Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Psa. 37:3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Examining the landscape of humanity it’s easy to get discouraged. It seems especially true that the wicked are flourishing and living the good life, and yet this Psalm juxtaposes faith against that view. But it’s hard for us to find that place of peace while living in a world that is so full of change. The Psalmist suggests that it’s time to trust in the Lord, and this is evidenced by engaging in the good. There is something active required of those who will have faith and trust in the Lord. This is not a passive, but an active relationship.
Engaging in the good for the Israelites meant that they would be able to live safely and securely in the promised land. Their participation in the good works of the Lord would become a type of synergistic activity that would provide the opportunity to enjoy life.
This participation in good works leads to fellowship with God. It is in this relationship with God that we fall in love with the Lord who has been leading us. As we fall in love, we delight and the relationship grows and blossoms. God’s desires become our desires and the cure for fretting comes as the desires of our heart are met by the overwhelming love of our holy God.
We are all prone to scope out the current landscape and wonder where we fit in. Too much of this examination may create within our hearts and lives a sense of fear, for it may appear that the evil-doers are winning the day. That’s what happens when we continually keeps our eyes on what is happening with others, rather than the work of God. There is a cure for all of this fretting and it only comes by changing the focus of our lives.
We must give attention to the things of God and when that happens, then everything else begins to blur into the distance. Stepping out in faith we are to put our trust in the Lord. Our faith is seen by the way we act, day in and day out. Serving God is not passive. When we are living in faithful fellowship with the Lord, our hearts are stirred into action. There are so many things in this world that break the heart of God and they should break ours as well. We must go out, reach into the cities, listening to the cries of the hurt and lonely, and bring them the love of Jesus.
Delighting in the Lord is the by-product of dwelling in the Lord’s holy tent. In the midst of all the fear and despair we are invited into the sacred space of a holy relationship with God. This becomes a cure for fretting as the peace of God calms our hearts and assures us in the moments of our fears. The world may seem as if it’s in chaos but in the presence of God there is peace. Faith will lead us to the land of God, a space where we discover the incredible holy love of God and a peace that will allow us to trust and do good. All of this will replace the fear that may be growing in our hearts. Suddenly there will no longer be room for fear, but it will be replaced by the delightful love of God which was found while abiding and trusting in the Lord.
Lord, the view is troubling. Help me to focus and trust in you. Amen.
Monday, January 30, 2017
Philem. 22 One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.
Paul is writing this letter in prison and is hoping that he will be set free. With faith that he will be freed, he asks that a guest room be prepared for him at the home of Philemon. There are two important aspects of this request and they include prayer, and action. The hope of liberation is not just on Paul’s part, but it is also something into which he asks the family of faith to participate. They, too, are to pray and in faith, prepare a guest room for Paul.
This hope of liberation is not only for Paul, but also for Onesimus. More than likely Paul is hoping to come to Colosse and personally see how the reception has been for Onesimus. It is through prayer and hospitality that God is able to bring about freedom for both a prisoner and a slave.
We are all prisoners of some sort in our lives. Maybe we have become prisoners of our fears, missed opportunities, broken relationships or physical ailments. Both Paul and Onesimus were prisoners of their circumstances and yet there was the hope of liberation. For Onesimus it was to return home and become loved and accepted as a member of the family of God. For Paul it was to be set free from the chains which he experienced in prison. For them, and for us, there is a pathway for liberation found in prayer, hospitality and participation in Christ’s activity in the world.
As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to action. That action includes prayer, but also participation in Jesus' mission in the world. Often that means we must be engaged in hospitality. Welcoming the stranger, or the one who wronged us, or even a friend, is a way to reflect the love found in God. The community of loving holy fellowship found in the Trinity is the same hospitality we are to reveal to the world around us.
It is in active engagement that we can be set free from our own imprisonment. It starts with prayer, leads us to a deeper relationship with Christ, and ends in loving others. In this way we live into the hope of liberation.
Lord, thank you for the hope of freedom found in and through you. Amen.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
The king had become ignorant of what would please God. He had determined to appease God by offering sacrifices but this is not what God wants. It had all be made clear in the covenant and therefore the king’s ignorance is inexcusable. God wants a holy people who reflect the character and nature which would be revealed in Jesus Christ, that is, obedient and spiritual people who will do justice.
John Wesley says, “He—God hath already told you in his word, with what you ought to come before him. To do justly—To render to every one their due, superiors, equals, inferiors, to be equal to all, and oppress none, in body, goods or name;…To love mercy—To be kind, merciful and compassionate to all, not using severity towards any. Walk humbly with thy God—Keep up a constant fellowship with God, by humble, holy faith.” (Wesley)
God does not want sacrifices, God wants the covenant people to reflect the very nature of Christ in their being. This is the good and it is what is required of God’s people; to be engaged in acts of justice, to love kindness and to remain in fellowship, day by day, and moment by moment, walking with God. It has been spelled out clearly for us to understand what it is that is required. Now, we must wrestle with how that is put into practice.
We have all experienced injustice in our lives; things that seem far outside our own control. Living outside the US for many years there have been many times that I needed someone who would help me. I’ve stood for hours trying to hold my position trying to get into an embassy to try and get a visa. I’ve spent hours pushing my way through immigration lines, hoping for a friendly face at passport control. I’ve had my car pulled over and a machine gun shoved in my face as the “officials” tried to confiscate my vehicle. It is in those moments that we pray that someone outside of our situation will speak up and become the voice that we do not have. We have our eyes open looking for someone to show compassion and justice.
We must begin by bringing ourselves to a place of intimate fellowship with God. In this space our hearts will break for the things that break the heart of God. Then, it is the Lord who will send us forth into a world that is struggling and in desperate need of a Savior. And we may just be the one who intercedes, showing mercy and justice in the moment of someone's need.
Lord, break my heart today. Amen.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
John 13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
This new commandment is given to the disciples in the midst of the last supper. Jesus has demonstrated his love for his disciples at the beginning of the evening by washing their feet. This becomes a new commandment because the love is initiated on the part of Jesus Christ. It is the fulfillment of the old command to love the Lord and your neighbor. Jesus reached out in love to his disciples, humbling himself before them so that they could experience his love in action. As this love flow from Jesus, so it flows into his disciples, those who have been adopted into the family of God. From that incredible love flows a love for one another. It is a mutual love which is demonstrated in service to one another and to the world. The command is to love, and that loves comes from the wellspring of holy love found by fellowshipping with God.
The act of foot washing becomes the sign of Jesus’ love for his disciples and now, they must struggle with following in his footsteps. It was very contrary to their human nature, for that very evening none of them had wanted to wash feet, and by now Judas had left the room with his devious plans. Jesus knew that he was asking them to do something radical and against their natural instincts. We are also asked to go beyond our natural instincts and to be drawn into fellowship with God where we can experience holy love. This is a love that will transcend all that divides us in this world and that is why Jesus brought it to them as a new command.
Throughout life there will be plenty of things on which God’s people may not agree. However, it’s in the disagreeing that we must learn to reflect love found in Christ. There is nothing that our enemy would like more than to divide the people of God and then cheer them on to throw stones at one another. How all the more powerful will people of the kingdom be when they are bound together by the holy love found in Christ! We must be wholeheartedly committed to loving Jesus, abiding in his presence, and serving his kingdom. Living out the passions and desires found in the heart of God are counter-cultural in most ways. God’s passions are not found in party lines, but in kingdom service. Suddenly we find ourselves following the example of Jesus, humbling ourselves in service to others and reflecting Christ’s love to our sisters and brothers, and to the world.
This was a new commandment because it was not to come from simple devotion to God, but in response to Jesus’ love. The love of Jesus is compelling us today to draw nearer to him, which will result in a deep love for one another.
Lord, thank you for the way in which you love us. Please, help me to live in and share that love. Amen.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Psa. 15 A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Psa. 15:2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
The desire of David is to dwell in the holy space of God’s presence. Jesus’ life provided the pathway for all of us to join him on the holy hill, to be transformed by God’s holy presence. We are constantly drawn up the hill so that we can abide in fellowship with our holy God. Being in God’s holy presence becomes transformational because the Lord’s holiness begins to work on the impurities which may be found in our lives. Transformed hearts lead to transformed living. No longer can we speak “untruths,” but must speak the truth as it comes from our heart. A heart which is touched by the holy love of God.
