Thursday, December 14, 2017
Habbakuk 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.
There is good news for those who wait for the Messiah, for he will bring about the final deliverance for all of God’s people. This news is to be placed in a prominent location for all to see, for no one would want to hide such wonderful news!
God’s people continue to journey through the season of advent with great anticipation of the arrival of the Christ-child. It’s a fun season with so much happening around the celebration of Christmas. Our calendars are filled with dates for parties, concerts, and dinners. One wonders whether they can survive the season in the same size of clothing! There’s just so much to do. But sometimes I wonder whether within the hubbub of the season, we forget the real purpose of our participation in the myriad of events? All of this is to herald the good news of the arrival of the Messiah. It’s all supposed to be pointing us in the direction of Jesus. The danger is that the activity will, itself, mask our ability to announce the good news.
Every event of the season should become an opportunity to make the vision plain that salvation has come for the whole world. May every party, every dinner conversation, every concert be a blazing invite to know the Messiah. For there is a vision of salvation which needs to be seen by those who are walking in darkness.
This season should be a challenge to all Christ-followers, to take advantage of every opportunity to share the good news. Whether in a restaurant, or at the bank, or shopping at the grocery store, allow your life to be a living broadcast of the vision of Christ. Make the message plain by all that you say and do and may this season not be about being busy, but about announcing the good news; pointing in the direction of Christ.
Lord, may I not take for granted the opportunities I will have today to share about you. Amen.
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Acts 11:15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Peter is in Jerusalem meeting with the leaders of the new church and there are concerns because rumors are circulating about his work. It’s purported that Peter had met with uncircumcised Gentiles, and that they had received the Holy Spirit. This greatly concerned those who were in leadership because they assumed that Jesus had come for the Jews. Surely someone would have to convert to Judaism before receiving the Holy Spirit! But suddenly that didn’t seem to be the case.
While God could have simply gifted Cornelius and his family with the Holy Spirit, he had Cornelius send men to Joppa and search for a man named Simon. Evidently God was doing more than simply reaching out to the Gentiles, but was also wanting to do a work in Peter’s life. He wanted Peter to have the privilege of participating in the gift-giving, and to experience, first-hand, the work of God. To have refused these individuals would have been to refuse the work of God.
Yes, God wanted to reach out, even to the Gentiles. Peter had the incredible privilege of participating in that gift. Sadly, there are those who are not always happy about the ways in which God works. The officials in Jerusalem weren’t quite sure about what all of this meant. They wanted their own system to receive the attention, and yet, the gift seemed to know no bounds. Peter recognized that there were those interested in protecting the “system,” but by participating in the gift giving “even to the Gentiles” Peter himself experienced grace.
I love watching my granddaughters play together. In reality, they don’t always play well “together.” When the little one picks something up, her older sister thinks that’s the exact item that she needs immediately. She’s only two and learning to share is a challenge of life. Whatever her sister has, she wants it, and wants it now.
We may not want to admit that we sometimes feel this way about our faith. Those who have been walking with the Lord over a longer period of time may find it difficult to welcome the person whose life is pretty messed up. We may just think, no — this spiritual life is for me — not for you. We judge a person by the way in which they’ve lived their life and, subconsciously may not think that they are worthy of the grace of God.
A young lady I recently met in a church is a recovered drug addict. She said that no one had ever told her that she could be restored into the image of God. Instead, she felt that she would always have to wear the scars of who she had been, while attending church with those who “seemed perfect.” Or, there are the friends who have messed up in life and feel that they will forever have to bear the Scarlet “A” on their chest. The reality is that we have all messed up in life and none are worthy of the grace we have received from Christ. The joy of participation in the mission of God means that we get to share gifts with everyone.
This Christmas season let’s look for opportunities to share the gift with those who may be different. In doing so, we may be the ones who realize that in giving, “even to the Gentiles” we are the ones who are blessed.
Lord, please give me eyes to see those around me who may be different, but are awaiting your grace. Amen.
Monday, December 11, 2017
Mark 1:7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
John the Baptist fully understood his role and didn’t want anyone to think otherwise. A great preacher who drew huge crowds, he could have lived into his popularity, but he refused. This ministry was not to be about him, but about pointing in the direction of the Messiah. Compared to Christ, John was not even worthy of being a slave, and he was committed to completing the most mundane of tasks. He was to participate in the details of the preparation, making way for the arrival of Christ.
This weekend didn’t quite go as planned. Traveling to the airport on Friday morning I anticipated a trip where I would get to meet a whole new group of church leaders, and share thoughts on the season of Advent and the arrival of God incarnate. Little did I know that snow in Atlanta would upend the travel plans of thousands of people, including me. After hours of waiting, the announcement finally came that the flight would simply be cancelled. It was time to grab my bags and head back home, suddenly having a “snow day.” Feeling a little like Thomas Freedman who wrote, “Thank you for being late,” I realized I had been given the gift of time. A little bit of free and unstructured time which was completely unexpected. What would I do with these precious hours?
