Thursday, July 20, 2017
James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
The author is writing to the followers of Jesus Christ who were actively engaged in the life of the “ecclesia.” This was the gathering of those who were called out and seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Many of these were well-to-do individuals who had resources and were looking after their business practices, planning where they would go next and expand their enterprises. The problem was that they failed to see the needs surrounding them on a daily basis and instead, were concerned with building their wealth. The judgement here is straightforward. They were not sinning by the things they were doing, but by what they were not doing.
John Wesley expressed that condemnation was increased for those who committed sins of omission. When one is being led by the Spirit and the soul is impressed upon to act but does not, it becomes sin. This was not only because the act would not be delivered, but the longer the nudging of the Spirit is repressed, eventually we cease to recognize the Lord's voice. This will lead to our own spiritual demise, as well as hurt those to whom we should be ministering.
It’s so easy to allow our lives to become so occupied with the activities of the day that we fail to leave space for the nudging of the Holy Spirit. The distractions and noise of the world can create a space where we simply cannot hear the voice of the Lord. If we can’t hear the voice of the Lord, we cannot act!
I spend a lot of time in airplanes and I’ve noticed quite a trend with regular business travelers. No longer do people want to engage in conversation, but want to tune out the surrounding world. Ear buds are a hot commodity and most of the people who fly around me pop them into their ears even before they get settled into their seat. The message is loud and clear (or deafeningly silent) that they are going to become engrossed in their own little world and have no engagement with anyone around them. I feel sorry for the flight attendants who want to ask them a question or get their drink order. I’ve noticed more and more that the flight attendants have to touch people on the arm to get their attention. No one hears. I can’t imagine what would happen should there be an emergency, because people are no longer tuned into the announcements given on the plane. That means that the possibility of simply not acting on a command is very real. The instructions might be given, but never heard. In that case, who becomes responsible for the lack of action?
In the spiritual realm we are responsible for deafening our ears to the pleas of the Holy Spirit. Just because we weren’t listening, someone may go hungry tonight, or the sermon God intended may not be preached, or the child for whom we are to pray at this moment may step into an unhealthy situation. All of this is more about the sensitivity of the one who is to be growing spiritually than it is about acts of mercy. At the same time, we begin to see that the acts of mercy are simply a revelation of the relationship one has with the Lord. The more time one spends with the Lord, the more one will engage in acts which resemble the work of Jesus Christ. When we fail to do the things Jesus would do, then we are failing at reflect him to the world around us.
We must take seriously the call to growth in grace and the importance of hearing and acting upon the nudging of the Holy Spirit. Each evening we may want to take inventory of the day and ask ourselves, “what have I failed to do today?” In doing so, we open ourselves up to the correction of the Lord in our lives and hopefully tomorrow we will be able to serve even more faithfully.
Lord, open my ears to hear and act on your direction. Amen.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Psa. 46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
The city of Jerusalem has no river running though it, while most major cities of the world find themselves connected to water. I live in Kansas City where we have the Missouri River. Just down the road in St. Louis they have the mighty Mississippi. How in the world were the people of Jerusalem to think about a river running through the city of God? Obviously if there were a river, the inhabits would rejoice and be glad.
This was an understanding of what life would be like in the city when God's presence was real. The city would be filled with God’s presence and providence which would rush in covering everything in its path. Everyone would be invited to jump into the river, swimming in the provision of God. The city would be filled with gladness because they were not simply preserved from difficulty but lovingly cared for, by the streams of the Holy Spirit which filled every corner.
On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out again in the city of Jerusalem. Things were different from the Old Testament period for God’s presence had long ago left the Temple and the voice of God had been silent for over 400 years. The promise of the Old Testament was now to be fulfilled in a new and exciting way. The river of the Holy Spirit would be poured out into the living temples within Jerusalem. The people themselves would become the vessels, holding the river which would flow through their lives.
God’s holy people will take the river of the Holy Spirit into the cities and allow the streams to flow to the places which are dry and to those who are thirsty. There will be great rejoicing because the holy habitation of the Most High is now within humanity. All of this has been made possible because of the work of Jesus Christ. The Psalmist was rejoicing in God’s presence in the city but now we rejoice in God’s presence in us.
This rejoicing is not simply for us to enjoy on our own, but to be shared with others who are desperately in need. These days in Kansas City we are experience a lot of hot weather. Almost daily there are heat warnings so that people will take seriously the need to care for their bodies and for one another. Everyone is admonished to drink as much water as possible, to stay well hydrated! Why is it that we recognize the warning signs when it is physically hot outside, but we fail to see our friends and neighbors who are suffering in the heat of life without spiritual drink? When our neighbors need water, we buy it by the caseload and have it delivered to them in their time of need. When people are spiritually in need we are worried that we may offend them or come across as overbearing in our faith.
Somehow we need to find a way to take our stream of living water into the places that are in desperate need of a cool drink. In this way the city will be made glad, people’s lives will be changed and the world transformed. Let’s not hoard the spiritual water for ourselves, but find ways to intentionally share it with those in need.
Lord, your river does make us glad. Please, help me to share your stream today. Amen.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Heb. 11:28 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.
The things of this world are only temporary and can be shaken in many ways. Governments, economies, natural resources, and physical structures can all shift beneath our feet, but we are invited into participation in the heavenly kingdom. That’s why we give thanks to God on high and participate in the unshakable kingdom, filled with overwhelming awe and reverence for the power of God. Our powerful God is a holy, loving, consuming fire who can take our simple lives and transform them as we live in the unshakable kingdom.
