Friday, May 18, 2018

The Promise of the Spirit




Scripture:

Galatians 3:14
in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Observation:

God promised Abraham a covenant relationship that would reach to all of Abraham’s heirs. These were originally thought of as those who were Abraham’s flesh and blood; those who carried his DNA. Because of Christ there was a new promise and this a mystery. Through faith Gentiles could receive the Spirit, and this would then bring them into the promise of Abraham. Almost as if the presence of the Spirit was now the witness to familial inclusion, rather than by flesh and blood. The Spirit provided a way in which fleshly boundaries could be transcended, and this is a beautiful promise. 

Application:

Often as I travel I observe the ways in which we have divided out humanity. We have used different methods of creating classes, whether by birth, race, gender, or wealth. Somehow it seems that we have this uncanny ability to try and classify others, probably in an effort to make ourselves feel better. The sad result is a people divided, not often recognizing that we are the ones who have created the dividing lines. Blind to the natural opportunities afforded to some, and not afforded to others, we don’t understand that we perpetuate structures which become barriers within this world.

The beauty of what Paul has to say is that the promise of the Spirit, through faith, changes everything. Or, at least it ought to. No longer should we see people in classes, color, or genders, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. The presence of the Spirit unites us all together into one family. In essence, the Spirit supersedes human DNA, and knits us together to be a people of God. This is the divine mystery, when God’s people become a multi-colored patchwork quilt of God’s beauty. It’s to inspire heaven and earth! The church is to be radically different from anything found in this world. 

If we are living with dividing lines among us, then we must examine whether we are allowing the Spirit to flow. If the Spirit is not flowing and breaking down the walls between us, then we need to repent and seek the Lord’s forgiveness and restoration. The promise of the Spirit comes to us all and, through faith, leads us into a new life. This is transformational both personally and relationally. If we don’t see the results on both counts, then let’s ask the Spirit to shine the light of truth into the dark corners of our lives. 

Prayer:

Lord, I want to live into the promise of your Spirit. May you lead and guide. Amen! 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Inauguration of Dr. Stanley Bhebhe, Africa Nazarene University

***This is not my usual devotional blog post, but some had asked if I would post my Keynote address from the Inauguration.


Today we are gathered to inaugurate Dr. Stanley Bhebhe as the new Vice Chancellor of Africa Nazarene University. We are grateful for this man who has committed himself and his life to ministry within the academy. All that he has done throughout his life has brought him to this day. He has worked, studied and sacrificed to have the skills and abilities necessary to do this work, but beyond the technical skill, he has gone through life journeys that have shaped him to be a reflection of Christ himself.

The challenges facing higher education here in Kenya, and around the globe, are great. We are living in a time of seismic change and this can lead us in two directions; either we become engulfed in worry and concern about the future, or we embrace the opportunities that change  affords and we press on. Often people speak about the unprecedented challenges that we face. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but every generation has had their unprecedented challenges and yet, here we are, having not just survived, but thrived. This is the promise of the past for the future, as we lean into what lies ahead.

There are new days ahead for Kenya, as well as all of Africa. The students who are educated at this University will become leaders on the world stage. The voice and influence of Africa is being felt around the globe, and while the challenges are great, so are the potential rewards. What happens here at ANU will reach far beyond the bounds of this University, this country and even this continent. Therefore the mantle of leadership that Dr. Bhebhe accepts today will weigh heavily upon his shoulders.

 Africa Nazarene University is a uniquely Christian University. This means there is an ethos that runs through every fiber of this University, a DNA, if you like, that codifies every decision, every lecture, and every lifestyle. It means that there will be times when ANU will have to respond to situations in a way that other universities may not. We choose to embrace Christian morals that provide a blueprint for expected behaviors, for faculty, staff and students.

To be distinctively Christian, also means that ANU embraces holy love, a love that is focused on God, and neighbor; even the neighbor who may not be just like us. This institution should reflect qualities found within the kingdom of God; a university where we we live out the prophetic words of Christ found in Matthew 25:34-40:

 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Our Wesleyan theological perspective reminds us that all of humanity is a part of  God’s family. Therefore the unique Christian character of ANU is revealed in love of God and love for others — all others.

What makes ANU different from secular institutions is that she is about the business of moral formation. Through the development of love of God, the students begin to be clothed in virtue. This university exists to teach young women and men “not merely to think well but to live
virtuously.” (“Scalia Speaks”, 131)

What is virtue?

