Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The God of Our Perceptions

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 15 Mark 16 Exodus 5 Exodus 6 Psalms 24

Most of us have at least some awareness of the gap between perception and reality, and yet we often allow ourselves to be caught in the trap of allowing our perception to become our reality. Why? Because we fail to question our perceptions and accept them as the unquestionable reality. When it comes to our relationship with God we may at times find ourselves prone to accept our perceptions, which we have concluded to be reality, and question God when it should be the other way around. This may be at play for Moses and Aaron in Exodus chapter 5 and following.

God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and appointed him to return to Egypt and be His instrument to free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. After considerable protest, Moses headed back to Egypt and was met on the way by his brother Aaron who the Lord had sent to be his partner in this venture. Arriving in Egypt, they went to Pharoah and announced, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Let My people go, so that they may hold a festival for Me in the wilderness." (Exodus 5:1) Perception then came into play. What was Moses' perception of what would happen when he made this announcement at God's direction? God had not told him how this would all play out, but Moses no doubt perceived in his own mind how it would go down.

We are not told what Moses thought would happen, but if I were in his place my perception would be that since God had sent me I would go in to Pharoah and make this announcement and with God's intervention Pharoah would consent and grant the request. It might take some persuasion and God might have to demonstrate His power in some way, but Pharoah would consent. What happened instead? Pharoah said to them, "Moses and Aaron, why are you causing the people to neglect their work? Get to your labors!" (Exodus 5:4) Then Pharoah instructed his overseers to withdraw the provision of straw for the making of bricks and require the Israelites to get their own straw while also keeping up with the required quotas. Rather than freeing the Israelites, Moses had made things harder for them.

What would most of us be thinking at this point? "God must not be in this," or "I must have misunderstood God," or a number of similar thoughts. What did Moses do? He went back to God and questioned why God had even sent him. Here is where faith can falter, and it is at least in part because we have been led astray by our perceptions. When God doesn't act according to our perceptions, what then? There is this popular idea in Christian circles that if God is in a thing all will go smoothly. If they don't go smoothly this becomes our "sign" that God must not be in the endeavor.

How did God respond to Moses when he questioned why God had sent him? God said, "'Now you are going to see what I will do to Pharaoh: he will let them go because of My strong hand; he will drive them out of his land because of My strong hand.'" Then God spoke to Moses, telling him, 'I am Yahweh.'" (Exodus 6:1-2) It was in the less-than-smooth turn of events that God's power would be demonstrated, and both Moses and Pharoah would know, "I am Yahweh." Moses was then ready to set aside his perceptions and fears and see what God would do.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Whose Voice Will Get Space In Our Head?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 13 Mark 14 Mark 15 Exodus 3 Exodus 4 Psalms 23

Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush strikes a familiar cord for me. I can hear my voice in the voice of Moses as he makes one protest after another to the Lord for being incapable of doing what God was assigning him to do. The assignment? "I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you may lead My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." (Exodus 3:10) Scary business going before the head of state of a large nation. Particularly when with his last encounter with Pharaoh, Pharaoh wanted to kill him. Was Moses just to waltz in before the man and not expect to be arrested on the spot?

Moses did not raise this objection, though. His first objection was his lack of ability, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exo 3:11) Moses' next concern was a lack of authority which he raised in two objections. The first was, "If I go to the Israelites and say to them: The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, 'What is His name?' what should I tell them?" The Israelites were living in a culture that recognized multiple gods. Moses seemed concerned with rightly identifying the God who had sent him. Along with this he objected, "What if they won't believe me and will not obey me but say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?" It is one thing to identify the God sending him, but altogether different to validate that he was indeed sent by this God. Further objections included his lack of eloquence to speak, and also pleading with the Lord to, "send someone else." (Exo 4:13)

By this point the Lord had lost patience with Moses. But God wasn't surprised by Moses' hesitance nor his objections, for He said to Moses, "Isn't Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, he is on his way now to meet you." (Exo 4:14) Before God even spoke to Moses He had started Aaron on his way to meet Moses.

I empathize with Moses in all this for I have seldom felt adequate for the assignments the Lord has given me, suffering somewhat from low self-esteem. This is what I sense of Moses. But too much sympathy with Moses, or even myself, is not helpful. Low self-esteem or not, when allowed to control us it becomes disobedience. Moses' issue, or mine, or anyone else's, was, and is, an issue of focus. Focusing on his inadequacies, or at least perceived inadequacies, rather than on God's adequacy. The Lord said to Moses, "Who made the human mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?"

