Friday, March 31, 2017
Ezek. 3:1 He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.
This interesting passage has one wondering about the intent of the message. Could it be that the prophet is offered the word of God? Take this — the Scriptures and appropriate God’s truth. Once it becomes a part of who the prophet is — then he can go and speak to the house of Israel. He must personally devour the word before he is able to use it for the Kingdom’s sake. Once he understands this he voraciously devours the word until he is filled. In devouring the word he discovers that it is not only satisfying, but sweet as honey, as a beautiful dessert at the end of a delicious meal.
Jesus’ time of fasting took him to the wilderness where he discovered the strength to be found in the word of God. This was much more than human bread, for it was entirely satisfying, meeting every need, both now and for all eternity.
We need to know the Scriptures. Throughout the Bible we are exposed to God’s story and we recognize that our heavenly Father is reaching out to us in holy love, wanting to draw us into continual fellowship within God’s holy presence. The word also provides us with guidance for every facet of our lives. Wayne Cordiero refers to the word as the “The Divine Mentor.” This is because God’s character is revealed to us through the stories found in the word. There are individuals within the Scriptures who serve as good and bad examples who can help to bring guidance to our lives.
The more that we get to know the Scriptures, the more they will become sweet as honey in our mouths. The result is we will discover how satisfying and fulfilling it is to live by the word of God. Some of the pitfalls of life will be avoided because of the guidance we find in the word of God, and that is sweet! Nourished by the word we become well-equipped to serve in God's mission.
Lord, thank you for the blessing of your written word. Amen.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Psa. 146:1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Psa. 146:3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Psa. 146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
We are invited into a lifestyle and attitude of praise and thanksgiving. We are to praise the Lord as long as we are alive, and then well into eternity. Praising the Lord will become the very nature of our attitude day in and day out — why not begin practicing now!
We praise God, for the Lord is trustworthy. Our God is eternal while in comparison the princes, the leaders of this world, are only temporary. Why do we court them in an effort to feel secure, when it is God who provides all that we need? Think of those who lived a hundred years ago and people spent valuable time with those of influence, trying to garner their support. In the end, they have all passed away and only the eternal remains.
When we praise the Lord and put our trust in God we will discover true joy. Worry will disappear and happiness will result for dependence won’t be upon those who will soon lose their money and power, but it will be in the eternal God who made everything that we can see. In the end this God that we praise will execute justice and provide for every need. Yes — praise the Lord, indeed!
As the day begins and the messages begin pouring in we discover that we can soon become overwhelmed. Life has a way of catching up with us and filling up the margins that we may have planned. There is a reason why we need to create space for time with the Lord. Slowing down and praising the Lord can begin to change our perspective. I think that’s what happened to the Psalmist. When we stop to bring praise to God we begin to ponder the eternal. Why would we want to be dependent upon temporal resources when we can be connected to that which is eternally creative and sustaining?
When we stop trying to figure it all out on our own and we practice complete and total dependence upon the Lord we will discover a beautiful change within our hearts. God will receive the glory and the praise as we learn greater and greater dependence upon the Lord. Joy begins to fill the heart and replace worry and anxiety. The hope of Jesus infuses us in every sphere of life.
Learning to praise leads to trust which results in transformation. This transformation opens our eyes to God’s activities in this world including justice for those who have been oppressed by systems or those who are abusing power. The result is that those who have been hungry will be fed. And all of this cycles us back to praising the Lord for all of eternity. Praise the Lord. Trust in the Lord. See the hand of the Lord at work. Praise the Lord, indeed!
Lord, we praise you this day for who you are. Please lead me into deeper depths of trust and understanding. May I have the joy of participating in your works of justice and feeding the hungry. In all of this I give you praise. Amen.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Col. 1:9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
This is Paul’s prayer of intercession for the Colossian believers. He recognizes the great needs in their lives and continually lifts them up in prayer. The major needs include knowledge of God’s will. In every facet of life a believer should be seeking God’s direction and Paul knew how invaluable this would be to these new believers. When following the movement of God’s Holy Spirit the believer would lead a life worthy of the Lord. Christ would be pleased because when the believer follows God’s leading, and fruit will result.
Every believer is to grow spiritually and this includes in the knowledge of God. This isn’t just head knowledge, but it’s heart knowledge. In other words — we are to get to know Christ at a very intimate level.
Paul knows that life won’t be easy for these Christ-followers. Therefore he prays that they will be strengthen so that they will be able to endure the things that they face. They are to be strengthened with supernatural power that comes from the Lord, and this power gives the strength to be patient and to endure the difficulties, all while having a good attitude!
This good attitude is possible because we have been adopted into God’s holy family. As children of God we are transformed by the presence of Christ in our lives, therefore we participate with our Holy God, ever transformed into God’s image. The light of Christ is reflected in those who are in a face to face relationship with our holy and loving God.
The holy relationship has pulled us from the world of darkness and into holy light. The holy light leads us into kingdom living as people who have been freed from all of our past.
Paul’s prayer of intercession should lead us to a heart of thanksgiving and gratitude for we are also receivers of this prayer. We may live transformed lives as a result of knowing Christ.
Let’s pass on this prayer of intercession, using it as a model for our prayer lives. We are called to intercede and give of ourselves for the sake of others. What would happen if we prayed this prayer daily for our family members, or those whom God has laid on our hearts?
Jesus spent time praying and fasting during his Lenten journey. I believe he interceded for all of us during those difficult days. May we take this season as a time to intentionally pray for others.
Lord, thank you for the faithfulness of Paul, and so many others who have gone before us. Amen.
Monday, March 27, 2017
Isaiah 59:15b The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one,
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm brought him victory,
and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.
The people of God had wandered so far from the truth that there was no one left to reflect God’s image in the world. God’s holiness demands justice, and there was none to be found. No one remained who was willing to be an intercessor. There was no sacrificing on behalf of another and God found this appalling. How could God’s people have moved so far away from their Creator? But God refused to be defeated by the very one who had been created by God’s outpouring of holy love.
Our own remedies will never be sufficient and eventually we will lose the will to continue in our own strength.
God did not, and does not need humanity to bring about victory. God is quite capable within God’s own nature to be victorious and we see this happening in this passage. The story will eventually lead to the death of Christ on the cross, but even now God speaks of the armor which is worn as spiritual warfare is fought. God puts on God, and this is a reminder that we don’t will the armor of God in our lives. The armor is all about God, and not about us. God’s righteousness is the breastplate. God’s salvation is the helmet. God’s garments fight the battle against evil. All of this will culminate in complete and total victory on the part of God as we journey together with Christ to the cross.
