Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When Negatives Abound

“’You speak as a foolish woman,’ he told her. ‘Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?’ Throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:10)

Two dynamics are at work in Job’s statement above. The first is an incomplete picture. Job did not have the complete picture of God in his understanding. He saw God as the source of his affliction. Ultimately, God was the source but only in that He allowed Job’s afflictions. Satan was the one who actually afflicted Job, not God. God could have stopped it, but He did not because of His higher purposes for Job: to strengthen his faith.

The second dynamic is a picture of integrity. Integrity bonded with faith led Job to say, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” It’s far more common for people to rail against God when adversity comes, but Job trusted God’s purposes for his life. As painful and horrible as his circumstances were, his trust in God prevailed.

It’s easy to trust God’s purposes when the positive blessings flow. It’s not so easy when the negatives abound. And yet, that is exactly what He is seeking in us. God is looking for commitment regardless. He is looking to produce that in us, and He seeks to strengthen it in us.

Whether we have an incomplete picture, or whether we are a picture of integrity, may we trust God and His purposes, both when life sails calm waters or when the storms of live arise suddenly.

Father, In all the circumstances we face in this life, both when the positives flow or the negatives abound, may we turn to You in trust as You guide us through them. Amen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Night Crew

“Now praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand in the Lord’s house at night! Lift up your hands in the holy place and praise the Lord!” (Psalm 134:1-2)

The temple doors closed at dusk as usual. The day’s worshipers were all gone along with the hustle and bustle. Quiet settled in again in the holy place, but the stillness was soon broken by the night sounds, the sounds of the night shift coming to work. All the oil lamps had to filled to keep them burning all night. The incense burner had to be replenished and stoked, and the bread on the table had to be removed and replaced with warm, fresh bread. Now, not just sound but smell! Floors had to be swept and dust wiped away. The few of the night crew thus carried on with their tasks, but then one of them noticed – the Presence of the Lord the Almighty was only a few feet away. The Almighty One! The Holy One. The Awesome One. He was suddenly overcome with awe as tears welled up in his eyes, and he lifted his hands and was compelled from within to say, “Hallelujah, for the Lord God Almighty reigns! The Holy One of Israel rules! Praise the Lord!” After those few holy moments, the night crew finished their duties and then left rejoicing, until the next night.

The next time you wonder if anyone notices the little things you do in serving the Lord, pause for a moment, and remember whose you are and who you serve. Lift up your hands in that very holy moment in that holy place and praise the Lord.

Thank You, Father, for those who quietly carry out their service to You, just because it needs to be done and because they love You. Amen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Unholy Alliances

“That very day Herod and Pilate became friends. Previously, they had been hostile toward each other.” (Luke 23:12)

In the world of social interactions there are alliances, enemies, and neutralities. The neutralities are relationships which have no impact on values, objectives, goals, and friendships, so we tend to ignore those interactions mostly, unless they venture across a perceived line. Enemies represent the competition whose goals are in conflict, producing hostility. Alliances are the networks that work toward common goals and produce friendship and camaraderie.

Herod and Pilate were not friends. They were prideful competitors in the world of politics and intrigue. Even though both served the Roman Empire, each saw the other more in terms of “enemy.” Distrust ruled their interactions. At least, until Jesus entered their world, that was the case. When Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent Him to Herod who had jurisdiction over Galilee. Herod treated Jesus with content and sent Him back to Pilate who ultimately crucified Him.

That day, Pilate and Herod became friends. How nice. Two former enemies were now friends. Their friendship was built on a newfound mutual respect for the right of the other to handle legal matters related to their respective jurisdictions, and it all came about because of a case of religious blasphemy toward a circuit-riding preacher from Galilee who claimed to be a king!

How pointless! Herod and Pilate were both clueless with regard to Who was before them. This was the Son of God, and they missed it. They were possessed by the political, cultural, social, and pagan world. In their worldview, Jesus was a nobody. Only Rome matters. Their alliance was built on thinking they were right, when, in reality, they were truly clueless.

