Sunday, May 21, 2017
Psa. 93:5 Your decrees are very sure;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore.
Over and again the Lord promises to be faithful. Whether the rainbow in the sky following the terrible flood, or the promise that no lives would be lost to Paul in the midst of a storm, God fulfills the promises made. God’s decrees then, are sure, and not to be doubted. The very nature of God is revealed in holiness. The God who lives in the house also lives among the people. God’s holiness is revealed in promises and decrees which transform the people. Faithfulness leads to holiness.
If we simply took the title out of context we would think that our faithfulness to God will bring about personal holiness. The problem is that this is the way in which we have typically thought of holiness — a change in our personal behaviors. However, this is not what the Psalmist is saying. God’s faithfulness to humankind is what provides the opportunity for humanity to be made holy. It is God who is faithful and that ought to be a very sobering reality. We are unable to make ourselves holy on our own power. It is only when we participate in the holiness of God that we, too, are made holy. We are only holy because of God’s holiness in us.
Holiness befits the house of the Lord. In other words, God’s holiness permeates the house because God is in the house. The way that we become holy is by dwelling in the house with God, then God’s holiness becomes a part of who we are. The promise of God is that if we dwell in the house of holiness with God, then we, too, will be holy.
The great promises of God remind us that we don’t have to be doing this on our own. We can’t stop the rain from falling. We can’t stop the storms from pounding. We can’t stop the world from pressing in upon us, but we can be God’s holy people. The place of refuge is to be found in the shelter of the rock, in the dwelling place of God. God is faithful, and God is holy.
Lord, I am grateful for your eternal promises and your gentle love which we can experience today. Amen.
1Pet. 3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
The believers living in the period of the early church were facing new difficulties on a daily basis. The disciples were teaching these followers what it meant to live like Jesus, and this included ministering to the poor and the needy. They were to be engaged in doing good; doing the right things. Persecution was always a potential reality but they were not to allow that fear to inhibit their activities.
There was a direct connection to sanctification and the activity of believers in the world. God’s holy people; those who were deeply in love with Christ, would also love their neighbors and give of themselves for them. Engaging in this kind of a lifestyle would inevitably raise questions. The sanctified believer who follows Christ into a hurting world will be asked about their faith. The lifestyle of a sanctified believer becomes a witness to the presence of the kingdom of God in the world. Therefore when someone asks a question regarding our hope, we are to be prepared to respond. Never let the opportunity pass by to share about the sanctifying work of Christ in this world. Sanctification should always lead to witness, whether in word or deed.
If the focus of holiness is only on personal piety the believer will lose the opportunity to serve as a witness to the gospel. Personal piety alone, without showing expression in service to others is a real problem. This is not what Christ intended, and one must ask whether this is holiness at all. Can there be any holiness that is not expressed in both love for God and love for neighbor? If we try to do one without the other we will be lacking. We cannot isolate ourselves from the world and simply try to grow in the grace of Christ without engaging our world. Also, we cannot, as a Christian, just try to engage our world and do good deeds, without growing in the sanctifying power and grace of God. There are plenty of people engaged in doing good deeds, but they are unable to present the hope of the resurrected Lord.
A sanctified believer will be drawn to opportunities of witness. For those who argue that they have no chance to tell others about Jesus, I would ask how well you know Jesus, for Jesus saw opportunity everywhere that he went. Maybe it’s a person sitting at a table near you in a restaurant who is quietly listening in on your conversation. Did you notice? For some reason there may have been a spark of interest in your discussion. Our what about the Uber driver? You have time in a car to have a conversation with someone you may never normally meet. Maybe they’re someone from another faith. Today you have the opportunity to show them that a Christian is gentle and reverent — and gives them a good review! Speaking of reviews — there’s a professor (no one I know) who is in trouble for her Yelp reviews. She is supposed to be teaching cultural sensitivity at her university but when she goes to restaurants she often gives horrible reviews and uses offensive language. We cannot hide behind the internet and not be a witness. Everything that we do ought to be screaming about our love for Jesus and love for others. This is our witness and it is played out every single day in everything that we do!
There is a direct correlation between sanctification and witness. God’s holy people can’t help themselves — they will become witnesses in the world. If you find yourself thinking that you never have the opportunity to be a witness for Christ, I would suggest that you examine your personal relationship with Jesus. Greater intimacy with Jesus will always heighten your sensitivity to the lost. If there is no passion for the lost, there may be no real passion for Christ. Sanctification and witness — be prepared for the amazing journey of transformation, both personal and for the world.
Lord, I want to know you more and I want my heart filled with passion for you. Please open my eyes to those around me and give me the words to be your witness. Amen.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Often people will close a letter with a salutation such as “grace and peace” or just “peace.” This is a farewell greeting that expresses a desire for this person to experience peace. When Jesus gives this farewell salutation he does something altogether different. He doesn’t just wish his followers peace, he tells them that he is leaving his peace with them. This something radically different, for Jesus entered the world as the Prince of Peace, which describes something about Jesus’ very nature. It means that he is leaving this part of his nature here with his followers. This is what he will leave with them after his resurrection and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
This peace will transcend anything that the world has to offer. It becomes the peace that defines a Christian, who can experience a deep and settling peace, even in the midst of life’s biggest trials. It was the peace that Jesus exhibited when he was in the midst of the storm on the sea of Galilee, he remained calm when called before the religious leaders and Pilate. The peace was Christ’s peace, and this he was bestowing upon those who would follow after him. Much more than a simple salutation, but a blessed promise.
