Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Rev. 4:1 After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!
This metaphor of an open door is used repeatedly throughout the book of Revelation. We see the open door before the church in Philadelphia, a door open to the kingdom of God. Then we also read about Jesus who is standing at the door and knocking, waiting for a door to be opened so that there can be eternal fellowship. Now, we are brought to a new door, one which opens up into heaven. Each open door provides us with a fuller understanding of who Christ is and of the salvation that is made possible through him.
This new vision takes us from earth to heaven, from the current realities of our faith to the eternal promises. Jesus becomes for us THE door, THE gateway to the visions and realities of heaven. The church is to be a reflection of the kingdom of God here on earth, a small glimpse of heaven to the world around us. Now, as John is ushered into the throne room he sees what is possible through the working of the Holy Spirit. The church is the habitation of God on earth, with the sanctuary being the very place where we come into God’s holy presence to worship.
Jesus has opened this new door, and it is the reality of the kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.
I’m not sure that we take the reality of the church serious enough. It’s all become quite casual and, for many, an optional activity on a Sunday. But the church is far greater than this and there is a depth which I believe we have taken for granted. The Church is the bride of Christ and is the way in which God has chosen to be present in this world. With all of her warts, bumps and bruises, the church remains God’s way of interacting with the world.
We are in the midst of a major natural catastrophe in the United States and people are looking to the church and her response. While the world has seemed calloused toward the church, when there is a crisis, people expect the church to show up! As someone recently told me about a disaster response, there weren’t any people running around in “Atheist” team t-shirts, or vans! Nearly everyone there was from a little church somewhere and they had come out in droves to help. Yes! The church does still respond in self-sacrificial ways to the needs of the world around us. This is a little reflection of heaven on earth.
Another concern is the way in which we may not take the worship service all that seriously. Or, when we have traded worship of God into consumer attraction which suddenly makes worship about us. In the throne room of heaven there is one focal point, and that is, God on the throne. The center of our worship must be God. The reason we show up on Sunday is because we want to worship God and reflect what is happening in heaven here on earth.
Jesus is opening another door for us which leads us to a deeper walk. The kingdom of heaven is now here on this earth and we are asked to participate in all the this means. The vision of John is pointing the way for all God’s people to follow the open doors of the kingdom to a place of total and complete submission to the will of the Father. There, in the Spirit, we are overcome by the holiness of God, and our desire is to always walk through God’s open doors.
Lord, please give me the courage to faithfully walk through the open doors you provide. Amen.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Rev. 3:8 “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
The church in Philadelphia had been faithful in their service to God. They did struggle with opposition from the Jews within their community, but these words came as a sweet promise from the Lord. This wasn’t about evangelistic opportunities, but about the certainties of the kingdom of God. This work of the church was God’s work and the doors would remain open to the church, and no one would shut them. The people themselves in this small church in a small town didn’t have much power, but they were faithful, and as a result they were participants in the larger kingdom of God. The kingdom door was open!
I remember visiting the seven churches to whom John had written in this book. When we arrived in Philadelphia I was a little disappointed at what I saw for there were just a few ruins left to identify where this church had stood. It seemed sad, considering this admonition, that the open doors would be before this church. But considering the words of promise here, the church really wasn’t closed. The church can be seen as a local expression, but also of something much larger. The church is organic and because she is comprised of people, she can move from place to place, and remain alive.
Jesus had told Peter that he, Jesus, would build the church. Far too often we think that we are responsible for building the church and when things become difficult we pour guilt upon ourselves for we think that we have failed. I don’t believe that the church in Philadelphia failed because today there are churches all over the world. I believe that the church in Philadelphia served the purpose for which she was created. We know that there were demographic shifts and changes which occurred, wars, natural disasters and the like. The building and the first century congregation are no longer there, but the promise of God is alive and well, for the doors have never closed on the church. The church of Philadelphia will have raised up new generations who will have spread throughout the world and made a difference.
From time to time we have to shut the doors on a physical church building, but we are not closing the door on the church. The church is much larger than all of us and is not ours to open or to close. The church was birthed on the day of Pentecost and continues to live until this day. This is more than just what we can see or touch. An open door remains before all of us as the kingdom continues to expand. We don’t have to live in fear, but in faith and trust that no one can shut the door, and we don’t need to be thinking of ways to keep it propped open! That’s the Lord’s work, for we are people of little power. We must get to know the one who has great power and can lead us in the ways of the kingdom.
Lord, thank you for the promise of the open door. Amen.