Oddly enough, not much has changed since then. There are organizations and individuals in our day which build friendships and alliances on prideful goals intended to debunk and derail anything that is spiritual. Some of them have Christianity in their cross-hairs.

Jesus once told His disciples that no servant is above their master, and if their master is treated badly, they should expect at least the same. We thus need to be reminded today that we have a citizenship that is in heaven more than it is in any other place. As much as we may appreciate our citizenship in a nation of this world, we should remember that we have an eternal citizenship with the Lord in heaven, and that is a citizenship that will see us through anything.

Lord, We thank You that we belong to You. We thank You that we can participate in life with You, knowing that the day will come when You recall us to our true home country. Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two Great Benefits

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:11-12)

Two incredible benefits are defined in the verses above: unlimited love and infinite forgiveness. So who receives these benefits? Answer: Those who fear Him.

On this side of the cross and this far past it, some might recoil at the idea of fearing the Lord, particularly when they recall John’s statements that “there is no fear in love” and “God is love.” Even so, we must accept that what the psalmist says is true, and if true we need to consider how to reconcile these thoughts. It’s actually simple.

The fear of the Lord, as expressed here, is not the kind where someone cowers in a corner terrified by some kind of “monster.” This kind of fear is better described by the word “awe.” Awe is what Jacob felt when he woke up one morning from a dream in which he saw angels descending and ascending from heaven and then knew he was in a holy place. An awesome fear is what Moses felt before a burning bush that burned without being consumed. Awe is what Thomas expressed when he said, “My Lord, and my God.” Awe is what Saul of Tarsus felt when blinded on the Damascus Road where he met Jesus.

The fear of the Lord is thus the recognition of awesome power, sovereignty, love, goodness, and the holiness of God. We experience this as we walk with God in faith and humility. This kind of fear is what brings unlimited love and infinite forgiveness into clear focus and leads us in joy to say, “Thank You.”

Lord, Truly we give thanks to You for Your faithful love and complete forgiveness. We thank You for the privilege of walking with You. Amen.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Bad Day

“He went away and discussed with the chief priests and temple police how he could hand Him over to them.” (Luke 22:4)

“He went away.” What a sad statement! The one who went away was Judas Iscariot, of course, and his story we know well. We cannot comprehend it all because we cannot know all the dynamics involved, but we do understand the bottom line – he went away.

At the personal level, we all know people who “went away” from Jesus, maybe not so much in a Judas kind of betrayal, but more in a “relational drift” sort of way. The truth is: we may ourselves be among those who, at times, may have gone away from Jesus. Some who went away may be acquaintances. Some are close friends. Some are family members. We see folks move away from the Lord, and it pains us to watch it happen, especially when, in spite of our attempts to lead them back to the Lord, they intentionally just keep moving away. The creates a place of hurt in us, a place of sorrow and even mourning at times.

So, what can we do when something like this happens? For one thing, we have to accept the fact that God created all of us with the capacity for making choices. He gave us the freedom to decide. For another thing, we have to maintain our own commitments, our own walk with God, in the hope that something in our faithfulness to the Lord will speak to them somehow. Third, we have to pray for those who move away. Fourth, we never give up hope. We maintain the hope that the power of God’s redemption will continually work on their hearts and ultimately lead them to a change of heart that will lead them home.

Lord, We confess that we are not always very comfortable with an approach like this, especially when we feel like we should be “doing something.” But help us to just be faithful and to trust You to lead those we care about back to Yourself. Amen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Joy Walk

“For all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go and eat what is rich, drink what is sweet, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared, since today is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your stronghold.’” (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

The re-building of Jerusalem’s wall was complete. The returned exiles were settling in. Seven months later Nehemiah called for a national celebration in Jerusalem, so the people came from all over. Ezra the priest was asked to read from the Book of the Law, and after he did so he led the people in worship. Fourteen of the Levites, along with Ezra and Nehemiah, translated for those whose Hebrew language ability was not yet sufficient, and they explained the meaning to them. As the people listened to all this they began weeping. They wept because they knew that they and their ancestors had failed and had broken Israel’s covenant with God.