The promise of the peace of Christ is powerful, and yet it’s easy to stray from the shelter of that peace. It seems, at times, that we wander in and out of that place of peace with God. The daily demands of life draw us out from under the shadow of that peace and tempt us into fretting. Then again, we hear the voice of our Beloved calling us into the place of sweet, gentle and all-consuming peace, even in the midst of life’s storms.
When we begin to comprehend the immenseness of this promise, we should be overwhelmed. The peace of Christ is more than we can comprehend but it is being shaped and formed in those who are in communion with our holy God. The peace of Christ is being brought to perfection or completion by the one who is at work within us. The peace of Christ allows us the possibility of putting things into perspective, an eternal view that sees things differently. Jesus promised this to all of his followers.
We don’t have to be ruled by the circumstances of this life. The peace the world has to offer is temporary. We are invited to step into the eternal stream of the peace of Christ that transcends the temporal.
Yes, much more than a simple desire for God’s people, but another self-emptying of Christ. His peace, more than a salutation, is gifted to those who will partake.
Lord, I am grateful for the deep sense of your peace which reaches to the deep recesses of my life. Thank you for bringing peace to places that I didn’t know needed your peace. Amen.
Friday, May 19, 2017
Acts 27:33 Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” 35 After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. 37 (We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.) 38 After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.
Paul and his traveling companions were on a ship that was bound to sink. They had been weathering storms for days and were now weakened from the onslaught. What was to come of them? Paul had been communicating with the Lord and again, reveals what it means to be a Christian in the midst of ordinary circumstances. He went to the Lord and there gained wisdom and strength, as well as a promise that no one would lose their life. Just to make certain of this they would need to have a roll-call. This would have included all sailors, prisoners and soldiers. Every single person on the ship was accounted for and there were two hundred seventy-six persons. Every single one, precious in the eyes of God.
They all ate and then threw off everything that was weighing down the ship. They had probably been using the grain/food for weights and now that they were going to be released, they may as well eat and get some strength. Luke presents the breaking of bread as a vision of the last supper, but mixed with a hearty meal for all. Again, it is this mixing of the Christian life with the ordinary. For one, the meal becomes a dependence upon the sustenance found in Christ, for others it is the physical energy of food. In reality it becomes a mix of the two that leads to the salvation of them all. Believers and non-believers tied inextricably to one another in the crisis of this storm. It is not just the Christians who are to be saved, but all two hundred seventy-six.
The ship breaks up and all the people eventually find a way to shore, whether they knew how to swim or not. The promise of God is revealed the headcount is repeated and all two hundred seventy-six are present.
There is intentionality in knowing the number two hundred and seventy-six, for the number represents the lives of individuals who are important in the eyes of God. Every human being, whether a believer or not, is precious in the sight of God. In this circumstance, God used the presence of three believers (we don’t know if there were more) to save the lives of two hundred and seventy-three more. They had to suffer the consequences of the choices of secular leaders so that they could help to save others. Paul, Luke and Aristarchus are not heard to complain in their situation, but are there, bringing leadership and guidance in the midst of a crisis. They don’t ask for God to save them alone, but they are willing servants to bring everyone to salvation.
We find the believers practicing the Christian life in the midst of those who have no idea what they’re doing. The imagery of the last supper while others are feasting on anything they can find is almost unimaginable, and yet it is a vision of where the Christian should find themselves in this world. We are to become the broken bread and shed blood for the world, not practicing our spirituality in isolation, but in the middle of the mess. We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices for the world that is drowning around us. The three, for the two hundred and seventy-three. In helping to save others, Paul, Luke and Aristarchus are saved.
Living the Christian life in the center of the messes of this world will not be pleasant, but we are called to follow Christ. He gave his life for the many. For how many are we willing to suffer?
Lord, your word can challenge my heart and thinking. Help me to be willing to live for you sacrificially. Amen.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Acts 27:1 When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. 2 Embarking on a ship of Adramyttium that was about to set sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.
Luke provides us with a narrative of Paul’s journey to Rome. It appears that Luke is traveling with Paul, as well as Aristarchus. This portrayal of the journey allows us to have a glimpse of what it means to be a Christian in the world. For Luke and Aristarchus to travel with Paul to Rome would have been out of the ordinary. Luke may have gotten permission as Paul’s physician, but Aristarchus, coming as a voluntary companion of a prisoner, may have had to submit himself as Paul’s slave to be allowed to come on the journey. He has been a faithful companion through many difficult circumstances. He was present during the riots in Ephesus and then travels with Paul to Macedonia. Later we find him present with Paul in Rome for he is mentioned in the letter to the Colossians and Philemon. This man was a humble supporter of Paul who appears to have done whatever was necessary to further the ministry of the great Apostle. He is an unsung hero who remains faithful.