We are shaken by earthly kingdoms on a daily basis. All we have to do is to read the the news headlines and discover that things in this world are not all that stable. Worldly kingdoms are shaken by complex factors which influence geopolitics. Sometimes the activities of leaders are influenced by selfish desires, and at others by being forced into a corner and seeking for ways in which to survive. The earthly kingdoms are all interrelated in one way or another and we create shaky scenarios when resources get out of balance. Concerns over water, the ability to grow food, and the questionable possibility to provide for the next generation can create stress, and when one nation loses its resources, it must look elsewhere. Generally neighbors don’t freely give to one another and as tensions increase, eventually people will fight for survival. The kingdoms of the world become shakable and the feeling of being boxed in a corner creates a need to break through our human barriers or constraints.
In contrast we are all invited to become citizens of God’s kingdom. The geopolitical, racial and gender barriers are destroyed in this kingdom and the golden rule is supposed to be actively at work. The kingdom is unshakable when her citizens respond with the love of Jesus Christ and willingly give up what they have for the sake of others.
We are given the gift of this unshakable kingdom. Our response is to be one of gratitude and worship. We participate in the unshakable kingdom on a daily basis and yet, we must set aside specific time for worship. When we gather for worship we focus upon the One who has given us the gift of the Unshakable Kingdom. With awe and reverence we come before our heavenly Father who purifies us from the things of this world that keep us attached to the shakable kingdom.
In the midst of all that is shakable, we are invited to participate in the unshakable.
Lord, please lead me into fun participation in your kingdom. Amen.
Friday, July 14, 2017
Heb. 11:13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
The great chapter on faith brings inspiration, for there are those who have gone before who become mentors for all who will come later. The faithful died without seeing the end, or the completion of God’s plan. They saw from a distance and yet, they were inspired. They didn’t have to experience it all in the here and now, for they could live in faith. Recognizing that they belonged to God’s kingdom, they articulated that they were strangers, or foreigners on earth. Faith inspired them to see the homeland from a distance, and yet, not to give up hope.
Once they began the faith journey, they didn’t look back. Remaining attached to the things of this world would never have allowed their spirits to soar and become entirely connected and devoted to God. Faith drove them to leave earthly attachments and therefore God proudly loves and cares for these dear earthly children. A new city is being built and there these faithful will dwell as citizens in a new homeland.
My great-grandfather left the Volga region of Russia as a young man, traveling to the United States. He and his entire family made a decision that they had to leave behind the life which they had loved and move on to a new land. Their family had lived in the village of Messer for generations, having brought their German heritage with them during the time of Catherine the Great. The Russian-Germans, as they came to be known, had built a lovely life and culture in these colonies along the Volga river. For one hundred years they had lived as a protected people, but now the official contract with the government had come to an end and there were some who could see the handwriting on the wall. They had heard about life in America, and seeing from a distance, they chose to pack up what they could and make the arduous journey to a new land. Somehow they had faith to believe that life might just be a little better in a new homeland.
The extended family traveled by ship to the United States and then by train to Nebraska where the Russian-Germans congregated before setting off to varied locations in the new land. Somewhere in that journey my grandfather was born. A new baby, born in a new land, with a new citizenship. They desired a better country for themselves and their progeny. By faith they made a difficult journey, but one which would affect the lives of so many.
About twenty years ago I traveled to one of the German colonies along the Volga to meet up with some of the Russian-Germans who had not made the journey to the new land. They had chosen, for various reasons, to stay. The old Lutheran church in Messer (now Ust-Zolichka) stood in ruins, a silhouette against the beautiful blue sky. We went to the home of an elderly aunt of a friend, also a Russian-German, who was traveling with us. As if stepping back in time we bounced along on pot-hole ridden mud roads, passing by the ox drawn carts and gaggles of geese. The small ginger-bread houses of blue and green looked as if they hadn’t been touched in a hundred years. When we arrived at the home of the Auntie, we discovered the only modern convenience was electricity, a reward of one of Stalin’s five-year plans.
That day I learned something about longing for the old homeland for Auntie told us stories that made us tear up and cringe with fear. After many had left for the new land, those who had stayed behind began to suffer terribly. During the time of collectivization they lost their farms and their animals. The result was a terrible time of starvation. “Did you know that we ate grass like the animals?” we were asked. Not all survived the terrible famines, but if they did, they then faced the impact of the Great Patriotic War against the Fascists (we know it in the west as World War II). Stalin, fearing that these people with German roots would suddenly show loyalty for the homeland they had left nearly 150 years previous, decided he had to be proactive. In the night they gathered the men of Messer, took them to the edge of town and buried them all alive. Auntie told us of the horrible night as the women and children heard them screaming until finally everything became silent. Next the trains appeared and those who remained were put on cattle cars and shipped to Siberia or Central Asia. They had only returned to this home in the last five years.
Why did Frederick Schmidt have faith to believe that he could make it to a new world where the destiny of his entire family would change forever? I don’t know — but that day sitting in a small village home in Russia I realized that I was the recipient of a citizenship in the new homeland and I never had to suffer the way in which those who had remained behind had. But by the grace of God, this was my family’s story. But by the faith of someone who could see from a distance, it would have been my destiny.
