Thursday, December 31, 2009

Daily

“Then He said to [them] all, ‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

Just before Jesus said “if anyone wants to come with Me,” He warned them that He was going to suffer “many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day.” The operative word here is “suffer.” There was not a promise of perpetual tranquility for those who wish to be Jesus’ disciple, but rather a prediction of suffering.

The idea behind “take up your cross” is one of suffering and burdens. This expression essentially means to bear your burdens. Jesus told them the burdens He was to bear so they would understand what to expect if they followed Him. Taking up His cross, so to speak, would lead Him to the cross.

To follow Jesus, we are thus called to lay aside our own willfulness in order to pursue God’s will and to bear whatever burdens must be borne in order to follow Him faithfully. Daily.

Discipleship is daily. We don’t have days off from discipleship. Each day is a new day for us as His disciples, a day of new opportunity to walk with God, to serve and love others, and – if necessary – suffer for His sake. Each new day, therefore, calls for its own intentionality of commitment.

Lord, As we consider today and the days ahead, help us to be fully aware of Your call for intentionality in our commitment to You, and may we each follow You faithfully, being aware of the cost and willing to pay it. Amen.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Is Good

“He has told you men what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: Only to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

“Good” is a word we spread around rather thinly. The Bible says that only God is good, and the God who is good has communicated to us what good He expects of us. Among other aspects of what is good, Micah points us toward three.

Good is acting justly. That means acting rightly and standing for what is right, and ensuring that justice is carried out. This is social goodness. The Lord is telling us through Micah that He wants us to be involved with social justice and goodness and rightness.

Good is loving faithfulness. Faithfulness is open-ended commitment. It is an absolute commitment that has no end-date, no expiration date. Loving this kind of a life, this kind of a commitment is something God sees as good. It is good because it builds up and sustains and does not hinder or hurt.

Good is walking humbly with our God. The more someone walks with God, the more he or she wants to walk with God. There is no life or lifestyle than can even come close to it in comparison. Walking with God is significance, meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. Walking with God in humility means to walk with Him in a life of learning. To be humble is to be teachable. We walk with God, continually learning from Him. That is good.

Lord, May our lives demonstrate acting justly, loving faithfulness, and walking humbly with You. Amen.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Impressions

“The Lord values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love.” (Psalm 147:11)

People are impressionable. In fact, we are easily impressed by things that go “boom.” A fireworks display we find awesome. Bringing down an old building with a series of dynamite charges impresses us with immensity. The flight of a massive rocket, or the explosion of a nuclear device shouts “power” to us. Military power in general impresses us.

What impresses God? Answer: Not much, really.

We sometimes ascribe our thoughts to God, even though the Bible tells us His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. Still, we think that surely God is impressed with all the knowledge we have amassed. We know so much more now than we once did. No? Well, if not that, then surely God is impressed with our technology. Just look at what we can do with our computers. We can send people to the moon and bring them back safely. No? Well, how about our political systems? Surely God is impressed with our abilities to govern ourselves with democratic governments.

No, no, and no.

Only one thing impresses God. God values those who fear Him, those who find in Him their true sense of the awesome, those who put their hope in His faithful love. To fear the Lord is to stand in awe of Him, to be impressed with Him over everything else. Putting our hope in His faithful love is counting on Him to fulfill His word, counting on Him to fulfill His purposes for our lives, and trusting Him regardless. That impresses God.

Father, Help us to look beyond the shallow superficialities of what impresses our human minds and recognize our need to find genuine impression in Your awesomeness. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Calm Faith

“Then He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves. So they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’” (Luke 8:24b-25)

After the disciples shoved the boat out from the shore an exhausted Jesus laid down under the stern’s platform and slept. Not long after, a sudden storm arose on Lake Galilee. The boat was being swamped with water, along with the hopes of the disciples. They saw themselves going down. When they got a quick second they woke Jesus up and “upbraided” Him for sleeping on the job and for not caring. He got up and shut the wind down and smoothed out the waves, all with a word. Then He had a word for them. “Where is your faith?” They were stunned by His awesome display of power. But they had no answer for His question.

Do we?

Their very real experience on the water sometimes reminds us of the events of life that can come our way. Some of them are very much like a raging storm that can threaten our very existence.

Where does this calm faith Jesus pointed His disciples toward come from? It comes from trusting in the sovereign purposes of God. That is what Jesus did. He knew that His life’s destination was not yet reached, and that He would continue on until He reached that skull-shaped hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem. That was the Father’s purpose for His life. So He put His entire confidence in the sovereign purposes of the Father.

We cannot understand the storms of life. We cannot understand why God allows them. But we believe that the Scripture teaches us to trust ourselves into the sovereign purposes of God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us in chapter 11 that this is what the faithful servants of God through the ages were commended for.

God calls us to trust His sovereign purposes, and when we do so, that yields a calm faith.

Lord, We recognize this is not easy for us to do, but help us to genuinely trust Your sovereign purposes for our lives through every life encounter we have. Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hear Do

“But He replied to them, ‘My mother and My brothers are those who hear and do the word of God.” (Luke 8:21)

Jesus’ mother and brothers went to see Him, but they could not get to Him because of the crowd. So, the passed on the word to Him through the crowd one by one until it finally reached His ears. “Your mother and brothers are here and want to see You.” That is when Jesus remarked that His mother and brothers are those who hear and do the word of God.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, was there as well with their mother. At that moment, James did not believe in Him as Messiah and Lord. He was more of the opinion then that Jesus had “flipped out,” so to speak. Later, after the resurrection, when James did believe and served as the leader of the Jerusalem church, he wrote, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Interestingly, that sounds very much like what Jesus said to the crowd that day. Hearing the word of the Lord is great, but just hearing it has no life-impact. We need to do the word, that is, live what it teaches. That is what distinguishes us as the family of Jesus.

Genuine faith always expresses itself through action. We believe it. We live it. That’s part of the way the world then gets it. During this Christmas season, let's do everything possible to be sure the world "gets it," insofar as it depends on us.

Lord, Help us daily to hear Your word and then live it. Amen.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pavement

“Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (Jonah 2:10)

Jesus was the only baby born to die. He was born to become the sacrificial Passover Lamb. His birth in Bethlehem set in motion events that spanned about 33 years that, by the plan of God, would reach their climax at a place called Golgotha, or Calvary.

Along His journey, a day came when some of the religious leaders challenged His authenticity and demanded that He given them a sign if He was the Messiah. Jesus commented first about their generation and then responded, “No sign will be given to it [this generation] except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” (Matthew 12:39-40)

Jonah 2:5-6 reads, “The waters engulfed me up to the neck; the watery depths overcame me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. I sank to the foundations of the mountains; the earth with its prison bars closed behind me forever! But You raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God.” Then came verse 10, “Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”

The sign of Jonah was death and resurrection. So Jesus was saying to these religious leaders that His death and resurrection would be the only sign of authenticity they would be given. Since they were not to be in that group that would actually see the resurrected Jesus, Jesus was telling them they would have to make a faith decision. Thus, the sign of Jesus’ Messiahship can only be received on the basis of faith. Jesus was calling for repentance and faith, and He pointed them toward prophecy and its fulfillment as at least part of the basis for a faith response.

Jesus was the only baby born to die. Thus, Christmas paved the way for Easter.

Lord, Your thoughts are so far beyond ours. You planned Christmas and Easter before the foundations of the earth we laid. And now You have called us to walk with You on the road You paved for us. So we thank You. Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Suffering

“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have tribulation for 10 days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

Jesus said those words in His message to the church at Smyrna. The church there was poverty-stricken and had been faithful to God throughout their history.

This raises a question or two doesn’t it? To some, it’s the question that’s been around for a long time: Why do good people suffer? The more cynical folks phrase it rather differently: How could a good God let His people suffer? Their question masks an underlying belief that either God is not good, or God is not sovereign, or there is no God. But among those who are faithful, the question is an honest one, especially when they undergo intense suffering. Why does God allow this?