I hadn’t been able to spend much time preparing our home for Christmas. My husband had put up the tree, but it still had no ornaments and a few boxes of Christmas items were stacked by the kitchen door. My little granddaughter Mackenzie was prepared to help me bake cookies, if only I had the time. Suddenly I had the time to slow down and get engaged in the preparation for this season. Both Mackenzie and Alice “helped” me decorate the Christmas tree. Then Mackenzie pulled up her stool and stood by the island in the kitchen, helping me bake cookies. Turning on some traditional Christmas music, we began our task. We measured ingredients together, and put them in the bowl while the mixer was running, and when we were finished, we licked the beaters! All important to the process of baking good cookies. We cut out “little twinkle stars” and “shooting stars,” and then very generously coated them with sprinkles when they were baked. It was all fun, but it was in preparation. Soon guests will be coming and we want to be prepared.
In this Christmas season we do much to be prepared for the different events in which we fellowship together. While all of this is fun (and maybe a tad stressful), it is done in preparation for the culmination of the season. Maybe it’s a dinner party or some other event, but the desire is to be prepared. We all know that the preparation is a lot of work, but it’s certainly not the main thing. What would it be like to prepare your home for Christmas, and then never have Christmas come? It wouldn’t even make sense.
Every day we are to live in preparation for the return of Jesus. He has come, and he will come again! We are to be engaged in the work of preparation, helping to point others toward the great day when Jesus returns. We are not busy, just to be busy, but with great purpose and direction. The things that we do are nothing in comparison to Christ — they are just preparation.
Every disciple of Jesus Christ, whether a layperson or a minister, should do all for the glory of God, in preparation of pointing others toward God. I began this devotional thought before church on Sunday, but didn’t quite get it finished. I left for church, feeling the the Lord still had something more to say to me about preparation. I assumed it would be something that God wanted to speak to me through the sermon. The message of the day really did speak to my heart, but it was something else that God had in mind. So often we worry about the results of what we are doing. If we’re in ministry, we are wanting to see the church grow, and people come to Christ. Suddenly, I was reminded that Christ doesn’t even know the time of his return, and so it’s not the results, it’s the effort we put into preparation. We are to be busy doing what God asks us to do, but leave the results up to the Lord. I walked into church and my husband was talking to a man sitting in the pew, about three-quarters of the way back. I stopped and my husband introduced me to “Bob.” He immediately told me that he used to work at NAPA auto parts with my husband and a whole group of Seminarians, nearly 40 years ago. He said he’d brought his Bible with him, an NIV which had been a gift from the Seminarians. They had each signed that Bible, and had been witnesses to Jesus Christ, engaged in the preparation.
Just as I was able to joyfully bake cookies in anticipation of Christmas, so, we joyfully participate in the preparation of Christ’s return. We have no idea when it will be. We have no idea when our preparation will come to fruition, but that doesn’t matter. As faithful followers, we continue to be engaged in preparing the way for the Messiah, for the one coming is far greater than anything we can imagine.
Lord, thank you for a small glimpse of your powerful work — in your time. Amen.
Friday, December 8, 2017
Jer. 1:4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
Jeremiah was a young man, living during the time of king Josiah. The world would change dramatically during his lifetime and God wanted to use him in a significant way. God had known Jeremiah from before he was born and had called him out to be a prophet. The mission of being a prophet was not something to be sought ought by the individual, but rather it was God who chose the person for the role of prophet. When Jeremiah discovered this was God’s will for his life, his responsibility was to respond, giving himself wholly to the mission. This would transform his entire life.
This calling was specifically from God, and it’s a gentle reminder that trying to assess others’ spiritual gifts for ministry may not fit a human pattern. This is a gift and calling from God that comes to us, even as we are young. John the Baptist responded to faith in the womb, and Jeremiah was knit together in his mother’s womb, for ministry. For each, they had to respond and embrace the mission which God had prepared for them.
Jeremiah was afraid of the task which God seemed to be laying before him. He didn’t think that he had the talent or ability to complete the job. He was far too young to be a prophet. Everyone knows that prophets are old and have long white beards! By all outward signs, he is not the right man for this job! And yet, God had a mission in store for him.
The mystery of all of this is our engagement with God in the mission. When we begin to think that our ability to accomplish the impossible laid out before us is our responsibility, we get it all wrong. This is the mystery of God, which we cannot explain. For Jeremiah, and for John, and also for Jesus, the pathway was laid out before them long before they were born. But along the way, they had to decide whether they would participate in, and embrace the mission.
How often do we make excuses for the things of God? I’m afraid that God is wanting us to participate in the mission at far greater levels than we are. We are right there with Jeremiah, explaining why it’s not possible! "I have too much to do." "I have to take the kids to sports on Sundays." "I need to work a few extra hours this week." "I don’t have the skills needed to do the task." "People would think that I was weird if I were whole-heartedly devoted to Jesus."
So instead of embracing all that God has for us, we settle for a mediocre faith and practice. The problem is that we don’t live into the DNA which has been knit into our very being and we live a lifetime of fighting against who we really are. No wonder so many people are miserable. It’s as if we are trying to wear misfitted clothing, a size or two too small, and we can’t figure out why we don’t feel free to run. When we embrace the mission, we are freed from all that entangles us and we can relax in being ourselves. No longer do we try to be like anyone else. Jealousy and pride fall away and are replaced by the joy of fulfillment. You see, not only did Jeremiah discover his pathway, but God also empowered him for the journey.
Discovering who we are in Christ can be a moment of release and freedom. Instead of fighting against Christ’s leading and finding it constricting, in him we will find the joy and energy to run in his peace.
