Friday, February 29, 2008

Lamps and Light

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105 NIV)

If people living today need to get up in the middle of the night, other than the fact of having to get up, is that a problem for us? Usually, it is not. We have “night lights” stationed around the house, energized by electricity. Or, we can just flip on the light switch. But what if you needed to go outside for some reason? Again, you can either flip on the porch light, or you can pick up your flashlight and go out into the dark. It’s not a problem.

Life was no so simple in ancient times. They had none of our modern conveniences. No light switches and no electricity. They did not even have indoor plumbing. Imagine that. If someone needed to go outside during the night, they faced the possibility of stepping on a scorpion, or a snake, or stumbling over a half-buried rock. So, some enterprising Israelite developed an oil-lamp flashlight. The normal hand-held oil lamps could provide a little bit of light, but you had to hold those up high. The only way to get enough light on the path to see what was ahead was to hold the oil lamp down near the ground. So, this Israelite entrepreneur made a very small clay oil lamp, just big enough for a little bit of oil, put a wick in it, and made the lamp with a protrusion on the side with a hole in it. You could then insert leather thongs into the holes and tie the lamp to your ankles. That would put the light more directly on the pathway and light it for one or two steps ahead of you so you could see your way better. This was a lamp for your feet to light your path in front of you.

This ancient flashlight is what the psalmist was referring to when he wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” He was saying that God’s word is like that for us. It provides light to help us see the way. It provides for our protection against that which might harm us. It helps us to get where we need to go.

Today, may the word of God do all of this for each of us as it lights the way.

Lord, We thank You for Your word, and for the way You use it to show us Your way, to keep us on the path that leads us where You want us to go. Amen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pearl of Great Price

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had, and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46 CSB)

A couple of aspects about this parable are rather striking. One is the extreme nature of what is said: a priceless pearl, and a merchant who sold everything else to buy it. Obviously, the pearl was not actually priceless since it could be bought. And in the real world, no businessman would sell everything he had to buy one pearl. But also very obviously, neither of those items is the point anyway. Clearly, one of the points being made is this matter of the extreme of doing whatever it takes, regardless, to purchase that pearl.

A second aspect of the parable that is striking is the matter of value; not so much the value of the pearl itself, but the values of the merchant who was willing to do anything necessary to acquire the pearl. What was it about pearls that so fascinated him? Why was he willing to do anything necessary to buy it? The only possible answer is that within him there was a “value” that drove his decisions. For this man, the value of the pearl was not its price. It was “priceless” but not because of its price, in other words. What made it priceless was what it represented to the merchant. Its value was more intrinsic in nature. It represented the perfection of beauty, since there was nothing else in the world that could compare with it. It represented completeness or wholeness, since this is the one he had been seeking all his life, the one that represented the treasure of all treasures.

Parables were probably not intended to be analyzed to this level, but they do sometimes lend themselves to it because of the richness of meaning. Mainly, parables were intended to teach one main point, and the point of this one is that the kingdom of heaven is the absolute greatest value available to those who are seeking truth, and those who are seeking God will find their completeness and wholeness when they enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Lord, Thank You for allowing us to enter into Your kingdom by faith. Help us in this day to share the truth of Your kingdom with others. Amen.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cause for Courage

“Listen, Israel: Today you are about to engage in battle with your enemies. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, alarmed, or terrified because of them. For the Lord your God is the One who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” (Deuteronomy 20:3-4 CSB)

What is the “enemy” that we, as Christians, face? In a word: Satan. He is our enemy. But not just Satan, all the “expressions” of Satan become our enemy as well. For example, the enemy is sin, such things as pride, fearfulness, and all of those vices listed in the Ten Commandments. The Bible makes it very clear what sin is, and sin is what Satan tempts us toward.

The words of the verse above were focused on a different enemy, of course, one that was somewhat more tangible. The people were poised to pounce on the Promised Land. They would face enemies with swords and spears, armies larger than their own. But the priest was to say the words of this verse to the people, to remind them that God would go before them and fight for them and give them the victory. They were to go forth in faith.

