Thursday, November 30, 2017

Citizens with the Saints



Scripture:

Ephesians 2:19-22
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Observation:

The followers of Jesus Christ were sanctified, being made holy, as they continued on the journey of life. The saints were God’s holy people, those who had been saved and were now being sanctified. The holy ones had been adopted into God’s household. This was a new home, a house where Christ was the cornerstone. 

This new home was the dwelling place of God, a holy temple. Every member of the new household was a stone, held together by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, so that, together, we could serve as a holy temple in the Lord. As a corporate body we are the “dwelling place for God.” 

Application:

I’m not sure who it is that comes to mind when you think of a saint. Maybe it’s one of the early church leaders — St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Mary; or maybe it’s someone who came a long later in church history, someone like Martin Luther, Susanna Wesley and her children, or Mother Theresa. All of these are very special individuals who have influenced the world in a powerful way. They may seem almost superhuman, and imagining any type of spiritual partnership with them could seem out of reach. But, they were simply ordinary people who were transformed by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

Saints are ordinary people who become shining reflections of Christ in this world, and therefore seem extraordinary. The invitation is for all followers of Jesus Christ to be saints. To be a saint is simply to radiate with the holiness of Jesus Christ. Strangers and aliens do not radiate with this holiness and as long as life is lived in sin. The good news is that all are invited into citizenship within God’s household. 

Consider how difficult it is to obtain citizenship here on earth. Every nation has their own rules or pathways for citizenship, and I’ve never heard of one country that makes it easy. The best thing is to be born into your citizenship and then not try to make any change. Those who have tried will testify to the challenges, and usually great cost that is involved. Amazingly, Jesus Christ pays the price for our new citizenship with his very life. Yes, this new citizenship is costly, but not to us. We are invited to stop living in fear and wandering through the wilderness, and find a new home. This new home is organic, a place where brothers and sisters become united together, creating great beauty in the midst of diversity, and become God’s living temple. It is a citizenship of God’s saints, molded together and reflecting the holiness of Christ, in all its dazzling glory. 

We are invited to embrace our new citizenship, and with great pride link arms with others in the kingdom of God. There is no regret for what has been left behind, for this new life, in Christ, is much more than anything we could have imagined. We are invited to shed the pain of our past, stop our wandering, and allow the saints to welcome us into our new home. 

Prayer:

Lord, may I proudly live into the citizenship you have afforded me. May I live my citizenship well and responsibly live our my role as a part of your holy temple. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Beautiful Long Walk



Scripture:

Eph. 2:10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Observation:

The beautiful tapestry of God’s creation includes each and every single human being. We are as creatively produced as the lyrics of a poem or the chords of an orchestral tune which brings one to tears. Intentionality on the part of God to create humanity in the very image and likeness of the Creator means that we reflect Christ in our actions. God has prepared a pathway for our lives, a way in which we are to walk, day in and day out. This way of life, in the Greek is really the walk, and it’s a way in which we will walk for the remainder of our lives. Once we are “in Christ Jesus,” then we live a restored life, in the image of God, in which we remain on the pathway of new life, until we come to the end of the journey. It is a beautiful long walk, as God’s creativity is experienced along the way. 

Application:

Salvation is never by works, but it’s interesting how quickly the author of the Epistle brings up the need for good works. That moment in which our lives are transformed is dramatic. The entire trajectory of life is changed and suddenly we find ourselves on a new pathway, and this one that is already prepared for us. 

We live near a beautiful big park where our family loves to go on walks. Every time we have gone we have taken a different path or trail. I’ve been trying to get my husband to try out the large paved bike/walking path and see where it goes, for I understand it leads you for miles and miles. Instead, we seem to get sidetracked by trying out the first little path that we see. We have ended up on two rocky trails that lead through the forest. While it’s beautiful, I’m never quite sure where we are going to end up. Also, I worry about twisting my ankle. I keep pointing out to my husband that in the distance I see a beautiful asphalt covered walkway that seems to lead across beautiful hills for miles. I’d like to try out that place sometime! 

God has creatively prepared a pathway for us, and invites us to take a walk together with him. It’s a beautiful journey that may lead to places that we would never have imagined. Along the way we are to practice the good works of Jesus Christ. The path may not always be smooth, but it will take us to the places where they need to experience Jesus. Throughout life we are to keep on walking — never stopping. 

For those who would like to simply stop and say that we have done our time, we are missing the mark. This walking is to be our way of life. Touching the world in her deepest needs is to be a way of life. Continual spiritual growth and movement in the direction of Jesus is to be the norm. The result is a life in Christ that is a beautiful, long walk. 

Prayer:


Lord, I want to keep walking on your pathway today.  Amen. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Spectacular Scale of God’s Power



Scripture:

Eph. 1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 

Observation:

The prayer for those in Ephesus is that they will go deeper in their relationship with God. They lived in a city where people believed that the goddess Diana was all-powerful. The need was great to embrace the depths of power that were available in and through God. The all-powerful, God of glory is capable of providing wisdom and revelation in the midst of our circumstances. It is possible for spiritual growth to expand our vistas, to open the eyes of our hearts, so that we can begin to see the eternal. When this happens we experience the riches of the inheritance which is available to all of God’s holy children. No earthly goddess can compare to the spectacular scale of God’s power which is available to all of those who would believe. 

