Tuesday, October 31, 2017
1Tim. 4:6 If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, 8 for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Over and over Timothy is encouraged to be a good teacher. Discipleship training was an important feature of the early church and there were great concerns over false teaching. The only way this could be overcome was by on-going, correct teaching about the faith. This meant that Timothy himself had to be trained so that he could pass on his faith. He had to be disciplined in his own theological education so that he could educate others.
The discipline of a good servant was to avoid the “old wives’ tales” that were being spread regarding faith. He was to exercise self-discipline in terms of his physical body, but never at the expense of his spiritual life. Spiritual growth and development was to be something worth working for. It was not something that would just magically happen in the life of this servant of God, but it would require time and effort for his own development. Then, and only then, would he be able to invest in the lives of others.
Spiritual discipline takes time and effort and that doesn’t always make us comfortable. Getting to know Christ has to become a priority in all that we do. The strength of our witness is dependent upon our nearness to Christ. The discipline of our faith will take us into greater knowledge and understanding of our Lord. That knowledge will spill over and fill the lives of others.
Taking the time to teach others is vitally important to their spiritual development. Sometimes we overlook the need for intentional discipleship and allow those who are new in the faith struggle to develop on their own. That is just as crazy as expecting a newborn to grow without help. It’s called “failure to thrive” when a child struggles in their development. That’s probably language we ought to use in diagnosing the discipleship of new believers. If we are not feeding them and teaching them to ultimately feed themselves, they will fail to thrive.
Teaching is a necessary responsibility of ministers and lay leaders who have grown and developed in the Lord. We must pass on that which we have come to know.
Lord, may wisdom and knowledge of you fill my life to overflowing. Amen.
Monday, October 30, 2017
1 Timothy 4:4-5
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.
False teachers were preaching a very strict asceticism for Christ followers. The problem was that they were embracing Gnosticism, and separating the world into two realms, the spiritual and the physical. Over and again there is the affirmation that just as Jesus came in the flesh, sanctifying all of humanity, so we are to live in the flesh as sanctified followers of Christ. The Gnostics saw physical creation as evil, and therefore to be avoided.
This teaching was not to infiltrate the church, but it had. Now the affirmation was to embrace the beauty of things that God had created. This included sexual relations in marriage, as well as enjoying lovely foods. All of this was to be seen as a gift from God, enjoyed with gratitude and thanksgiving. With our whole beings we are to appreciate and sanctify what God has given us in creation.
When my mother was young a preacher told her that it was sinful to wear pearls. She loved her pearl necklace and had never seen it as a sin. Actually, my mother enjoyed the beauty of pretty things, and appreciated having a few “nice” things. After the preacher told her to get rid of her pearls, she did just that. She took them off and threw them away. Not until her 90th birthday would she again wear pearls. My father bought them for her on that significant day. Little did we know how much she would love them and put them on, wearing pearls nearly every single day now, for the last four years.
The admonition to Christ-followers is not to make an idol of our things. Sometimes we can make not having things an idol, and be judgmental of those who do. Instead of embracing the things of God as a gift, we misuse and abuse them.
Taking the time to soak in and embrace God’s beauty can be a spiritual venture. Leisurely walking the halls of an art museum and being awestruck by such talent and beauty can be overwhelming. Listening to music which stirs the heart by the sounds of different instruments can reflect the glory of God. Awakening to the sound of birds in the morning chirping their holy hallelujahs in praise of their creator makes one want to join right in. Experiencing an intimate relationship with someone whom you wholeheartedly trust can be exhilarating, and enjoying the fruits of creation while fellowshipping around a beautiful table can be a glimpse of the great banquet table which awaits God’s faithful.
By the study of the word and prayer the Christ-follower is sanctified, in the here and now. Every part of life is made holy by the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. Embracing the beauty of life is a way of honoring God.
Lord, please open my eyes to soak in the beauty of all that surrounds me on a daily basis. Help me to appreciate all that you have done and provided. Amen.
Sunday, October 29, 2017
1 Timothy 2:8-15
I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
The people attending Timothy’s church seemed to have some issues with the ways in which they were behaving. Christlikeness was probably not a word that someone would have used to describe what they saw at the church. Therefore, there were some instructions being given that addressed the concerns.
Evidently the men were arguing with one another. Instead of focusing on their disagreements, they were to learn to pray together. Men were to lead the way as prayer warriors, when gathering together, they were to pray!
The women were refusing to give up their worldly practices. They were being converted in a city that was full of secular influence. In Ephesus we find the temple to Artemis, or Diana. This was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and people came to worship, sight-see and purchase souvenirs. One can imagine the influence this had on the women of Ephesus, who wanted to appear sophisticated for those who visited this cosmopolitan crossroads of the world. Braided hair, gold, pearls and expensive clothes may have represented ways in which women prepared themselves to worship Diana. Now, they had confessed to revere God, and they didn’t need to look like the women who worshiped idols made with human hands. This was about kingdom life and reality.