The stock answer, and the only real answer to the question, is: We don’t know. But the question does deserve some elaboration.

The fact of our suffering does not negate the sovereignty of God. Nor does it elevate the power of the Devil. Satan can only do what he is allowed to do by God. God’s sovereignty is at work in our suffering, at least in some manner. God allows our suffering to test (strengthen) our faith, much in the same way as He did with Job.

Also, our suffering does not mean that God does not love us. Just the opposite, it proves that He does. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that if a father loves his son, he will discipline (teach) him because he wants his son to grow strong. A father who does not discipline his son does not love him.

We should further remember that suffering is only a temporary situation. It may not seem that way sometimes, but all situations do change. The suffering of the church at Smyrna was for “10 days,” which simply means, “for a brief time.” Their faithfulness through their suffering would in turn produce a positive witness about their love for God and their dedication to Him regardless of what comes their way, and that in turn would draw others to a faith like that.

Though this elaboration still does not fully answer the question, it does help point us to the reality that Paul understood. “And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Let your suffering lead you to rejoicing.

Father, There is so much we do not understand, but we recognize that we do not always have to understand. Help us to simply be faithful and to rejoice for the ways You are going to use our difficulties to make us stronger. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Listening

“Hear this! The days are coming – this is the declaration of the Lord God – when I will send a famine through the land: not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11)

I can’t imagine anything worse. A famine of the words of the Lord would be to me the worst thing imaginable.

The Lord gave Amos those words to the people of Israel. I’m sure it increased his popularity! Actually, he had already been asked to leave Israel because of the veracity of his prophetic declarations, but he had another Master to obey rather than the king.

The reason the Lord gave the message was that the people of Israel were not listening. They were ignoring the words of the Lord, treating His words with contempt, and basically following the whims of their every desire. Indulgence was their logo. Injustice was their standard. Irrelevance was their destination. They were about to be relegated to insignificance. The Lord was about to use a “dirty broom” (Assyria) to level Samaria and exile the Israelites. Only, they didn’t see it coming. That’s because they were not listening, and that’s why there was about to be famine of the words of the Lord.

Nothing good comes from not listening to the word of the Lord. Anytime a nation begins to turn away from the word of the Lord, or begins to seek its own path apart from the Lord, God will be patient for a while, but if nothing changes that “grace period” will end. And no one will like the results.

We need to pray that our nation, which sometimes appears to be not listening very well, may turn around and move in God’s direction, to hear His word and heed it.

Lord, Forgive us for when we do not listen. Help us to hear, help us to respond, help us to turn daily toward You and seek Your word. Amen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Durability

“I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears my words, and acts on them.” (Luke 6:47)

Jesus went on after the statement above to describe a man who built a house. He first dug down to the rock and built the foundation on the rock. When the floods came, the house stood firm. Then Jesus described a man who built his foundation on sand, and when the floods came his house was swept away. Jesus said that the second man represents those who hear His words but don’t act on them.

Two thoughts emerge. First, it is important to have a solid foundation for life. Paul said that there is no foundation other than Jesus Christ. Only He is sufficient to serve as our foundation for life. Jesus and His word provides us with the solid foundation that braces us against the floods.

The second thought is that regardless of who you are, the floods do come. When a flood comes no one in the area is immune. Jesus taught elsewhere that God sends the rain both on “the just and the unjust.” It follows also that the floods of this life, those overwhelming events of life, come both upon the just and the unjust.

Being related to the Lord does not exempt us from the struggles of this life. But it does prepare us for them and provides us with the ability to endure. We can trust Him to bring us through them.

Lord, Some of the events of life overwhelm us at times, but how thankful we are that we know You. You are the foundation of our lives. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Heart Flow

“For each tree is known by its own fruit. … A good man produces good fruit out of the storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of his heart.” (Luke 6:44-45)

One of the reasons there is no cause to judge others is that the substance of someone’s heart will always become self-evident, sooner or later. A heart filled with the goodness of God will express that goodness. A heart that is filled with evil may be able to fool people for a time, but evil will eventually find its way to expression.

For example, Jude warned about “certain men [who] have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” He described them as “discontented grumblers, walking according to their desires; their mouths utter arrogant words, flattering people for their own advantage.”

Goodness of heart is a fundamental, foundational, elemental condition. It cannot be manufactured. It has only one Source – the Holy Spirit. He produces this goodness when faith catalyzes a spiritual union with Him in a life event we describe as “being born again,” being saved. Consistent, life-long goodness flows from the heart of one who believes in Jesus. Maybe that is part of what Jesus meant when He spoke of an overflowing fountain.

Lord, May the flow that comes from our hearts always serve to honor You. Amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Measuring

“For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38b)

We have a modern day proverb that says, “What goes around comes around.” We generally use this when we want to warn someone about how their actions might come back to haunt them later on. There is some similarity between that thought and what Jesus said, “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Jesus stated this principle with two negatives and two positives: judging others, condemning others, forgiving others, and giving to others. The idea is that if you judge others, whatever criteria you use for judging them will be applied to you. Whatever criteria you use to condemn others will be applied to you. Also, if you forgive others, you will be forgiven by that criteria, and to the degree that you give, actually much more will be given to you.

The point Jesus makes here is that it is better not to judge or condemn others at all and focus instead on bringing your own life into greater submission to the life God has called you to. To the degree we do that, we then have a clearer perspective of how God relates to all of us.

Lord, Help us today to remain focused on bringing our lives into conforming with Your will. Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2009

American Idols

“Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21)

John wrote his letters to 1st century Christians, and in the 1st century Roman Empire idolatry was rampant and pervasive. Not only did people regularly go to the temples to worship the Roman pantheon of gods, but most families even had their own personal small idols they could wrap up and even take with them on trips, “gods in a bag,” if you will. It was a common practice and so much part of the culture that it wasn’t even noticed. It was normal and expected then.

John knew that these idols had no power or basis in reality, so what he was warning believers about was the influence of idolatry, or the influence of its pervasiveness. He knew that the call to follow Christ was a call to the confession that “Jesus is Lord,” and ONLY Jesus. Just prior to this warning he wrote in verse 20, “He is the true God and eternal life.” That means there is no room for any other god. But John also saw the pervasiveness and total acceptability of idolatry, and he was concerned that some believers might continue to be influenced by idolatrous practices or maybe just passively ignore them. He saw the need for them to move totally away from any form of idolatry.

Believers in the 21st century need to hear this word in our context, because there is some clear application to us. Christians in some cultures in our world still face that same literal question of what to do about idolatry because in some countries it is still widely practiced. But even in our own “enlightened” western cultures, there are forms of idolatry that are practiced. Idolatry is any thing or person which usurps God’s position of sovereignty in His personal relationship with us.

In our American culture are there any more or less universal practices which are widely accepted which might constitute a form of idolatry, anything that might draw us away from our walk with the Lord? Think about it.

Lord, Help us to have no other “gods” besides You. Only You are God. Amen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Troublesome Truth

“But He knew their thoughts and told the man with the paralyzed hand, ‘Get up and stand here.’” (Luke 6:8)

Jesus went to the synagogue on a Sabbath and taught. The Pharisees and others were watching Him closely. He had already offended their sensibilities by defending His disciples’ actions in the wheat fields. They had dared to pluck a few grains of wheat on the Sabbath because they were hungry. Jesus reminded them of something David once did because he and his men were hungry. So they were watching Him through piercing eyes.

There was a man in their midst with a paralyzed hand. Would He do it?
Jesus knew their thoughts. And He knew they were watching. No one was compelling Him to heal the man with a paralyzed hand. Would one day make a difference? Why not just wait until the next day? Why antagonize these people?