God provides the treatment for all that ails God’s people, but it will require complete and total dependence upon God. No human power alone is sufficient for the task. Therefore the armor which we put on is only that which we find by participating in Christ, and this is made possible by his death and resurrection. The journey to the cross is wearisome, but along the wilderness journey we learn complete and total dependence upon God who is already victorious.
As a result, transformation occurs as we put on the full armor of God. Suddenly things are set aright and we engage in intercession, giving ourselves up for the sake of others. We engage in issues of justice — for the sake of others. These become a reflection of God’s character as God’s holiness is lived out in us.
Christ’s activity on the cross and our participation with Christ means that we become active in the restoration of all things in the way God had intended. The Lord is pleased as God sees justice. God is pleased for there are those willing to intercede. God clothes holy children in righteous armor so that they may go into the world reflecting the very nature of God. The world is changed because they have come into contact with God’s holy children.
Lord, may I never lean on my own understanding, but upon you and your strength. Amen.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Ephesians 5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Jesus is the light and if we are in a relationship with Christ, we will reflect his light. The brightness of the light doesn’t leave shadows where particular activities can be hidden. When bright light enters the darkness the things that are hidden are exposed.
The section ends with what is believed to have been an early baptismal hymn — a declaration for those who were now following Christ and walking in the light.
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
This is the moment of transformation and from now on the light of Christ is reflected in the life of the one who is in a face to face relationship with the Lord.
We don’t have to create our own light, we simply must reflect Christ’s light. Anyone who is in a right relationship with the Lord will be reflecting that light and it may not always make others feel comfortable.
I fly a lot and it seems to me that lately more and more flyers keep the window shades down in the plane. It used to be such a novelty to fly that you wanted to look out the window and see the incredible scenery as you flew by. Now, people are so engaged in their electronic devices that the light from outside is simply a distraction to their ability to see. The light is simply too bright and they would like to continue in the darkness where they feel more comfortable. The problem is that without that natural light it makes it difficult to do anything “natural” — say, read a real book. Have we become so accustomed to the darkness that we are uncomfortable with the light?
I’m afraid the same may be true with our spiritual lives. We become comfortable with our surroundings and keeping the lights just a little dim, tuning out the real world may make us comfortable. When the light of Christ is shining in on us it becomes a real wake-up call. Christ’s light shines on the dark spaces of our own lives and brings to light the things that must change. At the same time that light is reflected in us. At first it may make those around us uncomfortable but eventually we may become the only real light that they experience. There may become a hunger for that light that leads to the source of the light — Jesus.
It is in that moment of rebirth that we rise from the dead and the light of Christ shines on us, and is reflected in us. Now, we live as children of that light, being transformed and bringing transformation to a darkened world. We are never promised that this will be easy, but it is the very nature of being in a right relationship with the Lord. If you are seeking the face of Jesus, you will reflect Jesus.
Is your life one that reflects the light of Christ?
Lord, please help me to be comfortable living in, and reflecting your light. Amen.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
Luke 1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
This really is one of those impossible stories of history. A young girl, probably a teenager, is visited by an angel who tells her that she will be pregnant without having had sex. I think that the author of this Gospel passage does a nice job of writing this section but I don’t think that it begins to evoke the emotions that Mary would have been experiencing. For her to be pregnant outside of marriage had dire consequences and yet this angel is telling her not to be afraid. Without the use of a sonogram, nor a great reveal party, the angel tells her that it will be a boy. Then, the angel explains all that this baby will do and one can only that this was beyond Mary's imagination.
We do get the one expression of Mary’s concern which seems to come from being dumbfounded! “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The explanation seems beyond comprehension and then she learns that Elizabeth is expecting as well. Both of these miraculous cases of pregnancy are explained by, “nothing will be impossible with God.”
Somehow I think there was a bit of time between that declaration by the angel and Mary’s response, however, we are brought to a place of seeing Mary’s giant leap of faith. This is simply the announcement that she will have a child, but in nine months it will become a reality. Between now and then she has much to ponder and a giant journey of faith.
Today we celebrate the “annunciation of the Lord.” Nine months from now we will be celebrating Christmas and the birth of our Lord. It’s hard to imagine what this entire experience must have been like for a young girl like Mary. She had to have been a person of great faith to accept this burden on her life. This was a giant leap of faith into an unknown that would change the world. Even as the angel was speaking about a kingdom with no end, Mary must have wondered what all that would mean.
There are many emotions that a new young family experiences in the nine months leading up to the birth of a child. Christmas seems like a long way away and yet it would come soon enough. In our spiritual lives God is continually leading us to new depths and/or higher heights spiritually. There are times when something new will be conceived within us that may not be brought to fruition for months or even years. At the same time we are to live in faith like Mary.
We are on this journey for the long-haul, not for immediate returns. This means that we hold onto the promises of God and we live in faith day after day. We continue on in prayer, never giving up on those who may be straying from the faith! We love those who may seem unloveable. We stop setting up preconditions and we shower others with the love of God. We invest in God’s work for God’s glory and not ours.
Mary had to wait nine months to give birth to the baby who had been promised by the angel. Her life would never be the same but she had incredible faith. No matter what God may be asking us to do we also need to step out on faith. It may be a nine-month wait, just a few weeks, or years and years. Trust God and believe “nothing will be impossible with God.”
Lord, thank you for your promises. Please give me patience and faith for the long-haul. Amen.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Psa. 23:0 A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Psa. 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
Psa. 23:5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
The good Shepherd in this Psalm is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. Daily we are invited into deeper intimacy with our Lord who reminds us that all provision has already been made for our lives. As a result, we shall not want for those things which we absolutely need. Just as manna was provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, so God wants to be our provider of daily bread.
Not only are we to relax in God’s provision, but we are literally to rest. The green pastures and the still waters provide all the food and drink, both physically and spiritually which we might need. It’s when we feast upon that which the Lord provides that we are restored and rejuvenated. It’s God’s good food which brings newness of life and also clarity of mind to follow in the right direction.
There is no guarantee that everything in life will go well. We will walk through dark valleys where it will feel like the enemy is waiting to strike us down. We may even call this the valley of the shadow of death for it is the darkest place in life where we may have to tread. Even in this dark place we can have peace. The Lord’s rod protects us and we lean on the staff when we have no strength of our own. We are comforted by the presence of the Lord’s instruments.
Finally the table invokes visions of the Lord’s table. This is a place where heaven and earth meet and the transformational work of the Holy Spirit graces us to love our enemies. We can pass the peace of Christ to those whom we feel have offended us because in Christ we are united and made one. The anointing oil of God’s healing pours over our wounds and brings healing. We lift our cup to drink and discover that the grace of God found at the table will so fill our cup that it will be constantly filled to overflowing.
