Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Your Spiritual Gift

“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 CSB)

The matter of spiritual gifts has generated much discussion. In some cases it has generated much heat but not so much light, but even so the discussion is good if it helps us to grow in our understanding of what spiritual gifts are all about.

Our tendency is to compartmentalize spiritual gifts in much the same way as we try to segment various aspects of our lives. The “Greek” view of life does this, and most of us have been influenced more by that way of thinking. For example, we tend to compartmentalize work, church, social life, education, family and so on. This helps us to organize and to focus on one aspect of life at a time. The “Jewish” view of life was much more “wholistic” in tone and tends to see life more as a whole with the various aspects of life as simply facets of the whole.

Since Paul probably wrote more from the Jewish viewpoint, we should probably try to view spiritual gifts not as separate entities but as facets of the whole. Further, we should probably view people with spiritual gifts rather than spiritual gifts as some kind of objective, concrete expression of the Holy Spirit. This particular text does not say that the Lord gave spiritual gifts; it says that He gave “some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” The gifts do not simply exist out there in the spiritual realm, so that the Holy Spirit pulls them off a shelf and hands them to us to try on. The Lord gifts us with people whom He has enabled to serve in a special capacity.

That said, it is the purpose of the gifts the Spirit enables us to use that is crucial. There can be no legitimate sense of pride with regard to spiritual gifts. The important thing is what the Spirit intends for them to accomplish, and that is clear. All of them are given for the training of God’s people so that God’s people can serve in all the ways God calls them to serve. The Holy Spirit wants His gifts to build up the body of Christ, lead us toward unity, and toward a growing maturity, so that our lives take on a genuine consistency and perseverance. Genuine spiritual gifts, thus, do not bring attention to themselves but to what God wants them to achieve. That needs to be the measure of the validity of a spiritual gift.

Lord, Today may the gifts You have put into each of us achieve all that You intend for them to achieve. Amen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope at your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6 CSB)

One is about as basic as you can get. “One” is a statement and a description. It is an absolute, and, yet, it can also be infinite. It is a whole number, but within the number one there are an infinite number of decimals. For example, if you take the number one and divide it by half and continue dividing each result by half, you can never reach the end. And yet, the number one still stands there as a whole, as a unit, as totally complete within itself.

Paul points to the relevance of oneness for Christians. There is one body, the church, composed of numerous believers. There is one Spirit, and yet, there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is one Lord, and yet there is trinity. There is one faith in Christ, but many expressions. There is one baptism or immersion in Christ, and yet, there are many fillings of the Spirit. There is one God and Father, and yet, there is also the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The power of one has nothing to do with sameness, but it has everything to do with unity. The more one we are as believers, the greater our impact on a lost world. Thus, we seek unity; not the kind that is man-made but the kind that results from the unity of God’s Spirit.

Lord, May we Your people be one as You are One. Amen.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Worthy Walk

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.” (Ephesians 4:1-3 CSB)

Lifestyle is often described in the Bible as our “walk.” The way we walk is the way we live, so Paul is instructing us to live a life that is worthy of our calling, which is simply our call to faith, to a life of walking with God. He further described what it means to walk worthy of our calling.

One characteristic of a worthy walk is humility. We humble ourselves before God and recognize that we are completely dependent on Him for all of life. Everything we have, including the next breath we take, comes from Him. Our abilities, our intelligence, our imaginations, and our creativity are all gifts from Him, and using them fully for His glory means that we must depend on Him to energize them.

Another characteristic of a worthy walk is gentleness. Basically, this means that we are “tame,” and, therefore, usable. It has nothing to do with strength in the physical sense but everything to do with strength in the spiritual sense. Someone who is spiritually gentle has an iron will with regard to a determination to walk with God.

Patience is a characteristic of a worthy walk. Patience simply means to “continue under the load.” This word was used of animals carrying a heavy burden who continue to struggle forward under their load until the destination is reached. Patient people do not give up but continue forward under their load.

Accepting one another in love is a great characteristic of a worthy walk. Rather than set ourselves up as judge over others, we recognize first the “plank” in our own eye, so we can see the speck in someone else’s eye. In other words, we accept people because God loves us and them.

A worthy walk is characterized by diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. The Holy Spirit unifies us. He does not make us “uniform,” but He unites us with a special glue called “peace.” Disunity grieves the Holy Spirit, but when we choose to submit ourselves to the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, He will work to unite us by giving peace that binds us. We are then responsible for diligently keeping this unity.