Once this happens we are convicted when we begin to slander our brother or sister. Holy love of God becomes holy love of the other. When we desire the best for someone else we would never think of speaking ill against them. Every word that comes out of our mouth is carefully monitored by the working of the Holy Spirit, for words can be as damaging as actions. Instead, speaking ill of a friend or coworker is far from the behavior of the one abiding on the hill with God, for holy people hold their tongue.
We live in an era where it’s hard to get to the bottom of the truth and the use of social media has created a new art-form to the use of words. Maybe my title should have been, “Holy people hold their tongue and don’t post everything that pops into their mind.” Lest you think this is a political post — it’s not! This is a message to the people of God, not the secular world. David was referring to those who would abide in the presence of God most high. These are the “holiness” people of his day and he realized that they had a problem. They liked to talk and gossip, and they tore one another apart with their words.
While this was already a problem in David’s day, it has become magnified these days because of social media. Somehow we think it’s okay to say things to one another in “anonymous” posts that we would never say when we are together, face to face. Or, “in confidence” we “share” our “concerns” about someone with a friend. We are actually trying to condone our criticism and negative talk. It’s easy to tear down that sister or brother that has a different political view, or doesn’t raise their kids well, or spends too much on certain items, or maybe interprets theology differently, or has a church that’s growing (and surely they must be doing something wrong!), or the church leader that just “doesn’t get it!” Wow — it can become a growing cancer in our lives and the one that ultimately suffers — is us — because we can’t continue this attitude and abide in the Lord’s tent. Suddenly our words have taken us far from God’s holy presence and we didn’t even know it was happening.
Words really do matter and they reflect our hearts. When we are in an intimate relationship with God, then our heart begins to reflect God’s heart. If that’s not what’s happening, then we had better get on our knees and confess that we have strayed from God’s tent, because holy people hold their tongue.
Lord, I confess that I don’t always hold my tongue. Please, help me draw closer to you and may my words reflect you well. Amen.
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Psalm 27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
In the midst of David's Psalm we discover an on-going and continuous relationship with God. We are instructed to seek the face of God, but at the same time God’s face is not hidden from us. When we catch a glimpse of the face of God, by divine intervention the yearning in our heart grows. Our desire becomes more and more for the face of the one who is constantly facing in my direction, drawing me ever closer to God’s holy presence. Therefore, we believe it is a command, but at the same time it is God’s divine work in our lives. The more we seek God, the more that our hearts are stirred by the longing to be in God’s presence.
Along the way we discover that we are falling in love. We become lovers of God who earnestly desire the beauty that is found in Christ. This song and prayer of David’s begins to resonate within our heart as we discover the deep love that God has for us. It is the will of God that we would seek God’s face. When we come before God in prayer, our hearts begin to echo God’s heart and so by the touch of the Divine, our hearts are melted with love and our desire becomes for God alone. We seek the face of God and God stirs our heart to seek the face of God and finally we stand face to face with God incarnate — Jesus Christ.
The call to holiness is the call to seek the face of God. Only by being in a face to face relationship with God, are we able to reflect God. David’s heart is telling him to seek the face of God and ultimately, he comes to he place where he desires nothing more. This becomes the overwhelming desire of his heart and life.
This prayer of David’s is to become the prayer for all of humanity. When Christ comes in the flesh we are able to visibly see God. Becoming like Jesus becomes the goal for all of humanity. God wants us to seek Jesus’ face and reflect him to the world. Jesus’ reflection of holy love is to so fill our beings that there is no room for anything else in our lives.
Our hearts will become consumed with the things that we make a priority in our lives. Even those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ may have their hearts burning for that new motorcycle, or vacation, or job. This may even be true for people who are serving in full-time ministry. The vocation may become more important than the One who has called us to that vocation.
When we jump out of bed in the morning is our heart telling us to seek the face of God? If not, then what?
Our prayer should be for God’s divine intervention in our lives so that our one desire would be to seek God’s face. After that, everything else falls into place.
Lord, may the desire of my heart be to seek your face. Amen.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Phil. 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Paul was anxious for the believers in Philippi to continue in their spiritual growth. He loved these people dearly and wished that he could be with them in person. He had a great concern that these people would not continue to grow spiritually. He wanted them to keep moving closer and closer to Jesus and to do this without fear. Jesus had provided everything they needed for salvation, but they needed to live into that salvation. It’s just like grabbing the hand of the one who is reaching out to rescue you from the edge of the cliff. You have to grab the hand that is ready to save you and then give yourself to the rescue process, instead of fighting!
God is at work in those who have been saved. The power of the Holy Spirit transforms the life of the believer and enables us “to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This is not something that happens because we want it to happen, or because we try so hard to do good things. No, this is Spirit-empowered living and when the Spirit is at work, then both our will and will-power are moved and motivated by God’s supernatural presence.
It’s probably dangerous to consider the ideas of “will” and “work” because I believe that far too long those concepts have been a bit distorted. It’s so easy to slip into thinking that I need to make sure that I am doing all the right things as a follower of Jesus Christ. Heaping guilt upon ourselves for not having enough will-power to be perfect has been an plague of my tribe. Language of perfection led to a continual recognition of imperfection and therefore the pain of never measuring up, or being good enough for Jesus. Somewhere along the way we failed to mention that it was the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God that reaches out and transforms God’s children. The only way that we can work out our salvation is in and through the power of God at work in us.
We have to start with having God in us! We are invited to the holy table where we find the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in intimate fellowship. Partaking from this table we are empowered by the holy love which ignites the Trinity. Only when this power is at work within us is our will enabled so that we may work for God’s good pleasure. Whenever we try to do this work from the supply in our own well, we will run dry. We must drink deeply and daily from the well of living water that will never run dry. Is is the living water that brings life to my being and transforms my will into God’s will. As I fellowship with God, the passions and desires of God’s heart become the passions and desires of my heart. The result is that we are drawn to the desires and passions of God. It is no longer a struggle, but it is the will of all that we do.
Our responsibility is to get to know God. God does the work on our will and it is lived out in our work. Beloved children of the Father, we are to relax and enjoy the fellowship around the table and then step into the world, nourished and led by the presence of the Holy Spirit. May our prayer be that God enables us to be faithful.
Lord, please sustain me from your deep supply today. Amen.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Judg. 6:11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” 13 Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.”
Gideon was hiding in the winepress beating out his wheat because he didn’t want the Midianites to see him. The people of God were again living in dangerous days with the threat of violence constantly at their doorstep. This was because of their unfaithfulness to God, but that was often forgotten.
The angel appears to Gideon and begins with an odd statement, calling Gideon “you mighty warrior.” This seems strange because the “mighty warrior” is living in fear, hiding in the winepress, trying to beat his wheat so that he and his family can make bread. That doesn’t seem very “mighty warrior” like. Instead of speaking into that comment Gideon shoots back, blaming God for the current state of affairs for the Israelites. The angel had said that the Lord was with Gideon — not with all the people. As Gideon recounts the promises of old and the faithful deeds of God mentioned by his ancestors, he seems to be angry. Why would God have helped in the past but doesn’t seemed to be helping now?
After this accusatory exchange, the Lord commissions him to go out and fight the enemy in the might that he has because the Lord is with him. The declaration of “mighty warrior” is not because of Gideon’s skill, but because of the presence of the Lord. God wants to take the ordinary man who is fearing for his life and use him for the extraordinary. It is in this way that God will be glorified as the people are saved from the Midianites. In the meantime, it took a very awkward conversation between Gideon and the Lord to get there.
Sometimes we avoid the difficult conversations with the Lord. Just like Gideon we may be suffering the consequences of what life has brought our way. Angry, hurt and beaten down we have retreated into a place of safety and are willing to live huddled up, trying not to disturb anyone. Sadly, there is no real life to be found here. Then comes the awkward moment when God answers our cry and shows up and we get angry. We join Gideon in crying out, “But sir…why has all this happened to [me]?” "It just doesn’t seem fair!" "I’ve heard people at church give their testimony about how God saved them and now I’m sitting in the middle of this mess and it feels like God has abandoned me!"