Out of this overflow we discover the very nature of God. God’s goodness, and God’s mercy (compassion, love) will become a part of who I am because I will sit down and “tabernacle” in the Lord’s house every day of my life.
The Lord is my companion, my provider, my protector, and my sustainer.
We are all looking for provision in life, whether we realize it or not. Most of the time we are trying to depend upon ourselves, our skills and abilities. It’s hard for us to slow down long enough to imagine this type of relationship with our holy God. And yet, this is the promise of a life of holiness. It is in participating — dwelling in the house of the Lord — that we are transformed by the sustaining grace of the Good Shepherd. This Psalm describes the kind of life that is possible when we are completely dependent upon God. Provision has already been made for God’s people, if only we will slow down long enough to recognize it.
This Lenten journey may feel like a wilderness, or it may take us to the green pastures and still waters. Eventually it always leads us to the table of grace. May we join with our enemies, rejoicing in the transformational power of the Holy Spirit that invites us, through grace, to dwell eternally in God’s holy presence.
Lord, your grace and love overwhelm. Please, help me to slow down enough to relax in your provision. Amen.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Eph. 4:25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.
Paul makes this comment right after discussing holiness. There is an expectation that God’s holy people will be those who learn how to deal with frustrations in life. The reality is that there will always be circumstances and relationships that may be deemed a bit difficult. In the midst of those struggles we are not to spread any falsehoods about anyone. In other words — don’t gossip. Sometimes it’s all just a matter of perspective. One person may see a situation one way and someone else another. There is no need to demonize anyone, but there is a need to speak openly and honestly with one another. If we are to work and function as the body of Christ we must recognize that we are related to one another. If we are making another member of the body miserable, the whole body will be miserable.
The situation may even cause anger, but there is no need to sin in the midst of that anger. When we give too much space to our anger, then we allow the enemy to have a foothold in our lives. This can begin to steal our joy and leave us miserable and frustrated. This is certainly not what is intended for God’s holy people.
There will always be people who are a part of our body who will cause us to become frustrated. The biggest question for us is how we will deal with that frustration. There are good ways, and there are bad ways. Mostly, I think that we tend to avoid the situation and any type of conflict. Somehow we think that will make things better. The problem is that this may actually lead to worse behaviors. Instead of confronting the issue with the individual we may go behind their back and talk about them and the problem with many other people. Meanwhile you have damaged the reputation of the other person without them having a chance to speak their opinion or possibly, provide clarity. We are to speak the truth directly to our neighbors because we are to treat one another as members of the same body.
Just because we have a small sore on one part of our body, we don’t just cut off the whole part of the body. That wouldn’t make sense. We would do everything we could to heal that wound so that the whole body could be healthy and functioning well.
Sometimes our closest neighbor who is frustrating us is our spouse. Unfortunately I find that far too many divorces result from people talking with their “friends” about their spouse and then becoming so negative that they can’t find anything good to say, nor a pathway to healing. A whole group of individuals may literally talk one another into a divorce because they feed their negative attitudes. They fail to see that they are connected to their spouse in such a deep way that the gossiping is creating wounds that may scar them for the rest of their lives. Yes, our spouses may do things that drive us crazy, but we are to talk with them and try to work things out. Don’t create space for the enemy to drive such a deep wedge that the woundedness will create a permanent fracture.
This is a holiness issue. God’s holy people are to work at their relationships and working at relationships means talking to those with whom you may have a problem. This is a face to face conversation that will not allow the sun to go down on your anger. God’s holy people work through their differences and learn to partner together for the sake of the body.
Lord, thank you for the reminder and help me to be an instrument of peace. Amen.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
1Cor. 10:1 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
Paul is reminding the Corinthians about the Israelites’ wilderness journey. It was on this journey that God provided for them everything that they needed, and yet they grumbled and complained. They wanted food and God gave them manna, providing food for them for forty years. They were thirsty and they received water from the rock. They were rescued from their Egyptian oppressors by passing through the sea. Moses was their spiritual father, present with them day in and day out to lead them to the spiritual rock. They failed to see what they had been given to them, taking it all for granted. In continually pining for Egypt they missed out on the miracle in front of them and many never lived to see the promised land.
Our Lenten journey is often consider a time in the wilderness. Jesus, who spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, was sustained by the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. As we make our wilderness journey we are to consider the ways in which God sustains us. Our heightened senses means that we become more and more aware of the work of God around us. Often we are too distracted to notice that God may be at work, but the purpose of the wilderness is to lose the distractions. Suddenly the work of God becomes much more real and we see God’s hand in new and different ways.
The spiritual rock in the wilderness was Christ. Rocks can serve several purposes as we journey. They can be a place where we sit down and we rest, giving a time of renewal to our weary bones. At the same time, if we’re not paying attention we can stumble over the rock and fall. The rock will not be moved and we must pay attention to the placement of the stone. The rock in the wilderness provided the Israelites with life-sustaining water, the elixir of life. We all need water or will not survive. Jesus, the rock, provides us with the water that we need for life during our wilderness experience. Life-giving, cool and satisfying, water rejuvenates and brings new life and perspective, if only we will take the time to stop and drink.
Instead of stumbling over the rock, Jesus provides an invitation to relax and be refreshed. It may look like there are a lot of rocks in the wilderness journey, when in reality they are points of refreshment which will lead us into a deeper walk with Jesus Christ. While Jesus was in the wilderness the mission of the Father became very clear. Who knows what God may be wanting to say to us on our Lenten journey but our minds must be clear and our dependence must be upon Christ. Rest on the rock and drink deeply from Jesus’ spiritual drink. As a result you will be prepared for what lies ahead.
Lord, we often complain about the wilderness and the rocks. I’m sorry. Please, help me to embrace you, my rock and my salvation. Amen.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Rom. 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
God is continually reaching out to humanity through grace. God’s grace pours out as a river, like channels of love enveloping all those who may have gone astray. Through faith we respond to the holy love that meets us in grace. The result is justification by faith as the repentant return home to the Father. Finally, there is an outpouring of God’s peace which reaches to the depths of our being, and allows us to comfortably sharing in the hope of the glory of God. God’s grace reaching out to us brings us into fellowship with the Prince of Peace.
The combination of “Grace and Peace” is not uncommon. There are people who sign of their correspondence with “Grace and Peace.” We have had a magazine called “Grace and Peace.” And there, quite simply, we put the words together and maybe don’t think that much about the connection. Both of these words remind us of the work of God in our lives. Neither of these are things which we can experience without direct Divine intervention.