The people were being influenced by popular theology. In a city and region where female goddess worship had become extremely popular, the church seemed to be adapting to the local religion. Some of the women of the church had bought into a heretical idea that Eve came first, and then Adam. This idea would certainly make it popular to come to a church in a city where they revered the goddess Diana. These uneducated individuals in the church were purporting to know the truth, and their heresy was becoming dangerous. Finally some rules had to be set down to deal with the crisis. Those who were not educated in religion/theology were not to be the ones teaching it! In this case, this happened to be the women. The men (if they were Jewish) would have studied the Scriptures growing up. This was a very positive admonition. Men — don’t keep this knowledge to yourselves, but take the time to teach your wives at home. The women were to be given the opportunity to get to know the word so that they would no longer be enticed by false ideas. This was a problem of discipleship in the church. Those with the knowledge should have been teaching those who did not.
Those who may have felt chided, needed to be encouraged. The women in Timothy’s church could have felt hurt by the comments and instructions given. There doesn’t appear to be any intent to repress the women, but to help them grow spiritually. Therefore, this passage ends with a word of hope that is often misunderstood but it comes to us from the incarnation of Christ. When Jesus is born in human flesh he provides for the transformation of all that has been corrupted. From the moment of the fall, all of creation has been groaning under the pain of corruption. Quite specifically, women bore a heavy burden for Eve’s participation in the fall. The relationship between men and women was changed, as was her burden of pain in childbearing. When Jesus comes in — and touches human flesh, he reveals the hope of transformation. The very first place that Jesus touches humanity is in the womb of a woman. This is the good news for those who need to be encouraged. At the place of our greatest suffering, Jesus comes to bring hope and transformation. The women who are struggling to grow in their faith have been blessed with the good news that Jesus touched woman first and began to reverse the order of sin.
When the situation in the life of the church becomes difficult, it’s important to take the time to address the real issues. Spiritual issues need to be confronted. Prayer must be a focus of the church and community. Getting to know the heart of God will keep the church from falling into the trap of disagreements. It’s so easy to become distracted and argue over issues which become a distraction from the real work of following Christ. Prayer humbles all who meet at the foot of the cross.
To be a follower of Jesus Christ, you cannot have all the things of the world. It simply doesn’t work that way and the reality is that there is self-denial involved in following Christ. The extravagances of a worldly life grow dim in light of knowing Christ. If that’s not happening, then the focus of life is wrong. Lot’s wife continued to look longingly on the life she was leaving behind and lost it all. Life in Christ has much more to offer than we often recognize. We speak of it self-sacrificially, which is true, but there is also much to gain. It’s important to focus on the positives of a life in Christ.
There is a desperate need for discipleship across the age spectrum within the church community. Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples and we must be engaged in the intentional practice of helping others grow in their faith. Those who are not like us should be invited into the discipleship experience. We should have our eyes open so that we can invest in the development of others. This includes those who may seem to be unlikely candidates.
At the same time we must tread gently when dealing with relationships within the community of faith. We are to build one another up, even when nudging in the right direction. My father used to say, “always err on the side of compassion.” Never lose your loving spirit, and remind people of their unique place in receiving grace. It’s a reminder to us as well, that we are recipients of undeserved grace.
Yes, there will be tough moments in ministry, but those who have gone before have become our mentors. They leave us with a pattern for dealing with issues that have happened in the past and will happen again. We participate with those who have gone before, and with our holy God, in this spiritual journey. It is both our individual and our collective journeys as we draw closer to Christ. Along the way we are challenged to reflect Christ in every circumstance, no matter how difficult.
Lord, I pray that you will give me your patience and wisdom in the challenges of life and ministry. May you be glorified in all that is both said, and done. Amen.
Thursday, October 26, 2017
1Tim. 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
Timothy was being instructed on prayer, both for himself and the church community whom they served. They were to take seriously the call to prayer, which included all of those within their community. They were to bring needs and requests, as well as their thanksgivings before the Father in prayer.
No one was to be excluded from the prayers of the church community. Even those with whom they did not have common interest were to be prayed for, including those in leadership. To pray for the leaders was to pray for the whole community because of their decisions. Therefore it becomes the Christian’s duty to pray for those whose actions will have an effect on every citizen. The result is that prayer is to be at the very center of every church.
I’ve been in three countries this week, and read news from many more, each with their needs and political concerns. I stayed in a hotel over the weekend where the four wives of the president of one country were staying as well, and all of this has been quite interesting. We all find ourselves in different places politically and with varying opinions about our leaders. Some are thought of as being good, others bad, and regarding others we are rather indifferent. Some of us may say that our leader isn’t worth praying for, and yet, this admonition to pray for leaders has no exceptions.