Application:

This week I’ve been pondering the state things. In the United States we live in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. Every day it seems that there are pleas to speak out about one issue or another. At the same time when I go to Africa I am amazed at the embrace of Christianity. My ears were shocked to hear the pilot on a recent flight say, “Welcome, and may God bless you.” I began to realize how unfamiliar those kinds of phrases have become in America, but what’s happening in America is not happening everywhere in the world. God still reigns, and God is at work!

The goddess Diana seemed have a formidable influence upon the people of Ephesus. How could a little band of Christians have any influence in a city that large? And yet, they did! If we read the incident recorded in Acts, we discover that the revival fires in Ephesus were so great that they had an effect on the souvenir sales. So much so, that the salesmen rioted. Now, somehow I can’t imagine that a little band of believers had the power to upset the entire culture surrounding the worship of Diana. The reality is that they didn’t. They couldn’t plan and strategize enough to have seen that kind of a response. What they did do, was grow into the realization that they were the inheritors of God’s power. 

I now serve in a position of leadership in a church, and sometimes wonder how we will navigate through these days. There are looming questions about the future of Christianity in America. What will the church look like in ten years? What will happen to charitable giving? How many pastors will we have? And then, in the midst of the questions, we are reminded of the spectacular scale of the power of God. 

The responsibility of followers of Jesus Christ, is to get to know Christ. Paul’s greatest concern was that those whom he had led to Christ would continue to grow spiritually. Through intimacy with Christ we gain wisdom, and have divine revelation. Our eyes are opened to possibilities that are simply unknown to humankind. We place our trust entirely in the same God who could revolutionize the city of Ephesus. This is the hope to which we are called! Not to be successful in the eyes of the world, but to know Christ, and in knowing Christ to experience a power far greater than the world. 

Do we believe that God is greater than our circumstances? Can we focus on Christ instead of the things of this world? There is a glorious inheritance for God’s holy people. The daily journey must take us closer to our Lord, and there we are privileged to embrace power on a spectacular scale. Let’s put our trust in God, and not in Diana.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for the reminder that you are greater than the things that we face. Amen. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Blessworthy



Scripture:

Eph. 1:3   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

Observation:

While many of our translations say “Blessed be…God,” the understanding here is that God is “blessworthy.” In other words, this is a praise to God, and Paul is giving us the reasons that God is “blessworthy.” This is not some kind of apologetic for God, but is an invitation to the readers to join in praising and extolling the work of God. This is a model for prayer that helps us lift our eyes beyond ourselves and the things of this world, and to see God’s invitation to participate in the unfolding plan. 

God is “blessworthy” because of holiness. The unfolding of God’s plan is a revelation that all of humanity is invited to become “holy and blameless before him in love.” Only God can make us holy people, through holy love. At the same time, we are to actively participate through virtues in that holy love and a life of faith, thereby remaining saints throughout all of life. It is this synergistic activity, God and man combined, which results in a gift from God, through God, that transforms in holiness. For this we bless God, for we acknowledge the “blessworthiness” of the gift of holiness. 

Application:

The vision is of young girls with long dresses, long hair covered by a bonnet, and not a stitch of make-up. It’s a list of things that we don’t do because we are “holiness people” and somehow not thinking that this is anything that is “blessworthy” because it feels more like deprivation. Sadly, we have come to define holiness by what we don’t do, rather than what we embrace. Instead of praising God for the gift of holy transformation we drag our feet and think it is only something for a few individuals who have been called to this thing called “holiness.” But if this is the case, then we don’t truly understand holiness. 

Holiness is “blessworthy” because it is such a miracle of transformation. God is holy and desires that all of humanity become holy. By Christ’s assumption into human flesh, the possibility now exists for all of humanity to be made holy. If we think that we can embrace some kind of a Christian life in which we follow rules without participating with Christ, we are fooling ourselves. If we think that we can choose to live a Christian life without holiness, we are fooling ourselves even more. Christ came so that we could be sanctified and be made holy like him. This is God’s work — not our work. There is nothing about following a particular list of rules that will make me holy — but there is something important about my participation in becoming more like Christ. 

God provides the pathway in Christ and makes us holy. We continue to grow in holiness by our participation in Christ. The result may be a change in the way I dress because I choose to be more modest than I was in the past. I want people to see Christ, not me! I may become more selective about the activities that I engage in because I find it hard to participate in Christ in particular settings. God works, we participate, and what results is a synergy in which we are transformed to become more like Christ. And all of this is “blessworthy” because it is a miracle! 

It is not humble to say “I can’t be holy.” That is simply a denial of the “blessworthiness” of God’s gift for all of humanity. Bless God, and embrace the holiness of Christ which is generously placed before us. 