We have a lot of different names for grace, or descriptors for the action of grace in different circumstances. Prevenient grace is the grace of God that reaches out to all of humanity, drawing them toward a relationship with the Creator. This is the grace of God that goes out before us, reaching out to us and constantly loving us no matter the circumstances. We also speak of saving grace and sanctifying grace. But put them all together into the large category of grace and we discover the free and unmerited favor of God. This is nothing that we earn or deserve, but simply God, generously pouring out love on all of creation and drawing us into a relationship in which we may be made whole.
In being made whole we discover peace. Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, to bring back what was being destroyed through sin. In living in peace we discover the very nature of God. We are invited, through grace, into fellowship with the Triune God. There we discover the peace of God at a depth that we cannot comprehend, nor explain. Peace — wonderful peace. This is peace with God through Jesus, because we fellowship with God and suddenly there is nothing hindering the free-flow of God’s peace into our lives. Gone are worry and anxiety, and left is a holy dependence upon the one who loves us more than we can imagine.
Grace and Peace are both from God and nothing that we can conjure up on our own. We are welcomed by grace into a relationship where we experience God’s peace. Both grace and peace are supernatural, never of human manipulation nor invention. When we use the words, may they be with the reverence and awe which they deserve for they are gifts from our holy Father. God’s grace and God’s peace are ever reaching and enveloping those who are desperately in need of finding satisfaction in life. We will never manufacture it on our own, but only by following the gentle leading of grace which will take us to the place of peace.
Lord, your grace leads me to your peace. Thank you for loving me this much. Amen.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Ex. 16:27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. 28 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? 29 See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
The people had been instructed in the daily gathering of manna. They were to collect just enough for everyone, every day, but they had also been told that on the 6th day they were to gather twice as much. When they took too much manna on an ordinary day, against the commands of God, it spoiled! When they followed God’s commands the manna provided for their physical needs and it remained sweet and fresh.
On the seventh day some of the people went out to collect more manna for they refused to submit to the leadership of Moses, and they didn’t have faith to believe that the God who had brought them out of Egypt would also continually remain faithful. Their actions reflected poorly on them, not on God.
God had instructed the people to take a sabbath rest but evidently this had not become a part of their practice. Imagine the miracle of God that the manna, for forty years, fell for six days in a row and then took one day off! This certainly had to be the hand of God and revealed God’s serious attitude toward a day of rest. But some people wanted to collect even more manna on the Sabbath. The manna from heaven simply provided what everyone needed every single day and provided for a day of rest every week. When people wanted to collect too much, or more on the Sabbath they discovered either spoiled manna, or there was no manna. Overabundance would spoil God’s plan, and God’s people, for it reflected on their selfishness. If the people lived in holy obedience their lives would be sweet and good, a pleasant aroma, sanctified by Jesus’ holy presence.
We discover in the New Testament that Jesus compares himself with the manna in the wilderness. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John, 6:51) Just as the manna was provided on a daily basis for the people of God, so Jesus provides us with what we need every single day. Again, overabundance of “things” will spoil. When we have too much of the things of this world we will not learn to be dependent upon Jesus for daily provision.
The concept of sabbath rest is very important. Could it be that our own desires to have it all are keeping us from the sabbath rest that God has intended for us? Maybe we have forgotten the promises of God that Jesus is the manna that comes from heaven and will provide for our needs! This doesn’t mean that we have an overabundance of things which may spoil, but that we are able to enjoy the sweet and savory aroma of God’s provision in our lives.
Jesus is the bread from heaven, providing and sustaining us, day in and day out with all that we need. Slow down and enjoy the sabbath rest — we don’t have to use that day to make up for lost time. Trying to do it all on our own will simply lead to being overly tired, frustrated and having a house filled with more stuff than we probably need. Believe the miracle and feed on the sustaining strength and power that is found in Christ.
Lord, the daily provision of your spiritual manna is so sweet and fulfilling. Thank you. Amen.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Eph. 2:11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
This entire section written by Paul is a theological masterpiece that expresses the incredible mystery of the work of Christ. What Jesus has done for all of us is almost beyond imagination for we are transformed from aliens into “citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Because of the work of Christ we are invited into holy transformation as God’s children. Even a simple grasp of this leaves us with gratitude.
There are times when we must simply stop and read the scriptures with awe. We can spend time describing the work that was accomplished, but our human words will always leave us lacking. There is so much more which lies beyond our comprehension and leaves us in a state of wonder.
The Lenten journey takes us with Jesus into the wilderness where his senses become heightened as he fasts. It is my prayer that as we journey through this season the same will begin to happen in our lives. We are invited to become more and more aware of the work of God in our midst. Our eyes and ears are to be open for those moments of God’s divine intervention or activity in our lives. It is in those moments that we are overcome with gratitude. We begin to see that God’s hand is at work in more ways than we ever would have thought possible.
Today, I’m simply in awe of the mysterious work of God that provides for my adoption into the holy family.
Lord, I am grateful that I am a blessed child. Amen.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Col. 1:21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
The testimony of the Colossians lives is important to Paul. The action of Christ has made possible the reconciliation of the Colossians and their ability to live faithfully. That completed, the Colossians must be willful participants in living out their lives in steadfast faith. Their foundation is strong, but now they are also to endure to the very end, allowing no space for a shifting of their faith. Christian hope has given them new life and it is Christian hope which will sustain them. According to John Wesley this Christian hope, is “the glorious hope of perfect love.” (John Wesley’s notes) Paul had experienced this hope and the perfect love found in fellowship with the Triune God. Therefore Paul affirms that he is a servant of this gospel, for not only is it something that he believes and preaches, but it is a life which he has experienced. Paul is all in, and the message to the Colossians is that they are to be all in as well.
As we continue our Lenten journey we must recognize that it is about being “all in” for our Lord. We aren’t supposed to be engaged half-way in this Christian walk, nor is it something that we are to tackle sporadically throughout our lives. Instead, this is a life-time commitment, one which leads us into the “glorious hope of perfect love.”
While Paul may have been referring to his ministry as a servant of the gospel, I believe that we are all called into service of this gospel. We cannot fall in love with Jesus and yet fail to share him with the world around us. When people fall in love they want the world to know. They post status updates and changes on Facebook, and all kinds of pictures of the one that they love. Yet, we rarely see this happen in regard to our relationship with Jesus Christ. Why don’t we post pictures and share the overflow of our love for Jesus? Is it because our relationship with him has become so ordinary that we find nothing to say? Considering the percentage of the New Testament written by the Apostle Paul, I believe it’s safe to say that he had a hard time being quiet about it! He became a servant of the gospel because he was consumed by the good news of Jesus Christ who had transformed him.