Reading different commentaries on this passage I find the responses very contextualized. Tertullian was living during a time of persecution and yet, he affirmed praying for leadership. His leaders were enemies of the church, those who were hurting the followers of Jesus Christ, and yet, he encourages his people to pray for their persecutors. Chrysostom writes some time later when the church is under the protectorate of the Roman Empire. He admonishes his parishioners to pray for the Emperor and for the decisions of the Empire that will affect the lives of its citizens. The people are encouraged to pray that decisions will be just and will improve the welfare of all citizens. Both of these contexts are quite different, but there is one point that is the same — the continued praying for leadership.
Whether we agree or disagree with our leaders, we are called to be a people of prayer. Be willing to pray the very best for your leader today, for the decisions of leadership have the power to affect change for the whole community. We pray for the least of these when we pray for the most powerful of these.
Lord, I pray today for those who find themselves in paces of leadership and with gratitude power. May your peace sweep over them today and lead them in ways that will be for the good of all humankind. Amen.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
1Tim. 1:12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
This story from the life of Paul becomes an example of grace and mercy. Saul, the persecutor was captured by the prevenient grace of God. The grace of the Lord reached out to Saul, even as he continued to violently oppose the Christians.
Instead of being condemned and eternally punished for the things that he had done, Saul was shown mercy. The very love of God reached beyond the activities of his man and forgave him, making him absolutely new. His new name, Paul, was indicative of the mercy shown. The past was behind him and now the future lay ahead, a new clean chapter to be written of his life.
This grace and mercy was such a blessing that a sudden outburst of praise appears. With a grateful heart God is glorified.
The entire episode of Paul’s conversion is quite interesting. There doesn’t appear to have been a plan among the believers to try and bring him into the fold. On the contrary, the new believers were hiding from this man who was known to bring destruction. I’ve wondered whether there were those who were praying for him; maybe not for his salvation, but that he would stay away from them! That’s the amazing thing about grace, for grace reaches out to all and in many cases, the most unlikely respond.
There is much discussion these days about evangelism and church planting, all of which is extremely important for we are called by Christ to go and make disciples. But it is only when we recognize that it is the grace of God that goes before and the mercy of our Lord that saves that we can get ourselves out of the way. I’m afraid that far too often we are trying to accomplish God’s work for God, instead of understanding that God is already at work. It could be that we are actually bridling the work of the Holy Spirit by our own insistence that things happen the way that we expect them to happen.
Who would have thought that Saul would come to Christ? Probably no one among the believers, and yet, they did believe in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to bring about transformation. The Lord sent Saul to Ananias because he knew that Ananias was sincere in his faith and willing to be open minded. Ananias was willing to participate in Jesus’ mission to make Christ-like disciples. Immediately Ananias began to teach Paul in the ways of the believers. He invested in Paul and discipled him. This was Ananias’ responsibility.
Grace and mercy are the work of God and we are simply invited to become participants in this action. When we follow the great command of our Lord to love him with all that we have, then we are compelled by the overflow to love the world. We participate in God’s grace and mercy, and the result is that there are those who will come to Christ.
The supernatural work of God continues to be at work in this world. Grace and mercy are being extended in powerful ways by God, and we simply becomes extensions of that work. Jesus prayed that we might be one with the him and the Father. As we pray for our participation with God, then our eyes will be opened to the work of God already at hand. Grace and mercy flow from the love of the Triune God into a needy world. God invites us to partner in this ministry of divine reconciliation to transform the world.
Lord, thank you for the reminder to rest in the fact that your grace is at work. Amen.
1Tim. 1:8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately.
Let’s concede the fact that there is an Old Testament law, and this is good. The New Testament writers had the Old Testament as their Scripture. There was no desire on their part to ignore what they had learned throughout out their lives. False teachers may be able to quote the law, but their intent was not to use the Scripture for God’s purposes, but for their own. They wanted to become famous, but they failed to see the real purpose. While one can quote the laws and debate their place in the world with others, they may still be far from embracing the true purpose.
Chrysostom tells us:
The law, he seems to say, is good, and again, not so good. What then? Suppose one uses it unlawfully, is it not good? No, even then the law itself as such remains good. What he means is this: if any one fulfills the law in his actions, it is good. For that is to “use it lawfully,” as here intended. But when one trumpets the law in words but neglects it in deeds, that is using it unlawfully…Further, the law, if you use it correctly, sends you to Christ…The faithful use the law lawfully when they govern themselves in its spirit but are not constrained by the letter of it…The faithful fulfill the law not from fear of it, but from that principle of virtue that it makes possible.(Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Timothy 2)
In other words the law’s purpose is always to lead us and others to Christ. It convinces those who are living in sin that they are far from God, and it provides a guide for all believers and leads them into holiness. So, the law in all things leads to Christ, and a complete and total reflection of him. The false teachers could talk about the law, but Christ was not visible in them.
