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Showing posts from November, 2014

Ashamed?

Scripture:

Rom. 1:16   For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Observation:

Paul is telling the great Romans that he is not ashamed of the gospel — the good news about Jesus Christ. Chryostom tells us this about the Romans:

“The Romans were most anxious about the things of the world, because of their riches, their empire, their victories, and they thought that their emperors were equal to the gods. . . . While they were so puffed up, Paul was going to preach Jesus, the carpenter’s son who was brought up in Judea, in the house of a lower-class woman, who had no bodyguards, who was not surrounded by wealth, but who died as a criminal among thieves and endured many other inglorious afflictions. Since it was likely that the Romans were pretending that they did not know any of these unspeakable things, Paul understates that he is not ashamed, in order to teach them not to be ashamed of Christ …

Rejoice, Pray, Give Thanks!

Scripture:

1 Thess. 5:16 Rejoice always,  17 pray without ceasing,  18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Observation:

As Paul closes out his letter to the Thessalonians he has these staccato words of advice. It is a formula for practicing godly behavior and in this we find a balance, or constancy. There is something about a follower of Christ looking for the best in what they see around them.This is an optimism that should help us to live a life of rejoicing. Optimism is contagious and when we are abiding in the presence of the Lord we are overwhelmed by the immense possibilities that we can experience in him.

This abiding which brings rejoicing is experienced in prayer. Prayer without ceasing is really an attitude of abiding in the presence of the Lord, both when we are still and when we are engaged in his mission. This makes us grateful for the opportunities which arise. John Wesley said it this way, “Pray without ceasing — which is…

Unrestrained Madness of Love

Scripture:

1Th. 3:11   Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.  12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.  13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Observation:

Paul’s intimate prayer for the Thessalonians gives us a glimpse into the heart of this leader. Prayer is a regular part of his life, so much so that it becomes a part of his letter writing. It seems to simply flow from who he is!

The prayer provides us with insight into what he sees as the priority for the lives of Christ followers. Knowing the love of Christ is foremost. It is in the intimacy of the relationship with Christ that we become partakers of that divine nature — holy love. This holy love is to so fill our very being that it overflows — and “abounds.” Paul’s love for his disciples was overflo…

The Ultimate Thanksgiving

Scripture:

Matthew 27:50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.  51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.

Observation:

This is the moment of Christ’s death on the cross and it is in this moment that everything is changed. The power of sin and death is destroyed and Jesus is the one who conquers in this earth-shattering event. The corruption caused by sin is healed and the Holy of Holies in the temple is opened providing the pathway for us to become God’s holy people.

Application:

Today people will gather around tables together as families and express things for which they are grateful. There are many people and things for which we can be extremely grateful but at the end of the day nothing can match what it is that Christ has done for us.

I don’t think that we can ever fully appreciate what it cost Christ for all of us. His love spills out over the cross and across the hills and va…

The Main Dish or Just the Seasonings?

Scripture:

Matt. 23:23   “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.  24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

Observation:

The Pharisees and scribes were focused on the smallest, legalistic details of life. They wanted to make sure that people would know how to properly tithe on the herbs that grew in their gardens. The time and energy involved in tithing on seasonings could be exhausting. The result was such a focus on the seasonings that the main dish was altogether ignored. The kingdom was about justice, mercy and faith — this was the substantive food!

Hilary of Poitiers reminds us, “God laughs at the superficial diligence of those who measure cucumbers. God laughs at our attempts to swallow camels, as if the sins of avoidance were less serious than the sins of consump…

Opportunity and Perseverance

Scripture:

Matt. 20:29   As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.  30 There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”  31 The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!”  32 Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?”  33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”  34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

Observation:

Jesus was going to pass by and the blind men who were sitting on the side of the road realized that they had an opportunity. They had heard about this man Jesus and that he was a miracle worker. This was it - the opportunity for their lives to be significantly changed.

Their social status would have encouraged them to stay in the background — remaining quiet! And yet they recognize…

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Scripture:

Matt. 18:1 ¶ At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Matt. 18:2 He called a child, whom he put among them,
Matt. 18:3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 18:4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 18:5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Observation:

The idea of greatness and power was consuming the disciples as well as those surrounding Jesus. Their image of power and leadership came from the world and they were trying to imagine what this new kingdom was going to look like. It just didn’t make sense to them.

Jesus decided to show them what the kingdom was going to be like and the picture was a bit stunning. Instead of someone like Caesar with all of his power, wealth and might Jesus, called a child over and had this child stand in the midst of them. One can imag…

Open Mouth, Insert Foot!