This brings a little perspective to the conversation. Suddenly Moses' objections become ridiculous. To whom was Moses raising His objections after all? The One who made him and gave him his abilities. God knew what he was capable of better than he himself. Plus, God could instill in him whatever additional capabilities required for the assignment. So what was Moses' problem? Lack of faith would be at the top of the list. But it probably also included an unwillingness to get out of his comfort zone. In other words, he simply didn't want to do it.

Having said all this, I haven't lost my empathy for Moses in his objections. I simply must tell it like it is for my own benefit. Fear, lack of faith, low self-esteem - whatever it is - cannot be allowed to rule the day! After all, it is the Creator of the universe who invites us to partner with Him. To object further is to listen to the voice of Satan rather than the voice of God.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Following Jesus Wherever He leads

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 10 Mark 11 Mark 12 Exodus 1 Exodus 2 Psalms 22 Proverbs 8

Mark chapter 10 gives an account of a rich young man who came to Jesus with the question, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus questioned him about the law and the young man confirmed that he had kept the law since he was a youth. We should note that the young man realized something was lacking though he wasn't sure what. Jesus, of course, knew what he lacked. His trust was in his wealth rather than in God. When Jesus told him the thing he lacked was to give away his wealth, he wasn't telling him he could buy eternal life or that he must become poor. He was pointing out instead where the man's trust was placed. His unwillingness to give up his wealth made this clear.

After the young man went away, a conversation broke out between Jesus and His disciples concerning the kingdom of God and of the man's unwillingness to turn loose of his wealth. Evidently contrasting himself to the rich young man, Peter pointed out to Jesus that the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus assured him that they had not done this in vain. In telling Peter this, Jesus pointed out that wealth is not the only hindrance to following Jesus. Family can also be a hindrance as can fear of persecution and the difficulties that may arise in following Him. But we do not turn loose of our grasp and dependence on anything to follow Jesus that is not returned to us many times over. Jesus assured Peter that whatever we may turn loose of to follow Him - house, family members, or fields - it will be returned to us 100 times more. We don't have to wait for the age to come to receive this return. We can have it now. But in addition we also have eternal life in the age to come.

We read this and the questions start coming. "Does this mean that if we give up possessions we will get back even more?" Or, we ask, "what does it mean that if we leave behind family members we will receive back 100 times more?" Many more questions could be asked. The response to these questions, however, is that these returns are more spiritual and emotional than physical. Do we leave behind house? Our needs for shelter will be met in abundance. Do we leave behind bonds that tie us to family members? These bonds will be replaced many times over with spiritual bonds to many others. And then come the objections, "But I don't want to give up my material goods or my family bonds, etc." With our objections we find ourselves in the same place as this rich young man - sorrowfully walking away from Jesus because these things are more important to us than to follow Him.

Is this about actually giving up these things? Is this what Jesus requires of us? First and foremost it is about turning loose of our dependence on anything that keeps us from follow Jesus. If we have any doubt about how dependent we are on anything else we need only to think about giving them up to learn how dependent we are. Like the smoker who says, "I can quit anytime I want," until he actually tries to quit. Then his dependence becomes apparent.

Following Jesus means following wherever He leads, not just where we want to follow.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Salt of the Earth

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 7 Mark 8 Mark 9 Genesis 49 Genesis 50 Psalms 21
    "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It's no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men." (Matthew 5:13)
    "This is our Lord’s but if the salt should lose its flavor, how can you make it salty? Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with one another." (Mark 9:49-50)
    "Now, salt is good, but if salt should lose its taste, how will it be made salty?" (Luke 14:34)

The above three verses referring to Jesus' followers as being salt are the only such references in the New Testament. Though each of these references has a similar meaning each has a different context, expanding its meaning. To bring this meaning into focus let's consider the attributes of salt. We know of salt as a preservative, as a flavor enhancement, as a disinfectant, and as a promoter of health.

Next let's consider the context in which these three references to Jesus' followers as salt are used. The first reference, in Matthew, is spoken by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount and is given in the context of persecution. The second reference, which comes from Mark, is given in the context of avoiding sin that will tear us down. And finally, the third reference, from Luke, comes in the context of what is required of Jesus' disciples. They are to place Jesus above family, above their own life, and above possessions.