The law exists for all of us and we have a choice as to how the law will be handled. We can go to church, say that we are Christians, and proudly espouse the fact that the Ten Commandments should hang on our walls. The truth is that God will use the law, no matter what. But, if we are using the law to declare political or cultural truths without reflecting Christ, we don’t really know the law. To know the law is to be in a deep and profoundly personal relationship with the author of the law.
The language of virtue should pique the interest of Jesus’ disciples. All disciples should be engaged in the practice of virtues. This is not a works salvation, but rather, a roadmap of Christlike behaviors which we are called to imitate which help us grow in Christlikeness. The law provides us with virtues which we should seek to practice in our daily lives. This is in imitation of Christ who brought the law to life in his own flesh. Therefore, the practice of the law becomes a reflection of Christ living in us.
The law also becomes a mirror with which others can see themselves. It does provide a contrast to the life of sin and, as fulfilled in Christ becomes a guide to salvation. Use of the law for the good of the kingdom is always encouraged.
Lord, your law is beautiful and leads us to a place of fulfillment. Please, help me never to twist or use the law for my own benefit. May your laws not be used to hurt those who are vulnerable. Please, shine through in my life and in the lives of those with whom I’m privileged to do life. Amen.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
1Tim. 1:3 I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, 4 and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith. 5 But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. 6 Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.
The church is in its early stages of development and already there are heresies. The reality is that in every era there will be those who will challenge the faith and will provide alternatives. Ministers of the gospel are not to allow themselves to become sidetracked by this kind of thinking or teaching. Instead, they are to focus on the training which they have received and be willing to continue spreading the truth.
It’s in the middle of all this that we find clarity of Timothy’s task. He is to be working toward the end product of holy love, which is the very character of God. This is nourished by way of purity, a good conscience, and faith. There will be times when there will be discussions but we must keep the end in mind. It is not about winning at a debate, but rather about promoting understanding and love. We can participate in sincere and openhearted conversation if it is based on love.
Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his third letter to Polycarp:
You must not be panic-stricken by those who have an air of credibility but who teach heresy. Stand your ground like an anvil under the hammer. A great athlete must suffer blows to conquer. And especially for God’s sake must we put up with everything, so that God will put up with us. Show more enthusiasm than you do. Mark the times. Be on the alert for him who is above time, the Timeless, the Unseen, the One who became visible for our sakes, who was beyond touch and passion, yet who for our sakes became subject to suffering and endured everything for us. (Letter to Polycarp 3)
All heresies come out of a vacuum of love. In other words, when brothers and sisters refuse to love one another heresy will develop, and generally the result of envy. Envy gives way to a desire for power, and it’s in this space that heresies are grown. Within an environment of those who love and respect one another it’s very difficult for this to occur.
Therefore, we discover that a lack of love divides and leads to heresies. Any response to heresy must come from a heart of love with a desire for unity. This is exactly why Timothy is encouraged to have a “pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith.” In other words, before we can deal with the issues surrounding ourselves, we need to have our own hearts examined. We must seek the face of God, and ask God to work in us so that we may serve in righteousness.
Self-righteousness leads to division. Christ-righteousness leads to holy love. The former will divide, the latter will unite. To keep a discussion healthy we need to first examine our own hearts and motivations. If the goal is not love and unity then our own self-interest is leading the way.
Lord, it’s so easy for your people to get carried away by so much that is going on in our world. I pray that you would help me to listen to you, be driven by your love and righteousness and seek out unity within your family. By your grace may you lead us. Amen.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
Acts 6:7 The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
As an ongoing process there were those who were joining the believers in Jerusalem. The word of God was spreading, or as some translations say, increasing. The evidence of this was that there were increasing numbers of disciples in Jerusalem. This idea of discipleship is significant for it is not just a conversion, but a wholehearted change of life, which is evidenced by the comment regarding the priests. The priests would have been those among the crowd who had jeered Jesus in the past and letting go of their lifestyle and livelihood to become a disciple would have been a major change. This inclusion of the priests in the multitude of new disciples is an indicator of the power of transformation. The old structures were beginning to crumble as the word of God continued to spread.
The fact that the priests became “obedient to the faith” meant that there was something about discipleship that included obedience. The spread of the word of God may be seen in the increased numbers, or it could be the increased revelation of the Word. It may have been that the word was not revealed more clearly because the barriers were being destroyed. The complaining among the new believers was quieting down because they had created better organization. This may have provided greater credibility for the spreading of the word and the result was that they were able to reach a level of society not before considered sensitive to the Spirit.
As we watch this new church grow and develop we see patterns begin to emerge. There are challenges along the way for the ministry and yet, they face every challenge head-on. The result is that they simply become stronger.