Scripture:

Matt. 14:5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Matt. 14:6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod
Matt. 14:7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask.
Matt. 14:8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”
Matt. 14:9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given;
Matt. 14:10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison.

Observation:

Just because someone has a position of leadership doesn’t mean that they don’t do stupid things. Now, there could probably be a litany of stupid things that were done by Herod, but this was one of those where he opened his mouth and spoke without thinking what he was saying. The problem was that he publicly offered to grant the daughter of Herodias whatever she asked. I’m not sure that prom…

We Really Do Need Each Other

Scripture:

Matt. 13:52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Observation:

Jesus was explaining the importance and value of the past when it is connected to the present and future. The things that the Scribes had learned in the past were valuable if they were placed within the context of what they were currently learning about the kingdom. There could never be a time when they would close the books and say -- that is all there is to learn!

There is an appreciation of the things of the past which brings us to a greater understanding of the present. Both are important, and without both lack the richness of the kingdom of God.

Application:

A week ago I had the privilege of eating dinner with Reuben Welch, author of the book, “We Really Do Need Each Other.” He just recently celebrated his 90th birthday and I was reminding him of the influence that…

On Grief and A Flute Player

Scripture:

Matt. 9:23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion,
Matt. 9:24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.
Matt. 9:25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
Matt. 9:26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

Observation:

This is a simple story which we have heard or read numerous times. Jesus heals the little girl and the people rejoice.

But at the moment in which he arrives at the home he encounters the professional mourners. These are the flute players, the ones who have come to make a great noise about the child’s death. It is the flute player that testifies to the fact that she is truly dead. Also, flutes were generally employed when it came to the death of a child. The whole community would therefore understand that it is a child who has died in this home.

The flute player is doing the job they have b…

What Do You See?

Scripture:

Matt. 6:22 ¶ “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light;
Matt. 6:23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Observation:

This passage in Jesus’ sermon has given people pause. It’s not entirely clear what it is that he is trying to say but there are those who say there is a physical as well as a moral understanding. Physically the eye is the part of the body which has an affect on every other part of the body. What we see directs the ways in which we will go. The hand responds to bring the food which is seen to the mouth of the individual. Our feet are led on the pathway that is seen by the eyes. There is something incredibly centering about the eye for it receives data which will then influence the remainder of our behavior. This is the problem with a diseased eye, for it cannot clearly interpret the signs and it makes it mo…

Massacre of the Innocents

Scripture:

Matt. 2:16  ¶ When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
Matt. 2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
Matt. 2:18     “A voice was heard in Ramah,
        wailing and loud lamentation,
    Rachel weeping for her children;
        she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Observation:

Herod was a man who felt insecure in his position and in no way wanted to be threatened. He interpreted the wise men's lack of return as having been “tricked” or “mocked.” He believed that they were up to something suspicious or else they would have come back and told him about this new “king.”

The scripture tells us, “he was infuriated” and his paranoia led him to over-react. He would have every child in and among Jerusalem two or under killed. An ancient writ…

What I want is you!

Scripture:

2Cor. 12:14 ¶ Here I am, ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, because I do not want what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children.

Observation:

There were some who were becoming wealthy by preaching the gospel. They were a burden on the churches where they served and expected the people to care for them in lavish ways.

Paul loved the people in the church as his own spiritual children. As his spiritual children his desire was for their spiritual welfare, not his own material gain. His statement is powerful, “I do not want what is yours but you.” He wants to be with his dearly beloved children, fellowship with them and bring them into a deeper relationship with Christ.

He is their spiritual parent, and just as earthly parents do not expect young children to support them, so he does not expect his young believers to support him. He is to be there for their growth and development. His desires …

The Case for Generosity

Scripture:

2Cor. 8:9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Observation:

Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be a generous people and his arguments seem to always have an illustration which comes from the life of Christ. For Paul, Christ is the example, he is the road map for the believer. Yes, a follower of Jesus Christ is to genuinely follow the example of Christ.

This verse is an echo of the kenosis passage in Philippians 2 — where we see the self-emptying of Christ on behalf of you and me. Again, we see that Jesus gave up the richness of God’s kingdom to enter earthly poverty on our behalf.

Could it be that we see Christ in the beggar who stands on the road carrying the hand-written cardboard sign? The word Paul uses here for “poor” is at its root the word for “beggar.” Yes, our king became a beggar and so we must recognize that in the beggars we may see Chri…

Singing Off Key

Scripture:

2Cor. 6:15 What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever?