May we be grounded upon the firm foundation found in Christ. As we press on in our Lenten journey may we persevere, disciplining ourselves to be faithful servants, empowered by the Holy Spirit. And finally, may we be so overcome by the holy love found in God that we are servants of the good news which springs forth from our lives.
Lord, Thank you for the Lenten journey and the lessons along the way. Amen.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Ezekiel 36:26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.
The peoples’ hearts had become like stone. They were rigid and inflexible when it came to their relationship with God. Nothing came out of a passion for the Lord, but rather out of strict and possibly, reluctant obedience. The prophecy was about a future time in which all of that would change. A heart-transplant, so to speak, would occur. A new heart and a new spirit would change everything. The motivations and the desires of the heart would be for the things of God, because the spirit of God will have brought new life. The result would be a fresh new heart capable of falling in love with a holy God.
It’s time for all of us to fall in love with Jesus. Our spiritual life isn’t supposed to be something rigid or difficult, but it’s supposed to be a relationship in which we continually draw closer to our Lord. There should be no stoniness about it — no rigidity. Instead, we are to be overcome with holy love which begins to infuse us and bring new life.
It’s so easy to become rigid about things that we may define as spiritual. Jesus was continually pushing the boundaries and trying to help the religious leaders see beyond the bounds of their religious laws. They were inflexible and even willing for people to suffer for the sake of the law. (For example not wanting Jesus to heal on the Sabbath) Jesus was ushering in a new era in which the law would be fulfilled by the presence of the Spirit in the hearts and lives of believers. Instead of suffering under the rigidity of following a list of rules, the love of God was to flow out of their hearts as they desired to know Christ. The result was a holiness much more profound than they had experienced by simply living under the law. The holiness of the disciples after the day of Pentecost was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. They were participating in the powerful work of Jesus through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
A new heart awaits all of those who call upon Jesus. The empowering of the Holy Spirit transforms and fills us with holy love and a desire for the things of God.
Lord, I pray that your presence fills me to overflowing today and that my heart is filled with your love. Amen.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Isaiah 65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
Holiness transforms the vilest of enemies into peaceable friends. On the holy mountain of God the remarkable begins to occur as the wolf and the lamb eat together and the carnivorous lion simply eats straw. The enemy — the serpent — is defeated and eats dust. No longer is there any harm done among the former enemies for the holy mountain transforms all.
The invitation is to join the Lord on the holy mountain where complete transformation leads us into the holy life. It’s the place where my former neighbor in Moscow, the one who had persecuted Christians, can be transformed and become a believer himself. It’s the place where those with petty differences can put them aside and be united in genuine friendship because of the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s the place where jealousy no longer exists, and revenge cannot be a part of the vocabulary.
We are invited up onto the holy mountain as we continue our spiritual growth. There we discover that we are transformed by the holy presence of Jesus. Our wills live in submission to his will and our desires become his desires. The peace of Christ washes over all who dwell in that space. It’s a promised future, but a present reality for those who continue in their spiritual journey.
The holy mountain awaits not just a few, but all, with power to transform everyone!
Lord, the promise of the holy mountain brings peace into the dark valley. Thank you! Amen.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Rom. 4:16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 7 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Paul is explaining that Abraham pleased God first and foremost through faith. He didn’t know anything about the law that would come later. God reached out to him in grace, and Abraham responded. The same is true for us, that God reaches out in prevenient grace to all. This was the promise to Abraham that stretched out through the ages and draws us toward God today. Prevenient grace is constantly at work and we respond in faith. It is grace that draws us into the life of holy fellowship with God.
When we begin to understand the place of grace we can become overwhelmed by the love of God. That God, in infinite love would reach out to save all of creation is a revelation of the very nature of the relationship that we find in the holy Trinity. Emanating from this relationship is holy love which results in a grace which grips us even when we are living in sin. It doesn’t matter the depth of our sins for God never gives up on creation. Grace continues to flow, day in and day out. We invited to step into that flow of grace and experience the transformational work of God’s Holy Spirit.
Far too often we are hard on ourselves, unwilling to accept the love which God is pouring out on us. This grace is lavished on all, for God does not want any to be lost. We read about it over and over again. We read of the lost sheep — the way in which the shepherd leaves the 99 and goes to search for the one little lamb that is missing. This is the value of the one who is lost. The Father is represented as the woman who has lost her precious coin. The house will be swept and every corner searched until the coin is retrieved. This is grace lavished on those who are not deserving. And grace is seen in the father who stands on the side of the road, day after day, waiting for his prodigal to come home. Always with arms wide open and filled with abundant love.
Grace was not always something that was spoken of when I was growing up in the church. The focus was on punishment for doing things wrong and I lived in constant fear of losing my salvation. Instead, I have begun to understand grace as being something much greater than all my fears. Grace which has its grip on me. Grace which means that God is always reaching out to me, continually drawing me near. Grace that reaches out a hand and picks me up when I fall down. Grace which bandages my wounds. Grace which whispers, “I love you” when you feel your most vulnerable or the ugliest of sinners.
And this grace stretches out and invites us to become partakers of the divine nature by faith. Yes, it’s a mystery. No, I can’t explain it all. It’s just time to jump in with both feet and run into the Father’s embrace. Grace overflowing anoints us with holy love and awaits the step of faith in which there can be complete and total healing.
Lord, thank you for helping me begin to understand about grace. . Amen.
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Luke 7:1 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
This scene is a turning point in the ministry of Jesus where he reaches beyond the Jewish community. The faith of the centurion takes center stage but there is more at work. This breaking into diversity takes several forms. The centurion is a Gentile but has been a man of faith who has supported the religious community of Capernaum. He is a man whose faith has not only led him to have compassion for the Jews, but also for his slaves. When this one who was his servant falls ill, he wants to do all that he can to have him healed.
The century is filled with great humility for he deems himself unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus Christ. He sends others as his envoys to bring the request before the Lord, as one might treat royalty. The Jews never treated Jesus with such respect. Interestingly it is a group of Jewish elders who first come to Jesus to bring the centurion’s request. Next it is a group of friends, presumably Gentile, who speak on behalf of the centurion. The circle of diversity is ever expanding, beyond the Jewish community, into the ranks of Gentile leaders, then a soldier, and finally to the one at the margins, a slave. The humble faith of the centurion resulted in the healing of the least of these.