Today, may we aim toward a lifestyle that demonstrates humility, gentleness, patience, acceptance, and unity. And may this be our testimony to the world about who we are as Christians.

Lord, Lead us through this day to walk with You and one another and live out a lifestyle that is worthy of our calling. Amen.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not Here

“Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been resurrected! He is not here! See the place where they put Him.” (Mark 16:6 CSB)

Well, who wouldn’t be alarmed! We can only imagine what these ladies were thinking and feeling when they entered the tomb of Jesus, saw that the body was not there, though the grave clothes were, and that an angel in a long white robe was sitting there instead. Shocked. Stunned. Bewildered. Astonished. Amazed. Terrified. These are a few additional words that come to mind.

But what a great statement to hear: He is not here. He was not there because He was resurrected. He was not there because the power of death was too weak to hold Him. He was not there because God’s sovereign plan was in effect. He was not there because the entire work of redemption was finished. He was not there because He had places to go, people to see, things to do. He was not there because He was alive.

And now – we are alive.

Lord, We thank You for making us alive. Help us now to live as fully as You intend. Amen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


“And at three, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’”

The traditional interpretation of this verse is that Jesus was abandoned on the cross by the Father because God cannot look on sin. Some have preached elaborate and passionate sermons to that effect. A closer scrutiny and understanding, however, may show an alternate interpretation.

The Old Testament scriptures at that time did not have chapters and verses. Those were not added to the Bible until many centuries later. When a rabbi or other teacher wanted to cite a text for teaching purposes, they would typically quote the first line of the passage. They did so with the understanding that others who knew the scriptures would recognize the entire passage.

What Jesus did on the cross was to quote the first verse of Psalm 22. As a teacher, His purpose in doing so would not necessarily have been to express His own sense of abandonment by the Father, but to point all those around Him to the whole of Psalm 22. When you read the whole of Psalm 22, what you find is a description of the entire events around the cross. Even as He was dying on the cross, Jesus would thus have been trying to bear witness to the fulfillment of prophecy, with the intent of calling people there to faith. Particularly, for His disciples who may have been around the cross, He would have wanted them to understand what was really happening.

The fact is, if God looks on you and me, He looks on sin all the time. His Spirit dwells in us, people who are saved sinners. He has forgiven our sins and cleansed our hearts. Yet, we deal with sin all the time, and still He remains in us, leading us away from it.

Further, the Spirit who was in Jesus did not abandon Him during this suffering. And there is no reason to assume, or interpret, that God somehow abandoned Jesus, or that Jesus even felt abandoned. It is just as possible, and actually more than possible, that Jesus – the Master Teacher – was taking one of the most opportune times for teaching to make a point. Teachers do that.

Father, We know that You have never abandoned us, and we believe that You never will, since that is what You have promised. Help us each day to walk with You, turning away from sin, and seeking a life that demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fools and God

“The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist.’” (Psalm 14:1 CSB)

There are some who believe there is no God. Or at least, that is what they say they believe. Many would also say they really are just not sure there is a God, while some would be adamant and say point blank there is just no God.

Whatever the degree of disbelief in God, they all have great difficulty explaining the existence of the universe and the existence of life. Some come up with elaborate theories. It’s always interesting to watch how very intelligent astronomers will try to explain the origins and existence of the universe. Many of them have thought about it quite deeply, and they have consequently come up with some unique ideas, which they apparently believe. Some others say they do not try to explain the universe. They just do not believe that a God exists, since they have never seen one or heard one. So they just make no attempt to explain anything related to God. They simply go about their lives living them the best they know how. They believe you live, you die, and that’s it.

A “fool” is someone who is lacking in judgment or prudence. It is the opposite meaning of “wise.” The psalmist uses this word to define anyone who says or believes that God does not exist. The universe is the expression of God’s creativity and, thus, His existence. Life with all its complexities demonstrates the existence of God. There is a mountain of evidence to the existence of God in comparison to the molehill unbelievers try to make. Anyone who sees the universe and life and concludes that there is no God is lacking in judgment, regardless of his or her level of intelligence. Intelligence and judgment are not the same thing.

The sad part is that those who remain fools until they die will finally realize that is what they are when it is too late. That is why it is so important that Christians bear witness to the existence, reality, and love of God with every opportunity we have.