Virtue (Latin: virtus, Ancient Greek: ἀρετή "arete") is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual  greatness. (Definition https://
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue)

In other words, the unique character of this University is that minds are not only shaped by great learning, but lives are formed by spiritual guidance. The most important objectives of human existence— goodness, virtue, godliness, salvation—are not achieved through success within the secular world, but through spiritual formation. Africa Nazarene University must continue to provide opportunities for discipleship, and recognize that this is just as important, or maybe more important, than any technical skill which may be learned in a classroom or laboratory. The result is an expectation of a moral and virtuous lifestyle, for faculty, staff and students alike. The alternative is to lose our Christian character.

 I have a few statistics that come to us from the United States. Last month Forbes Magazine published a report.
According to a new study of 500 employees conducted
by LRN, headed by Dov Seidman:

83% said following the “Golden Rule” enables companies to make better decisions;
62% said managers would do better if they relied upon moral authority; and
59% said organizations would be more successful with challenges if their leadership had more moral authority.

Unfortunately, according to the LRN survey called “The State of Moral Leadership in  Business,” employees are not getting what they expect.
Only 23% of employees said managers are moral leaders;
Just 17% stand up for people who were treated unfairly; and a mere
12% say managers make time to speak to them about why work is meaningful. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbaldoni/ 2018/04/12/how-to-deliver-moral- leadership-to- employees/#1170d99e37ba)

Corruption, greed, and a desire for personal gain will always derail potential good. The virtues refine the qualities, and help individuals to become the best reflection of Christ. You see, the Romans said, “corruptio optimi pessima est: the corruption of the best is the worst.” In other words,  those with the finest education, if not grounded in Christian morals and principles will be set up for corruption, and this becomes exceedingly dangerous. ANU, embrace the gift that you are to Kenya– embrace being excellent, but different.

For a distinctively Christian university to provide this type of eduction, requires great leadership, for the person at the helm becomes a role model to all. Therefore, Dr. Bhebhe today I pray for you.
May God grant you the wisdom of Solomon, whose insights allowed him to rule during a difficult time. His Proverbs provide a roadmap to virtuous living and leading; decisions made for the greater good, the development of others, and for a legacy that would have led into the future, had the leaders remained faithful.

 May you know the transformational work of the Holy Spirit who infuses your life with supernatural wisdom and ability, empowered by God’s holy presence. May you daily continue to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, reflecting his holiness in your leadership. May your life be a reflection of the virtues of Christ in your behaviors, far more than the culmination of your talents and abilities, but formed by loving God and loving others.

May God give you the grace and patience to be long-suffering as God helps you do the impossible; and may Africa Nazarene University be emboldened to become the finest Christian University, providing excellence of education and moral development. May her students be world changers, not only through technical and skillful leadership, but by adding to this moral virtue. This is a powerful combination;  the synergistic activity between God and humanity that can lead ANU into the new days ahead.

May God Bless you. 






Sunday, May 13, 2018

Faith Brings Freedom



Scripture:

Galatians 2:19-21
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Observation:

The law created a punitive structure. If you couldn’t live up to the list of rules, then you were condemned. There is the realization that living up to these kinds of expectations is futile, therefore we have to die to the law. This, Paul did and realized that he was given the freedom to live for God. 

Next comes the famous statement of Paul’s that he has been crucified with Christ. He wasn’t physically crucified, but he did give himself up entirely to follow Christ. Part of that was his identity in his Jewishness and in following the law to the very letter. He had been a proud Jew who was determined to punish the Christians for the things that they were doing. His own selfish ambition and understanding of religion had to be crucified with Christ. The result was that his own personal pride and selfishness was replaced by his new identity in Christ. He realized that he was now connected to Christ and that Christ truly did live in him. This transformed the way in which he lived his life. 

Selfish desires and motivations fled with the indwelling of Christ through the power of the Spirit in Paul’s life. His daily life in the flesh became testimony to the work of Christ in his life. Everything that he did, every moment of life in the flesh, was lived by faith in Christ. His gratitude for the love bestowed upon him almost gushes from his very being. 

His life became a living example of grace; grace extended, responded to in faith resulted in Paul’s justification, and this made possible though the death and resurrection of Christ. The law simply had no power compared to this. 