Prayer:


Lord, I bless and praise your name. I am grateful for your gift of holiness. Please, help me to live into that gift with all that I am. Amen. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Grace and Peace



Scripture:

Eph. 1:2   Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Observation:

This greeting is found in five of the Epistles attributed to the apostle Paul. While we may simply see it as routine, there must also have been great significance. This salutation sets the tone for the letter, recognizing that both grace and peace come from God the Father, and Jesus Christ. Only when we embrace the unmerited grace of God, can we live in the gift of the Prince of Peace. There is no peace without grace, and all of this comes freshly supplied to those who want to grow spiritually. 

Application:

Sometimes I wonder about how seriously we consider our faith, or whether it’s something that gets put on the back burner and pulled out whenever its needed. What strikes me about Paul is his intentionality in all that he says and does. Right from the outset he makes it clear that everything must be focused on the unwarranted grace and peace which we receive from God. 

In my tradition we talk much about prevenient grace and salvation, but sometimes forget to continue the conversation. As we learn to grow spiritually we are to live grace-infused lives as the Spirit draws us closer to the Lord. We are all in need of continual grace if we are to be shaped and molded into the “saints” of which Paul speaks. The language of “saints,” is not about those who are super-human, but those who are being sanctified by the on-going presence of Christ in their lives. In Paul’s vernacular, we are all being called to become “saints,” and this, only by the grace of God. We need to walk in grace every single day of our lives.

The Prince of Peace has provided a pathway for us to become united in holy fellowship with the Triune God. The peace of God can permeate our very being and transform the ways in which we live our lives. The anxiety and stress riddled daily journey is not God’s intent for those who are living in the peace of Christ. 

We may want to consider greeting one another with intentionality. May the grace and peace which only comes from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be poured out in and through our lives today.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for the promise of grace and peace. Amen. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Come Before Winter



Scripture:

2 Timothy  4:21 Do your best to come before winter.

Observation:

It appears that Paul is coming to the end of his life and the struggles are real. He is tired and worn out. Soon it will be winter and he needs his cloak because Rome will be cold. He wants some of his study materials as well, and he really wants to see Timothy. 

Paul knew what it was like to sail the Mediterranean during the winter for he had suffered shipwreck in a terrible storm. Most captains would not attempt to travel during this treacherous season. Paul wanted Timothy to consider his safety, and the practicality of traveling. He really needed Timothy to come soon, before winter set in, probably because he felt this would be his last opportunity to see him. Paul sensed that not much time was left and the time for action was now. 

Application:

We all live through the seasons of life, each providing joys and sorrows. Through the seasons we have the opportunity to grow and to develop as God’s holy people. We can embrace what life brings our way, or we can resist the grace of God. 

Eventually winter will come, and with it a period of reflection. We may become concerned with our financial security, and the need for a “cloak” to get us through the final season of life. Our memories may become a little dull and reminders of the things we have studied in life may be needed. Finally, being surrounded by those who love us becomes very meaningful as we await the last transition. 

Spiritually we need to come to the Lord before winter. Waiting for the last season of life means that we may miss out on what God has for us. Living the Spirit-filled life is possible in every season. When we come before winter we have the privilege of embracing a life of continual transformation into the image of Jesus Christ. Coming before winter means a life of holiness, where all that we have is laid before the Master, to be used throughout the entire journey. 

I’ve watched my parents live a life of holiness faithfully throughout their seasons. Now, like the Apostle Paul, they are reaching winter. They call and ask for me to come and visit, before it becomes too late, or too difficult — or before they forget who I am. Coming before winter means more to me now as I want to embrace every moment that I can with my parents who are living out the final season of their lives. I don’t want to wait, but I want to soak up every opportunity to be with them, provide them security and comfort. 

I want to come to my Savior before winter as well. I don’t want to wait too long. I want to experience the joy and comfort of being in my Lord’s presence now, and for all of eternity. 

Winter is coming faster than we can imagine. Don’t wait too long. Come before winter. 

Prayer:


Lord, may this be a day of drawing nearer to you in all things. Amen. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Experiencing the Breath of God



Scripture:

2 Timothy 2:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Observation:

Timothy had been raised reading and studying the holy Scriptures. What we know of as the Old Testament was standard study for the Jews. While Timothy had a mixed heritage, his mother ensured his Jewish eduction and this remained with him and served as a vital foundation to his Christian faith. 

Timothy, the young pastor, as should any pastor, is encouraged to really know the Scriptures. The breath of God has blown through the written word and the words have come to life. It is this same Spirit which breathed life into the nostrils humanity that now blows through the written word. Only when one spends time breathing in the Spirit-filled word, does the breath of God truly bring the person to life. Suddenly one’s life becomes resonate with the very sounds of heaven. 

Application:

There are so many good books, videos, pod-casts and blogs available these days that we can become absorbed in a mass of information. While all of that is good, it should never be to the neglect of spending time in the word. The stress here is on the need to be saturated in the word of God, to become a servant of God. There must be time spent in preparation for this service, for to represent God, one must know God. 