Jesus had commanded them to go and make disciples and it appears that they followed this well. Early on, they established ways in which to bring people into the faith and teaching of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t just an experience of conversion, but an invitation into a radically changed life-style. This was to be a day-to-day immersion of taking up their cross and following Jesus.
For the word to increase, there must be a depth to God’s people. Discipleship happens within the community of faith. We begin to take on greater responsibilities and reflect Christ in our lives. This result is disciples who become irresistible to the people of the world.
It is the imprint of the Church, lived out in the lives of believers that increases the word of God. The written word comes to life in the form of those who reflect Jesus — the word who became flesh. As we become more like Christ, the word spreads and increases.
Lord, thank you for the privilege of being invited to reflect you in the world. Please, help me to be one of those who joins with the cloud of witnesses to spread the word. Amen.
Monday, October 16, 2017
Acts 5:12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16 A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and their behaviors began to replicate those found in Christ. They were performing the signs and wonders that Jesus had performed while he was here on earth. They went regularly to Solomon’s Portico and publicly preached and spoke to the people. Not wanting to act too interested some wouldn’t come near, but overall the mood of the people was positive toward the apostles. Finally, there would be those who would simply leave the opinions of the world behind and join with those who were following Christ.
The power of the apostles was in contrast to that of other “magicians” of the day. Just as Jesus healed the sick, so did these, his Spirit-filled followers. Chrysostom tells us, “Earth was becoming like heaven, for their way of life, boldness of speech, wonders, for all besides. Like angels were they looked upon with wonder. They were unconcerned about ridicule, threats, perils. They were compassionate and beneficent.” (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles 12) Somehow this presence of the Holy Spirit created a scenario in which the kingdom of God was breaking into the kingdoms of this world. As a result, ordinary people were offered a glimpse of heaven on earth.
Spirit-filled believers are to walk in such a way that they participate in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who provides the possibility for our fellowship with the Triune God. In this fellowship we begin to take on the characteristics of those with whom we spend time. If we are hanging out with our friends and loved ones — we will be like them. We will begin to take on the characteristics of the group and people will recognize that we have been in their presence.
When we intentionally spend time in the presence of our Lord, we will begin to take on the characteristics of Christ. The kingdom of God will be revealed through our behaviors and activities. We will no longer reflect the world, but the things of heaven.
The apostles were completely absorbed with following God. There was nothing of greater importance in their lives and everything that they did, day in and day out reflected this commitment. The Holy Spirit did the empowering.
Christ calls us to this kind of radical obedience. The Holy Spirit hasn’t changed from those early days, but our nearness to the kingdom and total participation may have. Earth becomes heaven when we participate, both individually and corporately in holy fellowship wth God. Participation in God is transforming and empowering.
The apostles, little by little, took steps of faith until there came a moment of complete, or entire participation through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The day of Pentecost changed everything and from that time on earth was a bit like heaven.
Lord, please help us these days to participate in your kingdom every moment and every day. Amen.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Psa. 1:1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
This first Psalm becomes foundational to all the rest. Throughout life there will be days of trouble and yet, we discover the ways in which God leads. The wicked will always be nearby offering a tempting pathway for life that appears to be easy. The one who chooses to follow God must learn to stand firm and not give into the the temptations of the ego. Getting strokes from other people means nothing when it comes to kingdom life.
Learning to delight in God’s law and making it a priority in life will change everything. Taking the time to meditate on the word provides a new type of nourishment for life. We are transplanted from the dry desert of trying to do life on our own and planted firmly beside everlasting waters. We read about the river in the garden of Eden, and then again in the closing chapter of Revelation. The water of the Spirit will be eternally refreshing, allowing us to bring forth fruit in the God’s timing and season. When we remain fed by God’s water we do not wither, but continue to prosper spiritually.
The Psalmist brings this promising word right at the beginning. All of life must be grounded in this foundational understanding and be eternally fed by the living water so that we can walk, stand and sit, day in and day out, in the ways of God. This is a lifestyle to be embraced.
Is there anything distinct about my lifestyle, or would it be indistinguishable from those around me? I believe this is what the Psalmist is asking here from the outset. If we are to be followers of God, then there must be a commitment to a lifestyle which is dedicated to following Christ.
The streams of living water are available to all today who are willing to be transplanted. It’s easy to complain about the desert of our lives when we refuse to be transplanted into a place where we just may flourish. The trees needed to be planted by the water so that they could grow. We need to be planted in a place where the Holy Spirit can provide us with all that we need for life on a daily basis. That means we have to take time to have our thirst quenched by the Holy Spirit. This includes time in the word and prayer, as well as fellowship with other believers and worship.
We know that in many of the later Psalms the Psalmist laments the difficult situations which he encounters. We will come face to face with trials and tribulations, but to be able to persevere, we must first become grounded. To become grounded requires commitment to Christ and a lifestyle in which we will be continually fed and filled. Take time to grow deep roots so that when the winds blow we will be able to stand.
