Monday, October 16, 2017
Acts 5:12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16 A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and their behaviors began to replicate those found in Christ. They were performing the signs and wonders that Jesus had performed while he was here on earth. They went regularly to Solomon’s Portico and publicly preached and spoke to the people. Not wanting to act too interested some wouldn’t come near, but overall the mood of the people was positive toward the apostles. Finally, there would be those who would simply leave the opinions of the world behind and join with those who were following Christ.
The power of the apostles was in contrast to that of other “magicians” of the day. Just as Jesus healed the sick, so did these, his Spirit-filled followers. Chrysostom tells us, “Earth was becoming like heaven, for their way of life, boldness of speech, wonders, for all besides. Like angels were they looked upon with wonder. They were unconcerned about ridicule, threats, perils. They were compassionate and beneficent.” (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles 12) Somehow this presence of the Holy Spirit created a scenario in which the kingdom of God was breaking into the kingdoms of this world. As a result, ordinary people were offered a glimpse of heaven on earth.
Spirit-filled believers are to walk in such a way that they participate in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who provides the possibility for our fellowship with the Triune God. In this fellowship we begin to take on the characteristics of those with whom we spend time. If we are hanging out with our friends and loved ones — we will be like them. We will begin to take on the characteristics of the group and people will recognize that we have been in their presence.
When we intentionally spend time in the presence of our Lord, we will begin to take on the characteristics of Christ. The kingdom of God will be revealed through our behaviors and activities. We will no longer reflect the world, but the things of heaven.
The apostles were completely absorbed with following God. There was nothing of greater importance in their lives and everything that they did, day in and day out reflected this commitment. The Holy Spirit did the empowering.
Christ calls us to this kind of radical obedience. The Holy Spirit hasn’t changed from those early days, but our nearness to the kingdom and total participation may have. Earth becomes heaven when we participate, both individually and corporately in holy fellowship wth God. Participation in God is transforming and empowering.
The apostles, little by little, took steps of faith until there came a moment of complete, or entire participation through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The day of Pentecost changed everything and from that time on earth was a bit like heaven.
Lord, please help us these days to participate in your kingdom every moment and every day. Amen.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Psa. 1:1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
This first Psalm becomes foundational to all the rest. Throughout life there will be days of trouble and yet, we discover the ways in which God leads. The wicked will always be nearby offering a tempting pathway for life that appears to be easy. The one who chooses to follow God must learn to stand firm and not give into the the temptations of the ego. Getting strokes from other people means nothing when it comes to kingdom life.
Learning to delight in God’s law and making it a priority in life will change everything. Taking the time to meditate on the word provides a new type of nourishment for life. We are transplanted from the dry desert of trying to do life on our own and planted firmly beside everlasting waters. We read about the river in the garden of Eden, and then again in the closing chapter of Revelation. The water of the Spirit will be eternally refreshing, allowing us to bring forth fruit in the God’s timing and season. When we remain fed by God’s water we do not wither, but continue to prosper spiritually.
The Psalmist brings this promising word right at the beginning. All of life must be grounded in this foundational understanding and be eternally fed by the living water so that we can walk, stand and sit, day in and day out, in the ways of God. This is a lifestyle to be embraced.
Is there anything distinct about my lifestyle, or would it be indistinguishable from those around me? I believe this is what the Psalmist is asking here from the outset. If we are to be followers of God, then there must be a commitment to a lifestyle which is dedicated to following Christ.
The streams of living water are available to all today who are willing to be transplanted. It’s easy to complain about the desert of our lives when we refuse to be transplanted into a place where we just may flourish. The trees needed to be planted by the water so that they could grow. We need to be planted in a place where the Holy Spirit can provide us with all that we need for life on a daily basis. That means we have to take time to have our thirst quenched by the Holy Spirit. This includes time in the word and prayer, as well as fellowship with other believers and worship.
We know that in many of the later Psalms the Psalmist laments the difficult situations which he encounters. We will come face to face with trials and tribulations, but to be able to persevere, we must first become grounded. To become grounded requires commitment to Christ and a lifestyle in which we will be continually fed and filled. Take time to grow deep roots so that when the winds blow we will be able to stand.
Lord, please help me to be nourished by the Holy Spirit’s presence today and lead me along life’s journey, whether good or bad, rooted in you. Amen.
Friday, October 13, 2017
Neh. 9: 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.
