Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Praise in a Time of Trouble


Scripture
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.”

Observation

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. 

Application

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. 

Prayer

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

The Place of Prayer


Scripture
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.

Observation

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.

Application

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. 

Prayer

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.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Looking for Answers in the World


Scripture
2Kings 1:2   Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay injured; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.” 3 But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Get up, go to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’ 

Observation

When the king suffered from a traumatic injury his first inclination was not to seek advice from the prophet of God. Instead of going to his own God — he sought out the advice of the neighboring god. Oddly, the neighboring god had no track record with Israel like the LORD did. There was no history of bringing the people out of Egypt and making provision for them by the god of Ekron. Why go somewhere else for advice? Could it be that the king didn’t want to submit to the God of Israel? The result was that he, along with many of his own men suffered as a result of his stubbornness. His pride became the ruin of many. 

Application

Sometimes it seems that followers of Jesus Christ will go everywhere to find answers to their problems, but to God. I’ve heard people claim that God isn’t concerned with the mundane and ordinary issues of our lives, but only wants to be engaged in the big picture items. I’m not sure where we have gotten that idea. God is concerned about everything in our lives and far too often we fail to bring our needs and concerns before the Lord in prayer. 

Is our first inclination in times of difficulty to go to the Lord — or to find a friend who will give us advice? We may not think that we go to the god of Ekron — but do we? By seeking for solutions for our problems from our friends, or even the specialists of the world, we may be ignoring God. I’m not saying that God doesn’t often provide help for us by way of the world’s specialists — but if we go to them first, without direction from God we may be missing out on what the Lord has in store. 

Ahaziah had no personal relationship with the Lord, therefore in his time of trouble, he didn’t even think about going to God. The same will happen to us if we don’t have such a deep personal relationship with the Lord that we automatically go to the Lord first thing. The problem is, even those who have been spending time with the Lord will face the temptation from time to time to go to Ekron. We may not think that we are seeking help from a foreign god, but we may be asking our friends for advice. We may be asking what they think we ought to do about a particular situation in life, and well-meaning friends will give us their opinions. But isn’t this looking for answers from the world, before really seeking the face of God? And could it be that we are simply going to others because they may give us the advice that we want to hear? God may ask us some really tough questions about our circumstances and that may make us uncomfortable. Our pride keeps us from truly seeking the face of God. 

God really does care about every single thing that we face — every single day! Learning to bring everything before the Lord will be transforming to our lives. When we constantly look for answers in the world, our actions are declaring that we don’t believe that there is a God who cares. God does care and is patiently waiting for us to come with our concerns, no matter how big or how small. 

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the reminder that you care about all the details. May I seek you and your face rather than listening to voices that may tell me what I want to hear.  Amen.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Selective Hearing


Scripture
2 Chr. 18:7 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.” Jehoshaphat said, “Let the king not say such a thing.”

Observation

Ahab, the king, only wanted to hear things that made him feel good. The prophets knew this to be true and they valued their own lives, so they refused to tell him anything that he didn’t want to hear. Because of this God knew that Ahab could be easily swayed to become engaged in a war in which he would be defeated. 

Ahab was so consumed with himself and stroking his own ego that he had selective hearing. He only wanted good news and wasn’t willing to accept the reality of life. Ahab knew that there was a prophet who would tell him the truth but he avoided him. 

Micaiah had no personal vendetta against Ahab, he was simply an honest servant of God, and when asked, spoke the truth. So as to avoid any kind of honest or critical prophesy, Ahab avoided Micaiah and chose to listen to those who would tell him what he wanted to hear. 

Application

It’s so easy to be critical of Ahab but I would venture that most of us enjoy hearing good news over bad news. The problem lies in doing this when it comes to our spiritual lives. The only way that we can grow spiritually is to allow God to speak to and work on every facet of our lives. We all have struggles and weaknesses, areas which need to be groomed and cultivated into Christlikeness. Selective hearing means that we only listen to the voice of God when we are being told what we are doing right, not when we need some correction.

Correction is not fun. Just as a young child doesn’t like being told when they have done the wrong thing, we just may throw a little tantrum ourselves when God tries to speak truth to us. (We currently have an almost two-year-old in the house so little tantrums can come almost daily over the most mundane of items) Our granddaughter throws a tantrum not because we are horrible people when we tell her to put on her shoes, but because she wants power and control over her own life. She is testing the boundaries and seeing how much control she may have. When we push back against God, refusing to listen to the correction, we are, in essence, saying that we want control. Actually, we are saying that we know better than God does about what is best for us. We are putting self on the throne of our lives and not God. We want to listen to our voice and not to the voice of God. 