Lord, please help me to be nourished by the Holy Spirit’s presence today and lead me along life’s journey, whether good or bad, rooted in you. Amen.
Friday, October 13, 2017
Neh. 9: 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.
Nehemiah was reminding the people what God had done for them. Every detail of their needs had been cared for during the time in which they walked in the desert. The reference to clothing and feet was an indicator that everything had been taken into account. How in the world did clothing last for forty years? When people walked day in and day out in the desert, hot in the day and cold at night, their feet did not swell. This was all supernatural and not explainable in any way, but for divine intervention. The promise of the God of the details remained true to those who were returning from exile and rebuilding the walls. The memories served as a reminder that the LORD could, and should be trusted.
The older I get the more that durable clothing and non-swollen feet sounds really appealing. The cheaper our clothing, the faster it simply deteriorates. I remember buying clothing for our girls at the open market. I washed them once and they completely fell apart. Clothing isn’t made to last forty years.
I can’t imagine that I’d write anything in a devotional thought about swelling feet, but hey, it’s an issue the older I get — and the more I travel! Traveling and swelling feet (or ankles) seem to go hand in hand. Nowadays you get all kinds of advice, like wearing compression socks, elevating your feet, drinking lots of water, etc. but chances are, after a long flight, you’re still going to have swollen feet! Those Israelites walked around the desert for forty years and their feet never swelled! That’s amazing.
What’s really amazing is that God, who provided for durable clothing and feet that didn’t swell, still cares for us today. The people of Nehemiah’s day were having trouble placing 100% of their trust in God. Let’s be honest — so do we! We worry about the details of life, large and small. It’s hard for us to bring them before the Lord and trust. We think we have a giant wall to rebuild — that we personally have to fix what’s going on in our world.
Everything we have to tackle in life is far bigger than all of us. We may choose to live in worry, fear and anxiety, or we can trust the God of the details. If God cared about clothing and swollen feet, then God cares about what’s going on in our lives on a daily basis. That’s the deal!
Lord, Thank you for precious promises that reach out to us through the ages. Amen.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Neh. 5: 16 Indeed, I devoted myself to the work on this wall, and acquired no land; and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover there were at my table one hundred fifty people, Jews and officials, beside those who came to us from the nations around us. 18 Now that which was prepared for one day was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and every ten days skins of wine in abundance; yet with all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because of the heavy burden of labor on the people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
It had come to Nehemiah’s attention that certain Jews were becoming wealthy over the recovery of Jerusalem. Those returning home from exile had little to offer and they needed to establish their lives. Those with goods to sell were willing to offer credit, but it came with a high price. Suddenly those who had escaped slavery in a foreign land found themselves sold as slaves to their own people. Nehemiah was furious. This was to be a time when all the Jews worked together to help one another and transform the city. He was angry and expressed his feelings at a gathering of all the leaders. They agreed to give back all the interest they had charged and to work together fairly with their brothers and sisters.
Nehemiah always chose to live his life as an example to the people. He refused to take any food from the governor, although it was a portion of his allowance. Instead, he generously gave what he had to feed not only himself, but the guests whom he invited to his house every day. He took the opportunity to show hospitality to others as a way to help feed the community. He went above and beyond the call of duty in his action, showing generosity in a very visible way. This was his way of showing the leaders that he meant to give more than just lip service to his expectations for all of them. He and his household would demonstrate what it was that he wanted to accomplish among the people. It cost him a great deal, but for him it was simply living out the calling which God had placed upon his life. The spirit of generosity reflected his love for God.
While growing up Sunday dinners were always a wonderful and special event. Mom would cook something special, always preparing more than enough food. We were all welcome to invite guests to come to the Sunday dinner table. Extra potatoes were in the oven and more places could be squeezed in at the table. The finest china was always used. Someone once asked my mother why she would use her best china all the time and she told them that it was to be enjoyed and shared with others, not stored in a cabinet. She enjoyed the beauty of setting a lovely table, and the joy of sharing food and fellowship together. My mother’s spirit of generosity, even in the midst of scarcity, made an impression on me.
God’s people are called to be a generous people. Even when we may be “allowed” to have particular resources, maybe we shouldn’t take them. Instead, as followers of Christ we are to model what it means to use what we have to serve others. Everything that we have has been given to us by God — yes, even that which has been gained by hard work. We are to be good stewards of that which God has allowed us to receive and we are to use it for the sake of the kingdom.
Nehemiah’s spirit of generosity allowed for him to fellowship with Jews within his community. He was also able to invite officials to his table, and people from many other nations. By modeling the generosity of God, he became a better leader, developing relationships with many different people who would be engaged in decision making. He was able to bring very different people together around his table and, more than likely, broke down walls of hostility by breaking bread together. He was a generous man who saw his resources as tools to be leveraged in service to God. Every resource we have may be used for the kingdom and transformation when we live a life of intentional generosity.