Monday, August 28, 2017
Rev. 2:19 “I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first. 20 But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22 Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; 25 only hold fast to what you have until I come. 26 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
This church in Thyatira has been one in which God has been at work and the people have been faithful, but now, something has gone wrong. The church has allowed someone, whom the author has named “Jezebel” to influence them in the wrong direction. The name refers to the wicked queen of the Old Testament who encouraged her people to worship idols. In Thyatira there were many guilds of skilled laborers and each had their own god whom they worshipped and around whom their societal activities were formed. Evidently this Jezebel was encouraging the church members to keep one foot in the church and the other in their secular guild. This resulted in divided loyalties and infidelity when it came to God. Her fornication is spiritual because she gives herself to God, but then also gives herself in worship to the gods of the world.
Jezebel’s activity was not just her own, but she led many down a path of destruction. These were her spiritual children, those whom she was leading astray, and the church was struggling. They were known for their “love, faith, service and patient endurance” and great works. In other words the church looked awesome from the outside, but on the inside she was being eaten away by keeping one foot in the church and the other in the world. Jezebel was temping the people away from sound doctrine and leading them to other voices, making them believe that they could have it both ways.
The warning was for all followers of Jesus Christ. There can be no divided loyalties and any doctrine that waters down the gospel of Jesus Christ will be under threat of destruction for they will have been playing with the “deep things of Satan." Hold onto what you have learned and live in complete and total service to God.
There continue to be Jezebels of our day, those voices telling us that it is okay to dip our toes into the pool of the world because we won’t drown. When we no longer take the time to study the scriptures and spend time in prayer we will be tempted by the words of others who will draw us away into a life of complacency and toying with the things of the world will be encouraged. Somehow we believe that we can get as close to the world, participating in as many worldly activities as possible, and not be hurt spiritually. We refuse to listen to sound doctrine and we explain away our actions.
The call for God’s people is to a life of holiness; one that reflects Christ in all that we do. We know when we are trying to have it both ways because it’s reflected in all that we do.We may not be concerned about food offered to idols, but are we participating in practices that could be dangerous to ourselves and to others? What about drinking, smoking pot, pornography, premarital sex, co-habitation, etc. I see all of these in the church and often nothing is said because we have become comfortable with the guilds of the world. We want to fit in and be a part of what surrounds us — and yet, we still want to come to church a few Sundays a month, and assume we are regular attenders.
The admonition to the church in Thyatira is to hold firm. We, too, are to hold firm to sound doctrine, to the things that we have been taught, and not be tempted by the words of Jezebel. The reality is that you can’t have it all. There is sacrifice when it comes to following Jesus Christ. Self-discipline is involved in living the holy life and these truths are not to be watered down. This is not to be seen in a legalistic sense, but in the sense that we must all continually seek the face of God, and take this Christian walk very seriously. Therefore, hold firm and keep straining forward, getting to know Christ in all things.
Lord, please close my ears to the words of temptation, and help me to keep following you. Amen.
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Jer. 52:1 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 2 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done. 3 Indeed, Jerusalem and Judah so angered the Lord that he expelled them from his presence.
Hamutal was a woman of influence. Two of her sons became kings in Jerusalem. Her father bore the same name as the great prophet Jeremiah, a reference to the worship of Yahweh. Her husband was Josiah, the king who had tried to return the people of God to true worship. He had been a man of great reform and change, but what happened to his offspring? Why were his sons so wicked that they dragged the people of Jerusalem to such a state of apostasy that they were led off into exile? The king’s mother is mentioned by name so that it is clear where this son has come from. This mother obviously had influence, but it seems to not to have been for the good.
Even king Josiah fell to the temptation of having many wives. The result was an inability to have great influence on his children. He allowed each wife to bring up her children, and having so many families, his ethos was not instilled in his little ones. The mothers were the ones of influence who taught their children about life. Having many wives meant that there were power struggles within the family. Whose son would get to be king? One can only imagine that there was much jealousy and conniving on the part of the women in the household. Therefore, while Josiah was struggling for massive reform on the part of his kingdom, somehow, it seems, that reform never made its way into his own home.
The fighting and jealousy within the household had to have a negative effect on the children. Sadly, these were the ones who were being raised to run the country! Instead of learning about God, they were learning the ways of power and struggle within the household. A mother has incredible influence upon the future of her children by the way in which life is lived in the home. Indeed, all parents have a place of influence on their children.