Nehemiah was reminding the people what God had done for them. Every detail of their needs had been cared for during the time in which they walked in the desert. The reference to clothing and feet was an indicator that everything had been taken into account. How in the world did clothing last for forty years? When people walked day in and day out in the desert, hot in the day and cold at night, their feet did not swell. This was all supernatural and not explainable in any way, but for divine intervention. The promise of the God of the details remained true to those who were returning from exile and rebuilding the walls. The memories served as a reminder that the LORD could, and should be trusted.
The older I get the more that durable clothing and non-swollen feet sounds really appealing. The cheaper our clothing, the faster it simply deteriorates. I remember buying clothing for our girls at the open market. I washed them once and they completely fell apart. Clothing isn’t made to last forty years.
I can’t imagine that I’d write anything in a devotional thought about swelling feet, but hey, it’s an issue the older I get — and the more I travel! Traveling and swelling feet (or ankles) seem to go hand in hand. Nowadays you get all kinds of advice, like wearing compression socks, elevating your feet, drinking lots of water, etc. but chances are, after a long flight, you’re still going to have swollen feet! Those Israelites walked around the desert for forty years and their feet never swelled! That’s amazing.
What’s really amazing is that God, who provided for durable clothing and feet that didn’t swell, still cares for us today. The people of Nehemiah’s day were having trouble placing 100% of their trust in God. Let’s be honest — so do we! We worry about the details of life, large and small. It’s hard for us to bring them before the Lord and trust. We think we have a giant wall to rebuild — that we personally have to fix what’s going on in our world.
Everything we have to tackle in life is far bigger than all of us. We may choose to live in worry, fear and anxiety, or we can trust the God of the details. If God cared about clothing and swollen feet, then God cares about what’s going on in our lives on a daily basis. That’s the deal!
Lord, Thank you for precious promises that reach out to us through the ages. Amen.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Neh. 5: 16 Indeed, I devoted myself to the work on this wall, and acquired no land; and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover there were at my table one hundred fifty people, Jews and officials, beside those who came to us from the nations around us. 18 Now that which was prepared for one day was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and every ten days skins of wine in abundance; yet with all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because of the heavy burden of labor on the people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
It had come to Nehemiah’s attention that certain Jews were becoming wealthy over the recovery of Jerusalem. Those returning home from exile had little to offer and they needed to establish their lives. Those with goods to sell were willing to offer credit, but it came with a high price. Suddenly those who had escaped slavery in a foreign land found themselves sold as slaves to their own people. Nehemiah was furious. This was to be a time when all the Jews worked together to help one another and transform the city. He was angry and expressed his feelings at a gathering of all the leaders. They agreed to give back all the interest they had charged and to work together fairly with their brothers and sisters.
Nehemiah always chose to live his life as an example to the people. He refused to take any food from the governor, although it was a portion of his allowance. Instead, he generously gave what he had to feed not only himself, but the guests whom he invited to his house every day. He took the opportunity to show hospitality to others as a way to help feed the community. He went above and beyond the call of duty in his action, showing generosity in a very visible way. This was his way of showing the leaders that he meant to give more than just lip service to his expectations for all of them. He and his household would demonstrate what it was that he wanted to accomplish among the people. It cost him a great deal, but for him it was simply living out the calling which God had placed upon his life. The spirit of generosity reflected his love for God.
While growing up Sunday dinners were always a wonderful and special event. Mom would cook something special, always preparing more than enough food. We were all welcome to invite guests to come to the Sunday dinner table. Extra potatoes were in the oven and more places could be squeezed in at the table. The finest china was always used. Someone once asked my mother why she would use her best china all the time and she told them that it was to be enjoyed and shared with others, not stored in a cabinet. She enjoyed the beauty of setting a lovely table, and the joy of sharing food and fellowship together. My mother’s spirit of generosity, even in the midst of scarcity, made an impression on me.
God’s people are called to be a generous people. Even when we may be “allowed” to have particular resources, maybe we shouldn’t take them. Instead, as followers of Christ we are to model what it means to use what we have to serve others. Everything that we have has been given to us by God — yes, even that which has been gained by hard work. We are to be good stewards of that which God has allowed us to receive and we are to use it for the sake of the kingdom.
Nehemiah’s spirit of generosity allowed for him to fellowship with Jews within his community. He was also able to invite officials to his table, and people from many other nations. By modeling the generosity of God, he became a better leader, developing relationships with many different people who would be engaged in decision making. He was able to bring very different people together around his table and, more than likely, broke down walls of hostility by breaking bread together. He was a generous man who saw his resources as tools to be leveraged in service to God. Every resource we have may be used for the kingdom and transformation when we live a life of intentional generosity.