Observation:

This verse is found in the middle of the section where Paul talks about being unequally yoked. The scripture is usually utilized when talking about marriage and dating relationships (at least it was in my life!). However, this reaches beyond the idea of marital relationships and speaks to the way in which we live our lives.

The word here “agreement” comes from the Greek word symphoneisis, the root of which gives us the word symphony. Just imagine the beautiful music which is created when the symphony begins to play. However, before they ever play they tune up so that they are all playing exactly in the same key. One person plays the note and all the rest tune up to this note so that the music is harmonious and produces a sound which is glorious.

The vision of this verse is of two people who sing in different keys. This is a sound which is literally painful to…

The Need to Be Consistent

Scripture:

2Cor. 1:15 ¶ Since I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a double favor;
2Cor. 1:16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on to Judea.
2Cor. 1:17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?
2Cor. 1:18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No.”

Observation:

Paul was constantly under pressure from some of the folks at the church in Corinth. Evidently he had been accused by them of changing his mind and being fickle about returning to visit them in Corinth. It is in this passage that we hear Paul’s response. The “Yes, yes,” and “No, no” to which he refers is really the way of the world. We will say “yes” when we might mean “no” if something better comes along. So, we don’t really know if a “yes” is a “yes” or a “no” is a “no.” It frustr…

The Community

Scripture:

1Cor. 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Observation:

Paul was trying to help the church in Corinth understand the implications of being the “body.” The interconnectedness of the individuals within the body of Christ needed to be understood as the community together served to reflect the Triune God. The pain inflicted on one part of the body would be felt by all. John Chrysostom in the 4th century explained, “When a thorn enters the heel, the whole body feels it, and is concerned: the back bends, the belly and thighs contract themselves, the hands come forward and draw out the thorn, the head stoops, and the eyes regard the affected member with intense gaze.” In other words, when pain enters the community of faith, the entire community of faith feels the shocks in one way or another. The whole system is jolted.

At the same time there is that moment of honor for the community. Chrysostom goes on to …

Let’s Go!

Scripture:

Psa. 122:1     I was glad when they said to me,
        “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”

Observation:

There is something communal about this call to go to the house of the LORD. There is joy when others make the invitation for us to join them in worshiping God.

Application:


This is one of those Psalms that my grandfather knew by memory and I remember him quoting it when we would come and visit. His eyes would light up and he would say these words with great joy.  He had spent his entire adult life as a minister of the Gospel in little churches across Nebraska. He had literally built the churches with his own hands and I don’t think that he could imagine much else in life that would have brought him joy, but to be serving God.

As I thought about this scripture I realized that worshipping together with others whom I know does bring joy or gladness to my heart. On Sunday I was attending the church where I had spent my teen years in Kansas City. Someone asked me if I had decide…

Knowledge, Wisdom and Love

Scripture:

1Cor. 8:1 ¶ Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
1Cor. 8:2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge;
1Cor. 8:3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Observation:

The people of Corinth were educated and proud of the fact that they all possessed knowledge. Something like standing around and proclaiming your graduate degrees and institutions to one another, this was a pedigree which some of the people of Corinth enjoyed.

But Paul knew that this was also a problem.  Those who had this human knowledge were also tempted to be “puffed up.” Somehow that looks a little bit like someone with their chest out and nose in the air — a bit of arrogance and pride in what they have personally accomplished. This may fill someone up with a bunch of hot air but it does nothing for those around them and that is the crux of the matter. Human knowledge makes the pers…

Finding Wisdom

Scripture:

1Cor. 2:6  ¶ Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.
1Cor. 2:7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
1Cor. 2:8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
1Cor. 2:9 But, as it is written,
    “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
        nor the human heart conceived,
    what God has prepared for those who love him”—
1Cor. 2:10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

1Cor. 2:16     “For who has known the mind of the Lord
        so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.

Observation:


We continue on this journey of seeking wisdom and in this passage to the church at Corinth we find the end— it is through the mind of Christ.

Paul is speaking words of wisdom because he has fou…

Seeking Wisdom

Scripture:

1Cor. 3:18  ¶ Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.
1Cor. 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
    “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
1Cor. 3:20 and again,
    “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
        that they are futile.”
1Cor. 3:21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours,
1Cor. 3:22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you,
1Cor. 3:23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Observation:

Earlier this week Job taught us about wisdom and now Paul does the same. Human wisdom is nothing in comparison to what is possible to receive from God.