Serving God faithfully and modeling a godly home and life is not a guarantee of children who will be followers of Christ. At the same time, one never knows how deep the influence will be felt, and just when that influence will nudge one in the right direction. We also know that the influence in the home can set one in a very negative direction. This seemed to be the case with Hamutal’s children. One wonders what the world may have been like, had she helped her sons absorb the changes that her husband was bringing to the country. Had her sons chosen to follow the path of their father, things may have been radically different for the entire nation.
All we can do is speculate about the way in which Hamutal raised her sons, but the results were disastrous for many. We all have influence in this world. That influence can be used for the sake of the kingdom, or for the sake of the self. Use the power which you have been given for the sake of good. Any other use becomes abuse and can result in much pain.
Lord, please help me to recognize the power that so often I fail to recognize I have and may it be used for your sake. Amen.
Friday, August 25, 2017
2John 12 Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
While there was a time and place for letters, there was also a particular space for face to face conversation. The emotional connection expected in that face to face conversation can be noted from the comment, “so that our joy may be complete.” Closing the gap on distance makes a difference in the reality of a relationship.
Many of the writers in the Bible would talk about “seeking the face of God.” You could almost hear in their words a straining to be in a face to face relationship with God. This was a desire for a face to face conversation and in this place, joy would be made complete. We are also to this desire for a face to face relationship with God. Straining ever onward to higher planes of a relationship, we seek the face of God because we know that in that moment of face to face communication, our joy will be made complete. The closer that we are to God, the more that the reflection of God incarnate, Jesus, is made clear in our lives. The very nature of God becomes purely reflected in and through us because of our face to face conversations with God.
Far too much conversation is occurring these days in social media. Instead of face to face conversations with our brothers and sisters, we spend time talking at one another through media. The result is that it becomes far too easy to insult others and make harsh comments without thinking about the consequences. We say things on social media that we would never say in a face to face conversation with another person. Somehow just writing things takes away the relational aspect, and this is hurting us. We need to take these words to heart and go have some face to face conversations with people.
When we are face to face with God, we are transformed. When we are face to face with others, we will also be transformed because we will begin to know them and understand their heart and motivation. This is just the same for God for the more face time we spend with God, the more that we will get to know God’s heart and the things that break the heart of God, will break my heart. When we spend time in face to face conversation with others we will discover that it is much more difficult to be critical, and much easier to be empathetic.
It is in the personal relationship that joy comes to fulfillment or fruition. Taking time out to be face to face with God and others will open up channels for God’s grace to flow through us and to others. This is a place for great joy!
Lord, please help me to take the time for those face to face relationships that are transforming. Amen.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
1John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
The sense of God’s overwhelming love is found in this passage of scripture. The love expressed seems almost incomprehensible in its depths. This all-consuming love is poured out from the Father and overflows on those who are his children.
This love is not a simple love, but a healing, reconciling, outward reaching, self-sacrificial love which is revealed in Jesus. Everything that Jesus did was out of pure love that would create a pathway for us to be in a relationship with God. The reality of that relationship is reflected in the ways in which we love others. Love is made perfect, or brought to its ultimate purpose or goal, in the ways in which we love one another. God loves us, therefore we must love others. When we love others, the world sees God in action. This is love made perfect.
We will all find people in this world that are difficult to love. Some will hurt us, and others will disappoint. But is there anything that anyone has done that matches up to what humanity has done to God? Even when we are at our best, we are not qualified to be in God’s presence, and yet, God, in love, sent Jesus to pour out his life for us. When we have experienced the forgiveness and love of Jesus, we are to do the same with and for others.
Forgiveness is a tricky thing because we would like to convince ourselves that we have the right to be unforgiving. We have been hurt, offended, and no longer desire for our pain to continue. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you have to stay in an abusive situation, but for there to be healing in our own hearts and souls, we must be able to let go and forgive.
If we really began to examine the relationships in our lives we just might discover that there are some places where we have refused to seek forgiveness. If God’s love is to be brought to completion in us, then we must allow ourselves to become channels of that love. Pain, hurt, anger, and frustration will all become obstacles to the flow of God’s love that will bring healing to our lives and transform the lives of others. That is the beauty of God’s love being made perfect through us. As we become channels of God’s love, we ourselves, become whole. The perfection or completion of love brings about healing so that we can become perfectly human, which is to be in God’s image. That perfect love then radiates outward, bringing a holy warmth along the encounters of our lives.
Lord, in gratitude for holy, healing love, I give you my heart. Please, use me for your kingdom’s sake. Amen.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
1John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
The light of God shines eternally and into every nook and cranny of our lives and the world. God is light.
