Monday, July 31, 2017

Loving Care for the House of God


Scripture
John 2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Observation

This is the account of Jesus who, when entering Jerusalem discovers the market that has evolved around the entry to the temple. He is distraught at the condition of his Father’s house and lashes out at those desecrating its hallowed halls. Only later do the disciples truly understand what they have witnessed and they recall the Old Testament passage found in Psalm 69:9, “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”  

Referring to Jesus’ response, Augustine put is this way, “He then is eaten up with zeal for God’s house who desires to correct all that he sees wrong there. And if he cannot correct it, he endures and mourns. . . . Let the zeal for God’s house consume every Christian wherever he or she is a member. . . . In your house you busy yourself in trying to prevent things going wrong. In the house of God, where salvation is offered, ought you to be indifferent? . . . Do you have a friend? Admonish him gently; a wife or husband? Admonish them too. . . . Do what you are able, according to your station.” (Tractates on the Gospel of John 10.9) In other words, Jesus was moved to action by what he saw, and so should we! 

Jesus’ love and care for the house of God compelled him to respond. As we reflect Christ we are driven by the zeal which drove Jesus. The word carries with it the connotation of bringing one to the boiling point. We are to bubble up with so much love for the house of God that we are eaten up by the desire to set things right. 

Application

What do I see that is out of place or not set aright in the world? From Jesus’ perspective there may be many things and Augustine helps us to begin to have a vision for what it means to be consumed by love for the things of God. This means that we cannot be indifferent to the condition of those who are lost! Where is our passion and zeal for those who are not walking with Christ? If we are consumed by our love for Christ, then we will be driven by great passion to share the good news with those who do not know him. We will pray for them. Fast for them and sacrifice for them to come to him. 

When consumed by zeal for the house of the Lord we will also be concerned about the condition of the temple, which is made up of living stones. Loving care for the house of God means we become partners in the gospel who are willing to nudge one another along in our spiritual development. When we discover a weaker brother or sister, we seek out ways in which we can spur them along gently to grow in ways they may have never thought possible. We are to partner with our spouses and lovingly care for them so that they, too, may be shining reflections of Christ in this world. 

Jesus knew he was the son of God, therefore he took action for what he saw occurring in his Father’s house. If you are given the opportunity, you are to use your influence for the sake of the kingdom. This is what happens when zeal for the Father’s house begins to consume us, and our desire is for the protection and loving care of the house of God. Just as Jesus took action, so we cannot sit by and do nothing, but we are compelled to become engaged in the messiness we uncover. 

Prayer

Lord, may your love and zeal compel me to action in this world. Amen.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Marriage and Delight

Scripture:

Is. 62:4     You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
        and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
    but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
        and your land Married;
    for the LORD delights in you,
        and your land shall be married. 
Is. 62:5     For as a young man marries a young woman,
        so shall your builder marry you,
    and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
        so shall your God rejoice over you. (NRSV)

No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
    and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married. (NIV)

Observation:

This prophecy regarding the transformation of Zion should be a blessing to us all. As the children of Israel had wandered about in exile they were about to discover what it meant to return home.  No longer were they going to feel as if they were forsaken or deserted.  Their homeland was to be transformed, no longer desolate. God’s covenant relationship with his people was to be seen again just as a husband and wife standing at the altar on the day of their nuptials. The people of God were to be called “Hephzibah,” which means “My Delight Is in Her.” This is the way that God is talking about his beloved people — he loves them with a passion of a bridegroom awaiting his bride. The Israelite’s land was to be called “Beulah” which means married. The people of God, delighting God, and her land belonging to God as a wife to a husband.  The imagery is of a husband who would lay down his life for his wife and do everything that he could to protect her. God will do the same for this, his people, the people of Israel.

Just imagine this imagery when it comes to the arrival of the Messiah. A new picture of a people who are living in desolation, a people without hope. Now the incarnate God comes to this earth to call out all people to him, to be united with him in a most holy matrimony. No longer will we be forsaken but we are invited to the altar where we are united with our Savior, the one who calls us Hephzibah. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, delights in us and loves us more than we can ever imagine and the kingdom of God is already here, Beulah has arrived as we live in the already of his kingdom.  

Our creator, our builder, wants to be united with us because he is deeply and madly in love with us. He wants us to be his Hephzibah and to be called Beulah.

Application:

Every year on our anniversary this is the scripture from my reading plan. I've commented on it several times and today's post is a partial repeat. I guess I'm attracted to this because it has to do with understanding our relationship with God, much like marriage. 

Thirty four years ago today I walked down the aisle and married my wonderful husband, Chuck. I thought I loved him then, but today I love him more than I could have ever imagined. The more that I get to know him and the more time I spend with him the more I fall in love with him. He has supported me over and over again in the many adventures of our lives. We are in the midst of transition again as a new venture begins, but I know that he will be right there, at my side. 





There is something amazing about getting to know someone through this journey of life, through the good times and the tough times, that draws you closer. I love being with my husband and just hanging around him as much as possible. I used my frequent flyer miles and came up to Michigan to see him this weekend for our anniversary because he's here preaching for camp meeting. 

Our jobs may take us in different directions but we are always connected. All day long we stay in touch sending a little text here and there and waiting for that time in the evening when we get to hear the other’s voice. I absolutely delight in my husband and I am thrilled to be his Hephzibah and to be called Beulah.  

As much as I adore my husband and my heart is filled with thanksgiving today for thirty four years of marriage to him, I am all the more grateful for my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am so grateful for my earthly marriage and it’s hard to believe that my Savior calls me Hephzibah and delights in me, even more than my dear Chuck. That is overwhelming. 

