Thursday, January 27, 2011

Delayed Intentions

“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.’” (Luke 1:13)

Up until this time Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless. Prior to this incident they had prayed for many long years for a child. They were “old” now, according to Zechariah’s description (verse 18), so that had essentially given up. Zechariah did not really see much way they could have a child.

Then came Zechariah’s turn to burn incense in the sanctuary before the Lord, a rare opportunity for priests. These moments did not happen often.

When we look back on this from today’s perspective, we tend to read through this section somewhat glassy-eyed. We don’t really get it. This does not seem to be such a big deal to us, since most of us don’t burn incense before God anymore. So, what is the big deal?

Burning incense was a symbol of prayer. The fire and the rising smoke symbolized prayers going up to the Lord. The sweet aroma of burning incense was also pervasive. People smelled it everywhere, and it was an intentional reminder to the people to pray.

When Gabriel appeared, he stood at the right side of the altar of incense. In Scripture, the right side was always the side of power. With all of these symbols at work, he told Zechariah that his prayer had been heard, and it was about to be answered.

But wait a minute. Zechariah’s prayer that Gabriel was talking about was not so much the one he was praying on that day, but a prayer that began several decades earlier and continued with intensity over those several decades. On that sanctuary day, Zechariah was likely just praying a typical prayer that a priest would pray when burning incense. His prayer for a child was one of days gone by already, and very likely one he had not prayed in years.

Maybe there is a truth here we may not have considered before: Prayer does not have an expiration date. Maybe we need to be reminded that a prayer once prayed is prayed, and it is “registered with God,” so to speak. If God says “yes” and answers right away, wonderful! If He says “no” right away, then we accept it. But if He says nothing, we know that could mean maybe or that we are to wait. We just don’t know.

The suggestion that comes from this is that we should pray and never give up. If God does not clearly say “no,” then there is always hope, even when it may not appear to be so. Sometimes God’s intentions are simply delayed by His timing concerns.

Lord, Help us to pray and never give up. Amen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


“In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord.” (Luke 1:5-6)

For most of us the Christmas story is “old hat,” in a manner of speaking: we’ve read and heard it so many times and are so familiar with it that we do not notice it that much except at Christmas time. But what if your name was Theophilus, and you were reading Luke’s book for the very first time? Try putting yourself in his shoes for a moment.

There is a sense in which the Christmas story has been around since before the creation of the world. God planned it the way it happened. He orchestrated a massive number of variables in order to bring that plan to fruition. None of it was random chance.

In Luke’s approach, he jumps into the story as it is being played out. He does a sort of “fade in” with the story of a priest named Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. So, what does this have to do with Christmas? Everything; because Christmas is about more than the birth of a baby. It’s about the fruition of a plan.

Thus the intrigue of the story begins – with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Their inclusion in the story points us thus toward the sovereign purposes of God, and it reminds us that God has sovereign purposes for our lives. His story includes us. He is working in and through us even in ways we may be completely unaware of. We represent the continuation of the Christmas story as He fulfills His purposes in and through us. So, His call to us today is to keep our “spiritual radar” on and tuned in to His purposes for us.

Lord, Keep our hearts and minds spiritually perceptive to the speaking of Your Spirit, that we may hear and follow You. Amen.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


“David’s conscience troubled him after he had taken a census of the troops. He said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done. Now, Lord, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away Your servant’s guilt.” (2 Samuel 24:10)

What’s the deal with this? We do a national census every 10 years in our country, sometimes more often. We do surveys and polls all the time, and all of it for gathering information for decisional purposes. What was so wrong with David doing a national census of Israel to determine the size of a potential army? By the way, the census revealed a potential army of 1.3 million men.

The problem with this is two-fold: 1) God did not tell David to do a military census but a general census, and 2) David’s actions moved him away from rather than toward God. His actions moved him away from God at three levels: 1) he moved away from God and toward self, 2) he moved away from dependence on God and toward a greater self-dependence, and 3) he moved away from faith and toward knowledge as the basis for his decisions. The point: David moved away from God, not toward Him.