We are not in a physical fight per se, but there is a spiritual warfare going on. We can take the same promise applied then and apply it now. The Lord our God goes with us to fight against our enemies to give us the victory. Our strength is His strength. Our victory will be His victory. Sin and any other expression of Satan can be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in the hearts of all those who come to faith in Jesus. It is the authority of His Name that leads us to victory, and we simply need to follow Him in faith.

Lord, Guide us this day in the way of faith and faithfulness, and lead us on to the victory You have for us. Amen.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Can or Will?

“When He entered the house, the blind men approached Him, and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I can do this?’” (Matthew 9:28 CSB)

Two men followed Jesus, either with the help of friends or by following the sound of the crowd, since they were blind. They evidently had heard from someone that this man from Nazareth could heal people, so they sought healing from Him. They found a way to follow Jesus into a house, and there Jesus responded to them.

The question Jesus asked these men is interesting. He did not ask them if they believe or if they had faith to be healed. Rather, He asked them, “Do you believe that I can do this?” His question focused not so much on the faith to be healed as it did on whether they believed He had the ability to do what they were asking. The question was more about Him than about them, that is, what they believed about Him. They responded that they did believe, and then Jesus said, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” Then they were healed.

Sometimes we have the idea that, in order to be healed or otherwise blessed, we just have to ratchet up our faith in its intensity, thinking that if we just have enough faith we can be healed or blessed. The emphasis is on us and our ability. But this story shows us that healing or blessing depends really more on the ability of God. We seek God’s blessing or healing, we ask for it, and we believe He has the ability to do this, but at some point we just have to trust Him to do whatever is according to His will. Sometimes God heals, and sometimes He does not. Only He understands the reasons why He does or does not heal everyone. And we just have to trust Him.

Lord, You have all power, and certainly You have the ability to heal us or to bless us in ways that only You can bless. We seek this from You, and we simply trust You to carry out Your will. Amen.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Word and Promise

“Remember Your word to Your servant; You have given me hope through it. This is my comfort in my affliction: Your promise has given me life.” (Psalm 119:49-50 CSB)

In our walk with God two “rocks” stand firm: the word of God and the promises of God. When uncertainties swirl around us, we know that we can always turn to those rocks and count on them.

Words are powerful. They are the single most important medium for our communications with one another. They are expressions of inner thoughts that drive us to do what we do. Words convey thought, emotion, intent, and imagery. They can carve, sculpt, draw, and depict, and they can destroy, mutilate, injure, and hurt. They are like fire: wonderful when applied appropriately, and terrible when used inappropriately.

Given the importance of words to human relations, the word of God takes on an even greater significance, for these words come from the Father of all creation. God’s word is rock-solid truth that we can count on, and God uses His word to strengthen, correct, rebuke, and encourage us.

The promises of God are life-builders. Promises, like the words of God, are received into our souls by faith, and they engender trust. God has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Jesus has promised, “I will be with you to the end of the ages.” The bible is full of the promises of God, and as we come to them in our reading of the word and claim them into our lives, we discover that they truly do build up our lives. What a great and encouraging resource to have.

Father, Your word and Your promise are to us an oasis in the difficulties and crises of life. We thank You for providing these as life-resources for us. Amen.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Building a Happy Life

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great.” (Matthew 7:24-27 CSB)

Do you remember the song from childhood Sunday school? “The wise man built his house upon the rock; the wise man built his house upon the rock; the wise man built his house upon the rock, and the house on the rock did stand.” And vice versa.

These words of Jesus came at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5-7. The sermon began with the word “blessed.” Some translations use the word “happy.” Whatever the translation, the whole idea of the sermon was “build a happy and blessed life.” And then Jesus showed them how. He ended then with a challenge and a warning.

Building a happy life has all to do with foundations. There are only two possible foundations. One is a foundation of sand, or essentially no foundation at all. Ignoring what Jesus had to say about building a happy life is the same as building a house on the sand. It may stand for a while, and it may do well, actually; but when the crises come the house will not stand. Devastation will replace any sense of happiness or joy.

The other foundation is to build on the rock, and in this sense that means to build on the words of Jesus, to hear the words and act on them positively so as to carry them out. Living life the way Jesus described it in the Sermon on the Mount is the same as building the foundation on rock. When the crises come, the house will not only stand but will endure and even thrive. Most translations call this person “wise,” though the Christian Standard Bible uses the word “sensible.” That is the idea of wisdom. Building a life foundation this way is the only thing that makes any real sense, after all.