Lord, may the abundance of my life e used in service to you. Amen.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Neh. 3:6 Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 7 Next to them repairs were made by Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite—the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah—who were under the jurisdiction of the governor of the province Beyond the River. 8 Next to them Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Next to them Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs. 10 Next to them Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house; and next to him Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs. 11 Malchijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Next to him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.
We often think of Nehemiah being the superstar of the story of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He was the visionary leader and was able to mobilize the people but he never could have accomplished the goal alone. I have only listed one paragraph from chapter three, but the entire chapter is filled with the names of those who participated in repairing the walls. Every person was important and everyone got involved. By families they came together to take responsibility for a portion of the wall. Every member of the household, the sons and the daughters came out to repair the walls, because the task would never be accomplished unless everyone took their part. The reality is that everyone was needed.
Society currently reinforces the idea of the superstar, the famous individual, who can get things done on their own. In the midst of this perception, which is enforced by media, we are on the precipice of losing something very important. While we make someone famous on a virtual stage, very few are able to tackle the real problems facing humanity, and that will not be done alone. Now more than ever, everyone is needed. The lone rangers of the day simply become a distraction from the real work which needs to be done. It’s when God’s people partner together, each taking upon themselves their responsibility that we see miraculous results.
The poor and beaten down people of Jerusalem should never have been able to rebuild the wall. They didn’t have the best supplies or tools, and they were constantly harassed by their enemies. Success came when they realized that everyone was needed, and everyone could participate. This community of faith was able to accomplish more than they could have ever hoped to imagine because they were all in it together. Shoulder to shoulder they took on the impossible and watched it develop into reality.
We must be careful of upholding the “well-known” individual whom we believe may be the answer to everything. Christianity has been guilty of doing this from time to time as we give platform to those who do inspire us, but it must be with a caution. Nehemiah was a great leader, but he knew how to mobilize everyone to accomplish much more than he could have accomplished on his own. A great servant leader is willing to spend time shoulder to shoulder repairing walls with their people. They will mention everyone by name and give credit to the entire group that has worked hard to accomplish the goal. Never will they believe that this is something that they have done on their own, but by the grace of God and with the hands of many others something unusual has been accomplished.
Everyone is needed to serve in the kingdom. The enemy would love to divide God’s people and it’s easily done because of our egos. Putting our egos aside, we can be united in kingdom work, refusing to take any credit for ourselves. Now, more than ever, we need to put aside any agendas which do not work to strengthen the whole. Unity and love can bind us together and create an environment in which everyone participates. The results are improbable in the face of adversity, but with God the impossible becomes possible. When God’s people humble themselves and are willing to do the simple work in the trenches, it will get done and God will be glorified.
Lord, may there always be less of me and more of you. Amen.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Luke 21:1 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
The people were giving their offerings into the treasury and it seems that all were participating. The ways in which they could participate were radically different. The wealthy were not giving sacrificially. They were able to give generously but it came out of their abundance. They could give to the treasury and it didn’t affect their own lives. They didn’t have to give up anything to give. Instead, they took care of their own needs first and they gave out of that which they did not need. This was in stark contrast to the life of the widow. She didn’t have much of anything and yet, she wanted to give. She sacrificially gave that which she could not afford to give. Her two small copper coins were nothing in comparison to the wealth of the others, but it wasn’t the amount of the offering, it was the heart from which it was given. She gave everything that she could and, it meant that she would have to do without things that would be vitally important to her life. Her gift was sacrifice, not abundance.
The kingdom of God has a full treasury when all of God’s people participate out of equal sacrifice. The needs are so very great as people around the world continue to suffer as a result of disasters — natural and man-made. The transformation which occurs as a result of the good news is not just personal, but also cultural. Entire societies can be transformed and reformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. Following the great commission of Jesus means that we go into all the world making disciples. Jesus also anticipated that his disciples would be cared for along the way by those who were willing to give and support the mission.
I’ve been blessed to spend my life in service to the Lord by way of the church. I have been cared for in wonderful ways. Often it has been out of the sacrifice of an individual that I have been able to continue on. I think about the travels into far off corners of the world where, at times, we were the first Christians some people had ever met. The journey has been amazing and I feel blessed to be able to do this, but I want to be a good steward of the sacrifices of others.
I’ll confess that it’s easy to give out of abundance, but I think Jesus was teaching a lesson by pointing out the widow. Giving out of our abundance does not change our behavior and it creates no dependence upon God. The more we have in this world, the less we need God. It is only by sacrificially giving away to others that we learn how God provides. The beauty is that God doesn’t give us what we “want,” but is very cognizant of our needs. Our needs don’t take as much time away from serving God as our wants and in many ways, we are set free.