So what meaning do we bring away from all this about being salt? First we must recognize that as followers of Christ we are the salt that has been placed in the world by Christ. It is not that as His followers we have been "salted" by the gospel, but rather that we are the salt of the gospel to the world. The difference between these two perspectives is that the first is a benefit to the follower and the second is a benefit to those who are not followers. We are to be a preservative of the gospel in the world, a disinfectant against sin, a promoter of spiritual health, and enhancement to life. To do this we cannot fall under persecution, become easy prey to sin, or be distracted by the cares or pleasures of life. In so doing, we lose our saltiness and are no longer of benefit to the gospel or to others or to ourselves.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Receptivity: The Key that Unlocks the Secrets of God

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 4 Mark 5 Mark 6 Genesis 47 Genesis 48 Psalms 20 Proverbs 7

Though it seems obvious enough, we need periodically to remind ourselves that the things of God are only discerned spiritually. While having the things of God explained to one who does not know, intellectual understanding will only be partial. So how is the one who is not spiritual to understand the things of God? And the answer to this is also obvious. Those who are not spiritual come to understand spiritual things by responding to what little understanding they are initially given. So by having the things of God explained to them, the non-spiritual person is given the opportunity to respond to that little bit of understanding they are given. It is their response to either accept or reject, seek more or turn away, that either opens or closes the door to more understanding. Those who do understand spiritual things will not force the door open for those who do not understand simply through intellectual reasoning.

Jesus explained to His disciples that "the secret of the kingdom of God" is not revealed to those who are outside. For them these secrets are told in parables which are not understood upon the simple hearing of them. They are not intended to understand though they look and look and listen and listen. Intellectual pursuit of the secrets of the kingdom of God does not crack open the secrets. As Jesus explained this to His disciples He went on to explain to them the meaning of the parable of the sower which He had earlier told to a large crowd gathered around Him, hoping to give the disciples further understanding of what He was trying to tell them.

In the parable, a sower spread the seed he was sowing over the ground and the ground on which it fell varied. Some seed fell on rocky ground and was unable to put down good roots and thus was scorched by the sun. Other seed fell among thorns and was choked out. And yet other seed was snatched away by birds. But there was seed that fell on good ground, and this seed yielded a crop 30 to 100 times what was sown.

What was the difference between the seed that produced and that which didn't? The receptivity of the soil! In other words, the receptivity of the heart of the hearer of God's word. When Jesus was alone with His disciples and explained the parable to them, He explained that the seed snatched away by birds was representative of Satan taking away from some the word that is planted in them. The seed that fell on rocky ground represented those who do not allow God's word to take root in their lives, so it soon withers. Finally, the seed that fell among thorns represented those who initially receive God's word but allow various distractions to choke it so that it becomes unfruitful. These are distractions such as worries, pursuit of wealth, and the desire for other things besides the things of God.

Those in whom the seed produced a crop were those who welcomed the word. This makes it clear that the conditions which kept the seed from being fruitful in the others were not conditions over which they had no control. They submitted themselves to those conditions whereas those in whom the seed was fruitful submitted themselves to the word of God they heard. Herein lies the source of spiritual understanding.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Illiteracy of The Literate

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 1 Mark 2 Mark 3 Genesis 45 Genesis 46 Psalms 19

God's existence is proclaimed outwardly to mankind in two primary forms: one without words and the other with words. With either form, there are those who are illiterate.

Psalms 19 begins with the declaration, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands." There are no people on planet earth who have not "heard" this declaration of God's glory, even though, as the psalmist says, "There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard." But their message is clear for all to recognize proclaiming, "There is a Creator God whose powers are endless." The apostle Paul stated in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans that, "what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them." How has God revealed Himself to mankind? "From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made." Those, Paul says, who say or act as if there is no God do so "without excuse." Their atheistic position is held in opposition to what has been clearly revealed.

This is a form of illiteracy - an inability to read what has been revealed through creation. The saddest part about this form of illiteracy is that it is for the most part willful. Many who have this form of illiteracy are quite literate in regard to the written word. But claiming to be wise, they foolishly cast a blind eye upon God's handiwork and attribute it to one form of chance or another. Whatever the form to which God's creation is attributed, greater faith is required to accept it than to simply accept that there is a God and He is behind it all. Failing at an explanation for God's origin that is understandable to them, they fabricate an explanation for creation they can understand, ignoring the obvious.

