Saturday, December 30, 2017
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!
The prophetic promises of God would result in great praise. Putting this in reference to the coming of the Messiah, the great name of the Lord was and is exalted. Jesus’ name is praised and lifted up because of his incredible work. God’s glory is reflected in the work of his son, Jesus. The glory of God is greater than anything that has been created, for he is above creation.
God’s people have been in need of his strength (horn). Jesus is the one who provides the strength for every day of life. God is faithful in providing all that is needed for those who serve the son, Jesus. The people of Israel were welcomed to draw near to Jesus, the Messiah. Those who did saw their lives transformed. It became a time to praise.
We are coming to the close of another year and it’s always good to look back and recognize the things for which we can praise the Lord. When we have a relationship with Jesus Christ, we learn to evaluate life in regard to him. Throughout most of Christian history people have thought of everything in relation to the creator. It’s only in the last few centuries that we have begun to dismiss this and tried to, in our rationalism, explain everything from a “scientific” perspective. What we fail to understand is that this “scientific” perspective is based upon the current understanding of humankind. In essence, we have decentered God, and recentered life around ourselves. When we fail to see the world and our lives in relation to God, we, in essence, make ourselves god. And where has that gotten us? An anxiety ridden world full of people who don’t know where to put their faith.
As we put our faith and trust in the Messiah, our perspectives begin to change. The lens through which we see the world is very different. We again see the hand of God at work, investing in those whom he loves. The incarnation of Jesus Christ brings incredible hope to those who feel hopeless. When we begin to grasp what it is that Christ has done for us, we become overwhelmed with gratitude. We begin to praise. Praise bubbles up, so much so, that it spills over into every cell of our being. Then, it overflows to the world around, and the name of the Lord is glorified.
Jesus has come. The hope of the world is now among us. Praise the Lord!
Lord, the beauty of your name fills our lives with joy to overflowing. May I be a vessel of your peace, filled to the depths and spilling over into the world. Amen.
Friday, December 29, 2017
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
The prophetic words spoke of a day and time when the people of God would give and receive compassion. The whole earth will rejoice at the complete and total healing which will be revealed in the lives of God’s people. The joy of this salvation will no longer be contained, but spontaneous singing will break out. God will comfort his people and reach out in compassion to his children who are suffering. This will be a sign of a new day.
This passage in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of what is to come. A divine prophecy that things would be different after the Messiah came. Later in Matthew 25 we Jesus’ prophetic words about the coming judgement. However, he makes clear that in the meantime there is an expectation for God’s holy people. Jesus is ushering in a new kingdom, one in which all of humanity is welcomed into participation with God. This participation is very specific for it relates to compassion. Acts of mercy bestowed upon those who are suffering become signs of the presence of God.
Those who inherit the kingdom of God are those who reflect the actions of God. They participate in God’s mission so that God comforts and has compassion on his suffering ones through all of us.
...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Sing for joy, break out in praise, when compassion becomes a sign of God’s presence in our very midst. Take every opportunity to welcome the stranger, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoner, and give food to the hungry. By doing this we participate in the advent of the Messiah. The light of Christ burns brighter in the world as compassion becomes a sign; God with us, Emmanuel.
Lord, we see the needs around us, and we hear the voices crying out to us. Please, help us to have compassion on those who are suffering. May you be reflected in all of our actions. Amen.
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
1John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Here we learn that the essence of God is seen as light. This is in contrast to darkness, which is viewed as evil. There is no darkness, or evil in God at all. The presence of darkness or evil, is the absence of light. We cannot walk in darkness and claim that we are in a relationship with God, because God is not in the darkness. We are simply lying about our relationship with God. But if we are willing to step out, into the brightness of God’s light, we will have holy fellowship with God, and with all of those who are in the light. It is in this place of bright light that the blood of Jesus will cleanse us from all our sin.
Our two-year-old granddaughter loves sunlight. When it’s time for her afternoon nap, she insists on sleeping “in the light.” She lays a little blanket on the floor where the sunlight is streaming into her bedroom so she can sleep with the sun. It’s a precious little sight, and when you look through the monitor, you see a beautiful sleeping child, almost glowing in the sunlight. She’s disappointed when she wakes up and her sun has moved!
