Monday, February 27, 2017
Psa. 78:17 Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
This is a Psalm about the faithfulness of God, and yet it also reveals when the people refused to follow in obedience. The Israelites were testing God’s faithfulness while they wandered in the wilderness. They had seen God part the waters but now, they were tired of their travels and and they didn’t believe that God had the power to provide them with necessary food and water. They chose to stop believing until God would again prove to be faithful.
Their desire for proof of God’s power came out of a lust for things that they craved. This wasn’t what they needed, but what they wanted. God had a way of providing for their every need, but now they wanted what they craved, and were demanding it from God.
The Israelites were willing to put God to the test by demanding what they craved. Their attitudes revealed a people who had no personal relationship with God, but instead saw God as someone who simply provided for their every whim. If he didn’t do what they wanted, they threw a tantrum!
We wouldn’t want to imagine that we ever respond the way in which the Israelites did, demanding what they craved! Our relationship with God is to be one in which we intimately learn the heart of God. When this happens we can no longer simply see God as a provider of things, but as one with whom we abide and get to know on a very personal level. Suddenly there can be no demanding of our own rights or desires, because our hearts become aligned with God’s passions.
The demands of the Israelites simply revealed their spiritual immaturity. When we begin to demand God respond in particular ways we are also reflecting an immature relationship with God. God has so much more for us than simply what we might demand. God knows what satisfies our very deepest needs and when we demand the things we want, we miss out on the very best for our lives. Why be satisfied with our personal cravings when we can have abundant life when we are united with Christ!
Lord, thank you for your provision in life. Amen.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Matt. 17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
This is the amazing scene of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. Right before the eyes of Peter, James and John, Jesus’ full nature is revealed. Jesus is God, shining in white radiance, in the line of the great prophets who have come before. The reality is that he is even more than those who have gone before, for he is the incarnation of God which is affirmed by the voice of his Father. It is in this moment that Peter is completely overwhelmed, and not quite knowing what to say, says something inappropriate. Why not build three tents on the top of the mountain so that the presence of God, manifest in this experience be contained. It was an idea that popped into his mind and probably sounded pretty good to him. It would have been lovely to simply try and contain God and remain on the mountaintop. The problem was that it made no sense in light of who God is and what God intended to accomplish. God’s presence was not to be contained but to be revealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Instead of chiding Peter, Jesus and the others simply and quite tactfully ignored what he said. Actually, his words were interrupted by the presence of the bright cloud and the voice of the Father. This was not the time to sit in the glory of God, but it was a time to endure the days ahead. The transfiguration of Christ, while glorious, became a testimony to the long-suffering servanthood of the disciples. They had seen God’s glory on the mountain top but realized that they would have to endure the day-to-day difficult life of ministry as faithful servants of Jesus. Glory would come, but not until they had endured.
Peter, whose comment is tactfully ignored, continues on his spiritual journey, and empowered by the Holy Spirit leads a new movement and church. Eventually he dies a martyr’s death, but I imagine that he was eternally grateful for the lessons which he learned from Christ, including being tactfully ignored.
The call to discipleship doesn’t result in perfection of behavior. Peter is certainly a testimony to that truth. As he grows spiritually he stumbles, and often over himself. He does things that are embarrassing and there are times when Jesus does say something to him, but others, such as this incident, where nothing has to be said. Peter learns his lesson by being tactfully ignored.
Not everything in life is worth a lengthy discussion. Yes, sometimes people will say something stupid, but we don’t have to always point that out. From time to time the graceful response is simply to tactfully ignore. A lack of response may be used as a discipleship technique, just as it was by Jesus. I’m sure that Peter realized that what he had said probably wasn’t really appropriate after he had said it. He didn’t really need Jesus to point that out.
Not everyone needs us to point out what they may have done wrong. About the moment something is out of our mouths we know that it was something we should not have said. There is also the possibility that we hit “post” before we think about the consequences of that action. It’s far too easy to have a disagreement with someone when you don’t have to look them in the eye. The use of social media has turned criticism into an art-form. I think we need to ask ourselves whether it is always useful. If not, maybe it’s better to simply and tactfully ignore something that someone has written, said or done.
We are invited into a discipleship relationship with Christ, and with others. Jesus teaches us how to gently nudge people into Christlikeness as we continually learn and grow.We are to graciously allow others the space to grow, which may include tactfully ignoring somethings in life.
Lord, thank you for tactfully ignoring some of the dumb things I do. Amen.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
Psa. 2:1 Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”
This Messianic Psalm has been quoted numerous times in the New Testament. It really expresses a misunderstanding about power and kingdom which is transformed by the coming of the Messiah. The people simply do not understand the power of God’s kingdom. Therefore the nations and the people try to plot ways in which they can take on the kingdom of God. The rulers and authorities of this world establish themselves in places and ways in which they believe they have control. Eventually they come to believe that they are more powerful than God and in their egocentrism they refuse to follow God’s laws. They choose to break away from God’s precepts and they throw the cords of God’s law far from them. They falsely slip into the assumption that their human systems have more power than God.
People and nations will continually plot in vain when they refuse to accept the authority of God. While this statement is in regard to nations it can be applied to any type of institution. This includes businesses, organizations, and even religious groups who refuse to submit to the authority of the kingdom of God. The sad result can be an abuse of power because when power is not placed in submission before God it can be abused. When the world says let’s burst the bonds of God’s oppressive laws, we have a problem, and yet that is what has been happening for thousands of years. The Psalmist knew it, and we know it. Casting the cords of God’s laws far from us creates a false experience of freedom, when in fact, this simply creates new bonds which lead to oppression and the use and abuse of vulnerable individuals.
Even followers of Jesus Christ need to evaluate whether they are submitting to the power and authority of God, or have taken matters into their own hands. It’s easy to get caught up in following a set of rules or practices of religion without really knowing Christ. We plot in vain if we think that we can live a godly life without daily interaction with God. True freedom is found in our personal relationship with Christ. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit transforms our lives in ways that give us more joy and freedom than we can imagine. We don’t have to become bound by the ways in which the powers and authorities view our circumstances because we have a newfound freedom in Christ. Loving God with our whole heart opens up a wideness in which we can grow and flourish. God’s love provides us the opportunity to overcome the obstacles which may have been created by misplaced power.
Dependence upon man-made systems or structures for our salvation has always been a false assumption of power. God’s kingdom power will always transcend that which we create on our own. We don’t need human systems to empower us. That’s the folly of the nations and the people who literally, plot in vain. It simply reveals the misguided dependence upon structures which will always fail. True power is only found in submission to God.
Lord, may I find my wholehearted dependence in you. Amen.
Friday, February 24, 2017
Hebrews 11:24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.