Things are not always as simple as they appear. Jesus knew that these men needed some serious readjusting of their thoughts. He knew that the next day, they would all be about their own business and wouldn’t care whether the man was healed or not. He knew that the man was there and needed healing, and He did not know where he would be the next day. Sometimes truth just cannot be postponed. So, Jesus healed the man, enraging many in the synagogue, who immediately began to try to think of ways to get rid of Jesus.

The purpose of this miracle of healing was not just the healing of the man’s hand. It’s greater purpose was to demonstrate an important truth the people were missing. Jesus knew this was going to antagonize them. Regardless of what they might think of Him, He knew their thinking needed to be challenged with the truth.

Truth antagonizes some; others it sets free.

Lord, May we humble ourselves before You and always be willing to adjust our thinking in the face of Your truth. Amen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Of God

“Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10b)

John shows us the real meaning of what we call “salvation.” It means to be “of God.” Interesting isn’t it, how one little 2-letter word can make all the difference? To be “of” God means to belong to Him. Salvation is thus a relationship. In fact, it is a union with God, so that we are then of God. The way we then know we are of God is that we live our lives rightly in relationship with Him.

Living life rightly does not mean that we live it sinlessly. No one on earth is capable of doing that. John in fact acknowledges that we do sin. Living rightly simply means living positively in relation to God, and one specific way that is revealed is by loving others the way God does. This kind of love is not just the “feel good” stuff that movies with lofty music backgrounds portray. This is God’s kind of love, the “agape” kind. Apart from God, we are not capable of this kind of love, so when we demonstrate it we reveal that we are “of God” because He is the One who produces that love in us. In fact, when we demonstrate it, it is actually God in us taking action through us.

So, the key to living rightly and loving one another is to submit ourselves to the work of God in us.

Lord, Help us to live this way each day. Thank You for Your forgiveness in those times that we don’t. Amen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Day

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:29)

These words above are the concluding thought of a psalm that includes this statement: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord; it is wonderful in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Many of us have thought of or quoted the last sentence when we’ve wanted to approach a given day with a positive attitude. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Mostly, we have taken the verse out of its context and confined its application to that particular day, but doing so misses the greater meaning. The “day” referred to here is more generalized. It is more of a “day and time” in general, and the context is the day of the Messiah. The psalm projects how the One who was rejected actually became “the Cornerstone.” That should be the cause of our rejoicing, and that is also why we say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever.” That is worth rejoicing over any day.

Lord, Each day with You is a great privilege and worth rejoicing over. We especially rejoice that the Day of the Messiah is now in effect. We rejoice over what has been accomplished through Him for us, and we thank You. Amen.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hoarding

“When it was day, He went out and made His way to a deserted place. But the crowds were searching for Him. They came to Him and tried to keep Him from leaving them.” (Luke 2:42)

The “crowed” referred to above knew a good thing when they saw it. Think it through. The crowd would have included the disciples. At least four or more of them were fishermen, and they were at home. Capernaum is where they lived. Undoubtedly, they would have preferred that Jesus stay put with them. And, of course, since He was staying at Simon Peter’s house, having Jesus set up shop and stay at his house wouldn’t hurt his community status. Then, there were the street vendors. Having all those people in town encouraged the tourism industry, and everybody’s business benefitted. Without question, having a healer and a “big draw” like Jesus permanently residing in their midst, to heal all their sicknesses, would certainly have made life better there for everyone. It is understandable that they wanted Jesus to stay in Capernaum with them. If He came and visited in your home, wouldn’t you want the same thing?

We all have a tendency to want to hold on to something of value. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it does move that direction when the motivation is one that is self-centered.

Jesus demonstrated, however, what He believed and taught: If you seek your own life you lose it, and if you lose your own life you gain it. In the decision to move on beyond Capernaum in fulfillment of His calling, Jesus demonstrated the principle of how life is actually discovered in the giving of it, not in the hoarding of it.

Lord, Help us to follow Your example today in how we live. Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The World

“Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle – is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lusts is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

Love the world. Don’t love the world. What?

The John who wrote, “For God so loved the world” is the same John who wrote, “Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world.” Sounds just a little contradictory, doesn’t it? It may sound that way, but the reason there is on contradiction lies in how “world” is used or defined.

“World” in John 3:16 is the world of people who are perishing. God loves the world He created and does not want them to go to their destruction. In love for this world God sent His Son so we could have a means of avoiding our destruction.

“World” in 1st John is the realm of evil – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride people have in their lifestyle. Such things are not from God but from the evil one, and that world is passing away. Only those who do the will of God – believing in the Son – will remain forever.

So, we are to love the world as God loves the world. But we are not to love the things of this world, because there is no eternity here. The hope of our calling is a heavenly one.

Lord, Help us to see through all the fa├žade of this world and see the truth of eternity. Amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Completed Joy

“We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:4)

“What we have heard…seen…observed…touched…we declare to you.” That’s how John began this letter of First John.

John was one of the original 12 disciples, an eyewitness. It wasn’t a story passed on to him but one he personally lived, and after the resurrection of Jesus from the Day of Pentecost forward, John gave the rest of his life to proclaiming the story, the message of the gospel. The completion of joy was his purpose and his objective.

Joy is completed when two things happen: 1) when people heard the story of Jesus and enter into fellowship with God through a personal faith decision, and 2) when people consequently enter into fellowship with other believers linked by a common faith in Jesus. The establishment of both the vertical and the horizontal relationship of faith completes joy. No doubt John remembered the prayer of Jesus which he recorded in John 17 in which Jesus prayed that His joy would be completed in His disciples. This is that same joy, and it is the same joy which defines our purpose and objective today as well. Nothing brings a more complete sense of joy in us that seeing someone enter into a faith relationship with Jesus and into a spiritual fellowship with us.

Lord, We pray that we will experience more and more of this joy. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Father’s House

“’Why were you searching for Me?’ He asked them. ‘Didn’t you know that I had to be in My Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49)

Luke gives us the only story we have from Jesus’ boyhood. There is only one possible source for the story – Mary.

How old Jesus was for this event, we do not know. But according to the story, following one Passover event, Joseph and Mary departed with the good townspeople of Nazareth to return there. These were group travel events, so they seem to have felt assured that even though they did not see Jesus, He was among the folks, maybe with friends. Then they discovered He was actually not among the group at all. They panicked and returned to Jerusalem. They searched the city for three full days, an interesting symbol, until they found Him in the temple listening and talking with the teachers of Israel.

Mary’s question to Jesus expressed surprise at His behavior. It was uncharacteristic of Him to treat Joseph and her this way. Her statement after the question expressed anxiety and revealed a lack of understanding that surprised Jesus.

Jesus’ question-response probably asks more than one question. First, He was asking her why they were searching any place other than the temple, since there was no other possible place He could have been. In other words, why search at all? Second, asking her, “Didn’t you know?” was probably more accurately “WHY didn’t you know?” To Jesus, it should have been obvious and clear to them where He was, and there should have been no anxiety at all.

This is an interesting event from Jesus’ boyhood that was never got repeated, and it serves to give readers of the gospel a heads up that Jesus knew clearly who He was and what He was doing from a very early age, obviously years before the actual event. Laterally, the story also helps us to see a personal spiritual application. People searching for significance have no real need to search at all; there is an obvious answer to their quest. Jesus is the Source of significance, and He is immediately available.

Lord, Thank You for igniting significance in our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Anna

“And was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fastings and prayers.” (Luke 2:37)

Anna was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was at least 106 years old when she spotted Joseph and Mary bringing a tiny new infant into the temple to complete the law’s requirements. She went to them and blessed the baby. She thanked God and began speaking about Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.

Like most women of her day, Anna likely married at age 14 or 15. She then lived with her husband until his death 7 years later. She evidently had no children, so then at about age 22 she entered the temple complex and lived there for at least 84 years until that day Joseph and Mary brought Jesus. So she was at least 106 years old, and how long after that she lived we do not know.