God wants us to join into this intimate relationship with him.  Christianity was never meant to be a casual relationship between a people and their God, it was meant to be Beulah land.  It is into this deeper relationship, into this lifelong commitment that God is calling us. May we relax and allow the love of our Savior to consume us as his Hephzibah and journey with him into Beulah land.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for your overwhelming love.  Amen.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Supporting Others


Scripture
2Pet. 3:14   Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 

Observation

This epistle of Peter is coming to a close. It is filled with encouragement for those who are following Christ in the midst of difficult days. The discipleship of believers was of utmost importance for this is what Jesus had instructed them to do! 

Peter and Paul are not in competition with one another, but are serving together in leadership. The support for Paul is shown by the comment in this letter, noting that Paul has been writing letters as well. Somehow it had become known that there were those who struggled with Paul’s letters. Paul was more educated than Peter and may have used language which people chose to twist to their own benefit. The encouragement here was to refuse this kind of commentary. In other words, listen carefully to what Paul is saying and don’t let anyone lead you astray, whether sometimes it’s hard to decipher his writing, or not. 

Peter and Paul are on the same team with the same goal of making Christlike disciples. There is to be no division among these men and they refuse to allow others to create barriers or divides. If they are going to serve God, they will do it united, all the while showing public support for one another. In this way Jesus will be glorified both now, and for all of eternity. 

Application

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for two giants of the faith like Peter and Paul to be in the same room. They didn’t always see eye to eye. Paul was willing to call Peter out when it came to his behavior around Gentiles. They had fiery discussions at the first council meeting in Jerusalem, and yet, they were always willing to support one another. They never allowed their differences to create division and they remained committed to the truths of the Gospel. Knowing and following Christ was of utmost importance in their lives. 

We are often placed together in this world in teams, partnering together with others to fulfill the mission of making Christlike disciples. This should happen in the family setting. We have a responsibility of teaching faith to those who will come after us. In a marriage relationship there must be a commitment to supporting the spouse. There may be disagreements from time to time, but there should also be mutual support. Peter and Paul did not undermine the ministry of the other, but rather went out of their way to be supportive. Critical attitudes and comments will drive a wedge into a marriage relationship but intentional support will go a long way in producing harmony and strength of discipleship among children. 

We will always find something about which we can criticize our pastor or another religious leader. We all have our flaws! However, if we take all of our time pointing out all the flaws we will end up being deeply wounded and damaged individuals. Not just the person about whom we are being critical, but even ourselves. Often our criticisms stem from our own insecurities. Celebrate the good things that God is doing in your midst. Honor your pastor for their faithfulness during difficult days. Publicly speak in support of what they are doing. Choose to only disagree over things that really matter. 

Support your coworkers and surprise them by your attitude. Don’t seek to be praised, but take every opportunity to celebrate the achievements of others. Don’t give the enemy any space to create division between yourself and those with whom God has placed you for fellowship. Intentionally supporting those with whom you are doing life will bring positive results. 
Prayer

Lord, may you be glorified in the relationships that you have brought into my life. Please help me to support those within my family, church and my coworkers. Amen.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Don’t Be Afraid of Extending Yourself


Scripture
Isaiah 54:2 Enlarge the site of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.

Observation

Following the great chapter on the suffering servant we come to this 54th chapter of Isaiah. Many presume that this is a commentary on the church which will come as a result of the work of the suffering servant. Because of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, the church was birthed. All throughout history we must remember that this is Christ’s church, and not ours. It is Jesus who says, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) — not, go and and build a church for me! If that is the case, then these are words of instructions for those who are participating in kingdom work through the church. 

The tent of the church is to be just that — a flexible and portable way in which to reach the world. There is an expectation that the tent will be enlarged, inviting more and more to come into the shelter which is provided. We are to be stretched and extended, being willing to lengthen our cords, adding to our structure so that we can accommodate the growth. The church becomes a living tent, one which fills the whole world with houses of prayer. 

Application

Maybe I was struck by this passage this morning because I just finished attending District Assembly last night. My mind is thinking about churches, and about the church (whether a denominational tribe — or all of Christianity). There is something incredibly profound to understand from the prophet Isaiah. These chapters are in a particular order for a reason. It is because of the life of Jesus, the suffering servant, that there will be a church. There is also an expectation that if Christ is the center of the church, that there will be spiritual life and growth. There is an expectation that we will continue to enlarge and expand our tents and our territory because of what Christ has done for us! 

I was challenged by these words today because we are not seeing much growth in the church in many parts of the world. There are many reasons for this, and many a discouraged pastor. Yet, somehow I see this as a promise from the Lord and a hope which depends upon our attitude and participation in God’s work. Remember — all of this is only possible because of the work of Christ! Because of Christ’s death on the cross, we are to be willing to extend ourselves. We are to step out in faith and plan to enlarge our tent. We are to create flexible structures so that we can accommodate what God just might want to do in our midst. Rigidity will only obstruct the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. 

What if we are being challenged to prepare for spiritual growth in the life of the church? Instead of being afraid of the days in which we live, we are to enlarge our tent! Stretch out our curtains and invite in all of those people who don’t look like they belong in church. Lengthen the cords and graciously welcome the strangers among us. Don’t hold back, but create space to fellowship with those who speak a different language. 

All the while, strengthen YOUR stakes. Take the time to grow spiritually and become more and more grounded through study of the word and prayer. Allow the suffering servant to be reflected in all that you say and do, and never be afraid to extend yourself. When we do, we may be stunned by what God wants to accomplish.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for this promise. Please, help me not to live in fear, but to extend myself as I journey with you. Amen.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Finding Yourself in Babylon


Scripture
I Peter 5:13 Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. 