Lord, We are amazed at those who say or believe You do not exist. We thank You for loving us and for calling us to Yourself. We thank You to putting Your Spirit in our hearts. Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Harvest Energy

“So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9 CSB)

Harvesting takes a lot of energy. The only thing that takes more energy is the work of actually getting to the harvest. There has to be ground preparation, fertilization, sowing of seed, weed control, and adequate water. Much hard work, time, and effort must go into the preparation of the harvest.

When we think about the church and how this metaphor applies, we recognize its validity. The problem is that we sometimes put so much effort into the preparation for growth without seeing much harvest that we can conclude that nothing much is happening. The reality is just the opposite. We thus need to keep on working and working hard, knowing that God is also working in the ways that He needs to work and will ultimately bring us to the time of harvest.

The point Paul makes to us in this text is that we need to keep on working, even when it appears we may not be making that much progress. We need to keep on doing the preparation, the fertilization, to seed sowing, the weed control, and the water application, trusting God to give the harvest when it is His time to do so.

Lord, we thank You for the harvest that will come. Strengthen us as we continue to work toward it. Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Opportune Freedom

“Christ has liberated us into freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 CSB)

Many nations observe an “independence day,” or a day of liberation. America observes July 4th. China observes October 10th as its “liberation day.” However a nation may define it, they all celebrate freedom from something to something.

Paul spoke of freedom. He wrote to the Galatian churches about it, primarily because they were on the verge of throwing theirs away. Their churches had been invaded or infiltrated by false teachers who were telling them that faith in Christ is a good thing, but that that is not enough to save you. If you really want to be saved, you have to observe the Jewish law, they said. These Galatian believers, mostly Gentile, were unable to withstand this onslaught, and many began to buy into and submit to these teachings. So, Paul heard about it and, alarmed, wrote to combat this. He reminded them that they received God’s Spirit not by law but by faith. He instructed them that the law was like a school teacher; it instructed us until Christ came and completed it. He reminded us that Christ has liberated us from sin and from the power of the law, which is death. In Christ, we are fully and finally free, and, therefore, it makes no sense to revert to slavery.

Thus, Paul encourages us to walk by the Spirit in the freedom we have in Christ, to then demonstrate the power of that freedom to enable us to practice a right life before God. Freedom does not mean the opportunity to do anything we want to. Rather, it means that we have the opportunity to serve one another through love. Freedom is, thus, the opportunity to serve.

Lord, We thank You for setting us free, and we pray that we may live in this freedom fully in the ways You have intended. Amen.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Changing Horses in Mid-Stream

“I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3 CSB)

There is an old saying: Never change horses in mid-stream! The idea came from the frontier world where horses were the mainstay of transportation. In the middle of a river or stream, if the horse wants to stop, or gets tired, or gets spooked, the temptation would be to get somebody to bring you another horse so you could then get on to the other side of the river. Apparently, the inventor of the old saying must have tried it. He probably got washed downriver but lived to tell the tale – and invent the wise old saying.

Changing horses in mid-stream was apparently what the Galatians were doing. False teachers had entered their fellowship. These teachers were telling them that if they really wanted to be saved, they would have to keep the law. Paul fiercely countered this argument. They did not begin by keeping the law. They did not receive the Spirit by keeping the law. It all began when they heard the gospel and then received it in faith, thus receiving the Spirit in faith. Now, some of them were beginning to follow what these false teachers were saying, so Paul had to help these young believers understand that the law does not produce faith that saves us. The law was like a guardian until Christ came, and now we are in the life of faith. Faith certainly leads us into doing good works, but these are all the fruit of the Spirit, who enters our hearts on the basis of faith. We do not do these good works in order to be saved, but because we have been saved by faith.

Faith is the priority of life because it leads to life.

Father, May we all be convinced in our own hearts that Your law is good but was never intended to be our “savior.” Only Christ is our Savior, and we receive Him by faith. Help us to remember this and never be led astray, for Your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Power of Grace

“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:20-21 CSB)

Grace is a word that communicates softness, warmth, and love. It refers to “favor” that is undeserved. The “warm fuzzies” we get when we reflect on grace can overshadow some of the foundational truth about grace, however. Grace has an undefined power quality to it. No example can do justice in helping us understand this, but just as a tiny amount of yeast can cause a huge batch of dough to rise, grace has the power to change, shape, and define a life. It is an attribute of God, to be sure, but it seems to be more than that. When God gives it, it can change who we are.