Up until this time we see faith expressed in many individuals, but they are Jewish and they have to see Jesus to really believe he is for real. To have faith across the gap and believe in the power of Jesus to transform lives is something more. We live with a gap between the time in which we live and when Jesus walked the face of this earth. Therefore our faith has to be stretched like that of the centurion. We believe in things which are not seen or touched. But living into this faith is transformational and it requires our participation on several levels.
1) The centurion supported the regular religious structure of the day. There are social constructs which provide the framework which is needed for civilization and we are called, as God’s people, to support those structures. Religion helps to provide structure to society, and regular participation and support of church goes way beyond our own personal lives, but helps to provide cohesion for the community of faith and beyond. The church should be such an integral part of the neighborhood that should the church close down the community would mourn her loss.
2) The centurion intentionally develops relationships with those who are not like him. This could have only happened because the centurion was willing to humble himself and use his resources for the greater good. We must reach out and develop relationships with people who may not practice their faith in the same way that we do. The Jewish religious leaders trusted the Gentile centurion because he was willing to have a relationship with them and even support their work and ministry. The centurion has friends! There are those who are close to him who were probably Gentiles and respected him as a soldier. More than likely they were not soldiers but civilians. He was able to cross the gap and work on relationships with those who were engaged in a completely different line of work. And finally, the centurion had a relationship with his servant. To care for the health of his slave in this way, the centurion must have loved the servant and treated him as much more than simply an object to be owned. The centurion broke through barriers of class and did all he could for this one who would have been the least of these.
3) The least of these! We are called to have faith and advocate for those who find themselves on the margins of life. The slave would have had no way to get to Jesus. His salvation was found in the advocacy of another. There are many around us who do not have the opportunities that we may have in life. We are to be responsible for those who need our care, oversight and advocacy in life. It is humbling to put the needs of others before our own, but this is the call of God’s people.
This man with humble faith that lived in a diverse world amazed Jesus! None of those raised in the religious community had this kind of faith, but it was a secular man of war who showed the way. Here is our example to bridge the gap, live in humility with faith and advocate for the least of these. We are to reach across the aisle and love our sisters and brothers who are not like us and provide a pathway to find healing in Christ.
Lord, the faith of the centurion challenges me on many levels. Thank you for making me feel uncomfortable. Amen.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
2Tim. 1:3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
Here in the closing of this epistle we find this thanksgiving. First of all we are pointed to the importance of prayer and the way in which it becomes a part of one’s lifestyle, being devoted day and night to prayer. Next we discover deep devotion for one another, a relationship that touches the heart and brings tears to the eye. And finally there is gratitude for the investment of a mother and grandmother in the life of a young man. What we see is oersonal sacrifice and the intentional passing on of the faith which happened in the home. All of these personal factors have contributed to the ministry of Timothy.
When it comes to investing in the lives of others, we must get personal. If we hope to pass on the faith to the next generation then there must be some sacrifice involved. Prayer is absolutely vital to the life of the believer, but also for the lives of others. We are to participate as intercessors by praying for others. This is a part of our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ. When we examine our sphere of influence we must think about those for whom we ought to be praying day and night. They are counting on us! They need us to be interceding for them for who knows what circumstances they may face.
The idea of mentoring is not anything new. Being willing to share your time and energy by investing in the next generation is life-giving. We need each other and we can learn from one another. To engage in discipleship will be life-changing for all involved. At the same time we must open our hearts up to love those whom we mentor, which makes us vulnerable to the joys and the pains which those individuals will encounter.
We have a huge responsibility for the next generation within our own families. Whether we are parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, we have to be accountable to the coming generations. We are to invest in the future, passing along our faith in all ways possible. The faith that had existed in Lois and Eunice was now living in Timothy. This passing on of the faith is what happens when we are intentional. Recent statistics show that the greatest indicator of adult church attendance is whether they attended as a child. If a child is brought to church by someone when they are young, they are far more likely to attend as an adult. If parents attended sporadically or did not make church attendance a priority, this will be the single greatest factor in their children not attending church as adults. The faith of the previous generation will be revealed in the next.
We must be personally engaged in disciple making. It takes prayer, time, energy, sacrifice and putting our heart out there for for others. But we must get personal if there is to be any faith to pass on.
Lord, please help me to be faithful. Amen.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Genesis 4:13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”
Cain had killed his brother Abel and God had now declared the punishment. He would have to leave the place where he had been and the land would no longer respond in the way that it had. Instead of showing repentance for what he had done, Cain is dismayed over his punishment. He doesn’t ask for forgiveness, but for leniency. The punishment was to leave God’s presence and to have God’s face hidden from him. Cain had been enjoying all the benefits of having God’s face shine upon him. He was enjoying the holy love relationship found in the Trinity, and the perfection of the garden which provided for all of his needs. Cain wanted it all. He wanted to have his own way with his brother, but he still wanted the benefits of God’s presence. His sense of misery came from losing that which he enjoyed.
Evidently wanting to have it all has been a normal posture for humanity. We find this self-centered attitude right here in the first family and before we cast judgement too quickly, we may just find ourselves in the same place, not necessarily sorry for what we have done, but for what we have lost. We want to have everything that God has to offer without living the life that God desires from us.
Wanting to have it all comes from focusing on ourselves alone. We are human when we are in a right relationship with God and the face of God is reflected in us. For God’s face to be hidden means that the image of God is no longer visible and reflects the lost place in which Cain found himself. Separation from God is the result of sin, and here there is no fulness of life. To truly have it all we must love God and love others. No longer can self be in the central place in our lives. When we put others before our selves we remain in that face to face relationship with God and God’s desires become our desires. Our sacrifices are pleasing and acceptable before God and we do no harm.
We can’t live in sin and expect to receive blessings from God. It simply doesn’t work that way. Wanting it all and having it all, is only possible in Christ.
Lord, thank you for the joys in life through you. Amen.
Monday, March 6, 2017
Psa. 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.
It is in the intimacy of prayer that we learn to hear the voice of God and understand the directions which we may receive. There are constantly stumbling blocks along life’s journey and we must learn to navigate the terrain. It is God who sees it all and can provide us with up to date guidance to get us from where we are to where we are going. We must learn to recognize the voice of the Lord and then we can walk freely. When we fail to listen we become like the horse or the mule who must be bridled and prodded along and around the roadblocks. The mule doesn’t plan for anything but simply goes and must be led moment by moment.