So, are you building a happy life?

Father, Guide us today as we build on the foundation of the Rock, our Lord Jesus. May our strength be found in Him and His words. Amen.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Proof in the Fruit

“So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:20 CSB)

Have you ever driven by an orchard and wondered what kind of trees were there? In the winter when all the leaves are gone it is difficult to tell. To non-experts, even when there are leaves it isn’t easy to know. When the fruit appears, however, then you know – these are peach trees or apple trees or whatever tree. The proof is in the fruit.

So, how do you know that a Christian, or a pastor, or a deacon, or a Sunday school teacher, or any other church leader is the real thing? Same way – the proof is in the fruit. What fruit is being produced in and through that person’s life?

Authenticity is established by the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit dwells in the hearts of the people of God, those who belong to God, and when He does, He always produces fruit. The fruit of the Spirit includes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. When you see these produced consistently in the life of someone who says he or she is a Christian, you can be certain that is the truth. The proof is in the fruit.

Does this mean that Christians are perfect people who never commit sin? Not at all. Christians do sin, but when they do they always return to the Lord in repentance, seeking forgiveness. Their desire is that the Holy Spirit continue to produce fruit that honors God. The proof is in the fruit.

Lord, Today and each day, may we be filled with Your Spirit so that fruit will be produced in and through us, for Your honor and glory. Amen.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Right Focus

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34 CSB)

We each face a variety of life concerns each day. Some folks are concerned about the very basics of life – food, water, clothing, and such. Others are less concerned about the basics and more concerned about health, relationships, or decisions that need to be made. These life concerns are simply there and must be addressed, but difficulty arises when they become the focus of our lives. When that happens, we actually look focus on what is truly important and become distracted. We miss seeing the forest because of all the trees, so to speak.

From God’s viewpoint, the focus of our minds, hearts, and lives should be on seeking two things: 1) the kingdom of God, and 2) God’s righteousness.

Seeking the kingdom of God, as a matter of priority, means that we seek to be in the kingdom of God. This refers to our own salvation, and as part of that we seek the salvation of others so that God’s kingdom will grow.

Seeking God’s righteousness means that we want our lives to reflect our relationship with Him, so that we then live rightly.

Translated, our priority is thus that we first BE right with the Lord, and that we then LIVE rightly. We are to focus on being right with the Lord relationally and living rightly as a result of that relationship. This does not mean we ignore the concerns of this at all, since that would be irresponsible. It simply means that our focus is on God, that we trust Him to provide, and that we deal with our live concerns in the context of our focus on being right and living rightly.

Lord, Show us the importance of setting Your kingdom and Your righteousness as the true priorities of our lives. Amen.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Time to Burn?

“The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” (Acts 23:11 CSB)

The Lord does not appear to people very often. In fact, it seems that that has happened only when there was some critical juncture in the life of the church or the work of the kingdom. So, here we have the Lord appearing to Paul. We have to ask, what was so important here that this appearance was crucial? We may not actually be able to pin anything down, but the circumstances may help.

Paul had finished the third missionary journey and had made his way to Jerusalem. At the advice of James and others, he assisted four other men in fulfilling a vow in the temple, but some Jews from Asia saw him there, had seen Trophimus with Paul at some point, and wrongly concluded that Paul had desecrated the temple by taking a Gentile inside. The crowd was about to kill him when Roman soldiers intervened, and Paul was arrested. They were about to scourge him to find out the truth until he told them he was a natural-born Roman citizen. The next day, the commander took Paul to the Sanhedrin for an “interview,” but the group there erupted into near-violence. So Paul was taken back to the barracks. It was then the following night that Jesus appeared to Paul and gave him those words of encouragement and promise. It may well have been that Paul was somewhat fearful for his life, and he may have wondered what purpose all this might serve. He very likely felt that he could be more effective outside of prison rather than inside.

The Lord promised Paul that he would give testimony in Rome. He did not say when, however. All Paul had was the promise, the word of the Lord. As it turns out, he then had about five years on his hands there under what amounted to house-arrest first in Jerusalem briefly and then mainly in Caesarea.