Observation

In the closing comments of this letter we find this reference to Babylon. Just the mention of the name Babylon conjures up many images for God’s people for it is the place in which they found themselves in exile. They were prisoners in a foreign land because they had been unfaithful to God, worshipping far too many idols. Now, this reference in 1 Peter to Babylon is quite interesting. Most scholars believe that this is a code name for Rome. More than likely this letter was written at the height of Nero’s reign and persecution of Christians, around AD 60. Paul would soon be martyred. The evil of the city which surrounded these followers of Jesus Christ could be compared to no other than Babylon. 

Application

Peter, Mark, Silvanus, Paul, and others found themselves in Rome. They had been drawn to this capital city where they found an overabundance of idolatry. Emperor worship had reached dizzying heights and the presence of these Christians was a problem. Because they refused to be polytheistic they were viewed as atheistic! How in the world could they only worship one God? This was a concern of the local government authorities. The beliefs and lifestyles of these Christians threatened to undermine the fabric of society and the accepted practices of the people, for Rome was metaphorically Babylon.

Babylon had her enticements back in the day. She was wealthy and encouraged a lifestyle of sexual promiscuity and infanticide. It was all about seeking pleasure and enjoying entertainment because of the sacrifice of others. Somehow the lives of others did not come into account.

This epistle is a reminder of what it means to be God’s holy people — written from the metaphoric Babylon. Somehow God’s people were to be radically different in the midst of Babylon. They were to engage in practices of sexual purity which were completely counter-cultural. While society encouraged frequent sexual encounters with multiple partners of both sexes, the Christians followed the teachings of Christ and brought sexual activity into the sacred bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. While Babylon partied on into the early hours of the morning with wild orgies, the Christians spent time worshiping and praising God in their homes. They refused to engage in the pornea of the day, never venturing into the shadows of Babylon, even while her temptresses were at their door day in and day out. 

The lives of many were sacrificed for the entertainment of Babylon. They threw Christians and others to the lions as the crowds cheered on, watching helpless humans ripped limb from limb. What kind of human beings enjoy life at the expense of others? Maybe those in modern-day Babylon who wear nice cheap clothing, made at the expense of those suffering in another part of the world. Maybe those who begin the food-chain of human slavery by becoming consumers of pornography. Maybe those who enjoy fresh foods at a low cost, only because we have closed a blind eye to the “illegal” people who are working in our fields because no one else is willing — and yet, we become outraged at their status and want to return them home. Ouch! It begins to hit home!  

In Babylon people refused to ask the hard questions and instead were driven along by the stream of society. Except for the Christians! They made everyone a bit too uncomfortable with their non-conforming ways. 

The Christians refused to rubber-stamp the lifestyle of Babylon. Instead they chose to live according to the ways of Jesus Christ which proved to be radically counter-cultural. Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” was punishable by death for it was a refusal to declare the emperor as Lord. Society was built around the worship and deification of the Emperor. How could these Christians be so arrogant as to try and change the world?

We find ourselves in Babylon and we must face this reality. The world is not like the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God is not like Babylon. When we live as kingdom citizens, we are not meant to feel comfortable in Babylon and just like those early Christians, we will probably be ridiculed as we stand for the things of the heavenly kingdom. Somehow those early Christians found a way to live for Christ with love and grace, even in the midst of persecutions. They were faithful in Babylon. Will we be?

Prayer

Lord, we have our modern-day Babylon in which we are to live. Please, help me to live faithfully as your follower in these days. Amen.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Recovery and Holiness


Scripture
Is. 41:19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20 so that all may see and know,
all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Observation

The words of  Isaiah were an encouragement for those who were suffering in exile. They were praying and dreaming about the day in which they would return home. Now, there comes a promise of recovery for God’s people. On their return there will be water in the desert, but also shelter where there would normally be none. The trees mentioned are those which grow tall and offer lovely shade from the heat of the day. It would have been uncommon to find them in the desert but this was God’s promise of care and provision for those who would be recovering from their time in exile. All of the needs of God’s people would be supplied. 

The promise also foreshadowed a time when God’s people would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and they themselves would become the trees growing in the desert. Within the dry and barrenness of this world, God’s holy people grow up like strong trees that would not normally belong. Watered by the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s holy people provide shade and protection for those who are suffering.  The promise is for recovery from suffering for the Israelites, and the vision of holiness which reflects the hope of Christ in Jesus followers to an entire world which is suffering. The promise provides hope for all of humanity then, and now. 

Application

We are invited to lean into both of these promises of God. For those who are suffering and finding themselves in a place of exile, God promises relief. That relief comes in the form of spiritual water which refreshes our soul. No matter the circumstances in a dry and barren land, there is refreshment which comes from the Lord. The promise is not for sustenance on a minimal level, but enough for complete and total recovery. 

God wants to restore in ways that may be beyond our comprehension. The Lord takes our broken lives and transforms them into a new and beautiful life through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. When we have been wounded, God brings healing and refreshment. There is no need to hang onto the past or allow the wounds to fester. We are all wounded and live with the scars of life. The promise of the Holy Spirit and recovery is not just for some, but for all. Let go of the past and embrace the beautiful new future — the return from exile. Recovery is promised for all of those who will be fervent followers of Jesus Christ and open themselves up to the healing power of the Holy Spirit. This is the hope which we may embrace today!

That hope of transformation leads us to a life of holiness. The promise of Christ for all is adoption into the family and the resultant life of holiness. This is not a holiness on our part, but a holiness which is found by our participation in God. The Holy Spirit begins the transforming work within us so that we can clearly reflect the Image in our lives. It is the holiness of Christ, God incarnate, which is visible in our lives. 

The more clearly we reflect Christ, the more we participate in God’s plan to provide shelter in the desert. We become the cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, plane and pine trees. These are the trees which do not belong in the desert, and in the same way, we are transformed into much more than we could ever imagine. God is glorified because it is obvious to all that this has been done above and beyond our own strength. The world around us receives an outpouring of God’s love, strength, and shelter, because we are present. The call for God’s holy people is to step out into the wilderness unafraid, for God will provide all that we need. In the meantime we become instruments of God’s grace for those who are suffering and in need. 