We owe it to those who will come after us to have a vision of the new homeland. By faith we walk through this life in a way that will lead us to our citizenship in the kingdom of God. By faith we see now from a distance and we continue journeying in that direction. Our decisions today, as we live by faith, will take us, and generations to come, to the homeland which we now only see in the distance.
Lord, please help me to continue pressing on in the direction of a better country. Amen.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The need for spiritual growth and maturity is placed before the believers. They are a community of faith and they share responsibility for one another. Given permission to provoke, the community is to be one which reflects the love and good deeds of Jesus Christ. This ability to “provoke” will only happen if they continue meeting together on a regular basis.
Some have made excuses that they are too busy and so they have given up the habit of meeting together regularly. The danger is being lulled into complacency without regular provoking from their sisters and brothers in the faith. With regular fellowship one will be provoked, but it will feel like encouragement on the part of fellow believers.
When the world looks in on Christianity do they discover a people who reflect the love and good deeds of Jesus Christ? I’m afraid that these are not the descriptors that are usually used in relation to Christianity — at least not in the part of the world in which I live. Sadly, Christianity has been provoked, or possibly enticed, to seek power through political channels. Maybe we’ve thought that it’s easier to seek the power of the world to try and make things the way we want them to be, than to regularly meet together and to provoke and encourage one another to love and good deeds!
The reality is that we are meeting together more and more infrequently. Even those who say they attend church regularly are now attending 2-3 times a month. Our lifestyles have changed with more opportunities and events clamoring for our attention. Little by little regular church attendance has become a thing of the past, and even those in leadership are gone on a regular basis. It’s all good stuff that takes us away. We want to invest in our children and grandchildren by allowing them to participate in the best sporting events possible. Our financial resources provide us with the opportunity for travel and fellowship with family and friends from far-off places. It’s all such good stuff but upon evaluation, is something missing? None of this has been an intentional plan to neglect our spiritual life. We still have time with the Lord in prayer and devotion — even while being busy (we do, right?). And yet there is something missing when the community is unable to get together and have iron sharpen iron.
It’s time to provoke! If we do not make gathering together with a community of faith a priority, we will all fail to be the complete reflection of Jesus Christ that we are called to be. When I only drop in to church from time to time, my actions and behaviors become hidden. No one will feel comfortable provoking me, because they’re not really sure what I’m up to. And if I don’t have time to go to church regularly, can I be intentional about minister to those on the margins and reflecting love and good deeds? I don’t mean dropping a dollar in the cup of the homeless beggar, but taking time to get to know the homeless beggar and find out the real needs!
I lead a life in which I travel a great deal and being part of a “home” church and community is not easy. However, one of my favorite things at our church is the Wednesday night prayer gathering. If I am in town, I will adjust my schedule to make sure that I get to be at Wednesday night prayer meeting. This has become my group with whom I want to meet. They pray for so many needs and burdens and I know that they lift me up when I am not present. I remain inextricably tied to this group of individuals because we have spent intimate time together in God’s holy presence. They can provoke me to love and participate in good deeds. I cannot neglect meeting with the Wednesday night prayer group.
We must all find a place of accountability; a place where we are willing to be provoked. Our lives will become spiritually fat and unhealthy if we do not allow ourselves to be prodded by those who love us and only want the best for us. Somehow, in our busy schedules we must intentionally create a space for regularly gathering together so that we can be provoked. Without being provoked, we just may begin to die spiritually.
Lord, please help me listen to the voices of those who are seeking your face, and may need to provoke me. Amen.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Isaiah 11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
The vision of a paradise where the Prince of Peace will reign is penned by the prophet. The description is given in terms that would shock the people. It was not uncommon to have bears attack livestock and it was the responsibility of the shepherd to carefully guard the flock. In this vision of a new reality where the Prince of Peace reigns with all power and authority a strange picture begins to appear. This vision makes no sense because everyone knows that cows and bears do not graze together. The bears graze on the cows and the young are especially vulnerable.
This vision of a new reality is a foreshadowing of the kingdom of God. When the Prince of Peace comes, he will usher in a new era, one in which the “already” of the kingdom of God will be visible here on earth and ultimately lead to a world in which the “cow and the bear” will graze together. The vision of the new reality was a promise for those who received Isaiah’s prophecy, but it is a current hope and true reality for today.
What does a vision of cows and bears look like in the kingdom of God? Metaphorically we discover cows and bears every day of our lives. Cows serve a particular purpose in the world. They are a more gentle animal from whom we can obtain milk and meat — both for sustenance. Let’s say these are the individuals who love to provide for others. They give of themselves sacrificially because their concern is for the greater good.
Along comes the bear, one who is big, strong and able to wield a force that can be destructive. It could be the individual that seems loud, overbearing, pushy and walks all over the cows. At the same time, those skills can be put to good use for even today the bear is fighting for survival. That power is used to survive in a difficult world and it ushers in fear and respect from the others in the animal kingdom.
Just google “cows and bears” and you’ll get all kinds of results that show you the danger in putting these creatures together. Mostly you will discover videos of bears eating cows.