Whether a census or some other event, any move away from God is detrimental to our well being. It’s like moving away from the fire in freezing weather, or away from an oasis and toward the desert. Moving away from God makes no sense.

As we come to the close of another year and prepare to move into the new year, may this be a year in which we all continually move toward God as we follow the leading of His Spirit. That is what will make it a great year.

Lord, Point us in the right direction, the one that leads always toward You, today and throughout the next year. Amen.

Monday, January 24, 2011


“May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:2)

Just as love (the agape kind) is a characteristic of God, so is grace, and so is peace. These express something of who God is. Grace refers to God’s characteristic of demonstrating love, compassion, mercy, and favor toward us even when it is not deserved. Peace refers to a “being” type of characteristic of God, descriptive of God’s wholeness, unity, completeness, and sovereignty regardless of circumstance. God is always gracious. God is always in control.

Peter’s blessing is that we all might have the grace and peace of God. Further, he wants us to have the “multiplied” grace and peace of God. So, how does God’s grace and peace get multiplied in our lives? Simply put, it is through the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.

Peter is essentially talking about faith here. Faith is believing into a personal relationship with God. It is foundational, and it becomes the medium through which we experience God’s grace and peace. We, in fact, often speak of faith as “knowing the Lord,” and we’re talking about a personal, faith relationship with Him. Thus, it is through the growth, the deepening of our relationship with God that grace and peace get multiplied many times over.

The call of God is thus that we commit ourselves daily to a deepening of our faith, a deepening of our relationship with the Lord Jesus. To the degree we do this, we experience a multiplication of grace and peace.

Lord, Today help us to grow deeper in our faith in You for Your honor and glory, that we may experience an abundance of grace and peace. Amen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Relevance of Suffering

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

The matter of suffering has always been difficult to comprehend. For Christians it has been particularly troubling, because our perceptions of the love, compassion, and mercy of God produce an emotional disconnect when we find ourselves or other believers going through a time of suffering. We ask, “How can this be?” Then we go to the why question: “Why, Lord?” Then come the taunts: “If God loves you and is supposed to be such a loving God, why would He let you suffer like this?” Going to the why question seems almost instinctive. But should it be?

Peter makes it clear in the verses surrounding the text above that we should not be surprised at the “fiery ordeal” that comes our way. He sees this as almost normative for believers, as a testing and refining of our faith. He says we are sharing in the suffering of the Messiah when we suffer according to God’s will, and that that should be a cause for rejoicing. So, he suggests that instead of complaining we should simply keep on doing the good works God commands, and we should simply trust ourselves to our faithful Creator. In other words, we should trust God’s purposes with a child-like faith. Our residual attitude should be to go straight to faith rather than to the why question, relegating the why question to irrelevance.

Lord, We still don’t understand suffering, but we ask You to help us keep on being faithful to do all You want us to do even in the midst of it. Please. Amen

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Final Approach Mode

“Now the end of all things is near…” (1 Peter 4:6a)

When an airplane nears its destination the pilot implements a number of procedures and checks for the plane’s final approach, in order to assure a safe landing. In these moments the pilot is “all business.” Everything has to be just right. The welfare of the passengers depends on it. Professionalism prevails.

Peter reminded his readers that we Christians are to live as those who are in a final approach mode. Every generation of believers is called to live as if Christ is to return in its generation. So, Peter calls for a set of procedures to be implemented.

We are to implement the discipline of prayer, for one thing. We are to stay in touch with the Lord. We are to practice a consistent communion with Him. In addition, we are to implement: love for each other, hospitality, serving others in God’s strength, and doing all the above to the glory of God. These are great procedures for a “final approach” in preparation for the Lord’s coming. Come to think of it, it’s also a good approach for closing out a year and moving on into the next.

Lord, Help us to live each day by the standards that glorify You. Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


“Therefore, His people turn to them and drink in their overflowing words.” (Psalm 73:10)

Interesting statement in that verse above, isn’t it? Let’s think about it.