Paul described it this way, “I no longer live.” Grace destroys the self-centeredness and the willfulness of the old life prior to Christ, so that, even though we continue to live, we can never the same again. Christ now lives in us. That is the grace of God at work. His love empowers us, enlightens us, and energizes us to live a life that is not like the rest of the world. We now have the capability of the faith-life.

The faith-life expresses trust during our life circumstances, trust that is directed toward God. We recognize that we cannot have total understanding of our various circumstances, but that through all of them we have God walking with us, guiding us, and helping us to live joyfully during the floods, the famines, and the fun. Grace helps us to understand that our joy is not dependent on our circumstances but on the presence of Almighty God through His indwelling Spirit. This is the faith-life.

Lord, May your grace work its power in us to shape us and guide us today and each day, so that we may not just live our lives but that we will express Christ in us, the Hope of glory for our world. Amen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Only One Gospel

“As we have said before, I now say again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!” (Galatians 1:9 CSB)

In fact, some other folks were teaching a gospel different from the one Paul had preached to the Galatians. That is a major reason why Paul wrote them.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul laid out the essential gospel message. “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me.” Paul is saying to the Galatians that a gospel other than this one is a fraud, as are those who proclaim another gospel.

The message in itself is good news, but the reason it is good news for us is because of the impact it can have on us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Those who believe the message and who commit their lives to Jesus in faith thus have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. They have a personal relationship with God which is called “salvation.” This comes purely through faith and never faith PLUS something else. We receive the gospel by faith, and then we express what has happened in our hearts through our actions toward God and others. This is why it is such good news.

Lord, Remind us throughout the day of the good news message and why it is good news, and help us today to represent that message well. Amen.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Prayer of Faith

“Therefore, I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for – believe that you have received them, and you will have them.” (Mark 11:24 CSB)

What an interesting statement! Did Jesus really mean it? Is it true that if we pray and ask for something and believe we have received it that we will have it? Did Jesus mean for His disciples and us to take this literally?

A number of commentators add qualifiers to this. Some say that Jesus only said this to His disciples and did not mean it for the church that was to come later. Some say that only believers can pray and expect it to be answered. Some say that we must first understand if what we are praying for is the will of God before we can expect to receive what we ask for. Some say that Jesus was using a figure of speech called “hyperbole” where a statement is made in the extreme in order to emphasize the main point, which, in this case, would be that we should simply pray in faith. Some say we should take a cautious attitude about this matter, since some could take it to an extreme and ask for something God is not going to give. For example, someone might ask God to keep them from injury or death and then jump out of an airplane “in faith” believing they have received it.

So, with all these qualifiers and undoubtedly many others floating around, what are we to make of what Jesus said?

Jesus would never have made this statement if He had not meant it. Therefore, we can only accept that He meant just what He said. There are, however, some foundations that have to be in place: 1) we must be disciples of Jesus, 2) whatever we ask for must be important and not frivolous, 3) we do not ask in presumption but in faith, and 4) we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and, thus, His will above our own. With these foundations in place, we can ask and expect to receive from God, trusting Him to act in accordance with His will.

Lord, Remind us today that You are sovereign over anything and everything, and that You have the power to do anything. We bring our needs and requests to You, and we trust them to You, asking that Your will may be done. Amen.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Angel of Light

“For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself is disguised as an angel of light. So it is no great thing if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their destiny will be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 CSB)

Who are the “people” Paul is talking about in the verse above? He refers to them earlier as “super-apostles.” These were folks who presented themselves to churches as apostles of Christ, as having a greater enlightenment than Paul, Apollos, Barnabas, Peter, and other apostles. These were deceitful men who were preying upon the churches, wielding influence on the churches, and obtaining financial resources from the churches. In Paul’s view, these men were not genuine Christians to begin with and were certainly not genuine apostles, much less “super” apostles.

Paul noted that these men were following their true leader, Satan, and employing his same strategy. Satan does not present himself as some dark and sinister lord of the murky depths of darkness. That would tend to not influence very many people. Rather, he presents himself as fully enlightened, and seeks to influence people to follow ways he presents as enlightened. He disguises himself, masquerading as an angel of light, so that he can lead people away from God, Whom he hates. Elsewhere, Paul says that we are “not unaware of his [Satan’s] schemes.”