Ministers must be careful not to fall into the trap of preaching what the world wants to hear. Being a minister of the gospel is not about being liked by everyone, but about being a voice that is faithful to revealing Christ. 

Selective hearing, and selective preaching may always be a temptation. God calls us to move from our personal preferences into honest conversation. This may be painful at first, but it will lead us to a place where we can be molded into Christlikeness. Don’t be angry if the preacher touches a nerve, but be grateful that he/she was willing to speak the truth in love. Have an open heart to listen to what God may be saying today, and every day. It will lead us to a place where we can grow and become more like Christ. 

Prayer

Lord, may my heart be open every day to your teaching, guiding, leading and nudging..  Amen.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Grace Beyond our Imagination


Scripture
1Kings 21:25   (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. 26 He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.)
1Kings 21:27   When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. 28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.”

Observation

Ahab and Jezebel are poster children for some of the most wicked people in the Bible and perhaps, in all of history. Therefore, coming to this section regarding the final days of Ahab’s life are a bit stunning. Verses 25-26 are placed as a bit of commentary for us to understand the very depth of Ahab’s depravity. He was horrible and yet, when Elijah approaches him this time (for he had been approached several times before), Ahab suddenly seems to soak it all in and repent. He tears his clothing, fasts and lays in sackcloth. The air of superiority is gone as he walks through the city in great humility. God looks down upon Ahab’s contrite heart and withholds judgment. Even after all that Ahab has done, God’s grace responds in holy love. 

Application

Somehow, for all the times that I have read the Bible, I seemed to have forgotten about Ahab’s repentance. This story is not so much about Ahab, then it is about the very character of God. The grace of God is revealed in comparison to the evil of Ahab. Where sin tries to abound, love abounds even more. Evil cannot win the day because there will always be more love and more grace. 

For those who think that they have failed the Lord, or fallen so far from God, think again. The equivalent of Ahab in modern history would be someone like Hitler and for most of us, the thought of him finding grace would be repulsive. Ahab receiving grace must have been difficult for Elijah, and yet what we see is that God is patient with us, not wanting any to perish. (2 Peter 3:9) That includes those who may seem the most repulsive to us!

If we are to participate with Christ in God’s activity in the world, then it seems that we are also to reflect grace. This past week I was confronted with a question regarding grace. I was called up for jury duty and as the lawyers were attempting to select a jury they peppered us with all kinds of questions. The young man being tried had stabbed and injured two individuals. We were asked whether we would be willing to sentence this young man with the maximum sentence, which was thirty years to life. Of course, we hadn’t heard any evidence yet. We were just being selected for the jury but as I looked at the young man at the defense table I had a hard time imagining that I would be willing to throw away the remainder of his life. I know that, if he was found guilty, he needed to be punished for his crime, but I also believe in grace. I spoke up and mentioned that I believe in grace and the hope of transformation. My spirit of optimism would desire an opportunity for this young man to be redeemed, both personally and for society as a whole. This is not some kind of cheap grace, but creating the space for the genuine and redemptive grace of God. 

There are times when people will disappointment us. It may be a child, or a niece, or a nephew, or even a parent. We may feel that we have exhausted all of our resources and ability to continue to love them in the midst of their behaviors — but God does not give up. God’s grace reaches beyond our humble imagination and continually draws those who are fallen back toward a redemptive relationship. If God is willing to do this, are we? Participating with Christ in kingdom activity means that we become active agents of God’s prevenient grace. We begin to see the Ahab’s of this world differently because we believe that God’s love really does transform. The character of God is revealed by the amount of love we show in response to evil. 

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the ways in which you continually challenge and stretch me.  Amen.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Knowledge of God’s Mystery


Scripture
Col. 2:1   For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. 2 I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. 

Observation

Paul’s love for those whom he had led to Christ was always evident in his desire to see them continue in their spiritual growth and development. He continued praying and “struggling” for those who he could no longer see face to face. His passion stemmed from his own personal transformation in Christ. He knew what it was that made him rich, and it wasn’t the things of this world. It was the promise of assured knowledge of God’s mystery that he knew would lead into life in the kingdom. Jesus Christ was the pathway into knowledge and participation with God. Paul’s desire to know Christ consumed him on a daily basis and he wanted his own spiritual children to discover the treasure of all wisdom and knowledge which was found by knowing Christ. Great orators might try to derail the faith of some by their fancy words, but ultimately, the Colossians needed to know Christ. 

Application

There are great Christian orators, writers, blog posters, social media gurus, preachers, and musicians that develop quite a following, but if they do not lead us into a deeper knowledge of Christ himself, we are being deceived. The Christian walk is not about elevating any particular person — it is about lifting up Christ. No matter how much our ears may be tickled by the words we consume, we need to know Christ. 