If we are still giving to God out of our abundance, we may want to ask God to help us begin to live like the widow. Discovering the beauty of dependence upon God begins by reaching far beyond our abundance.
Lord, May my life be a living sacrifice for you, and may my dependence upon you grow daily. Amen.
Friday, October 6, 2017
Esther 10: 3 For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.
Mordecai was a faithful Jew who did all that he could in his lifetime to serve many. He was a faithful citizen and acted justly in the needs and desires of the King. It was his consistency throughout his life that became a factor when trouble befell the Jewish people. Serving for the sake of others, he did everything he could to make the world a better place.
Ultimately he became second in command to the King. By serving faithfully in a government position he was able to intercede on behalf of his people. As a result his people had good days and his descendants were able to live in a world which had been shaped by him. His thoughtful leadership meant looking out for the good of others. While he could have used his power to his own benefit, he chose to exercise power for those who had none.
There will always be a need for thoughtful, servant leaders. A leader must understand their place of responsibility. Mordecai knew that he was to be the protector of the Jews. He did everything necessary to fulfill this calling, taking his responsibility seriously and serving well.
Thoughtful leadership requires a genuine passion and concern for those within the leader's care. A leader cannot be focused on self-preservation, but on the needs of others. Mordecai had no defensive posture, but allowed truth to win the day. Even when others were intentionally plotting against him, he stood his ground, a man of integrity and good character. The king and all the people were impressed with the way in which he handled himself. By looking out for the needs of his own people, he made the entire kingdom a better place. By doing the best within our own sphere of influence, we reach beyond boundaries and improve the welfare of those whose lives we intersect.
Thoughtful leadership requires intercession, or intervention. Mordecai was willing to take action when action was needed. He didn’t shy away from the task, but rather found every way possible to make a difference. He worked hard because he knew that this wasn’t just for him or his generation, but for those who would come after. Our responsibilities lie in providing a pathway to the future for those who will come after us. Thoughtful leadership takes the long view. Self-centered leadership seeks the easy answers that will make the leader look good. Sometimes thoughtful leaders will never get to see the results of their work, but they continue in the same direction for they understand that this is what it will take to be faithful.
If we are ever empowered we must never forget the place from which we have come. Mordecai always remembered who he was and this informed his leadership. May we never forget the distances we have traveled with the Lord and if we find ourselves in a place with power, remember to be the voice for those who have none.
Thoughtful leadership helps to usher in peace for it seeks the good of others. May God raise up more Mordecais in our day.
Lord, may no power or influence ever be wasted, but used in service to your kingdom. Amen.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Luke 17:1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”
Jesus understood the need for his disciples to grow spiritually. If they were to be leaders in the kingdom they would have to act responsibly. Their behaviors were not to become a stumbling block to those who were still young in their faith. In fact, there would be grave consequences for those who played this role in the life of new believers.
Discipleship required an attentiveness to the temptations we all face. Therefore we receive the admonition to “Be on our guard!” Disciples are to grow within a faith community, one which takes responsibility for the training up of others, and therefore hold one another to accountability. This call to accountability needs to be followed by repentance. Jesus reminds us that this make take time and may be a process — one in which we are to forgive over and over again. We do not give up hope, because our heavenly Father does not give up hope. Instead, we are compelled by the process of intentional discipleship to make a difference in the world.
Jesus commanded his followers to go and make disciples. During his time on earth Jesus became a role model who left us a pattern for this discipleship. It is the intentional investment in the lives of others which results in a beautiful reflection of the image of God.
I’m afraid that the intentional investment in others has been encroached upon by our busy lives. Historically the church scheduled very specific times for discipleship. Usually this happened during the Sunday School, or in other small group meetings. Teachers used to come to training sessions so that they knew how to teach others. Accountability was built into the church system, all the way from the local church through her systems and structures. Did they ever fail or make mistakes? Of course. I think that’s what Jesus was talking about. Part of discipleship is being willing to forgive those who repent, and that includes not just individuals, but even organizations.
When we realize that we are all in a place of growth spiritually, we have to allow for grace. Grace is what opens the pathway for repentance and forgiveness. Sadly, it seems that we are often the hardest on those with whom we are called to do life. The result is a rigidity from which we cannot learn, and once we stop learning, we no longer continue developing as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
It is the holy love of God that continually reaches out and forgives humanity. The Father wants to gather his children under his wing and bring them home. He will not give up on us! As disciples we are challenged to reflect that kind of love; a love that is tenacious and is never defeated. As we pour into the lives of others, we must not only cheer them on, but engage with them in the journey toward Christlikeness. This will include modeling, rebuking, repenting and forgiving; intentional discipleship.