Sometimes life can be tough. Imagine Anna’s life. She and her husband tried to have children for 7 years. Then he died. Sorrow ensued, but more than sorrow. She was forlorn and had no place to go. She went to the only place she knew she could go, to the temple, and there she lived on the kindness of temple-goers and temple servants for at least the next 84 years. There she was at peace and safe. Something else happened, though. Anna became a servant of the Lord. How could someone with seemingly nothing to give serve God? It was through “fastings and prayers.” She served the Lord by giving Him a heart of worship.

John Milton, after being stricken by blindness and being totally dependent on his daughter’s help, wrote, “They also serve who stand and wait.”

Anna teaches us that everyone who desires to do so can serve the Lord. It may seem that some have nothing to give, but it only seems that way. We all can serve God in His kingdom work in some way.

We thank You, Lord, that no one who trusts in You gets left out. Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Count

“Let whoever is wise pay attention to these things and consider the Lord’s acts of faithful love.” (Psalm 107:43)

Psalm 107 recounts five actions the Lord took in the rescue of His people when they faced overwhelming circumstances. Each episode ends with a call to thanksgiving or praise to the Lord. Then comes a final summary call for everyone to consider the Lord’s acts of faithful love. Those who are wise do so.

It would do our hearts good to take a little time to list some of God’s acts of faithful love in our lives and reflect over them. In fact, let this be your challenge for today. List five acts of God’s faithful love in your life which you have experienced personally. See if you can stop at five! Then reflect over them for a while and see then what that will do for you in terms of your attitudes and feelings throughout the day. When you consider those acts of God’s faithful love, your heart will be taken to the heights of thanksgiving.

So, go ahead; grab some paper and a pen and start your list…

Lord, We consider salvation, forgiveness, a nurturing church, giving us a family, education, healing…….

Thursday, November 12, 2009

As Deserved

“He has not dealt with us as our sins serve or repaid us according to our offenses.” (Psalm 103:10)

One of the greatest teachings of the Bible, from our personal viewpoint at least, is that although God has every right dish out a just punishment on us for our sins and offenses, He has chosen not to. The word we use to describe this is “grace.”

Rather than give us what we deserve, God forgives our sin, heals our diseases, redeems us, crowns us with faithful love, satisfies us with goodness, and renews our “youth,” or our strength. He is gracious and compassionate toward His children who walk with Him. He removes our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west, and His love toward us is eternal. He is worthy of our praise and worship and love, and we can be fully at peace with Him and find the soul comfort we need.

Lord, We thank You for your incomparable love and kindness toward us, and we thank You for the privilege of walking with You. Amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sources of Suffering

“Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your brothers in the world. Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while.” (1 Peter 5:9-10)

Human suffering appears to come from at least two sources. One source is Satan. Peter admonishes us, “Be sober! Be on the alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) He preys on those who succumb to his temptations toward sin. Anyone who “bites the fruit,” so to speak, as Adam and Eve did, will experience suffering in one form or another. Sin invariably brings suffering, which is why Peter charges us to resist him and stand firm in our faith. Earlier in his letter, Peter also said that we should be sure that any suffering we go through not be the result of some sin we have committed. Being clear-minded and watchful against sin, and then resisting it and standing firm in our union with Christ is the solution to this level of suffering.

Another source of suffering, which is equally traceable to sin, is the kind that comes at the hands of others. One of the reasons Peter wrote this letter, in fact, was because “for a short time now you have had to be distressed by various trials.” (1 Peter 1:6) Those trials and sufferings came from those who were opposed or hostile to the Christian faith. Again, sin is the culprit, but it is the sin of others. But again, we have a promise. The God of all grace will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support us after we have endured suffering for a time. If we in fact suffer because of the sin of others, the Lord will use that in our lives to make us stronger, which is the only reason He allows it at all.

So, all suffering is related to sin in one way or another. Even if our own sin is not involved directly, the fact is that the general fallen condition of mankind that resulted from the sin of Adam and Eve is at least involved in suffering. Therefore, the Lord’s call through this Scripture is that we be sober, alert, and resistant toward sin and Satan, so we will know victory regardless of any suffering that may occur.

Lord, The victory is Yours, and we thank You for sharing it with us. Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Integrity

“The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge of corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.” (Daniel 6:4)

“I will live with integrity of heart in my house.” (Psalm 101:2b)

Anyone NOT know the story of Daniel and the lions den? It is a story of integrity. Daniel was about to be placed in charge of the entire administration of King Darius’ kingdom. No one in all the land was more trustworthy. Those who found it repugnant to be ruled over by this Judean exile found a way – or so they thought – to get rid of Daniel. They tricked Darius into signing an unchangeable decree that anyone who prayed to any god other than him for 30 days would be thrown into the lions den. Daniel’s commitment to the Lord was such that no decree would stop him from worshiping God his customary three times a day. When it was reported to Darius that Daniel was disobeying the decree, his hand was forced, and he had no choice but to throw Daniel into the lions den. God, however, closed the mouths of the lions, and Daniel was saved. His detractors, however, were not. Daniel was trustworthy. He was a man of integrity. Integrity and trustworthiness are the same thing.

“Integrity,” among its other uses as a word, is also a nautical term. It is used to describe the hull of a ship that is whole and has no holes in it. A ship that has a hull with no holes in it is thus described as “sea worthy.” That means you can trust that out on the sea the ship will not sink. It is trustworthy.

The psalmist recognized the importance of integrity. He said that he was committed to living with integrity of heart in his house. Integrity is not merely for public display. If it is, then it isn’t integrity at all. Integrity is integrity all the time, because it is first and foremost a matter of the heart. The commitment to integrity begins in the heart, and setting has no impact on it.

Lord, May we be trustworthy servants in the work of Your kingdom, so that You may count on us to stand firm in our commitments to You in the strength You provide. Amen.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Suffering

“So those who suffering according to God’s will should, in doing good, entrust themselves to a faithful Creator.” (1 Peter 4:19)

What does it mean to “suffer according to God’s will?” Does that mean God wills for us to suffer? Some who do not know the Lord, who do not understand His purposes, and who resist God’s invitation to walk with Him might, in fact, lay that as a charge against the Christian faith as a reason why they want nothing to do with Christianity. Here is what they need to understand.

The suffering Peter speaks of is the suffering inflicted on Christians by ungodly persecutors of Christians just because they are Christians and take their stand with Jesus. God is not the author of their suffering. He knows it is going to happen, of course, and He could stop it; instead He allows it, because stopping it would mean destroying the ungodly He is try to reach out of a loving and compassionate heart.

God does not necessarily will or plan for the persecution of His children. His children, who are committed to His purpose of redemption, are simply willing to endure their fiery ordeals in order to contribute to the fulfillment of God’s purposes. Christians who suffer persecution understand that it is God’s will for them to be faithful in such ordeals in order to glorify God and point their persecutors toward faith. They also know that if their persecutors should not relent, judgment awaits them when they come face to face with the Lord. Thus, we trust ourselves to the Lord, knowing that following Jesus, who went to the cross, could well result in persecution, but we are willing to endure such for the sake of the gospel.

Lord, We trust ourselves to You. Amen.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Defense

“But set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the holy that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)

An incredulous world hears the claims of the gospel and may ask, “Why on earth would anyone believe that?” It can get personal, “Why do YOU believe that?” Well, it’s a fair question isn’t it? And it deserves an answer.

Faith is not mindless. It is a response to information presented. It understands the information, processes it, and then decides to accept and believe it. We believe the claims of the gospel of Jesus simply because we have decided that it is the truth.

Still the world wants to know why we believe it, and Peter’s admonition to us regarding this is to always be prepared to give a “defense” for the hope that is in us. The word defense literally means “apology.” We do not apologize for what we believe, of course, but the real meaning of the word is “to give an explanation defending an idea.” Peter wants us to be ready at any time to provide people with an explanation for the hope that we have in Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. We have this hope because we believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of centuries-old prophecies. We have this hope because human sin and depravity demand some kind of atonement. We have this hope because all the universe around us testifies that there is a God. We have this hope because the Bible teaches us how the Creator God worked His plan to bring us to redemption. We have this hope because something within us whispers, “It is true.”