It is in Christ that we become united in love. The unity of knowledge of Christ leads us into this mystery; we are all sisters and brothers, adopted into God’s family. The result is an incredible bond of love among God’s children. Those children don’t need the latest gurus to provide a roadmap for life, but simply need to know Christ. It’s hard to live in a place of complete and total dependence upon God. We want to trust in ourselves and our own knowledge, or upon the wisdom of the latest consultant. The reality is that in Christ we discover all the hidden “treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Think about it — the knowledge of God’s mystery is Jesus. If we participate in the life of Jesus Christ we have access to all the wisdom and knowledge of God. Let that soak in a minute — all the wisdom and knowledge of the great creator of the Universe is at our disposal, if only we will get to know Christ.

We live in a world of great uncertainty, and anxiety is on the rise. That tends to happen when we are constantly caught off guard by what is happening to us, or to the world surrounding us. The twenty-four hour news cycle will certainly keep us living in fear. It’s time for God’s children to take a deep breath, slow down, and relax in the presence of Jesus Christ. Take time to know Christ today, for Christ is the “knowledge of God’s mystery.” God has been revealed to us and the incarnate Christ has created the pathway for us all to follow. I choose to follow Christ. 

Prayer

Lord, the simplicity of faith sometimes takes our breath away. I know that we tend to make it all too hard. Please, help me to live in simple faith of the knowledge of Christ today.  Amen.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Doing Hard Things


Scripture
2Chr. 15:16   King Asa even removed his mother Maacah from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the Wadi Kidron.

Observation

Asa wanted to follow God’s commands but he inherited many problems within his kingdom. Unfortunately one of his problems was his own mother, who worshipped Asherah. In her enthusiasm she had an image made of this god created by human hands. Her influence upon the people had corrupted them, and doing what he must, he removed his mother from office.

Application

Sometimes following Jesus means doing something really hard. When Asa began to read the scriptures he realized that he was not being the kind of leader that he ought to be. He also realized that being a leader means sometimes having to do really hard things. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been to discipline his own mother. And yet, for the sake of the kingdom of God he was willing to do the right thing.

We all face really tough choices in life. There are moments when we are asked to do the hard thing and if it’s the right thing, then it must be done. God’s word becomes a roadmap for our lives and we are challenged to follow that roadmap, even when it is counter-cultural. That's what Asa discovered when he began to read and to study the word of God. It was convicting and he knew that he had to take action. 

Unfortunately, King Asa was tough on his mom, but then he didn’t follow through on other things that needed to happen to help transform the kingdom. Doing the hard things means consistency throughout, not just in one or two matters. We don’t have the right to pick and choose which laws of God we want to follow. That’s why it’s not easy doing the hard things.

Doing the hard things will lead us to a place of participation with our Holy God. Or, it may be that participation, or fellowship with our Holy God will challenge us to do the hard things. When one becomes so intimate with God, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but the result is the same. Our lives are changed and we cannot tolerate corruption. Therefore, we are compelled to do the hard things. 

Prayer

Lord, please help me have wisdom and strength to live and follow you in all things.  Amen.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Showing Concern for Others


Scripture
Phil. 4:10   I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Observation

The church in Philippi had been able to help Paul. Interestingly, he wasn’t as concerned in the actual support they provided for his benefit, but for what they would learn spiritually from the act. He wanted them to realize the interconnectedness of followers of Christ and by showing concern for others, they had been willing to share Paul’s distress. Becoming participants together with others is part of what is required of those who are a members of the body of Christ.

Application

Showing real and genuine concern for others takes action, not just words. It’s easy to give lip service to the problems and concerns of others within the body of Christ, but really jumping in and doing the work can be hard. 

The Lord brought a wonderful young man to work at the Seminary for the past year. Sadly, he’s just left to go back to his former employer, but along the way he became one of us. He lives in a neighborhood that is currently reflecting what it means to really show concern for others. He and his wife have three young children and she has just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. They thought that they had beat it more than a year ago, and now it’s back and it’s nasty. I’ve been watching the events surrounding their lives unfold on social media and I have to confess, I’ve never seen a community come out and support people like this. People in their neighborhood began replacing their outdoor lights with pink lightbulbs until now, when they drive home after dark, nearly every porch light is pink as their neighbors show concern for them. Recently he began to notice that there were pink bows tied around every light post in their neighborhood. Their mantra has become #fightdirty — to fight this nasty cancer. Suddenly the whole community is springing up and wearing hot pink t-shirts with #fightdirty imprinted upon them. Hundreds of people are showing their love and concern for this family and the prayers are being poured out daily. Please, join me in praying for them. 

