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Showing posts from 2016

Light in Darkness

Scripture

John 8:12   Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Observation

The festival was just ending and more than likely there had been a great ceremony of light. It may have followed the lighting of the candelabra in the court of women, which would have symbolized the pillar of fire. Jesus uses the actual circumstance as a visual aid, to help the people understand where he has come from. The very nature of God is uncreated light — not a light that comes from a fire or a candle, but simply light emanating from the Father. Through the incarnation Jesus brings this light to the world. The darkened pathways are lit by his holy presence and he leads those who will follow him to life. John often uses the language of walking in his writings. The spiritual life is a long walk in the direction of the light, but to wander from the light means that one may suddenly discover that they are l…

The Power of the Word

Scripture

Rev. 1:16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

Observation

John is exiled to the island of Patmos where he is suffering for his faith. While this is a most unpleasant circumstance, he continues with his usual practices and is communing with the Spirit on the Lord’s day. It is in this space that he receives a heavenly vision and a revelation of Christ, himself.

The vision of Jesus is both physical and symbolic, with the glory of his countenance, “the same that was manifested at the Transfiguration.” (People’s NT Commentary) The stars in his right hand symbolize the seven churches who find favor and protection in the hand of the Lord. The sharp, two-edged sword coming from his mouth represents the power of the word which will ring in justice as it is “continually pointed against his enemies as a sword.” (John Wesley) These understandings are already in our minds as we recal…

Flowing Rivers

Scripture

John 7:37   On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,  38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”  39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Observation

The religious people had gathered for the festival and were listening to the different teachers. Jesus was grabbing the attention of many who were searching spiritually. They were thirsty for good spiritual drink and he was showing them the way to living water.

On a hot day in the middle east, cold water is a welcome blessing and necessary for life. Jesus challenged them to embrace the metaphor and believe in him.

The promise is of the Spirit that will flow out of him and into all those who believe. Flowing rivers of spiritual water will bri…

An Invitation to Childlikeness

Scripture

Mark 10:13   People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.  14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. 

Observation

The reputation of Jesus had spread and now, parents of young children wanted to bring their little ones to Jesus, that he might touch them. This would not have been unusual as the mortality rate of children in that era would have been about 50%. Can you imagine the hope that Jesus would have brought to these children and parents? They wanted him to touch their babes, hoping against hope that this would be a form of protection against anything that might cut their lives short. …

This is Not Burdensome

Scripture

1John 5:1   Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.  2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,  4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.  5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Observation

Real, genuine belief in Jesus, transforms the world. What begins as belief in the Messiah becomes filled with God’s love for the world. Jesus, God’s son, became human so that we, too, could become children of God, born out of the Father’s deep love for us. Our response to that love drives us to a deeper relationship with our Father, one in which we desire to follow his commandments. All of a sudden we are no longer following a list of rule…

The Great Persecution

Scripture

Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him.

 That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.  2 Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.  3 But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

Acts 8:4   Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.  5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.  6 The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did,  7 for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured.  8 So there was great joy in that city.

Observation

The highs and the lows of life can be felt in the life of the disciples. The ministry had been expanding gre…

Love Revealed

Scripture

1John 4:9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Observation


The arrival of the Messiah was the revelation of God’s love to the world. God had continually been reaching out to humanity but in this act, there was completion. With the birth of the baby Jesus, new life was born here on earth and the hope of life for all. The ultimate act of self-sacrificial love was on display for all to see when God became man so that man might unite with God.

Through this the love of God is poured in and through those who partner with God and reach out to those around. Love revealed in the birth of a baby, and in our lo…

Light is Dawning

Scripture

Luke 1:78     By the tender mercy of our God,
        the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79     to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
        to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Observation

Luke does such a beautiful job of bringing characters into the narrative story of Jesus Christ. We are blessed by the words of Mary in her canticle and here he provides the words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Both Mary and Zechariah’s words draw us into the advent, or the arrival of the Messiah. While Zechariah’s son, John, would help to prepare the way, now his words are about the coming Messiah who will soon break into the darkness of this world.