It took that awkward exchange for Gideon to be able to accept the help of the Lord. There are times when we need to be willing to have a conversation with God about where we find ourselves. I’m afraid that we think it’s impolite to have these kinds of conversations with God, but unless we actually have the tough conversations, we may never be able to move forward. God can handle us asking the tough questions! It’s when we remain huddled up in the winepress and refuse to have the conversation with God that we set ourselves up for real trouble. We close ourselves off from any possibility of being helped and we continue to suffer in silence.
God is not offended by the awkward conversation. If you notice in this story, the angel of the Lord doesn’t defend God, nor does he accuse Gideon of being unfaithful. Often those things don’t need to be said because most of us do know that there’s more to the picture than that single snapshot. It is in the process of the conversation that a relationship begins to develop. Gideon begins to trust this angel of the Lord who is about to ask Gideon to do the impossible. Only when we are willing to engage in the exchange with God will we learn to develop trust. When we begin to trust we will step out of the winepress of our lives on faith and God will take the ordinary and use it for the extraordinary. This doesn’t happen without our participation with God. Gideon wasn’t a mighty warrior, but God was a mighty warrior.
God loves us and wants to lift us out of the pit of the winepress. It may take an awkward exchange — but God can handle it! Step out on faith and have that difficult conversation that will bring healing to your relationship with God.
Lord, thank you for loving us enough to endure the awkward conversations. Amen.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Isaiah 9:4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
This beautiful passage from the prophet Isaiah is known as the Messianic passage. The words lead us into a gracious understanding of the coming Messiah. Salvation will stretch beyond the shores of the Jordan and the people who have been walking in darkness will get to see the great light. The Messiah will come to set God’s people free. It is these words that remind the people of the oppression that they have suffered. The burdens of carrying a yoke, being prodded on their shoulders and beaten by the rod all bring about imagery of oxen. They have been an oppressed nation, and it has felt like the burden carried by the ox who is plowing the field. It is the vision of life in Egypt when they lived as slaves.
The Messiah will come and free God’s people from oppression. The heavy yoke will be lifted and the slaves set free. This will not be accomplished by human or political power, but by the supernatural intervention of God into the lives of God’s people. Just as God rescued Gideon with a handful of men, so God will save humanity through one man. The promise is for all those who are weighed down. The Messiah has come to lift the burden and set us free.
Everyday we encounter situations which may become a burden to us. We can become yoked to that troubled relationship, or that problem at work, or that child who has determined to follow their own destiny. We may feel weighed down by the burdens that we have to carry day in and day out. Our mind becomes preoccupied with the burden and it can become oppressive. When that happens it can become consuming and difficult to think about anything else.
Jesus has come to lift that burden and remove the sense of being weighed down. This Messianic passage is prophesying about a new era when the Messiah would come and break the chains of oppression in the life of believers. The yoke and burden of slavery in Egypt are the chains of our past. Most all of us have some kind of a past; a space in life where we were not living our lives in obedience to the Father. Often that kind of living has consequences. They become the burden, the prodding bar leading us in a particular direction and the beating rod of the oppressor. It may be difficult for us to see or understand, but just as God saved Gideon from the Midianites, so God can set us free from what weighs us down today.
We are partnered together in life with something. It is either the things of life that weigh us down, or it is the yoke of the Messiah that saves. He promises that his burden is light because he does all the heavy lifting. It doesn’t mean that the burdens of life are gone, but that they are being carried by Jesus, and not by us. This is the great and glorious promise of the Messiah who has come and lives now to intervene on our behalf. We must be willing to accept the yoke of his leadership and let go of the burdens that are weighing us down.
Lord, the weight of the burdens which we often refuse to relinquish to you are unbearable. Please, lift those burdens and help us walk in the pathway you prepare for us. Amen.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
Luke 5:29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Levi is called by Jesus to be a disciple. He is a tax-collector, and they are viewed by many as the scum of society. They were considered religiously ‘unclean’ by the Pharisees because they worked for the Romans and quite literally stole from their fellow Jews by corrupt tax practices. Along with tax collectors, the “others” of the scum included prostitutes and criminals, and probably a few other unsavory characters sprinkled in to add a little spice. Just by associating with these people Jesus was allowing his reputation to be tarnished. But the image is one of the final marriage supper of the lamb, where all who have been saved by grace are welcome at the table. It is a wonder of grace that the Lord reaches out to such scum, and it becomes a lesson in discipleship for Levi. This is the behavior which he is to adopt as he follows after and imitates Christ.
Meanwhile the religious leaders are angry with Jesus’ behavior because they want to believe that they are the chosen and select few who have kept themselves pure for God. The only problem is that their rules for purity actually became a barrier that would not allow them to see the Messiah. Jesus, trying to help them understand his mission uses the metaphor of a medical doctor. The doctor comes to meet the needs of the sick, not to hang out with the healthy. Surely they could understand the importance of this role.
The disciple is to step into the mission of Jesus and accept the role of healer. The only response is to ask, “Who needs a doctor?”
Last evening we had some friends over for dinner. The husband happens to be a medical doctor and she is a nurse. While we were eating he was receiving some texts about a patient who was in need. Finally he had to excuse himself from the table to make a call and care for the needs of the sick individual. One can only imagine how ridiculous it would have been for him to ignore the needs of his patient because he was hanging out with his well friends! All of us would be appalled by that kind of behavior and would probably determine that this person is not really a doctor.
People will question the legitimacy of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ and yet ignore the needs of those who need Jesus’ touch. The blessings of knowing Christ are not for us to hoard for ourselves or to be used only in fellowship with our fellow believers. The sick are in desperate need of a doctor and when we refuse to get up from our comfortable seat and help them we are anything but Christlike! We will suddenly find ourselves hanging out with the Pharisees who were critical of Jesus’ behavior.
The expectation of discipleship is to go out into the world and make more disciples. That means we follow Jesus and fellowship at the table with those that others may refer to as scum. Time to grab our doctor’s bag!
Lord, please help me not to be too comfortable at the table with my friends. Amen.
Friday, January 20, 2017
Gal. 2:10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
Paul was called to minister to the Gentiles and likely there were those who may have accused him of forgetting his own countrymen. The Jews back in Jerusalem were struggling. There had been a famine and many were starving. Those who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah had an additional burden of being disowned by their families. The result was a fledgling church spread throughout the Mediterranean, made up of many diverse people, struggling for unity. Paul was making his case for ministering to the Gentiles while Peter, James and John were preaching to the Jews. They had previously gathered in Jerusalem to discuss what might be required of Gentiles who were becoming Christians. Did they also have to take upon themselves the Jewish practice of circumcision? The decision was made that they did not and Paul would continue ministering to those who were not Jewish. The unifying principle became ministry to the poor, and quite specifically, the Jewish Christian poor who were struggling in Jerusalem. All of those who were coming to Christ were rallying around these who were in need. God was unifying the believers, those who may have previously been heathen-unbelieving Greeks, and Jews. As they united to minister to the most needy among them, God was binding them together into a new people — Christians!
The differences among the Christians was quite stark! There were those who had been very devout and religiously Jewish. They followed every letter of the Jewish law and believed this was important to their new Christian faith. There were the Gentiles, the ones who had come from a very pagan Greek background. Their previous behavior would have been viewed as vile to the Jews. Literally their own personal practices would have made them unclean to the Jews and yet, somehow, these very different people were to be united in Christ. Instead of focusing on themselves and their own wants or desires, they were to pay attention to the very neediest among them. While they were caught up in arguing over things like circumcision, they had fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who were starving to death. It was time to get their eyes off of themselves and onto the leading of the Lord.
Today is a unique day in the United States as we celebrate the inauguration of a new president. On both sides of the political aisle people are angry with one another. Some are very excited about the days ahead and others are terrified. There are believers in Jesus Christ who will find themselves in both of these camps. It’s easy to focus on our differences and have expectations that we ought to all be the same. Initially the Jewish Christians thought that it would be a good idea for converts to be circumcised. That made sense to them, but God began to move in ways that they had never even imagined and the Greek converts were a complete surprise to them. The ways in which we think things ought to be done may not be the way in which God wants to get them done. God has always been able to break down the barriers in society and unify the people of God when they fix their eyes on Jesus. This was not just done in the past, but can be done in the present, when God’s people are unified around God’s mission.