The voice of Isaiah reaches our ears today. Live into the beautiful recovery that God has in store, and feed upon the nutrients of the Holy Spirit, embracing holiness that will become the salvation of those dying in the desert.  

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the promise of recovery. Instead of hanging onto things from the past, may your waters flow like a healing balm and may your Spirit flourish in and through my life. Please, use me to be a tree of shelter for those who are in need. Amen.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

On Whom Do You Rely?


Scripture
Is. 36:4   The Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah: Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you base this confidence of yours? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? On whom do you now rely, that you have rebelled against me? 

Observation

The Rabshakeh was an assistant to the King of Assyria, more than likely his cupbearer. He appeared before King Hezekiah with great pride and viewed Hezekiah’s defiance as arrogance. The Rabshakeh viewed himself, and his nation, quite highly and found Hezekiah’s confidence in Yahweh odd. The leaders of the nations often made political alliances so that they could survive, paying tribute to one king or another. Suddenly the people of Judah were without any protector, but God alone. 

Taunting Hezekiah, the Rabshakeh couldn’t imagine a dependence upon a god who was not visible. Somehow Hezekiah seemed very confident, but to the Assyrians it seemed absolutely foolish. Words which had been spoken in prayer were mocked. How could praying out to Yahweh be a strategy against one of the mightiest armies of the world? Hezekiah’s dependence upon God was seen as rebellion against the Assyrians. This was very dangerous territory, to stand up against the rulers of the world, but Hezekiah had determined to follow God. The jeering continued for the Rabshekah could see no one on whom Hezekiah was relying, but Hezekiah refused to budge. 

After spending time in prayer and calling upon God, Hezekiah heard from the prophet Isaiah. God had heard his cries and the one on whom he was relying would supply the needs of the people of Judah. Without ever raising a sword the entire Assyrian army, nearly 185,000 of them, mysteriously died leaving Jerusalem unscathed. The God on whom Hezekiah relied was far more powerful than the mightiest of human armies. It was worth the rebellion to rely only upon God.

Application

The world taunts us into dependence upon any and everything, but God. The challenge for the followers of Jesus Christ is radical dependence in the midst of so many distractions. We are tempted to depend upon other people, jobs, finances, relationships, business transactions and the advice of specialists. How do we look all of these in the face and say, “no thanks!” 

Our prayers and dependence upon the Lord are seen as “mere words” and the world laughs as we consider them as a “strategy and power for war.” Prayer truly is a strategy for living in the world and for spiritual warfare. God is already at work in this world and we are invited to participate in the stream of the Holy Spirit. Can’t you imagine that the wisdom of God is far greater than anything that we can find from any consultant here on this earth? Of course, that is the case! And yet, we are constantly seeking the advice and direction of others. Meanwhile, God is waiting patiently for us to reveal our dependence upon the Lord. 

It was when Hezekiah rejected the ways of the world and declared his reliance upon God that God responded. No one would have imagined that the entire Assyrian army would die! God wants us to participate in plans far beyond our own comprehension. It is then that God will be glorified and our confidence will grow. Words of prayer are a great strategy for power, therefore I choose to rely on God. 

Prayer

Lord, may my dependence upon you grow daily and may the temptations surrounding me hold no sway. Amen.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

What Have I Failed to Do Today?


Scripture
James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Observation

The author is writing to the followers of Jesus Christ who were actively engaged in the life of the “ecclesia.” This was the gathering of those who were called out and seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Many of these were well-to-do individuals who had resources and were looking after their business practices, planning where they would go next and expand their enterprises. The problem was that they failed to see the needs surrounding them on a daily basis and instead, were concerned with building their wealth. The judgement here is straightforward. They were not sinning by the things they were doing, but by what they were not doing. 

John Wesley expressed that condemnation was increased for those who committed sins of omission. When one is being led by the Spirit and the soul is impressed upon to act but does not, it becomes sin. This was not only because the act would not be delivered, but the longer the nudging of the Spirit is repressed, eventually we cease to recognize the Lord's voice. This will lead to our own spiritual demise, as well as hurt those to whom we should be ministering. 

Application

It’s so easy to allow our lives to become so occupied with the activities of the day that we fail to leave space for the nudging of the Holy Spirit. The distractions and noise of the world can create a space where we simply cannot hear the voice of the Lord. If we can’t hear the voice of the Lord, we cannot act!

I spend a lot of time in airplanes and I’ve noticed quite a trend with regular business travelers. No longer do people want to engage in conversation, but want to tune out the surrounding world. Ear buds are a hot commodity and most of the people who fly around me pop them into their ears even before they get settled into their seat. The message is loud and clear (or deafeningly silent) that they are going to become engrossed in their own little world and have no engagement with anyone around them. I feel sorry for the flight attendants who want to ask them a question or get their drink order. I’ve noticed more and more that the flight attendants have to touch people on the arm to get their attention. No one hears. I can’t imagine what would happen should there be an emergency, because people are no longer tuned into the announcements given on the plane. That means that the possibility of simply not acting on a command is very real. The instructions might be given, but never heard. In that case, who becomes responsible for the lack of action? 

In the spiritual realm we are responsible for deafening our ears to the pleas of the Holy Spirit. Just because we weren’t listening, someone may go hungry tonight, or the sermon God intended may not be preached, or the child for whom we are to pray at this moment may step into an unhealthy situation. All of this is more about the sensitivity of the one who is to be growing spiritually than it is about acts of mercy. At the same time, we begin to see that the acts of mercy are simply a revelation of the relationship one has with the Lord. The more time one spends with the Lord, the more one will engage in acts which resemble the work of Jesus Christ. When we fail to do the things Jesus would do, then we are failing at reflect him to the world around us. 

