vortex. Just before going to bed they clicked on a YouTube video, but that one led to another one, which led to another one, and finally they realized that ninety minutes had gone by and they had wasted all that time.

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking on the phone with Rev. Jerry Dirmann, a pastor in Anaheim, CA. His church is focusing on helping new believers be discipled to follow Christ. He said that they realize how much attention the world is getting and that it’s time to detox ourselves. They encourage new believers to commit to a four week fast from media. During the four-week period people are allowed two hours of internet or television a week, but that is all. (This does not exclude work related internet usage) Think about it — what would happen if we fasted from media. I think that’s what the Psalmist is talking about. It’s time for us to intentionally stop looking at worthless things.

The section from which today’s Psalm comes begins with asking the Lord to be our teacher. If we sincerely desire to know Christ, then we have to be intentional about knowing Christ! It’s time to turn off all of our devices and all the distractions and commit to time with the Lord. Instead of being tempted to surf the internet, spend thirty minutes just reading scripture. Allow God to speak in the quiet moments of life. Learn to hear the still sweet voice that is calling us and leading us to have life in God’s ways.

Prayer

Lord, may my life be filled with you and not the worthless things of this world. Amen.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Listening Early


Scripture
 
Luke 21:38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

Observation

Jesus had a routine while in Jerusalem. He would spend the day in teaching and then retreat to the Mount of Olives for rest. Evidently there wasn’t room for him in the city at night. Every morning he would get up early and come back to the temple to teach again. The people wanted to hear him so badly that they were willing to get up early in the morning to go and listen to him. John Wesley remarked on this passage, “And all the people came early in the morning to hear him—How much happier were his disciples in these early lectures, than the slumbers of the morning could have made them on their beds! Let us not scruple to deny ourselves the indulgence of unnecessary sleep, that we may morning after morning place ourselves at his feet, receiving the instructions of his word, and seeking those of his Spirit.” (Wesley’s Notes)

Application

I had to chuckle a little at Wesley’s comment on “unnecessary sleep.” I’m guessing that in our busy world there are few of us that would think that we were overindulging in unnecessary sleep. At the same time, the point is well taken that there was discipline on the part of Christ and on the part of his followers to make learning about God a priority. They made it a habit to listen early in the morning to the things of God. In this way the pattern for the day could be established as the mind was already set on the Lord.

May we gather morning by morning in the word of God and allow those words to soak into our very being, shaping us into the image of Christ. May listening early in the morning become the practice of our lives and may we live in obedience to the still small voice that we hear in the quiet of those early morning hours.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for meeting with me in the early morning hours and shaping me for the day ahead. Please, help me to listen and follow. Amen.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Necessity of Growth


Scripture
 
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Observation

At the conclusion of the epistle we receive this little nugget of truth regarding the Christian life. This is a life of growth, one that is never stagnant and never turning back. Growth in grace comes from God alone and allows for growth in knowledge. The result is moral and spiritual development which allows us to put our faith into practice. The more that we grow spiritually, the more that Christ is seen in us. Glory of the Lord is reflected in and through those who draw close to him. This necessary growth continues throughout all eternity.

Application

While Peter’s epistle speaks into the moral life and development of the follower of Christ there is always the reminder of grace. If we are trying to do everything right within our own power, we will fail. But grace is always at work and we walk and follow in the pathway of that grace. Jesus continually reaches out to us, drawing us closer to him. To not grow spiritually is to refuse to respond to grace. We cannot save ourselves, nor can we grow in God’s knowledge without divine intervention. This is why the affirmation to growth becomes the final piece of this epistle. To grow is to be in living and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

Growing in grace and knowledge comes from spending time with the Lord. This is especially true when spending time in the word. More and more studies are showing that the most profound place of spiritual growth comes when we get to really know the word of God. Committed times of reading and studying the Bible are necessary to spiritual growth. This can’t happen in just a five minute devotional, but needs to happen in intentional study. The study must be in the Bible and not just in other thematic books. Other books and materials are good but they aren’t the inspired word of God. God is revealed to us through the written word. Our study of the word becomes a means of grace for our lives and helps us to grow in faith and knowledge. That knowledge is found in personally knowing Jesus Christ. We are to get to know him better and in knowing him, we know his mind and we become formed to respond like him.

God is glorified in the lives of those who will continue to grow spiritually. Divine grace and knowledge will lead us to life eternal. We cannot live without growth.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to follow your pathway of grace today. Amen.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Anticipation


Scripture

Is. 4:2   On that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.  3 Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem,  4 once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.  5 Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy.  6 It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

Observation

The words of the prophet remind us of what lies ahead for God’s holy children. The call to holiness is clear, as the city will be holy, filled with those whose names have been recorded in the book of life. They have been cleaned and purified and now make their dwelling eternally with God. This is not a world that is managed well by earthly leaders, but a place where the glory of God is present and serves as a shelter in all things. This is the hope and the anticipation for God’s children.