Peter gives some qualification to his admonition. As we approach people who have this question, we are to deal with this not aggressively but with gentleness and respect, ensuring that we present the truth of the gospel with a clear conscience.

Lord, May we be prepared by Your Spirit to give a full explanation about why we believe what we believe, anytime we are asked. Amen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Higher Plane

“Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-19)

The call to a Christian life is a call to life on a higher plane with regard to relationships and behaviors. A Christian is called to abandon his or her cultural and social relationship and behavior standards favor of a new set of values based on the teachings of the Bible. Peter points us to some of these.

We are to be like-minded with fellow Christians. That means we try to get along. We are to “play well with others.” We do that by developing and practicing intentionally a sympathetic attitude. Basically, we are to love fellow believers.

We are to be compassionate and humble toward each other as well. That means we do not pay back evil for evil, or insult for insult, but as an expression of these new driving forces in our lives we are to bless rather than get even. Getting even is as evil as whatever may have been done to us, and there is no justification for using evil to confront evil. That is clearly not what we see on the cross.

For centuries, the Christian church has been plagued by occasional in-fighting, which has only served to help discredit the truth of the gospel, which promises change in how people relate and behave. One reason Peter wrote the words above was because he saw that problem in the churches then.

The call of God is for us to be a people who are led by the Holy Spirit to a higher plane, to relational and behavioral standards that matter, that make a difference. We are called to live lives that bless. Period.

Lord, Help us to live today and each day on that higher plane, where all our ways of relating and behaving serve to honor You and express Your gospel. Amen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Majestic

“Greater than the roar of many waters – the mighty breakers of the sea – the Lord on high is majestic.” (Psalm 94:4)

Jack Hayford wrote a song that says, “Majesty! Worship His majesty! Unto Jesus be all glory, honor, and praise!” Psalm 94, among others, could well have been the inspiration for that song. The writer of Psalm 94 calls us to worship the majestic God who is eternal and sovereign.

The writer was apparently familiar with Israel’s coast. He wrote of how the floods “lift up their pounding waves” and how the majesty of God is like the “roar of many waters” and “the mighty breakers of the sea.” Some portions of Israel’s coast are beautiful beaches with mild waves, great for recreation. Other portions, however, have huge deposits of basalt rock, and at the ancient city of Caesarea the sound of the waves is almost deafening. Herod built an imperial palace right on the water’s edge by some basalt rock formations. The throne was just inside the palace wall most adjacent to the sea. The pounding waves would have given a constant impression of power and majesty.

The point of all this is that, whether it be the sea or the mountains or whatever, these are all give to us to point us to God and His majesty. Psalm 19:1 reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands,” and verse 4 adds, “Their message has gone out into all the earth.” God has revealed Himself and His majesty through the nature that is all around us. All of this should thus lead us to worship the God who is awesome and majestic.

Lord, Today, may we take time to notice all Your footprints around us and bow befor You in worship. Amen.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rocks

“You yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)

If rocks were the currency standard, Israel might be the wealthiest nation on earth. No shortage of rocks there. Farmers, in order to obtain more productive topsoil, have literally hosed down entire hills to purposely erode the soil so they could collect it and move it to their farms in the valleys. The result is that many hills are dotted with the rocks left behind, mostly basalt. Rocks are everywhere. They are the most abundant building material in Israel.

Peter, whose name means “Rock” by the way (in case you forgot), used stones as a metaphor for describing our spiritual experience. He described Jesus as the “Living Stone” and us as living stones in a house being built to honor God. We might wonder, “So, what is the connection between stone and spirit? There is no apparent link.”

Peter references Isaiah, who also used stone imagery to speak of Christ as a “chosen and valuable cornerstone,” and a “stone the builders rejected” that became the chief cornerstone, and also as “a stone that causes men to stumble.”

The idea in Peter’s discussion of spiritual stones seems to be that we are to be solid, firm, and consistent in our living of this life in Christ, so that what the world sees is what the world gets. No pretense. No fakery. No smoking mirrors. Just solid, firm, and consistent Christian living. Why? Well, our calling to this kind of living has a higher purpose. The purpose of holy living is to point people to the God of glory.

Lord, Help us today and each day to live lives that are consistently, firmly, and solidly committed to You, so that the world may be drawn to You through our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sleep, I Need Sleep…

“Then He came and found them sleeping. ‘Simon, are you sleeping?’ He asked Peter. ‘Couldn’t you stay awake one hour?’” (Mark 14:37)

The body can be tyrannical when it needs sleep. Have you ever been on a long road trip and found yourself getting drowsy? The stillness of sitting there and the monotony seems to tell the body to sleep. You may even find yourself dozing off for a few seconds. More than one accident has resulted from this.

Have you also ever noticed that when you pray you may at times find yourself getting a little drowsy? The stillness and the attempt of the mind to stay focused can tell the body to drift off. Unless, of course, you are in crisis. No sleep then.

Jesus was in crisis in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what was about to happen. The disciples, and in this incident Peter, James, and John were not in crisis. They were with the Messiah. Their understanding of what that meant was that the Messiah was invincible. He was at Jerusalem. He was about to take control and drive out all the infidels. So, no crisis for them. And since they were not in crisis, they were overwhelmed by sleep. But they learned shortly after that that they were, in fact, in crisis, and when that happened, all sleep evaporated. The approaching mob with torches led by Judas took care of that. From that point on, their crisis increased exponentially.

When we are trying to pray or otherwise spend some concentrated time with the Lord and find ourselves growing drowsy, it might help to realize that crisis could be just around the corner.

Lord, We thank You that you understand that the spirit is willing but the flesh weak. Even so, we ask You to help us stay alert when we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Action Call

“Therefore, get your minds ready for action, being self-disciplined, and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)

Peter says that on the basis of our salvation and hope we are to get our minds ready for action, practice self-discipline with regard to lifestyle, and stay focused on God’s grace until the time of our full redemption comes. He translates this into several facets of significance.

First, we are to practice holy living. “Holy” means to be set apart as special, to not be ordinary. The idea is to live our lives in ways that bring honor to Christ, and to stay away from behaviors that would not honor Him. This is not a call to perfection but to practice.

Second, we are to not revert to a previous way of life lived before the time we were redeemed. We were redeemed from an empty way of life, and we have now inherited a life that is imperishable. Yet, we still are tempted to revert to that life, probably because it was natural to us and required no self-discipline. Peter is calling for resistance to the temptation to revert.

Third, we are to practice obedience to the truth. The practice of God’s truth purifies the heart, and, further, it expresses a pure heart, one made pure by this new birth that was given to us. God’s truth has an enduring quality, and it helps us to thus endure. A life that follows the way of the flesh cannot endure because flesh cannot endure, but truth is eternal. Following truth is living according to the eternal.

Lord, Help us today to be ready for the action of living in ways that demonstrate our salvation and our hope in You. Amen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

In Safe-keeping

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

The Lord has given us a new birth. This birth came from a womb that was actually a tomb. It was life from death, a huge paradox. Its pre-requisite was the death of Jesus on the cross, and its means was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Apart from this resurrection, there is no life for us. There is existence, but there is no real life without the fact and truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Everything we believe and stand for is totally dependent on the resurrection, and we come to this truth and to this experience of new birth through personal faith. Our new birth has two wonderful characteristics.

First, it is characterized by a living hope. In our future there is a certainty of eternal life. That is what the concept of hope in the New Testament means. This hope we have is alive, meaning that life is inherent in it and that it makes us alive and challenges us to live with hope and move constantly toward hope.

Second, our new birth is characterized as an inheritance. But this is not just any ordinary kind of inheritance. This kind has the hallmarks of eternity. It is imperishable. It cannot be corrupted. It is unfading. Maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when He taught us to lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven where neither moth, nor rust, nor thieves can destroy it. This inheritance is kept safe and secure for us in heaven, and toward it we move, like a river flowing its course toward the sea.