Here Moses is presented as an example of faith. So much of his life is a reflection of faith in God, but also a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah. Moses gave up the crown which he could have had in Egypt in order to identify with God’s people. This was his choice to identify with his own people. This meant that he chose to be treated poorly by the world — even the world that had previously been his home. He intentionally left that home to because he understood the long-term nature of things. The Egyptian kingdom was fleeting when it came to the eternal kingdom of God.
It’s interesting the way the language changes in this next phrase. Obviously Christ had not yet come and yet the author tells us that Moses intentional suffered “for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.” Moses’ activity in the Old Testament was already being drawn into a future in which the Messiah would transform the world. Moses and his activity was already a part of that trajectory. Moses was obedient to the call of God and God’s plan for all of humanity. He was an intentional participant, choosing to suffer for the sake of the kingdom of God, rather than live in the wealth that he could have enjoyed Moses was looking ahead and somehow understood that he was a part of something much larger than that which he was experiencing. He chose to intentionally participate together in God’s plan and this was his life of faith.
God is still drawing people into the eternal plan. There is something much larger at work on a daily basis than what we can see on the human level. Just as Moses chose to participate with God, so we are asked to make a choice. What will be most important to us? The things of this world, or the things of God?
The idea of intentional suffering doesn’t sound very pleasant, but there is a question of our intentional participation in the activity of Christ. Christ suffered for the sake of the kingdom — and for all of us. Life will not always be easy and the intentionality of following Christ means being willing to suffer for the sake of the lost. Moses loved his own people and wanted them to be saved. He was willing to suffer for their salvation. How far are we willing to go to help the lost, even the lost in our own families? If we are to become participants together with Christ in his mission in this world, then we are also to intentionally suffer for the sake of Christ and for those who are in desperate need of the one who can set them free. The love of Christ motivates us to a life of intentional action on behalf of those who are lost, and that just may include suffering.
Love of Christ will result in love for this broken world. To make a difference in this world means we will need to go against the natural flow of things and stand up for what is right, and this may not always be the popular decision. A choice to suffer intentionally is to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Lord, please help me to have a heart willing to suffer for the sake of the lost. Amen.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Luke 18:22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich.
The ruler had been so careful about following the letter of God’s law. He believed that it revealed his love for God, but he didn’t realize that true love of God was revealed in his love for others. In reality he was consumed with a self-centered love that focused on himself and his personal wealth. Beyond that he wanted the approval of those around him that he was a religious man. Jesus got to the heart of the man’s motivation when he touched on what was most important to him. To be a disciple would have cost him much more than he was willing to pay for it would have cost him his place at the center of his own life.
We may not be aware of what we might find at the center of our affections. I think that the ruler was probably surprised that day at discovering the motivations of his own heart. He had thought that he was doing everything right. These were the things he had been taught since he was young, but now Jesus was talking about the things of the heart.
We may be doing a number of things right in the eyes of the church and the world, but when Jesus begins to touch on our motivations we can become quite uncomfortable. Sometimes we simply don’t want to be that vulnerable, nor are we always willing to do the things that Jesus may want us to do. It’s at that moment that we discover what really is at the center of our love.
Lord, in that moment of self-evaluation, please help me be obedient to your call. Amen.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Psalm 119:59 When I think of your ways,
I turn my feet to your decrees;
60 I hurry and do not delay
to keep your commandments.
The Psalmist’s prayer reveals spiritual growth. Prompt obedience was not always a way of life but now a new obedience was developing in the heart and life of the one who spent time in the presence of God. No longer is time spent in the sinful pleasures of this world, but the desire to follow God is immediate. Hearing and learning from God’s heart means a desire to hurry up and following the Lord’s leading in all things.
We don’t always want to respond to God’s leading in a prompt way. Mulling things over and taking time to try and decide whether God’s leading is a good thing — is never a good thing. The Psalmist would never have known how to promptly obey had he not spent time in the presence of God. When we do not act promptly, it may be that we unsure if we are hearing the voice of God. Responding promptly to the voice of God comes when we are familiar with the Lord’s voice.
I’ll admit it’s a little tough having my time with the Lord this morning. I’m writing this as my 19 month old granddaughter is next to me watching a little video with sing-a-long songs. This devotional comes with “The Wheels on the Bus.” At the same time she is fascinated by pictures she sees on my computer. Whenever she sees a picture of my husband she calls out “Pa!” While she hasn’t spent tons of time with him, she knows who grandpa is. She has become familiar with him and gets excited when she simply sees his picture.
Just as a little child learns to know the voices and faces of family members that they can trust, so we must have this kind of relationship with our heavenly Father. Then, when we hear God’s voice of leading we will know that it is from God. It takes no time to decide whether to follow, but we do it promptly and immediately. To delay would mean more pain and struggle in our own lives. This is not what God wants for us. Our loving “Pa!” wants to lead us away from sin and its devastating effects in our lives. This may be a new obedience for us, but we follow with hearts overflowing with love for the one who loves us.
Obedience comes from knowing the heart of the one who is ready and willing to lead. Prompt obedience will be life-changing.
Lord, please help me to listen to your heart and follow you today. Amen.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Leviticus 19:1-10 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
Matthew 5:42-48 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In Leviticus God charges the Israelites to be holy, because God is holy. Then, there are descriptors provided of this holiness, much of it being of the relational nature. When caring for the crops of their land, they were always to leave some extra for the poor and the foreigner who was living among them. It was this exact law that Boaz was following when Ruth began working his field. Boaz is remembered as a holy man and Ruth becomes the grandmother of king David. God’s holiness was revealed in the way that Boaz farmed the land and cared for the poor, and the foreigners who had come to Israel.
Next we jump to the New Testament where Jesus is preaching. Jesus’ sermon includes the importance of caring for the poor and those who have less than we do. We are to give to those who beg, and loan to those who ask to borrow. Then, Jesus tells them to go above and beyond what they had come to accept as law and not only love their neighbor (and friend), but to love the enemy as well. Jesus’ expectations for behavior were very high. Loving the enemy meant praying for them, and, in essence, reflecting the love and prevenient grace of God revealed in Christ, to the rest of the lost world.
Jesus didn’t come to just love those who loved him. To become holy like Christ means to be transformed into his image. Jesus loved the tax collectors and many other outcasts of society. He went to their homes, visited with them, loved them and healed them. Finally Jesus ends with, “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is the same construction as what we find in Leviticus where God calls the Israelites to be holy. The call is for all of God’s people to be holy, reflecting the very image of the incarnate God, Jesus. Jesus interprets this holiness of God as perfection; perfection in the sense that this is the goal, or the telos of our lives. To be perfect is to reflect the holiness of God in everything that we do. Holiness is our perfection — holiness is the goal — transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ is the final completion of all things.