Psalms 19 goes on to mention the second primary form of outward proclamation about God which is the written word. Between these two forms, no one should be ignorant of God.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Fruitful Christian

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
2 Peter 1 2 Peter 2 2 Peter 3 Genesis 43 Genesis 44

What makes up the life of a fruitful or mature follower of Christ? Drawing from various passages of scripture we might piece together a possible description of the life of a fruitful follower. The apostle Peter has done this for us, however, in the 1st chapter his 2nd epistle, verses 3-9.

First Peter gives our motivation for being fruitful: God, through Christ, "has given us everything required for life and godliness." Through what He has given us we are further given "very great and precious promises." The result is that we "share in the divine nature," enabling us to rise above "the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires."

So verses 3-4 describe God's part. What He has provided us and what it does for us. Verses 5-9 then describe our part. God may have given us "very great and precious promises," but they do not automatically produce their intended results without a response on our part. Peter tells us what our response should be, starting in verse 5. We entered into this life in Christ through faith. Now, he says, we need to supplement this faith with some actions beginning with goodness. But our faith and goodness need to be informed, so we need to suppliment them with knowledge. But if we are to further act on the knowledge we gain we must then suppliment our faith, goodness, and knowledge with self-control that puts knowledge into action. Knowledge without action is of little benefit and may even be dangerous.

But for the follower of Christ to be fully fruitful his faith, goodness, knowledge and self-control must be supplimented with endurance which causes him to go the course and not fall short. Add to this godliness and the follower has rounded out the necessary inward characteristics. Peter then moves on to the necessary outward characteristics. These include brotherly affection and love. Then you have the full package. A follower of Christ who is useful and fruitful.

Fruitfulness is the goal, then, we strive for. It provides much of our motivation to keep on striving. But there is also a reverse motivation in terms of what we are avoiding. Peter describes this in verse 9. By supplimenting our faith with these various characteristics and striving for fruitfulness we are avoiding being blind and shortsighted, and we are not forgetting our cleansing from past sins.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Finding Meaning in Otherwise Random Events (Part 3)

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 Peter 4 1 Peter 5 Genesis 41 Genesis 42 Psalms 18

Chapters 41 & 42 bring the saga of Joseph near its conclusion, though there is more yet to transpire. In these two chapters, though, we begin to see God's purpose behind the seeming random events in Joseph's life. Finally his life is no longer spiraling downward from one bad experience to another but instead takes an upward turn. Though two years had transpired since he interpreted the dreams for the two servants of Pharoah who had been sent to prison, the servant who had been returned to Pharoah's service, as Joseph predicted, finally remembered what Joseph had done for him.

One night Pharoah had two rather unusual dreams that troubled him once he awoke the next morning. He sent for his magicians and wise men, but none could interpret the dreams for him. Finally, Pharoah's chief cupbearer remembered what Joseph had done for him and told Pharoah. Pharoah sent for him and Joseph successfully interpreted his dreams. But Joseph was clear, "I am not able to," he told Pharaoh concerning his ability to interpret dreams. But he went on to say, "It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." (41:16) Joseph told Pharaoh that his two dreams meant the same thing, 7 years of abundance were coming followed by 7 years of famine. Joseph advised him to find a wise man who could guide the nation to use the years of abundance to prepare for the years of famine. Pharoah did not consider this long before appointing Joseph to be that wise man, making him second in command to himself over the whole nation. What a jump! From prison to 2nd in command!

We learn from this whole account how God can guide the affairs of men to accomplish great things and fulfill His own purposes. But we are prone to think God no longer works though individuals as He did then. Could this not be in large part because we do not look beyond the seeming randomness of the events of our own lives to recognize God's hand in them? It could also be that we have not been as cooperative with God as Joseph was throughout the seeming randomness of our lives. Rather than giving every situation, whether good or bad, our best and treating it as if it were from God, we may get caught up in pitying ourselves and slinging accusations at God for the bad stuff that happens.

With every bad experience life threw at Joseph, God gave him a whole new set of options from which to choose. It was up to Joseph to make good choices from the options presented to him. This he did, cooperating with what God was doing and allowing God to bring about the outcome toward which He was directing Joseph. While the credit for this outcome should go to God, we should not overlook the important role Joseph played in it. He could have chosen differently at any point along the way and changed the outcome - at least for him - and not have been the one God used for His purposes.