For followers of Jesus Christ this is a serious challenge, for the mind and the mouth of a disciple ought to be one and the same. It is the breath of God found in the Scriptures that transforms the life of the believer.  We need the air flowing through our bodies to give us life in the Spirit. 

The word of God provides the pattern for our lives, teaching us what is false, what needs to be corrected, training us in a right understanding of things, and comforts and consoles us in our time of pain. But just as medication will only help us when we take it, so the Scriptures can only serve to bring us life when we deeply breathe in the Spirit-infused words. 

God breathed into the Scriptures so that the Scriptures may breathe life into us. Daily, we need to breathe deeply the word, and then we will experience the Spirit bringing us to life. 

Prayer:


Lord, breathe your Spirit in and through me. Amen. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Enticing Opposition



Scripture:

2 Timothy 3:8-9
As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth. But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.

Observation:

The message of the gospel was so radical that it went against the voices of society. There were those within the community who purported a gospel which was more enticing than the one preached by Timothy. Drawn by the love of money and power, there were those who believed that they could present a message that was more palatable. 

Jannes and Jambres are historical figures, believed to be the magicians who worked for Pharoah. Every time Moses presented the truth, they providing an opposing perspective which seemed a bit appealing, but eventually led to death. They could almost present the same works which Moses was doing, and therefore, they led both Pharoah and his people into a counterfeit faith. That faith was a reliance in themselves, a dependence upon their own skills and abilities. They were their own god, and therefore continually opposed the truth. Sadly, they led many to destruction because they cared more about themselves, than their people. They opposed God’s messenger and enticed people away out of selfish ambition. 

Application:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is very counter-cultural and is not always as appealing as the cheap religion that others may sell. The concern in Ephesus was for sexual purity. Christ-followers were to exercise self-discipline when it came to their sexual practices. Just because a person had particular desires didn’t give license to act out. The false voices of the world were encouraging them with enticing words. “Follow your heart.” “Do what you want to do.” “Why wouldn’t God want you to enjoy yourself.” All of these enticing words, almost the truth of God, but not really, became distractions to what Timothy was to be teaching. 

The love of self, and quite specifically money, can be an enticement away from the truth of the gospel. When someone comes and preaches a little more palatable gospel, one that gives license to the things we want to do, we can be easily enticed. In the long run, however, the easy gospel will not gain much traction because it ultimately will lead to destruction. 

Spiritual discipline in the area of sexuality is a requirement for God’s people. Generosity and restraint in financial matters are a great need. Discipleship, the call to a deeper walk with Jesus Christ is necessary for all of God’s followers. Beware of those who sell a cheap gospel. There was nothing cheap about what Jesus did for us. He gave everything that he had so that we may become like him. Our participation in Christ is only possible when let go of all the things that keep us tied to the world. We must release that which false teachers may entice us to cling to. Then, and only then, can we live in truth that will set us free. 

Prayer:


Lord, please give me a discerning heart, releasing anything that may hinder my life in you. Amen. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Stupid Quarrels



Scripture:

2Tim. 2:23 Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, 26 and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

Observation:

It may be hard to imagine that there were stupid and senseless controversies in the city of Ephesus, before there was social media. It seems that humanity has always had a propensity for disagreement and it’s simply the medium in which those discussions have occurred that has changed. In the first century there were those who were professionally trained in rhetoric; generally known as lawyers, or ministers. They went to universities where they were educated in the art of disagreement. Among those with the highest skill was the Apostle Paul. He knew how easy it would be to become enticed by a good disagreement. It was literally a sport and yet, it was destroying the church. 

Ground rules were established for the young Timothy. Stupid quarrels would become a distraction to the real work of ministry. He needed to have an attitude of love toward those who wanted to constantly be engaged in senseless controversies. Instead of allowing himself to get carried away by his emotions, he was to respond with kindness. He was never to add fuel to the fire of the controversy, but in love, he was to help put it out. The fruit of the Spirit was to be revealed, as he responded with patience, and gentleness, providing correction out of a heart of love. 

Somehow the spirit of controversy is associated with being held in the snare of the devil. By becoming consumed with controversy, one is distracted from the real work of the kingdom, and in this way, the enemy wins the day. This is why it is so important to understand that stupid and senseless controversies breed stupid quarrels.  

Application:

One of the earliest heresies of Christianity was gnosticism. This was a dualistic approach to the world, one in which there was a separation between the mind and the body. One was able to reach out to higher intellectual ascent (knowledge — gnosis), but the body was considered unclean. This provided a great way in which to excuse behavior. One could be engaged in gaining greater knowledge about God, but the ways in which lives were lived on a daily basis didn’t need to change. Therefore, one could be seen as super-spiritual, if engaged in debates. This desire for greater knowledge could be affirmed by those who adopted this gnosticism. The problem was that transformed lives in the flesh would no longer be a reality if one embraced this way of thinking. It was a very dangerous threat to the church. 