This weekend I have gathered with a group of friends to talk about issues of our environment and how these relate to being followers of Jesus Christ. Many of us present have received questions from people as to the importance of this conversation, or rather, concerns that the main thing of being a follower of Jesus Christ is not being discussed — evangelism! The truth is evangelism is seen, or should be seen, in everything that we do. I think that’s what these two passages point out. God was instructing people in farming, and in doing things differently than the rest of the world. They were to use the land well, but make sure they left some of what they had for the poor and needy. This was the way to reflect the holiness of God. Jesus was instructing his disciples in a lifestyle as well. This was one in which you prayed for and loved your enemy, showing generosity to the one who just may persecute you — and all of this leads to becoming the holy individual that God intended.
I read a book this week that talked about some of the issues related to global migration, or why we have so many people trying to move from one place to another. In certain parts of this world there has been a shift in weather patterns and communities of farmers are no longer able to raise their crops. Their land has become very dry and the seasonal rains are now coming on a different cycle. They don’t know when to plant their crops or when to harvest. Because they are so dependent upon the food that they grow this has created a real challenge and so the people are moving from the land to the cities where they hope to find work so they can feed their families. Cities around the world are burgeoning with people who are migrating with the hope of finding work and supporting their families. One such city is Aleppo in Syria. Suddenly the city is filled with more people than the system can support. Food shortages are a common occurrence and the prospects of getting married and being able to support a family no longer appears to be an option for young men. In abject frustration and disappointment they look for a cause which may inspire them — and pay them a little money to simply survive. There in the midst of their deepest need they find one group willing to pay them to join their cause and so, out of desperation — they sell their souls to the cause.
Why should I care about what God says in caring for this planet? Because it has to do with the trickle down effect and the way in which it hurts my neighbor and even my enemy. Because God and Jesus commanded us to care for others in ways that reflect the holiness of God. Because my consumerism just may be contributing to someone else’s hunger. Because I want to tell the world about Jesus, but to do so means that I must enter into the midst of others’ pain and be present when they are in need. I must share what I have with the poor and the needy and care for that which I have been blessed to experience. And all of this is important because God has called us to be holy people. Jesus defined this holy living for us and it was always in relation to the ways in which we loved and cared for others.
The early Nazarenes were very cognizant of the ways in which their lives would affect the lives of others. Birthed in the pre-prohibition era the Nazarenes were strong proponents of the need for prohibition. Alcoholism was ravaging many families leaving women and children destitute. In solidarity with the poor and needy Nazarenes chose to abstain from drinking alcohol. Today we have additional issues where our consumption may lead to the poverty of others. How do I bring others to Christ if I do not show them the overabundant love of Christ? That was Jesus’ challenge in Matthew 25. 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The goal — the telos of God’s holy people — is to be holy as God is holy. The result of this is holy living that reaches out and lives self-sacrifically for the sake of a dying world. This is reflecting and living like Jesus.
Lord, thank you for making me wrestle with things that make me feel uncomfortable. Amen.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Lev. 6:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 When any of you sin and commit a trespass against the Lord by deceiving a neighbor in a matter of a deposit or a pledge, or by robbery, or if you have defrauded a neighbor, 3 or have found something lost and lied about it—if you swear falsely regarding any of the various things that one may do and sin thereby— 4 when you have sinned and realize your guilt, and would restore what you took by robbery or by fraud or the deposit that was committed to you, or the lost thing that you found, 5 or anything else about which you have sworn falsely, you shall repay the principal amount and shall add one-fifth to it. You shall pay it to its owner when you realize your guilt. 6 And you shall bring to the priest, as your guilt offering to the Lord, a ram without blemish from the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. 7 The priest shall make atonement on your behalf before the Lord, and you shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and incur guilt thereby.
God is displeased when humanity sins against society. The reach of those sins goes beyond the individuals, but to the whole of the community and thus to God. Any type of wrongful gain is a sin which must be confessed, but not only must there be confession, but there must be restitution. Because this sin not just been against God, but against the community of faith the penalty of repayment must also go to those who have been victims of the fraudulent behavior. Restitution is a double-tithe which must go to the individual or community which has been harmed. This is not just a fine, but it is a sacred duty for those desiring to be God’s holy people.
Far too often we have divided up our lives into two spheres; the spiritual and the physical. We talk about getting our “heart” right with God, but I don’t hear much about restitution these days. Since the very beginning of time, God’s language has been wholistic. We can’t be spiritually whole if we don’t deal with the physical. Whenever we read of Jesus’ healing powers we discover that he was dealing with the whole individual, people healed physically and spiritually at the same time.
There is a sacred responsibility for one to provide restitution for the wrongs they have committed. Yes, this is in relation to money, but it is more than money. It is restitution that comes out of an overabundance of gratitude for what God has done in our lives. Restitution is a reflection of God’s character to those who have been victims.
One area in which we struggle to respond in this way is to victims of sexual abuse. Sadly, even the church tends to look upon the victims with scrutiny and wonder whether they “deserved” it, or whether they helped to bring this on. Far too often we focus on the restoration of the individual who perpetrated the activity and forget that there are victims. Not only has God been wounded, but God’s children have had their lives damaged, creating a trajectory from which they may never recover. Marriage partners with deep scars often go ignored. It is the responsibility of the guilty party as well as the community of faith to work toward this double-tithe restitution. In other words, the victims are the ones who need an overabundance of God’s love and activity (counseling, etc.) to help them recover and have a healthy life.
Trying to divide the spiritual without physical restitution will never bring us to the place where we reflect the image of God. Double tithe restitution is our sacred responsibility.
Lord, thank you for the reminders of our responsibilities in life. May we never lose focus of the wounded who are among us and please help me to live out of a spirit of generosity. Amen.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Ex. 22:21 You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. 23 If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; 24 my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.
Ex. 22:25 If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; 27 for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.
When God speaks these words to the Israelites they are moral imperatives, given in the form of the Ten Commandments. The behaviors here are not something that would be enforced by a human court of law, but they are, rather, moral requirements of God’s holy people. A standard of behavior is required of holy people which goes beyond the letter of the law. This is really about how God’s holy people are to conduct themselves in society and these imperatives reflect the very nature and character of God.
This begins with a reminder that the Israelites had been foreigners in Egypt and they had been sorely abused. They knew what that felt like and they were to remember the pain and the struggle when it came to their relationship with the resident aliens who lived among them. These were the marginalized and not only did it include the ethnic minorities, but also the widows and the orphaned children. God affirmed that the cries of the marginalized would be heard if in any way, shape or form, God’s people abused them. This is the one time that punishment is mentioned in this passage, for God is serious in the requirements for God’s holy people.
The next three verses end with the phrase, “I am compassionate.” Again, the very nature of God is revealed in this section because God’s holy people are not to make money at the expense of the poor. Neither should a holy person make someone suffer from lack of basic needs. The cloak represents the basic need of shelter and even if the person has a debt, they, nor their children should be deprived because God is compassionate, and we are to be compassionate as well.
These moral imperatives are to be reflected in God’s holy people.