Lord, We thank You for this new birth which has already begun with our response of faith in You. And so we move forward in this life in the hope we have in our future with You. Amen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Prayer

“The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful.” (James 5:16b)

So, who are “the righteous?” The righteous are all those who have a right, personal relationship with God through a personal faith in Jesus Christ, those whose sins are covered by the blood of Christ, thus declaring him or her righteous before God. The fact of having a personal relationship with the Almighty Creator of the universe is what makes this prayer powerful.

According to James, prayer takes on many forms. It sometimes is petition for those who are sick or suffering. It may be singing praises to God, the expression of a cheerful heart. It may be seeking forgiveness, or an intercession, but essentially it is communicating with God.

Such communication with God is intense not when we tighten our face and neck muscles but when it is focused, prolonged, and sustained, being borne of faith. We pray and we trust God and His response. He is the One who makes our prayers powerful, because He is a loving Father who wants to give good gifts to His children.

Lord, Today may our prayers before You be intense and targeted. Amen.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Close

“When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And no one dared to question Him any longer.” (Mark 12:34)


There is an old saying we sometimes use: “Close” only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.

In the days before His crucifixion, a scribe asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest one. Jesus essentially said that the greatest is to love God with everything in you, and the second greatest is to love your neighbor as yourself. The scribe fully agreed with Jesus. The reply Jesus then gave is interesting: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” This has to mean that the scribe was on the right track and was near, but it also has to mean that he was still not there. In reality, being near and being far still has the same impact. Neither is actually “in.”

But what was lacking that led Jesus to give this reply to the scribe? He was, in fact, near, but what kept him from being in the kingdom of God?

It may be difficult to know how to answer this question, but there may be a key in the first phrase of this text. Jesus saw that the scribe answered “intelligently.” The scribe had some very good, essential understanding of the truth about the greatest commandment. He answered wisely and with understanding. But maybe, like the rich young ruler, his heart was not there. It seems that what he really needed was to be born again. He needed to come to a faith commitment to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. He just did not know that that was what he needed. We can hope that he came to that deeper understanding a little later.

How terrible to be within reach but not be in.

Lord, We pray for all those who are near Your kingdom and those far away, and we pray that today many may hear the gospel and be born anew into Your kingdom. Amen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wisdom and Peace

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)

Wisdom and peace. That’s a little different from “War and Peace,” isn’t it? We don’t typically associate wisdom directly with peace, but James connects the two. This wisdom is not man’s stereotype of wisdom. We tend to think of wisdom as knowledge, intelligence, and subjective discernment about what is best. We seem to put it in the realm of the philosophical. We also apparently associate with age, thinking that the very young don’t have much of it, while those with grey or white hair have a good bit of it.

James is talking about “the wisdom from above.” This is God’s wisdom. He describes it as being first of all pure. A bar of “pure gold” means it has no other elements or impurities in it. It is just gold. Wisdom that is pure is just wisdom through and through. It is pure in its essence, and it is pure in its motives, or its purpose.

This wisdom is also thoroughly related to peace. The rest of the descriptions James gives all point to the idea of peace. So, wisdom that comes from God is peaceful and begets peace. This means that God’s kind of wisdom deals more with relationships than philosophies. It produces a right life that is made right by right relationships first with God and then with others.

Lord, We seek Your wisdom and Your peace. May our lives be filled with both. Amen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wildfire

“Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites.” (James 3:5b)

We have all watched television screens showing wildfires burning out of control. Some of them burn hundreds of thousands of acres of trees, but they don’t stop there. They burn everything in their path. We have witnessed homeowners standing and watching their expensive homes go up in flames, and our hearts have gone out to them. Wildfires destroy more than just property. They create untold havoc.

If you were to take about 4 square feet of a wildfire, however, and transport it into a fireplace on a cold winter night, you would have a totally different effect. Or, if you were to take it and put it in a small, confined circle lined by rocks – what we call a “campfire” – surrounded by a family with marshmallows and hot dogs, you would have still another effect.

James compares the tongue and its power to that of a small fire. It can be used to destroy and bring chaos. It can also be used to bring blessing. But it should not do both. James says that sometimes out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. He says that man has tamed all kinds of animals but cannot seem to tame the tongue. Indeed, our mouths can create difficult problems either for us or for others, but that fact does not make it all right. Are we to shrug our shoulders and just give up?

The reality is that man cannot tame the tongue, but the Holy Spirit can. He does that when we bring the meditations of our hearts and the words of our mouths to Him and submit them to His control. We have to put the tongue under “new management.” And what we need to understand is that the tongue is rooted in the heart. So that is where we need to let the Spirit of God reside and rule.

Lord, We bring first our hearts to You and submit them to you anew today, and we pray that You will bring Your control and influence to bear on the meditations of our hearts and the words of our mouths. Amen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Proof

“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26)

How can someone know if their faith is for real? How can they know that the faith they have is the kind that results in eternal life? James helps us answer.

When faith is genuine, our behavior changes. When it is not, we see no real change. Behavior stays the same. Real faith always produces change in how we then live our lives. Behavior expresses inner reality. When the reality is that we have a genuine, personal relationship with the Lord, we will live in ways that demonstrate our commitment to that relationship. Faith always results in good works. Faith that makes no difference is therefore something other than faith – maybe an emotion, a feeling, or a thought, but not faith. Real faith works.

Lord, Help us to walk through this and each day with You, expressing our faith through how we live. Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Abandonment

“He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.” (Mark 10:50)

We call him “Blind Bartimaeus.” He was a beggar who used to sit on the side of the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, hoping someone passing by would give him a little money so he could eat. He didn’t have much of a life. He just existed, hand to mouth, as many others did.

Bartimaeus teaches us something important, though; something about faith, something through a very simple action. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing through, he believed Jesus could heal him, if he could just get to Him. Jesus’ reputation as a healer preceded Him. So when Jesus stopped and told them to call him, Bartimaeus threw off his coat, jumped up, and went to Jesus.

Remember, Bartimaeus was blind. His coat may have been his only possession. It was probably his only protection from the sun and his blanket at night. So, how was he going to find it after he threw it off? He was obviously not worried about that. He believed Jesus was going to heal him. Finding his coat would be simple after that. Jesus did heal him because of his faith. Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the road after that, enjoying the majestic scenery.

Faith is abandoning everything of importance and going to the One who is trustworthy who calls us, and following Him in trust, just because of who He is.

Lord, Forsaking all, we trust You. Amen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Kiln

“Consider it a great joy, brothers, when you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3)

If you take a lump of clay and mold it into a pot and let it dry in the sun, you will have a very fine clay pot. It will be useful for a while, but it is too fragile to last long. It’s too brittle and will break easily. Take the pot and put it into a white hot kiln for half a day, take it out, let it cool, and you will then have a much stronger, more durable pot with a greater number of uses. Take the same pot, glaze it, and put it back into the kiln for another half day, and you will end up with a pot that is even stronger and more durable and beautiful to boot, and its usefulness multiplies even more.

The trials of life are a testing of our faith. They are like a kiln that is used to superheat our faith to make it strong and durable. We may not understand why God allows us to go through the various trials we face in life, but we can be certain that God will use those trials to strengthen our faith. His purpose in allowing those trials is to use them to produce endurance, so that we may deepen our walk with Him.

Lord, We confess that we do not like the heat of the trials we go through, and we sometimes honestly do not understand why you allow us to go through them. But we also know that You always use those trials to strengthen our faith and our endurance. And for that we are grateful. Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Probabilities and Possibilities

“Looking at them, Jesus said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God, because all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

The words Jesus spoke above were in the context of salvation. He spoke them after the encounter with the “rich young ruler,” and after stating that it would be hard for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples, of course, were stunned. There question in response was, “Well, who then can be saved?”