As I was laying in bed this morning I was able to watch the sun rise over the mountains. The morning dawned with beautiful rays of red, blue and gold as the sky began to welcome in the newness of this resurrection day. In just a few short moments we went from darkness to light and the whole world was transformed. There is something about the light which draws us out of the shadows and into the beauty of God reflected in creation.
Tomorrow there will be a solar eclipse where, for a couple of minutes, the sun will be turned to darkness in the middle of the day. Many people are anticipating this experience and wondering what it will be like to watch the sun turn from pure light into dark during daytime hours. Of course there is much speculation as to what may happen here on earth during that time and there are people planning all kinds of odd rituals. It seems that the idea of darkness brings out strange behaviors, in comparison to the light which brings transformation. In the pure light we see everything differently, for there is no longer anything that can be hidden.
Isn’t that the point, that in God’s pure light, nothing can be hidden. We can’t hide from our sin or our past. We can’t hide from our bad attitudes or our lack of love. In the pure light of God’s holy love, everything is revealed. And God is pure light where there is no darkness.
We are called to walk as children of light, leaving the shadows of darkness behind. In the pure light of God’s holy love the pathway is illuminated and we can be led by the loving hand of God. Pure light draws toward our holy and loving heavenly Father. Called to purity, we step into the light and allow the rays to shine into the hidden recesses of our lives, and give the light space to transform those hidden recesses. We then walk together with God as children of the light.
Lord, thank you for the beauty of a new day in which we can celebrate your beautiful creation. The light has dawned on all that you have made, reminding me of the pathway which you have illuminated for my life and the days ahead. Please, help me to continually walk in your light. Amen.
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Jer. 36:20 Leaving the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, they went to the court of the king; and they reported all the words to the king. 21 Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary; and Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22 Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. 24 Yet neither the king, nor any of his servants who heard all these words, was alarmed, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. 26 And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son and Seraiah son of Azriel and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest the secretary Baruch and the prophet Jeremiah. But the Lord hid them.
The king has complete disregard for the words of God. Instead of responding in humility as his father had done, he lived into arrogance. Not even a healthy fear of God touched his soul and in his arrogance he took the words, cut them into pieces and little by little watched them burn in his fireplace. Not having the patience to listen to the entire message, he cut it up as it was read. Maybe there was a touch of fear and this was his response, hoping to destroy any power which may have been associated with the words.
The king was unwilling to be told that he had done anything wrong. He hated the messengers, Baruch and Jeremiah, for bringing him these truths and would likely have been willing to burn them as well, had they been near. He dug in his heels and determined that he would never listen to a warning given by God. He thought he could defeat God by burning the scroll, and that he had kept this word from being passed beyond his office. But he was wrong. In his stubbornness and arrogance he secured the destruction of his own people.
A spirit that is unwilling to listen to the voice of God will eventually follow a path to destruction. God uses many means as a way to communicate truth to all of us. We must be willing to listen to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives and be obedient. If we refuse, we will suffer dire consequences for ourselves and those around us.
Different means are used by God to get our attention. Today it may be someone that we meet in a store, or at a gathering, or family member that wants to speak a bit of truth into our lives. We must approach life with a tender and childlike, teachable spirit. We never have enough knowledge, experience, or position to keep us from a place of learning truth from God. It’s far too easy to get caught up with life and become comfortable with the experiences of our past, rather than be stretched by God.
Being challenged to learn and grow spiritually is a humbling experience. We discover that we don’t have all the answers and that God is asking us to pour out ourselves in humble service to others. There is no room for arrogance or pride in the life of the follower of Jesus Christ. His truths are not to be burned and forgotten, but to be consumed as sustenance for our very souls, bringing to life the transforming work of God’s Holy Spirit.
An attitude of humble obedience is the opposite of arrogant defiance. The latter will lead to destruction, the former is life-giving and sustaining. There is no reason to allow arrogance to eat away at the hope and future that God has for us and those whom we serve.
Lord, I open my heart and life to you. Please, continue to teach me and help me to have a willing heart and spirit. Amen.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
Jesus was an innocent man and Pilate was pretty sure of this. He knew the right thing to do and when he stood on the brink of making the best decision, he faltered. He tried asking questions but he really didn’t want to hear the answers. This was no real investigation and therefore Jesus kept quiet. It was all a facade to try and keep all of his constituents happy. Instead of doing the right thing he put his finger to the wind and made a decision.