What if we happen to have cows and bears in our family, in the church, or in our community? Would we mostly discover tales of the bears eating the cows? In other words, are we communities in which the powerful bear eats up the weaker cows? If Isaiah’s prophecy is to be true, then life within the kingdom of God becomes transformational because of the presence of the Prince of Peace. It is the Prince of Peace who takes the bear and transforms all the power and energy and utilizes it for the good of the kingdom. The Prince of Peace removes all fear from the cow, for the cow is now empowered by the presence of Jesus Christ! (Yes — still metaphorically speaking — don’t say Carla is talking about Jesus being a cow!)
This vision of a new reality with cows and bears grazing together looks like a foretaste of the kingdom of God. The sacrificing and nurturing individual is never harmed by the one with power. Instead they become a beautiful synergistic partnership, recognizing each other’s skills. The cow provides milk for the bear and her cubs. The bear protects the cow and brings leadership. The community becomes healthy by exercising love and patience, embracing the diversity found within the new kingdom.
All of our communities are to be a reflection of the hope to be found in the kingdom of God. The Prince of Peace ushered in a new era with a hope that can be experienced in our lives right now. We are not to be turned off by people who are radically different than we are, but we are to embrace them as people who help to complete us. It may not be easy, but the results will stun the world. Cows and bears are not supposed to get along — but suddenly they do. This is the work of the Holy Spirit alive within those who have accepted the Prince of Peace. This is the kingdom reality and we rejoice when cows and bears learn to graze together.
Lord, in your creative energy you have made us all different, yet in your kingdom vision we are to partner together. Please, fill me with your love for my brother and sister and may we complete one another in a vision of the kingdom. Amen.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Mic. 7:18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
19 He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
While the people had been terribly rebellious, there was always the promise of forgiveness. If only the people would repent and turn from their evil ways, God would have mercy on them. The prophet Micah extols the gracious and loving nature of God who is willing to forgive , even after the terrible disobedience of God’s people.
God is exceedingly disappointed in the behavior of the people, but still shows great compassion and a desire to forgive. The prophet reminds them that their iniquities (which have been vile) will be tread under the foot of God. This is good news! And finally, their sins are cast into the depths of the sea, or as some early Church Fathers would say, into the waters of our baptism. In the waters of baptism our sins are left to sink in the water as we are raised up as new creatures. This is the incredible hope for a people who are desperately lost. There is a God of great love and compassion who continues to wait patiently for those who will turn around and run into the arms of the loving and forgiving Father.
The message of the prophet was to be heard on two levels. This was a message for Micah, himself, who was discouraged by all the he saw among the people. There was hope for his preaching and he was to believe that God could truly transform the people. Then, the words spoken were also for the people who needed to repent. The compassionate love of God was available for the transformation of their lives.
We probably need to hear this on two levels as well. All of us know those who have run from their faith and are living in a way which is not pleasing to God. This is painful for all involved and just as Micah carried a burden for his people, so we are to carry a burden for those who have wandered from the faith. This isn’t easy when they are disobedient and creating pain for many. However, consider the ways in which the people to whom Micah was speaking had been unfaithful. The vile nature of their sin was absolutely overwhelming and yet, God was promising to cast those sins into the depths of the sea. Have faith that God can reach that loved one or friend who has chosen to live in sin and draw them back into God’s holy presence. We always live with the hope of transformation.
If the direction of your life is currently taking you further and further from your relationship with God and you are wondering whether you have reached the place of no return, you need to embrace the compassionate love of God. God has not, and will not ever give up on you. No matter what we have done, God delights in showing clemency. God will cast our sins into the depths of the sea. We can go through the waters of baptism and be made new! This is the incredible hope found in the compassionate love of God who, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor. 13:7)
Don’t give up hope on yourself, or your loved ones. There is a gracious, loving and compassionate God who is constantly reaching out to us in grace and patiently awaiting our response.
Lord, you know the loved ones for whom I pray today. May your gracious presence touch them in a way in which they experience your compassionate love today. May I never give up hope, for you never give up hope. Amen.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Mic. 2:6 “Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”
God’s people were living in disobedience and the prophets were struggling with their message. When they preached God’s truth the people rebelled. They didn’t want to hear those words. The official religious leaders didn’t want to stir up the people and so they preached to the prophets, telling them to be quiet because their words were troubling the people. Then, they went on to preach the things that would tickle the ears of the people.
Preaching God’s truth may sometimes trouble the hearts and souls of listeners. The purpose of preaching is not to entertain or to make the people in the pew happy. One of the early General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene passionately preached on holiness and the crowd threw dead mice at him!
When preaching begins to make us angry and uncomfortable, it may just be touching a nerve it needs to touch! Instead of becoming angry at the preacher and telling them to “stop preaching about that,” we need to examine our own hearts. God’s people didn’t want to hear that there would be consequences for their behavior. They were determined to believe that “disgrace will not overtake us.” But they were wrong.
There are consequences that we must face for the ways in which we live our lives. There is fallout from taking drugs that will affect your own body and your ability to provide for yourself and your family. Children will be hurt by divorce, no matter how amicable you believe the situation may be. Your spouse will be wounded by your addiction to porn. The world will suffer when Christians insulate themselves and refuse to become a voice for those on the margins. Premarital sex will have a lasting impact on your marriage. And the list goes on and on…but the voices in the pew say, “stop preaching about that!” We want to hear about a God who loves unconditionally and will accept us no matter what. That is true, but this is a holy Father who sent his son as a living sacrifice so that we wouldn’t have to live trapped in the darkness of sin. The good news is that God does love us unconditionally and accepts us no matter what, so that we can be transformed into sons and daughters who do not have to live in sin. God can heal us from the consequences of sin, but we must stop making excuses.