Our faith is to be something like Mackenzie’s desire to be in the light. We are to love the light that shines on us when we are wholeheartedly given over to a relationship with Jesus Christ. When we fall in love with Jesus, our desire should be to soak in the light as much as we can. For Mackenzie to soak in the light, she must place herself directly in the path of the sun coming in from the window. If she were to lay on her bed, there would be no light. If we choose to hang out in the spaces where God is not present, we will find ourselves in darkness. We must take action to intentionally place ourselves in the light — and then, to remain there.
I’m afraid that there are those who claim to be in the light, but who are not. They are living in the shadows, going through the motions of appearing to be Christian, while at the same time not wanting to be in the light. The problem with the darkness is that we think it hides things. We don’t want all that we’ve done or are doing to be visible either to ourselves, to others or to God. We fool ourselves into believing that things can be hidden. In the meantime we miss out on all that God has to offer us.
The light has come in Jesus Christ. This Christmas season is a beautiful invitation to come and embrace the light. It's time to lay down our lives and soak in the light of the Son who gave up everything to come and fellowship with us.
Lord, thank you for the possibility of fellowship in the light. Amen.
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Acts 7:57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Stephen was a good man who was faithfully serving God. When he preached in front of the crowds they became angry. The words he spoke were cutting to the heart of the matter and this made them uncomfortable. Instead of listening to the truth, they physically began to cover their ears. They wanted to believe their own version of truth and would not be swayed any other way. Covering their ears they became a mob and rushed at Stephen, dragging him out of the city and stoning him.
The young man, Saul, was zealous for the truth and he “knew” these believers were wrong. We don’t read that he covered his ears, because I would like to believe that his curiosity got the best of him. He wanted to hear what Stephen had to say because maybe he could use it against the followers of the Way. But he stood silently and watched the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen. Maybe for Saul a little bit of truth was seeping in.
Mobs are a very scary thing because they are people who are out of control. At midnight on December 31, 1999 we stood on Red Square. We had taken a long time to get there, along with the rest of the massive crowd. We went through seven sets of security screenings as we made our way closer and closer to the center of the city. The throngs were swarming around us, but we wanted to experience this moment of history. It was freezing cold, but we didn’t care, we were going to be there, with all these people to usher in a new millennium. The square had huge screens all around it, mounted on the buildings. Shortly before midnight, then President Boris Yeltsin spoke to the crowd. Before he finished, he had resigned from his position and then he introduced an unknown Vladimir Putin to us all. This would be our new leader. I’m not sure what they were expecting but the square was also filled with military who were in an X shape, dividing the square into four sections of people. We weren’t allowed to cross that line. They were there to keep us under control. This wasn’t an easy task as the energy of the night and now, the news, was bubbling amongst this crowd of people, many of whom had been drinking for hours. In that moment it wasn’t hard to imagine how it could have gotten out of control. One little spark and it would have been a mob. Children trampled, and utter chaos. I was grateful for the military presence. They were there to keep us rational.
It’s far too easy to close our ears to truth. We may not do it physically, but we may tune it out emotionally. This week we have been presented with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Messiah was born to bring all of us life. Just because we refuse to listen to that story doesn’t make it false. By closing our ears we become part of the mob who refuses to accept Jesus as the Messiah. They march on chaotically, trying to say that their reality is our reality. Unfortunately a world without Jesus becomes a mob. There are no rules, or morals, and slowly we slip into despair. Anxiety and fearfulness rule the day, and we become a society addicted to drugs and other substances which numb the mind. We don’t want to give up our self-centeredness for worship of a tiny baby, and very humble king.
Embracing the truth that is Jesus Christ is counter-cultural. It stands firm in the midst of the mob and refuses to join in. With ears open to the truth, we follow the babe and find the peace and joy that is promised.
Lord, may I never cover my ears and resist the truth. Amen.
Saturday, December 23, 2017
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
God’s people allowed the darkness of the world to cloud their spiritual lives. By worshipping other gods, succumbing to the practices of the world and allowing their hearts to be turned toward evil, the darkness had engulfed them. Spiritual blindness resulted from such a prolonged period of time in darkness.
The words of the prophet are a promise of what is to come. Those who have suffered from spiritual darkness will experience great light. Not a blinding light that leaves them crippled, but instead a wonderful counselor or guide who will gently walk them back out into the light. Those who have lived in deep darkness will be drawn out into the light for the light will seek them out. The light will shine on those in the darkness and suddenly the spiritual life will have an opportunity to flourish. In the beauty of daylight will reveal the corruption of spirituality that existed in darkness. New life will be the result of living in the light.