I’ve lived as a resident alien in a foreign land, and it is because of the love and acceptance of my dear Russian-speaking friends that I came to love the people of that foreign land. There were many days that I needed a kindhearted individual who would help me make my way through a very complex system. I remember what it was like to be an alien in the land!
Now I live in the United States and the reality is that nearly everyone is here because their ancestors were immigrants. I think that’s a serious reminder to God’s holy people because just like the Israelites, we have also been immigrants in a foreign land. There was a time when our grandparents or great grandparents struggled with the language and trying to adjust to a new world. Often they met and worshipped together in the language of the old country. Communities formed where people felt comfortable still living with the culture they had brought with them. They sold food that reminded them of home, and even published newspapers in their native tongue.
My mother spoke German at home and had to learn English when she began attending Elementary School, and she was born in Canada! It all comes pretty close to home when we realize we are just a generation or two away from being the resident alien. God’s holy people reach out to those who are arriving from other lands and reflect the character of God in all relationships.
It’s easy to marginalize individuals who are not like us without even knowing it. Just as immigrant populations feel comfortable staying together, so do the rest of us. We are comfortable with those who are most like us and when someone who is different is thrown into the mix, we aren’t sure what to do. God’s holy people are called to be intentional in reaching out to those within our communities who are not exactly like us. It’s when we live as kingdom people that the barriers that divide us come down and we become united in the love of Christ.
The love of Christ compels us to to live lives of compassion. In today’s world the widow just may be the single parent who needs help and support. Far too often we set up systems within the church to minister to two-parent families. The ones who need our extra help are the single-parent families. I’ve heard their cries for help and their pain at feeling like failures. Sometimes our structures remind them that they don’t exactly fit in and we create more pain than we ever intend.
God's holy people are to respond to the cries for help in the midst of deep need. Those needs may be revealed in a variety of ways but we are to be attentive and show compassion. The moral imperative derived from the nature of God compels us to go above and beyond the letter of the law.
Lord, please help me to be aware of those with needs around me. Help me be intentional in reflecting your compassion. Amen.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Psalm 119:16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
The ABC’s of Psalm 119 take us through a beautiful journey. The “B” section focus on the absorbed heart and closes with this verse. The heart that is focused with well-directed love will discover emotions and memory are now properly aligned to the purposes of God. Augustine in “City of God” tells us, “The right will is, therefore, well-directed love, and the wrong will is ill-directed love. Love, then, yearning to have what is loved, is desire; and having and enjoying it, is joy; fleeing what is opposed to it, it is fear; and feeling what is opposed to it, when it has befallen it, it is sadness.” (14.7)
When our hearts are directed toward God, there is an overflow love. This results in good works but the source comes from the well-directed love that delights in God’s laws and remembers the word.
Spending time in the word is absolutely vital to our walk with Jesus Christ. However, it’s not just about knowing the Scriptures, but allowing them to speak to our hearts. We are to be moved to action by that which we read. If we aren’t, then we need to pray that God’s word will soak into our very being, past all of the human barriers.
For the word of God to become truly transformational means that we have to be vulnerable. That is never pleasant. It’s also never pleasant to be willing to be shaped and formed by what we are learning from the word. Admitting that we are wrong about something and asking forgiveness from others can be quite humbling. However, we will never get to the place of delighting in God’s statutes if we aren’t open to constantly listening and learning.
The word of God contains everything that is necessary for salvation because the Scriptures perfectly reveal God to us. It is in getting to know God that we fall in love with our Creator. Our Creator and Sustainer leads us into this place of well-directed love. This love delights in God’s statutes. Suddenly they mean so much more to us as they are illuminated by our passion to know God and to serve in faithfulness.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and many young couples got engaged. You can see their pictures all over Facebook! The pictures all include a young lady showing off her ring finger. This ring becomes a reminder that she will never forget the love of the one who gave her that ring. Every time she looks at it, she is reminded of the love that inspired the gift. The word of God is our constant reminder of the Father’s love for us. When our love is well-directed we will overflow with love for God and love for this broken world.
Lord, thank you for the privilege of soaking in your word. Amen.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
James 2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
James begins this section by declaring that those who reflect Jesus Christ would not show favoritism, for this is completely outside the character of Christ. Then, he gives a description of an assembly where one person is treated better than the other. In this situation it is the wealthy individual who is treated better than the poor person. If this were a court of law one would see that this was not a fair trial. Jewish law would require that both individuals who come before a judge are to be at the same level. Either they are to sit or stand, but both are to be in the same place. Therefore when one has a seat and the other does not it implies that the religious laws are not being followed and the wealthy man is already at an advantage. Also for a trial to be fair both individuals in court were to dress in the same type of clothing. No one was supposed to look better than the other.
As soon as the Church allows herself to be drawn into a situation where one person is judged to be of more value than another, the Church becomes an unjust and a partial judge, discriminating against certain individuals and this is condemned as blasphemy.
There are many ways in which we can show favoritism in our lives. Let’s confess that we are all tempted to do so from time to time. Certain people are simply more appealing to us than others and we are tempted to be with those who make us feel comfortable. Getting outside that comfort zone is a challenge, and yet that is the example of Jesus Christ. We cannot just talk about knowing and loving Jesus, we have to prove it by our actions. It doesn’t just come naturally, but there must be intentionality in what we do!
This week I was with a group of friends as we were walking through a downtown area of a large city. There were panhandlers almost everywhere who were asking for help. I was blessed to see one of our leaders simply walk off with an individual and I instinctively knew what he was doing. He was taking that gentleman somewhere to buy him some food. Not a word was said, just a simple action as two men who didn’t look like they belonged together walked and talked on their way to fill someone’s stomach. It was as if I saw Jesus walking down that sidewalk and it made me believe in the glorious presence of my Lord Jesus Christ.
There are so many ways in which we can show favoritism and it’s not just about the rich and the poor, but we can start there. Those of us who live in wealthy nations have the blessing of being rich. Sometimes we don’t realize how rich we really are, until we visit another country, and there realize that even the wealthy may be poor in our eyes. We congregate towards those who are most like us because that is the place in which we feel most comfortable. We may feel this way when we encounter immigrant populations within our own country. Their culture and language make it a bit uncomfortable for us to feel at home. It would require intentionality to reach out and learn how to make this our comfort zone. Therefore we may unintentionally put up barriers to those with whom we are called to fellowship.
Even within the church culture we are not always impartial. Again, we gravitate toward those who are most like us because this is where we feel comfortable. Often ethnic minorities and women find themselves excluded simply because they are different from the dominant culture. The Gospel of Jesus Christ asks us to break out of the dominant culture and refuse to succumb to the actions/reactions of the world. God has chosen the poor to be the ones who are rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom! To be in the midst of the kingdom we are to find ourselves with those whom the world would not embrace. There is to be no discrimination in the life that is glorifying God, but there is to be impartiality in all things.