The people of Josh’s community are reflecting Jesus in a powerful and visible way. The church is challenged to respond to the needs within her community as well. We are to share in the distress of those whom God has placed within our personal community. That is part of what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. We are to support one another and realize that we are not disconnected individuals but we are interconnected and together we will serve the mission of God. 

Part of the reason that Paul needed help was for financial reasons. He did learn how to make do with what he had, but it was important for others to participate in his work. Within the church we will be able to do more when we support one another. The popular trend these days is to give financially to the place that touches your heartstrings. Instead of giving into the general fund of the ministry (which really doesn’t seem that glamorous) we want to designate our gift to a particular cause. The problem with that may be that the giving becomes more about what makes us feel good, than about sharing in the distress of others. The global concerns of an interconnected church body can be met when everyone is willing to understand that the distress felt during drought in Africa, is also our distress, even if we live in another part of the world. This was the “aha” moment of spiritual maturity for the people of Philippi and for this reason Paul rejoiced that they shown concern for his condition. 

We tend to jump to the conclusion that we are being prodded to show concern for others. No — we show concern for others when we are growing spiritually. The concern for others was simply a reflection of the spiritual maturity of the Philippian believers. That is why Paul rejoiced in their activity. Our outward lives and activities become a reflection of what God is doing in and through us. Because Jesus showed concern for others, as I reflect him, I will show concern for others. This is the life of spiritual growth and maturity to which we are called. 

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the blessing of participating in the distress of others.  Amen.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pressing on Toward the Goal


Scripture
Phil. 3:12   Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

Observation

Earlier in this letter Paul had described to the Philippians his desire to know Christ. This was not just a superficial knowledge, but a knowledge of participation. This becomes the goal for Paul, to participate with Christ and become more and more like him. 

Now he goes on to explain that he has not yet reached that goal, but that it remains ever before him. Therefore, while he can, he will press on toward that goal. He clearly puts aside everything that might distract him and leans forward, drawn by grace, but participating by his own effort to become more like Christ. Paul will always and continually “press on toward the goal.”

Application

It’s far too easy to slip into the idea that we don’t need to continually put effort into our spiritual development. These words from Paul challenge me because if Paul thought it was important enough to press on — daily — moment by moment into his relationship with Christ — shouldn’t I?

The goal of knowing Christ ought to be continually before us — day in and day out. When viewing life in terms of eternity, we must continually press forward, and following Christ leads us into that eternity by way of the kingdom of God. We participate in the kingdom of God today with eternity in mind. We live and work and press on toward Christ while being challenged to faithfully serve in the kingdom. 

It’s far too easy to forget what the real goal in life is. The goal is Christ! We are to get to know Christ and be continually transformed into his image. Jesus must shape and form our day — every day. We must create space for Jesus — and this space must continually expand until more and more we are consumed by Jesus. 

I’m sitting in a jury assembly room this morning as I write these thoughts. I’m looking around at the crowd that is gathering and wondering what this day has in store. Even in these events of life, which may seem ordinary,  we press on and pray that we reflect Christ in all we do. 

Prayer

Lord, I want to press on and know you more. Please, help me to keep you center in all I do.  Amen.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Honor and Respect


Scripture
Phil. 2:25   Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26 for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.

Observation

Epaphroditus had been ministering to Paul, but while doing so had become very ill. Paul was now sending him back home to Philippi and wanted the people there to receive him home with gratitude for the things he had done for the gospel. 

This statement about Epaphroditus comes at the end of the second chapter where Paul has been talking about the importance of imitating Christ. Then, he finishes by telling about this man who risked his life for the work of Christ. In many ways this man’s life was a living illustration of what he had been writing about. The people were to honor and respect this man who had risked his very life to minister to Paul and be a humble servant leader, doing what others had been unable to do. Those who imitate the self-emptying activity of Christ are those who are to be honored. 

Application

As we filed into the Sanctuary for the funeral of Dr. Ed Robinson, I noticed the front and center location of the towel and basin. This symbol of servant leadership was what dominated his life. For days testimonies had been written on social media regarding the impact of this man. His reach was far and yet his demeanor always humble. His life demonstrated what it meant to honor those who have given of themselves in servant-leadership for the lives of others. Some of us lamented whether he had ever realized or heard so many good words about his reach while he was alive because, more than likely, he had not. We tend to save up those words and only share them when the person is gone. This is not what the Apostle Paul was suggesting.

Every day we pass by those who have demonstrated servant leadership and I’m afraid that we may simply take them for granted. Just the other day a dear woman from a church where we previously pastored died while preparing the funeral dinner for another woman at church. Ruth was a servant-leader. She was willing to do so much for the other people around her. She loved her family, the church, and so much of life. She is one of those that you wanted to celebrate.