Lord, may the abundance of my life e used in service to you. Amen.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Neh. 3:6 Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 7 Next to them repairs were made by Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite—the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah—who were under the jurisdiction of the governor of the province Beyond the River. 8 Next to them Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Next to them Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs. 10 Next to them Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house; and next to him Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs. 11 Malchijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Next to him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.
We often think of Nehemiah being the superstar of the story of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He was the visionary leader and was able to mobilize the people but he never could have accomplished the goal alone. I have only listed one paragraph from chapter three, but the entire chapter is filled with the names of those who participated in repairing the walls. Every person was important and everyone got involved. By families they came together to take responsibility for a portion of the wall. Every member of the household, the sons and the daughters came out to repair the walls, because the task would never be accomplished unless everyone took their part. The reality is that everyone was needed.
Society currently reinforces the idea of the superstar, the famous individual, who can get things done on their own. In the midst of this perception, which is enforced by media, we are on the precipice of losing something very important. While we make someone famous on a virtual stage, very few are able to tackle the real problems facing humanity, and that will not be done alone. Now more than ever, everyone is needed. The lone rangers of the day simply become a distraction from the real work which needs to be done. It’s when God’s people partner together, each taking upon themselves their responsibility that we see miraculous results.
The poor and beaten down people of Jerusalem should never have been able to rebuild the wall. They didn’t have the best supplies or tools, and they were constantly harassed by their enemies. Success came when they realized that everyone was needed, and everyone could participate. This community of faith was able to accomplish more than they could have ever hoped to imagine because they were all in it together. Shoulder to shoulder they took on the impossible and watched it develop into reality.
We must be careful of upholding the “well-known” individual whom we believe may be the answer to everything. Christianity has been guilty of doing this from time to time as we give platform to those who do inspire us, but it must be with a caution. Nehemiah was a great leader, but he knew how to mobilize everyone to accomplish much more than he could have accomplished on his own. A great servant leader is willing to spend time shoulder to shoulder repairing walls with their people. They will mention everyone by name and give credit to the entire group that has worked hard to accomplish the goal. Never will they believe that this is something that they have done on their own, but by the grace of God and with the hands of many others something unusual has been accomplished.
Everyone is needed to serve in the kingdom. The enemy would love to divide God’s people and it’s easily done because of our egos. Putting our egos aside, we can be united in kingdom work, refusing to take any credit for ourselves. Now, more than ever, we need to put aside any agendas which do not work to strengthen the whole. Unity and love can bind us together and create an environment in which everyone participates. The results are improbable in the face of adversity, but with God the impossible becomes possible. When God’s people humble themselves and are willing to do the simple work in the trenches, it will get done and God will be glorified.
Lord, may there always be less of me and more of you. Amen.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Luke 21:1 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
The people were giving their offerings into the treasury and it seems that all were participating. The ways in which they could participate were radically different. The wealthy were not giving sacrificially. They were able to give generously but it came out of their abundance. They could give to the treasury and it didn’t affect their own lives. They didn’t have to give up anything to give. Instead, they took care of their own needs first and they gave out of that which they did not need. This was in stark contrast to the life of the widow. She didn’t have much of anything and yet, she wanted to give. She sacrificially gave that which she could not afford to give. Her two small copper coins were nothing in comparison to the wealth of the others, but it wasn’t the amount of the offering, it was the heart from which it was given. She gave everything that she could and, it meant that she would have to do without things that would be vitally important to her life. Her gift was sacrifice, not abundance.
The kingdom of God has a full treasury when all of God’s people participate out of equal sacrifice. The needs are so very great as people around the world continue to suffer as a result of disasters — natural and man-made. The transformation which occurs as a result of the good news is not just personal, but also cultural. Entire societies can be transformed and reformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. Following the great commission of Jesus means that we go into all the world making disciples. Jesus also anticipated that his disciples would be cared for along the way by those who were willing to give and support the mission.
I’ve been blessed to spend my life in service to the Lord by way of the church. I have been cared for in wonderful ways. Often it has been out of the sacrifice of an individual that I have been able to continue on. I think about the travels into far off corners of the world where, at times, we were the first Christians some people had ever met. The journey has been amazing and I feel blessed to be able to do this, but I want to be a good steward of the sacrifices of others.
I’ll confess that it’s easy to give out of abundance, but I think Jesus was teaching a lesson by pointing out the widow. Giving out of our abundance does not change our behavior and it creates no dependence upon God. The more we have in this world, the less we need God. It is only by sacrificially giving away to others that we learn how God provides. The beauty is that God doesn’t give us what we “want,” but is very cognizant of our needs. Our needs don’t take as much time away from serving God as our wants and in many ways, we are set free.
