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.