When we live in darkness, we’re not really sure what it is that has its hold on us. We can’t see it and therefore we may only be touched by a small portion of something that is attached to a larger evil. It’s only in the light of day that we can see the whole truth. There are so many things that can hold us captive and keep us from receiving all the light that we need in our lives. Holding onto bad attitudes, speaking negatively about others, refusing to forgive, excusing self-gratification, becoming overly concerned about material things and more can keep us in the grip of spiritual darkness.
The people living in spiritual darkness were God’s people. They had the scriptures, and they had priests and rituals and traditions, and yet, they allowed the darkness of the world to grip them. I believe that we are continually tempted to be held in the grip of spiritual darkness.
Darkness is the opposite of the light. Christ is the light and he came to bring us new life. When we participate with him, the light begins to shine in upon us. It’s then that we see with clarity what we have really been doing, and we may find it terrifying. Things that we thought were good, may be attached to bad, and could bring destruction to our lives.
In this season of advent we have been considering the arrival of the light. Christ, who came to bring beautiful light into the world. First a little light burns, then more and more until eventually our spiritual lives may be lit up by the presence of Christ. The more that we participate with Christ, the more his light shines into our lives and is reflected out into the lives of others. We have hope for our own spiritual darkness because of the presence of Christ. However, we must be willing to embrace the light and be willing to change the ways in which we have been living. The exciting news is that when this happens, the reflection of Christ’s light in our life becomes so intense that we participate with Christ in bringing his light into the world. Our lives are to mirror Christ, reflecting his light so that we help to dispel the darkness. Spiritual darkness has always been destructive and only by embracing the light of Christ can we be transformed. It’s time for the darkness to be dispelled, and to walk day by day in the beauty of Christ’s light.
Lord, please help me not to fall into the temptation of the darkness. Amen.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Hebrews 1:3 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. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
This assertion about the nature of Jesus Christ is fundamental to understanding the incredible gift that we received through the birth of Jesus Christ. No ordinary human, Jesus was an exact imprint of the nature of God. As soft wax received the exact imprint of the king’s signet, so Jesus was the image of the Father. He carried within him the essence of God and this radiated with the very glory of God.
Jesus, in his creative role, has spoken life into this world, and continues to sustain all things. As the exact imprint of God, in human flesh, he is able to serve in a priestly function, offering the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all humanity. Then, jumping past the resurrection and the ascension the author takes us immediately into the throne-room of God, where the royal priesthood of Jesus is affirmed in his position for all of eternity.
This is the season of gift-giving. Many may have been struggling over the “perfect gift.” What is it that we want to give to our loved ones?
Now, maybe without realizing it, we go through that struggle because we are trying to mirror the fact that God gave us the perfect gift in Christ Jesus. During this holiday season we will speak of love, joy, and peace which were breathed into the world, but this is only because of Jesus, himself. Maybe we fail to understand the perfection of the gift — which Christ was and still is, for all of humanity.
To have God become human is an incredible thing. Jesus, by assuming human flesh, begins to heal the corruption caused by sin. Just by living his entire life he is healing and sanctifying human life, and providing a pathway for us all. Jesus, the exact imprint of the Father, by coming as an innocent baby is making it possible for us to become clear reflections of him, and hence of God. The image of God can be restored now in all of humanity, because we can reflect Christ. And, because of his atoning sacrifice, we can can be made clean, purified, holy in his likeness, adopted as children into God’s family. Jesus’ birth makes it possible for us to become his brothers and sisters, because he becomes like us. That is incredible! There is no more perfect gift.
So as we struggle over finding the “perfect gift,” don’t forget about sharing THE perfect gift. If you listen closely, there are people surrounding us every day who are searching for just the right thing. They just don’t know where to find it. If you know Christ, you already have it, and should be willing to share the gift with others. The perfect gift isn’t under the Christmas tree, nor at Jared’s! The perfect gift has already been given. Will we embrace him, in all his glory?
Lord, I think I am only beginning to understand the depths of your great love. Thank you for all that you have done for us. Please, help me to share that gift. Amen.