Paul’s call to remember the poor was one facet of the unifying mission of the early church. Those who disagreed with one another on so many levels could agree that ministering to the poor was important. The act of remembering led to physical engagement. They actively collected offerings everywhere they went, giving sacrificially to help their sisters and brothers who were in need.
God’s people need to be actively engaged in God’s mission becoming a unifying factor when those at the table are from varied backgrounds and perspectives. Our unifying mission today remains the needs of those who are poor, both in body and in spirit. God’s people need to bring the love of Jesus Christ to those who need spiritual transformation, but also physical comfort and support. Jesus never separated compassion from salvation, they went hand in hand. He healed the sick and saved them from their sins.
Instead of focusing on our differences, may we continue to press forward in the mission of God. The poor remain with us and are in desperate need of the people of God to be unified, co-laborers together in the mission of God. Remember the poor! Remember your calling! Remember, they will know we are Christians by our love.
Lord, please help us to be united as your people, focusing on your mission. Amen.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Gal. 1:18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
There were those whose questioned Paul’s authority to preach the gospel. The people of Galatia were specifically concerned about his preaching to the gentiles and whether he had been far too influenced by the Apostles in Jerusalem. Was he more interested in converting them to Judaism? Here he begins to explain to them his travels and the way in which he had been taught and directed in his spiritual walk. He tells the story of his previous life and helps them see that he was a man in drastic need of conversion. Only the gracious and divine intervention of Jesus would be able to explain the transformation that occurred in his life.
God’s call in Paul’s life was the only authority that he had. Paul saw his ministry as similar to that of Jeremiah and other Old Testament prophets. Now he would see the fulfillment of many of the prophesies as the message of salvation was spreading throughout the known world, breaking down national barriers. The Galatians were privileged to be a people who receiving the light of the Gospel. Just as the prophets were inspired by God, so Paul was declaring that he was not who he had become because of human instruction. His contact with the apostles was very limited. So important was this for him to explain that he almost swears, telling them that he does not lie!
Paul was recounting the places to which he had traveled. Such little time had he spent in or around Jerusalem that the churches in Judea didn’t recognize him when they saw him. They had heard about him, but nothing more. The story of his miraculous conversion was grounds for the church praising God. Even his great preaching had become reason for God to be glorified. “The idea of glorifying men for the success of their work was unknown in the early church.” (People’s NT Commentary) It means nothing if Christ is revealed to us, that we don’t then allow Christ to be revealed in us. What mattered most to Paul was that the people would believe that he had spent time with Jesus and that they were seeing Jesus reflected in him.
Paul was very sensitive to the fact that he wanted God to get the glory for everything that was accomplished in his life and for his ministry. What a contrast to today’s world where it’s all about getting attention for yourself, and this has even crept into the church. Often we refer to churches as “so and so’s” church — and we are actually mentioning the pastor’s name. In some cases the ministry has become completely wrapped up in the personality of the pastor and if that individual were to move on, die, or have a moral problem, the possibility is that the whole thing would fall apart. This was not what Paul wanted, for more than anything he wanted his ministry to be about lifting up Christ.
Interestingly God answered Paul’s prayer and the concerns of his heart. If you consider that Paul spent many days in prison, he was unable to be out preaching in the churches himself. The result was intentional leadership development by the dissemination of his letters. He cultivated first century pastors and leaders through his work, but then laid a foundation for all of Christianity. We are still reading his letters today and yet, it is in his letters, we that we see Jesus glorified. This was a man with a great education and yet, in humility he made sure that Jesus got all the credit.
God is to be glorified in every aspect of our lives. When we are followers of Jesus Christ it is not our goal to raise up our own reputation or to be successful in the eyes of the world. Paul’s time in prison would not have been seen as worldly success, and yet it was kingdom success. The testimony of our lives should be the ways in which God is at work. Our calling to follow Jesus means being willing to give up everything for the sake of glorifying God.
Lord, use my life as an instrument for your glory. Amen.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Psa. 40:6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
David’s psalm comes from the depths of his obedient heart and his greater understanding of God. The more that he gets to know the heart of God, the more that he understands what God desires from him. This is what God wants from David, but as David’s fellowship with God continues he is already understanding the heart of the coming Messiah.
The God of love does not desire rituals, but an openness to an intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity. The term “open ear” can be translated in many ways. An open ear may be about the willingness to listen and to really get to know God. It may also refer to the piercing of the ear. Some have suggested that it can be understood as the servant having their ear pierced by the awl, acknowledging that they belong to their master, and that Jesus’ ear was pierced on the cross as he gave up everything to become the ultimate sacrifice. The burnt offerings and sin offerings replaced by the live offering of the lamb of God.
David could already see that this participation with God brought him into a much more intimate place than burnt offerings. The result of this new relationship with God would be revealed in the scroll where it would be written of the activity of the Messiah. Jesus was the obedient servant who would delight to do God’s will — but it was more than that — it was David’s foretaste of what was to come. David was already experiencing the assurance of his own salvation. He was being drawn into a future which was already planned out by God for from his own family line, Jesus would be born. What David could not see clearly, we are enlighten to understand. God isn’t looking for us to complete a set of tasks, but is drawing us into intimate fellowship, where there is serious commitment to God’s will, and an obedient heart.
David was not a perfect man and yet there was a period of time in his life where he discovered what it meant to live in a deeply intimate relationship with God. He provides for us an example of where we are to go in our relationship with God. We are being invited into a deeply intimate and personal relationship of fellowship with our holy God.
I’ve been reflecting on my own character lately. I am a rather task oriented person who likes to tick the boxes at the end of the day. I find fulfillment in getting things done. My parents raised me with the mantra, “plan your work and work your plan.” The only danger in that is the “plan” can overrun the relational. Where does time to slow down and be in relationship with God and others fit when it comes to a "to do" list? It means that even time with the Lord can become something that we time or we do because we want to tick it off the list for the day. Could that be our modern day burnt offering or sin offering? God doesn’t just want to be one of the things that we tick off our list for the day — God wants us to sit down and have fellowship. It’s that cup of tea and unhurried conversation with a dear friend! That comes out of a heart that passionately desires to be in God’s presence.
The obedient heart is the one that has gotten to know the heart of God. Just as the Father’s desires became Christ’s desires and the Father’s passions were Jesus’ passions, the same should be revealed in our lives as we participate and fellowship with God. The obedient heart leads to Christlikeness, and Christlikeness leads us out into the daily mission field of our lives.
Lord, please help me to know you more today than yesterday. Amen.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Is. 53:4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
The prophet spoke words that would be fulfilled in the life of the Messiah. The words are poignant, gripping us at the place of misunderstanding. The Messiah would bear the corruption of humanity in his flesh, so that he could bring healing. Sadly, we would not understand his sacrifice, but would look upon his diseases with disdain. Little would we understand that the ugliness we saw in his flesh was our ugliness which he chose willingly to suffer so that we could be healed. We are the cause and he must bear the wounds to bring about the healing effect. God’s ways are higher than our ways and the sacrifice made by the Messiah is beyond our complete understanding.
The people had the wrong understanding of the one carrying the infirmities and diseases. As they looked on him they were sure that God was punishing him for something that he had done wrong. The idea that this would be God incarnate taking upon himself our illness was beyond comprehension. Historically when we have looked upon those who have difficulties or diseases we have thought that God was punishing them. Just about eighty years ago my aunt, my father’s sister, was born with Down’s syndrome. My grandparents were pastoring a small church in Nebraska but even the “good church folk” condemned my grandmother for having dome something wrong and that God was punishing her with this child. I don’t think that my grandparents ever felt that way for they loved my Aunt Shirley her whole life. The ways in which they cared for her demonstrated their deep, deep love, but that didn’t remove the pain that they suffered because of the words of some parishioners. God’s ways are not our ways and sometimes we fail to see the true picture, which was what the prophet Isaiah was saying.