I sat in my parents living room for a brief period of time on Saturday. They are growing more and more feeble and the conversations are a little more difficult, but they continue to radiate the love of Jesus. Their concerns are always for the rest of us. They want to know where we are and what we are doing, and how they can pray for us this day. Their devotional time both in the morning and the evening becomes the focus of the day. I know that they are in prayer and lifting up many needs and burdens to the Father. Sitting in their presence I wanted to show them honor and respect for they have sacrificed much on the behalf of others. 

Today we will cross paths with those who have been quiet, gentle, servant-leaders. Those who have gone before and have served, making it possible for us to serve. Ed Robinson opened up a special program at Nazarene Theological Seminary making it possible for me to attend from Russia. I would not have gone to Seminary, had it not been for him. Ruth York modeled a life filled with incredible joy in service to the Lord. My parents have been examples in ministering and praying for others. May my eyes be open to an Epaphroditus that I may see today and may I respond with honor and respect, a heart filled with gratitude for the things that they have been willing to do in kingdom service. 

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the reminder that there are those who have served faithfully. They are the living illustrations of your word that you have provided. I am very grateful and I ask that you will help me to honor and respect theses people, just as you would.  Amen.


Friday, June 9, 2017

The End of the Matter


Scripture
Eccl. 12:13   The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. 

Observation

We come to the end of the book of Ecclesiastes and the author discovers that all the things of the world are vanity. No matter how hard one tries in life there are circumstances beyond their control and the energies spent may simply become “vanity.” The real value in life is found in one’s relationship with God. Put everything else aside and discover the value in fearing God and keeping the commandments. This is the end of the matter — and it is for everyone. 

Application

Reading through Ecclesiastes we can discover much practical advice for life. Over and again we are taught the value of wisdom and are cautioned from destructive paths. At the same time the author comes to the conclusion that of utmost importance is fearing God and keeping the commandments. 

When I begin my day my mind can be filled with all the events and activities that will fill me to capacity. I’m teaching a class until noon today and then I have to go to the airport and head to my next destination. My head can swim with working out everything that must be done and sometimes it feels as if every moment of the day is already dictated and laid out before me. But then I need to take a deep breath and relax in the fellowship that I am privileged to experience in our holy God. This is where I learn to “fear” or respect God. God’s ways are much higher than our ways and God’s understanding is beyond our comprehension. The “things” I think I need to accomplish today are nothing in light of my relationship with God. 

The language of “fear” doesn’t mean that I am scared to death of God. Instead it comes from a deep love and respect for what God means to me. It comes from a place of genuine desire that what God wants is far greater than anything that I could desire in this life or world. It comes from a posture of humility, where we humble ourselves in the presence of God on high. 

Keeping God’s commands affects us at the place of character. The nature or character of God is to be revealed in our behaviors. If we list the ten commandments I think we would discover how many of us fail from time to time. I recently heard a statistic that the average person lies numerous times a day — even those who would consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ! It’s so easy to point fingers at others when, maybe, we need to be pointing our fingers at ourselves. Is there anything that we have allowed to get in the way of keeping God’s commandments? 

The end of the matter is what is most important. The to-do list of today is nothing in light of my relationship with Jesus Christ. Quiet time alone with the Lord will be the place where we find peace and rest and have a greater understanding of how our day is to be ordered. 

Prayer

Lord, too often I allow my mind to be cluttered with the busyness of life. It is all “vanity.” May my heart and mind be focused on the end of the matter.  Amen.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Learning Christ


Scripture
Ephesians 4:20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 

Observation

The Apostle Paul doesn’t say that the people had learned “about” Christ, but that they had “learned” Christ. There is a distinct difference as one may study a subject to gain knowledge, or someone can practice a subject so that it becomes a part of who they are. We don’t just study medicine — we practice medicine. The same is true about learning Christ. The challenge here is to know Christ and everything that he embodies. When one gets to know Christ in this way, there is no possibility of deception by the enemy. The people of the world were living out of the hardness of their hearts. The Ephesian believers were to have learned Christ in such a way that he was embodied in their hearts and lives. Therefore they were to be completely and totally renewed, living in righteousness and holiness. 

Application

It’s much easer to learn about something, than to really “learn” something. There have been times when I have tackled my Bible reading as if it were a box to tick off in the morning. When I finish that project I can move on to the next thing! The problem is that I may have learned about the scriptures, but I didn’t really learn them. To spend time in the scriptures means that I slow down long enough to contemplate the living Word — Jesus Christ. The scriptures become a pathway to get to know the heart of God. This is what it means to truly learn Christ. 

Interestingly the way in which Paul says this, intimates that the Christian community had adopted practices of discipleship that would help the whole body truly learn Christ. This means that there must have been intentional discipleship from the time of childhood through all of adulthood. 