God’s incredible love is revealed in the light that is dawning from on high. The people who are sitting in darkness are living with suffering and without peace. Little do they know that the Prince of Peace will soon arrive and bring with him the light that will shine the way to peace. Th…

Peculiar Power and Blessing

Scripture

Luke 1:66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Observation

The birth of John the Baptist foreshadowed the advent of something unusual. It was as if the first act was unfolding, people could sense it, because so much had transpired surrounding John’s conception and birth. They pondered the situation, the same as Mary pondered her circumstances. It brought them to a place of thinking and wondering about outcomes. Obviously this child was to be something different, or unique.

The pronouncement that “the hand of the Lord was with him” has been interpreted in many ways. It’s John Wesley who declared that this was “the peculiar power and blessing of God.” John was marked from infancy, to be someone destined to do great work for God. It was the prediction of supernatural events and a great career in service to God. John would not be an ordinary child for the grace of God was already visibly pres…

Stubbornness

Scripture

Isaiah 29:16  You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”? (ESV)

Observation


The advent of God's presence among his people would turn things upside down. The potter would become the clay when the incarnate God came to earth. To make clear God's power and role in creation the potter was now the clay and providing the opportunity for the clay to be re-formed into the image of the potter.

For those who did not understand they would fight against his presence. They were the voices who refused to accept him as the master who had formed and created them. Instead, in arrogance, they began to believe that they could handle everything themselves, assuming that God really did not understand what was going on. The result was that they remained brittle and stubborn in their flawed state.

Application


The stubborn declaratio…

When You Wonder What God Wants

Scripture

Luke 1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Observation

Mary was a very young woman and was caught off-guard by the visitation of the angel Gabriel. He begins with a verbal greeting that leaves her wondering about his words. The first word, “Greetings” is used here, but also by Jesus when he meets the women after his resurrection. In both cases it signals a call to women to enter into the gospel story in a very profound way. The word “favored” is also used for others such as Noah, Moses and David, all called to participate in reveal the character of God to this world. The phrase, “The Lord is with you,” is also said to Gideon. Therefore, the words were common and yet the meaning was not and it left her perplexed, wondering what it was that God wanted.

Application


We may not have a personal visitation by the angel Gabriel, but God is still in t…

The Power of Faith in Community

The Power of Faith in Community

Scripture

Luke 1:17
With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Observation

The prophetic word had come to Zechariah that he would have a son. This child would call out to the people and turn their hearts toward God. Revival would result in a restoration of family relationships, a reconciliation. Families and communities would corporately prepare to accept the coming Messiah.

Application

John's message of preparation rings through the ages and to us during this season of advent. It is a message of intergenerational hope to be found in the good news of Jesus Christ. It also points to the power which can be found in a multigenerational faith community. The young people are brought to Christ and will follow righteousness, while at the same time the older generation will begin to share or unde…

Stretching the Truth to Get What You Want

Scripture

Luke 23:2 They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”

Observation

An entire assembly of people gathered to speak up against Jesus to the Roman authorities. The problem was that he hadn’t really done anything wrong — at least not in the eyes of the government. The Roman officials wouldn’t be interested in hearing about the religious debates among the Jews so they had to stretch the truth. They had to make it sound like Jesus was out to undermine the authority of the Roman government. They did stretch the truth on the first count because Jesus had not forbidden the people to pay taxes. On the contrary, he had told them to give to Rome what belonged to Rome. So they had engaged in an outright lie. On the second count, they stretched the truth because Jesus did come as the Messiah, but not as an earthly king to overthrow the political system of the day. The…

A Glance

A Glance

Scripture

Luke 22:61
The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.”

Observation

Peter had declared vehemently that he would never deny the Lord and yet, here he had just done it three times. Suddenly the cock crowed and he became acutely aware of what he had done. In that moment the Lord looked at Peter. With all the people present Jesus was able to catch the eye of Peter and in that glance there was an overwhelming sense of understanding.

Application

Jesus knew Peter so well that he could predict how he would respond in the stress of the moment. The glance may have meant many things, but I sincerely doubt it was a look of condemnation. However, there was a sense that Jesus really did know more than Peter had been willing to accept. Even in that moment there would be a sense that Jesus should be trusted because he knows us better than we know ourselves. When …

A Hopeful Promise

Scripture

Isaiah 8:18 See, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.

Observation

The prophet Isaiah spoke of a coming Immanuel — “God with us.” God who is at the same time Father and Son, would become incarnate so that believers might be called children. The advent season is one of anticipation for those who will be the LORD’s children. The promise is one of great hope for the children are a sign of the kingdom.