We should never try to silence the prophetic voice, but be willing to be molded by God’s correction.
Lord, this day many will stand in your pulpit and preach. May our preachers not be inhibited to speak the truth you have laid on their hearts. Amen.
Saturday, July 8, 2017
Heb. 5:11 About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.
The author to the Hebrews is concerned that these followers of Christ may not be growing spiritually. Because they have failed to continue in their spiritual development they have become difficult to teach. Their understanding has become dull, without any kind of brightness or shine in desire to become like Christ.
The chiding continues, for not only were they to have grown spiritually, but they were to have been fed well enough that they would be able to disciple others. This is where the metaphor of feeding begins to take shape and an examination of their diet appears. Just as small children grow, so spiritual children are to grow. An infant’s diet consists only of milk and only after time are they able to handle solid foods. The expectation is for God’s people to be able to eat a regular diet of adult food. It is only when we are fed from solid food for the mature that we are able to clearly discern what is happening in the spiritual realms and can see the difference between good and evil.
Having little grandchildren in our home has helped me to relive the whole adventure of feeding children. The five month old continues to feed only on milk, although it seems that it is no longer completely satisfying. She awakens during the night hungry and needs more and more to eat. Just this week a few solids have been added to her diet because of her growth needs. If she were to continue to be fed only milk she would not gain enough weight as she grows and could develop something that is medically called, “failure to thrive.” When our diet continues to consist of milk or baby food — we will fail to thrive spiritually. For an infant it means potential death. For a spiritual infant, it can mean death as well.
Our spiritual journey is to be one of continual and on-going growth. We are to push ourselves to move on to more and more solid food. It means that we must challenge ourselves to continually mature in our diet. Our personal time with the Lord ought to include reading and studying things that will challenge us and maybe sometimes make us uncomfortable. If we think that we have everything all figured out, just spend more time with Jesus and he will push our boundaries and make us think about things in new and different ways that will force us to ask questions.
There is nothing wrong with asking questions! Our other granddaughter will be two this coming week. She knows how to ask questions and her diet is much different from that of her little sister. Her parents are very careful about the food their children eat and this child eats fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheeses and meats. She is a very healthy eater and when grandma slipped her a chocolate covered cherry without thinking, she looked at me and asked, “what is it?” A good question because this was not something her parents would have given her. Even at nearly two years of age, she has become much more mature than her baby sister and is discerning about what she puts into her mouth. She’s learned to ask an important question, “what is it?” That’s what happens when we move on to maturity. We become discerning regarding what is good and/or healthy and what is not. Therefore when we are handed something that just doesn’t seem right we immediately ask,”what is it?” “Is this really something that I should be devouring?” No longer are we simply fed as an infant, eating whatever our parents hand us, but we begin to ask questions.
Maybe it’s time to examine our diet and see what we are consuming. If we have failed to move on to more mature things spiritually then we may be suffering from “failure to thrive.” The majority of Christianity finds itself in that very place. They are fed by the food of going to church on an irregular basis and after years become weak and tired and fall away from the faith. According to Barna’s research, very few are willing to go deeper. Only infants would expect to be fed spiritually by others. When we expect the church to spoon feed us spiritually we are not growing to the place where we need to be. We must learn to feed ourselves and grow into spiritual maturity, and then we will be able to teach others.
Lord, please help me not to become complacent with my spiritual diet, but to be fed daily by you. Fill and stretch my mind to the limits of my understanding so that I may be used by you. Amen.
Friday, July 7, 2017
Hebrews 4:9 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.
The indictment for the Israelites was that they hadn’t made sabbath rest a priority. Maybe the statement was rhetorical, wondering what would have happened in the early years of occupation in the Promised Land had they explicitly followed God’s plan. But now, the writer to the Hebrews reminds the people of God that there is still a sabbath rest for them. This is both in an understanding of the already of the kingdom and the not yet. In other words, a sabbath rest from the activities of life today becomes a glimpse of the eschatological hope that we have in Christ; that we will rest with him eternally. So, we make every effort to enter there rest now, making a sabbath rest an intentional priority in life, so that we enjoy a small foretaste of what will come when we are together with Christ for all eternity. Sabbath becomes a practice that keeps us from falling both now, and forever.
I recently met a young man who pastors a rather larger church in New York City. We were having a conversation about his staff and the requirements that he has for them. He told me that he expects every staff member to take a sabbath every week and that they are accountable to one another in their weekly staff meetings. He explained that a sabbath rest went from sundown to sundown and that it involved becoming disengaged from work, social media, and devoting oneself to family and the Lord. They also teach this in their church and encourage every church member to practice sabbath weekly. The bar for spiritual discipline at his church is pretty high and I asked him if it inhibited church growth. On the contrary, he said he’s been amazed at how people are drawn to a community of faith with strong spiritual practices and in the midst of a highly urban setting, they continue to grow.
This idea of an intentional sabbath rest is something that God desires for all of us. I have to confess that there have been seasons in life where I have done well with a sabbath rest and others where I have practiced it quite poorly. When I do not make time (and it does require making time) for that rest I find myself trying to do everything in my own power. Pretty soon I feel as if I’m running on fumes. I have a bad attitude, I’m grouchy, and I begin to experience fear and anxiety. This is not the way in which God wants us to live.