Jesus is the Light of the world. Jesus is Lord. He is the Son of God. While on earth He was God incarnate. Those who proclaim the true light are those who proclaim that Jesus is God, the Lord, and that He alone is the Way to the Father. To Him belongs the kingdom. The word of God, the Bible, honors Him, and He honors His word. Anyone who purports to represent the light of God will always point to Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, and raised from the dead.

Lord, Keep us from all deceit, and help us to follow You and the light You give, that You may be honored and glorified. Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good Boasting

“So the one who boasts must boast in the Lord. For it is not the one commending himself who is approved, but the one the Lord commends.” (2 Corinthians 10:17-18 CSB)

The opposite of humility is pride, and pride is the source for boasting. Commending oneself or bragging on oneself has no basis in reality. Some believe that if you can do what you brag about being able to do, it is not bragging but just stating a reality. Athletes sometimes engage in such bragging. In some circles they call it “trash talking,” or talking about how you’re better than your opponent and will defeat him or her easily. Ego, self-centeredness, and pride are the raw source for all this.

Anyway you look at it, boasting in this way is short-lived. Records do not stand for long. Championships do not stand for long. Someone stronger comes along, and then someone replaces them later on. So such boasting is truly pointless. Entertaining maybe, but still pointless.

Paul reminds us that any boasting that has genuine sustainability is boasting directed toward the Lord. If you want to boast about something that has an eternal championship ring to it, then boast in the accomplishments of the Lord. Commending yourself is useless. Being commended by the Lord, however, now that’s something.

Lord, Today help us do all of our boasting on the basis of who You are and what You have done rather than on anything we think we may have done. Amen.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Lord Watches Over

“For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” (Psalm 1:6 CSB)

In the first psalm, David speaks of how happy is the man who does not align himself with those who are wicked but instead seeks the Lord and delights in His instruction, meditating on it day and night. Such a one is like a tree planted beside a stream and is always productive. The wicked, on the other hand, are like wheat chaff which have little substance and are easily blown away by the slightest wind. The wicked cannot withstand judgment, while the righteous certainly will. The reason for this is that the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, while the way of the wicked leads only to ruin.

The first statement to be made about this psalm and its teaching is that it is a confession of faith. People of faith believe that God will watch over those who are in right relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. So, what does that mean?

Does this mean that people in right relationship with the Lord can expect that God is going to keep them from all harm? Some will read these verses and conclude that that is exactly what it means. And if that is true, then we have a disconnect when someone who actually is in a right relationship with the Lord suffers harm or death, which will then cause folks to question whether it is really true. Worse, it can cause some to actually turn away from their faith. So, how can we reconcile all this?

First, we simply accept by faith that this psalm and these individual verses are telling us the truth. Clearly, they are expressing David’s understanding of the ways of God, and David experienced these truths and gives testimony to his observation. We should note, however, that David’s life was not without suffering, danger, and struggle. His faith led him to practice trusting God to watch over his way. It was simply a matter of faith and trust.

Second, we recognize the spiritual nature of what is being taught. Our human minds are firmly grounded and oriented to the physical. We tend to read verses like this assuming the physical. Faith tells us that God does watch over the way of the righteous in physical terms, but we recognize that spiritual reality is a greater reality than the physical, and that God’s providence and sustenance applies to the spiritual as well. It may actually have more to do with the spiritual anyway, since the word “happy” used in verse 1 literally means “spiritually prosperous.”

Third, our faith tells us that we trust God regardless of anything that occurs, either toward us or toward those we love. Shadrach, Mechech, and Abednego stated to Nebuchadnezzar that God would rescue them from the fire, and that even if He did not, they would never worship some other god or man, like Nebuchadnezzar. Faith causes us to simply put supreme trust in God and His purposes, whether we understand them or not, or whether we like them or not.

Lord, Remind us today that Your death on the cross and all the suffering You went through for us happened as a result of a supreme faith and trust. Help us to recognize that even those in a right relationship with You might undergo some level of suffering or struggle, and that You will watch over our way. Help us to not allow experience or observation to undermine our trust in You, as if they were somehow greater than You. Amen.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It’s War! Or Not?