Only a few people in this world will have their fifteen minutes of fame, while most will live their lives in anonymity. Paul may have become very well known, but he had a whole team of supporters who helped him in his ministry. Aristarchus is one of those names that we hardly ever hear mentioned and yet, I would suspect that he was extremely vital to the ministry of Paul. He humbled himself to be able to further Paul’s work. He offered himself as a slave and willingly set sail with prisoners. More than likely he lived with Paul in his imprisonment in Rome. One wonders whether the ministry of Paul could have been as effective without Aristarchus.
Kingdom work requires many humble supporters, those whose names may not become well-known. Aristarchus becomes an example of one who is reflecting the image of Jesus Christ by humbling himself to serve others. This is exactly what Jesus did for all of us, but humbling himself and giving up his status to provide a pathway for our salvation. When we follow our Lord, then we find ourselves being challenged to accept the role of humble supporter. Even going out of our way to make it possible for others to serve with their gifts and talents in the kingdom. Being willing to suffer so that others might be more effective. Giving up our seat at the table so that the work may continue into a new future which God has in store.
Sometimes the little known workers in the kingdom are the ones who will make an eternal difference. We are to live faithfully, emptying ourselves in service to one another for the sake of the kingdom.
Lord, open my eyes to the places and the ones whom I can serve. Amen.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. 38 I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”
The Jews were fond of their genealogies. They loved to prove who they were by the people to whom they were related. Obviously there was great pride in being children of Abraham, but Jesus was messing with they held dear. He was saying that physical descent does not equate to spiritual maturity. When Jesus declared that they had no room for his word, he was implying that these children of Abraham had closed their minds to the truth. The result was that they had become blinded to the realities of God which stood right before them.
The implication is that true descendants of Abraham would have, with open minds, received Jesus. While this group of individuals is concerned with their physical line of heredity, Jesus is revealing to them the true line of heredity back to the Father. It is the work of the Son which will provide the pathway to the Father and this will be by opening the opportunity for adoption. True children will be those who have been adopted into the family and this, by creating room for the word, and hence, they will have direct access to the Father. They, too, will know what is declared in the Father’s presence, for they will be united with God. The true descendants of Abraham will listen to and know the voice of the Father for they will have room for the word. If there is no room for the word, then you may be a physical descendant, but not a true child.
Many of us may be able to trace our spiritual genealogy through generations of family in the church. We can be just as prideful as the children of Abraham. Because of the relationship, we may also believe that we have ownership and can be the ones to determine everything that is to happen at church. What happens when a new generation of believers begins to fill the place? Do we insist on having things our way because our family has been invested in the place for so long? The religious officials were stuck in their stubborn ways and refused to see that God was doing a new thing.
God just may be at work doing something completely new and different and only those who are connected to the Father are going to see and understand what is happening.
There must be room for the word in our lives. The word is living, active, moving, breathing and ever leading. This life with the Father is not static and therefore we must be malleable in God’s hands. We become children who are willing to be shaped for use by the Father. The world around us is constantly in a state of change and for us to be faithful servants in the kingdom, we must be flexible. Those living in their spiritual genealogy are rigid with no room for the word. True children of the kingdom are flexible for they have made room for the word.
Lord, may I be a flexible and pliable instrument in your hands. Amen.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Stephen is bringing his speech to a close. Whether he meant this to be the end or not, we are uncertain, but the response of the crowd was so violent that there was no other option but to have been finished.
Stephen had spoken with such boldness that the people were shocked. Obviously the words that he spoke pricked their consciences and they were troubled, and now becoming quite defensive. As he spoke of their history of resistance he brought home the point that they had substituted external worship for spiritual obedience. They had made it a common practice to resist the nudging of the Holy Spirit and become rigid in their lives and practices.
Stephen, the one who had been accused of wrong-doing now turns the tables and accuses the Sanhedrin, and argues that they should be on trial for they have violated the spirit of Judaism. This speech is answered by the stoning of Stephen, and yet his words live on eternally ringing in our ears, reminding us that there are times when we must speak boldly.
As I have been journeying through Europe with the Reformers I am reminded time and again that there is a need for those who will speak boldly. Many, like Stephen, were not well received. Even reformers like Luther lived under constant stress and pressure. After speaking at the Diet of Worms his friends whisked him away and hid him for months. They knew far too well what had happened to Jan Hus when he had come to the meeting in Constance — he had been burned at the stake! And yet, these giants of the faith become for us heroes who were willing to speak boldly. They put their lives on the line because they were able to see the bigger picture.