We are invited into a place of special understanding through fellowship with God. It is in this relationship that we discover that we don’t have to bump into the potholes of life, but by listening to the one who is guiding, we can avoid them altogether. When we become mulish, we refuse to listen to the voice of God and stubbornly continue in our own way, having to be pulled back from the brink of disaster for we pay no attention to where we are going.
The comparison made in this passage may be similar to using GPS or a bridled mule. While one would we rather use for the journey?
When we use our GPS we are able to map out our destination in advance, then the computer in our hand held device calculates the fastest route, maps it out for us, and tells us which direction to head. These days GPS even knows when there have been accidents or long lines of construction and offers options to avoid the roadblocks. We can make a decision as to whether we want to accept this advice and take the shorter route. By doing this we are able to avoid some of the downtime of sitting in traffic.
The mule, however, doesn’t have the capacity to take into account any advice coming from a GPS. Instead, the mule has to be bridled and guided every step of the way. If not, it would wander off from the path and stubbornly do its own thing.
Spending time with the Lord is like having spiritual GPS. God sees and knows all the pitfalls and accidents ahead. Sometimes we resent the leading of the Lord and we stubbornly move ahead in our own direction. The result is that we will have to live with those choices and decisions and the wounds that we may receive from falling into those pot holes. That’s what happens when we are mulish.
The call of God’s people is to find that quiet space and learn to listen to the voice of God. We are invited to participate in this journey of life together with the Lord who will go with us every step of the way. God really does care and will be engaged with us day in and day out in all that we do.
In this Lenten season, let’s learn to learn to listen to the still sweet voice of the Lord. Our loving God will instruct and teach us in the way to go.
Lord, may my ears be open to your gentle guidance today. Amen.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
Matt. 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness fasting. When he was finished with his fast he was “famished.” It was in this condition that the tempter came and tested him at the point of his perceived weakness. While his flesh was weak from fasting, Jesus knew that there was more to life than simply physical food. For the enduring race of life one needs to be fed with the word of God. It was in his famished state that Jesus was devouring the word which sustained him through the most difficult times in his life.
This is the first Sunday of Lent and as we enter this season of the year we consider where our walk with Jesus Christ will lead us. Some will have chosen to fast during this time of year in a way of identifying with the life of Christ.
While Jesus was famished physically, he was well-filled with the word of God. I’m not sure that any of us would look forward to feeling famished. Food surrounds us on a daily basis and eating meals has become not just sustenance, but entertainment. We go to different restaurants to try out different types of cuisine and we watch cooking shows and learn how to consider all the nuances of food. Do any of us even know what it means to be famished these days? This is one reason that we are invited into a fast with Jesus because for far too many of us we don’t know what it means to go without something, and if our appetites are always satisfied with the things of this world, we will never hunger for the things of God.
To be famished is to have hunger and, in this case it is to be for God’s leading and direction. Just as we can fill our bellies with junk food, so we can fill our spiritual lives with junk religion. It may seem sweet and fill us up but in the long run it will not be satisfying. Jesus was famished, but had filled himself up with the good food of the word of God. Fasting removes some of the distractions of this world from our lives so that we can become famished for the things of God. This will never happen if we never create space to become hungry.
As we follow Jesus on this journey into the wilderness may we find ourselves famished but filled. Hungry, but satisfied. Tested, and yet stronger than ever in our faith.
Lord, please lead me to that place of being famished. Amen.
Saturday, March 4, 2017
Matt. 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
The disciples had spent far too much time arguing about their positions in Jesus’ new kingdom. They still couldn’t comprehend what this kingdom might be like for their lens was that of the world. Their ambitions were getting the best of them when Jesus used a child as an object lesson. The problem was that their attitudes were childish, but that wasn’t what Jesus wanted. They were to become childlike and that is something quite different. T
This change was to be one in which the disciples themselves would participate, intentionally and in humility asking the Lord to help them become like children in the kingdom. The result was a willingness to sit at the bottom of the pecking order, subjecting themselves to a higher authority. The witness would be their complete dependence, like that of a child, upon their heavenly Father, without status or influence.
I am blessed to have our two granddaughters staying in our home right now. I love waking up in the morning and getting our toddler out of bed. She is at such a fun age and loves to hang out with her grandma and grandpa. Part of the joy is watching her innocence. What you see is what you get! She would never think one thing, but say another. If she’s unhappy with you, you know it. If she’s thrilled to see you, you get a great big hug! I don’t think I’ve ever seen her worry. She is completely dependent upon the adults with whom she shares life and seems quite happy about it.
Our little Mackenzie isn’t worried about the pecking order at home. Maybe that’s because, as a child, she simply gets to enjoy the role of being a child. There is something incredibly freeing about living in the kingdom as a child. Our heavenly Father is the one who cares for our needs and asks us to live with this childlike faith.
We are called to change and become like children. It doesn’t come naturally for adults, or even for Christ-followers. We live in this world and taking on child-like humility is simply not a normal response. Jesus, however, asked the disciples to change and become like children. They weren’t just looking at losing their positions in the kingdom, there was the possibility of losing the whole kingdom! This humility is serious business in the eyes of God. This challenge to change is our intentional and willful participation in the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. It is intentional submission to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. This includes the practice of submission, placing others before ourselves and being willing to be in the last position.
I’m one of those who was almost always chosen last in gym class. I don’t have a great deal of athletic talent and I hated it when they were choosing teams. Standing there and waiting for someone to call on you is a humiliating experience. Our natural response is to want to be accepted and called out first. Jesus wants us to identify with the one who is called least in this world; the one who never gets invited to play ball, or to share their thoughts in a gathering. These are the ones who sit silently away from the table, never believing that anyone would want to hear their opinion. Jesus tells us to change, and this means that we give our space to the ones who have no voice. We give up our position on the team roster and give it to the one who was never invited to play.
Kingdom living requires real change. How much are we willing to give up for a real change that results in kingdom living?
Lord, sometimes your words are painful to hear, but so very necessary. Thank you for the challenge. Please, help me to live into real change. Amen.
Friday, March 3, 2017
Romans 1:11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
The Apostle Paul is expressing his desire to visit Rome. His visit and purpose is very intentional. He is not simply planning a vacation to Rome to see the great sights, nor is it even just to have fellowship with fellow believers. If Paul is going to come to Rome, then there is a spiritual purpose in mind. This includes bringing a spiritual gift to strengthen the believers, but this is also seen in mutual encouragement. Paul doesn’t just come to bless the folks in Rome, but he recognizes his own need for spiritual encouragement which he will receive from them.
Paul needed the Romans as much as they needed him. He never places himself in a position of superiority, but humbles himself to become the learner, placing himself on equal position with the believers in Rome. Paul the teacher, becomes Paul the student in the presence of those who have come to know Christ. It becomes a setting of mutual edification as Paul points out that we really do need each other.