Application

John Newton is probably best remembered for penning, “Amazing Grace.” He actually wrote more than sixty hymns and numerous letters and books in his lifetime. One of those hymns is, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” The hymn is based on this passage from Isaiah and ushers us into that space which we anticipate during this advent season.

1 Glorious things of thee are spoken,
 Zion, city of our God.
 God, whose word cannot be broken,
 formed thee for his own abode.
 On the Rock of Ages founded,
 what can shake thy sure repose?
 With salvation's walls surrounded,
 thou may'st smile at all thy foes.


2 See, the streams of living waters, 
springing from eternal love,
 well supply thy sons and daughters
 and all fear of want remove.
 Who can faint while such a river 
ever flows their thirst to assuage?
 Grace, which like the Lord, the giver,
 never fails from age to age.


3 Round each habitation hovering,
 see the cloud and fire appear
 for a glory and a covering,
 showing that the Lord is near.
 Thus deriving from their banner
 light by night and shade by day,
 safe they feed upon the manna
 which God gives them when on their way.


4 Savior, since of Zion's city 
I through grace a member am,
 let the world deride or pity, 
I will glory in your name. 
Fading are the world's best pleasures,
 all its boasted pomp and show;
 solid joys and lasting treasures 
none but Zion's children know.

May we live our lives in anticipation of the glorious presence of our Lord, which we can experience both now and forevermore.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to rest in you today. Amen.


Friday, December 2, 2016

That Which We Will Never Miss


Scripture
 
Luke 21:1   He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury;  2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them;  4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Observation

Jesus pointed out the significance of the woman’s gift. “God measures not so much the size of the gift as of what remains to the owner after it has been given.” (New Bible Commentary) Her contribution was given in faithful obedience to God. Too often we give away that which we will never miss. 

Application

This is a season for giving and the opportunities simply abound. There is the food drive at work, or the local church which stirs our heart. We go to the pantry and find the canned food items which may be close to, or out of date and put them in a bag to give away. We quite literally make giving a process in which we clean out that which we don’t want and give it away to someone else. In the meantime it’s no sacrifice to us because we will never miss it!

The same happens when there is a clothing drive. Searching our closets we clean out the items that are looking a bit worn, are a little too tight to wear, or are extremely outdated and we package them up to give to the needy. There is no sacrifice in giving away things that we don’t want in the first place.

Faithfulness and obedience requires sacrificial generosity. God doesn’t want our left-overs, he wants there to be nothing left-over because we give our all to Christ. The widow's gift reflected the love of God and our sacrifices are to reflect God’s great gift to us.

Prayer

Lord, may your spirit of generosity fill our hearts to overflowing for others. Amen.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

More than Meets the Eye


Scripture
 
Luke 20:27   Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.  29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;  30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.  32 Finally the woman also died.  33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Luke 20:34   Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;  35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.  37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”  39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.”  40 For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

Observation

Some Sadducees posed a problem that they thought would stump Jesus. They were materialists, that is, they believed only in this physical world — the things that can be touched and felt. Therefore, hearing Jesus’ preaching, they thought that they would try to get him to explain a difficult problem regarding marriage in heaven. What he made clear to them was that while they did not accept the resurrection, even what they did understand they were basing on their own teachings. Their understanding of the resurrection was based on their materialistic understanding of this world.

Jesus’ message was about more than what meets the eye. He preached about transformation in the physical world, but also about eternal life in the world to come. Jesus came to make it possible for God’s children to be restored in the image of God and to be perfected in holiness.

The need for marriage and procreation were necessary because of death, which was the result of sin. Where there is no sin, there is no death and this changes everything. The world and possibilities about which Jesus preached were far beyond the physical and more than what meets the eye.

Application

We limit God when we restrict our faith to those things which we can see and touch. Knowing Jesus leads us into a daily faith walk. In this journey we discover the spiritual world is more than what meets the eye. When we try to explain the kingdom of God from our limited human experience we begin to set boundaries on what God can and cannot accomplish in our lives. The Sadducees couldn’t imagine the resurrection from the dead because they refused to allow their faith to be expanded. Jesus is stretching us, helping us understand that faith requires us to believe in more than what meets the eye.

Our current circumstances have more options for resolution than we can imagine for we are bounded by our finite understanding. When we are in a relationship with Jesus, we are on a journey of transformation or perfection into the image of God. Living daily in that relationship leads us to a deeper understanding of the things of God. We begin to see beyond the here and now and we embrace the things of Christ and his kingdom. It’s in that space that we begin to understand that kingdom life is much more than what meets the eye.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the experiences of life that become faith builders. Amen.