We do seek wisdom and we fool ourselves when we think that we are able to become wise on our own. There is a difference between wisdom and knowledge.

True wisdom comes from God alone and this beco…

The Nature of Justice

Scripture:

Job 31:16      ¶ “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
        or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
Job 31:17     or have eaten my morsel alone,
        and the orphan has not eaten from it—
Job 31:18     for from my youth I reared the orphan like a father,
        and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow—
Job 31:19     if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
        or a poor person without covering,
Job 31:20     whose loins have not blessed me,
        and who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
Job 31:21     if I have raised my hand against the orphan,
        because I saw I had supporters at the gate;
Job 31:22     then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
        and let my arm be broken from its socket.
Job 31:23     For I was in terror of calamity from God,
        and I could not have faced his majesty.

Observation:

Job is defending himself before his “friends.” One of them has suggested that he is being punished for his …

Finishing Well

Scripture:

Gal. 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? (NRSV)
Gal. 3:3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (KJV)

Observation:

Paul is frustrated with what he sees in the life of some of the people of Galatia. They began their new lives in the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who breathes life into these followers and continues to fill their beings on a daily basis and yet, something has happened. They have turned to from the Spirit to the Jewish law and now have become legalists. Instead of the life-giving Spirit leading them they are allowing themselves to be governed by a set of rules. The second question of the verse is actually a bit tongue in cheek. Paul is saying — really — you began your new life by being filled with the Spirit and now you will finish it better than God can by your own strength, of your own will, by following a bunch of rules!

Notice the newer translation says “are you…

Searching for Wisdom

Scripture:

Job 28:1      ¶ “Surely there is a mine for silver,
        and a place for gold to be refined.
Job 28:2     Iron is taken out of the earth,
        and copper is smelted from ore.
Job 28:3     Miners put an end to darkness,
        and search out to the farthest bound
        the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
Job 28:4     They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation;
        they are forgotten by travelers,
        they sway suspended, remote from people.
Job 28:5     As for the earth, out of it comes bread;
        but underneath it is turned up as by fire.
Job 28:6     Its stones are the place of sapphires,
        and its dust contains gold.

Job 28:12      ¶ “But where shall wisdom be found?
        And where is the place of understanding?
Job 28:13     Mortals do not know the way to it,
        and it is not found in the land of the living.

Job 28:23      ¶ “God understands the way to it,
        and he knows its place.
Job 28:24     For he looks to the ends of the ear…

He Didn’t Respond

Scripture:

Mark 15:1 ¶ As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.
Mark 15:2 Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.”
Mark 15:3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things.
Mark 15:4 Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.”
Mark 15:5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Observation:

The chief priests were singularly focused — they were going to get rid of Jesus, no matter what! The result was a series of behaviors and actions that were totally unbecoming the priesthood. In the third verse we find that they accused him of many things. They were trying to convince Pilate to have this man put to death and as a result they bent the truth in an effort to manipulate the situation. Jesus could have defended himself against all that was being sa…

Awaiting His Coming

Scripture:

Mark 13:32 ¶ “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Mark 13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
Mark 13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
Mark 13:35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
Mark 13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
Mark 13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Observation:

Discussion surrounding the return of Christ was common in the early church. Jesus was letting his followers know that they would be left in charge of the kingdom. The word “slave” is the same word that Paul uses over and over to describe his relationship to Jesus Christ — he is a servant/slave to Jesus Christ in a very positive and pa…

How Far From the Kingdom?

Scripture:

Mark 12:28 ¶ One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”
Mark 12:29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;
Mark 12:30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
Mark 12:31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’;
Mark 12:33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Mark 12:34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far f…

Playing Favorites

Scripture:

Psa. 121:1     I lift up my eyes to the hills—
        from where will my help come?
Psa. 121:2     My help comes from the LORD,
        who made heaven and earth.

Psa. 121:3      ¶ He will not let your foot be moved;
        he who keeps you will not slumber.
Psa. 121:4     He who keeps Israel
        will neither slumber nor sleep.

Psa. 121:5      ¶ The LORD is your keeper;
        the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
Psa. 121:6     The sun shall not strike you by day,
        nor the moon by night.

Psa. 121:7      ¶ The LORD will keep you from all evil;
        he will keep your life.
Psa. 121:8     The LORD will keep
        your going out and your coming in
        from this time on and forevermore.

Observation:

This Psalm is a reminder of the source of our strength. The hills around Jerusalem were dotted with foreign gods. Our help does not come from idols made with human hands, our help comes from God who made heaven and earth. It is this God who who cares f…