The Jewish leaders knew exactly how to taunt Pilate, and that was by threatening his power. He was a representative of the Emperor and if he sided with Jesus, he would be no friend of the Emperor. Weighing his options, he decided it was better to stand against the Almighty God and put in his lot with Caesar.
Writing in the 6th century, Romans Melodus wrote this hymn about the incident:
“Crucify!” the murderer
heard the impious crying out,
And their will he fulfilled,
Handing over, without being compelled to,
The One whom he planned to have crucified.
For having heard that he would be an enemy of
The coward was frightened.
He would rather be the enemy of the Almighty
Than the enemy of Caesar,
Preferring his life over the Life.
Therefore he will certainly not escape blame,
Since, because of the lawless,
He killed the Living One. (Kontakion on the Passion of Christ 36.16)
Pilate chose to be the Emperor’s friend, “preferring his life over the Life” and he lives with the eternal consequences.
Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God which meant that there were two colliding empires. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world continue to be at odds with one another, and we have a choice as to whether we will be friends of the Emperor, or loyal to our new citizenship in God’s kingdom.
Pilate lived in fear of what others thought about him. While we might like to believe that we are idealistic, we too live with the temptation to respond in ways in which others will think more favorably of us. Let’s be honest, we try to keep the peace and not step on other peoples’ toes, but sometimes we need to step on some toes. For Pilate, choosing to appease Caesar meant standing against God.
We are citizens of the kingdom and our calling is to follow Jesus Christ and therefore find ourselves in the same places where Jesus would be. Jesus never found power through political means, nor through appeasing those who held authority. Instead, Jesus challenged the authority figures of the day and made them feel uncomfortable. Jesus went to the margins and aligned himself with those who were being mistreated and spoke words of truth to those who were doing the mistreating. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:27)
There is no place for injustice within the kingdom of God. Injustice is the result of a misalignment and misuse of power. Paul reminded us that in the kingdom barriers have been destroyed and “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) If any brother or sister is not being treated as an equal citizen in God’s kingdom, then we are playing friendly to the Emperor.
For Pilate to choose God, meant he could not choose Caesar. We are not to be a friend to the Emperor, but we are called to be faithful citizens of God’s kingdom, which may challenge us to openly shift our loyalties and live with the consequences.
Lord, please help me to have the courage to faithfully live as a citizen of your kingdom every day. Amen.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Jer. 17:1 The sin of Judah is written with an iron pen; with a diamond point it is engraved on the tablet of their hearts, and on the horns of their altars, 2 while their children remember their altars and their sacred poles, beside every green tree, and on the high hills, 3 on the mountains in the open country.
The ten commandments had been inscribed by the finger of God on stone tablets. This is where the law resided and yet, the prophets had foretold that eventually the law would be written upon the hearts of God’s people. Sadly, the law was not engraved upon their hearts, but rather, their sins.
With no regard for God, they proudly offered their sacrifices to other gods. The law of God was replaced in their hearts with the engraving of their own sin. So bold was the sin that it was engraved with a diamond point on the tablet of their hearts.
The altars became engraved with their sins as they continued to live contrary to the laws of God. Sacrifices had to be made over and over again until their sins had permanently stained the altars as a reminder of their wickedness. Atonement was becoming impossible.
That which became engraved on the heart became visible in the actions of the people. They seemed to take pride in their sin, wearing the effects on the clothing of their very lives.
Who would ever have imagined that the people of God would become so consumed with their own sinful way of life that they would be willing to suffer the consequences? Sadly, this is just what happened to the Israelites as they dug in their heels and with great pride continued to live in their sin.
We have the beautiful privilege of living in a time when the Holy Spirit can write the laws of God on our hearts. Instead of being led and directed by sin, we can enjoy beautiful fellowship with our holy God which leads us to a fulfillment of the law of God within our hearts and lives. Unfortunately, we become tempted and can be drawn in a direction where we become so accustomed to sin that we begin to take pride in all the bad things that we can do. In contrast to those who may be living for Christ, we choose to go a different direction and flaunt our new-found “freedom” around those “church goers” until our ears are finally closed to any kind of rational conversation. Our pride and our sin take us far from the path of life which God has already prepared for us.
God’s people eventually turned a deaf ear to the prophets. They refused to listen to the voice of God and chose to go their own way.When we begin to believe that we are smarter than everyone else around us we will be led astray by a false sense of importance. This is all the deception of the evil one! The result is jealousy, anger, revenge and a destruction of interpersonal relationships. People who used to be friends and serve God together in the church instead pick on one another, magnifying every personal flaw, putting them on display for all the world to see. In arrogance we righteously declare our right to highlight the problems in others and thus we take a self-righteous pride in our sin for we refuse to acknowledge it is sin and live in the deception that we are actually helping to weed out a problem. In the meantime our sins become etched on our hearts.