The book, “We Really Do Need Each Other” was written in the 1970’s by Reuben Welch. The idea actually seemed rather bold in a church where I had heard so much about my “personal” relationship with Jesus Christ. It seemed that I was supposed to be responsible for my personal walk with Christ and that had very little to do with a community of faith. Reuben’s ideas made me stop and consider the place of community for spiritual growth. Here is an excerpt from his book:
Oh Lord Jesus,
bring us together,
keep us together
We need to look at our children
and listen to our parents
and be sensitive to each other
and aware of each other.
Teach us to know that it's Thy will
that we go together.
Teach us to know that it's not
that bind us —
it's the life of Jesus Christ
that binds us —
and so we belong together
and we must go together.
— Reuben Welch ( Homecoming Magazine. Cited March 3, 2017. Online: http://www.homecomingmagazine.com/article/we-really-do-need-each-other/)
Paul was intentional about finding a place to call community. This was not necessarily among people who would have been like him. He went to Jews, but also to Gentiles. He spent time in fellowship with slaves and freemen, male and female. This was unusual and didn’t just happen by accident. It was the intentionality of his mission to become a part of a community of faith that embraced diversity. He realized that he needed to be a part of a diverse group of people for his own spiritual growth.
The Apostle Paul understood this need for living together in Christ. We are not alone on this journey but we are to humble ourselves within Christian community so that we might learn from one another. The Apostle Paul knew it. Reuben Welch knows it. Now, we are called to live it. We really do need each other.
Lord, thank you for your holy love and your willingness to fellowship with folks like me. Amen.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
Psa. 51:6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Psa. 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
David had sinned and was devastated by his own behavior. Something within him had driven him to such self-centered behaviors that he was willing to manipulate circumstances to his own benefit. Now, a man was dead and this other man’s wife was pregnant with King David’s child. Overcome with guilt and conviction David realized he desperately needed help from God.
This was not an outward stain that was easily washed away, but it had come from his heart and now he knew that he needed to be cleansed from the inside out. Internal cleansing is not something that one can do themselves, but requires God’s work to be done on the heart. The spiritual surgeon works to remove the adultery, theft, lying, sexual misconduct and evil thoughts which may be found in the heart. The result is a clean heart, which has been cleansed by the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the sanctified heart, the one which has been cleansed from the inside out.
We are in desperate need of awareness of our sins. David was participating in behaviors which were devastating to his life and the lives of others. The sad part was that he had wandered down a path which led him further and further from God. It didn’t happen all at once, but little by little until he didn’t realize how far he had gone. That is, until the prophet appeared and confronted him with his sin. In that moment he realized that this was bigger than anything he had ever imagined. There was nothing in his own power that could remove the stain of this sin. No amount of good works would fix this!
No amount of good works can fix what we have done in our lives. We can try to look good on the outside but we are in desperate need of God’s cleansing from the inside. It is our heart which drives us and when the motivations of our heart are not directed toward God, the result will be self-centered behavior. Just like David, we need God’s work to cleanse us from the inside out. This is the sanctifying work of God’s Holy Spirit. As much as we would like to believe that we can cover up the things that we have done, or determine in our own minds that we will now do right, it just won’t work that way. We need to have spiritual heart surgery done to create in us a clean heart. It’s when the heart has been cleansed that our behaviors change — because our motivations have changed!
When the heart is cleansed then the Holy Spirit is within us and the result is that we then have a right spirit. This is God’s spirit that leads and directs our lives — and continually moves us from sin into participation in God’s kingdom business. We are to be participants with God, retaining a willing spirit, in all that we do.
There is no soap strong enough to clean up what comes from a heart that is not focused on God. We cannot fix this ourselves but we must humble ourselves before God and allow the Holy Spirit to work. To have a clean heart is to submit ourselves to the sanctifying work of God’s Holy Spirit. This is the cleansing that we all need, from the inside out.
Lord, please help me to walk in the heart filled presence of your Spirit today. Amen.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Is. 58:6 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?
7 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?
8 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.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
God was speaking through the prophet Isaiah about fasting. First God spoke to the heart motivation of the one fasting. When the goal of fasting is to gain attention from others then something is wrong. This is misdirected energy which must be refocused on God’s intended purposes.
John Chrysostom wrote, “Do you see, dearly beloved, what true fasting really is? Let us perform this kind and not entertain the facile notion held by many that the essence of fasting lies in going without food till evening. This is not the end in view, but that we should demonstrate, along with abstinence from food, abstinence also from whatever is harmful, and should give close attention to spiritual duties. The person fasting ought to be reserved, peaceful, meek, humble, indifferent to the esteem of this world.’ (Homilies on Genesis 8.15) You see, God redefines fasting in a positive way, for instead of giving something up we are encouraged to see fasting as engaging in social reform, including an attitude of loving care and refraining from judgement on others. John Wesley said that we were to avoid the “cruel obligations of usury and oppression.” This is not a fast of religious observance but one in which the outpouring of God’s love is revealed in our behavior.
Today is Ash Wednesday and it is a time when many believers will be thinking about entering into a fast for the season of Lent. Traditionally people have altered their diet for the season of Lent, giving up some of the foods they normally eat. Hopefully this is because in giving these things up, we are wanting to get to know Christ at a more intimate level. It is Jesus who gave himself up for all of us and so we participate together with Christ in his sacrifice. Many have reported that during a time of fasting they have been drawn into a deeper walk with the Lord and it has been a time of spiritual growth.
Fasting should come from a deep love for God, which overflows in a love for others. We should not experience the one without the other. A deep love and sacrifice for God must be reflected in our love for others. Therefore fasting is not just about giving things up for the love of God, but of overflowing with God’s love for others. We embrace a need to love the poor and the needy. This may be a season when we not only give up something to eat, but we clean out our closet and simplify our lives. There may be much that we own that could be given away to others who may find themselves in need. We may fast from the purchase of more stuff during this season of lent. Living into greater simplicity frees us to give to others. If we spend less on our food during lent, then we can share what we haven’t spent on those who are in need of food.
There are many bonds of injustice in this world. We fast to be set free spiritually, but at the same time we must work to actively free those who are oppressed. As we experience our own freedoms we are to be God’s instruments of justice.
If you’re considering a fast this year, don’t just think about what you will give up, but also what you will give. There must be two sides to the activity of fasting for it must come from a deep love for God, and a genuine love for our neighbor. Give up, and give away!
Lord, thank you for challenging my heart today. Amen.