“Then the Israelites heard it said, ‘Look, the Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan at the region of the Jordan, on the Israelite side.’ When the Israelites heard this, the entire Israelite community assembled at Shiloh to go to war against them.” (Joshua 22:11-12 CSB)

The time came in the conquest of Canaan when Joshua was able to dismiss the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh so they could return to their families on the east side of the Jordan River. They parted at Shiloh, but before these warriors crossed the Jordan they built a replica of the Tabernacle altar on the west side of the Jordan. There was to be only one altar. The Israelites knew that a second altar would offend God and would result in their being judged. So, they issued a call to arms and assembled the army at Shiloh. But, before they attacked, they sent Phinehas the priest and 10 leaders from the tribes of Israel to ask about this “treachery.” The leaders of the Reubenites, Gadites, and half tribe of Manasseh answered that they altar was not built as an altar to be used, but as a symbolic reminder that those tribes east of the Jordan were their brothers. They realized that the day may come in the future when later generations might forget that fact, so their purpose was to maintain their ties with their brothers in Canaan. They stated clearly that they would never worship another god or turn away from the Lord. Their answer averted war.

On a somewhat smaller scale, people sometimes get involved in conflict with one another. The conflict can be precipitated by an action of one which is not understood or is otherwise misconstrued by the other. It appears one way, while another truth could actually be at work. What we see in this example in Israel offers us some advice for helping us to deal with some conflicts.

First, if the action of another appears to be offensive, it is all right to “feel” offended and to express as sense of offense. It is possible that an offense was given, and we do not know until later whether it was or not. Immediately, however, it is all right to have the feeling of being offended.

Second, rather than “fly off the handle” with emotion and subsequent action, it is better first of all to allow reason an opportunity to work. We see this in Phinehas, who decided that it would be better to go see those on the east side and confront them with what they observed.

Third, evaluate what was observed in the actions of others by at least considering that what is seen may not represent the reality that is perceived. Give at least a little bit of “the benefit of the doubt” so that an evaluation is at least possible.

Fourth, express concern. Let the other party know that an offense has been perceived and why it is an offense.

Fifth, give the other party an opportunity to respond. The explanation could well resolve the issue altogether. If it does not, you will at least then know what the real story is, so that further decisions can be made based on the facts.
Communication is often the way to conflict resolution.

Father, Help us to learn from the wisdom of Phinehas and others like him so that we can find resolution to the conflicts we sometimes face with others. We ask that You will be glorified in this. Amen.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Godly Grief

“For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10 CSB)

There are two kinds of grief we can experience. One kind is “worldly grief,” which is the normal kind of human experience. We encounter this grief when we perceive a loss. The loss of a relationship, the loss of a sense of significance, and the loss of a family member to death create varying degrees of grief. This grief ranges from very difficult to extremely difficult. Paul says that this kind of grief “produces death.” This means it is related to death, and in reality, if grief is not dealt with adequately, it actually can lead to death.

The other kind of grief is referred to as a “godly grief.” This is grief that comes from the will of God. It is produced by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers who are sensitive to the Spirit’s inner conviction regarding sin. This kind of grief, when we listen to the Spirit’s leading, produces repentance from sin and takes us toward renewal. No one wants to have to go through this grief, but believers know how necessary it is when there is something in our lives that needs correction. This kind of grief need not be feared but, rather, should be welcomed, because we know this is God disciplining us so that we can live a life that more greatly honors Him.

Lord, We do not like the idea of grief, but we thank You that through godly grief You help us to move beyond sin and more fully into a life that glorifies You. Amen.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A New Way of Thinking

“From now on, then, we do not know anyone in a purely human way. Even if we have known Christ in a purely human way, yet now we no longer know Him like that. (2 Corinthians 5:16 CSB)

Christians are human beings, and we relate to one another as human beings. But we do not relate to one another in a “purely human” way. Something has happened to us that has changed how we relate to one another and to all people. Paul points out two truths that help us understand.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, and everything is new. When we came to faith, we received Christ into our hearts, and we spiritually entered into Christ. When this happened the old “purely human” way of relating to others, along with our views of the world changed. Basically, these died. The old set died. We were “born again.” Everything became new. So now, we see people and our world through a new set of eyes, through the eyes of God.

As a result of this change, God imparted a ministry to us. Since we were reconciled to God, He gave us a ministry of reconciliation. A “ministry” is a way of serving. We serve God now as His ambassadors. We represent Him and His desire to reconcile the world to Himself, so that sin may be destroyed. This means that we have a clear, god-given task before us, and that task is to proclaim a message of reconciliation to our world, inviting people to turn from sin and its destructiveness and toward faith and the life of fulfillment it brings.