Application:

Legalism will only leave one feeling guilty and with no hope of freedom or joy in life. The problem with legalism is that it comes from the law. No matter how hard you try to fulfill a list of rules, you will never be able to measure up and will be left as a sad, lonely, and judgmental individual. The law will always condemn because righteousness can only come through perfection. This is not the kind of perfection that was meant by Christ’s plan for humanity, but it’s the kind of perfection that the enemy will guilt you into accepting; and will condemn you for never achieving. 

Christ’s perfection is for humanity to be restored entirely in the image of God. This is not possible on our own, but only because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection Righteousness — set right ness — is humanity being restored in a right relationship with God, and hence the image of God is also restored. There is beauty in the reflection of Christ and his holiness in the lives of those who have been set free. I don’t have to be hung up about my behaviors because Christ lives in me. It is Christ who motivates, moves and drives every part of my very being. 

When we turn away from the law and into the loving embrace of grace, we no longer have to be confined by the guilt of the law. Far too many are still living in the grips of guilt and legalism. My tribe, for too long, became obsessed with a type of legalistic holiness. Then, in a backlash to that type of teaching, chose to downplay holiness. Sadly, this has the potential of resulting in far too many unhappy, unvictorious, and discouraged “believers” who are half-way trying to make it on their own, and partially depending upon Christ. No wonder we fail to see the power of God at work in and through our lives and in our churches! Maybe we’ve been just as captivated by our own type of Judaiers and have refused to live in the freedom for which Christ dearly paid! 

It’s time to let go of the condemnation of the law. Let go of your parents’ critical words; or the Sunday School teacher who spoke so condemningly half a century ago. Let go of the preacher who terrified you. Instead — run to Jesus. Give it all to Jesus and leave the pain with him. Faith in Jesus will bring great freedom. The chains of legalism will be left behind — to the glory of God Almighty. 

Prayer:


Lord, today I join the Wesleys in singing, “My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!” Amen and Amen! 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Promise of the Father



Scripture:

Acts 1:6-9

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Observation:

The disciples were with Jesus, discussing the future and curious about what was to happen next. They still seemed to be hoping for some kind of a political kingdom, but Jesus gave them a different promise. First of all, he told them that God’s timing is just that, God’s timing, but then he went on to tell them that he had a promised gift for them. They had no understanding what this might be but Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit. The kingdom was to become a reality in the lives of Spirit-filled followers of Christ who would then be able to take the good news to the entire world. The vision was much larger than simply the nation of Israel. In their wildest imaginations they could not have envisioned the future that Jesus had in store. 

Application:

Today is ascension day, a time when we stop and recall that day when Jesus left the disciples and went away into heaven. As I re-read this passage I thought about where I might find myself. I think that sometimes we live our Christian lives just like those disciples on that day; standing and staring into heaven and wondering when Jesus is going to do something. The problem is that Jesus had already promised that he would do something and that had to do with the promise of the Father. 

The Holy Spirit would only be poured out on those who obediently went to Jerusalem and waited. They had no idea what that really meant, nor did they know how long it would take, but they obediently went and tarried. 

If we stand waiting on the mountain we will miss out on the promise the Father has for us as well. Life on the mountain is powerless and awaits a political victory for God’s followers. It can be a depressing and lonely existence. This life can become obsessed with dates and predictions about the future. Worry and fret can overwhelm and walls of safety are built to protect those who are staring up into heaven waiting for Christ to return. 

The promise of the Father means that we are to leave the mountain. There is no need to concern oneself about future predictions or dates because we know the Father has all of that under control. Instead, we are to tarry, spending time in prayer and giving space for the Holy Spirit to fill every part of our being. Then, empowered by the Holy Spirit we live without worry or fear, and go out into all the world to share the good news of Jesus. The Spirit moves beyond every barrier that humanity can erect. This becomes an exciting and energized life, moving through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

We have a choice. We can fearfully wait on the mountain, or we can join the disciples in Jerusalem, on our knees in prayer, awaiting the empowering of the Holy Spirit for Christ’s mission in the world. I choose Jerusalem! 

Prayer:


Lord, send your Spirit and fill us to overflowing. Amen. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

When’s the Last Time You Got Emotional about the Gospel?




