Wednesday, October 28, 2009
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
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
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
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
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. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 = 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.