So, what purpose would that serve? Well, while Paul was in prison, he wrote several extremely important letters referred to as the “prison epistles.” He witnessed to everyone in sight, particularly the praetorian guards, and many came to faith. But mainly, he wrote letters to churches. And some of those letters have been incorporated into our New Testament.

What may have seemed like nothing more than “time to burn” actually turned out to be some of the most constructive time of Paul’s entire ministry, especially in the sense that what he did then is continuing to minister to us 2,000 years later! That we can call an “enduring ministry.”

There may be times when we may wonder if the time we spend engaging in a particular activity or circumstance is really productive, but the truth is that whatever the circumstance or activity, if it is what God wants of us at that time, it will bear fruit well beyond the time spent. That should be an encouraging thought.

Lord, Help us today to trust Your purposes in all circumstances and activities in which You place us, and to understand that when You are in it, the results will always achieve Your fruitful purposes beyond our capabilities. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Discipline with Purpose

"The Lord disciplined me severely but did not give me over to death.” (Psalm 118:18 CSB)

Discipline is probably not a hysterically popular subject for most of us. The reason that is so is that most of the time it isn’t very much fun, whether giving or receiving it, and also because we may sometimes be distracted from its purpose.

Some of us prefer to think that God does not take actions that hurt us or injure us in some way. It is certainly true that God is a loving and compassionate Father. If we ask Him for a fish, would He give us a snake? Not hardly. But compassion can at times call for discipline, and the severity of the discipline is dependent on what God wants us to learn.

The writer of Hebrews adds to what the psalmist had to say. He first quoted from the Old Testament and then wrote, “’My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly, or faint when you are reproved by Him; for the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.’ Endure it as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline?... Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share in His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:5-11 CSB)

The purpose of God’s discipline is to help us share in His holiness and purposes for our world. It is “on the job training” for a vision that is beyond our ability to totally comprehend. It does not come from malicious intent but always comes from a heart of compassion and purpose. Therefore, it is not something to be despised, but something to be celebrated and appreciated for the intent that is behind it. Ultimately, we see the fruit of God’s discipline, and that is when we turn to Him and say, “Thank You, Father.”

Lord, We have no trouble recognizing the painfulness of discipline, but help us to understand and appreciate also the purpose of discipline and celebrate its outcomes. Amen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Selective Forgetfulness

“When you eat and are full and build beautiful houses to live in, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 CSB)

We have all probably heard of “selective memory.” Generally, husbands are the ones who seem to get accused of that. But there is also “selective forgetfulness.” Ever heard of “foxhole Christians?” These are folks who jump into a bomb crater or a hole they have dug in the ground when bullets are flying and artillery shells are exploding around them in order to keep from being killed, and who then pray, “God, if You will just keep my alive, I will serve you all my life.” Then, when the war is over and peace rules, God is nowhere in their vocabulary, much less their life.

The wanderings in the wilderness were difficult for the people of Israel. Life for them was anything but easy. But the time would come when their bellies would be full, when their wealth would expand, and when life would be good and peaceful. God knew that would be a danger point for them, when the pride would raise its head, and when the people would be tempted to “selectively forget” all that God had done for them. Therefore, God warned them to lose the pride and remember ALL that God did for them, so they would then continually walk in His commands and decrees.

There is a reality we need to be in touch with. The next breath we take is the grace of God at work. Every breath is. There is nothing we are and nothing we have that did not come from the blessings of God. We owe Him everything, and, in fact, it is all His anyway. This reality should then lead us to a thankful heart, remembering that our Lord is the One who provides everything for us.

Lord, Today, help us to remember that You are the One who provides for us and sustains our lives. Apart from You, we are little more than the dust of the earth, but with You we know the full joy of life. Amen.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Help for the Inexperienced

“The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and He saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” (Psalm 116:6-7 CSB)

Sometimes the person we have most to fear is ourselves. We can be our own worst enemy. That is particularly true it seems when we are in new situations and have to face experiences we have never faced before and are perhaps unprepared to face.

Those of us who are believers, however, have a ready Resource to help us in such times. The psalmist evidenced wrote out of personal experience when he said that the Lord guards the inexperienced. When we go through events, circumstances, or situations that are all too new, and yet have the responsibility to proceed, we need a guide, and the Lord is that Guide. We have to rely on Him for guidance and wisdom, much as Abraham did when he was called to go to a country that the Lord would show him, a place he had never been to before.