We must take seriously the call to growth in grace and the importance of hearing and acting upon the nudging of the Holy Spirit. Each evening we may want to take inventory of the day and ask ourselves, “what have I failed to do today?” In doing so, we open ourselves up to the correction of the Lord in our lives and hopefully tomorrow we will be able to serve even more faithfully.

Prayer

Lord, open my ears to hear and act on your direction. Amen.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Making the City Glad


Scripture
Psa. 46:4    There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.

Observation

The city of Jerusalem has no river running though it, while most major cities of the world find themselves connected to water. I live in Kansas City where we have the Missouri River. Just down the road in St. Louis they have the mighty Mississippi. How in the world were the people of Jerusalem to think about a river running through the city of God?  Obviously if there were a river, the inhabits would rejoice and be glad. 

This was an understanding of what life would be like in the city when God's presence was real. The city would be filled with God’s presence and providence which would rush in covering everything in its path. Everyone would be invited to jump into the river, swimming in the provision of God. The city would be filled with gladness because they were not simply preserved from difficulty but lovingly cared for, by the streams of the Holy Spirit which filled every corner. 

Application

On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out again in the city of Jerusalem. Things were different from the Old Testament period for God’s presence had long ago left the Temple and the voice of God had been silent for over 400 years. The promise of the Old Testament was now to be fulfilled in a new and exciting way. The river of the Holy Spirit would be poured out into the living temples within Jerusalem. The people themselves would become the vessels, holding the river which would flow through their lives. 

God’s holy people will take the river of the Holy Spirit into the cities and allow the streams to flow to the places which are dry and to those who are thirsty. There will be great rejoicing because the holy habitation of the Most High is now within humanity. All of this has been made possible because of the work of Jesus Christ. The Psalmist was rejoicing in God’s presence in the city but now we rejoice in God’s presence in us. 

This rejoicing is not simply for us to enjoy on our own, but to be shared with others who are desperately in need. These days in Kansas City we are experience a lot of hot weather. Almost daily there are heat warnings so that people will take seriously the need to care for their bodies and for one another. Everyone is admonished to drink as much water as possible, to stay well hydrated! Why is it that we recognize the warning signs when it is physically hot outside, but we fail to see our friends and neighbors who are suffering in the heat of life without spiritual drink? When our neighbors need water, we buy it by the caseload and have it delivered to them in their time of need. When people are spiritually in need we are worried that we may offend them or come across as overbearing in our faith.  

Somehow we need to find a way to take our stream of living water into the places that are in desperate need of a cool drink. In this way the city will be made glad, people’s lives will be changed and the world transformed. Let’s not hoard the spiritual water for ourselves, but find ways to intentionally share it with those in need.

Prayer

Lord, your river does make us glad. Please, help me to share your stream today. Amen.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Unshakable Kingdom


Scripture
Heb. 11:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Observation

The things of this world are only temporary and can be shaken in many ways. Governments, economies, natural resources, and physical structures can all shift beneath our feet, but we are invited into participation in the heavenly kingdom. That’s why we give thanks to God on high and participate in the unshakable kingdom, filled with overwhelming awe and reverence for the power of God. Our powerful God is a holy, loving, consuming fire who can take our simple lives and transform them as we live in the unshakable kingdom.

Application

We are shaken by earthly kingdoms on a daily basis. All we have to do is to read the the news headlines and discover that things in this world are not all that stable. Worldly kingdoms are shaken by complex factors which influence geopolitics. Sometimes the activities of leaders are influenced by selfish desires, and at others by being forced into a corner and seeking for ways in which to survive. The earthly kingdoms are all interrelated in one way or another and we create shaky scenarios when resources get out of balance. Concerns over water, the ability to grow food, and the questionable possibility to provide for the next generation can create stress, and when one nation loses its resources, it must look elsewhere. Generally neighbors don’t freely give to one another and as tensions increase, eventually people will fight for survival. The kingdoms of the world become shakable and the feeling of being boxed in a corner creates a need to break through our human barriers or constraints. 

In contrast we are all invited to become citizens of God’s kingdom. The geopolitical, racial and gender barriers are destroyed in this kingdom and the golden rule is supposed to be actively at work. The kingdom is unshakable when her citizens respond with the love of Jesus Christ and willingly give up what they have for the sake of others. 

We are given the gift of this unshakable kingdom. Our response is to be one of gratitude and worship. We participate in the unshakable kingdom on a daily basis and yet, we must set aside specific time for worship. When we gather for worship we focus upon the One who has given us the gift of the Unshakable Kingdom. With awe and reverence we come before our heavenly Father who purifies us from the things of this world that keep us attached to the shakable kingdom. 
In the midst of all that is shakable, we are invited to participate in the unshakable. 

Prayer

Lord, please lead me into fun participation in your kingdom. Amen.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Seeing From a Distance


Scripture
Heb. 11:13   All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Observation

The great chapter on faith brings inspiration, for there are those who have gone before who become mentors for all who will come later. The faithful died without seeing the end, or the completion of God’s plan. They saw from a distance and yet, they were inspired. They didn’t have to experience it all in the here and now, for they could live in faith. Recognizing that they belonged to God’s kingdom, they articulated that they were strangers, or foreigners on earth. Faith inspired them to see the homeland from a distance, and yet, not to give up hope. 

Once they began the faith journey, they didn’t look back. Remaining attached to the things of this world would never have allowed their spirits to soar and become entirely connected and devoted to God. Faith drove them to leave earthly attachments and therefore God proudly loves and cares for these dear earthly children. A new city is being built and there these faithful will dwell as citizens in a new homeland. 