Application

The promise is apparent on a couple of levels. There is the hope of family. Because of the first coming of the Messiah we are invited into the family. Jesus made it possible for us to become his brothers and sisters, and hence we all may become children of God. The Messiah would usher the children into his presence and they would be transformed. We may not all have positive experiences with our earthly families but this promise is something quite amazing. How can mere humans become c…

Awe-filled Worship

Scripture

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;  29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Observation

The kingdom of God will never be overthrown by the things of this world. It is a kingdom which cannot be shaken and when we are transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives we enter into kingdom citizenship. This is an eternal citizenship in the kingdom of God and therefore, we should offer thanks to God. It is our thanksgiving that becomes our worship to God but this thanksgiving must be all-consuming. Every part of our being must be subject to service in the kingdom, and therefore every act and thought becomes an acceptable form of worship. The consuming fire of God’s holiness leaves us in awe of the power and Majesty of God. As a result our worship is transformed beyond prayer and praise but infiltrates every cell of our being, all which r…

Conspiracy Theories

Scripture

Is. 8:11   For the LORD spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying:  12 Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread.  13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.  14 He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  15 And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

Observation


The people of God were consumed with great fear which may not have been based in reality. They were constantly imagining all the threats that may have been against them and developing conspiracy theories. The talk and chatter of these theories would stir up dread among the people and a great sense of hopelessness.

The prophet speaks the wor…

Salvation through Sanctification

Salvation through Sanctification

Scripture

2 Thessalonians 2:13

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Observation

The apostle was grateful for the work that had been done in the hearts and lives of the Thessalonians. They had been transformed and saved by being sanctified. This was made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit and their belief in truth, that is, in Jesus Christ!

Application

Far too often we separate the concepts of salvation and sanctification and fail to understand the relationship between the two. I know that in my tradition we have tended to make this into a two-tiered process with the result that some have thought that sanctification was an optional plan for only a few super-spiritual individuals. There seems to be an attitude that we can opt out of that sanctification bit and still be saved…

Provision Made

Scripture

Luke 22:7   Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.”  9 They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?”  10 “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’  12 He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.”  13 So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Observation

The disciples were living by faith as they followed Jesus day by day. While he had tried to tell them that the end was coming, they didn’t seem to comprehend what it was that he was saying to them. It was time for the Passover and …

Looking at Worthless Things

Scripture

Psalm 119:37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways. (ESV)

Observation

This section of Psalm 119 contains a series of instructions for those who are to keep God’s word. This verse reminds us of the inner threat to a life of faithfulness. That threat comes from a heart divided which results when the eyes begin to wander. What is seen with the eyes enters into the heart. Therefore we are to stop “looking at worthless things.” The enticement of those worthless things will take us in a direction away from the things of God. New life must be found in the ways of the Lord and for that to happen, we must follow after God.

Application

The world has always been capable of creating worthless things that catch the attention of God’s people. Writing in the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem encouraged believers to “avoid an addiction to the theater, with its portrayal of sinful conduct, the lewd and unseemly antics of actors and the frantic dancing of de…

Listening Early

Scripture

Luke 21:38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

Observation

Jesus had a routine while in Jerusalem. He would spend the day in teaching and then retreat to the Mount of Olives for rest. Evidently there wasn’t room for him in the city at night. Every morning he would get up early and come back to the temple to teach again. The people wanted to hear him so badly that they were willing to get up early in the morning to go and listen to him. John Wesley remarked on this passage, “And all the people came early in the morning to hear him—How much happier were his disciples in these early lectures, than the slumbers of the morning could have made them on their beds! Let us not scruple to deny ourselves the indulgence of unnecessary sleep, that we may morning after morning place ourselves at his feet, receiving the instructions of his word, and seeking those of his Spirit.” (Wesley’s Notes)

Application

I had to chuckle a little at Wesley’s …

The Necessity of Growth

Scripture

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Observation

At the conclusion of the epistle we receive this little nugget of truth regarding the Christian life. This is a life of growth, one that is never stagnant and never turning back. Growth in grace comes from God alone and allows for growth in knowledge. The result is moral and spiritual development which allows us to put our faith into practice. The more that we grow spiritually, the more that Christ is seen in us. Glory of the Lord is reflected in and through those who draw close to him. This necessary growth continues throughout all eternity.