Nehemiah’s leadership then rose to the surface. He led the people to move on through their mourning and lay it aside. He called on them to move more toward the joy of this occasion. The wall was rebuilt, and now their walk with God needed some work. They needed to understand that this walk with God is characterized by joy. They needed to see in fact that the joy of knowing, relating to, and walking with the Lord is their true stronghold, far more so than any city wall.

Truly, the joy of knowing and walking with God, even in the midst of difficulty, discouragement, sorrow, or despair is our place of strength. When we purposely go to our place of joy in such times, we discover that it’s true. The joy of the Lord is our stronghold.

Lord, We thank You than You Yourself are our stronghold, our place of safety and strength and peace and joy. We thank You that we can abide in You. Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Matter of Coordination

“They had 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys.” (Nehemiah 7:68-69)

Nehemiah chapter 7 is one of those “genealogical” chapters, where there are long lists of names and numbers. Folks often come to those chapters in their Bible reading and move on to the next chapter without a list. These couple of verses above seem to have little spiritual importance, given that they just number the animals the exiles brought back with them to Jerusalem, so what might be there that merits our time and attention?

Consider Mark 11:7, “They brought the donkey to Jesus and threw their robes on it, and He sat on it.”

The time had drawn near for Jesus to be crucified. The centuries old prophecies of Zechariah had to be fulfilled that their King would come to them, riding on a donkey. Jesus sent two of His disciples to the village ahead with an instruction. Upon entering the village they would find a donkey tied to a post. They were to untie it and bring it. If anyone questioned them, they were to respond, “The Lord needs it and will send it back right away.” It happened just that way, so they brought the donkey to Jesus. He rode it into Jerusalem in the event we call “the triumphant entry.”

From the 6,720 donkeys that returned to Jerusalem with the exiles descended the donkey that was appointed for the Messiah to ride into Jerusalem. That donkey had to be in that village, tied up, and ready to go at just the precise time it was needed in order to fulfill the prophecy. It was not coincidental. It was planned by God and coordinated by God from ages past.

That is what we Christians call “sovereign.” It was a simple little donkey, but God had to coordinate an infinite number of variables to fulfill that prophecy of Zechariah. Only a sovereign God can do that. And a God who is capable of doing this certainly has no problem knowing everything going on in your life and mine. He has no problem bringing His purposes for us to fruition as long as we submit ourselves to those purposes. Today, would you reaffirm your commitment to God’s purposes for your life?

Lord, We bow before You and reaffirm our commitment to Your purposes for us, and we thank You that You are fully capable of carrying out those purposes. Amen.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Have You Received the Holy Spirit?

“and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’” (Acts 19:2)

Third missionary journey. Ephesus. Paul found a dozen “disciples” there, apparently established by a man named Apollos who by that time had gone on to Corinth. Paul had left Priscilla and Acquila in Ephesus, and they came across Apollos who was more of a disciple of John the Baptist and taught a baptism of repentance. He taught what he knew about Jesus, but he knew nothing of the Holy Spirit. So, they helped him navigate to the fuller view, and from there he went on to Corinth where he genuinely strengthened the church.

By the time Paul arrived back in Ephesus, Priscilla and Acquila had departed, and most likely they returned to Rome. So Paul searched until he found this group of disciples who knew only John’s baptism. It is not totally clear, but it seems that they believed they needed to be baptized. It does not seem that they believed fully in Jesus. They were more like the disciples of Jesus before the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the Day of Pentecost. Paul told them that John told the people they should believe in “the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.” (verse 19:4) So, they believed in Jesus and were then baptized in His name. Then Paul asked them about the Holy Spirit. They had never even heard there was a Holy Spirit. So, he laid his hands on them and the Holy Spirit came on them as He did on the Day of Pentecost. They spoke in other languages and prophesied.

Paul expected that if these men had believed in Jesus that they received the Holy Spirit, because that is when believers receive the Spirit. When they seemed puzzled by his question, he then laid his hands on them, and the Holy Spirit then confirmed His presence through the sign that was given, both for their benefit and for Paul’s.