As we follow Christ we may also be asked to sacrifice. Jesus challenged his listeners to take up their cross and follow him. He didn’t promise that life would be easy if we followed him, but he did promise that he would go with us. I think we misunderstand the Christian life if we don’t think that it requires sacrifice. Jesus put all of humanity before himself and willingly bore the ugliness of our corrupted lives, just so they could be made whole again. We may be asked to sacrifice our time, space, reputation, and finances to make a difference in this world. We all would like to protect our reputation, and yet, sometimes it is our reputation which must be sacrificed in order to help others.
What are we willing to give up for the sake of others? And in doing so will the world misunderstand and consider you afflicted?
The world looked on at Jesus and completely misunderstood what he was doing. May we follow after him, living a life of sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Lord, I know there are times that I misunderstand what I see. Please, help me not to be judgmental but to see with your eyes and appreciate your sacrifices and those of others. Amen.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Psalm 40:15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”
Psa. 40:16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
David continues to teach us how to pray. He is a man lives by the spirit, following the leading of the LORD. He finds himself in a situation where others mock and shame him. They look at what he’s done and point it out saying, “Aha, Aha!” Look at what this man is doing and how ridiculous it looks in the eyes of the world. He is brought to public discredit because of his faithfulness to God. The result is confusion and disgrace. David shows us that we are to pray against those who would publicly disgrace God’s followers.
He moves on from praying against the oppressors to praying for those who will seek the LORD. Those who seek God will find God and discover the honor in knowing the LORD is far greater than the disgrace of the unbelievers who shout “Aha, Aha!” The love of God fills those who are saved and instead of ridicule, they rejoice in their redemption replying, “Great is the Lord!” Even the best followers of Jesus Christ will be undone if they do not live continually preserved by living in the grace of God.
It seems as if society is standing at the ready to proclaim, “Aha, Aha!” anytime it appears that a Christian has done anything wrong. Because Jesus becomes our model for life and living the challenge for the Christ-follower can be great. The world has expectations of Christianity and when we fail to meet those standards there are plenty of folks at the ready to yell out, “Aha, Aha!”
The reason people are so ready to cry out, “Aha, Aha!” is because of their personal sense of conviction regarding their own behaviors. When we follow Jesus the light of Christ emanates from us and shines into a very dark world. This makes people feel quite uncomfortable and instead of focusing on the issues they may have in their lives, they enjoy pointing the finger at others. They await just the right moment when they catch you in something and cry out, “Aha, Aha!” The desire is to shame the Christian and publicly disgrace them. In some places this has almost taken on an art-form as the political systems have come against Christianity and literally made it gleeful for adversaries to cry out, “Aha, Aha!”
David shares with us a plan for those who would come against Christianity — pray for them! Ultimately the prayer leads us to understanding that those who say “Aha, Aha!” will be appalled because of their behavior. Then, the prayer turns to a positive note— that those who seek the LORD will rejoice. Yes, God is even in the business of transforming those who might be against him, into those who are for him. Those who have been caught up saying, “Aha, Aha!” may eventually say, “Great is the Lord!” That is to be our prayer — to pray for those who would come against us. That their eyes might be opened to what they are doing, but then turn to God, and continually rejoice in the salvation found there.
May the “Aha, Aha!” be turned to praise of God. It is possible as we unite with our Father in prayer and lift up those who speak against us.
Lord, I pray that you might work in me and help me to love as you love. Please help me to pray for these who may come against you, that they would know our love. Amen.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
John 1:35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
John the Baptist was out with two of his disciples when he saw Jesus walk by. His comment about Jesus made his two disciples curious so, they began to follow Jesus. Can you imagine how they must have felt when Jesus turned around and confronted them? Here we find the very first words of Jesus as recorded by John. Jesus is responding to the curiosity of the two men and so he enquires of them, “What are you looking for?” They don’t answer that question directly but seek out an opportunity to spend time with Jesus and question him.
They may have been looking for the Messiah, or they may not have been quite sure about the teachings of this man, but they seemed to want to have their questions answered. By asking him where he was staying they were looking for an invitation to spend time talking to him in private. Jesus gained their trust by showing hospitality, not just pointing out where he was staying, but taking them with him.
The curiosity of these two revealed their readiness to learn. They were willing to chase after something which they thought may be important to them and their lives. Some might have expected Jesus to rebuff their curiosity, but he did not, and instead extended an invitation to his home, to get to know him more. Their healthy curiosity was met with warmth by the Messiah, revealing that those who seek him will find him.
As a child having a healthy curiosity was not always met with acceptance. I can still hear my mother saying, “you know what curiosity did to the cat, don’t you?” (In case you don’t know “curiosity killed the cat.) Somehow we have come to equate curiosity with danger and living in a litigious and safety-proofing world we are almost taught to avoid curiosity. The sad part of all of this is that curiosity is normal to human nature and is vital to survival. Without a healthy curiosity we will be unwilling to explore new horizons, take chances, or reach out to make a difference in this world. Jesus certainly did not live a life of safety, but put himself out there to save the world. Even Jesus, as a young child revealed his curiosity when he remained in the temple, just so he could learn more. He got in trouble, but he didn’t allow that to stifle his curiosity or desire to learn more about his Father.
If we stifle curiosity, and try to create an environment in which to be “safe” we may actually sheltering people from God. It requires a healthy curiosity to step out in faith and follow Jesus. This means that we ask questions — ones which don’t always make people feel comfortable. But if we don’t allow the space for questioning, then we are telling people that you are not allowed to be curious and we expect them to toe the company line.
I can imagine that those disciples asked Jesus some pretty tough questions that night. Instead of frustration on his part, we can surmise that he prepared them dinner, conversed with them and gave them space to stay overnight. We know that by the next morning he seems to have satisfied their curiosity because they leave the house devoted followers of Christ, ready to call others to his side.
Fostering an environment of healthy curiosity is not always pleasant and takes intentional action on the part of Jesus’ disciples. Wrestling with the tough questions of the day can be a healthy way of finding Jesus. We need to be comfortable with allowing curiosity to develop, providing direction that may lead toward the eternal.
Lord, may the curiosity that you place within me lead me to the deeper questions that result in knowing you. Amen.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Luke 5:1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Peter was an ordinary man going about his own business, trying to catch fish. The scene on the seashore must have been fascinating as people were literally crushing this man named Jesus who was a religious teacher. Trying to place some distance between himself and the people he stepped into Peter’s boat, seemingly without asking permission. This becomes the pulpit from which Jesus is able to preach to the people, but Peter also becomes a captive audience of one. There is no place to go and so Peter must have sat back and listened to this man. We don’t know what Jesus says but it must have had an impact on this fisherman because when he finishes Jesus tells him to throw his nets back into the water. With just a little bit of push-back Peter explains that they have already been fishing all night, but having been influenced by this man teaching from his boat, he responds, “yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Just because Jesus tells him to do so, Peter, the fisherman, obeys the religious teacher. The result is miraculous and a sign of the future that Jesus has in store for Peter.
Even when Peter thought he knew better, he trusted Jesus. That faith in Jesus led to a life that Peter would never have even imagined. He was an ordinary fisherman who went on to become the rock on which the church would be built. His influence continues to this day because he chose to believe.
I read several scriptures today that relate to the call of God on peoples’ lives. The first was David — and ordinary little shepherd boy who chose to live his life in radical obedience to God. Next was the calling of Elisha, when Elijah runs up to him and throws his cloak over him. Elisha is working as a farmer with a massive yoke of 12 oxen — meaning he must have been some successful guy! He leaves it all to follow Elijah and pick up his mantle. Then, there is Peter, a professional fisherman who is so impacted by Jesus spending one day in his boat that he leaves it all to follow him.
All three of these people were professionals in their own right. David was a great shepherd, Elijah was an incredible farmer, and Peter was a professional fisherman. Yet, in all three of these peoples’ lives we find that God speaks to them and leads them in a different direct. The interesting thing with Peter is that Jesus even instructs him on fishing, and Peter listens. God gets right into the nitty-gritty of our daily lives and begins to lead us. We may think that we know better than the Lord what it is that we are doing. After all — many of us have been busy doing what we do for a very long time. When Jesus shows up and tells us what to do it can feel like an interruption, or disruption to our daily lives. Peter had a routine of fishing — he was already finished for the day — and he was washing out his nets. Why in the world would Jesus ask him to try and fish again? And yet, Jesus does and Peter responds with more fish than he could have imagined.