Application

While Peter’s epistle speaks into the moral life and development of the follower of Christ there is always the reminder of grace. If we are trying to do everything right within our own power, we will fail. But grace is always at work and we walk and follow in the pathwa…

Anticipation

Scripture

Is. 4:2   On that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.  3 Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem,  4 once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.  5 Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy.  6 It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

Observation

The words of the prophet remind us of what lies ahead for God’s holy children. The call to holiness is clear, as the city will be holy, filled with those whose names have been recorded…

That Which We Will Never Miss

Scripture

Luke 21:1   He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury;  2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them;  4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Observation

Jesus pointed out the significance of the woman’s gift. “God measures not so much the size of the gift as of what remains to the owner after it has been given.” (New Bible Commentary) Her contribution was given in faithful obedience to God. Too often we give away that which we will never miss. 

Application

This is a season for giving and the opportunities simply abound. There is the food drive at work, or the local church which stirs our heart. We go to the pantry and find the canned food items which may be close to, or out of date and put them in a bag to give away. We quite literally make giving a process in which we clean …

More than Meets the Eye

Scripture

Luke 20:27   Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.  29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;  30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.  32 Finally the woman also died.  33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Luke 20:34   Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;  35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.  37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses hims…

Which Face Do You See?

Scripture

Luke 20:21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  23 But he perceived their craftiness and said to them,  24 “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.”  25 He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.

Observation

There were those who wanted to trap Jesus and so they tried to pose a question that they thought would put him in a bind. They began with a question which seemed to affirm their understanding of who he was. They recognized that he didn’t show partiality toward people of high position. The word that is used here is that he showe…

Brokenness

Scripture

Luke 20:18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

Observation

As Jesus completes the parable of the wicked tenets he reminds them of the cornerstone. This is the stone that the builders rejected but now he brings in some new meaning and understanding. For those who submit to Jesus, for those who will fall upon him, they will be broken by him. This is a breaking in a good sense. They will be broken of self-centeredness and all that it produces in their lives. Shattered will be the selfish motivations which drive life.

For those who reject the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, and do not submit, the weight of his Messiahship will eventually fall upon them.  It’s not just about rejection but also about those who actively engage against the Messiah. Those who hate him and persecute his followers will be ground to powder. The imagery speaks powerfully; ground to powder and blown away by the wind as if they had never existed…

From Scarlet to White as Snow

Scripture

Is. 1:18        Come now, let us argue it out,
        says the LORD:
    though your sins are like scarlet,
        they shall be like snow;
    though they are red like crimson,
        they shall become like wool.

Observation

The prophet is defining reality for the Israelites. They are in great need of salvation and yet, they may have come to believe that they could save themselves. God is making it abundantly clear that there is nothing that they can do to save themselves but the gift of salvation comes from God.

Do the people want to argue about the need for salvation? God is ready and willing to have a discussion and “argue it out,” or “reason together.” Then the LORD clarifies the condition of the people. Their sins are as red as the blood-stained garment of a murderer. In their human understanding those stains are permanent, but not for God. God can take the permanently stained garments and do what no human can do. The scarlet stain of sin can be made white as snow, or as p…

Attentive

Scripture

Matthew 25:13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Observation


Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins who are awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom. Five have extra oil and five do not. As their wait stretches out longer than anticipated the lamps begin to go out and the five with no extra oil have to leave to get more. They are not present when the bridegroom arrives and they miss out.

The church is the bride of Christ, challenged to be well prepared and to keep awake. A state of attentiveness is necessary, even in a time when one grows weary.

Application

Today we celebrate the first Sunday of advent where we anticipate the arrival of our Savior. This is not just the anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Christ — but the anticipation of the return of Christ. Christ will return again and while we may find ourselves in those long days of waiting, we must remain attentive.

When we were younger we would do crazy things like drive for long…

Holiness Unto the Lord

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Scripture

Zech. 14:16   Then all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths.  17 If any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain upon them.  18 And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then on them shall come the plague that the LORD inflicts on the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.  19 Such shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.

Zech. 14:20   On that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the cooking pots in the house of the LORD shall be as holy as the bowls in front of the altar;  21 and every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and use them to boil th…