Lord, to follow you is to love you. May your love fill me to overflowing so that it touches the lives of others and I will participate i your mission to make disciples. Amen.
Sunday, October 1, 2017
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus noticed that the people were good about enjoying relationships with their close inner circle of friends, but it was hard to reach out to others. Jesus wanted to teach them about the actions of true disciples. They were not to simply hang out with those within their circle of friends, but they were to reach out and welcome others into their fellowship. This included those who would never be able to invite them back in return.
Jesus was questioning the motives of those who threw and attended parties. What was the reason? To invite and be invited! Maybe if they were invited to someone special's home we could enjoy VIP treatment. It meant that their activities were actually quite self-serving, and Jesus was quick to point this out. He was asking the question, "who's invited" and "why?"
We would all confess that it's so much easier to have fellowship with those who are like us. It makes us feel much more comfortable. It's fun to go to gatherings with our friends and hang out with them.
It's easy for the church to become like this. It may not be intentional, but over time we become comfortable with our own little inner circle and we have a hard time welcoming in the newcomer...or the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. It just takes so much more effort to be with these needy people! We may have to adjust our facilities to make it easier for them to get through the halls and that may mess with the aesthetics. It may take a lot longer to have a conversation with the person who doesn't speak my language because I would need to go through a translator. The poor people seem to just take from the church and their tithe will never make a difference. We need to find more people with resources to attend this church! And they're never going to come if we bring in the poor, sick and needy!
Before we know it we sound like the people of Jesus' day. I am convinced that one reason many churches in America are not growing these days is because we've become so nice and proper that we don't even know any poor, blind, or needy individuals to invite. We are throwing parties (church services) for ourselves, and sometimes we are just too busy to be bothered. We are concerned that there is little growth but we are not sure that we want things to become messy. So we keep trying to invite the same people, but they're not coming. In the meantime there are those who are spreading the table for those who have no resources to give back and they are coming.
And this brings us to the motivation of our heart. Are we more worried about fulfilling the needs of the churches we have built, than about the lives of those who need to hear about the transformational news of the gospel? Somehow I think God is bigger and has more resources than we can imagine. Maybe we need to look back at who we have been inviting and reconsider.
Intentionally go and invite those who will come to the table without their hands washed, needy and messy. Suddenly we may just catch a glimpse of Jesus as we have ministered to the least of these.
Lord, may my table, my home, and my church be open those who need to be invited. Amen.
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Zech. 7:8 The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: 9 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; 10 do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. 11 But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear. 12 They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts.
For some reason the people whom God had chosen refused to be obedient. They were hung up on legalistic issues such as fasting but refused to see that God wanted them to help transform society by practicing justice and having a great love for mercy. If this were true, they would tend to the welfare of the community and the result would be peace. These words are a reminder, God speaking once again to the people, admonishing them of priorities. They mismanaged their fasts and what they needed to do was reform their entire lives.
There are two ways in which we can focus our lives. Either we focus on the negative, and that which we shouldn’t do, or we focus on the positive, and that which we are called to do. You see these two responses in most of the politically and socially charged questions of the day. When we respond out of fear, we will begin to argue about the wonderful ways in which we have been following rules and putting up fences. The result is an isolated Christianity which pats itself on the back for not allowing the world to contaminate their lives.
Let’s try this again. The prophet is telling God’s people that you have gotten hung up on the wrong the things. Pull down those fences and mingle with the widow, the orphan, the alien and the poor. No, they may not normally be found in our neighborhood, but go and find them. Spend time with the marginalized and there you will begin to discover a heart filled with love for neighbor. Our love of God will compel us to love our neighbor and do everything that we can to “render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another.” We will find ways to stop oppressing the vulnerable and we will never use them for our own good.
They were fasting for their own pride, not for the sake of the LORD. Let’s try this again — nothing is to be done for our own sakes, but compelled by our love for God which will be expressed in love of others. The ways in which we treat the marginalized reveals our love for God.
Lord, please provoke me to go to the margins with you. Amen.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
Luke 10:10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
Luke 10:29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
Luke 10:38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.
This chapter of Luke takes us on a journey of hospitality. First we encounter the seventy who are sent out to preach in the different cities. There is an expectation of hospitality among the citizens of those towns. The condemnation of those who refuse to show hospitality is great. They are considered worse than Sodom in their rejection of Jesus’ messengers, and then quite specifically, the message. He is condemning these Jewish towns for their refusal to accept the Messiah.