Scripture:

Gal. 3:1   You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4 Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. 5 Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Observation:

Throughout this letter we experience the passion of Paul. These were his spiritual children and someone has led them astray. Just as loving parents may become emotional when their children wander off and end up engaging in destructive behavior, so Paul cries out to the Galatians. His heart is broken because he knows what is at stake. The good news of the resurrected Lord had brought these children freedom, but now they were willing to throw all that away because of false teachers. He was grief stricken!

Application:

Voices today are encouraging us to believe that pretty much “anything goes.” Let people believe whatever they want and they will be happy! But the Gospel invitation is one to a transformed and eternal life with the Father. Do we really not care if people miss out on that opportunity? 

Again, if we were thinking about our own family members, I would think that we would want them to be a part of what Jesus has to offer! Although, I have been around people who have told me that they have never even considered praying for the salvation of their own children. Really? Have we become so complacent that we no longer have any burden for those who don’t know Christ? 

Paul is pretty riled up in this passage of Scripture because the faith of the Galatians is extremely important to him. Our love and concern for others ought to result is us becoming emotional about the gospel as well. At the root of Paul’s emotion was his own personal encounter with Jesus Christ. He had fallen deeply in love with the one who had set him free. He had experienced love, grace and transformation and he wanted others to have the same experience. If we are not emotional about the gospel, then I wonder where we are in our own walk with Christ. 

When Jesus gets ahold of us and consumes our lives, then we have a burning passion for him, and for others to know him. Paul becomes an example for us. We are to be emotional about the gospel, having a deep desire for all to be saved! We should be defensive when others try to corrupt peoples’ thoughts, or show them a different gospel. Righteous indignation is sometimes a good thing and should be exercised at the right moment. 

Prayer:

Lord, may my passion for you be reflected in my concern for others. Amen. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Are You Trying to Measure Up?




Scripture:

Gal. 2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Observation:

The Judaizers were trying to convince the Galatians that they would be righteous if they obeyed the law. Paul’s response is very personal and here I personalize it as well: 

The law condemned me for through the law I knew that I was a sinner. The law could never set me free from my sinfulness, it could only show me where I was wrong. I was condemned through the law and any attempt to satisfy the law through my own behavior was simply futile. Therefore, if we continue to live trying to satisfy the law we will be condemned. 

The law extends no grace. Grace unfolds through the action of Christ crucified, through which God’s love and grace are poured out to such an extent that had I been the only one in need of salvation, Christ would have died for me. It’s only by the grace and sacrifice of Christ that I am then set free from the condemnation of the law. Therefore I am no longer driven to live by the law which condemns, but by faith in Jesus Christ who has the power to set me free. 

Martin Luther on Galatians tells us, “By faith in Christ a person may gain such sure and sound comfort, that he need not fear the devil, sin, death, or any evil. ‘Sir Devil,’ he may say, ‘I am not afraid of you. I have a Friend whose name is Jesus Christ, in whom I believe. He has abolished the Law, condemned sin, vanquished death, and destroyed hell for me. He is bigger than you, Satan. He has licked you, and holds you down. You cannot hurt me.” This is the faith that overcomes the devil.’”

Application:

My husband tells me that it’s fascinating to watch women in line at a grocery store. He claims that they are measuring each other up and trying to see where they fall in comparison. Maybe it’s why there are so many tabloid magazines sold at the check-out as well, because there we find public figures with whom we try to measure up! I’m not sure that I’m entirely convinced of this, but there may be some truth to his observation. Could it be that we are often trying to figure out whether we measure up to other people? 

Issues of anxiety and poor self-confidence threaten Christ-followers. We can become frozen with fear and unable to faithfully engage in kingdom business when the enemy begins to tell us that we are not good enough. When we compare ourselves to others, or to a standard that is beyond our reach, we will never feel good enough. Maybe it’s time that we understand grace and living graciously. 

The only standard for our lives is Christlikeness, and this can never be obtained through our own effort. If we think that we can make ourselves like Christ we become bound to the law just as tightly as those with whom Paul was speaking. At the same time, if we understand that Christ has set us free to become all that he created us to be in him, we can live without guilt. This is the beauty of the Christian life that is promised to those who no longer live in the flesh, but “by faith in the Son of God.” God loves us so much that he provides us with everything necessary to flourish. Anxiety and self-condemnation are crucified to the old ways of the law when we put on Christ. 