Lord, please help me to see my brothers and sisters through your eyes. May you be glorified in my relationships and in my encounters with those who are not like me. Amen.
Monday, February 13, 2017
James 1:2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
James was speaking to the early Christian believers who were suddenly facing persecution because of their faith. The severe persecutions had not yet begun, but they were experiencing a new type of low-key persecution for they were being rejected socially and had become victims of economic boycott. Once they declared that they were Christians they had become victims of discrimination because of their faith. While this was discouraging, James wanted to encourage them to consider it pure joy that they were facing trials. Their faith was to be seen by those in the world. If they were being persecuted, their lives were an effective witness.
Therefore we are to rejoice in the testing of our faith because it is in the testing that endurance will be produced. It is only in being tested that we can grow and become complete in Christ. It is when we are completely in Christ that we will lack absolutely nothing. This is the goal of our lives, to be made complete, or perfect in Christ and we are filled with God-like character. When we go through the fire of trials the impurities of our faith are burned off and all that is left is Christlikeness.
We each have things in our lives which we may consider “trials.” They come to us in many forms including failing health, loss of loved ones, difficulties in relationships, struggles at work, strained finances, and even in the life of the church. Avoidance of these difficulties would probably be the normal response. Who wants to go through this stuff? No one really wants to have to go through difficulties in life and yet, without these we would not be able to grow and develop into the people of God that we are to become.
It’s somewhat like receiving a vaccination. A person must receive a touch of a particular illness so that their body will create the right antibodies to fight against the full-blown disease. In other words, your body has to go through some trials so that you can come out victorious. If we never live through trials we will not become stronger. Historically, when the people from Europe arrived in America they brought with them their diseases. The native Americans had never been exposed to those diseases and their bodies could not fight back. Many died simply from exposure to something they had never experienced before. Never being exposed to difficulties is not a good thing. No matter how much we try to protect ourselves or our children, it can actually become a detriment to our lives. Those who have learned to persevere will develop endurance to continue on the spiritual journey, pushing through until the very end.
No matter the struggle which we may face today, may we press on in faith. Let’s take time to thank God for the struggles and praise the Lord when we come out on the other side. And in all things, may God be glorified!
Lord, when the struggles of this life seem daunting, I give you praise. Please help me to keep my eyes fixed on you, and may I persevere in my faith. I love you, Lord. Amen.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
1Cor. 3:1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
The condition of the Corinthians was determined by their spiritual diet. Instead of continually growing spiritually and moving on to a more adult diet, they had remained infants. Intentionally so! The result was a worldliness that came from thinking about ministry and the Christian life from a secular perspective. The people were following after preachers as if they were a popular cult. They were dividing up into different factions and arguing with one another and the result was that there was jealousy and quarreling. One can imagine that each side was arguing their points and why their person was better than the other. It was creating division within the church community that was not spiritual.
The factionalism that was developing was simply secular behavior. Because the Corinthians were not growing spiritually they were behaving as mere humans. Writing in the 4th century John Chrysostom recognized this factionalism and noted, “ It was the factionalism of the Corinthians that produced jealousy, and that in turn made them carnal. Once they were carnal, they were no longer free to hear truths of a more spiritual kind." (Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 8.5.) They could not go on to eat more meaty spiritual food once they had settled into their carnality, or into their factions. They grabbed onto the perceived truths of Paul, or the perceived truths of Apollos and didn’t want to let go. This created factionalism, which in reality came from the world, and their lack of spiritual growth wouldn’t allow them to consider any other options.
This passage is painful to hear because it’s far too easy to find ourselves in the Scripture. Jealousy and quarreling rear their ugly head when we are not where we should be spiritually. John Chrysostom writes,” If jealousy makes people carnal, every one of us ought to be crying out because of our sin and covering ourselves in sackcloth and ashes. Who is not tainted with this? I say this of others only because I know how true it is of me.” (Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 8.3.) I must join the cry of Chrysostom because I know how true it is of me as well. It’s when we get our eyes off of Jesus Christ and we begin to scan the view before us that we get our eyes on other people and little by little jealousy arises in our hearts. We compare ourselves to others instead of seeing ourselves through the eyes of our Lord.
The problem with the jealousy and quarreling that Paul mentioned is that it was creating a huge rift in the church. They were dividing into two camps; those who supported Paul and those who supported Apollos. One can only imagine that people were creating a list of things they liked about each of them. Then they dug in their heels and probably made the issues about each side much larger than they really were. Somewhere in the middle was the good news of Jesus Christ and as they clung to their favorite preachers, they missed out on Jesus. As Chrysostom said, “Once they were carnal, they were no longer free to hear truths of a more spiritual kind.” Or, once they had become so firmly ensconced in their faction, they couldn’t hear the spiritual truth that would lead them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This broke Paul’s heart because he didn’t want people arguing over him. Paul wanted people to know Christ and to passionately follow Jesus into a broken world. Following Jesus didn’t mean that you fell into either camp, but found yourself on a counter-cultural pathway, being fed spiritual meat by the God of all creation. It’s time to move on from just drinking milk — or knowing just enough to feed us but to keep us as infants. We must all embrace what God has for us, be willing to grow up and move into deeper spiritual depths and live as kingdom citizens above the factions in this world.
Lord, I want to grow up in you. Please help me to keep my eyes on you and lead me to deeper truths. Amen.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
Matt. 15:1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
8 ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”
The Pharisees and scribes in Jerusalem were those with the most religious authority. They were concerned because Jesus’ reputation had spread far and wide. This man was preaching to and healing thousands of people. Their power base was being undermined by this man and something had to be done. With unbridled scrutiny they began to examine Jesus and his disciples, looking for the right opportunity to pile on their criticism.
Accusations came from tradition, rather than God’s law. The requirement was for priests to purify their hands before eating — not ordinary people. By expanding the law of God and creating new traditions they held people accountable to their near-impossible standard. Ultimately the problem was that they did not love God, but the traditions that they had created. Exploiting their rules they bent them to their own benefit and to the detriment of their own family members. Under the guise of ministry they tied up their financial holdings in “offerings” so they would not have to use them to support their own parents. In reality they maintained control of the funds and spent them on themselves.
While appearing to be spiritual, their hearts were hardened and their behaviors extremely self-centered. Trying to deflect blame they wanted to point a finger at Jesus. His message was getting too close to the heart of things and this was dangerous. The Pharisees and scribes were willing to sacrifice knowing the heart of God, for the sake of their tradition.
When Jesus confronted the Pharisees and scribes they were probably completely taken aback. I’m assuming that they were convinced that they were doing what was right, and he was wrong. What Jesus points out is that they are following the letter of their law, over the heart of God’s law. Sadly, they wouldn’t have seen this because they had become so absorbed in what they were doing. The truth of Jesus’ words was probably lost on them.