Jesus then moves on to the conversation with the lawyer who wants to know what it takes to inherit eternal life. The response is the story of the Good Samaritan. In other words, it’s the unexpected individual who shows hospitality that will inherit eternal life. Taking care of our neighbors, whether they are like us or not is what is reflected in the Christian life.
Finally, we find Jesus entering the home of Mary and Martha. There he encounters another kind of hospitality. Martha knows how to be the best hostess around but she fails to understand that hospitality moves beyond providing a nice dinner, and includes wholehearted inclusion of the Lord in all matters of life.
Luke is making a case for an all-encompassing hospitality that defines the Christian life.
God is constantly reaching out to us, showing us incredible hospitality and God’s hospitality is to be reflected in all of us. First, we are to receive the hospitality of God, not rejecting the beauty that God has to offer. This is a step of faith, accepting that which is not explainable, but incredibly transformational.
We are also to engage in hospitality with those who are in the ministry. Serving the Lord through vocational ministry is at once exciting and defeating. There are people whose lives are being restored by the power of the Holy Spirit and critical “Saints” who feel that it is their calling to point out everything they can that the minister is doing wrong all in the name of “supporting the ministry.” Hospitality means that we are concerned for the needs of those serving in ministry and lovingly care for and support them. We don’t allow our local pastor to suffer in poverty when the rest of the congregation has plenty because we just can’t imagine giving up that full 10% of tithe! Even our giving becomes a sign of our hospitality. God’s generosity is overflowing and as we reflect the Lord, we should also have generous spirits. You can never out-give the Lord, whether that is through hospitality or generosity. We are challenged to test the Lord on this one.
Sadly, God’s people don’t always follow through on reflecting the image in the way they should. They pass by on the other side when the opportunity for ministry is presented. If you listen closely, you discover that it is the most unexpected individual who reflects the image of God. This is the one that those who thought they were deeply spiritual would have resented and never believed that they could be holy. The unlikely is the holy and this rocks them to the core.
Finally, Jesus comes to our home. We think we need to have everything set in order for him to come and fellowship. He’s telling us to stop worrying about getting everything right and to just sit down and soak in his holy presence. Hospitality is not planning great events for the Lord — but in giving him our attention. Hospitality is sitting and listening at the Lord’s feet.
The reflection of hospitality becomes all-consuming in the life of the Christ-follower. Hospitality to the world for the sake of Christ is good news.
Lord, please help me to live a life of generous hospitality in all things. Amen.
Saturday, September 23, 2017
Luke 6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ preaching always seemed to shake people to the core. The religious officials would have been pleased with their financial status. They didn’t enjoy hanging out with poor people and more and likely avoided them because they were “unclean.” They could see their own riches and what they have accumulated before their very eyes but here was the irony; their own wealth was blinding them from what Jesus had to offer. They thought they had it all, when in reality their personal wealth was nothing in comparison to the kingdom of God. The poor were blessed for their vision of the kingdom was clear. They could see what Jesus was offering and they walked wholeheartedly after the one who would lead them to the kingdom of God.
Just imagine waking up one day and realizing that everything you have worked so hard for is nothing in comparison to what was always right in front of you. My little granddaughter loves to play with play dough. She spends lots of time making things out of this type of clay. She can make houses and cars and all kinds of lumps that when empowered by the imagination inspire visions of the things of life. At the same time, if she only focused on those lumps of clay and thought they represented the reality of her life she would be missing out. All she has to do is lift her eyes beyond her little project and see the whole world around her with so much for the taking.
The irony of life is that we may spend so much time focusing on our little lumps that we fail to see what lay beyond. We live satisfied with what we think is outrageously extravagant when God is offering us the kingdom. The poor are able to see the kingdom for they are free of the obstacles of wealth. They can live in the extravagance of God’s kingdom.
This past week the wealthiest woman in the world died at the age of 94. If you read the articles it doesn’t sound like her wealth made her happy, but rather made her a target for those who would want to take advantage of her. Her wealth created real barriers to freedom and joy.
A life of generosity and simplicity can help us to live as the poor. In this way we can see, and live in the kingdom of God. The things of this world are nothing compared to what God has to offer so let’s give away what we can and relax in the joy of God’s kingdom.
Lord, thank you for reminding me about what is really important. Amen.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Luke 5:27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
Luke 5:29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Levi is identified by Luke as a tax collector. Historically these were people whom the religious officials regarded as “unclean” because of their work for the Roman officials. The tax collectors had learned how to manipulate the situation for their own good and they exacted bribes from their fellow-Jews. They associated with people of society whom others found repulsive. Their circle of influence included prostitutes and criminals. People whom the Pharisees believed would contaminate Jesus were those with whom Levi associated.