We will never be able to measure up, for that is the weight of the law. Joy is found in Christ who invites us into a relationship where becoming like Christ is simply reflecting him as a mirror. The mirror doesn’t have to become Christ, the mirror simply needs to face in the direction of Christ. Being drawn closer through love and grace, the reflection of Christ continues to grow, not by human effort, but by nearness of relationship. There is no human effort that creates the reflection, only gracefully standing nose to nose in a loving relationship with my Savior. 

Prayer:

Lord, may I not try to measure up to anyone else, but be continually drawn closer to you, reflecting you in my life. Amen. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

In Fear of What Others Think




Scripture:

Gal. 2:11   But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 

Observation:

Peter (also known as Cephas) had been doing the right thing, fellowshipping with the Gentile believers in Antioch. They had been sitting at the table and eating together, without concern as to whether the food was ceremonially clean or not, for he knew that the Gospel opened up all kinds of freedoms. However, when certain people came, who may have now been associated with the leadership of James, Peter backed off. We can only imagine that the ones whom he had befriended, became suddenly confused. Why was it okay for him to be with them before? Now, because he feared what others thought, he may have acted as if he did not know them. 

Paul, never seeming to be one to mince words, confronts Peter and points out his wrong-doing. He knew that Peter was condemned by his own behavior. 

Application:

We’ve all experienced what it’s like to be shunned by others. If you haven’t, I’d like to suggest that you may find yourself in a highly unusual circumstance. I remember moving to America and wanting so badly to be accepted and to fit in with the other children in school. Unfortunately they already had their friends, and they weren’t sure that there was space for another person within their circle. I soon discovered that, while I spoke English, the children in California thought I had a funny accent. They made fun of the way I talked and laughed at the German clothes that I wore. There were a few who were kind and would be my friend when others weren’t looking. However, it wasn’t “cool” to be friends with me so when others came around, they shunned me and acted like they didn’t know me. But everywhere I moved, there was always someone who was willing to genuinely show kindness and stick up for me, even in the face of what others thought. Some of these remain my friends to this day, and for this I am so grateful. They helped to change my life and give me confidence that I could be who I am, without the fear of ridicule. These friends, many of them from my High School days, created a protective environment in which I could flourish. I will be eternally grateful.

We are called to go out into all the world, and rub shoulders with those who may not be like us. Are we ashamed of people who are not like us? God may just call us to go and work among those who are addicted; or suffering from severe mental illness; or in prison; or who have a lifestyle completely different from ours. Sadly, if we live in fear of what others think, we will live within a very safe perimeter. It’s a place where we will never get to experience the joy of the miraculous transformational work of the Holy Spirit. In our safe zones we don’t need radical faith or dependence upon God. 

Let’s be honest with ourselves and realize that we all have succumbed to peer-pressure at one time or another. We have lived in fear of what others think. Whether it’s about hanging out with people different from ourselves, choosing to live a modest lifestyle, wearing a certain type of clothing, or driving a used car, we probably all take a moment to think about what others think! I even stop to think about this when ordering food in a restaurant. 

The good news is that Jesus came to set us free from anything that we find confining. There is no one to please, but our Lord Jesus Christ. We should be opposed to our face when we allow the opinions of others to crowd in and hamper the freedom that we are to have in Christ. Then, this freedom for our own lives ought to take us to minister to those whom others reject. Without fear we are to love and embrace those who are not like us. 

Prayer:

Lord, I confess that there have been times that I have lived in fear of what others think. May I live in freedom which you have already provided for me, and may I be faithful to you in the ministry where you have called me to serve. Amen. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Poor, Grace, and Leadership




Scripture:

Gal. 2:9 and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.

Observation:

Paul makes his trip to Jerusalem after many years of ministry. He never tries to claim that he is in any type of position of leadership, but humbles himself before the Apostles. He went with Barnabas and they took Titus with them. Titus was a Greek who had not been circumcised. This was a pretty radical consideration for those in leadership who had been ministering among the Jews. The problem was that Paul was called to minister to Gentiles and recounting this story, he is making a point. 

The leadership of the church saw that God’s grace had been extended to Paul. This must have been overwhelming because his reputation would have preceded him as a persecutor of Christ followers. They saw in Paul the results of a transformed life and were not legalistic, but eagerly embraced what God had done. Although ministering to the Gentiles had not been a part of their strategic plan, they saw, through grace, that it was God’s plan and they were willing to embrace this new direction. 