If we were to strip away all of the tradition in our religious practices, what would we be left with? Quite possibly most of our religious experience may be our traditions. Jesus was calling his disciples, and he is calling us to a life in which the law of God is written on our hearts. We are driven by God’s love which overflows and sometimes comes cross-wise with tradition.
Love for God and our neighbors must drive the way in which we engage in the world. Sometimes that love may put us in circumstances that just don’t seem logical, or may go against our traditions.
Please, hear me out. I love tradition, but we cannot allow the ways in which we have always done things to put us in such a box that we miss out on participating in God’s mission. The Pharisees and scribes missed out on the joy Jesus’ miraculous intervention in the world. We just may do the same when we remain stuck within a religion of our own construct. Let’s not insist on tradition, but on following the heart of God into our world.
Lord, please help me to have a sensitive heart and ears that will hear your leading. Amen.
Friday, February 10, 2017
Lev. 26:34 Then the land shall enjoy its sabbath years as long as it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its sabbath years. 35 As long as it lies desolate, it shall have the rest it did not have on your sabbaths when you were living on it.
God revealed that there would be consequences for disobedience. The people of God were to observe a Sabbath rest. They were to give the land a year of Sabbath rest and yet, in their covetousness, to get everything that they could out of the soil, they refused to follow God’s law.
If they did not allow the Sabbath rest to come upon the land, then the people themselves would be handed over to their enemies and the land would have its rest. So important was the need for rest that if God’s people would not do it voluntarily, God would have to manage it by action.
Sabbath rest is important for all of us. Earlier this week I wrote about the ant and making sure we work with ant-like tenacity. At the other end of the spectrum we need to take a break. We cannot always be going, going, going but we need to take time to slow down and be recharged. Just as the land needs rest so that it can be recharged and become more useful, so do we.
Jesus took time to rest and spend time in the Father’s presence. He knew that he could not keep going without that rest.
Slowing down and having sabbath can be hard in this fast-paced world. I remember when I was a child that we didn’t read the newspaper or turn on the TV on Sundays. It was a slow and quiet day in which we went to church, had Sunday dinner with family and friends and went back to church again in the evening. We often played games, laughed and talked together. I must confess that there are times when I look back rather longingly at that time. There is no way it would “just happen” these days. Everyone has too much to do and our lives have been encroached upon by the busyness of the world. If it will happen, it will have to be intentional.
We may even become captured by the busyness of doing good things — kingdom business. We may be running full steam ahead and believe that we are doing everything for God. That may be true, but God has still commanded us to slow down and observe a Sabbath. We need that space where we take a deep breath, relax, and listen to the still small voice of the Lord leading us in the way we should go. Just as the Israelites overused their land, so we may overuse our own personal resources until we reach the place of exhaustion and are useless.
Overuse of our own resources is a form of self-centeredness, as it reveals our lack of dependence on God. Sabbath forces us to stop, rest, and listen — and realize that everything is not dependent upon us, but God. Sabbath creates a space in which we focus on the Lord. It’s time to take a break, be intentional, and find space for Sabbath in our lives.
Lord, thank you for the reminder that I need to take a break. Amen.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
James 1:12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved.
It seems odd that this section would begin like a beatitude. The one who endures the temptation or trial is the one who is blessed. The word used here is the same for “test,” “trial,” and “tempt.” It is the same language of the Israelites in the wilderness when they succumbed to the temptation and worshipped the golden calf. The test came from within themselves for they continually longed for the way of life that they had experienced in Egypt. God does not tempt us, but it is our internal longings and desires that can potentially draw us away from God. There is no reason to blame God. Responsibility for our own actions and responses lies squarely on our own shoulders.
Be aware that we have weaknesses in our human flesh, but they are not to win the day. Therefore, if we are able, through spiritual discipline refrain from following our “fleshly” desires, we will be blessed. The blessing is “the crown of life” — both now and for all of eternity which is found through our Lord.
It’s so easy to blame our behaviors on the fact that we are “simply human.” It seems to be an excuse for us to be able to engage in questionable activity. There isn’t supposed to be an excuse for that questionable activity, but there is blessing for enduring the temptation.
Every morning I am tempted to stay in bed a little longer and not get up and walk on that treadmill! I will confess — there are days that I give in to that temptation. At the same time, if I want to remain healthy and fit, I need to overcome that temptation. God is not the one tempting me to stay in bed a little longer. To bit fit physically requires physical discipline. To be fit spiritually requires spiritual discipline.
We are to practice discipline in our lives and this can cover a whole variety of topics. The weakness of one may not be the weakness of another. We may be tempted in the area of sexual purity. Just because the world and everyone around you seems to be saying that premarital sex is okay — doesn’t mean that it’s okay. Neither is extramarital sex. Neither is pornography. Yes, we may be tempted but the response to that temptation lies squarely with us. Will we place ourselves in circumstances where it will make it more difficult to withstand the temptation? Listen to the words of James who says that we are tempted, lured and then enticed. In other words, we don’t start out right in the middle of the sin. No one really goes out and plans to have an extramarital affair. It generally begins with a simple friendship and “innocent” flirtations. However, if it is given opportunity, it can grow far beyond this, and that is the problem. Discipline is the answer and the one who endures and does not succumb is the one who is blessed.
We may also be tempted in our attitudes. It’s easy to be critical and blame others' success for our status in life. Start going down that trail and it’s easy to become a very miserable person. The discipline of overcoming temptation is life-giving in the here and now, and for all of eternity. Giving in to the temptations we face will only serve to make us miserable. Sadly, we are not the only ones who will be miserable, but we just may destroy the lives of others along the way.
Temptations will raise their ugly head but how we respond is up to us. Empowered by our relationship with Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit we can overcome and be blessed.
Lord, when faced with temptation, please help me turn my face toward you and live in your power and strength. Amen.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Prov. 6:6 Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
8 it prepares its food in summer,
and gathers its sustenance in harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
When will you rise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior.
The ant is so tiny, and yet it will achieve things far beyond it’s own strength. We are to consider the work of the ant and learn what it means to work in God’s kingdom.
The ant has an incredible harvest, one that is the result of the ant’s labors. Just imagine the little ant that sneaks into the kitchen and walks off with the crumb of food. We don’t stop the ant because we are fascinated that such a little creature could carry something so large. In awe and wonder we simply let the ant go about its work, and its harvest is completed — needs met.
In contrast is the lazy individual who spends far too much time in bed. Sleeping, resting, not working — and poverty will be the result. Just as daily food is necessary for life, so are we to labor in proportion to our strength. The call is to be ant-like.
The tiny ant is able to accomplish much because the ant stays on mission. Working hard and harvesting more than appears to be possible, the ant makes progress by sticking at it day after day after day.