We cannot assume that we are super-spiritual because we can engage in lengthy debates with the world of social media. The ability to blog, tweet, or engage in on-line discussions may be enticing us into a new world of gnosticism. We can become so engaged in the discussions that we forget that there are real people, in the flesh, living and dying around us. There are people who need us to put down our electronic devices and spend the day with them, listening to the pain they are experiencing in their lives. We need to know our people so that we can bring the sermons that they need to hear. Living “fleshly” lives we touch the pain of this world and carry with us the healing balm of Jesus Christ. Rubbing shoulders with real people in real need doesn’t leave room for stupid quarrels. 

There is time for discussion, but this is the time for action; God’s people, engaged in a very needy world, reflecting Christ and revealing the fruit of the Spirit in all that we do. In this way, we escape the snare of the enemy. 

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to genuinely live in this world and touch the lives of others for you. Amen. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Beautiful Diversity of Household Utensils



Scripture:

2Tim. 2:20   In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. 

Observation:

For the household to function at its highest caliber, there is a need for a full range of utensils. Hospitality is a reflection of a home and the earthly kingdom of God is to reflect the reality of the eternal koinonia found within God. Instruments are required for that hospitality and this includes household utensils. The wide variety of utensils required means that there must be great diversity within the household; hence, within the kingdom. 

In ancient practice some vessels were considered more valuable than others because of the materials out of which they were made. Within the kingdom those dividing walls were destroyed because all were needed for the kingdom’s purposes to be accomplished. No matter what kind of vessel, fancy, or simple, once cleansed, they became special utensils. They were now dedicated for kingdom work, and as a result, each unique and individual piece stood ready to be used for God’s good work. 

Application:

Chuck and I arrived home yesterday after being gone for nearly six weeks. In the last few months we have been working on getting settled into our new home, but part of it was not yet completed. We have been waiting on the kitchen so that we can get completely unpacked. When we got home the kitchen was ready to be moved into, and we were excited. Trying to deal with our jet-lag we decided that we should do all that we could to keep busy so we unpacked our suitcases and then began unpacking the kitchen dishes and utensils. There we discovered a wide array of items, some of which we have not seen in a very long time. Sometimes we looked at an item and wondered why in the world we had that one! 



At the same time, I kept looking for a place to put each one of these special and unique items. You see, we enjoy sharing hospitality with our family and friends, and I love using the different dishes and utensils that we own. On their own, these utensils may look like a hodgepodge, but when they are combined and put together for hospitality they create something more beautiful than we can imagine. 

Take the can opener for instance. It certainly doesn’t make a very beautiful centerpiece, nor does it make a nice serving dish. However, it’s really good at opening those cans of olives which we enjoy eating on special occasions. If we didn’t have the can opener, we wouldn’t get to enjoy the olives. 

The problem in the kingdom is that some utensils or dishes look prettier than others. We can become envious of those who look nicer, or who have, a perceived better role than we do. Who wouldn’t want to be the beautiful centerpiece? But the centerpiece may only be used once, lovely as it is, and then forgotten, but a can opener may be used almost every single day. 

The beautiful diversity of the household utensils needs to be seen within the kingdom of God. There is no reason to be jealous of one person or another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the most ordinary can be transformed into the extraordinary and used to serve in the King’s household. The more diversity, the finer the hospitality. Just imagine enjoying the delicacies created by the instruments from every nation of this world! It’s a never-ending feast that reminds us of the marriage supper of the lamb. The variety of cleansed utensils opens up new possibilities that become a glimpse of heaven. Cleansed, ready, and always prepared to be of good use to the Master. 

Prayer:


Lord, I’m so grateful that you take our messes, and create something of great beauty. Amen. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Where Have You Deposited Your Faith?

Where Have You Deposited your Faith? 

Scripture:

2 Timothy 1:12b But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 

Observation:

Paul strongly affirms that he is not ashamed of being a Christian. Even if other people think of him as a lunatic on account of his work, he will not turn back. He has given everything that he has for the sake of the gospel. Some of the older translations use the word “deposit” to refer to Paul’s putting his complete trust in God. Other translations us the word “commended,” or what Paul has commended to God. Augustine suggests that Paul is saying that he has commended his faith to God for safe keeping. Others might say that Paul has deposited his faith into God’s bank, and that he is entrusting everything, his mission, and all that he holds dear, to God. When that is done, then no amount of questioning on the part of others will cause him to withdraw his deposit. 

Interestingly, when we think about this deposit into God’s bank, we discover the role of stewardship. In return, God entrusts to Paul his own treasure. There is mutual trust in this relationship and that’s why all of this is possible. It’s about a relationship. Paul has come to know the one in whom he is placing his trust. He has no doubt that his faith will be well-protected because he knows the protector. 

There was no need for anyone to try and convince Paul to turn his back on God. No matter how crazy his faith may have seemed to others, he would never be ashamed of the one in whom he had put his entire trust. 