We are not all called to be a Stephen, a Luther, or a Hus, but we are called to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ who do not oppose the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with and led by the Holy Spirit there will be times when we are nudged to speak up, or to speak boldly. Our responsibility is to listen and respond to those gentle nudging of the Spirit so that we can help the community of faith to remain faithful. All of these reformers and leaders, including Stephen, were speaking to the religious folks. It’s the church that sometimes needs a prophetic voice to help her remain on track, and therefore needs those who will speak boldly. But one can only truly speak boldly when it comes through an outpouring and empowering of the Holy Spirit. All of the reformers mentioned spent much time in the word and in the presence of the Lord. It was often the Spirit enlightening their reading or studies that gave them their boldness.
As we become sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, may we respond and speak boldly when we are gently nudged.
Lord, may you raise up a new generation of those who will speak boldly for truth. Amen.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Psa. 102:12 But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
your name endures to all generations.
13 You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to favor it;
the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold its stones dear,
and have pity on its dust.
The timing of this Psalm is unknown. Some would like to claim that it has to do with the return from exile, but others would argue that simply doesn’t quite fit the narrative. However, we do recognize that it is at a time when Jerusalem is struggling against her enemies. In the midst of that struggle the people of God remain strong in their reliance upon the LORD who is on the throne.
There is the hope of compassion and mercy which is bestowed upon God’s people who still love and revere Jerusalem. Even if the city lies in ruins, they will hold its stones dear and have pity on the dust. These phrases articulate the love and devotion which remains for Jerusalem, even when she lies in ruin.
Most commentators take this Psalm and relate it to the contemporary church. No longer is the Psalm about the physical city of Jerusalem but it becomes a prayer for the body of Christ; for those who will inhabit the new Jerusalem. It could also be a prayer about the contemporary state of the church. We are finding ourselves in interesting days which some may find troublesome. We are living on the shifting sands of time where change is coming quickly. The church may not look the same as it always has but there are eternal truths to which we must and should cling. The Lord does remain enthroned forever. The one who rules the kingdom has been and currently does continue to rule and in God we place our hope and trust.
God’s grace continues to reach out in times of distress. The grace and mercy of God envelopes the church with love, for this is God’s church, and not our church. Remember, Jesus told Peter that he, Jesus, would build the church. Far too often we think that it is our responsibility to build the church or the church’s enterprises on our own. We have the strategic plans and we think that we know how to do it all better. That’s not God’s intention. We are to relax and allow the Lord to open the doors for us to become the people of God in the way in which God intended.
We are to hold the stones dear and have pity on the very dust of the church. This is not about the physical structure nor the organization of the church, but about the living stones who make up the body of Christ. We are to love and have pity on the very poorest member of the church. We are to hold dear the one who has been gone from the church for years but just may, at some time, return. We are to love the newest convert who seems ignorant of the Scriptures and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Everyone should be precious in our sight because we are a part of the new Jerusalem and in the Jerusalem of old, even the rubbish was held dear. Now, even those who may seem unhelpful or unable within the kingdom should be loved and shown mercy.
When we have pity upon the dust of the new Jerusalem, we reflect the love of Jesus Christ to our world. We do not fret if the organized church seems to be struggling for we are called to be the living stones of the church. There is much to love and much to hold dear. We do not give up but continue to show love and have pity on its dust. In doing so we become partners in the kingdom work of Christ and in building up the new Jerusalem.
Lord, please help me to love the very dust in your kingdom . Amen.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
1 Peter 2:10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Because of the work of Christ in this world we have been gathered together and united as a people of God. This beautiful patchwork of unity is found because of the great diversity in God’s family. We become one when we are gathered from all peoples and grow together as we become more like the Messiah as we commune with him. The transformation results in Christlikeness and the uniting of those together who are like Christ, becomes a powerful people. A people who are merciful for they have received much mercy. What we become are citizens of the new kingdom inaugurated in resurrection power by the Messiah.
As we continue in the season of Easter we reflect upon resurrection power. This power has the ability to create a new people, a people who find their identity in Christ.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to celebrate with the people of the Hugelstrasse Church of the Nazarene in Germany. The pastor is working in an ever-changing environment and the church will never look quite the same, but it is an amazing place. Frankfurt, Germany has become a crossroads of international migration. The result is a new multi-cultural diversity such has never been seen before. I was amazed at the event when there were so many people who had come from many different lands, but all united in the kingdom of God. The pastor told me that they have discovered a way in which to respond to identity. When asked, “Are you German?” the new citizens say, “no.” But if they are asked, “Are you a Frankfurter?” they say “yes.” There is something in the new identity of being a “Frankfurter” that is acceptable as it is synonymous with this new multicultural world.
If these new citizens are embracing their identity as a “Frankfurter” maybe it ought to say something about those who have become children of the kingdom of God. We are to fall in love with the new kingdom, being united from far and wide through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Jesus died and rose again so that he could usher in a new kingdom and we could exchange our citizenship from the earthly to the already of Christ’s rule. We don’t have to wait until Jesus comes again, but we are to become active participants in the new kingdom in the here and now. We are to be a people who have become like Christ and by being like Christ we desire nothing more than to follow him in counter-cultural ways. No longer are we partisans for we are far too busy being engaged in kingdom activity and the more we spend time with Christ the more our kingdom activity will be transformed to become more like Christ.