We read this scripture and most of us would say, “yeah, sure, I go to church on Sundays.” That’s not the extent of a sabbath rest. However, when I was a child, my parents took the day quite seriously — there was no newspaper and there was no television on that day. I think we saw it as being a bit legalistic. Little by little my parents allowed us to do more things on Sundays — but the idea of keeping Sunday special always stuck with me. There was something unique which happened on that day, which included extended time around the dinner table, long conversations, and often teasing Dad about his sermon. But there was formation that happened on that day. We didn’t do homework on Sundays and we didn’t go shopping. We didn’t do the things that we could do on the six other days of the week. This day was special and we knew it. As a college student I continued the practice and gave Sundays completely to the Lord — not even doing homework that day. Oddly enough — everything always seemed to get done.
So now I’m preaching to myself. We, as God’s people, need to go back to creating space for a sabbath rest. It doesn’t have to be on Sunday if you are engaged in a lot of work that day. But could we take a twenty-four hour period of time and rest from all the busyness of the world and savor relationships with God and others? It may just be a little foretaste of heaven that God wants us all to enjoy. Maybe we’ve forgotten that it’s one of the ten commandments! I am making a commitment to my family and to my church that I will intentionally plan a time of sabbath in my crazy - busy life.
We all need to create time and space to rest. Let’s put down our devices and enter into a time of rest and fellowship with God and those whom the Lord has placed around us.
Lord, your sabbath rest comes as a sweet blessing. Please, help us to take advantage of the gifts you have given. Amen.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Hosea 6:6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
The prophetic words of Hosea begin to point toward a Savior who will be dead for two days, but then raise again to life. All will be raised to life because of the work of the one who will suffer. But then, upon reflection, there is a coldness because of a lack of love. The loving sacrifice of the Messiah should be met with love on behalf of God’s people. God doesn’t want the things of the people — God wants the people!
Instead of a relationship they have become bound by legalism, and this has led to perfunctory acts of sacrifice and offerings. The people go through the motions but there is no knowledge of God and therefore no intimacy in relation to love. It is a vision of a future where the sacrifice of the One will open the doors to knowledge of God and participation in holy love. This is God’s desire for all of humanity.
Christianity has always struggled with straying into the realm of legalism. Somehow staying in a deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ sometimes becomes a struggle. Why? Because it takes time, effort and intentionality. Legalism is actually easier. We can go on with our lives without the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit in the many nooks and crannies of our lives that we would rather keep to ourselves. To remain in a deeply intimate relationship with our Savior means that we must be continually open to growing and developing. That’s a bit more painful than legalism.
God wants us to be in a loving relationship with the Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit makes this possible for each and every single one of us. So much of this intimacy develops during prayer. Learning to pray in quietness and to listen to the heart of God is vitally important. Our hearts are shaped by Christ when we learn to listen to the still small voice. Being shaped into the likeness of Christ is far more beautiful than being put into the box of legalism. That box has so many constraints that it becomes painful and unyielding, not only for us, but for others. The love of God dissipates and a hardness of heart begins to develop.
Knowledge of God also comes from that place of intimacy. Daily times with God in prayer and in the word are necessary for our spiritual development.
I hunger to learn more about God on a regular basis. I remember being in my doctoral studies and people asking me about the end goal. There was no end goal, for I had no idea what I would do with the degree. However, my studies became a spiritual journey, one that would transform me because I gained greater knowledge of God. I also came to understand that the more that I learned, the more I didn’t know. There is so much more vast knowledge before us and we must commit to being lifelong learners on the journey of life. The Lord delights in our desire for knowledge of God, much more so than any of the things that we can give.
God doesn’t want our stuff — God just wants us.
Lord, may the desires of my heart and life be to know you. May your steadfast love flow into and through me to the world. Amen.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Hebrews 2:18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews sets up a picture of the Messiah which encompasses humanity. It is the suffering servant, Jesus, who was willing to live and die in human flesh who provided the pathway for all of humanity to be adopted as sisters and brothers into the holy family.
Because Jesus suffered, he is able to help God’s children who are also being tested through the trials of life. A Jew who became a follower of the the Way in the early years of Christianity stood opposed to the religious and the political leaders of their day. This was not a popular stance and for this they would suffer. Their hope was to be found in their beloved Messiah who had already suffered greatly on their behalf. Now, they understood that when they suffered (for what is life without suffering?), they would be able to follow the path that Christ had already laid out before them.
Today a friend send me a blog post in which someone was relishing a life in which there would be no obstacles. On first glance that sounds pretty sweet and I’m afraid that sometimes we try to portray the Christian life in the same way. We are tempted to preach a gospel in which it would seem that the suffering of life is removed by faith. Sadly, there’s something terribly wrong with that kind of gospel message because it doesn’t resemble our Messiah.
Jesus suffered greatly in his lifetime because he loved and cared for all of humanity. We are called to take up our cross and follow him, and that includes going through the rough waters of life. If we experience a life in which there is no tension, no resistance, no experience to smooth out our rough edges, then we will never be shaped or formed into the image of Jesus Christ. I don’t like going through dark days, and yet, it is in those places where I have learned the most about reaching out and sensing God in ways that I never would have thought possible.