Lord, I’m just a girl and I’m not sure what I have to offer, but please help me to daily embrace the mission. Amen.
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Eph. 3:7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. 13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
The incredible mystery of God is revealed in Jesus Christ, and this is the mystery — that all things are to be united in Christ. The church is to be the expression of this unity, a place where all divisions are destroyed. There is to be no privilege in the church, and this was difficult for the Jews who saw themselves as spiritually superior. Paul was certain that this was possible, not through his own power, but through God’s mighty power. All of this to be revealed in the church.
At the same time Paul sacrifices his own life in service to God. He brings his fervor, willingness to bear anything, and wisdom from God. The result is that God is glorified through Paul’s interaction, and God’s intervention.
This vision of the church is fascinating. I’m not sure how many of us would embrace the idea that the church is a place in which the glorious mystery of Christ is revealed in unity, but that is the vision which is to be reflected to the world. This vision of unity can become a reality when God’s people embrace the gospel which Paul preached.
At the same time we are to follow Paul and participate together with God in the mission. This is the synergy which occurs when God and human participate together. We cannot do this work on our own, but we can, when we participate with God. All our human skills and abilities become energized by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the work of the church is completed.
This synergy means that a vision of unity can be realized. It’s not something that will just magically happen when we passively wait for God to work. We are to give ourselves to the vision, intentionally tearing down the walls of division and finding ways to reveal unity to the world. Paul spoke of the oneness in Christ, where there would be no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. In other words, intentional ministry means there is no spiritual hierarchy within the life of the church. All work together to becomes disciples of Jesus Christ.
Synergy means we work to break down barriers which may be created by citizenship, race, economic status, educational level, and gender. This was the glorious vision that could become a reality in Christ. Where human systems fail, God can succeed, through miraculous power.
Wouldn’t it be exciting to participate in an impossible mission, made possible by our participation with God?
Lord, we live into your transforming power so that you may be glorified in all that we do. Amen.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
The followers of Jesus Christ were sanctified, being made holy, as they continued on the journey of life. The saints were God’s holy people, those who had been saved and were now being sanctified. The holy ones had been adopted into God’s household. This was a new home, a house where Christ was the cornerstone.
This new home was the dwelling place of God, a holy temple. Every member of the new household was a stone, held together by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, so that, together, we could serve as a holy temple in the Lord. As a corporate body we are the “dwelling place for God.”
I’m not sure who it is that comes to mind when you think of a saint. Maybe it’s one of the early church leaders — St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Mary; or maybe it’s someone who came a long later in church history, someone like Martin Luther, Susanna Wesley and her children, or Mother Theresa. All of these are very special individuals who have influenced the world in a powerful way. They may seem almost superhuman, and imagining any type of spiritual partnership with them could seem out of reach. But, they were simply ordinary people who were transformed by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Saints are ordinary people who become shining reflections of Christ in this world, and therefore seem extraordinary. The invitation is for all followers of Jesus Christ to be saints. To be a saint is simply to radiate with the holiness of Jesus Christ. Strangers and aliens do not radiate with this holiness and as long as life is lived in sin. The good news is that all are invited into citizenship within God’s household.
Consider how difficult it is to obtain citizenship here on earth. Every nation has their own rules or pathways for citizenship, and I’ve never heard of one country that makes it easy. The best thing is to be born into your citizenship and then not try to make any change. Those who have tried will testify to the challenges, and usually great cost that is involved. Amazingly, Jesus Christ pays the price for our new citizenship with his very life. Yes, this new citizenship is costly, but not to us. We are invited to stop living in fear and wandering through the wilderness, and find a new home. This new home is organic, a place where brothers and sisters become united together, creating great beauty in the midst of diversity, and become God’s living temple. It is a citizenship of God’s saints, molded together and reflecting the holiness of Christ, in all its dazzling glory.
We are invited to embrace our new citizenship, and with great pride link arms with others in the kingdom of God. There is no regret for what has been left behind, for this new life, in Christ, is much more than anything we could have imagined. We are invited to shed the pain of our past, stop our wandering, and allow the saints to welcome us into our new home.
Lord, may I proudly live into the citizenship you have afforded me. May I live my citizenship well and responsibly live our my role as a part of your holy temple.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Eph. 2:10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
The beautiful tapestry of God’s creation includes each and every single human being. We are as creatively produced as the lyrics of a poem or the chords of an orchestral tune which brings one to tears. Intentionality on the part of God to create humanity in the very image and likeness of the Creator means that we reflect Christ in our actions. God has prepared a pathway for our lives, a way in which we are to walk, day in and day out. This way of life, in the Greek is really the walk, and it’s a way in which we will walk for the remainder of our lives. Once we are “in Christ Jesus,” then we live a restored life, in the image of God, in which we remain on the pathway of new life, until we come to the end of the journey. It is a beautiful long walk, as God’s creativity is experienced along the way.
Salvation is never by works, but it’s interesting how quickly the author of the Epistle brings up the need for good works. That moment in which our lives are transformed is dramatic. The entire trajectory of life is changed and suddenly we find ourselves on a new pathway, and this one that is already prepared for us.