Whose influence do you allow in your life, and why? What are those influencers like?

The psalmist observed that the people of God typically followed the lead of those who are successful by worldly standards. With regard to those in that successful category in his day and age, he considered these particular people evil in that they because wealthy through deceitful practices and with fully arrogant hearts before God. He was not decrying success. He was noting that these folks he described were arrogant, prosperous through evil practices, living a life of ease and good health, untroubled and unafflicted like the rest of the world was, prideful, violent, mocking, malicious, oppressive, and unafraid of anything including God Himself. Interestingly, he says that these are the people that the people of God in his day allowed to influence them, to set the standards for them. He said that God’s people were turning to these folks and “drink in their overflowing words.” In our day, we would say that they “hung on every word” these people spoke.

So, has humanity improved to the point that this kind of thing no longer happens? In our day and time, in our social and cultural context, who do the people of God allow to influence them? Who sets the pace?

Throughout the day, the challenge for you is to observe closely who and what influences your thinking and your decisions, and to observe fellow believers and who and what influences their thinking and decisions. Accepting the challenge could be enlightening. Especially, as we move toward the end of a year and prepare for a new year, we might need to have a clearer awareness of this.

Lord, Enlighten us today about what and who influences our thinking and decisions, and help us to then adjust accordingly. Amen.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Powerful Thanksgiving

“With power you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.” (Psalm 77:15)

One of the great motivations for thanksgiving is the redemptive power of God. He is table to take any situation and bring His redemptive power to bear on it, bringing victory out of disaster.

We see this in the life of Jacob. Jacob fled from his brother Esau because he deceived their father, Isaac, obtaining Esau’s blessing through false pretenses. Esau vowed to kill Jacob, so Jacob thus “reaped the whirlwind,” so to speak. He departed and went far away to his mother’s clan, and he met God along the way. God redeemed Jacob. He blessed him and ultimately restored him to his brother and to his homeland. For that, Jacob gave thanks.

We see this further in Jacob’s son, Joseph. Joseph was beaten within an inch of his life then sold to Midianite traders, who sold him as a slave in Egypt. Although falsely charged, Joseph ended up in prison, but he never gave up on his trust in God. Ultimately, God redeemed Joseph and through giving him the ability to interpret dreams lifted him to the second position of authority in Egypt below Pharaoh. God used Joseph to preserve the lives of people. For that, Joseph gave thanks.

We see God’s redemptive power in the Israelites as well in the exodus. They were by then a rag-tag horde of people unprepared for war or desert life, but God redeemed them from Egypt and from the power of Pharaoh and from the ravages of the wilderness. He took their situation and brought ultimate blessing to them. For that, Israel gave thanks.

Give thanks to God for His redemptive power, graphically displayed on the cross of Calvary.

Lord, We thank You for Your redemptive power. You have taken our disasters and have redeemed us beyond imagination. For that, we give thanks. Amen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance.” (1 Peter 1:14)

Peter wrote these words to believers in the churches of northern Asia Minor (Turkey). Apparently, there was a significant Christian population there at one time. These believers faced persecutions and pressures that were, in fact, causing some believers to consider reverting to their “former ignorance.”

There is a negative admonition here – do not be conformed. Peter is encouraging these believers not to give in to the social, cultural, and religious pressures that were being exerted against them by family, friends, and community. No one likes to be negative, of course, but this is a “positive negative,” so to speak. The former ignorance of these folks was idolatry, promiscuity, and evil, but they had exited that life through their faith in Christ. So, Peter admonishes them to resist, not to be conformed again to such a life.

The positive admonition is obedience. With a childlike faith (a thought Peter learned from Jesus) they were to obey the truth that is found in Jesus Christ. This is how someone can resist evil: obedience to the truth. The word of the gospel leads to a new birth, into a new life full of the light of truth. This word of the Lord endures forever. Thus, we must look beyond any immediate pressures that would lead to conformity, to the standards of the world around us, and instead follow after the Lord’s truth. Once we did not know the truth. We were ignorant of it. Now we do know God’s truth, and God’s call is that we faithfully obey His truths.