Lord, May we daily walk in this new way, continually laying aside and leaving behind the old ways. Help us to engage fully in this ministry of reconciliation You have called us to. Amen.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Clay Jars

“Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7 CSB)

The treasure Paul is talking about above is the glory of God, the light of God, the mercy of God, the truth of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. These are priceless. They are treasure that surpasses anything we might consider treasure, essentially because they are living treasures. They have the dynamic to change our lives.

How interesting that God is then willing for us to have these treasures in “clay jars,” which is a metaphorical description of who we are. We are souls, and we have bodies composed of “the dust of the earth.” Clay, essentially. That is, our bodies are composed of basic elements, physically speaking, which are made organic by the power and will of God. God created us, in other words, and He created us from what amounts to ordinary dirt. And it is in this “dirt” jars that God allows His treasure, and now, our treasure to be placed.

God’s purpose in doing this is to show everyone else that the power of glory, light, mercy, truth, and the gospel has nothing to do with the clay jars in which they reside. God wants everyone to see that these treasures come from Him, and that they reside in us. Consequently, He wants everyone to see that those same treasures can reside in them as well. That is what honors Him and His purposes.

Further, this is what makes it possible for us to then deal with the perplexities of life. Glory, light, mercy, truth and the gospel bring order out of chaos, and then bring even an eternal order, focusing our lives beyond life’s perplexities and difficulties, while enabling us to deal with them effectively at the same time.

Only one response will do here: thank You, Lord.

Father, Your wisdom is beyond our ability to comprehend, but we recognize that in Your infinite wisdom You have allowed us to have these treasures in clay jars, so that You might be honored and glorified. We each join in the heavenly chorus that sings praise to You, and we offer our thanks to You. Amen.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

We Do Not Give Up

“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not give up.” (2 Corinthians 4:1 CSB)

On the basis of the hope we have in Christ in this new covenant, we follow Him faithfully in faith.

Because of our hope in Him we walk in the light, choosing to follow the way of truth openly. We know by way of experience that the darkness of un-truth can never produce even a little hope. The light of the truth of Christ shows us the way to hope, and that hope in turn steels us with a resolve to remain in the truth and continually learn about the kind of life that blesses the world we live in.

Because of our hope in Him we approach the struggles of this life from the viewpoint of the power of God, which works in us to enable us to endure. The pressures of this life can be enormous at times. The uncertainties in this life can produce anxiety that threatens our peace. But the Holy Spirit dwelling in us speaks to us of the power of God that comes from the sufficient grace He provides us. This assurance then further steels our resolve to follow Jesus.

Because of our hope in Him we approach death the same way we approach life. We all recognize that the physical body deteriorates. Day by day it does so. We do not notice it so much when we are younger, though it happens all the time, but the older we get the more noticeable it becomes. Yet, we recognize also that these are “momentary, light afflictions,” while what awaits us is an incomparable weight of glory. That is the reason we are able to stay focused on what is eternal rather than what is temporal. And this, too, steels our resolve to follow Christ faithfully in faith.

We do not give up.

Lord, Your truth and light, Your power, and Your eternity spring forth from the hope we have in You, and we will not give up. We will stand our ground in You and not back down from the opportunities You give us. Amen.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Image Is Everything

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 CSB)

Have you ever been driving down a road or street you’ve driven a thousand times, only to notice something you never noticed before, though it’s always been there? Sometimes that is the way with Scripture. We may read a verse or verses we’ve read over and over, and then suddenly the Spirit of God shows you something that was always there, but you never noticed it before.

In the verses above, Paul has been talking about the glory on the face of Moses following his intense, personal encounters with the God of glory, and how Moses used to put a veil over his face after these encounters so people would not see the fading glory. That action was more for the people than for Moses, since they were all frightened by what they saw.

Paul says that our faces are unveiled, and that is because the glory of God is us never fades. The reason it does not is because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and it is the freedom from the tyranny of sin that the Holy Spirit gives us that produces this glory in our faces. Our faces reflect the glory of the God who has set us free. And now, we are constantly being transformed into the same image of the Lord of glory.

This transformation is worthy of an “Amen!” This is what causes our hearts to soar with gratitude and joy. We are not now what we once were. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and He is in us. Our transformation, though sometimes challenging and painful, is nonetheless wondrous. And it isn’t always challenging and painful. It is also deeply rewarding, and a joyous experience. And we receive it with humility and eternal gratitude to God for what He is doing in us.

Lord, All glory and honor to You! Amen.