The way that we truly “learn” Christ is to teach this kind of understanding of the Messiah from one generation to the next. Only in this way are we able to say to the world that we will not be like them. Not only will we say it, we will have no desire to participate in the activities of darkness. When we truly learn Christ — we put on Christ and become more and more like him. His desires are our desires and we wouldn’t even want to go into those places were we lose all of our sensitivity and “abandon” ourselves “to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” No — that is not the way that we have learned Christ.

Learning Christ takes intentional discipleship and discipline. Being clothed in Christ leads us to a life that is radically different from the world — but that’s the point. We can’t succumb to the things of the world when we are in Christ. Learning Christ truly means that we are in Christ. 

Prayer

Lord, may there continually be opportunities to know and serve you faithfully as I am privileged to learn you more every day.  Amen.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Power Does Not Comfort


Scripture
Eccl. 4:1    Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. 

Observation

In contemplating the ways in which the powers of this world function the author explains reality. Unfortunately there are those who are oppressed by those who have power. Those who have power may see the wielding of this power, the oppression of others, as a soothing comfort for their own vexed souls. The oppressed are torn apart, suffering, and there is no one to comfort them. Those with power have tried in vain to prop their own egos by their behavior, only to discover there is no one to comfort them either. There is no comfort for those who will steal power from others and their activity leaves them devoid of their true needs. 

Application

Every person has power in some way, shape, or form. There will always be a particular circumstance in life where someone holds power over someone or something else.  Whether it’s an infant who wields control over parents by denying them a night of sleep, or a student squashing the fly who is disturbing them in class, we all have power. The question is what we will do with that power. 

Jesus became the example of self-emptying power. He gave himself up for the sake of everyone else. Instead of using his power to soothe his own soul, he gave up his power to comfort everyone else. The author of this passage didn’t have the reality of the Messiah to inform his thoughts, and yet, if he had, he may have seen things differently. We are able to proclaim that the Comforter has come! In his self-emptying (kenotic) activity, Jesus gives up power to comfort all of humanity. Jesus comforts those who have been oppressed, and he even comforts those who have abused power when they humble themselves before him. This is the promise of the Prince of Peace; the great comforter! 

Humanity continues to practices terrible oppressions. As we stand in the place of Jesus in this world — filled by the Holy Spirit — we are to become the comforters. We are to look upon the tears of the oppressed and we are to bring them comfort. Just as Jesus would seek out those who desperately needed him, we are to seek out the oppressed and bring the comfort of Jesus. The oppressors have power and the comfort of Jesus is needed to break down those powers. Human power and authority is nothing in light of God. Those who have experienced the true power of God willingly give away any power they may personally experience. This kind of power is used to build up others and provide for comfort for those who are in need. 

The world will never understand the power of God for it is subversive. It turns human models of power upside down. Those who appear to have no power actually have the greatest when they are participating with God in Christ. We must empty ourselves of any human power or authority and allow ourselves to be filled completely by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes — the Comforter has come!

Prayer

Lord, we see the oppressed around us. Help us to have the eyes to see and the wisdom to know how to reveal your loving comfort.  Amen.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

I’m Thirsty!


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

Observation

While Jesus spoke these words during one festival, it would be on the great festival of the Feast of Weeks that Spirit would be poured out on all those who were waiting and praying in the upper room. It was during this earlier festival that Jesus spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The metaphor Jesus used was about thirsting. The desire for the Holy Spirit is to be as visceral as one who is dying of thirst in a desert. The sweet and refreshing water of life is found in the infilling presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Not only will the individual be filled — but filled to overflowing which will reach out and quench the thirst of others. 

Application

As I prepare for this Pentecost Sunday I recognize that I am thirsty. Physically I’ve been quite thirsty this whole week as I’ve been battling a cold. Taking decongestants on a regular basis I am all dried up and need lots of fluids. I am going through water like crazy, because I am thirsty.

But am I that thirsty for the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life? I think back on the determination of those who had been in the upper room. They stayed and they prayed and they waited, not knowing the outcome. Jesus had told them to go and wait for the one he would send — but what would that look like? But they were thirsty. They wanted to be filled with everything that Jesus had to offer. Their desire was to know him above all else and so, if Jesus told them to go and wait, they would go and wait. Having had a little taste of Jesus, all they knew was that they desperately wanted more.

I desperately want more of Jesus in my life. I’m thirsty for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into and through my life to others. I want to know Christ in more and deeper ways, participating in the kingdom mission. Today, I am just plain thirsty — and so I pray for the Spirit to fill me anew to overflowing. Will you join me? 