Personally experiencing the Lord’s guidance through situations like this can be extremely rewarding and affirming. Just as the psalmist did, it causes us to want to express our appreciation to Him. The psalmist said in verses 12-14, “How can I repay the Lord all the good He has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and worship the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people.”

We express appreciation to God for His gracious guidance and help through our worship and through carrying out our commitments to Him. He has been faithful to us. And the response that calls for is faithfulness to Him. Faithfulness is the point of any relationship.

Lord, We know that we can never have sufficient resources within ourselves to “repay” You for Your goodness to us, but we can, as Your children, express our appreciation to You through worship and through the fulfilling of our commitments. May this day see both of those in us. Amen.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Fear versus Fear

“Hallelujah! Happy is the man who fears the Lord, taking great delight in His commandments. … He will not fear bad news; his heart is confident, trusting in the Lord.” (Psalm 112:1,7 CSB)

When is fear not fear? When it is directed toward the Lord. To fear the Lord is to not fear something else.

Two senses of fear are expressed in Psalm 112. The fear of the Lord, which is called “the beginning of wisdom,” in Psalm 111, is a deeply chilling and reverential awe of God, the kind that gives you “goose bumps” when you think of it. It is the overwhelming feeling of reverence that comes from being in the awesome presence of the Holy and Almighty One.

The second sense of fear is the emotional response that comes from the threat of personal loss, or the threat of injury or hurt or even death. This is a God-given emotion that is designed to keep us alive. It is our survival mode. It is not a bad thing, but in excess it can become a stumbling block.

As believers, our priority must be the first kind of awe. Fear of the Lord, in the sense of reverence, is to supersede fear of anything else. The psalmist says that the man who fears the Lord as his first priority does not fear bad news. Bad news does come, sooner or later, but the man who fears God has a heart that is confident in God and trusts God regardless, so that he does not allow the bad news to create fearfulness that works contrary to his walk of faith in the Lord. There is no denial here. Bad news is still bad news. But the sense of the awesomeness of God is to be brought to bear on every aspect of life, even on that which is described as bad news. The perspective of the awesome is to take priority over the perspective of survival.

Father, Today may our reverence toward You and Your awesomeness overcome any other fears that may tend to overwhelm us, so that we can glorify You. Amen.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Night Vision

“Then the Lord said to Paul in a night vision, ‘Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.’” (Acts 18:9-10 CSB)

Corinth was a city of free moral license, a place of volatility. By the time Paul was working there, he was a very experienced missionary. He had been stoned, whipped, imprisoned, and run out of town on more than one occasion. Still, he persisted, and continued to press forward with the truth of the gospel. For reasons we may not perceive, something was different for him in Corinth. The fact that the Lord appeared to him in a dream to tell him to not be afraid makes it clear that Paul had some hesitations because of fear. This fear seems to have been connected to Paul’s physical well being, and it was at least significant enough that the Lord had to appear to him in a night vision to shake him out of it. He apparently had been holding back and being silent when he should have been speaking. So, the Lord gave Paul His personal assurance that no one in Corinth would lay a hand on him. The outcome, as we know, is that Paul stayed on in Corinth for about 18 months teaching the word of the Lord.

Fear is an interesting emotion, a God-given emotion that is designed to protect us, but sometimes it does its job too well. It can displace priorities that must not be displaced. Fear can keep us from speaking the truth of the gospel when it really needs to be spoken. The difficulty with fear is that it is a personal perception about a situation based on what the appearances are, but those appearances may not necessarily represent the actual reality. In dealing with fear, we need to do one of at least two things: 1) either we need to examine the appearances thoroughly to establish whether fear is well-founded or not, or 2) we need to take our fears to the Lord and seek His guidance and counsel in whether to allow it to have its impact on us or not. Whether one of these approaches or others, we cannot simply allow fear to have an unfounded impact. Too much is at stake for that.