Lord, Help us today to follow You faithfully as we live out Your truths. Amen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


“God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You.” (Psalm 63:1)

“I eagerly seek You” – what does that mean? Other versions read, “Earnestly I seek You.” The idea is: eagerly, earnestly, energetically, enthusiastically, experientially, and emotionally we seek God. Being in the desert at the time, David further described this feeling: “I third for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water. (v1b) So, what does it mean?

First, we eagerly seek God through prayer. Our desire is to be in communion with the Spirit of God, to experience the warmth of His presence, the depth of His love, and the joy of His encouragement. A half-hearted approach to prayer is never very satisfying, but when we are eager in seeking communion with God, we experience a “soul-satisfaction.”

Second, we eagerly seek God through His word. It is often in the reading of God’s word that we hear Him speak to us, and when we begin to dig deep, to put down roots into His word, we are strengthened by the spiritual nutrition that comes from His word.

Third, we eagerly seek God through His church. When we gather together with fellow believers to whom we are committed as brothers and sisters, and when we together with one heart worship and glorify God, we experience a depth of fellowship that is virtually indescribable. That fellowship can meet some of the deepest needs of our lives.

Eagerly seek God.

Lord, May we turn to You throughout the day with energetic enthusiasm and simply know that You are God. Amen.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


“Jesus said to Him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:2)

Jesus’ statement above was a response to one of His disciples’ observation about the massiveness and impressiveness and beauty of the stones used to build the Temple. Anyone who has seen some of those remaining stones understands just how impressive and massive they were. But Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, and, in fact, in 70 A.D. the entire temple complex was leveled to the ground by Roman soldiers. No longer impressive.

This leads us to understand that that which we consider impressive is at best relative. It is also short-lived and fragile, fleeting. It seems that people are easily impressed by things that are so temporal. How many of us have stared in wide-eyed wonder at an “impressive” fireworks display? How many of us have felt a sense of the awesome in a huge sports stadium, or a massive mega-church building?

Maybe we should be more impressed by power that is permanent in nature. Jesus was trying to help His disciples to see beyond their myopia, to see beyond what normally impresses people, to look toward that which is truly impressive – the word of God spoken and then fulfilled in God’s timing.

Lord, Help us to look beyond our tendency of short-sightedness and be impressed more by Your glory and Your eternity rather than temporary buildings and such around us. Amen.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Scribes and Widows

“’They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show…’ And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.” (Mark 12:40, 42)

This episode began as Jesus was sitting near the temple treasury, which was in the Court of the Women. Jesus first warned His disciples to beware of the scribes.

Scribes were part of the religious leadership in the Temple and in the synagogues. They performed the valuable function of copying Scriptures. By hand. Scriptures were written either on animal skin or on papyrus parchment, both of which wore out or dried out and cracked over time. Thus, they had to be replaced. So scribes spent their entire work days copying Scriptures onto fresh animal skins or papyrus parchments, and they receive their income for this work from the temple treasury.

Jesus, however, observed a spiritual pride in these men, which He pointed out to His disciples. Scribes allowed the importance of their service to lead to a spiritual pride: they loved walking around in long robes, wanted public recognition in marketplace greetings, said long prayers for show, wanted the front seats in synagogues, places of honor at banquets, and devoured widows’ houses.

In contrast to the scribes, a poor widow walked by the treasury and, almost unnoticed, put her two tiny coins into the offering box, making no perceptible sound as they fell against the copper funnel on top of the box. Jesus had different ears, however, and He made sure His disciples heard what He heard and understood that her gift outweighed all the others because she gave out of poverty and gave all she had to live on. In contrast to the spiritual pride of the scribes, she demonstrated spiritual humility and total trust in God.

Spiritual pride is insidious and deceptive. We guard against it by a daily recalibration of our priorities, attitudes, and walk with God.

Lord, Help us today to walk with You in spiritual humility and trust. Amen.