Prayer

Lord, please, refresh me with your Spirit today.  Amen.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Mourning and Comfort


Scripture
Matt. 5:4   “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Observation

No one wants to think that mourning could be a positive thing and yet, Jesus makes it a part of his sermon on the mount. This mourning, however, is not the mourning of those who have lost a loved one, but of those who are willing to intercede. He is speaking of  those whose hearts are so tender that they continually mourn over the sins of the world and the acts of the sinners. Those who are called to mourn the sins of others will discover a companionship with the Lord on high, and their own hearts will be comforted. Grief over the sins of others drives us to mourn and in return we discover the great comfort of God. 

Application

To be quite honest I was drawn to this passage because it’s been a week of loss and grief. It started with a funeral a week ago today, followed by news of the loss of a giant of the faith on Sunday. That evening a phone call regarding the health of a loved one was quite stunning, and then last evening the news of a dear saint who died at church while preparing the funeral dinner of a friend has sent me into a place of lament. Reading today’s scripture passages I was comforted by the words of our Savior. There are times that we will mourn the pain of this temporal life, and we are constantly reminded how fleeting it truly is. I am grateful for the comfort and joy that I find in Christ. 

While my own mourning may have brought me to this verse, I’m glad that the early church Fathers brought me to a little different perspective, for they are the ones who challenged me to think about this as mourning over the sins of the world. We are to be willing to join with Jesus in suffering for the sins we see every day. When things happen around us that we simply do not understand, our hearts are to be broken, and we are to be driven to our knees as intercessors on behalf of those who have wandered from the path that God has prepared. 

As Jesus preached to his followers on the mountain they did not understand what it was that he was saying. Most probably heard his words as I did — bringing with them their own personal pain. God does comfort those who mourn and struggle with the things that life brings their way. At the same time Jesus challenges us to a life of discipleship and holiness. Those who are participating in the holiness of God will mourn over what they see in the world. Their hearts will break and they will be drawn to their knees in prayer as they become intercessors on behalf of the pain and suffering in the world. Those who are willing to take on this mantle will discover the great comfort found in deep communion with God. 

Mourning is actually a calling. Comfort is the promise. 

Prayer

Lord, break my heart for those around me and help me to be willing to intercede on their behalf.  Amen.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hoping in the Lord


Scripture
Psa. 33:18    Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.

Psa. 33:20    Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
21 Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Observation

The lead up to this section is about the perceived strength of secular leaders. They look at the size of their army and at their human-made resources and believe that they are powerful. But this is deceptive and enticing. 

The reminder from the Psalmist is that the Lord is watching out for those who fear him. Our hope is not to be in human machinery, political systems or powers. More than any system the world can create, God is our help and our shield. Our joy comes from trusting in “his holy name.” The love of the Triune God is poured out upon those who place their entire hope in the Lord. 

Application

I have to confess that I’m a bit of a news junkie. I follow all kinds of details about the news on a daily basis, reading different sources from around the world just so that I can gain a variety of perspectives. The world in which we live is desperately in need of help in many areas. The question is how we are to engage!

This is a serious concern, for the follower of Jesus Christ is to be in this world, but not to be dependent upon the powers to make change. Instead, the Christ-follower is to put their entire trust in the Lord. We are continually reminded that the Lord is more powerful than any system which the world can create. We are to learn to have a radical dependence upon our Lord as we bathe in God’s steadfast love. It is the steadfast love of God which sustains us in the midst of our difficulties. It is the hope of a miracle when we are in desperate need that can allow us to proclaim, “With God all things are possible!” 

After declaring dependence upon the Lord, the Psalmist leads us into a prayer of trust and hope. We are called to wait for the Lord, not to become anxious for a quick and immediate response. Joy wells up within our hearts and we are glad because we put our trust in God. This creates a sense of peace and relaxation that we all need. Just yesterday a speaker shared with us that anxiety and diagnosed depressive ailments have increased %1000 in the US since WWII. There is genuine mental disease that needs help, but there may also be a need for Christ-followers to learn to relax and put their trust in the Lord. 

It’s time to take a deep breath and spend time in God’s holy presence. There we discover that the joy of the Lord can be our strength and our guide through life. God does care about our circumstances, but wants us to hope wholeheartedly in the Lord. 

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your gentle reminder that you are more powerful than any human system or structure which has been or will be. Today I choose to hope in you!  Amen.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Because of Others


Scripture
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 

Observation

This entire section in Romans is based on the demand of love for others. In the original the structure of the sentence above would be a little different — because of hope, we rejoice; because we suffer, we are patient; in prayer, we are persevering. Because of others we are willing to rejoice in the hope that we have been given. This is the hope of complete and total restoration in the image of God. This causes great joy in the life of the believer. 