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Mark 9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. 11 Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”
The transfiguration is a moment of preparation. It is a glimpse of what is to come, when Jesus is transfigured on the mountain. Those who are with him are astounded and he tries to explain to them that he will rise from the dead. This seems to further confuse them, but again, this is a foreshadowing of the moment when the heart of the Father will be restored to all of humankind by the self-giving of his Son.
Their curiosity with Elijah, and understanding John’s role, is all a part of this preparation. The advent of the pinnacle of Jesus’ work is about to come, and little by little their eyes are opened. The problem is that far too many can’t see what is really happening. They close their eyes and ears to the reality of the work of God in their midst. Jesus is trying to intentionally prepare these men for what lies ahead. The light begins to dawn on them, a moment at a time.
So often there are signs around of us of the kingdom of God, but somehow we miss out on them. There are two things to be noted here. One is that our eyes and ears need to be opened to what God is showing us on a daily basis. It is all a part of our spiritual preparation. We are to see Jesus at work in the daily encounters, and all of this is becomes a light to our path, preparing us for the moment when we are finally united with Christ.
At the same time, we are to be participants in the preparation for others. We are partners of God’s prevenient grace in this world as we reach out to those who need to see a little bit of Jesus’ light. As we reflect Christ, we become the little glimpse of Jesus that some need as preparation to salvation. We are all working together in God’s work, bringing light into the darkness, preparing the way for those who need to know Christ.
The advent of Christ is exciting for those who know him, but it should be just as exciting for those who don’t. Think about the lives that you will touch today and the ways in which you can be a partner in preparation for Christ to transform them. Jesus was constantly and actively engaged in preparation and becomes our role model. He took his disciples to experience the transformation, for he was preparing them. He taught them about Elijah and John, because he was preparing them. These men became part of his inner circle and when they fully understood what he had prepared them for, them embraced it with their whole being. Whether in joy or suffering, they lived in the fullness of the light of Christ, finally understanding what he had prepared them for.
Lord, may preparation be a burning passion of my heart. Amen.
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
2Kings 2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
2Kings 2:13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
Elijah and Elisha had a special relationship and now, it was coming to an end. The mentoring that had gone on between the two had been on-going over time. Imagining life without Elijah may have been exceedingly painful for Elisha to bear. He clung to him, remaining with him every minute possible, so that he could learn what he needed from this man.
Knowing their time together was coming to an end, Elijah asked Elisha what he would want as an inheritance. He didn’t want anything from this world, but he did want a “double share” of Elijah’s spirit. He knew the source of Elijah’s power for ministry, and if he was going to continue doing this work alone, he knew that he needed supernatural strength. Elijah knew that this wasn’t anything that he could determine, but he could intercede for Elisha, asking God to give him this spirit.
Elijah was taken away into heaven but as he left, he let go of his mantle. Instead of clinging to this cloak, symbolic of his power and identity, he let it drop from his hands so that Elisha could pick it up and take it with him. He was a willing mentor; willing to have Elisha be even greater, for the sake of God’s work.
Our greatest joy in life ought to be in the development of others. When we are overly concerned about having power and position for ourselves, we lose out on what God may want to be doing in someone else’s life. Pouring into the lives of others ought to be one of our greatest priorities. It is possible for every person to be discipling another person, no matter where you may find yourself on the spiritual journey.
Think about your own life right now and whether you are intentionally investing in others. Being willing to give out of your own resources to fill the life of another is vitally important. Empowering and emboldening others to become all that they can in Christ ought to be one of our highest priorities. When we hold onto and cling to what we have, we become greedy in our faith. Refusing to share with the next generation will leave us completely powerless. Elijah had to let go of his cloak so that Elisha could be empowered. We have to trust those in whom we are investing and give the opportunities to have and use their power.
Willing mentors are needed in the kingdom. A humble spirit and willingness to see others succeed are keys to the ministry of mentorship. A new generation of Elisha’s are needed for our day, but those of us on the older end of the spectrum (yes, I’m finding myself there today), must no longer cling tightly to our cloaks, but let go and rejoice in what the power of God will do in those who come after us.
Lord, please help me to let go and invest in those whom you direct to my path. Amen.