Once we were simply a disconnected people, wandering and searching for a way forward. But now, we are united in Christ and we have been made new. We have a new citizenship and we have become Christians. We embrace our new identity as we continue to be transformed into the image of the one with whom we have fallen in love.
Lord, I’m so sorry for the times that I fall short of my citizenship. Please help me to serve you faithfully. Amen.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Jer. 26:20 There was another man prophesying in the name of the Lord, Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words exactly like those of Jeremiah. 21 And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. 22 Then King Jehoiakim sent Elnathan son of Achbor and men with him to Egypt, 23 and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and threw his dead body into the burial place of the common people.
Jer. 26:24 But the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.
The king was very frustrated at the prophetic words of Jeremiah. The crowds were stirred up and the mobs were smelling blood. Jeremiah was not alone in speaking prophetically and another prophet Uriah found himself at the end of the King’s anger. There was no one in a place of influence to speak up on Uriah’s behalf and ultimately, he lost his life. However, a gentleman by the name of Ahikam was willing to support Jeremiah and interceded for his safety. Because Jeremiah had someone (and probably a few more) in a place of influence, his life was spared.
More than likely we all have the possibility of being people of influence. In the case of Jeremiah there was need for someone to speak up and intercede when the mob wanted to rule the day. This was a very dangerous place in which to be for whenever crowds and mobs of people begin to win the day we have a problem. Something unseen seems to take over when crowds of people gather together around a particular cause. Most of the time, the result is not positive. Somehow common sense seems to be lost and a mob mindset can result in extremely destructive behavior, including violence against particular individuals. It took great courage for Shaphan to step up and use his influence to save Jeremiah’s life.
Studying the Reformation we discover that Martin Luther was not alone in his work. He was called to the Diet of Worms to answer charges regarding his activities. His life's work was prophetic and very disturbing to the religious leaders surrounding him. And the same time he found himself surrounded by a great number of supporters. He was whisked away from the Diet at Worms and hidden in the castle at Wartburg so that he would not be killed. While finding refuge in the castle he took the opportunity to translate the New Testament into German for the local people. Back home in Wittenberg the people rallied around Martin and the entire community used their influence for the changes necessary for Christianity. Eventually one of the Princes used his influence to back Luther and he was not punished for his activity.
Sometimes the person who supports the prophet of God is just as important as the one speaking the prophetic word. We may think that we are not gifted in the same way as another individual or that we don’t have a unique role in the kingdom. Our responsibility may be to use who we are to be a person of influence. Our support of another person may be just as meaningful as having the prophetic voice.
We are called to use our influence every day. Every person has power and influence in a particular sphere of this world. That energy is not to be wasted but to be used for the kingdom. When the moment comes to stand up for what is right, or the person in the right, use the power of influence to move the kingdom work forward.
Lord, help me to use influence wisely for your sake. Amen.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Acts 7:1 Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen replied:
“Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’
Stephen’s response to the high priest’s question isn’t simply a “yes or no.” Instead he makes use of this opportunity to bring a rather lengthy address regarding the history of the Israelites. This entire passage begins right after we are told that Stephen’s countenance was like that of an angel. The glory of God was visible in the life of the one who had spent time in God’s holy presence. Now, he begins a discourse which would draw a connection between Christianity, the law, and the temple. With great wisdom Stephen is able to make the connection by way of Old Testament history. He takes them back to the core of Judaism, before the temple, the land of Israel and the law. He wants the people to understand that these are all expressions of the core of Judaism, but there is a cornerstone which had been rejected and now upon which Christianity is being built. He had great knowledge and knew how to use it for the benefit of the gospel.
Interestingly later in life Paul would use the some methodology in arguing for the sake of the gospel. Could that have been something that he learned when he stood by, ready to martyr Stephen? Could Stephen’s wise response have planted a seed in the heart of an unbeliever that would someday bear much fruit? The wise response became another reflection of the glory of God which he also showed was revealed in and through those who were faithful. It was the glory of God which we see in his faith and that was revealed through his message in God’s faithful people.
Preparation for Stephen’s wise response began long before he found himself before the Sanhedrin. For those desiring to serve God faithfully there will be times when we must be prepared with a wise response. A simple yes or no will not suffice, but preparation for that day begins long before the moment.
Stephen had spent years in being educated in the scriptures. He was a man who was willing to make knowing the word of God a part of his vocation. For us to be able to have a wise response from the word, we must know the word. Enough time must be spending in learning the scriptures, not just on a casual level, but digging deeper and gaining a greater understanding and revelation of God through the written word. Stephen’s ability to make connections between what he had learned and how it could be used for God’s glory was really quite stunning.
Not only was he immersed in the Scriptures, but Stephen was immersed in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The holy wisdom of God was at his disposal as he testified before the religious leaders. The influence of this testimony has lived out far beyond the day in which it was spoken. The wisdom of his words cut to the hearts of those listening that day, to the heart of the young man Paul, and to the author, Luke, who penned the words for all of eternity. God used the moment for Stephen to become influential throughout all of history. This happened because Stephen was a willing servant of God who laid down his life as an instrument in the hand of the Lord.