We live near a beautiful big park where our family loves to go on walks. Every time we have gone we have taken a different path or trail. I’ve been trying to get my husband to try out the large paved bike/walking path and see where it goes, for I understand it leads you for miles and miles. Instead, we seem to get sidetracked by trying out the first little path that we see. We have ended up on two rocky trails that lead through the forest. While it’s beautiful, I’m never quite sure where we are going to end up. Also, I worry about twisting my ankle. I keep pointing out to my husband that in the distance I see a beautiful asphalt covered walkway that seems to lead across beautiful hills for miles. I’d like to try out that place sometime!
God has creatively prepared a pathway for us, and invites us to take a walk together with him. It’s a beautiful journey that may lead to places that we would never have imagined. Along the way we are to practice the good works of Jesus Christ. The path may not always be smooth, but it will take us to the places where they need to experience Jesus. Throughout life we are to keep on walking — never stopping.
For those who would like to simply stop and say that we have done our time, we are missing the mark. This walking is to be our way of life. Touching the world in her deepest needs is to be a way of life. Continual spiritual growth and movement in the direction of Jesus is to be the norm. The result is a life in Christ that is a beautiful, long walk.
Lord, I want to keep walking on your pathway today. Amen.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Eph. 1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
The prayer for those in Ephesus is that they will go deeper in their relationship with God. They lived in a city where people believed that the goddess Diana was all-powerful. The need was great to embrace the depths of power that were available in and through God. The all-powerful, God of glory is capable of providing wisdom and revelation in the midst of our circumstances. It is possible for spiritual growth to expand our vistas, to open the eyes of our hearts, so that we can begin to see the eternal. When this happens we experience the riches of the inheritance which is available to all of God’s holy children. No earthly goddess can compare to the spectacular scale of God’s power which is available to all of those who would believe.
This week I’ve been pondering the state things. In the United States we live in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. Every day it seems that there are pleas to speak out about one issue or another. At the same time when I go to Africa I am amazed at the embrace of Christianity. My ears were shocked to hear the pilot on a recent flight say, “Welcome, and may God bless you.” I began to realize how unfamiliar those kinds of phrases have become in America, but what’s happening in America is not happening everywhere in the world. God still reigns, and God is at work!
The goddess Diana seemed have a formidable influence upon the people of Ephesus. How could a little band of Christians have any influence in a city that large? And yet, they did! If we read the incident recorded in Acts, we discover that the revival fires in Ephesus were so great that they had an effect on the souvenir sales. So much so, that the salesmen rioted. Now, somehow I can’t imagine that a little band of believers had the power to upset the entire culture surrounding the worship of Diana. The reality is that they didn’t. They couldn’t plan and strategize enough to have seen that kind of a response. What they did do, was grow into the realization that they were the inheritors of God’s power.
I now serve in a position of leadership in a church, and sometimes wonder how we will navigate through these days. There are looming questions about the future of Christianity in America. What will the church look like in ten years? What will happen to charitable giving? How many pastors will we have? And then, in the midst of the questions, we are reminded of the spectacular scale of the power of God.
The responsibility of followers of Jesus Christ, is to get to know Christ. Paul’s greatest concern was that those whom he had led to Christ would continue to grow spiritually. Through intimacy with Christ we gain wisdom, and have divine revelation. Our eyes are opened to possibilities that are simply unknown to humankind. We place our trust entirely in the same God who could revolutionize the city of Ephesus. This is the hope to which we are called! Not to be successful in the eyes of the world, but to know Christ, and in knowing Christ to experience a power far greater than the world.
Do we believe that God is greater than our circumstances? Can we focus on Christ instead of the things of this world? There is a glorious inheritance for God’s holy people. The daily journey must take us closer to our Lord, and there we are privileged to embrace power on a spectacular scale. Let’s put our trust in God, and not in Diana.
Lord, thank you for the reminder that you are greater than the things that we face. Amen.
Saturday, November 25, 2017
Eph. 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
While many of our translations say “Blessed be…God,” the understanding here is that God is “blessworthy.” In other words, this is a praise to God, and Paul is giving us the reasons that God is “blessworthy.” This is not some kind of apologetic for God, but is an invitation to the readers to join in praising and extolling the work of God. This is a model for prayer that helps us lift our eyes beyond ourselves and the things of this world, and to see God’s invitation to participate in the unfolding plan.
God is “blessworthy” because of holiness. The unfolding of God’s plan is a revelation that all of humanity is invited to become “holy and blameless before him in love.” Only God can make us holy people, through holy love. At the same time, we are to actively participate through virtues in that holy love and a life of faith, thereby remaining saints throughout all of life. It is this synergistic activity, God and man combined, which results in a gift from God, through God, that transforms in holiness. For this we bless God, for we acknowledge the “blessworthiness” of the gift of holiness.
The vision is of young girls with long dresses, long hair covered by a bonnet, and not a stitch of make-up. It’s a list of things that we don’t do because we are “holiness people” and somehow not thinking that this is anything that is “blessworthy” because it feels more like deprivation. Sadly, we have come to define holiness by what we don’t do, rather than what we embrace. Instead of praising God for the gift of holy transformation we drag our feet and think it is only something for a few individuals who have been called to this thing called “holiness.” But if this is the case, then we don’t truly understand holiness.