When Jesus said it would be hard for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God, He did not say it was impossible. He was speaking more of probabilities. He was not demeaning wealth per se, but was rather stating the obvious: many who have great wealth rely on their wealth as their god. The great probability is that those who do so will not turn to the Lord and confess Him as their God.

After World War II, many Japanese came to faith in Jesus, and that trend continued until Japan regained its influence and its affluence. Materialism became the god of many after that. In fact, one real estate broker stated, “I used to need God, but now I have ‘graduated.’”

Just as there are probabilities, there are also possibilities. Jesus communicated hope and faith and understanding that with God all things are possible. Anyone, regardless of status or wealth, and turn from sin and to the Lord to receive forgiveness and reconciliation with God and eternal life. Our God is the God of the possible.

Whatever may seem impossible to you is not impossible for God. Therefore, we pray, and then we trust. Faith is not us convincing God. Faith is us asking and then trusting.

Lord, Thank You for reminding us today that nothing is beyond Your ability. We trust You for the impossible. We trust Your will. Amen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Displaced Heart

“But he was stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.” (Mark 10:22)

We have all seen the devastation of hurricanes, tornados, and tidal waves on people’s lives and their property. News media covers events like that very well and graphically portrays the aftermath. We’ve seen interviews of families who have lost everything, and our hearts have gone out to them. For many, so much was tied up in their property, and they were barely able to hold on financially. Then, to see it all blown away by a storm devastates their lives as well. They grieve at the loss of property and the loss of items that may have held personal sentiment and significance in their history.

Those whose lives are thus wrecked will eventually come to a more positive outlook once the emotional trauma subsides, but among all the interviews of forlorn families, there is usually at least one interview of an “early arriver.” These folks may say something like, “Well, it was all important to us, but it’s just things. At least we’re alive. We’ll survive this, and we’ll rebuild our lives.” Others will get there, too, but it may take them a little longer.

So, what was different about the “rich young ruler” as we call him? He went away from Jesus grieving without actually losing anything. He grieved at even the prospect of losing his possessions. This reveals not only his state of mind but the spiritual state of his heart as well. His devotion to his possessions displaced where his heart should have been focused. The irony of his life is that his wealth actually cost him. In that sense, his possessions were more in possession of him than he was of them.

Possessions are no more evil than money is, and money is not itself evil. The Bible cautions us only about the love of money, not money itself. The same is true for possessions. Possessions are to be enjoyed, but if they dominate our lives, a line has been crossed, and we need to step back across it. Life does not consist of one’s possessions.

Lord, We acknowledge You as the real Owner of anything in our possession. May all of it serve to honor You. Amen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Enduring Joy

“Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:2)

What was “the joy that lay before Him”? Several possibilities fit well.

One possibility was the joy of returning home. Remember that Jesus left the indescribable glories of heaven and took on the form of a servant when He entered human life (Philippians 2). The prospect of returning to glory would certainly have been cause for great joy, and that is clearly represented in the cross.

Another possibility was the joy of finishing well. The cross represented a kind of finish line in the course Jesus had run. All His life on earth had been moving toward this. The cross was the culmination of his obedience to the Father. Finishing well always produces joy.

A third possibility is the joy of impact. Jesus knew that the cross and the resurrection to follow, when told to the world in the context of God’s love, forgiveness, and redemption, would bring those separated from God into the kingdom of God. People would enter a personal relationship with the Lord by faith. They would receive eternal life. There is no greater joy than seeing someone enter the kingdom of God.

Probably this joy was all the above. And more.

Maybe that's the kind of joy we need.

Lord, You are the Author, the Creator of joy, and Your Spirit the only real Source of joy. Thank You for the example You set in facing even the most horrible aspects of life with a joy that was indestructible by circumstances. Amen.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

EFT

“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

EFT = Eagle Flight Training. Here’s how it works.

Mama Eagle removes all that warm, soft down from the nest. Nothing left but sticks and sharp rocks. Eaglets don’t like pokey sticks and sharp crags. Mama Eagle coaxes Eaglet onto her back. It’s the only soft place around. Then she spreads her wings and jumps into the thermal currents, soaring into the blue. Eaglet says, “Awesome! This is great!” Then, Mama Eagle flips and shakes Eaglet off her back. Fun’s over! Eaglet screams and tries to flap some wing but can’t get the knack of it. Man, life is just not fair. And the ground is coming up really, really fast. Out of nowhere, Mama Eagle swoops under Eaglet so he can grab on and then soars back into the blue. Eaglet’s heart begins to settle a little, and inside he’s thinking, “What a head rush! That was an awesome ride. I’d love to do that again,” and he immediately gets his wish. Mama Eagle shakes him off again, and down he goes into another tailspin. Wings still aren’t working. Tail neither. Again, Mama Eagle swoops down just in time. Mama Eagle is relentless and repeats this until finally Eaglet is able to keep himself from hitting the ground and flies up to where Mama Eagle is and learns what a thermal current is. Eaglet knew that life had to be more than a soft warm nest, but he never knew it could be that great.

For God to teach us how to “fly,” He may have to first make us uncomfortable, and then He may have to terrorize us. We may wonder what on earth He’s doing to us. But when we finally learn to fly, then we understand, and then we say, “Thank You, Lord. Awesome ride!” Then, it’s our turn to teach someone to fly.

Lord, Truly an awesome ride You are giving us. Thank You. Amen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heart Strength

“I call to You from the ends of the earth when my heart is without strength. Lead me to a rock that is high above me, for You have been a refuge for me, a strong tower in the face of the enemy.” (Psalm 61:2-3)

When your heart is without strength, you need to call out to God.

So, what is this “heart” as the psalmist understands it? The heart is the core of human personality, the center of creativity, the characteristics that define who we are. Even more so, the heart is the will. When someone says, “I don’t have the heart to do this,” they capture the essence of what heart means. To have a heart that is without strength is to thus have a weakened will, a feeling in the center of your being that continuing forward is either difficult or maybe not possible.

When does the heart get in such condition? The psalmist mentioned “the ends of the earth.” That suggests distance. If someone moves away from the familiar territory of his or her spiritual relationship with the Lord, eventually he or she will experience a heart without much strength. Then, the discouragement that ensues is often thus the residue of relying on yourself for strength. Ultimately, our heart strength runs out, because it has nothing to sustain it. Calling to the Lord and moving back toward a reliance on His strength overcomes the distance and moves us back toward the warmth of the fire.

The psalmist also mentions “the face of the enemy.” This suggests fighting, or struggle. When someone is involved in a prolonged struggle with no relief in sight, a sense of weariness can sweep over them like a flash flood. That weariness can weaken the will and make us feel like we are unable to keep going. Again, when we find ourselves at this point, that is when we need to call to the Lord and move in to His strong tower, where we can find rest and safety.

When your heart is without strength, you need to call out to the Lord.

Lord, We call to You knowing that You hear, and knowing that You are our eternal Source of heart strength. Thank You. Amen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Take Up His Cross

“If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34b)

We pretty much get “deny himself.” It means that we choose not to follow the pursuits of our own lives, hearts, and minds and choose instead to commit our lives to the will of God as our first priority. And, we get “follow Me.” That means to act in faith to carry out the teachings of Jesus, living for Him. But what does “take up his cross” mean?

On occasion we may see a news report about a guy who picks up and drags a physical wooden cross from place to place, preaching the gospel as he goes. Is this what “take up your cross” means? This is clearly a graphic and dramatic way to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, but it’s very doubtful that this is what He meant.

In the Philippines, each year on Good Friday, a group of men voluntarily and literally let themselves go through a physical crucifixion. Some don’t make it past the first hammer’s blow to the nail. Some are able to endure it for a few hours. They say they do this so they can feel closer to Jesus and understand more of what He went through. That may be sentimentally sort of commendable, but sometimes we just have to wonder what is going through people’s minds to produce something like this. Again, it is highly doubtful this is what Jesus had in mind with “take up your cross.”