Application:

We don’t sing a lot of the old hymns much anymore. Sadly, I think we’re missing out on some good theology and reminders of God’s great grace and power. This passage of Scripture obviously brings up this old hymn, “I know Who I have believed.” Let’s revisit the words: 

  1. I know not why God’s wondrous grace (I have no idea what God graciously reached out to me, a sinner)
    To me He hath made known, (
    He let me see his grace in action, revealing himself on the Damascus road)
    Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
    Redeemed me for His own. (
    Who was I, but a sinner. Jesus died for me when I was making fun of those who followed him) 
    • Refrain:
      But “I know Whom I have believed, (
      But I have come to know the one in whom I have put my trust)
      And am persuaded that He is able
      To keep that which I’ve committed
      Unto Him against that day.” (
      The Saviour I have come to know, is able to safely hold my faith until I get to see him again, face to face) 
  2. I know not how this saving faith
    To me He did impart, (
    I can’t explain how all of this happened to me, but I know that I’ve been transformed!)
    Nor how believing in His Word
    Wrought peace within my heart. (
    It was by my on-going study of the Word that the peace of Christ continued to grow in my heart. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s been a miracle) 
  3. I know not how the Spirit moves, (I know the Spirit moves, but I can’t explain to you how)
    Convincing men of sin, (
    Yes, it is the Spirit who convicts us of our sin)
    Revealing Jesus through the Word, (
    The Spirit helps us see Jesus revealed through the reading of the Word)
    Creating faith in Him. (
    And somehow this develops within me a faith that I didn’t know I was capable of embracing) 
  4. I know not what of good or ill
    May be reserved for me, (
    I have no idea what my future looks like. There may be good days, or there may be bad)
    Of weary ways or golden days,
    Before His face I see. (
    I still have time to live my life, in weariness from the journey, or strengthened by the golden sunshine) 
  5. I know not when my Lord may come, (I don’t know when Jesus will come back again)
    At night or noonday fair, (
    Maybe it’ll be during the night while I’m sleeping, or in the middle of the day for all to see)
    Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
    (I don’t know if I’m going to walk this earth with Jesus)
    Or meet Him in the air. (
    Or whether I will meet him in my death)
It doesn’t matter, because I have come to know the one in whom I have put all my trust. I have deposited everything I have with my Lord, and I trust him fully. 

Where we have deposited our trust will greatly influence the way in which we will live our lives. Singing the old song of our faith is a gentle reminder of entire consecration. Becoming completely sold-out for Jesus Christ means that we deposit every part of our life  with the Lord. Nothing is held back — everything is put into the bank. The beauty is that in return God releases the treasures of heaven, and we become stewards in the kingdom. The hitch in all this, is that we must truly know the one in whom we place our deposit! 

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for your precious promises and faithfulness to us. Amen. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

When You’re Feeling Intimidated



Scripture:

2 Timothy 1:6-7 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Observation:

Timothy was a young minister working in a situation where strong voices were spreading unsound doctrine. It seems that Timothy may have had a gentle spirit and have been intimidated by the older and more forceful voices. Foundational to tackling that which seemed to hinder Timothy’s minister, was love. The gift of God was Timothy’s love for God, that filled him to overflowing. He had entered into a covenant of grace, to serve as Jesus’ ambassador on earth, and affirmed by the laying on of hands. He was to remember that moment, and live his life in confidence. 

The presence of the Holy Spirit in Timothy’s life had been evidenced by those around him. Timothy should not feel intimidated, nor should he fear those who disagreed with him. Filled by the Holy Spirit, he was to do his work with confidence. At the same time he was to participate in the effort, by showing self-discipline, pressing forward, and expressing love to those who may disagree with him. 

Application:

It’s easy to feel intimidated when you’re young, and you don’t have a lot of confidence. Actually, you don’t even have to be young, because this is an affliction that can attack people of all ages. You want to please people and yet, when confronted with something that just doesn’t seem right, you’re not quite sure what to do. Living life nervously and with anxiety becomes commonplace in our stress-filled world. 

There are many reasons to feel intimidated. Sometimes it’s because someone has more knowledge and experience than you have. Other times it’s because someone is wielding power against you and you’re not quite sure why. Manipulation and threats, physical, emotional and sexual, may cause paralyzing fear and the contemplation of capitulation. All of the above can keep us from accomplishing that which God wants to do in and through our lives.

While the NRSV uses the word “cowardice,” others use the word “timidity.” For many of us, we may just find ourselves on a continuum somewhere between those two words. But then we are reminded of the transformational and empowering work of God’s Holy Spirit. The infilling presence of the Holy Spirit does not leave room for a spirit of cowardice. Instead of being intimidated, one continues to live into the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that exudes grace-filled love. The one who is intimidating probably has their own issues and may just need us to be pastoral in our response. That doesn’t mean that we submit to them, but graciously in love stand up for what is right, and for truth. It is in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit that we are able to do more than we could ever imagine, and face the giants that normally leave us trembling. 

Self-discipline must be part of our response, for we will only be empowered, if we take the time to be re-energized by the Spirit. Just as we must go to the gas station to fill up the car so that it will have the fuel to continue on its mission, so we must fill our spiritual tanks by spending time in God’s holy presence. Then, we must be disciplined to walk with the Lord out into a needy world and face those who may try to be intimidating. 