Holiness is “blessworthy” because it is such a miracle of transformation. God is holy and desires that all of humanity become holy. By Christ’s assumption into human flesh, the possibility now exists for all of humanity to be made holy. If we think that we can embrace some kind of a Christian life in which we follow rules without participating with Christ, we are fooling ourselves. If we think that we can choose to live a Christian life without holiness, we are fooling ourselves even more. Christ came so that we could be sanctified and be made holy like him. This is God’s work — not our work. There is nothing about following a particular list of rules that will make me holy — but there is something important about my participation in becoming more like Christ.
God provides the pathway in Christ and makes us holy. We continue to grow in holiness by our participation in Christ. The result may be a change in the way I dress because I choose to be more modest than I was in the past. I want people to see Christ, not me! I may become more selective about the activities that I engage in because I find it hard to participate in Christ in particular settings. God works, we participate, and what results is a synergy in which we are transformed to become more like Christ. And all of this is “blessworthy” because it is a miracle!
It is not humble to say “I can’t be holy.” That is simply a denial of the “blessworthiness” of God’s gift for all of humanity. Bless God, and embrace the holiness of Christ which is generously placed before us.
Lord, I bless and praise your name. I am grateful for your gift of holiness. Please, help me to live into that gift with all that I am. Amen.
Friday, November 24, 2017
Eph. 1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This greeting is found in five of the Epistles attributed to the apostle Paul. While we may simply see it as routine, there must also have been great significance. This salutation sets the tone for the letter, recognizing that both grace and peace come from God the Father, and Jesus Christ. Only when we embrace the unmerited grace of God, can we live in the gift of the Prince of Peace. There is no peace without grace, and all of this comes freshly supplied to those who want to grow spiritually.
Sometimes I wonder about how seriously we consider our faith, or whether it’s something that gets put on the back burner and pulled out whenever its needed. What strikes me about Paul is his intentionality in all that he says and does. Right from the outset he makes it clear that everything must be focused on the unwarranted grace and peace which we receive from God.
In my tradition we talk much about prevenient grace and salvation, but sometimes forget to continue the conversation. As we learn to grow spiritually we are to live grace-infused lives as the Spirit draws us closer to the Lord. We are all in need of continual grace if we are to be shaped and molded into the “saints” of which Paul speaks. The language of “saints,” is not about those who are super-human, but those who are being sanctified by the on-going presence of Christ in their lives. In Paul’s vernacular, we are all being called to become “saints,” and this, only by the grace of God. We need to walk in grace every single day of our lives.
The Prince of Peace has provided a pathway for us to become united in holy fellowship with the Triune God. The peace of God can permeate our very being and transform the ways in which we live our lives. The anxiety and stress riddled daily journey is not God’s intent for those who are living in the peace of Christ.
We may want to consider greeting one another with intentionality. May the grace and peace which only comes from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be poured out in and through our lives today.
Lord, thank you for the promise of grace and peace. Amen.
Thursday, November 23, 2017
2 Timothy 4:21 Do your best to come before winter.
It appears that Paul is coming to the end of his life and the struggles are real. He is tired and worn out. Soon it will be winter and he needs his cloak because Rome will be cold. He wants some of his study materials as well, and he really wants to see Timothy.
Paul knew what it was like to sail the Mediterranean during the winter for he had suffered shipwreck in a terrible storm. Most captains would not attempt to travel during this treacherous season. Paul wanted Timothy to consider his safety, and the practicality of traveling. He really needed Timothy to come soon, before winter set in, probably because he felt this would be his last opportunity to see him. Paul sensed that not much time was left and the time for action was now.
We all live through the seasons of life, each providing joys and sorrows. Through the seasons we have the opportunity to grow and to develop as God’s holy people. We can embrace what life brings our way, or we can resist the grace of God.
Eventually winter will come, and with it a period of reflection. We may become concerned with our financial security, and the need for a “cloak” to get us through the final season of life. Our memories may become a little dull and reminders of the things we have studied in life may be needed. Finally, being surrounded by those who love us becomes very meaningful as we await the last transition.
Spiritually we need to come to the Lord before winter. Waiting for the last season of life means that we may miss out on what God has for us. Living the Spirit-filled life is possible in every season. When we come before winter we have the privilege of embracing a life of continual transformation into the image of Jesus Christ. Coming before winter means a life of holiness, where all that we have is laid before the Master, to be used throughout the entire journey.
I’ve watched my parents live a life of holiness faithfully throughout their seasons. Now, like the Apostle Paul, they are reaching winter. They call and ask for me to come and visit, before it becomes too late, or too difficult — or before they forget who I am. Coming before winter means more to me now as I want to embrace every moment that I can with my parents who are living out the final season of their lives. I don’t want to wait, but I want to soak up every opportunity to be with them, provide them security and comfort.
I want to come to my Savior before winter as well. I don’t want to wait too long. I want to experience the joy and comfort of being in my Lord’s presence now, and for all of eternity.
Winter is coming faster than we can imagine. Don’t wait too long. Come before winter.
Lord, may this be a day of drawing nearer to you in all things. Amen.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
2 Timothy 2:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
Timothy had been raised reading and studying the holy Scriptures. What we know of as the Old Testament was standard study for the Jews. While Timothy had a mixed heritage, his mother ensured his Jewish eduction and this remained with him and served as a vital foundation to his Christian faith.