Also, there is an understanding of suffering that will become commonplace in the life of early believers. Soon they would face martyrdom on a regular basis and this, they would suffer for the community as a whole. When one stood up for their faith it strengthened them all. They would all know and experience suffering for following Christ. Business people would begin to lose money, children would be taunted, their everyday lives would become times of testing by the society surrounding them. They needed to remain strong for the sake of one another. 

Prayer was a central practice of the early church community. Nothing was to stand in the way of their times of prayer. Prayer meetings were a reflection of their love for God, but also their love for one another. It was in prayer that they lifted up and supported one another. They were never to give up this practice. 

With an overarching theme of love, the people of God were to be watching out for one another, lifting burdens and encouraging through difficult days.  

Application

We are meant to belong to a community of faith. This Christian journey is not one that is to be walked in isolation. So much strength is gained from fellow-believers who will help us make it through the tough times of life. 

Our love is to be genuine and we know that genuine love comes out of the overflow of a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. The very nature of God found in the community of the Holy Trinity is love. We are invited to become partakers of the divine fellowship found in the Trinity and this is — to partake in holy love. The overflow of the love that we find in that relationship spills over onto those around us. This begins with the community of faith. 

Because of others I rejoice in the hope that I have found in Christ. Every day becomes a hopeful venture as I am drawn ever deeper into a relationship with my Lord. The call is to holiness — to Christlikeness. I rejoice in every opportunity that I have that allows me to become more like Christ. That is why I can be patient in suffering. Jesus suffered greatly and showed us the way to holiness that can come through suffering. He suffered and died on the cross for us all. This is why we are to be patient, being willing to go through difficulties for the sake of others. 

Finally we come to the importance of prayer. This is both individual and corporate prayer, but for the sake of others. We will naturally be strengthened because of prayer, but prayer is also sacrificial love given for the sake of others. We sacrifice our time to intercede for others. Perseverance means that we don’t give up on those who may be in need of our prayers. We continue to lift them up.

We do all of this because we are compelled by love. The transforming love of God compels us to live a new life in Christ. Christ, our example, who died for others, invites us to be ready to give our lives because of others.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your love and guidance every single day. Thank you for the challenges you place before us. Please, help us to walk faithfully in the ways in which you lead.  Amen.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

For the Sake of the Whole


Scripture
1 Peter 4:10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 

Observation

In the faith community we are to show hospitality and serve one another. God gives gifts to each member of the community so that they may be shared among all. Talents and abilities are never to be used for the individual good, but are entrusted to be used for the sake of the whole. 

Application

We live in a society that doesn’t often think about the community as a whole. Lately I’ve been disturbed as I think about the ways in which we treat people and things as disposable. Driving down the highways of Kansas City I’m stunned when I realize how many landmarks from just thirty years ago, no longer exist. Shopping malls flattened, restaurants torn down, and houses removed by the desire for greater progress. But is it really greater progress? In the spaces where the malls used to be there are simply open fields of dirt and gravel. What used to be communities are now vacant lands and somehow we embrace the idea that things can come and go so rapidly that nothing really matters. 

Maybe I’m feeling a bit nostalgic because I grew up in Europe. I used to go and play on castle ruins as a child. Buildings have been in existence for hundreds of years. The same gelato stand down the street from our house is still there, nearly fifty years later! But not so in America. It’s highly unlikely that we discover anything that remains from ten to twenty years ago, let alone forty to fifty. 

Maybe I’m just getting older and I wish everything would quit changing so quickly, but I believe that there is something here that the church and Christians must pay attention to. All of this rapid change and disposability is detrimental to building community. Suddenly we find ourselves grasping onto our talents and using them for our own personal good. We are afraid to share because we’re not so sure what things are going to be like down the road and little by little, the community of faith begins to disintegrate and little, if nothing is left.

I use the word “intentional” quite a bit, but I do that because I think it’s necessary. The world has encroached upon Christianity in many ways and unless we are intentional about building protective barriers to the infection, we will be in trouble. This is not a removal of ourselves from the world, but instead a spiritual self-discipline of intentionality. That’s what we read about in I Peter. The individual who is growing spiritually must practice self-discipline and a part of that self-discipline is humbling oneself to a community of faith. It is bringing ones talents and abilities and using them for the sake of others. Growing beyond the mind-set of the world, intentionally going against the currents of society, we sacrificially give of ourselves for the sake of the whole. God did not endow certain people with particular gifts for them to be hoarded or used for their own personal gain. They are to be used for the blessing of community.

Learning to serve one-another in a disposable world will take intentional spiritual discipline. This is the call of discipleship and stewardship. Let us live intentionally, for the sake of the whole. 

Prayer

Lord, your grace overwhelms. We live in gratitude for all that you have done. Please help me to use what you have placed in my hands for the whole.  Amen.