We would need to wonder whether we were really alive if we were not to suffer. Even a small child has to learn by experience. If they never feel hot or cold, will they ever know what those sensations are? Not that they have to be experienced to the extreme, and yet, they are not always pleasant. Our five-month old granddaughter was quite distraught over the cold sensation of sunscreen before we went out in the sun yesterday, however, without that little bit of suffering she would have suffered even more from sunburn. Sometimes suffering keeps us from even more suffering. We will have to go through experiences in life that are not always pleasant, but without them we will never grow.
Jesus suffered and promises to go with us through the trials. The early Christians faced unbelievable pain and suffering at the hands of the authorities. We never know what we may face today or tomorrow, but Jesus is able to help us because he knows how it feels. There is no real life without suffering, and Jesus went through real life so that he can help us with ours.
Lord, thank you for being a willing servant of the Father. Please, help me to follow you daily. Amen.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Hebrews 1:3a He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
Origen tells us that Jesus is “the reflection of the total glory of God.” (Commentary on the Gospel of John 32.353) Everything of God is visible in Christ Jesus. This is a great affirmation of Jesus, the Messiah, who bears the glory of God in his own image. Not only is he the visible image of God, but the Messiah has all power and authority to sustain all things. For humanity there remains an anticipation of the partial reflection of God’s glory.
As God’s holy people we are called to reflect the Image. This can only occur when we are in a right relationship with Jesus. This verse helps us to understand a bit of what it means to reflect the image, because it provides a greater understanding of “the” image, or “the” reflection. A reflection can only be understood in relation to the original. What is the original which his being reflected? This is where the understanding becomes quite profound, for Jesus truly is God in the flesh. We say these words, but have we really considered their meaning?
Jesus wasn’t just a good man, but was the “exact imprint of God’s very being.” It is in Jesus that we see God at work in the world. In Jesus we see God’s love in action as he goes to the very margins of society, healing the sick and ministering to the poor. It is in Jesus that we see God who gives of his own life sacrificially for the sake of those who deserve nothing. It is in Jesus that we begin to understand love at a depth that we may never grasp. It is in Jesus the we see a sustenance of the whole world in his words and deeds. It is in Jesus that we experience God’s hope for all of humanity; to be transformed into a beautiful and holy reflection of Jesus.
Jesus is “the” reflection, but we are invited to become as much of a reflection of him as we possibly can. For a mirror to clearly reflect an image it must be clean. Therefore we need the empowering of the Holy Spirit to cleanse our mirrors from the filth of sin which will mar the image. Next, we need to draw closer to the original — to Christ — for the closer we are to him, the more “the” reflection will fill our mirrors. I can have a clean mirror and still be a long way away from Jesus. For the refection to become clearer and more profound, filling my entire being, I need to be as close to Jesus as I possibly can. There is nothing else in life more important than becoming like Christ. This is the goal — the telos - of humanity, for to be truly human is to be like Jesus! This was God’s intention for all of humanity.
Jesus, “the” reflection, is the prototype. He is the one whom we are called to follow and to reflect in this world. If anything in life is taking priority over reflecting Jesus, we must pray that God would remove it so that we can become all that God created us to be. “The” reflection is to be visible in humanity so that the world may see Jesus in action every single day. Your reflection of the image may be the only Jesus that someone will see today.
Lord, the idea of reflecting your image is a bit overwhelming. Within our own capacity it is not possible. Our heart and desire is to know you and for you to continually transform your people into your image. Amen.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Isaiah 1:16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
The charge against the Israelites was powerful. The prophet was comparing them to Sodom and that, in and of itself, was condemnation. They were a people who had refused to follow the ways of God. Now, they were given an opportunity to change their ways, but this would need to begin with repentance.
The people of God needed to be cleansed and purified but this could only be accomplished if they engaged in full-on repentance. This repentance would need to be deeply personal and visibly practical. Chrysostom tells us, “Repentance is not what is spoken in words but what is confirmed by deeds.” (Homilies on Repentance and Almsgiving 7.3.10) It was time to put away evil and to get busy with doing good.
The medicine of God heals our failures and transforms them into hope for the lives of others. Mercy for God’s people is visible when become the voice for those who have none. It becomes obvious when, instead of visiting only those with reputation and fame, we prefer paying honor to the orphans and widows. John Wesley encourages us to show our “religion to God, by practicing justice to men.” He charges us to “defend and deliver them.” (John Wesley’s notes)
There is an expectation on the part of our Creator that the Holy People of God will be engaged in visible acts of justice in this world. Sinfulness is self-centeredness and leaves no room or space for Christ-centeredness. When Christ is at the center our motivations and actions become transformed. We begin to think and act like our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The word “justice” seems to frustrate some people and there is a fear that by speaking of “justice” we are somehow not engaged in evangelism or seeking to save the lost. The reality is that when you look at scriptures such as the one today, you discover that repentance, salvation, are all intertwined with justice. God is a just God, and God’s desire is for us to become more and more like the visible reflection of God in Christ. This has to do with the very character of God being revealed in the nature of God’s people. It is the upside-down activity of the kingdom of God where we serve the last first and the first last. It means we reach out to those on the very margins, love them, and seek to be system changers, providing pathways to opportunity. It requires intentionality on the part of the people of God.
We cannot just speak of repentance, but we must engage in acts of justice in this world. This is God’s call to the Israelites and is for us today. May we listen, obey and follow God to the margins, bringing the love of Christ to those with the greatest need. Our love for Christ will be visible in our actions in support of the least of these.