Timothy, the young pastor, as should any pastor, is encouraged to really know the Scriptures. The breath of God has blown through the written word and the words have come to life. It is this same Spirit which breathed life into the nostrils humanity that now blows through the written word. Only when one spends time breathing in the Spirit-filled word, does the breath of God truly bring the person to life. Suddenly one’s life becomes resonate with the very sounds of heaven.
There are so many good books, videos, pod-casts and blogs available these days that we can become absorbed in a mass of information. While all of that is good, it should never be to the neglect of spending time in the word. The stress here is on the need to be saturated in the word of God, to become a servant of God. There must be time spent in preparation for this service, for to represent God, one must know God.
For followers of Jesus Christ this is a serious challenge, for the mind and the mouth of a disciple ought to be one and the same. It is the breath of God found in the Scriptures that transforms the life of the believer. We need the air flowing through our bodies to give us life in the Spirit.
The word of God provides the pattern for our lives, teaching us what is false, what needs to be corrected, training us in a right understanding of things, and comforts and consoles us in our time of pain. But just as medication will only help us when we take it, so the Scriptures can only serve to bring us life when we deeply breathe in the Spirit-infused words.
God breathed into the Scriptures so that the Scriptures may breathe life into us. Daily, we need to breathe deeply the word, and then we will experience the Spirit bringing us to life.
Lord, breathe your Spirit in and through me. Amen.
Monday, November 20, 2017
2 Timothy 3:8-9
As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth. But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.
The message of the gospel was so radical that it went against the voices of society. There were those within the community who purported a gospel which was more enticing than the one preached by Timothy. Drawn by the love of money and power, there were those who believed that they could present a message that was more palatable.
Jannes and Jambres are historical figures, believed to be the magicians who worked for Pharoah. Every time Moses presented the truth, they providing an opposing perspective which seemed a bit appealing, but eventually led to death. They could almost present the same works which Moses was doing, and therefore, they led both Pharoah and his people into a counterfeit faith. That faith was a reliance in themselves, a dependence upon their own skills and abilities. They were their own god, and therefore continually opposed the truth. Sadly, they led many to destruction because they cared more about themselves, than their people. They opposed God’s messenger and enticed people away out of selfish ambition.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is very counter-cultural and is not always as appealing as the cheap religion that others may sell. The concern in Ephesus was for sexual purity. Christ-followers were to exercise self-discipline when it came to their sexual practices. Just because a person had particular desires didn’t give license to act out. The false voices of the world were encouraging them with enticing words. “Follow your heart.” “Do what you want to do.” “Why wouldn’t God want you to enjoy yourself.” All of these enticing words, almost the truth of God, but not really, became distractions to what Timothy was to be teaching.
The love of self, and quite specifically money, can be an enticement away from the truth of the gospel. When someone comes and preaches a little more palatable gospel, one that gives license to the things we want to do, we can be easily enticed. In the long run, however, the easy gospel will not gain much traction because it ultimately will lead to destruction.
Spiritual discipline in the area of sexuality is a requirement for God’s people. Generosity and restraint in financial matters are a great need. Discipleship, the call to a deeper walk with Jesus Christ is necessary for all of God’s followers. Beware of those who sell a cheap gospel. There was nothing cheap about what Jesus did for us. He gave everything that he had so that we may become like him. Our participation in Christ is only possible when let go of all the things that keep us tied to the world. We must release that which false teachers may entice us to cling to. Then, and only then, can we live in truth that will set us free.
Lord, please give me a discerning heart, releasing anything that may hinder my life in you. Amen.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
2Tim. 2:23 Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, 26 and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
It may be hard to imagine that there were stupid and senseless controversies in the city of Ephesus, before there was social media. It seems that humanity has always had a propensity for disagreement and it’s simply the medium in which those discussions have occurred that has changed. In the first century there were those who were professionally trained in rhetoric; generally known as lawyers, or ministers. They went to universities where they were educated in the art of disagreement. Among those with the highest skill was the Apostle Paul. He knew how easy it would be to become enticed by a good disagreement. It was literally a sport and yet, it was destroying the church.
Ground rules were established for the young Timothy. Stupid quarrels would become a distraction to the real work of ministry. He needed to have an attitude of love toward those who wanted to constantly be engaged in senseless controversies. Instead of allowing himself to get carried away by his emotions, he was to respond with kindness. He was never to add fuel to the fire of the controversy, but in love, he was to help put it out. The fruit of the Spirit was to be revealed, as he responded with patience, and gentleness, providing correction out of a heart of love.
Somehow the spirit of controversy is associated with being held in the snare of the devil. By becoming consumed with controversy, one is distracted from the real work of the kingdom, and in this way, the enemy wins the day. This is why it is so important to understand that stupid and senseless controversies breed stupid quarrels.
One of the earliest heresies of Christianity was gnosticism. This was a dualistic approach to the world, one in which there was a separation between the mind and the body. One was able to reach out to higher intellectual ascent (knowledge — gnosis), but the body was considered unclean. This provided a great way in which to excuse behavior. One could be engaged in gaining greater knowledge about God, but the ways in which lives were lived on a daily basis didn’t need to change. Therefore, one could be seen as super-spiritual, if engaged in debates. This desire for greater knowledge could be affirmed by those who adopted this gnosticism. The problem was that transformed lives in the flesh would no longer be a reality if one embraced this way of thinking. It was a very dangerous threat to the church.