Monday, December 18, 2017
1 Kings 18:7-16
As Obadiah was on the way, Elijah met him; Obadiah recognized him, fell on his face, and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” He answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.” And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would hand your servant over to Ahab, to kill me? As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom to which my lord has not sent to seek you; and when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would require an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. But now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.’ As soon as I have gone from you, the spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where; so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have revered the Lord from my youth. Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water? Yet now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here’; he will surely kill me.” Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
Obadiah had been faithful in serving God, speaking prophetically and protecting many of the other prophets during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. None of this had been easy and he was weary. Elijah had a bounty on his head and there was nothing more that King Ahab would enjoy, than to put Elijah to death.
Suddenly Elijah appears to Obadiah and asks him to go and tell the king that he is ready to meet. Obadiah is well aware of what happens to those who tell the king where Elijah is — and then he isn’t! Elijah was asking Obadiah to put his life on the line, and he felt that he had already done this enough. Why would God, by way of Elijah, keep asking him to do more? Surely, he had done enough good works!
Consecrated obedience required continual and on-going obedience to God. Yes, Obadiah would have to respond yet another time. He went and met with Ahab, risking his life for the prophet. What happens next is the famous scene of Elijah and the Prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel where God is glorified and revealed as the true God!
There may be times when we feel like Obadiah, growing weary in doing good. He expresses emotions that are normal. We participate in the work of God and sometimes it requires us going out on a limb. There is no promise that following Jesus will be easy.
Following Jesus is a day by day, step by step journey that requires continual and on-going consecration to his service. We may be challenged to take on a difficult task today, and then a more difficult task tomorrow. That’s part of living wholeheartedly committed to Jesus. It is in this on-going and continual consecration that God works on us. The result for Obadiah, was that God was glorified in an amazing way on Mt. Carmel. Obadiah would have never imagined that was going to happen, but it did, when he was wholeheartedly faithful. Pressing on in continual fidelity results in a reflection of God’s holiness.
Yes, we are to continue pressing on. Yes, when God asks, we are to respond, one more time. The good news is that it is all leading to a goal and s o, with perseverance, we press on. In the season of advent, when we feel that we only see the tiny lights in darkness, we press on. Yes, one more time, because when one light after another is lit, eventually the darkness is dispelled and the Christ-child revealed. We participate in the mission as we press on, one more time.
Lord, give us the strength to press on, sharing your light with the world. Amen.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Jesus was again speaking to the people in parables and it often left people confused. They had lived in a world where the religious leaders believed that they would bring salvation to the people of God by embracing holiness. Sadly, while they may have begun with the right heart and motivation, they became obsessed with their rules and regulations. In the meantime Jesus had arrived and was proclaiming the kingdom of God. This was a kingdom in which everything would be radically different. Those who had been first would suddenly become last. Those who had followed all the rules, but not allowed their hearts to be transformed, would find themselves behind the tax collectors and the prostitutes. This was shocking news and they weren’t sure how to absorb it all.
John the Baptist had come preaching and pointing the people in the direction of Jesus. Sadly, the “good” people refused to listen and refused to worship. Those who were saved from sin found themselves filled with gratitude. They couldn’t help but worship and therefore, the tax collectors and the prostitutes led the way, worshipping with grateful hearts.
Far too often we become absorbed with concerns about how things “look.” We want to “look” like we have our act together and so we create layers of cover that keep us from being authentic with the world around us. The “look” even keeps us from genuinely baring ourselves before the Lord. The result is an inauthentic Christian life that is less than appealing to the world. They cannot relate to the “look” for it has no resonance with their lives.
Today’s tax collectors and prostitutes are our neighbors on their third marriage, juggling life with blended families and hoping to survive financially. They are the overwhelming number of drug addicts that we find across rural United States, and the rising number of alcoholics in small-town America. They are the young people who feel disenfranchised by those in power and seek new ways in which to embrace life. They are all around us, every single day, seeking for a faith which they see as real. They want to believe it, experience it, and be transformed.
As this happens they will be the ones leading the way — not those who have adopted the “look.” They may not know the old songs, or do church the way we’ve always done it, but they will love Jesus. They will love Jesus with a depth that many should long to experience, for they will worship with a heart of gratitude. There is no pride in the heart of the tax collector or the prostitute, but humility in being accepted by a holy God. There is joy in transformation and restoration in the image of God. There is unimaginable worship that pours from a heart filled with holy love.
This advent season we embrace the arrival of the Christ-child who brought the hope of transformation. Embrace the child in humility, and worship with gratitude.
Lord, search my heart and help me live an authentic faith. Amen.
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.