“Take up your cross” was actually an idiom of the day that simply meant “bear your burden.” The idea is simply to do whatever is necessary to continue forward faithfully. It means to endure hardship, forego other pursuits or distractions, and live fully committed with no turning back or veering away from a task. Jesus wanted His disciples, both them and us, to know that following Him may well have a price, and we need to be prepared to pay the price. Discipleship can cost.

Lord, Help us to always be prepared to pay the price, to bear the burden, and to endure whatever is called for in order to serve You faithfully. Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

You Say

“’But you,’ He asked them again, ‘who do you say that I am?’” (Mark 8:29)

Jesus led His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, far to the north of Galilee, on one of their excursions. A Roman temple, among others, was there, dedicated to Caesar Augustus, complete with a statue of him and reportedly an inscription that read, “Caesar is lord.” That setting provided an appropriate framework for Jesus’ first question to the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Some of the disciples reported: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Then came the second question, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Peter answered: “You are the Messiah.”

After all is said and done, what others have to say about Jesus has no real bearing on us. Many in our world do have something to say about who they think or believe He is or is not. All that really matters, though, is who you believe and say He is. While we may influence others and others influence us, no one is accountable for what another person believes or says about Jesus. We are accountable only for what we ourselves believe or say about who He is. And, in truth, who we say and believe He is is everything. Our answer to His question has eternal significance; it will determine the entire direction of our lives, both here on earth and for all eternity.

So, who do YOU say Jesus is?

Lord Jesus, You are sovereign Lord over all the universe, Son of the living God, crucified for our sins, died, and rose again on the third day, ascended to heaven with a promise to return, that we might have eternal life with you through the forgiveness of sins on the basis of our personal faith in You. Thank You. Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Deception

“Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you and unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)

The people of Israel saw God’s works in Egypt, but they rebelled and “tested” God when the water ran out. The Bible describes this as hardening their hearts against God, and it equates that idea with an unbelieving heart. So, how do people who say they belong to God develop a hardened or unbelieving heart? Simple. It comes from the deception of sin. Think through this.

“Action X” was once thought to be a sin, because the Bible identified it as such. Over a period of time, however, a little at a time people who belong to God begin to engage in “Action X.” They begin to think, “Well, that doesn’t seem so bad. What’s so wrong about that?” They begin to challenge the idea, until eventually more and more people who belong to God engage in “Action X,” so that maybe even a majority of them conclude that it really is OK. They conclude that it is not really sin. When someone then comes along and says, “’Action X’ is a sin,” these folks then rise up and rebuke such talk. What has happened is that their hearts have been hardened by sin’s deception, and they now have an unbelieving heart with regard to that truth.

The call of God is that we watch out for the growth of an unbelieving heart, both in ourselves and in those we call brother or sister in Christ. We are to encourage one another daily while we have the opportunity so that people do not become hardened by sin’s deception.

Lord, If we have been deceived by sin or hardened in any way toward Your truth, please make us aware of that, and lead us to humility and repentance, so we may be true to You. Amen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Reports

“They were extremely astonished and said, ‘He has done all things well! He even makes deaf people hear, and people unable to speak, talk.” (Mark 7:37)

The popular report on Jesus was that “He has done all things well.” People saw no fault in Him, and no guile, and they saw all the good He did in healing the unhealable. They viewed Him as a champion for the poor and the suffering, and people identified with Him. What these folks in the Decapolis region (“Ten Cities Region, east of the Jordan and south of Galilee) expressed represents the view of so many others who witnessed the works of Jesus.

The official report, however, the one held by many Pharisees and Sadducees, was that Jesus had to die. He was upsetting the status quo – their status, in particular. Jealousy was another motivation, because the people identified readily with Jesus rather than with them. They saw Jesus as a threat to everything that was important to them.

Hebrews 2:7-8 reads, “Therefore He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of people. For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested.”

In our world today, there are many who see Jesus as a threat to what is important to them, but for those who know Him through faith, “He has done all things well.” He has been where we are and has overcome, in order to show us the way. So follow Him we will.

Lord, We thank You for coming to where we are, so that we may go where You are. Amen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Resource

“When she went back to her home, she found her child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone.” (Mark 7:30)

A woman went about her daily work, worried about her little girl. Something was wrong with the girl. How it happened, this Greek mother did not know, but her daughter was being influenced or controlled by an evil spirit, a demon.

This woman had never heard of Jesus, but she somehow heard that He had come to Tyre. She heard people speaking of his healing abilities, and she heard where He was staying. She had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so like any good mother she went and found Him and continually asked Him to heal her daughter.

Apparently, Jesus ignored her pleas for awhile and then said, “Allow the children to be fed first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” This woman rose to the test and replied, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus recognized the spiritual understanding this woman had and healed her daughter. He commended her reply and told her to go home, and that the demon was gone. When the mother arrived back home, it was just as He had said.

Whatever issues we may face in life, whether it be something as extreme as what this mother was facing with her child, or whether it be something less extreme, we need to know that we have Someone we can go to. We have a Resource, someone who can help. Sometimes the only thing we can do is go to Him and ask.

Lord, We come to You today, asking, seeking, and knocking. Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Harsh?

“To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and disqualified for any good work.” (Titus 1:15-16)

So, do these words sound a little on the harsh side? Well, let’s think through it and see.

Who are “the pure?” Are they people who are attempting to live a puritanical life in a rotten world? It might seem so, but not really. The pure are those whose sins are covered over by the blood of Christ, those who are forgiven, those who walk with God in a personal faith relationship. Because of their relationship with the Lord, they work toward a blameless life marked by goodness. They are not pure because they attempt to be so and live so but because they are made so by the blood of Jesus.

So, who are “the defiled?” These are people who profess to know God, but by the way they live their lives they actually deny knowing Him. They live their lives consistently in ways that reveal their duplicity. They show that they do not have a genuine relationship with the Lord, although they say they do. The just live as the world does.

Paul’s goal in identifying these folks to Titus, who was serving in churches on the island of Crete at the time, was to challenge him to bring them to a sound faith, one that has integrity, that has no holes in it. Paul’s instruction to Titus to help him accomplish this was for him to teach and practice the truth himself. He was to talk the walk, and then walk the talk, so to speak.

All who are Christians need to follow this same instruction. We need to speak the truth, and then we need to live it. There is nothing harsh in this at all. In fact, one of the greatest joys a Christian can have is to speak and live the truths of God.

Lord, Help us to take these words to heart, so that we may both speak and live Your truths. Amen.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Change

“When Herod heard him he would be very disturbed, yet would hear him gladly.” (Mark 6:20b)

Every Sunday there are people who sit Herod-like through worship services. What they hear in the truth of God’s word disturbs them, but they hear the message gladly because they find it challenging and even helpful and hopeful. It may even encourage them in some ways. But nothing really changes in their lives.

If the message produces no positive change, then the probable reason is that this person has not actually dealt effectively with the sins of pride and arrogance. That was Herod’s problem. He liked John the Baptist and heard him gladly, even though John’s messages disturbed him. But when the opportunity for good and for a change of heart came, Herod’s pride and arrogance, which he had never brought to the Lord in repentance, kicked in and rose to the surface and dictated his actions. Because of his “oaths and his guests” he called for the executioner, and John the Baptist died because of Herod’s pride and arrogance.

Human pride and arrogance is resolved only when we bring it to the Lord in repentance and humility and faith. When we recognize our inability to deal with it in our own strength, and when we bring it face to face with the grace and power of the cross of Jesus, that is the time we experience the change of heart that is fundamental for freeing us from its tentacles. Human pride and arrogance must die on the cross with Jesus. That is the only way to be free from it. Otherwise, people just go through the motions and never experience the real change Christ can bring.

Lord, The joy of freedom that comes from live given to You is priceless, and we thank You for Your indescribable gift. Amen.