We cannot assume that we are super-spiritual because we can engage in lengthy debates with the world of social media. The ability to blog, tweet, or engage in on-line discussions may be enticing us into a new world of gnosticism. We can become so engaged in the discussions that we forget that there are real people, in the flesh, living and dying around us. There are people who need us to put down our electronic devices and spend the day with them, listening to the pain they are experiencing in their lives. We need to know our people so that we can bring the sermons that they need to hear. Living “fleshly” lives we touch the pain of this world and carry with us the healing balm of Jesus Christ. Rubbing shoulders with real people in real need doesn’t leave room for stupid quarrels.
There is time for discussion, but this is the time for action; God’s people, engaged in a very needy world, reflecting Christ and revealing the fruit of the Spirit in all that we do. In this way, we escape the snare of the enemy.
Lord, please help me to genuinely live in this world and touch the lives of others for you. Amen.
Saturday, November 18, 2017
2Tim. 2:20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.
For the household to function at its highest caliber, there is a need for a full range of utensils. Hospitality is a reflection of a home and the earthly kingdom of God is to reflect the reality of the eternal koinonia found within God. Instruments are required for that hospitality and this includes household utensils. The wide variety of utensils required means that there must be great diversity within the household; hence, within the kingdom.
In ancient practice some vessels were considered more valuable than others because of the materials out of which they were made. Within the kingdom those dividing walls were destroyed because all were needed for the kingdom’s purposes to be accomplished. No matter what kind of vessel, fancy, or simple, once cleansed, they became special utensils. They were now dedicated for kingdom work, and as a result, each unique and individual piece stood ready to be used for God’s good work.
Chuck and I arrived home yesterday after being gone for nearly six weeks. In the last few months we have been working on getting settled into our new home, but part of it was not yet completed. We have been waiting on the kitchen so that we can get completely unpacked. When we got home the kitchen was ready to be moved into, and we were excited. Trying to deal with our jet-lag we decided that we should do all that we could to keep busy so we unpacked our suitcases and then began unpacking the kitchen dishes and utensils. There we discovered a wide array of items, some of which we have not seen in a very long time. Sometimes we looked at an item and wondered why in the world we had that one!
At the same time, I kept looking for a place to put each one of these special and unique items. You see, we enjoy sharing hospitality with our family and friends, and I love using the different dishes and utensils that we own. On their own, these utensils may look like a hodgepodge, but when they are combined and put together for hospitality they create something more beautiful than we can imagine.
Take the can opener for instance. It certainly doesn’t make a very beautiful centerpiece, nor does it make a nice serving dish. However, it’s really good at opening those cans of olives which we enjoy eating on special occasions. If we didn’t have the can opener, we wouldn’t get to enjoy the olives.
The problem in the kingdom is that some utensils or dishes look prettier than others. We can become envious of those who look nicer, or who have, a perceived better role than we do. Who wouldn’t want to be the beautiful centerpiece? But the centerpiece may only be used once, lovely as it is, and then forgotten, but a can opener may be used almost every single day.
The beautiful diversity of the household utensils needs to be seen within the kingdom of God. There is no reason to be jealous of one person or another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the most ordinary can be transformed into the extraordinary and used to serve in the King’s household. The more diversity, the finer the hospitality. Just imagine enjoying the delicacies created by the instruments from every nation of this world! It’s a never-ending feast that reminds us of the marriage supper of the lamb. The variety of cleansed utensils opens up new possibilities that become a glimpse of heaven. Cleansed, ready, and always prepared to be of good use to the Master.
Lord, I’m so grateful that you take our messes, and create something of great beauty. Amen.
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Where Have You Deposited your Faith?
2 Timothy 1:12b But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.
Paul strongly affirms that he is not ashamed of being a Christian. Even if other people think of him as a lunatic on account of his work, he will not turn back. He has given everything that he has for the sake of the gospel. Some of the older translations use the word “deposit” to refer to Paul’s putting his complete trust in God. Other translations us the word “commended,” or what Paul has commended to God. Augustine suggests that Paul is saying that he has commended his faith to God for safe keeping. Others might say that Paul has deposited his faith into God’s bank, and that he is entrusting everything, his mission, and all that he holds dear, to God. When that is done, then no amount of questioning on the part of others will cause him to withdraw his deposit.
Interestingly, when we think about this deposit into God’s bank, we discover the role of stewardship. In return, God entrusts to Paul his own treasure. There is mutual trust in this relationship and that’s why all of this is possible. It’s about a relationship. Paul has come to know the one in whom he is placing his trust. He has no doubt that his faith will be well-protected because he knows the protector.
There was no need for anyone to try and convince Paul to turn his back on God. No matter how crazy his faith may have seemed to others, he would never be ashamed of the one in whom he had put his entire trust.