Transformed by the call of Jesus, Levi wanted to host him in his home. Levi would have had greater resources than the average individual because of his work, which would have been described as the result of greed, and filled with dirty money. Therefore, Jesus entering the home of this sinful man was simply preposterous.
What was he doing with the most sinful of people? He was sharing the good news. Jesus had found a way to get to the neediest of individuals and bring the good news of transformation.
Jesus came as the great physician to bring healing to the sickest of individuals in the world. The miracles which he performed stunned society and they wondered where and how he received such power. This was the good news and it’s the same good news that we are called to carry into this world. Jesus instructed us to go and make disciples and this is our responsibility as his followers. Discipleship brings about healing in the hearts and lives of all those who are in desperate need of transformation.
Where is it that we go to deliver the good news? Far too often we may be spending our time with all those who are healthy. When I worked in the hospital as a nurse we saw a great shift in healthcare. This was 30 years ago! There was a day when people would come into the hospital a day before a surgery to prepare and then spend several days afterward resting and recovering. Insurance companies discovered that they could help to mandate people spending shorter times in the hospital. Gone were the days when the floors were filled with, what we used to call, “Walkie Talkies.” In other words, people who could walk by themselves and were conscious enough to have clear conversations. Now, you had fewer and fewer of these people and instead had extremely ill people to take care of. The reality was that the “Walkie Talkies" didn’t need a lot of medical care — but they were a lot easier to have on your unit.
It’s easy to spend our lives around the spiritual “Walkie Talkies,” those who are growing spiritually. That can be very nice and comfortable. We enjoy our church Bible study groups and home groups. But, I wonder whether we are actually getting to those who are really sick spiritually? Jesus had found a way to make it very natural. He befriended Levi, one of the worst of the worst, whose life was transformed, but then Jesus followed Levi back into his world. Levi became a gateway to the very neediest of individuals.
What would happen if we began to pray for our Levi? In other words, what would happen if we found intentional ways to get into the very neediest places of society? This means finding avenues into places where we would feel uncomfortable. Hanging out with unsavory characters for their sake. Jesus was willing to suffer his reputation for the sake of those who needed him the most.
Many are arguing these days that the church in North America is declining rapidly. At the same time our communities continue to be filled with people who are very needy. Could it be that we are spending all of our time hanging out at the wellness clinic, instead of going to hospital? I wonder what would happen if God’s people began to seriously ask themselves how they could become engaged with the very neediest of society. We are all called to make disciples, to share the good news about Jesus. Let’s be intentional about finding those who need the healing power of Jesus. It will take us out of our comfort zones and into ministry zones where we will discover that God is still at work.
Lord, please help me to have eyes to see the Levis of this world and not be afraid of those with the greatest need. Amen.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Rev. 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
This is the concluding vision of the city of God and it looks surprisingly like the paradise of Eden. While there was an earthly river flowing through paradise, now there is the eternal flow of the Holy Spirit in and through God’s people and the church. This Spirit runs through the center of paradise, feeding the tree of life which has been hidden since the fall of humanity. Now the tree perpetually produces fruit, providing for every need and/or taste. The leaves of the tree are taken and used as a medicinal balm to bring about healing for the nations. This is paradise restored where the effects of the curse are now completely overcome.
This beautiful description of the new Jerusalem is an inspiration. This vision of the beauty of paradise is a little glimpse of the kingdom of God which is already present, but not yet a complete reality. We are privileged to be invited into citizenship in this kingdom and to already become partakers of eternal life because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Once we breathe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit we already begin to experience victory over sin and death. No longer are we destined to die in our sins, but we are already participating in life eternal and partaking of paradise restored.
How is this possible if it has not all yet come to completion? As we step into the flow of the river, the Holy Spirit begins to work on us. The Holy Trinity invites us into the flow of holy love found in koinonia with God and humanity. We have already partaken of the tree of life and the healing effects of salvation are constantly at work, setting aright the corruption found because of sin. It is a healing for the individual but for all of humanity. Death is no longer victorious but life is being restored. Paradise is little by little coming back to life as the kingdom continues to grow and expand in the here and now.
The fruit of the tree may be seen in the fruit of the Spirit. What flow is love and joy, bubbling out of the new city. Where there have been tears, they are wiped away and joy fills our hearts. Peace rules the day as God’s people live in patient obedience, filled with kindness and goodness. There is no desire to turn back or leave paradise restored. The fruits are sweet to the tongue and therefore one lives in faithful fidelity to this holy relationship with God. Finally, gentleness and self-control are visible signs of this fruit. Month after month these fruits continue to be produced in the lives of those who are being watered by the streams of God.