A wise response also comes from not just jumping in with the easy answer. Stephen could have said just a “yes” or a “no” but used the moment he had been given to touch all of history. The wise response makes the most of every opportunity for the sake of the kingdom.
Lord, may your wisdom lead and guide through the troubled moments of life, and may I be an instrument in your hands. Amen.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Acts 6:15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Stephen had been brought before the Sanhedrin and they were complaining about him and what he had said and done. In the mist of this confrontation we find this phrase, “they saw that his face was like the face of angel.” This man who may have been considered a little lower than the Apostles was radiant with the glory of the Lord. He didn’t lack for having performed signs and wonders, and the greatness was not in relation to position, but in relationship to God.
The glory of God was visible in his countenance. This was the grace of God, or the radiant glory of Moses that was visible in his face. Just as Moses was radiant after having been in God’s presence on Mount Sinai, so too was Stephen’s face glorious from having been in the presence of God.
The supernatural radiance was visible and it was a testament to divine calm. The Holy Spirit was within Stephen and the glow of that presence was visible on his face. It was a witness to the communion which he had been experiencing with God. Stephen had committed everything into the hands of God and he lived in that confidence. The divine calm which enveloped him gave him peace in the midst of this trial for he had been and would be with God.
The depth of our spiritual lives will become visible in our physical lives. For the one who spends time in communion with God there will be a witness in their daily lives. If there is no witness, no transformation, then we must doubt that there is regular and on-going communion with God.
One of the evidences of being in God’s presence is a divine peace or calm. The road of life may be rocky and the circumstances difficult but the joy of the Lord can still be our strength. Joy or happiness doesn’t come from everything turning out just the way in which we want it, but from trusting in our Lord and praying for divine peace. This calm comes from the inside out. It’s not determined by our circumstances, but by our relationship with God.
Stephen becomes an example to us all and a challenge to our spiritual lives. In the mist of difficulties can we keep our eyes on Jesus and allow his divine calm to so envelope our beings that we desire nothing but to be in his holy presence? Divine calm can rule the day, even when we face challenges that would not normally bring peace.
Lord, thank you for the promise of your glory and peace. Amen.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Matt. 20:24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The mother of James and John had just come to Jesus and asked whether her sons could have a special place in the new kingdom. Of course, she didn’t really understand the ramifications of what she was asking, for she didn’t have any idea what Jesus’ kingdom would be like. The kingdom of God is far different than the kingdoms of this world, and this new and alternative society would prove a challenge to conventional values.
The reaction of the ten is just as noteworthy as that of the other two. They are angry because they themselves were concerned about hierarchical structures and positions. Had they not, they wouldn’t have been upset. Just as the first two had their mother seek out a place of privilege for them, so the others were just as carnal because they were angered by their lack of potential position as a result of the conversation. None of them understood the upside down nature of the kingdom and they all had a bad attitude.
Jesus brings them all together in a unifying act and exposes the fact that they all have a bad attitude. Suddenly there is no longer a division among the disciples but a realization that they are all in need of a lesson from their master. Jesus’ kingdom will be like no other. The power structures of this world will be decimated and those who are called to be leaders will actually be called to be servants. And Jesus, himself, would become the example for them all.
It’s so easy to point a finger at James and John in this story and say that they are the ones with the bad attitude. It’s far too easy to overlook the fact that the rest of them had an attitude as well. It’s far to common to look at someone else and be “concerned” by their attitude without realizing that we may be a part of the problem. The reality was that all of the disciples had an attitude problem and Jesus realized it. He brought them together to deal with them all because finger pointing was simply going to cause division among his followers.
Pointing fingers at others will probably only end in disappointment. We cannot point fingers at others and ignore what is going on in our own lives. Our frustration with others may be rooted in our own unChristlike attitudes.
Servanthood in the kingdom may just begin with an examination of our own attitudes. If we are called to serve, then finger pointing is not allowed and in humility we rejoice in what God does in the lives of others.
Lord, please help me to serve you faithfully in your kingdom. Amen.
Monday, May 8, 2017
Ezek. 34:23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
The sheep of Israel were to be cared for, but the shepherds were not doing their job. This would result in the loss of their places of responsibility and eventually one shepherd would be placed over them all.
These were a people who were struggling -- a people of exile. They were to learn that while life may be difficult, it remains a great blessing to be a part of God’s flock. Great joy continues to fill the hearts of the sheep who are united as God’s flock.
Many of the scripture readings during this season are about sheep and shepherding. Today I had an interesting conversation with a woman on a plane that made me think about the ways in which we divide up the sheep and how we lose out on potential blessings.
During that settling down period on the plane we began with simple conversation. She had been in Kansas City over the weekend for her son-in-law’s graduation from college. She bragged about this wonderful young man and the way he is passionate about being a fire-fighter, helping to care for the grandchildren and then working hard on a college degree. She asked where I worked and I told her. Then she offered that her son-in-law had just graduated from Mid-America Nazarene University. She had enjoyed the day there, but she had questions for me. Would I be willing to chat?