If we are still giving to God out of our abundance, we may want to ask God to help us begin to live like the widow. Discovering the beauty of dependence upon God begins by reaching far beyond our abundance.
Lord, May my life be a living sacrifice for you, and may my dependence upon you grow daily. Amen.
Friday, October 6, 2017
Esther 10: 3 For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.
Mordecai was a faithful Jew who did all that he could in his lifetime to serve many. He was a faithful citizen and acted justly in the needs and desires of the King. It was his consistency throughout his life that became a factor when trouble befell the Jewish people. Serving for the sake of others, he did everything he could to make the world a better place.
Ultimately he became second in command to the King. By serving faithfully in a government position he was able to intercede on behalf of his people. As a result his people had good days and his descendants were able to live in a world which had been shaped by him. His thoughtful leadership meant looking out for the good of others. While he could have used his power to his own benefit, he chose to exercise power for those who had none.
There will always be a need for thoughtful, servant leaders. A leader must understand their place of responsibility. Mordecai knew that he was to be the protector of the Jews. He did everything necessary to fulfill this calling, taking his responsibility seriously and serving well.
Thoughtful leadership requires a genuine passion and concern for those within the leader's care. A leader cannot be focused on self-preservation, but on the needs of others. Mordecai had no defensive posture, but allowed truth to win the day. Even when others were intentionally plotting against him, he stood his ground, a man of integrity and good character. The king and all the people were impressed with the way in which he handled himself. By looking out for the needs of his own people, he made the entire kingdom a better place. By doing the best within our own sphere of influence, we reach beyond boundaries and improve the welfare of those whose lives we intersect.
Thoughtful leadership requires intercession, or intervention. Mordecai was willing to take action when action was needed. He didn’t shy away from the task, but rather found every way possible to make a difference. He worked hard because he knew that this wasn’t just for him or his generation, but for those who would come after. Our responsibilities lie in providing a pathway to the future for those who will come after us. Thoughtful leadership takes the long view. Self-centered leadership seeks the easy answers that will make the leader look good. Sometimes thoughtful leaders will never get to see the results of their work, but they continue in the same direction for they understand that this is what it will take to be faithful.
If we are ever empowered we must never forget the place from which we have come. Mordecai always remembered who he was and this informed his leadership. May we never forget the distances we have traveled with the Lord and if we find ourselves in a place with power, remember to be the voice for those who have none.
Thoughtful leadership helps to usher in peace for it seeks the good of others. May God raise up more Mordecais in our day.
Lord, may no power or influence ever be wasted, but used in service to your kingdom. Amen.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Luke 17:1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”
Jesus understood the need for his disciples to grow spiritually. If they were to be leaders in the kingdom they would have to act responsibly. Their behaviors were not to become a stumbling block to those who were still young in their faith. In fact, there would be grave consequences for those who played this role in the life of new believers.
Discipleship required an attentiveness to the temptations we all face. Therefore we receive the admonition to “Be on our guard!” Disciples are to grow within a faith community, one which takes responsibility for the training up of others, and therefore hold one another to accountability. This call to accountability needs to be followed by repentance. Jesus reminds us that this make take time and may be a process — one in which we are to forgive over and over again. We do not give up hope, because our heavenly Father does not give up hope. Instead, we are compelled by the process of intentional discipleship to make a difference in the world.
Jesus commanded his followers to go and make disciples. During his time on earth Jesus became a role model who left us a pattern for this discipleship. It is the intentional investment in the lives of others which results in a beautiful reflection of the image of God.
I’m afraid that the intentional investment in others has been encroached upon by our busy lives. Historically the church scheduled very specific times for discipleship. Usually this happened during the Sunday School, or in other small group meetings. Teachers used to come to training sessions so that they knew how to teach others. Accountability was built into the church system, all the way from the local church through her systems and structures. Did they ever fail or make mistakes? Of course. I think that’s what Jesus was talking about. Part of discipleship is being willing to forgive those who repent, and that includes not just individuals, but even organizations.
When we realize that we are all in a place of growth spiritually, we have to allow for grace. Grace is what opens the pathway for repentance and forgiveness. Sadly, it seems that we are often the hardest on those with whom we are called to do life. The result is a rigidity from which we cannot learn, and once we stop learning, we no longer continue developing as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
It is the holy love of God that continually reaches out and forgives humanity. The Father wants to gather his children under his wing and bring them home. He will not give up on us! As disciples we are challenged to reflect that kind of love; a love that is tenacious and is never defeated. As we pour into the lives of others, we must not only cheer them on, but engage with them in the journey toward Christlikeness. This will include modeling, rebuking, repenting and forgiving; intentional discipleship.
Lord, to follow you is to love you. May your love fill me to overflowing so that it touches the lives of others and I will participate i your mission to make disciples. Amen.