Why would any of us want to have our sins indelibly written on our hearts and influencing our actions? I really can’t imagine but far too many are headed in that direction. Our behaviors are directed by that which is written on our hearts. No matter how hard we try to “fake it,” eventually the truth will come out because, when push comes to shove, we will respond from our heart.
Jesus paid the price so that the motivation for sin could be removed. The etchings of a diamond point can be erased by the holy love of God. The result is a change in behavior that bubbles out and touches a very desperate world, and there is no longer any pride in a life of sin.
Lord, may the diamond point of your Holy Spirit’s presence in my life continue to work in and through me. Amen.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
Jesus is acknowledging that there is no place for hatred within the kingdom of God. The revelation of God’s transforming work in the life of a believer will be the way in which they love others. Jesus’ self-sacrificial love provides new life and transformation for all who come to him. This kind of love, a love that dies on a cross for sinners, is the kind of love that is to be seen in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. The gospel writer wants us to recognize that the great love that will be expressed in the life of Christ will be his death for you and me.
Then we see that there is an invitation into friendship. Jesus loves us, and calls us friends. We aren’t slaves or servants, but we are those who have free access to the king of all creation. Jesus has been completely transparent with his followers and invites them into a relationship where he continues to share with them his passion for the lost and his desire that they participate in his mission. Love for Jesus will be revealed in the ways in which we love others.
There was no selective love in the command from Jesus Christ. We don’t have the option of choosing to love some and not others. The overwhelming nature of holy love found in the Trinity overflows into the lives of those who are in fellowship with God. We love the world as God loves us as a result of the overflow of God’s love. If we are not loving others, then we cannot be in love with Jesus Christ, it's that simple.
If we find ourselves struggling to love someone, it says more about us than it does about them. There will always be people in this world who will be different from us and who will annoy us in one way or another. Jesus never said it was easy to love others. I’m guessing the disciples had plenty of opportunity to drive him a bit crazy, but Jesus never gave up, even when betrayed by them. We have a choice when we struggle to love those who may be unlovable. We may choose to be critical and provide ourselves with all the excuses possible for disregarding this individual, or we can begin to ask God to search out the deepest recesses of our hearts so that they can be filled with holy love. There may be something about a particular individual that is annoying and irritating, but what we fail to see is that we allow their characteristics to become barriers to the flow of God’s love in our own lives. We are the ones who will suffer from the loss of God’s presence.
At the same time we examine ourselves to see whether it is simply our own prejudices that are creating barriers toward others. Far too often throughout history people have simply hated others for the sake of hatred. Or, people have refused to love others because of their own woundedness. Loving and embracing others is a humbling experience, one in which we intentionally consider the needs of others over our own. We may be trying to create a protective barrier, becoming critical of others in an effort to built up ourselves. It never works out all that well and the one who suffers is you.
There is no place for hatred or prejudice among God’s people. When we try to rationalize our inexcusable behaviors, we are not responding as the children of God. Considering the behavior of God’s people through the ages, there was no logical reason for Jesus to lay down his life, but he did. When we stand and sing, “I am a friend of God” may we remember that there is an expected response to that friendship that is revealed in love for others.
Lord, help me to love as you love. Shine your light on the dark corners of my heart that need to be filled with your love and may that love overflow to those who may be difficult to love. Amen.
Friday, August 11, 2017
Jer. 7:5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.
The unfaithful Israelites had broken the heart of God. Now, the prophet Jeremiah wept over what he saw among his people. With great courage he stood in the entry to the temple and preached this sermon. It was a real challenge to the religious leaders who had allowed the people of God to stray.
The call is to repentance. The people have not been following God’s commands and they are having to live with the consequences. Jeremiah recognizes that the people are headed toward destruction but repentance provides a pathway to restoration.
Restoration comes from repentance, not only of the heart, but in action. The reality is that the motivations of the heart are revealed by our actions. The motivations of the heart had resulted in injustice on the part of the Israelites. The call to repentance required a reinstitution of justice in the way that the Israelites treated others. This was the mark of their fidelity toward God. Love for God was to be revealed in love toward the other. The aliens, or immigrants among them were not to be oppressed. Instead they were to be treated with loving respect. God had always intended the Israelites to be an evangelistic people and this would be revealed in the way in which they treated those who were not a part of their original community. If they loved and cared for them justly, they would become a part of God’s community.