Working hard has gone out of fashion in some circles. I’ve heard owners of construction companies say that it’s hard to find good laborers these days. That, without our immigrant populations, we would have no construction industry because, for the majority population, doing that kind of manual labor seems to have no appeal. At the same time, there is a desire to have everything that the world has to offer. How will this be accomplished if we are unwilling to put in the hard work of the ant?
Our spiritual lives also require ant-like effort. We cannot lie around and imagine that God will supply every need if we are unwilling to become active participants in the work. We are asked to partner together with God in God’s mission. By doing this God empowers us with ant-like strength to work and to do more than we could ever even imagine. Just as the ant carries off more than its weight in food, so we are able to carry off more kingdom work than it would appear we are able to complete.
We are to labor at getting to know God through spiritual discipline. This includes making time for the Lord, spending time in prayer and the word, and then participating in kingdom work. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, and when we are empowered by the Holy Spirit we may be able to accomplish far more than we could ever ask or imagine! Sounds biblical, doesn’t it?
The ant doesn’t worry, but simply lives into what it means to be an ant. We are not to worry, but we are simply to live into what it means to be a child of God. Every day we are to be nourished by God’s holy presence and then work hard in this world, participating in God’s kingdom business. This is what it means to be ant-like.
Lord, please help me live and work together with you, just as the ant. Amen.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
2Kings 23:4 The king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, and the guardians of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel.
King Josiah was discovering the law of God which had become completely hidden. As the horrible truth of the peoples’ infidelity became apparent he realized that he had to take action. This included cleaning out the temple — the house of God. There in the temple they discovered all the apparatus of idol-worship. Worship of God, in God’s house, had been replaced by worship of Baal, Asherah, and the moon, sun, and stars. The vessels necessary for this worship had been brought into the temple and displaced the things of God.
Josiah took decisive action and had all the vessels of idol worship removed from the temple, brought to the Kidron valley and burned. Then, the ashes were removed from Jerusalem and taken to Bethel. This was an attempt to cleanse the temple and the city of every remnant of infidelity. There were to be no physical reminders to tempt the people back to idolatry. The only way a new spirit of God could be present was to cleanse the house of it’s evil.
To find the house of God filled with objects of worship to other gods must have been simply astounding. The sad truth is that it had become so common that it wasn’t bothering anyone. They simply thought that it was normal.
If we think about our contemporary houses of worship we may be tempted to think about all the things of this world that we have brought into the building. There would be some who might believe that technology and drums and smoke machines are all things of this world. But I don’t think that’s the point. Jesus came so that his people could be filled with the Holy Spirit. We are the living building blocks of the new temple and it is what we allow into the very corners of our own lives that becomes a problem for us.
Idolatry of any kind that displaces the centrality of the worship of God is a problem. Little by little we allow the things of this world to creep into the sacred space of our own lives. We stop paying the full tithe because we have a few tough months financially. Suddenly money becomes an idol to us because it is not given up wholeheartedly in service to God. We skip our personal time with the Lord for a day, and we think we will make up the time. Wayne Cordeiro author of “The Divine Mentor” says that you skip devotions one day and you notice; two days and your family notices; three days and the world notices. Why? Because little by little you’re allowing the sacred space in your life to be taken over by the things of this world. The vessels for idol worship are filling the temple.
The Israelites hadn’t even noticed what was happening because it was so slow and subtle. This is the way in which the enemy will tempt us to fill the temple of our hearts and lives with many things that will eventually crowd out the Lord. We won’t even know how it happened because it happened over time.
King Josiah had to take inventory. He had to compare the word of God to the state of God’s people. From time to time we need to stop and take inventory of where we find ourselves in our relationship with God. If we have allowed the things of this world to squeeze God into a corner, we need to have them removed and put far enough away that they are not a temptation to us. We cannot only be moved by God’s word, but we must take action.
Only by regular reflection and introspection can we ask ourselves, “How did we get here?” and now “How do we get out of here?” By the grace of God it is possible!
Lord, may the good things of my life never squeeze you out of central place in my life. Amen.
Monday, February 6, 2017
Psalm 119:108 Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
and teach me your ordinances.
The Psalmist understands the importance of studying the Scriptures so that they light the pathway for life. In the midst of learning the Scriptures we are overwhelmed with a desire to praise the Lord. Our praises become an offering before our Lord. Not only are our praises an offering, but also following God’s ordinances. It is in the Scriptures that we learn the ordinances that will teach us the way in which to live. Our prayer is for the on-going teaching that needs to occur in our own lives. There is always so much more to learn.
As a child I used to look forward to the end of the school year. Yes! Summer time and I didn’t have to learn anymore. I wouldn’t need to read books but I could just play and have fun. Then, as the years went on I used to imagine what it would be like to finish High School. That would be simply glorious and I wouldn’t have to learn all that school stuff anymore. But that was followed by college and suddenly I was a nursing major. I wasn’t learning things just to pass a test, but to help save peoples’ lives. Instantly learning meant so much more. Learning wasn't just a series of tasks to complete, but something I needed to absorb so that it became a part of who I was. What I learned in college and beyond is that once you really start to learn, you don’t finish, because there is always so much more our there.
The same is true in regard to our spiritual lives. No matter how many Bible Studies we have attended; no matter how many religious books we have read; no matter how many Sundays we go to church; no matter how many degrees we may have — there is always more to learn. Our God is infinite and therefore our understanding and participation with God has the potential of being limitless. We are the ones who place boundaries on our knowledge of God. God invites us into this place of continual learning and processing of the Lord’s ordinances. We don’t arrive and take the summer off for fun! We must have an open mind and realize that God just may bend and shape our understanding the more that we fellowship with the Triune God.
Every day our hearts should drive us to a greater understanding of the ways of God, and an overflowing life full of praise.
Lord, thank you that we are privileged to read your word. May it infuse my very being and transform me into your likeness. Amen.
Sunday, February 5, 2017
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is preaching his Sermon on the Mount and has just shared the Beatitudes. He lets the people know that he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill the law. The Pharisees and the scribes were people who were consumed with following the very letter of the law. The problem was that it didn’t come from their hearts and Jesus was anticipating a new era. He was ushering in a new kingdom in which the hearts of the people would turn toward God. The expectations were high for those who would take up their cross and follow Jesus for their righteousness would exceed that of the religious leaders.
Today’s Old Testament passage is a reminder of the kind of righteousness that the Lord expects. The people of God were not living the way in which had been anticipated and these words were spoken against them:
Isaiah 58:6-8 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Again — the expectations are high for God’s people. The behaviors expected in Isaiah are those anticipated in the kingdom of God. We are kingdom people and as such are not wholly governed by the rulers and authorities of this world. Called into faithful living we are challenged to live up to God’s high expectations.