Application

My great-grandfather left the Volga region of Russia as a young man, traveling to the United States. He and his entire family made a decision that they had to leave behind the life which they had loved and move on to a new land. Their family had lived in the village of Messer for generations, having brought their German heritage with them during the time of Catherine the Great. The Russian-Germans, as they came to be known, had built a lovely life and culture in these colonies along the Volga river. For one hundred years they had lived as a protected people, but now the official contract with the government had come to an end and there were some who could see the handwriting on the wall. They had heard about life in America, and seeing from a distance, they chose to pack up what they could and make the arduous journey to a new land. Somehow they had faith to believe that life might just be a little better in a new homeland. 

The extended family traveled by ship to the United States and then by train to Nebraska where the Russian-Germans congregated before setting off to varied locations in the new land. Somewhere in that journey my grandfather was born. A new baby, born in a new land, with a new citizenship. They desired a better country for themselves and their progeny. By faith they made a difficult journey, but one which would affect the lives of so many.

About twenty years ago I traveled to one of the German colonies along the Volga to meet up with some of the Russian-Germans who had not made the journey to the new land. They had chosen, for various reasons, to stay. The old Lutheran church in Messer (now Ust-Zolichka) stood in ruins, a silhouette against the beautiful blue sky. We went to the home of an elderly aunt of a friend, also a Russian-German, who was traveling with us. As if stepping back in time we bounced along on pot-hole ridden mud roads, passing by the ox drawn carts and gaggles of geese. The small ginger-bread houses of blue and green looked as if they hadn’t been touched in a hundred years. When we arrived at the home of the Auntie, we discovered the only modern convenience was electricity, a reward of one of Stalin’s five-year plans. 

That day I learned something about longing for the old homeland for Auntie told us stories that made us tear up and cringe with fear. After many had left for the new land, those who had stayed behind began to suffer terribly. During the time of collectivization they lost their farms and their animals. The result was a terrible time of starvation. “Did you know that we ate grass like the animals?” we were asked. Not all survived the terrible famines, but if they did, they then faced the impact of the Great Patriotic War against the Fascists (we know it in the west as World War II).  Stalin, fearing that these people with German roots would suddenly show loyalty for the homeland they had left nearly 150 years previous, decided he had to be proactive. In the night they gathered the men of Messer, took them to the edge of town and buried them all alive. Auntie told us of the horrible night as the women and children heard them screaming until finally everything became silent. Next the trains appeared and those who remained were put on cattle cars and shipped to Siberia or Central Asia. They had only returned to this home in the last five years. 

Why did Frederick Schmidt have faith to believe that he could make it to a new world where the destiny of his entire family would change forever? I don’t know — but that day sitting in a small village home in Russia I realized that I was the recipient of a citizenship in the new homeland and I never had to suffer the way in which those who had remained behind had.  But by the grace of God, this was my family’s story. But by the faith of someone who could see from a distance, it would have been my destiny.

We owe it to those who will come after us to have a vision of the new homeland. By faith we walk through this life in a way that will lead us to our citizenship in the kingdom of God. By faith we see now from a distance and we continue journeying in that direction. Our decisions today, as we live by faith, will take us, and generations to come, to the homeland which we now only see in the distance. 

Prayer

Lord, please help me to continue pressing on in the direction of a better country. Amen.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Time to Provoke


Scripture
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Observation

The need for spiritual growth and maturity is placed before the believers. They are a community of faith and they share responsibility for one another. Given permission to provoke, the community is to be one which reflects the love and good deeds of Jesus Christ. This ability to “provoke” will only happen if they continue meeting together on a regular basis. 

Some have made excuses that they are too busy and so they have given up the habit of meeting together regularly. The danger is being lulled into complacency without regular provoking from their sisters and brothers in the faith. With regular fellowship one will be provoked, but it will feel like encouragement on the part of fellow believers. 

Application

When the world looks in on Christianity do they discover a people who reflect the love and good deeds of Jesus Christ? I’m afraid that these are not the descriptors that are usually used in relation to Christianity — at least not in the part of the world in which I live. Sadly, Christianity has been provoked, or possibly enticed, to seek power through political channels. Maybe we’ve thought that it’s easier to seek the power of the world to try and make things the way we want them to be, than to regularly meet together and to provoke and encourage one another to love and good deeds! 

The reality is that we are meeting together more and more infrequently. Even those who say they attend church regularly are now attending 2-3 times a month. Our lifestyles have changed with more opportunities and events clamoring for our attention. Little by little regular church attendance has become a thing of the past, and even those in leadership are gone on a regular basis. It’s all good stuff that takes us away. We want to invest in our children and grandchildren by allowing them to participate in the best sporting events possible. Our financial resources provide us with the opportunity for travel and fellowship with family and friends from far-off places. It’s all such good stuff but upon evaluation, is something missing? None of this has been an intentional plan to neglect our spiritual life. We still have time with the Lord in prayer and devotion — even while being busy (we do, right?).  And yet there is something missing when the community is unable to get together and have iron sharpen iron.

It’s time to provoke! If we do not make gathering together with a community of faith a priority, we will all fail to be the complete reflection of Jesus Christ that we are called to be. When I only drop in to church from time to time, my actions and behaviors become hidden. No one will feel comfortable provoking me, because they’re not really sure what I’m up to. And if I don’t have time to go to church regularly, can I be intentional about minister to those on the margins and reflecting love and good deeds? I don’t mean dropping a dollar in the cup of the homeless beggar, but taking time to get to know the homeless beggar and find out the real needs! 

I lead a life in which I travel a great deal and being part of a “home” church and community is not easy. However, one of my favorite things at our church is the Wednesday night prayer gathering. If I am in town, I will adjust my schedule to make sure that I get to be at Wednesday night prayer meeting. This has become my group with whom I want to meet. They pray for so many needs and burdens and I know that they lift me up when I am not present. I remain inextricably tied to this group of individuals because we have spent intimate time together in God’s holy presence. They can provoke me to love and participate in good deeds. I cannot neglect meeting with the Wednesday night prayer group. 