She told me that she was raised in the South as a good Catholic girl. Her next-door neighbors were Nazarenes. A fence divided the two homes, but the cultural gulf was even greater. The Nazarene girls lived a very restricted life, wearing odd clothing, no make-up and certainly could not go to the movie theater. Her own life seemed a bit odd to her as she attended a church that held mass in Latin, had multiple special events throughout the year, and Lent seemed like a time of terrible deprivation. She said the contrast was great between the two households and the fence between them was a marker of the great gulf. Every now and then one of the Nazarene girls would sneak over and ask what it was like inside the Tivoli theater. The oldest girl rebelled terribly against the restrictions of her parents. My Catholic friend said she hated having to eat fish on Fridays. And thus they lived in their own worlds. She was grateful to meet a Nazarene and ask if it was still the same today -- because it hadn't seemed that way over the weekend at graduation.
We all have our fences.
But we are all called to be sheep.
We are to be sheep who will graze in the green pastures of the Good Shepherd. Christians have the same Good Shepherd, and while we may express our faith in different ways it seems that there should be no fences in the green pastures. For far too long we have been critical of our differences and have forgotten to celebrate our commonalities. What could the Nazarene girls have learned from their Catholic neighbors and what could the Catholic neighbors have learned from the Nazarene girls? My new friend’s grandfather had been a Methodist minister. Her father eventually converted to Catholicism and she said he fasted better than any Catholic — because he really wanted to, and embraced the faith.
We are all a part of the body of Christ. We are not all the same, but just as the Apostle Paul reminds us that it would be odd if we were all the same part, so we must remember that it just may be that we fit together beautifully when we take down the fences. We may be different sheep, but we may make each other a bit healthier and stronger if we take some time to graze together.
Rejoice in the Lord and the blessing of being sheep.
Lord, thank you for the joy of being one of your sheep. Amen.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
I Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
This passage deals with suffering, both Jesus’ and ours. It is in our participation with Christ that we begin to understand suffering. Jesus didn’t suffer and die so that everything in life would be easy, but that we might participate with him in the journey of life.
Jesus suffered so that we could be set free from the power of sin and death. He is the good shepherd who does everything that he can to bring us back into a relationship with him. We are healed by his wounds. The good shepherd came, sought us out and led us back to that place of safety where he could protect our relationship with him. He is the shepherd, the one who seeks and protects his sheep, but he is also the guardian. The word guardian is the one from which we have created the word “Bishop.” He becomes an overseer who takes responsibility for our complete and total healing, creating a pathway for us to become holy, just as he is holy.
Today will mark commencement at the Seminary where I work. Students are finishing their study, but just commencing with another phase of life and/or ministry. While ministry takes many different forms, the root call remains the same, and that is to follow Jesus into God’s mission in this world. We become participants together with Jesus Christ, who is our good shepherd and guardian.
Christ, the good shepherd has become the pattern for those who are called to serve in ministry (and for all us). Just as Jesus was willing to suffer and care for his lost sheep, so we too must be willing to care for the sheep. Sheep are not always smart and there will be challenges to bringing them in, but Jesus left the ninety-nine to go find the one. To what lengths will we go for the one? It seems that we become easily discouraged and give-up if someone doesn’t respond quite quickly. The good shepherd has been and continues to be long-suffering, waiting and loving.
The role of “guardian” or “overseer” is another that Christ performs and to which we are called. The language reminds us of someone who protects, or prevents danger. David, the Psalmist, certainly believed that this was true for he often went to God and cried out for protection. There is a preventive role which needs to be played by those who are more mature in their faith — those who have been walking with the Lord over a longer period of time. They are the ones who should be looking out for others and recognize their responsibility in pointing out dangers to those who may not understand what is lurking. It’s the parent who warns the child of the hot stove, or makes sure they’re always in their car seat. The child may not be happy about the restrictions but they are for their own good. The role of the guardian is the same spiritually. They are to provide direction and keep others from falling into dangerous places. Guardians take the time to disciple the next generation, pouring out what they have learned so that others can flourish.
We need many more who will answer the call to shepherd and guardian. Leaving everyone to their own devices and hoping that in some way they may find their way to God is not what the Good Shepherd expected. Just as God the Father sent Jesus to suffer and die so that we could have life, so we are to enter into the world to seek out those who need desperately to be saved. Our willingness to bring others to Christ reflects our participation in Christ. And then we take on the role of guardian, providing protection for those who have been placed within our care.
Not everyone’s call is to formal ministry, but God places within our lives those whom we are called to touch. It may be friends, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, whom God has placed within our sphere of influence. Follow Jesus and bear the burden for those whom he loves.
Lord, today I am overwhelmed by the sense of your love and leading. Amen.
Saturday, May 6, 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 Psalmist had come to a place of understanding regarding the journey of life. Without the Lord, he would have wandered, aimlessly seeking his way. Journeying with the Lord meant that everything changed. Times of rest became a part of the routine, and refreshment came from what the good shepherd provided. The dark and troubling times of life were filled with comfort. Even when confronting his enemies, the cup of God’s goodness and mercy overflowed. His journey in the present would lead to life eternal with the Lord.