We don’t sing a lot of the old hymns much anymore. Sadly, I think we’re missing out on some good theology and reminders of God’s great grace and power. This passage of Scripture obviously brings up this old hymn, “I know Who I have believed.” Let’s revisit the words:
- I know not why God’s wondrous grace (I have no idea what God graciously reached out to me, a sinner)
To me He hath made known, (He let me see his grace in action, revealing himself on the Damascus road)
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own. (Who was I, but a sinner. Jesus died for me when I was making fun of those who followed him)
But “I know Whom I have believed, (But I have come to know the one in whom I have put my trust)
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.” (The Saviour I have come to know, is able to safely hold my faith until I get to see him again, face to face)
To me He did impart, (I can’t explain how all of this happened to me, but I know that I’ve been transformed!)
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart. (It was by my on-going study of the Word that the peace of Christ continued to grow in my heart. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s been a miracle)
Convincing men of sin, (Yes, it is the Spirit who convicts us of our sin)
Revealing Jesus through the Word, (The Spirit helps us see Jesus revealed through the reading of the Word)
Creating faith in Him. (And somehow this develops within me a faith that I didn’t know I was capable of embracing)
May be reserved for me, (I have no idea what my future looks like. There may be good days, or there may be bad)
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see. (I still have time to live my life, in weariness from the journey, or strengthened by the golden sunshine)
At night or noonday fair, (Maybe it’ll be during the night while I’m sleeping, or in the middle of the day for all to see)
Nor if I walk the vale with Him, (I don’t know if I’m going to walk this earth with Jesus)
Or meet Him in the air. (Or whether I will meet him in my death)
It doesn’t matter, because I have come to know the one in whom I have put all my trust. I have deposited everything I have with my Lord, and I trust him fully.
Where we have deposited our trust will greatly influence the way in which we will live our lives. Singing the old song of our faith is a gentle reminder of entire consecration. Becoming completely sold-out for Jesus Christ means that we deposit every part of our life with the Lord. Nothing is held back — everything is put into the bank. The beauty is that in return God releases the treasures of heaven, and we become stewards in the kingdom. The hitch in all this, is that we must truly know the one in whom we place our deposit!
Lord, thank you for your precious promises and faithfulness to us. Amen.
Monday, November 13, 2017
2 Timothy 1:6-7 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Timothy was a young minister working in a situation where strong voices were spreading unsound doctrine. It seems that Timothy may have had a gentle spirit and have been intimidated by the older and more forceful voices. Foundational to tackling that which seemed to hinder Timothy’s minister, was love. The gift of God was Timothy’s love for God, that filled him to overflowing. He had entered into a covenant of grace, to serve as Jesus’ ambassador on earth, and affirmed by the laying on of hands. He was to remember that moment, and live his life in confidence.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in Timothy’s life had been evidenced by those around him. Timothy should not feel intimidated, nor should he fear those who disagreed with him. Filled by the Holy Spirit, he was to do his work with confidence. At the same time he was to participate in the effort, by showing self-discipline, pressing forward, and expressing love to those who may disagree with him.
It’s easy to feel intimidated when you’re young, and you don’t have a lot of confidence. Actually, you don’t even have to be young, because this is an affliction that can attack people of all ages. You want to please people and yet, when confronted with something that just doesn’t seem right, you’re not quite sure what to do. Living life nervously and with anxiety becomes commonplace in our stress-filled world.
There are many reasons to feel intimidated. Sometimes it’s because someone has more knowledge and experience than you have. Other times it’s because someone is wielding power against you and you’re not quite sure why. Manipulation and threats, physical, emotional and sexual, may cause paralyzing fear and the contemplation of capitulation. All of the above can keep us from accomplishing that which God wants to do in and through our lives.
While the NRSV uses the word “cowardice,” others use the word “timidity.” For many of us, we may just find ourselves on a continuum somewhere between those two words. But then we are reminded of the transformational and empowering work of God’s Holy Spirit. The infilling presence of the Holy Spirit does not leave room for a spirit of cowardice. Instead of being intimidated, one continues to live into the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that exudes grace-filled love. The one who is intimidating probably has their own issues and may just need us to be pastoral in our response. That doesn’t mean that we submit to them, but graciously in love stand up for what is right, and for truth. It is in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit that we are able to do more than we could ever imagine, and face the giants that normally leave us trembling.
Self-discipline must be part of our response, for we will only be empowered, if we take the time to be re-energized by the Spirit. Just as we must go to the gas station to fill up the car so that it will have the fuel to continue on its mission, so we must fill our spiritual tanks by spending time in God’s holy presence. Then, we must be disciplined to walk with the Lord out into a needy world and face those who may try to be intimidating.
Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Sedith, who reminded me what it means to be focused, self-disciplined and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
|Sunday dinner at the Sedith home.|
Her husband and daughter, Eunice, co-pastor the Toekomsrus church just outside of Johannesburg. It began in their garage and today they have a building that is filled to overflowing. Many of those who come to the church are there as a result of Mrs. Sedith, who has refused to be intimidated. She goes into the taverns and prays for God to lead her to someone. She teaches a “Way-Side” Sunday School out on the streets and today there are preachers in the church who were rescued because of her tenacity. She has been chased by someone with an axe, and prayed with the local Witch-Doctor to come to Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit oozes from this woman, who refuses to be a coward, but has an incredible spirit of love and self-discipline.
Pastor Eunice leading the service.
Intimidation comes in many forms, but there is a cure. Soak in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, and then plan the work — and work the plan! To God be the glory.
Lord, I want to be like Mrs. Sedith when I grow up. Amen.