Far too often fasting was done for the appearance of being spiritual. This had nothing to do with helping other people, but a self-centered fast to gain attention. Jesus called this hypocrisy because true fasting is to be done on behalf of others. When we witness injustice we are called to fast because in the space of fasting we are better able to hear the voice of God and jump to action. The yoke which has been placed upon so many is far too heavy to bear. When God’s people use their ability to remove the yoke of oppression, we are revealing the kingdom at work.
The poor and the hungry are all around us. They may not look like the poor that we expect. We may have visions of “A Christmas Carol” and Tiny Tim. But we do have people who are hungry around us because they are unable to afford good nutritious food. Far too many children are being left to fend for themselves after school or over the weekend. Many schools and churches have instituted programs of sending food home with these children so that they can eat. But what is happening within society that this has become such a problem? Is there more that we need to be examining?
There are systemic issues which are creating problems within society. The church and it’s call to kingdom living means that these issues cannot be ignored. We are to break the bonds of injustice (including systemic injustice) and help those are oppressed to go free. We must figure out how to not only share food with hungry children, but ask God to help us speak into the larger issues which are creating their hunger. We are promised that if we seek the face of God then light will “break forth like the dawn.” In other words, the light of God will shine a path through the darkness and will help us find solutions so that God’s people can be a healing spring.
The way out of exile for God’s people was to help set others free. This was the high expectation that God had, and continues to have for those who are to live as citizens of the kingdom.
Lord, may your light shine on the path that you have for us, together, as your kingdom people. Amen.
Saturday, February 4, 2017
Is. 29:15 Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,
whose deeds are in the dark,
and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
The people of Jerusalem thought that they could hide their political plans from God. In doing so they were showing contempt for the Creator, and they were doing it with great bravado. Not only did they think that God wouldn’t find out but they thought that other people wouldn’t either. Therefore they continued with their secret alliances and political intrigue. Any confrontation regarding their actions was met with the suppression of truth. It was as if they repeated their own lie often enough and loud enough, even they would believe it!
It is strange to imagine that we can hide anything from God, for not only does God know what we are up to, but God even knows our personal thoughts.
It seems as if we humans have always thought the we could hide the truth from one another, and quite specifically from God. We do these things because we don’t want to get caught behaving in a way which may be inappropriate or doing something we know we should not be doing. Sadly, this is also the case for those who may call themselves followers of Jesus Christ.
Do we ever try to short-change God by not giving our tithes and offerings? Then, do we try to make it look good — like we’ve given a lot but we really didn’t? Who are we fooling? Certainly not God who knows exactly what kinds of choices you are making with your finances.
Do we ever try to tell the world that we are followers of Jesus Christ and yet, we are unkind with the people we encounter every day? Don’t try to tell your family that you love Jesus while you don’t work on your marriage or love your children. Inauthentic Christians are one of the biggest reasons that people are struggling in their faith. The world knows quite a bit about what the Bible says and they struggle when what they experience is hypocrisy. Calling yourself a Christian and not acting like one doesn’t hide anything.
Don’t try to record fewer weight-watchers points than you really ate and hope to lose weight. Okay, that one might sound silly but I think I tried it a few times. The truth is that it just won’t work. No matter what you record, your weight depends on what you really put in your mouth :)
We cannot hide what we’re up to. God sees it all. Eventually others will figure it out and the person who is really hurt — is us. We suffer the long-term consequences of trying to hide the truth from others.
Followers of Christ are to be children of the light. If there is any behavior in our lives that we feel uncomfortable about — then it’s probably not the right thing to be doing. Beware — it will be discovered. It is folly.
To avoid this folly, we must follow Jesus. When we are pricked in our hearts and minds, we must be honest, open and transparent, and follow Jesus. We must spend time with Jesus — so we can follow Jesus. Then we will feel comfortable about anyone knowing what it is that we have been up to.
Lord, please help me to live in your light. Amen.
Friday, February 3, 2017
James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
The tongue is a problem for all of humanity. James wrote about this a long time ago. Today he’d probably say that using the fingers to write things is also a problem. Within this context he is telling us what happens when our focus becomes the wisdom of God and not the wisdom of this world. There is a major difference. God’s wisdom is pure; untarnished by the opinions of the world. This wisdom constantly seeks to fulfill the mission of God and to bring peace. This wisdom is gentle as it takes time to listen to the thoughts and opinions of others and is willing to yield when common ground can be found. Compassion overflows from this type of wisdom, pouring out good on those who are in need and is willing to associate with everyone. There is no pride in the heart of the one filled with pure wisdom, but a deep love for all of humanity.
The final phrase sounds a bit like a proverb. There is something important here to understand about God’s wisdom, because it leads to a harvest of righteousness because it is sown in peace. Those who seek the pure wisdom of God become peacemakers.
I spend a lot of time traveling so I read a lot of books. There are so many books these days that want to teach you about how to do just about everything. There are so many experts in every topic imaginable. At the same time, there are so many opinions about how to do everything that it can make your head swim. How do we know how to move forward in this rapidly changing world? (This weeks’ reading has included, “Thank you for being late” by Thomas Friedman) The reality is that we are on such an accelerated learning curve that we are reaching the limits of human capacity. You’ve probably already figured this out but the rate of change is so fast that we will not be able to keep up with it anymore.
If this is the case, then how are we, as humans to keep up with what is going on? I believe this wisdom from James is more vital for us today than we have ever understood. The only way that we can tap into the limitless wisdom of God is by getting to know God. This may just be the answer to humanity’s conundrum to the frenetic pace of change. Instead of trying to deal with it from our human understanding, we are invited to slow down and get to know the heart and mind of God. Remember, we were told to seek first the kingdom, and then the real needs of our lives will be cared for by our heavenly Father. I believe that this includes the wisdom that is needed to live in this world today.
When everything feels as if it’s on overload, let’s slow down and seek the pure wisdom which comes from knowing God.
Lord, thank you for your wisdom to guide us in this rapidly changing world. Amen.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Psa. 37:7 Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
God’s timetable is not always the same as ours. The Psalmist encourages us to learn to be still and wait for God. Not only are we to wait, but we are to do so patiently. The temptation during that time of waiting is to fret and look at what is happening in the lives of others. It’s hard to wait when you look over at someone else’s life and it looks as if everything is going smoothly. But that is not to disturb us. We are to keep our eyes on Jesus and wait.
It is in the stillness of waiting that we are able to get to know the heart of God. In that quiet space, when the distractions of this world are suddenly silent, we are able to hear and understand much more fully the gentle musings and longings of the heart of God. Only when we learn to hear and to experience those nudgings from the Lord, can we truly follow Christ out into our broken world.
Unfortunately we are not very adept at waiting or being patient. We like to have our answers rather instantaneously. But, if we had immediate answers, we would never learn to hear and know God.
Slow down, be still, and learn to recognize the heartbeat of God.
Lord, even when things don’t see to make sense to me, please help me to be patient and listen for your heartbeat. Amen.