Finally, the leaders did remind Paul to remain true to a core conviction of ministry, and that was to remember the poor. It didn’t matter if you were ministering to Jew or Gentile, the poor were to remain a focus and this, they would all have in common. 

Application:

There is so much packed into these two verses of Scripture. Time had passed and yet, James, John and Peter had remained true to the faith. For those whom God has called into leadership there is the encouragement to remain true to your calling. These men continued to seek the face of God and were able to identify the work of God, even when it went in a new direction. Leaders must never become so entrenched in bureaucracy that they cannot see the flow of God’s Holy Spirit, which may be in ways which had never been envisioned previously. As we enjoy God’s grace, we need to also recognize the places where grace is being extended and rejoice.

The founder of my tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, was a man by the name of Phineas Bresee. He continually drew the church back to the issue of identity. Just like these Apostles, he understood the calling of the Church of the Nazarene, and it was to preach scriptural holiness and minister to the poor. This embracing of ministry to the poor parallels the admonition of the Apostles. 

Remember the poor! I believe that this should still be on the radar screen of every follower of Jesus Christ! The gospel does tend to lift us out of our circumstances and after several generations we may find ourselves far from being engaged with the poor. It’s in that moment that we must again become intentional in our ministry and focus. For all that we have the privilege of enjoying in life, there are poor who help to pay the price. If you begin to scratch the surface of the connections it will begin to make you very uncomfortable. It may make you question why we can purchase clothing at such a cheap price! Why are avocados so readily available in the US — and whose lives are we disrupting as a result? Are our fossil fuels creating barren desserts for the poor in the Middle East and possibly having an impact on the refugee crisis? I could go on but it’ll be painful. But there is a reason that the thread about the poor is found in the Scriptures and in the mantra of a founding father. Jesus gave up everything for us — for we are poor. Compared to the resources of the Father, even Warren Buffet is a poor man, for what he has is temporal. If we follow our resurrected Lord, we will discover the need to always remember the poor. Our hearts will break for those who suffer and we will be challenged to examine our own lives and the ways in which we may contribute to the poverty of others. 

I’m so grateful for the grace that God has extended to me, I want my eyes open to the movement of the Spirit, and I want to remember the poor. It’s a huge challenge and one that is impossible without the daily indwelling and infilling presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Prayer:

Lord, I need you. Amen. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

It's All About Grace




Scripture:

Gal. 1:6   I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

Observation:

These were people who had learned the true gospel from Paul but now were willing to turn away. Others had come and enticed them away from the grace offered through Christ, and were telling them that they had to become Jews. Both physically and emotionally they were expected to convert before they could live in Christ. This was a perversion of the gospel of Christ, and Paul was righteously indignant at those who would distort the gracious good news of Jesus! 

While Paul may be disappointed at the way in which the people had quickly turned from their faith, he still responded as a gentle parent, encouraging them back into the way of Christ. At the same time, he was indignant with those who had damaged the faith of these new believers, and led them into legalism. The beautiful green sprout of faith was being buried under the weight of Jewish legalism, leaving them choked and nearly dying. 

Application:

The careful nurture of new believers is absolutely essential and when they are fresh in their spiritual growth, we must help to guard them from those who may bring in a false gospel. It’s so easy to pick up on a belief that steps outside the bounds, simply by watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading a blog or article. I mean, if it’s on the internet it’s the truth, right?! If we are not intentional about the spiritual formation of ourselves and others, we will find ourselves adopting whatever comes our way, and sounds good to us. 

We simply cannot listen to every voice that sounds convincing. Just because someone has a good argument, doesn't make them right. A thousand likes on a post doesn't mean it's the truth. Retweets don't authenticate the original message. 

Spiritual discernment is necessary as we grow and develop in the Lord. Living in the gracious presence of Christ brings us peace and creates space for growth. When we allow legalism to creep into our lives, or we become legalistic with others, we may begin to hear the condemnation of Paul. We cannot be saved by works, but by the beautiful and gracious love of Christ. Any teaching that distracts us from knowing Christ is not truth. Every message should point us in the direction of reflecting Christ. In this way the grace of Christ is reflected to and through each and every one of us. This is the gospel of grace which we are to embrace, and there is no other!

Prayer:

Lord, may every day be lived in your gracious leading. Amen.