Following Jesus means stepping out in faith, even in areas where we may think that we are the experts. Jesus isn’t asking us to only trust him in certain vulnerable areas of our lives, but in every area of our life. This includes the parts that we think may be going well. Maybe God wants to do even more in our lives, take the good and make it even better! Far too often we become satisfied and complacent with where we find ourselves in life. Along comes Jesus and tells us to engage in something that will stretch us outside of our comfort zone. If it truly comes from Jesus, we should not fear for he has a plan in mind. Jesus knew what he wanted to do in and through Peter, but he had to know whether Peter would trust him. There were moments of growth throughout Peter’s life when his faith was tested but ultimately, he continued to live into that trajectory.
Even when we think we know better, we must follow Jesus in faith. When we try to maintain control we may find ourselves in a place of fear, for we cannot control everything. God is the one who is leading us, and living in faith and allowing God to intervene in every area of our lives is the only place to find security. We don’t know it all and Jesus is our Master. Let’s listen and follow in obedience.
Lord, please help me to have ears to hear and a heart filled with obedience to you. Amen.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Psa. 40:9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
David suffered throughout much of his life, being chased by foreign and even very close enemies. Many were out to destroy him and yet, he was God’s chosen man for leadership. He often records the struggles that he faced both emotionally and physically, but he refused to be singularly focused on his troubles. David needed to express the gratitude that he felt in his heart for all that God had done for him. This had to be a public testimony, where he would give God all the credit for his victories. For David, his spiritual life was more than something that happened in the interior of his life, but it had to be expressed for all the world to see and hear. Over and over again he would speak of God’s faithfulness and salvation. The love that David felt for God overflowed and was revealed to all of his people.
David’s expressions were an announcement of good tidings. In many ways this was a prophetic word regarding the coming Messiah, the one who would bring deliverance for all of humankind. David entered into holy fellowship with God and the result was an eagerness to express to all with whom he came into contact, the incredible and steadfast love of God.
We are to become possessed of that same spirit as we learn to dwell in the presence of our Savior. David’s exuberant good tidings about God are much like a five-star review we might find on Angie’s List. His experience was so great that nothing would keep him from sharing his testimony with the whole world.
Everywhere you look these days you find reviews for different products. On Facebook people can review different organizations and it can be very damaging to get a one-star review. It takes a lot of five-star reviews to raise that average! Last evening I was looking at a piece of clothing that I could order off the internet and now we are provided with individual ratings or reviews of those pieces of clothing. Someone who has a bad experience may give that item one or two stars. You tend to be drawn toward those negative reviews and wonder what the challenge was for this individual. I often fly on Delta Airlines and every time I travel they want me to review the service that I received. Everyone wants the five-star review!
I’ve never thought about writing a review of my relationship with God, but that’s exactly what David has done here for us. He literally writes a five-star review, one which draws us into his experience and makes us want to have a little taste of what he has had. For fun I decided to see if anyone has ever written a review of, or scored their relationship with God. As far as I can tell, there is no such site. If you find one — please let me know. I did discover reviews of books under which you could potentially receive five gold stars! But now I’m feeling challenged. What if I were to write a review of my relationship with God, what would I say?
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 My daily walk with the Lord is the centering and guiding force of my life. There is no “product” available that could ever replace an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Lately I have experienced such peace and calm as I daily try to seek first God’s kingdom. The result is that everything else in life takes a backseat to the incredible love that can be experienced by spending time with the Lord. I strongly recommend having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This has transformed my life!
Let’s think about sharing our review, or testimony, of what Christ has done for us with someone who may be needing to hear that good news. We were never meant to keep this to ourselves, but to overflow with the love of God by sharing with others. Time to write our five-star review!
Lord, there will never be enough words of gratitude to express my love and praise for what you have done. Amen.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Is. 22:20 On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah, 21 and will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I will commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. 23 I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his ancestral house. 24 And they will hang on him the whole weight of his ancestral house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. 25 On that day, says the LORD of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way; it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will perish, for the LORD has spoken.
The corruption among the leadership in Israel was notorious. One leader was losing their position and being replaced with another, Eliakim. It would appear at the outset that Eliakim was faithful in service to God but it was hard to shake the practices of old. In the homes of the day pegs were pounded into the walls from which were hung the family crest and items of significance. The prophet noted that while Eliakim would begin well, eventually all the baggage of his family would be hung upon him. This included a history of corruption and deceit which was demonstrated in the every day activities of his family, which are represented by the ordinary vessels. Because he allowed the corruption to continue and he because he doesn’t “clean house” the weight on the peg becomes too great. Eliakim cannot compensate for what he allows to fester within his family, and kingdom. Eventually the weight of the sins of the family are too great and the peg gives way. Sadly, they will all perish because corruption had filled the house.
The consequences of sin are far-reaching. There was a certain expectation that the King would clean house when he became the ruler. He may have been a good man, but if he didn’t take care of the issues that were occurring within his own household, it would result in the downfall of all.
This is true for our own spiritual houses. We may be seeking God and be good people, but if we refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to clean house, secret pockets of sin will remain. The entire house just may collapse and sadly, it may not just be our own spiritual house, but that of our entire family. As Christian parents we have a responsibility to submit to the Holy Spirit and God’s leading, living lives that are examples of holiness and purity before our children. If we don’t, we may be responsible for their spiritual suffering later in life, for what we do, will influence them spiritually. We may become the weight that pulls their peg from the wall.
We may also find this in the life of a spiritual community. If there is sin within the church family, let’s be assured that it will become a weight to the community of faith. With a diminished emphasis on discipleship within the church there seems to be less accountability. Instead of encouraging one another in our spiritual growth and development we have become more and more tolerant of behaviors that may not be pleasing in the sight of God. We need to ask whether these are becoming weights on the peg and how long, until the peg gives way.
Finally we find corruption in society and government. How long can the strain continue on the peg?
God allows people to assume positions of responsibility but with that comes the requirement to lead in holiness. Allowing sin to remain in the camp is destructive to all. The family must be called to repentance for all to be saved. This is the challenge of the leader who hopes to keep his/her peg secure.
Lord, thank you for the stories of those who have gone before and who can teach us what not to do. Amen.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Isaiah 51:11 So the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
The prophet is speaking words to a people who are anticipating a return from exile. The people of God will be ransomed, a payment made by the capture of two other nations. When that happens the exiles will return home, singing and rejoicing. Jerusalem is their home and finally they will be able to climb the hill again to Zion and their joy will sustain them to the end of their lives. All the years of sorrow and sadness which they have experienced in exile will disappear.
Not only is the prophet speaking to those who were suffering in physical exile, but to those who struggle in a spiritual exile. Jesus, the Messiah would come, and he would pay the ransom to set God’s people free. Those who are ransomed will then return home — to their spiritual Zion. They will be invited to into kingdom living and in this place there will be great joy and singing in praise and honor of God. Ultimately there will be a new Jerusalem in which there will be eternal joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing will be disappear.
The promise was for those then who awaited their return home, and for God’s children for all of eternity, who are promised a pathway home to Zion.
When I was a little girl growing up in Europe we would travel a great deal. It was easy to visit numerous countries because they were so close together and so my parents would squeeze all six of us into the car and off we would go. I never worried about finding our way home, as long as Dad was with us. My dad was tall and so I would simply look up and glance over the crowd to make sure that I knew where he was. It was not uncommon when I was small that I would grab onto my dad’s leg, holding on for dear life, to make sure that I was going to stay close to him. I do recall one time visiting a church and thinking that I had found my father’s leg, only to look up and discover that I was clinging tightly to a stranger, and that left me a bit traumatized.
Once I was asked to participate in a wedding when I was just a little girl. Dressing up as the flower girl was fun but when it came time to walk down the aisle, I was terrified. Instead of doing my job properly, I attached myself to the ministers leg and he and I walked down the aisle together. Somehow I needed to have my fears calmed by the presence of my father. He was the one who would always get me back home without a problem!