We must all find a place of accountability; a place where we are willing to be provoked. Our lives will become spiritually fat and unhealthy if we do not allow ourselves to be prodded by those who love us and only want the best for us. Somehow, in our busy schedules we must intentionally create a space for regularly gathering together so that we can be provoked. Without being provoked, we just may begin to die spiritually. 

Prayer

Lord, please help me listen to the voices of those who are seeking your face, and may need to provoke me. Amen.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cows and Bears


Scripture
Isaiah 11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;

Observation

The vision of a paradise where the Prince of Peace will reign is penned by the prophet. The description is given in terms that would shock the people. It was not uncommon to have bears attack livestock and it was the responsibility of the shepherd to carefully guard the flock. In this vision of a new reality where the Prince of Peace reigns with all power and authority a strange picture begins to appear. This vision makes no sense because everyone knows that cows and bears do not graze together. The bears graze on the cows and the young are especially vulnerable. 

This vision of a new reality is a foreshadowing of the kingdom of God. When the Prince of Peace comes, he will usher in a new era, one in which the “already” of the kingdom of God will be visible here on earth and ultimately lead to a world in which the “cow and the bear” will graze together. The vision of the new reality was a promise for those who received Isaiah’s prophecy, but it is a current hope and true reality for today. 

Application

What does a vision of cows and bears look like in the kingdom of God? Metaphorically we discover cows and bears every day of our lives. Cows serve a particular purpose in the world. They are a more gentle animal from whom we can obtain milk and meat — both for sustenance. Let’s say these are the individuals who love to provide for others. They give of themselves sacrificially because their concern is for the greater good. 

Along comes the bear, one who is big, strong and able to wield a force that can be destructive. It could be the individual that seems loud, overbearing, pushy and walks all over the cows. At the same time, those skills can be put to good use for even today the bear is fighting for survival. That power is used to survive in a difficult world and it ushers in fear and respect from the others in the animal kingdom. 

Just google “cows and bears” and you’ll get all kinds of results that show you the danger in putting these creatures together. Mostly you will discover videos of bears eating cows. 

What if we happen to have cows and bears in our family, in the church, or in our community? Would we mostly discover tales of the bears eating the cows? In other words, are we communities in which the powerful bear eats up the weaker cows? If Isaiah’s prophecy is to be true, then life within the kingdom of God becomes transformational because of the presence of the Prince of Peace. It is the Prince of Peace who takes the bear and transforms all the power and energy and utilizes it for the good of the kingdom. The Prince of Peace removes all fear from the cow, for the cow is now empowered by the presence of Jesus Christ! (Yes — still metaphorically speaking — don’t say Carla is talking about Jesus being a cow!) 

This vision of a new reality with cows and bears grazing together looks like a foretaste of the kingdom of God. The sacrificing and nurturing individual is never harmed by the one with power. Instead they become a beautiful synergistic partnership, recognizing each other’s skills. The cow provides milk for the bear and her cubs. The bear protects the cow and brings leadership. The community becomes healthy by exercising love and patience, embracing the diversity found within the new kingdom.

All of our communities are to be a reflection of the hope to be found in the kingdom of God. The Prince of Peace ushered in a new era with a hope that can be experienced in our lives right now. We are not to be turned off by people who are radically different than we are, but we are to embrace them as people who help to complete us. It may not be easy, but the results will stun the world. Cows and bears are not supposed to get along — but suddenly they do. This is the work of the Holy Spirit alive within those who have accepted the Prince of Peace. This is the kingdom reality and we rejoice when cows and bears learn to graze together. 

Prayer

Lord, in your creative energy you have made us all different, yet in your kingdom vision we are to partner together. Please, fill me with your love for my brother and sister and may we complete one another in a vision of the kingdom. Amen.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Compassionate Love of God


Scripture
Mic. 7:18    Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
19 He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.

Observation

While the people had been terribly rebellious, there was always the promise of forgiveness. If only the people would repent and turn from their evil ways, God would have mercy on them. The prophet Micah extols the gracious and loving nature of God who is willing to forgive , even after the terrible disobedience of God’s people. 

God is exceedingly disappointed in the behavior of the people, but still shows great compassion and a desire to forgive. The prophet reminds them that their iniquities (which have been vile) will be tread under the foot of God. This is good news! And finally, their sins are cast into the depths of the sea, or as some early Church Fathers would say, into the waters of our baptism. In the waters of baptism our sins are left to sink in the water as we are raised up as new creatures. This is the incredible hope for a people who are desperately lost. There is a God of great love and compassion who continues to wait patiently for those who will turn around and run into the arms of the loving and forgiving Father.

Application

The message of the prophet was to be heard on two levels. This was a message for Micah, himself, who was discouraged by all the he saw among the people. There was hope for his preaching and he was to believe that God could truly transform the people. Then, the words spoken were also for the people who needed to repent. The compassionate love of God was available for the transformation of their lives. 

We probably need to hear this on two levels as well. All of us know those who have run from their faith and are living in a way which is not pleasing to God. This is painful for all involved and just as Micah carried a burden for his people, so we are to carry a burden for those who have wandered from the faith. This isn’t easy when they are disobedient and creating pain for many. However, consider the ways in which the people to whom Micah was speaking had been unfaithful. The vile nature of their sin was absolutely overwhelming and yet, God was promising to cast those sins into the depths of the sea. Have faith that God can reach that loved one or friend who has chosen to live in sin and draw them back into God’s holy presence. We always live with the hope of transformation.