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Sedith, who reminded me what it means to be focused, self-disciplined and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

Sunday dinner at the Sedith home. 

Her husband and daughter, Eunice, co-pastor the Toekomsrus church just outside of Johannesburg. It began in their garage and today they have a building that is filled to overflowing. Many of those who come to the church are there as a result of Mrs. Sedith, who has refused to be intimidated. She goes into the taverns and prays for God to lead her to someone. She teaches a “Way-Side” Sunday School out on the streets and today there are preachers in the church who were rescued because of her tenacity. She has been chased by someone with an axe, and prayed with the local Witch-Doctor to come to Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit oozes from this woman, who refuses to be a coward, but has an incredible spirit of love and self-discipline. 

Pastor Eunice leading the service. 


Intimidation comes in many forms, but there is a cure. Soak in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, and then plan the work — and work the plan! To God be the glory. 

Prayer:


Lord, I want to be like Mrs. Sedith when I grow up. Amen. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

If You Are Rich



Scripture:

1 Timothy 6:17-19

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Observation:

Obviously there were people within the church community of Ephesus who had financial resources. These people were also disciples of Jesus Christ and there were specific instructions to them. While having more resources than others may provide for certain opportunities in life, these people were not to be haughty. Even if they had riches they were not to trust in their material wealth, but to learn to trust in God. 

Just because someone is wealthy doesn’t mean that they are happy. Sometimes the burden of wealth can seem unbearable, but learning to trust in God provides an opportunity for enjoyment in life. This fosters a spirit of generosity where resources can be seen as a means of doing good. A sense of fulfillment is possible when one shares and invests in those things which will enhance the work of the kingdom of God. 

Application:

I’m afraid that often the church embraces a poverty mentality. Somehow we have accepted the idea that to have wealth we cannot be spiritual. While Jesus said that it was difficult, he also said that this was possible with the help of God. Therefore, we rejoice with those who have resources and who have learned what it means to be generous. 

If you read carefully about Jesus’ travels you discover that an entire team of people supports him. This includes a group of women who have financial resources and who provide the infrastructure food, etc. for the ministry. This is not unusual because we find the pattern repeated throughout church history. I often quote John Chrysostom, also known as the “Golden Tongue.” He was a great preacher in Constantinople near the end of the 4th century. His greatest supporter in ministry was a widow, Olympia, who was considered one of, or maybe the wealthiest citizen in the Roman Empire. When her husband passed away she inherited all of his earthly resources. She had become a Christian and used her resources to further the work of the kingdom. She financed much of Chrysostom’s ministry, but also had a great influence on others. We know that she also must have had a relationship with Gregory of Nyssa for her dedicates his Commentary on Song of Solomon to her. The wealthiest person in the Empire becomes the model of holiness. Yes, with God all things are possible!

If God has gifted you with resources, then use them for the sake of the kingdom. God may be wanting to leverage those resources to do much more than we could ever think or imagine. If, however, you are not one of those with resources, don’t look down on those who do. Don’t be afraid to associate with those who do, and make them feel just as welcome in the church as those who have nothing, for we are all members of the same family. Never take advantage of those who have resources, but let God speak to their hearts and allow them to develop the way in which they feel comfortable in giving and supporting the ministry. Just like family, don’t expect them to pay for everyone else. Everyone ought to pay their own way, and show respect for one another.

Let’s not believe that God expects us to be poor. Instead, let’s live into one of the motto’s of John Wesley’s life, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” 

Prayer:


Lord, may your spirit of generosity overflow in and through our lives. Amen. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Morbid Craving



Scripture:

1 Timothy 6:2b-5

Teach and urge these duties. Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

Observation:

Controversy seemed to be quite an issue in Ephesus where Timothy was pastoring. One can only imagine that he was attempting to preach from the words of Jesus Christ but there were those who are making it nearly impossible. Instead of agreeing with the preaching, they were arguing about every word that was spoken, challenging every phrase to the point that Timothy was unable to preach the truth. He couldn't even finish a thought before someone was raising a point of order. 

The problem with this kind of behavior was that it reflected the heart of the individuals creating the controversy. In some way they were pretending to want to know the whole truth, when in reality they were craving attention. Self-centeredness and conceit are revealed because these individuals have “a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words.” It all becomes a distraction from the truth and the word that Timothy ought to be preaching. The challenge of words creates controversy, and from these come “envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling;” all couched in a super-spirituality of “clarity.” 

Timothy is not to be fooled, for this is not the way in which those who follow Christ are to behave. Instead, these people  have joined with the Christians thinking that there would be some kind of personal, or financial gain to be achieved. Confronted with servant leadership they are extremely disappointed, for ministry is not about gain, but about giving oneself up for the sake of others. 

Application:

The morbid craving eventually leads to spiritual death. Fighting and arguing are never life-giving. Jesus refused to be drawn into baseless discussions, but always found a way to make his point through the telling of parables. It left those wanting to argue about words speechless. Sometimes it also left them angry because they knew he was talking about them.