Lord, thank you for the reminder to serve those in greatest need. Please, open my eyes, heart and mind today to those who need a touch from you, through me. Amen.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
2 Chr. 20:21 When he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy splendor, as they went before the army, saying,
“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”
King Jehosephat called out to God and wanted the people to know who it was that he worshipped. Far too many of the kings had worshipped idols but now, this was to be a declaration that the Israelites worshiped the Lord.
The people of God were going into battle and instead of beginning the day with fear and trembling, the King led his people to worship God. They were to sing as they made their way into battle. The song that they sang is one we often sing these days — a Psalm of praise.
Instead of focusing on their troubles they were to focus on God, giving praise in the time of trouble.
Great confidence in God is revealed by Jehosephat’s commitment to praise. He could have responded in any number of ways but instead chose to praise and worship the Lord.
Finding ourselves in a time of trouble, we may also want to find the place of praise. That seems to sound rather counter-intuitive, and yet something seems to happen when we begin to praise the Lord. God ministers to our pain and suffering when we are obedient to praise. It doesn’t mean that all the trouble in our lives will be removed, but it does mean that our focus is shifted from ourselves to God. We begin to view our circumstances from an eternal perspective.
Let’s begin this day and every day by giving thanks to the Lord — for God’s steadfast love does endure forever! We are God’s children, transformed and encouraged in light of worship and praise of our eternal God. Try praising when the troubles come.
Lord, I don’t pray for trouble, but I do pray an attitude of heart and mind in which I may praise and worship you in all circumstances of life. Amen.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
1Tim. 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Prayer must be a primary focus of the believer’s life. As the young Pastor Timothy is being encouraged, prayer must be a priority in his life and in that of his congregation. Then, specific instructions are given in regard to the content of prayer. There are to be supplications — earnestly asking or begging for things. There are times when this is necessary because the burdens we are carrying are so heavy. There are to be prayers which include worship of God. Then, there are to be intercessions, where we pray for others, and finally thanksgivings or praises lifted up to God.
For whom are we to pray? For kings and queens and presidents and chancellors and all of those who find themselves in high position. The prayer is not that these people will change who they are or their character, but that we will be able to lead a “quiet and peaceable life.”
This focus on prayer is what helps to set everything right, and it plays a role in the salvation of those who do not know Christ. The implication seems to be that Timothy cannot be an effective leader if he does not spend time in prayer.
Prayer seems like such an ordinary thing and there always seems to be an assumption that all Christians engage in prayer. The sad truth is that we are doing little to train up the next generation regarding prayer. In the early days of the holiness movement prayer was a central theme. Here’s a story about the experience of camp meeting from the Nazarene Messenger of 1898:
The 6th of October, 1898, will be a red-letter day in the memory of many souls. As the people were engaged in prayer, there came upon them such a spirit of prayer that many began to pray all over the house, and there came over the assembly such tides of glory and power that several lost their strength, and little was done during the rest of that service but simply wait and praise, while such a sacred wave and heavenly glory filled the place, as It has not often been the privilege of those present to witness and enjoy.
Prayer was a major focus of the gatherings of the early holiness movement. They took to heart this guidance found in the word of God and prioritized prayer. Often there was more prayer in a camp meeting than there was preaching. Today those places have been reversed and I wonder whether we are lacking in the area of prayer.
The pattern laid before us can be very useful for our prayers lives. There are times in life when we are going to need to make supplication. It’s when our hearts are broken or so burdened that we cannot bear it any longer and so we pour out our burdens before the Lord. This is different for each and every one of us, and it changes through the seasons of our lives, but God is always waiting and ready to listen.
Prayer should always be about praise and worship of God. Notice the requests are only a part of prayer, while most of prayer is about being in the very presence of God. This is the place where worship leads to molding and shaping and forming into the image of Christ. God loves us and delights in us spending time in holy fellowship with the Trinity. We simply need to slow down long enough, be still, and listen to the voice of God in humble worship.
Intercession for the needy and lost is vital. This is one of the great mysteries of God which we cannot explain, but somehow, our participation in praying for those in need seems to be efficacious. Some of the early church Fathers talked about the synergism, or the release of energy that occurs when humanity participates with God. This is the invitation — in prayer we are invited to participate together with God’s activity in this world. God’s passions become our passions and our hearts are broken for those who need to come to Christ. I’m not sure there can be any evangelism without prayer.
When I have prayed with a group it seems that they often struggle with thanksgiving. I think it’s because we haven’t practiced this pattern of prayer and are so accustomed to bringing requests before God that we may become uncomfortable with thanksgiving. Our hearts are to be full of thanks for the things that God is doing in the world, and in and through us. Could it be that we have become so caught up in the negativity and criticism of our day that it’s hard for us to break from that mold and actually give thanks?
Praying for our leaders ought to be a normal focus of our lives. Nothing says that we have to agree with them, but we are to pray for them. Leadership can be pretty lonely and far too often the only voices are those who affirm their actions because they are afraid to speak the truth. We need to pray that truth will be spoken and heard.
We cannot take prayer for granted and as a spiritual discipline, it must become a priority. If we fail to create space for our prayer-life, our entire life will suffer.
Lord, thank you for the challenge of the discipline of prayer I have so much to learn and I desire to be more like you. Please help me to daily make the space for time with you. Amen.