Getting home was always something that we kids looked forward to. As much as we enjoyed our journeys with our parents, there was nothing better than finally seeing the homestretch. When I was seven years of age we visited the United States for several months so my parents could speak at a number of churches. At first it was fun, but finally it got long and a bit tiring. We simply wanted to get home. Instead of flying home, my parents booked us passage on a Steamship, the SS United States. We got on the ship in New York and steamed all the way to France. When we arrived Dad picked up a rental car and suggested that we visit Paris before driving the rest of the way home. Reluctantly we agreed that he could take us to Paris where he wanted to show us the Eiffel Tower. We drove around the block, looked out the window and pronounced to Dad that it was nice, but could we now go home! We pulled out of Paris without even leaving the car and drove home to Frankfurt, Germany. With great joy and gladness we finally saw our home after months of being on the road. There is was nothing better.
I wanted to be home.
I needed my dad to take me there.
I had to trust my father.
Spiritually we are drawn toward home, and that is not here on this earth. As followers of Jesus Christ we are living in a foreign world, citizens of the heavenly kingdom. We already live in the kingdom, and yet we are not quite there. It’s an odd space where the more that we know the Lord, the more we are drawn toward Zion. But we need our heavenly Father to lead us to that place. We are spiritual children who do not know the way to go on our own. If we try, we just may end up lost. Making sure that we stay close to our heavenly Father ensures finding our way home, but we must believe and trust our Father. When we live in this way then we can enjoy the journey. There will be struggles and difficulties in life but ultimately sorrow and sighing will flee away as we put our trust in the Lord. This is what happens when we find our way home.
Lord, thank you for loving me as a Father, and for your presence which leads home. Amen.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Psalm 89:30 If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my ordinances,
31 if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with scourges;
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
or be false to my faithfulness.
The cry of the Psalmist was for a continuation of the Davidic line. The people of God were, far too often, found to be unfaithful. The hope was in the eternal love of the Father. Drawing upon the metaphor of parenthood and the need for discipline, the Psalmist conjures up a vision of a parent who refuses to give up on their child. This Psalm brings up a great If-Then statement. If they forsake the law; If they violate God’s statues — Then they will be punished with the rod. The language here is again parental. God, the Father doesn’t say that the children will be destroyed, but that they will receive the rod, a reference to the discipline that parents bring to their young children so that they will keep on a healthy path. Finally, the steadfast love of the Father will never be removed, nor can or will the Father be unfaithful, for it is beyond his nature.
None of us likes to be disciplined and, as a parent and a grandparent, it’s really no fun to have to discipline those little ones either. I remember times when our girls were little that I found it painful to have to discipline them, but knew that I must for their own good. If I wouldn’t take the time to teach them what was right and wrong, there could have been extremely serious consequences. Our loving heavenly Father also disciplines his children when necessary, not because he does not love us, but because he loves us so much. Enduring the discipline of the Father can be painful and embarrassing but it can also bring us back to the place where we belong.
Refusing to discipline our children will be detrimental to their lives. Lately I’ve heard more and more comments about “parental failure” and the long-term results on children and society as a whole. When parents refuse to take their responsibility to bring about correction and discipline in the lives of their children everyone will have to suffer the consequences. A loving parent brings discipline into the life of a child, teaching them that the world does not revolve around them; that they cannot have everything they want when they want it; that not everyone wins; that hard work really is necessary; that doing chores is a great way to be prepared for life; that doing your own homework is important; that putting down electronic devices and learning how to have conversations with people will prepare you for life; and that spending time in family devotions every day is critical to spiritual development.
When we refuse to allow God to discipline us the consequences reach far beyond our own personal lives. The choices of leading Israelites led to the punishment of an entire group of people. As a Christian, when I refuse to follow God’s leading and direction, then I should expect correction, or many will suffer as a result of my behavior. Our hearts must be tender toward the leading and nudging of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, listening for direction. It’s not always easy and sometimes quite painful, but it comes from a Father’s heart of love.
Our loving Father teaches us that our lives should be ruled by love of God and love of others.
Our Father teaches us that we don’t need that many “things” in life, but that he will provide and sustain us with all that we need.
Our Father nudges us out into the world to work — to be his hands and feet to those in need.
Our Father welcomes us into a place of intimacy where we can learn from him and become more and more like him, taking on family traits.
Our Father wants us to put down our electronic devices, turn off the TV, stop surfing the internet, take off the ear buds, and have a genuine conversation with him.
We need discipline when we head off in the wrong direction but I’m afraid we may be so distracted we don’t even notice when God is trying to get our attention. Suddenly we end up in circumstances that are crushing and we wonder how we even got there! We blame the Father. It’s not the Father’s fault, for he continues to reach out to us in holy love, drawing us toward him. But because of his love, we may have to suffer the consequences, as discipline, for the choices that we have made. We will not be destroyed, but can embrace the discipline and find ourselves back on the path that will eventually lead us home.
Discipline has a significant place in the life of a disciple. The two words even have the same root. Let’s be grateful that we have a Father who will discipline us so that we can be disciples.
Lord, while your discipline can be painful, thank you for never giving up on me. Amen.
Monday, January 9, 2017
Gen. 35:5 As they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities all around them, so that no one pursued them. 6 Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, 7 and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because it was there that God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. 8 And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So it was called Allon-bacuth.
This is the only time that the name of Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah is mentioned. She was the woman who had served along-side Jacob’s mother and had probably nursed him as a small child. More than just a servant in the household, this woman was dearly loved and probably embraced as a mother or grandmother. Her influence over Jacob and his family must have been great because her passing caused great pain for them all. Rebekah’s death isn’t mentioned, but here, this servant Deborah’s death is mentioned, as well as the acute mourning on behalf of the family.
Deborah is buried under an oak near Bethel. Bethel becomes a well-known and sacred place for the Israelites for it is there that Jacob meets with God. The tree under which Deborah is buried becomes a marker of the site, a place to which others would return in the future. But for now, the pain is so intense with her loss that the tree is named “Allon-bacuth,” meaning oak of weeping. A previously unknown servant becomes remembered for all of time because of her influence in the family. History records the moment, when Deborah died.
Deborah is one of those unsung heroes, whose name is never mentioned until her death. I’m sure that during her time there were plenty of well-known people in her world that got attention, had wealth and property, and became leaders. All we know is that Deborah was a nurse and that when she died there was great mourning, or lamenting — so much so, that they named the tree where she was laid.
With a little imagination we can piece together the life of a woman like Deborah. This family had seen strife, brothers who didn’t always get along, but this was a woman of peace. Refusing to love one boy more than the other, she poured out her life for them both to be successful. When things needed to get done in the household, she quietly went about her business, to make sure there was a sense of tranquility in the home. After the woman she had served passed away, she remained loving and respectful to all the household, maintaining a sense of continuity. She went on to be like a grandmother to so many little ones who became a part of this great family. She was more than a nurse, but a matriarch who loved and served the family. Deborah was a servant-leader, possibly foreshadowing the coming of the Messiah who would come to serve his people in much the same way.
Deborah was buried under a tree with great lamenting. Jesus would die on a tree surrounded by those who would cry out over the loss of his life. The family of Jacob thought they had lost the centering figure of their family community — the one who held it all together. The disciples thought they had lost the one who brought meaning and purpose to their lives. Jacob’s family, Israel, would come back often to Bethel to meet with God. The parallels between the two dissipate at this junction because the disciples discovered that Jesus would raise from the dead. But Deborah remains an example of a life that may have reflected the very nature of God as El-Shaddai, the God who gathers children to the breast — just as a nurse —loving and nurturing them, raising them up in the fear of God.
The family wept at her death because, through her, they saw God at work in their midst. As we participate with Christ we are to take on the form of the servant-leader. Through our lives others should see God at work in their midst, and the result is that God gets the glory and not us. Deborah’s name is never mentioned until her death, but in her death she is lamented near the place known as meeting with God. Our desire should be that God is lifted up in and through all that we do. This is the little that we learned, when Deborah died.
Lord, thank you for Deborah’s life of faithfulness and servant leadership. Just as she was faithful day in and day out, may I, too, serve you in faithfulness. Amen.