The roadmap of life may not always lead us to where we want to be and yet, the Psalmist reminds us that the Lord will be with us.
I like the imagery of the Shepherd who takes us to the green pastures and fresh water. There are times when we need to simply relax and allow our souls and bodies to be refreshed. We need to slow down and enjoy what God has placed right before us. It’s far too easy to become so busy that we miss out on everything that surrounds us.
There will be dark valleys in life. No one has been guaranteed a perfectly smooth road but the promise is one of protection. Both on our right and on our left, the Lord will be with us.
We may even find ourselves in enemy territory, placed before those who do not agree with us, or may even be out to get us. Love them! Allow the anointing oil of love to overflow, and make a difference in the lives of those we touch.
And the journey will eventually lead us home where we can rest eternally in the Lord’s holy presence. But while we’re on the journey we can already taste the peace of this holy presence.
There will always be a journey, but the Lord promises to travel every step of the way with us. We rest in God’s leading, guiding, and comfort.
Lord, may I rest in your guidance today. Amen.
Friday, May 5, 2017
Psa. 31:0 To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
2 Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.
Psa. 31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
The Psalmist had come to recognize that there are two options for trust in this world. Either it will the rock and fortress of God, or the trap of the enemy. Enemies laid a trap for David, hoping to catch him, but God provided a fortress, a place of safety and security. David had learned the answer to the different situations which he had faced. The crisis was to be met with seeking God through prayer. The heart of the seeker was to be entirely devoted and trusting in the faithful Lord, the one who had redeemed.
This prayer rests on the foundation of knowing all that the Lord has already revealed about himself. Knowing God leads to a life of complete and total trust, and suddenly David finds himself, not caught up in the snare or trap, but standing in the fortress, protected by our faithful God.
We have a choice in life. We can allow ourselves to become trapped by our circumstances, or we can rest within the walls of the Fortress.
Probably the greatest difficulty is finding our way to the Fortress, or Rock. David was able to completely and totally trust in God because he had come to know God through prayer. It is only through prayer and studying the word that we will get to know the very nature of God. It is in God that we are to put all of our hope and trust, then we are led and guided to that place where we are surrounded by the very presence of God on high. In the coolness of the fortress walls we can can breathe deeply and relax, safe from the enemies reach. Together with David we commit our spirit to the faithful God who will lead us to a place of complete and total rest. The Lord is our Rock and Fortress.
Lord, thank you for your continual reminder that you are with us. Amen.
Thursday, May 4, 2017
Acts 6:8 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
The disciples discovered they had a problem when it came managing all the aspects of their burgeoning ministry. They felt called to their mission to preach and so they sought out those who could administer the ministry of waiting on tables, and feeding those who were hungry. Stephen was one of those who was assigned to this aspect of the work. What we discover, however, is that as the Spirit worked in and through Stephen, his ministry expanded. Suddenly we find Stephen filled with grace and power.
The grace of God becomes a part of Stephen’s nature because the Spirit is uniting Stephen with God. The very nature of God therefore exudes through the works of Stephen. This grace is empowered through the action of the Holy Spirit. Stephen is capable of performing miracles to the same extent as the Apostles. Suddenly the human divisions of ministry disappear for there is no holding back the Spirit. The Spirit cannot be contained within human roles or definitions, but when the Spirit takes over then power is revealed. Suddenly the Spirit-filled Stephen finds himself filled with grace and power and performing the same acts as the Apostles.
We often try to create structure for God to follow. The Apostles tried to do it right away in the early church. Now, that’s not to say that there wasn’t a need to organize the ministry but they also seemed to be identifying and affirming who was engaged in the preaching and teaching ministry. It just seems as if the Holy Spirit had other ideas in mind. Instead of being locked into one particular category or skill, the Spirit empowered Stephen and filled him with power and grace, and he was able to do things that the Apostles were doing.
We live in a world that loves to quantify and examine just about everything that we do. Now please, don’t get me wrong, because I think understanding more about yourself can be incredibly helpful but it may also be confining. We can find out our personality type through Meyers Briggs, then our Strengths, and now we can take the five-fold survey to find out where we are gifted in APEST. Again — these can be helpful, but they should not be limiting. The Apostles thought they needed to be freed to do the preaching, teaching and healing and others to wait on tables. They thought that this was Stephen’s area of gifting and so he was assigned the work of Compassionate Ministries. What no one took into account was the transformational work that would happen when the Holy Spirit flowed through Stephen. The Holy Spirit took over and wasn’t confined by Strength Finders!
May we never limit the work of the Holy Spirit by creating man-made boundaries. When the Spirit takes over we are able to participate with Christ in his mission in this world and become partakers of the divine nature. Where that will lead, no one knows, but it sure is fun to be unbound by human expectations. It’s time to live life in the freedom which can be found by giving space for the Spirit to take over.
Lord, open my mind and remove every barrier from the work that you want to accomplish. Amen.