If the direction of your life is currently taking you further and further from your relationship with God and you are wondering whether you have reached the place of no return, you need to embrace the compassionate love of God. God has not, and will not ever give up on you. No matter what we have done, God delights in showing clemency. God will cast our sins into the depths of the sea. We can go through the waters of baptism and be made new! This is the incredible hope found in the compassionate love of God who, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor. 13:7)

Don’t give up hope on yourself, or your loved ones. There is a gracious, loving and compassionate God who is constantly reaching out to us in grace and patiently awaiting our response. 

Prayer

Lord, you know the loved ones for whom I pray today. May your gracious presence touch them in a way in which they experience your compassionate love today. May I never give up hope, for you never give up hope. Amen.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Stop Preaching About That!


Scripture
Mic. 2:6    “Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”

Observation

God’s people were living in disobedience and the prophets were struggling with their message. When they preached God’s truth the people rebelled. They didn’t want to hear those words. The official religious leaders didn’t want to stir up the people and so they preached to the prophets, telling them to be quiet because their words were troubling the people. Then, they went on to preach the things that would tickle the ears of the people. 

Application

Preaching God’s truth may sometimes trouble the hearts and souls of listeners. The purpose of preaching is not to entertain or to make the people in the pew happy. One of the early General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene passionately preached on holiness and the crowd threw dead mice at him! 

When preaching begins to make us angry and uncomfortable, it may just be touching a nerve it needs to touch! Instead of becoming angry at the preacher and telling them to “stop preaching about that,” we need to examine our own hearts. God’s people didn’t want to hear that there would be consequences for their behavior. They were determined to believe that “disgrace will not overtake us.” But they were wrong. 

There are consequences that we must face for the ways in which we live our lives. There is fallout from taking drugs that will affect your own body and your ability to provide for yourself and your family. Children will be hurt by divorce, no matter how amicable you believe the situation may be. Your spouse will be wounded by your addiction to porn. The world will suffer when Christians insulate themselves and refuse to become a voice for those on the margins. Premarital sex will have a lasting impact on your marriage. And the list goes on and on…but the voices in the pew say, “stop preaching about that!” We want to hear about a God who loves unconditionally and will accept us no matter what. That is true, but this is a holy Father who sent his son as a living sacrifice so that we wouldn’t have to live trapped in the darkness of sin. The good news is that God does love us unconditionally and accepts us no matter what, so that we can be transformed into sons and daughters who do not have to live in sin. God can heal us from the consequences of sin, but we must stop making excuses. 

We should never try to silence the prophetic voice, but be willing to be molded by God’s correction. 

Prayer

Lord, this day many will stand in your pulpit and preach. May our preachers not be inhibited to speak the truth you have laid on their hearts. Amen.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Examining Our Diet


Scripture
Heb. 5:11   About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

Observation

The author to the Hebrews is concerned that these followers of Christ may not be growing spiritually. Because they have failed to continue in their spiritual development they have become difficult to teach. Their understanding has become dull, without any kind of brightness or shine in desire to become like Christ. 

The chiding continues, for not only were they to have grown spiritually, but they were to have been fed well enough that they would be able to disciple others. This is where the metaphor of feeding begins to take shape and an examination of their diet appears. Just as small children grow, so spiritual children are to grow. An infant’s diet consists only of milk and only after time are they able to handle solid foods. The expectation is for God’s people to be able to eat a regular diet of adult food. It is only when we are fed from solid food for the mature that we are able to clearly discern what is happening in the spiritual realms and can see the difference between good and evil. 

Application

Having little grandchildren in our home has helped me to relive the whole adventure of feeding children. The five month old continues to feed only on milk, although it seems that it is no longer completely satisfying. She awakens during the night hungry and needs more and more to eat. Just this week a few solids have been added to her diet because of her growth needs. If she were to continue to be fed only milk she would not gain enough weight as she grows and could develop something that is medically called, “failure to thrive.” When our diet continues to consist of milk or baby food — we will fail to thrive spiritually. For an infant it means potential death. For a spiritual infant, it can mean death as well.

Our spiritual journey is to be one of continual and on-going growth. We are to push ourselves to move on to more and more solid food. It means that we must challenge ourselves to continually mature in our diet. Our personal time with the Lord ought to include reading and studying things that will challenge us and maybe sometimes make us uncomfortable. If we think that we have everything all figured out, just spend more time with Jesus and he will push our boundaries and make us think about things in new and different ways that will force us to ask questions. 

There is nothing wrong with asking questions! Our other granddaughter will be two this coming week. She knows how to ask questions and her diet is much different from that of her little sister. Her parents are very careful about the food their children eat and this child eats fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheeses and meats. She is a very healthy eater and when grandma slipped her a chocolate covered cherry without thinking, she looked at me and asked, “what is it?” A good question because this was not something her parents would have given her. Even at nearly two years of age, she has become much more mature than her baby sister and is discerning about what she puts into her mouth. She’s learned to ask an important question, “what is it?” That’s what happens when we move on to maturity. We become discerning regarding what is good and/or healthy and what is not. Therefore when we are handed something that just doesn’t seem right we immediately ask,”what is it?” “Is this really something that I should be devouring?” No longer are we simply fed as an infant, eating whatever our parents hand us, but we begin to ask questions.

Maybe it’s time to examine our diet and see what we are consuming. If we have failed to move on to more mature things spiritually then we may be suffering from “failure to thrive.” The majority of Christianity finds itself in that very place. They are fed by the food of going to church on an irregular basis and after years become weak and tired and fall away from the faith. According to Barna’s research, very few are willing to go deeper. Only infants would expect to be fed spiritually by others. When we expect the church to spoon feed us spiritually we are not growing to the place where we need to be. We must learn to feed ourselves and grow into spiritual maturity, and then we will be able to teach others. 

Prayer

Lord, please help me not to become complacent with my spiritual diet, but to be fed daily by you. Fill and stretch my mind to the limits of my understanding so that I may be used by you. Amen.