The people of paradise restored become agents of healing in the world. The leaves of the tree become tools for God’s people to go forth as ambassadors of peace and healing to a world in great need of the living water.
We don’t have to live in the fallenness of the world. The effects of the fall of humanity have already been reversed in the works of Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to step into that paradise restored and begin to enjoy what that means for all of us. We can begin now and remain in the garden until the restoration has come to perfection. Why wait?
Lord, there are times that I keep myself from your restored paradise. Please, help me to dwell in that sacred space. Amen.
Friday, September 15, 2017
Psalm 145:18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
The great and beautiful promise of the Lord is nearness. We are invited into a beautiful space of intimacy with our holy God. We are responsible to come to the Lord and call on him in truth.
Often we may feel alone, even when we are in the midst of many people. The noise, hustle and bustle of this world will not satisfy our deep longing for relationship. We are created for fellowship which is satisfied by drawing near to our Lord.
These days I have the joy of spending time with our two adorable granddaughters. However, I also have to spend quite a bit of my time in travel and away from home. On those days I will FaceTime with the girls. The little one, Alice, doesn’t really pay any attention but I like seeing her. Mackenzie, the two-year-old knows that it’s me and will smile and laugh and try and tell me things. It’s a joy to hear their voices and see what new things they have learned.
While all of that is fun, it’s nothing like getting to be with these little girls in person. When I’m home Mackenzie runs up to me, throws her arms around my neck and holds onto me tight. In the mornings she comes down to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and climbs in the big chair next to me and just snuggles. It is wonderful to be right there next to these little ones, having one on your lap and the other one sliding up close. There is great joy and comfort being together in person.
We are all invited into this kind of a personal relationship with God. Our Abba, Daddy, Father - invites us to snuggle in close and sit on his lap and talk about what’s going on in life. We can shed tears, share joys or simply quietly enjoy the calming presence of our Lord.
We can only experience this intimacy when we come to the Lord in truth. As long as we try to fake our way through our relationship with God, or with the church we will feel lonely. The Lord will not be near because our own lies will become barriers to the love of God reaching out to us. God never gives up on us, but our lies are obstacles to love. We may have a virtual type of relationship but it will never sustain the way in which a real, face to face, nearness will.
Grab onto the promise of nearness and call upon the Lord with a sincere heart. Then, rest in the protective arms of a loving Father.
Lord, please help me live in your promise. Amen.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Rev. 18:11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.
This is a vision of the end times when there is large-scale destruction. The sad news is that the kings are lamenting their loss of power and the merchants are lamenting their loss of revenue. Along the way it seems that no one is bemoaning the loss of life. All that can be see is the loss of their fortunes and the market that will purchase their cargo. The items within the holds are listed, which include very precious things of this world. Sadly, nothing else mattered to them and they were left weeping and mourning over the fact that they couldn’t sell their goods.
The profits mattered more than the people to the merchants. They bemoaned the loss of the things of this world, but they had no sensitivity regarding the lives of the people that had been lost. They didn’t care about the people, they only cared about themselves.
Jesus comes as the Savior of this world and helps to put everything into perspective. Eternal things matter so much more than cargo holds filled with fancy goods! People matter so much more than stuff. The lives of our family, loved ones and others matter more than all the junk that we can collect!
This past weekend I was in the Houston, Texas area which had just suffered massive flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey. As I drove down the streets which had been flooded piles of peoples’ goods were in the front yard. For many, all of their earthly belongings had been destroyed after sitting in sewage-filled water for days on end. There was nothing to do but remove it, pull up the floors and take the walls down to the studs. The things of this world lay strewn across front yards, sometimes as far as the eye could see.
There was a great sense of loss for these people — a loss which should not be taken lightly. At the same time, none of the people I encountered had a loss of life, and in this they rejoiced. Person after person spoke of the temporary nature of the “things” that they had lost but I never heard them focusing on the loss, instead on that which had been saved. I was amazed at their positivity and resilience.
I don’t want to belittle the loss at all, but at the same time, I’m overcome by the focus on the positive. When the things of this world have too tight of a hold on us; when getting more stuff becomes the driving force of our lives; then we will end up bemoaning the loss of the things of this world. When we begin to see the world through the eyes of our Savior, we will begin to have an eternal view, or perspective in mind. God is at work in the new kingdom, one in which the things of the world will seem like nothing. Eventually we will wonder why we put so much stock in the the temporal.
We must live our lives holding very loosely to the things of this world. Hold tight to your loved ones, and to the One who gave his all for us.
Lord, please help me to live loosely connected to the things of the world. Amen.