So, have you received the Holy Spirit? If you have believed in Jesus Christ, if you have united with Him and committed your life to Him, that you have already received the Holy Spirit. He dwells in you. The confirmation of the Spirit’s presence will be seen in the responses you then give to His truth.

Lord, We thank You for placing Your Holy Spirit within us, to guide us, teach us, strengthen us, and enable us to walk with You. In these moments today, please confirm the Presence of Your Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rich in Faithful Love

”For You, Lord, are kind and ready to forgive, rich in faithful love to all who call on You.” (Psalm 86:5)

David was called “a man after God’s own heart.” In fact, God is One who described him with that designation. A related description is that David also understood God’s heart. He understood as no one else of his generation did.

The pantheon of so-called “gods” of David’s day that people worshiped were mean, ruthless, self-centered, demanding, and vengeful. People were in terror of them. They were gods that had to be appeased. Some folks saw the Lord as just another god of that same genre. But not David. He expresses the truth about who God really is: “For You, Lord, are kind and ready to forgive, rich in faithful love to all who call on You.”

Sometimes we need to be reminded that the Lord is kind and ready to forgive. Certainly God hates sin, because it offends His holiness, but the grace nature of God impacts us with kindness, such that in spite of our sin He is ready to forgive when we come before Him in confession and repentance. When we do so, we discover that our God is, indeed, rich in faithful love.

Lord, We thank You for Your lovingkindness. We thank You for the freedom that comes with Your forgiveness. Amen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wall Building

“Then I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people: ‘The work is enormous and spread out, and we are separated far from one another along the wall. Whenever you hear the trumpet sound, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us!’ So we continued the work, while half of the men were holding spears from daybreak until the stars came out.” (Nehemiah 4:19-21)

The monumental task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem dominated the daily life of the returned exiles after Nehemiah arrived on the scene. The work was back-breaking. The locals harassed and attacked to try to stop it from happening. At the risk of life and limb they continued the work. So, what’s the big deal with this wall? After all, it was just a wall wasn’t it?

The Jerusalem wall represented safety and life on the surface, but its meaning went far deeper for the people. It approached the spiritual and existential level where it represented the protection of the Almighty. Rebuilding the wall was a God-given task, a mission, and Nehemiah led the effort with strong determination in order to realize God’s protection from the enemy.

One of the applications we might see from this experience relates to what some call “spiritual warfare.” We can decipher several principles from the experience of the exiles in this regard: 1) all participate, 2) all share in the task, 3) we work where needed, 4) we trust God, and 5) we stay alert. In the spiritual battles we go through, may we all trust God, staying alert, to participate in the shared task of gospel advance, serving where needed.

Lord, Thank You for including us in Your plans for advancing the gospel. Amen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Don’t Fear, Keep Speaking

“Then the Lord said to Paul in a night vision, ‘Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.’” (Acts 18:9-10)

Note these two verses above in your mind, and then think back. At this point Paul was several years into his missionary work. He had traveled extensively, visiting numerous cities, and he had started churches in most of these cities. He was once stoned and left for dead. He had been beaten and imprisoned. He had been run out of town more than once. He had been laughed out of the Athenian areopagus (market place). Now, here he was in Corinth, afraid. The significance of his fear and hesitation is seen in the fact that it took a vision from the Lord to move him beyond it.

Even veteran missionaries with years of experience, toughened by adversity, can still experience fear and hesitation. Certainly fear can hinder those less experienced and toughened much more easily. It is a tool of Satan. But we have Paul’s vision of the Lord recorded for us, and it provides us with the same truth it provided Paul: the Lord and His strength is with us and is sufficient. He gives us the reassurance of His presence, His love, His power, and His activity. And He invites us not to be afraid, to keep on speaking, and not be silent. He invites us to move with Him beyond fear into obedience and trust.

Father, Help us to move beyond our hesitations and beyond its causes and speak with courage in Your name. Amen.