Father, We admit that sometimes fear keeps us from speaking when we know we should speak. Help us to know how to deal with these fears, so that we can know truly when to speak and when not to, based on the leading of Your Spirit and not our fears. Amen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Release of Praise

“For Your faithful love is higher than the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches the clouds. God, be exalted above the heavens; let your glory be over the whole earth.” (Psalm 108:4-5 CSB)

Psalms can be powerfully expressive! They often release the hearts of the writers to soar in praise of God, pure like refined gold. Praise like this can powerfully impact the hearts of readers, so that we, too, catch a glimpse of that same glory of God and release our own “Hallelujah!” before the Lord. The communion with His Spirit that follows provides us with a deeply spiritual sense of satisfaction that continues to well up from within us. And in our hearts and minds we shout, “Glory!”

Prepared, we then push on into the day before us. We find ourselves facing some tasks that take time and must be done, a few of them perhaps not so pleasant. We encounter other people during the day, sometimes family members, sometimes friends, sometimes co-workers, sometimes strangers, and in these encounters we find opportunity to serve, or grow, or learn, or share, or even confront. These can be somewhat distracting, or even distressful, depending.

So, what happened to the soaring praise of the morning? Answer: It is still there. We just do not see it, and we may not be feeling it exactly; but it’s still there. And, in fact, we have been expressing it continually through our serving.

Those who serve are releasing praise before God. And in our hearts and minds we shout, “Glory!”

Lord, May our praise of You be released first to You, and then to those we serve. Amen.

Monday, February 4, 2008

An Expectation of Faith

“But in spite of this you did not trust the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 1:32 CSB)

Near the close of his journey with the Israelites, encamped in Moab and poised just beyond the Jordan River, Moses delivered a long address to the people, recorded as the Book of Deuteronomy. He reminded the people how God delivered them from Egypt, how He led them to the edge of the promised land, only for the people to shrink back in fear and refuse to enter the land. What is so remarkable about this is that God had demonstrated His power and protection over the people repeatedly. They saw this first-hand in the 10 plagues against Egypt. They saw it at the Red Sea as the Egyptians were defeated and destroyed by God’s power. They saw it as God provided water and food in the desert. But in spite of it all they did not trust the Lord to lead them into Canaan. Instead, they allowed fear to rule the day.

God expected Israel to follow His instructions into Canaan. He expected them to trust Him. Faith always calls for a response of trust, followed by actions that demonstrate that trust. At the Red Sea, God divided the waters, but the people had to respond by walking through to the other side. God provided manna every day for the people, but they had to respond by going out to collect it every morning.

Faith says that we have to trust God to do or provide whatever is necessary in order for us to carry out His will. When it is clear what God wants us to do, we must then demonstrate our trust in His by the action of obedience. That is what God will bless.

Father, Help us to put our faith and trust into action today as we walk with You. Amen.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Strengthening the Church

“Then Paul and Silas departed, after being commended to the grace of God by the brothers. He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:40-41 CSB)

The missionary purpose of the church is to “seek and to save that which was lost.” That was the stated purpose of Jesus, and we follow Him. Part of achieving this purpose is the task of strengthening churches so that people can use their spiritual gifts in the work of ministry. We can identify several important actions that serve to strengthen churches, based on Paul’s example.

One action is to teach the truth. In teaching the Bible, we are teaching the truth. We are teaching God’s truth because we know that the truth will set people free and will serve to strengthen the people of God.

Second, we develop people. We train people to follow everything Jesus commanded, as He instructed in the Great Commission. We help people develop their leadership, their skills, and their gifts so that they can serve God.

A third action is to pray for the church. In his letters to churches, one of the first statements Paul always made was, “I pray for you continually,” or, “I thank God for you ever time I think of you.” Intercession for the church is standing in the breach on their behalf and seeking God’s blessings on the church.

Fourth, encouraging the church strengthens it. This, too, is part of what Paul and Silas did. Sometimes churches can become discouraged, and Christian leaders need to then look for every possible way to encourage the church.

Fifth, leading and living by example can provide positive strengthening for the church. When the people of the church, and leaders especially, live the life we say we believe and lead by example as servant leaders, it has the effect of both encouraging and strengthening to church to follow suit.

In this day, may we each look for ways that we can, in the leadership of the Holy Spirit, serve to strengthen the church that Jesus gave His life for.

Lord, Show us throughout the day what we can do to strengthen Your church. Amen.