Our global community is made up of those on the move. People constantly move in and out of contact with the church, but the call to justice for the alien within the kingdom of God remains the same as it was in Jeremiah’s day. If the church is to be an evangelistic people, she must learn to love those who come to us from different lands. As people migrate because of geo-political issues, we must remember that we are to welcome the stranger. They may be the evangelistic future for the kingdom.
Jeremiah knew that the orphans within the community needed to be loved and accepted. Far too many people died early in life leaving numerous children without a support system. When society may have abandoned these children, God’s people were to lovingly care for them as if they were members of their own family. Whether orphans or children in a foster system, they were not to be second-class citizens in God’s kingdom.
The widows were at the mercy of those around them, especially if they were left without children to care for them. This was part of the network of society which was intended to bring strength and structure. Justice demanded that those without financial means were to be cared for by those who had resources.
The blood of the innocent was never to be shed. Far too often the weak or the innocent became scapegoats for the powerful. It became easier to blame someone else for troubles rather than take responsibility and the innocent suffered. Repentance required God’s justice when it came to dealing with those who had no voice. The powerful were to use their influence to speak up for those who could say nothing. The innocent were to be defended.
Finally the Israelites were to act justly toward God. No longer were they to seek out foreign gods and give themselves in worship to them. They were hurting themselves by this behavior. Their infidelity to Yahweh had horrible consequences, not because God was vindictive, but because they intentionally removed themselves from God’s sheltered protection.
The “If -Then” statement of repentance ends with the promise of God. If the people will repent of their ways and doings, then God will dwell with them in the land that they had been promised. They were on the precipice of losing everything, but there was still hope. Filled with love for God, Jeremiah bore the burden of calling his people to repentance. At the risk of his own life, he chose to be faithful and the call to repentance and justice rang out among the people.
The “If-Then” statement continues to be valid and true. If the church and her members are not remaining faithful to God in all things, then repentance and justice in action is demanded toward those who are desperately in need. This is the requirement of repentance.
Lord, may the voice of Jeremiah carry through the ages and speak to us today. May we live in faithful obedience to your commands, repent and turn from ways which may lead to injustice. Open my eyes to see the places in which I have not been faithful. Amen.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
A New Perspective on Martha
John 11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus[d] had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles[e] away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[f] Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[g] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Mary has always been portrayed as the spiritual individual and Martha as the one who was too busy working to pay attention to Jesus. This visit we get a different view of Martha who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Jesus. She has been waiting for days for him to come because her brother was so ill. Sadly, her brother dies while they await Jesus and now the sisters are struggling in their grief. Each responds to grief in their own way and we can imagine that Mary is so consumed that she can't even come to meet Jesus. Instead, it's Martha who runs out to meet with Jesus along the road. It is in this place that they have a very interesting conversation.
The faith of Martha is revealed in this dialogue. She doesn't sound like a grief-stricken sister, but rather someone who is filled with faith in Jesus. She believes that Jesus could have healed her brother. Martha had seen Jesus perform many miracles and she believed that healing Lazarus would have been easy work for Jesus. What we begin to see is that Jesus trusted her faith enough to test her through a very painful journey.
This wasn't about the death of a man, Lazarus, but about an understanding of the resurrection which would reveal Jesus as the Messiah. This was to be an illustration of what Jesus was attempting to teach all of his disciples. He had power over sin and death, not just temporally, but eternally. Amazingly, it's Martha who grasps this concept and articulates her faith in Jesus and declares him to be the Messiah, "the Son of God, the one coming into the world." She joins the ranks of only a few others, like Peter, who are able to verbalize their understanding of who Jesus really is, and the gospel writer uses her faith to solidify that of others.
Why is it that this story of Martha is often lost on us and we focus most of our attention on the first encounter where she is busy working in the kitchen? For far too much of history we have talked about people being a Mary or a Martha, with the focus on Martha being negative. We want to be with Mary, found at the feet of Jesus, soaking in the good news.
But maybe we should all want to be like Martha! What we learn is that Martha has a lot of skills and abilities but she is also very teachable. When she runs out to meet Jesus on the road she is driven by her love and faith. If she were still living in the past she would have been at home, worried about the food that needed to be organized and prepared for those coming to their home. She has been willing to relinquish that responsibility to others and she is focused on relationships. Love of God and love of others has already consumed Martha and now she is a different person.