I confess that there are times when I am tempted to become picky about things. Usually it’s when I’m tired, frustrated, or feel like I’m not being heard. Let’s try to exercise pastoral patience with an individual who may be exhibiting these behaviors out of character. It may be a sign that there is more happening in their lives and they need pastoral care. It’s important to learn to read those around us and sense what is driving their behavior. 

At the same time, if we continue to be picky and angry without facing the real issues in our lives, we will become very miserable people. If anyone becomes engaged in church work because they think they will become rich, they will also eventually be frustrated. Sadly, they may ruin a few lives along the way with their personal extravagance and manipulation of the word. 

It’s surprising that all of this was happening when the church was so young, and seems to still be a problem today. The problem is unsanctified humanity who participate in the life of the church, but refuse to be crucified with Christ. The deeper walk with Jesus Christ makes us look at ourselves in the mirror and there we often discover that we are the cause of our own problems. The craving for arguments is morbid because it leads to death — your own death. It brings you to spiritual death because the arguments choke out all possibility for new growth. 

Prayer:


May the God of life breathe freshness into our lives today, bringing a springtime of new growth. Amen 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Do Not Ordain Hastily




Scripture:

1Tim. 5:22 Do not ordain anyone hastily, and do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.

Observation:

Timothy may have been a very compassionate and sympathetic individual, but that could have led to problems in the church. There are two ways to see this passage of scripture. One has to do with the selection of leaders who are a part of the church. To avoid scandals, those who are to be in positions of leadership are to be well examined. There should be a process and a period of time in which the life and character of the individual is examined. Ordination is never a right, but it is a covenant of grace bestowed upon an individual by the church. 

Those who lay hands on an individual to be ordained bear responsibility for the future actions of those who are receiving ordination. This is why the ones who do the ordination must carefully examine and prepare those to be ordained. This is also where the second concern may have occurred, and that relates to individuals who were ordained but who have been under discipline. The restoration of an individual is to take time. The point about participating in the sins of others, relates to either a hasty ordination, or a hasty restoration. The problem is that if these individuals partake in sin, the ones who have laid their hands on them, become participants of that sin as well. By ordaining an individual and putting them in a place of authority without taking the time to thoroughly examine their life, character and witness, the ordainer is participating in the sins of others. 

The final admonishment is clear; “keep yourself pure.” The elder is to keep themselves pure, and this includes being cautious of what they endorse. Endorsement signifies support and should something go wrong, there is great responsibility. 

Application:

Having spent time in the last few weeks ordaining individuals into ministry, this text certainly caught my attention. There is something amazing about participating in the ordination of an individual, and it feels like a very heavy, serious, and sacred moment. Ordaining those to serve in the church and before God is the serious work of the church, and it takes the whole church to be a part of the process. At the local church level we should identify those who have been called of God into ministry. Sometimes the church participates by noticing those who have the gifts and graces of ministry and they mentor and help to develop these individuals. In our tradition the local church boards affirms the call and provides the first local preacher’s license.

Seteki, Swaziland, ordination. 


While the process begins in the local church, it eventually becomes a part of the responsibility of the larger, district church family. The person called to ministry must take time to study and prepare to be ordained. Far too often these days I find that people are looking for a short-cut, the easy way to get through those classes to ordination. I’m saddened by this trend, because it seems to me that those who are called to lead the church would want to get the best education that they possibly can to be able to lead others. The cheapest and shortest route to ordination is not necessarily healthy for the church, nor the individual. “Don’t ordain anyone hastily.” There is a reason for serious theological education. Much of 1 Timothy refers to the heresies that were floating around the community and the problems that this was causing in the church. Poor theological education is often to blame for misunderstandings, even regarding our most basic tenets or Articles of Faith. No one needs to be in a hurry to be ordained, and all should want to take the time to learn all that they can, to be the very best servant of God. 

Some churches want to choose their leaders far too hastily. Others don’t want to disrupt the church by disciplining a pastor and are willing to simplify a process to try and retain the status quo. I’ve seen this in churches (not in our tribe) where a pastor has an affair, loses his marriage, and yet, the church decides to keep him in a position of leadership. He’s a popular leader, and if they lose him, they’re afraid of what will happen to the church. This passage says that if we do that, we are actually participating in that individual’s sins. Also, we may be participating in the sins of many others, because we’ve just sent a message to the congregation, and to the world that we are not serious about sin. Or, that certain sins really aren’t that big of a deal. 

There is an issue of purity here. There is a requirement of purity for those who are in leadership in the church. There is a requirement for the church to examine those to be in leadership and require purity as well. There will be those who want to be church leaders, who may have the administrative and speaking skills, but who may not be eligible because they would not pass the examination. There is a reason for the examination, and for an individual to be accountable to the church and the system, because the ordained individual represents Christ to the church and the world. That is a huge responsibility. 

There should be no short-cuts to the ministry. We need to all take seriously our responsibility in the appointing of leaders among us. God’s people need to embrace purity in Christ, and continue pressing on toward the goal of complete and total participation in this journey with our Lord. 

Prayer:

Lord, I pray that your church here on earth would be a reflection of your kingdom.  Amen.