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Psa. 29 A Psalm of David. Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendor.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!
This Psalm of David draws us into an attitude of Praise. Athanasius wrote, “If in a spirit of gratitude you wish to teach how one should make a spiritual offering to the Lord, sing Psalm 29.” (Athanasius o the Interpretation of the Psalms 17 [OIP 68]) We join in the chorus of praise but pause to ponder verse three where “the voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.” God was believed to control the thunder and the lightening and the presence of which in the midst of battle was viewed as divine intervention. This is an expression of the sovereignty of God, and the power of God over creation and all political systems of the world. As God thunders over mighty waters, the glory of the LORD is revealed both in heaven and earth.
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ. In the gospel of Matthew we read, “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’“(Matthew 3:16-7) It is in this moment that God the Father again thunders, but this time over baptismal waters, and audibly declares Jesus as his Son. Just as in Creation the waters are divided, so now, in Christ’s baptism the waters are parted and the barriers between heaven and earth are brought down. The power of God, to have control over all in heaven and earth is revealed in the mighty waters of baptism.
Far too often we fail to grasp the power and majesty of God which has been revealed again and again. When we are baptized, or when we witness baptism, our hearts are invited to join with the Psalmist in everlasting praise of God on high. Just as the power of God was exposed in Jesus’ baptism, so we are invited to become partakers of the divine nature in our baptism. Baptism is more than a testimony to what God has done in our lives, it is grace poured out as we participate in the activity of Christ. It is a sacrament, a mystery which we cannot explain but in which God is active and present. God continues to thunder over the waters baptism, revealing power which brings down the barriers created by this world and invites us into kingdom living. In this space we discover the justice of the LORD who reigns forever.
Lord, today we thank you for the waters of your baptism, and that you invite us to join you there. Amen.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
1Sam. 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
Samuel was the leader of the Israelites and this story becomes very significant because it lays down a truth regarding a cornerstone — an Ebenezer — which is essential for the Israelites to be the people of God. Samuel had called the people together to celebrate the return of the ark of the covenant. They had lost the ark because they had been unfaithful to God. Throughout the history of the Israelites God has used foreign enemies to get their attention when they had refused to worship God alone. In this case, it was the Philistines. Only after Samuel called the people to repentance and faithfulness was the ark returned. The scene unfolds as masses of people come together to worship God. The neighboring Philistines mistake the gathering for an army and determine to attack them. What results is divine intervention on behalf of the Israelites. God intercedes and miraculously throws the Philistines into confusion and without a military leader or strong army, the Israelites are victorious. No wonder Samuel wants to commemorate the event by raising up an Ebenezer, which is literally translated, “stone of help.” It was a marker that would remind the people that in this place, God was the one who had helped them.
This story comes shortly before the people cry out for a king which seems odd after they had just experienced God providing a military victory. The call for king was a call for an earthly military leader, and it also marked again, the peoples’ refusal to trust God. It was a rejection of the Ebenezer — that would go on to become the Cornerstone for God’s people. All that is happening in the Old Testament is drawing us into the story of God where eventually Christ comes as the Cornerstone — the Ebenezer — the foundation on which we are to build our lives. “Thus far the LORD has helped us” is a statement of faith in the past, for the present and the future.
The Israelites seem to struggle often with their faithfulness in serving the LORD. Just as it seems they’ve turned a corner, it is short-lived and suddenly they fall back into wanting to fix things from a human perspective. God saves them from a massive tragedy and instead of trusting in God for future victories, they think they need to organize a political system and have a military leader.
The LORD is often revealed in our own lives as our Ebenezer — our strong helper — and yet, we quickly forget what it is that has been accomplished for us. We fail to look upon Jesus as our Cornerstone, the one who can provide ALL that we need in our lives. Suddenly we begin planning the next phase of our journey and we become influenced by the systems of this world. We think that we need all the same trappings of the world and we fall into the temptation to become acceptable from a worldly perspective. The Israelites wanted a king because everyone else had a king!
Where are the places where we fall into this temptation? I would suggest that the church is one of the most vulnerable places where we succumb to the temptations of the world. We examine successful organizations and leadership structures of the world and determine that they would help us in the life of the church. While there are skills to be learned, let’s make sure that we are not rejecting the Ebenezer and instead crying out for an earthly king! The LORD who has helped us thus far will continue to help us in the future, if only we will allow him to be our Cornerstone - the foundation upon which everything is built!
This is a radical faith, one which relies upon the LORD in every aspect of life. God wants to do more than we could ever ask or imagine through those who will embrace the Ebenezer. This is a belief that Jesus, the Cornerstone has helped us thus far, and will not abandoned us. We do not need the powers or structures of this world to rule over God’s people, but we need to have untethered faith in the LORD who provides.
It was the LORD who brought about the salvation of the Israelites from the hand of their enemy. As long as the Israelites would remain faithful to God, they would have been safe. As long as we embrace and believe in our Ebenezer, we will be safe. The rejection of the Cornerstone, both in the past and the present represents a dependence upon ourselves, and infidelity to our relationship with God.
Lord, please help me to be reminded of the Ebenezer every day of my life. Amen.
Friday, January 6, 2017
Matt. 2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
Angels didn’t visit the Gentiles from the East to proclaim the arrival of the Messiah, but God did send a sign in the heavens to draw them toward the Son. This was a sign of the kingdom of God, a symbol that things were about to change and the arrival of the wise men brought that vision to life. No wonder Herod and all of Jerusalem were disturbed by their arrival. The Jews were not ready to embrace their Messiah and now things were stirred up by the arrival Gentiles who were ready to accept and worship a new king. This idea was even more disturbing for Herod for their arrival signaled a threat to his leadership because these men from the East were prepared to worship a new king. Their arrival signaled the reign of Christ and his kingdom for the whole world.
When the wise men eventually found Jesus they brought him gifts and responded with hearts filled with wonder and worship. They intentionally sought out Jesus and came with hearts full of gratitude. This is in sharp contrast with how we often wait, expecting God to come to us. We go to God in prayer expecting God to answer — in essence to present us with gifts. These men were certainly wise by their ability to interpret the signs of the sky, but also by coming with hearts of gratitude, bearing gifts for the newborn king.
A variety of responses to the Messiah are revealed in this passage. Somewhere we may just find ourselves.
Herod was an old man who was clinging to power. Anything that might upset his little world was seen as a real threat. His insecurity led to the death of numerous baby boys under the age of two. Wanting to control what was happening in his world, his paranoia led him to an extreme response. He panicked at the prospect of losing power.
I’m saddened to see that all of Jerusalem was troubled, along with Herod. Herod wasn’t exactly a beloved leader, so why would the people of Jerusalem, presumably a majority of whom are Jews, be threatened by the arrival of one who may just have been their Messiah? These chosen people of God for whom the Messiah had come were still not ready to accept Jesus. Anything that would upset the status quo of the lives they had assumed was troubling — even if it meant salvation.
The presence of Christ in our lives will trouble the waters — he will stir things up. However, he will only stir things up because he wants to make a difference. Our lives often can’t change for the better unless we shake loose of the routine of this world. If we have been lulled into complacency because we have found a place of comfort, then we may just find ourselves being troubled by Jesus arrival. Instead of embracing what Jesus just might want to shake loose in our lives, we become troubled by his presence.
Finally the wise men are the ones whom we would not have expected to respond, and yet, here they are. Their worship of the child signals the expansion of the gospel to the whole world. Their worship by way of gifts and praise provide an example for all. Far too often we come to God through Christ in prayer and we bring our list of requests — hoping to be provided gifts from God. While the Father loves us and wants to be generous with his children, we should also come bearing gifts. With hearts of overflowing gratitude we are to come before the Father, lifting up prayers of genuine thanksgiving, filled with offerings of praise. Our lives, day in and day out, are to be a sacrifice and gift of praise.
The wise men had an epiphany — they saw the child for who he really was and their response was to bring gifts to the king. May we too experience the great epiphany and see Jesus in all of his glory and splendor and bring before him our sacrificial gifts.
Lord, may I live into the revelation of who you really are. Thank you for the incredible gift of adoption into your family and may my life be a poured out offering before you. Amen.