The declaration of Christ as the Messiah would have had much more power had it come from some important official. Why in the world would Jesus choose Martha -- a woman with a reputation for being caught up in being busy? Because no one else would have chosen Martha! That's the beauty of the way in which Jesus reveals the work of the kingdom of God. It is the power of God which transforms and uses the least of these for the kingdom's sake. As a result, God is glorified.
The entire incident with Martha, Mary and Lazarus is used to glorify God and to reveal the power of the Messiah over death. Jesus knew that he could trust Martha to be faithful, even in the midst of horribly difficult circumstances. Instead of responding in anger, her faith was deepened and Jesus was lifted up. Can God trust us with difficult situations? Sometimes we have to go through very deep water, surviving in blind faith, to reach the other side.
Martha had no idea that Jesus would raise her brother from the dead. The depth of her grief touched the heart of Jesus and he wept. He hurt because she and her sister were hurting. But they loved him enough to trust him.
Let's not focus on the original Martha, but the Martha that she became. Transformed by the power of God, Martha became one of the very first disciples to declare that Jesus was the Messiah. This historical moment is often forgotten because we have allowed the narrative of who she was to overshadow who she became. We need to be willing to set aside our natural inclinations of who people are, and celebrate them for who they have become in Christ. Maybe this is a new perspective on Martha that should set us free to have a new perspective on all of those who are touched by Jesus.
Lord, thank you for the honesty of a woman who was willing to trust you in the midst of great pain and difficulty. Please, help me to live faithfully in your kingdom, seeing others with your eyes and celebrating what you may want to accomplish. In the midst of it all, may you be glorified! Amen.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Jer. 2:4 Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5 Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
6 They did not say, “Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?”
7 I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
8 The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
The Lord speaks to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. It is in this passage that the emotion of a God in pain is heard. So great is the love the Father has for all of his children, and the desire to care for his children so deep that even God struggles to comprehend why they have turned their back on him. The passage is one of a wounded loving Father who tries to recount for his children all the good that he has done for they refuse to do so. The leaders, the elders and the priests refuse to repeat the stories of God’s faithfulness and the Father who dearly loves his children is left alone, wounded, and wondering why the children have deserted him.
Thinking of God in vulnerable terms may make us uncomfortable and yet, our heavenly Father loves us enough to share his emotions. We were created in the image of God and when we begin to see the depth of love and emotion which pours from the heart of God we realize that we may have just begun to scratch the surface of this relationship. God loves us more than we can imagine and desperately wants to be in a face to face relationship with us. God delights in spending time with us! God wants to care for our needs and walk every step of this journey of life with us.
God has never forced a relationship, but has always tried to lovingly point the way toward holy fellowship. We wound God when we turn our backs and choose to be satisfied by the things of this world. What is it that fills our time and space? The things that we allow to consume our lives become our gods. The responsibility for shaping the community of faith lies on the shoulders of the three groups of people listed. The leaders of the Israelites had a responsibility to tell the story of God and deliverance among their people. It was their job to keep the vision and mission of the people of God alive. They were to continually share about God’s faithfulness and never let the people forget their roots and to whom they were to be grateful. When the leaders stopped telling the story they allowed the vision of other nations to become their vision and they allowed Yahweh to take second place to the gods of other nations.
The elders no longer passed on the faith to the next generation. God had instructed the Israelites to teach their children in the home about their faith. The good news was to be written on their doorposts and a part of family conversation on a daily basis. They were to talk about the stories of God as they walked and went about their daily business. It is our responsibility to talk about God and God’s faithfulness to our families. Most of us have family lore about God’s intervention that can be shared with the next generation. We need to take the time to sit around the family dinner table and share the stories of God. (Research shows that we must take time to sit around the table and talk for this is where formation occurs) When the lives of children are filled from morning to night with media they don’t get to hear the voice of the elders sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness and God is wounded.
Finally the religious leaders were to have continued sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness. We used to have the old testimony services where people shared about the ways in which God answered prayer. What has happened to those times? Maybe we have become too uncomfortable sharing these truths with the church family but in the meantime we may be wounding God. The people forgot about God because in their religious practices they stopped telling the stories and testifying to God’s faithfulness.
Yes, God can be wounded for God loves us deeply. Loving God means we intentionally share the stories and vision of God’s faithfulness in the past so that those in the present will not turn away from the faith. Our wounded God in Jesus Christ bears the marks of suffering so that we will return and remain in a holy relationship with our loving Father.
Lord, please help me to be a faithful witness to your love. Amen.