When we continually seek God and filter all events in our lives through the lens of His purpose for us, those seeming random events begin to take on new meaning. Every event in our lives, whether it presents good things or troubling things, sets before us a new set of options, and with these new options we are given the opportunity to change the course of our lives, either for good or for bad. Our choices can use the options presented to us to turn a bad experience into a good one, as was the case for Joseph. Or we can choose less wisely and turn good events into bad outcomes. God never forces us, always honoring our freedom of choice. But with that freedom comes great responsibility.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Finding Meaning in Otherwise Random Events (Part 2)

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 Peter 1 1 Peter 2 1 Peter 3 Genesis 39 Genesis 40 Psalms 17

In part 1 of Finding Meaning in Otherwise Random Events, we followed events in the life of Joseph, son of Israel, through chapters 37 & 38 of Genesis. The jealousy of his brothers toward him led them to sell him to traders on their way to Egypt. In turn, the traders sold him to a man in Egypt by the name of Potiphar who was captain of Pharoah's guard. This was bad enough, but it was only the first two in a series of supposedly random events in Joseph's life that led him to God's purpose. Chapters 39 & 40 reveal more events in this journey.

As Potiphar's household slave, Joseph was very responsible and God gave him favor with Potiphar so that Joseph was placed in charge Potiphar's entire household. But then Potiphar's wife took an interest in him and tried to seduce him. Joseph refused her advances repeatedly until one day when she had him alone and she pressed him into a position which left him no choice but to run and get away from her. In doing so, however, he left behind his outer garment of which she had taken hold. She accused Joseph of trying to take advantage of her which angered her husband and Joseph landed in prison.

Anyone who has read this account knows where it is going, plus there are the editorial comments by the writer of Genesis who adds that "the LORD made everything he did successful." And, "the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him." (Gen 39:3, 21) These are advantages we have that Joseph did not have. Though he may have had an inner sense that the Lord was with him in these events, he was still experiencing one setback after another, though referring to them as setbacks is putting them mildly. They would have been devastating to most any of us.

Joseph's stint in prison lasted over 2 years and during that time he encountered further disappointments. It wasn't like he saw a speedy resolution to his situation providing him a quick indication of God's hand in these events to assure him of a good outcome. We don't know how long he served in Potiphar's household, but several years passed from the time he entered Egypt as a slave until he was delivered from these circumstances.

We should note throughout them that Joseph handled them honorably, always being cooperative and doing his best in all things so that he was given positions of responsibility. If we only take note of God's leading through these circumstances and fail to take note of Joseph's attitude and response to them, we miss an important lesson. Joseph was not a puppet in God's hands any more than are we. He made choices that enabled the outcome toward which God was directing him. His choices could have thwarted God's purpose instead, and he could have found himself remaining in prison instead of second in command to Pharoah. But Joseph chose to accept what might appear to most of us as random events as coming from God and having a purpose, and in turn, he responded to them positively.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Finding Meaning in Otherwise Random Events

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 25 Acts 26 Acts 27 Acts 28 Genesis 37 Genesis 38 Psalms 16, Proverbs 6
Understanding comes from the Lord. Events in life that appear to be random and make no sense take on meaning when seen through eyes to which the Lord has given sight. Such sight is available to all, but not all seek it, for it comes by seeking the Lord and He is not sought by all.

The last several chapters of Acts give an account of the apostle Paul traveling to Jerusalem because he felt compelled by God to do so. In Jerusalem he was accused by the Jews and because of the commotion taken into custody by the Roman authorities. The ensuing course of events eventually took him to Caesarea for further trial and finally to Rome to be heard by Caesar. On the surface these appear to be a series of unfortunate and unfair events for Paul that kept him unjustly incarcerated for the last several years of his life. But Paul saw them through the Lord's eyes and knew them to be serving the His purpose, a purpose for which He had committed himself to serve. And so he finished out his life with purpose rather than defeated by life's circumstances.

Chapters 37 & 38 of Genesis pick up events in the life of Joseph, son of Israel (Jacob), events in which his brothers hated him so much they descided to harm him. In the end, rather than killing him as they considered, they sold him to traders who took him to Egypt and sold him as a slave. Continued reading in subsequent chapters will take him through a series of further trials until he comes to the purpose God had for him. It then becomes evident that these supposedly random and unjust events in Joseph's life did have purpose. Significant purpose. Purpose which continues to be recognized centuries later. But that purpose is only understood when seen with the sight that comes only from God. Apart from Him they are indeed random and unjust events which can bring dispair and misery.

The question becomes, then, how many events in our lives has God set in motion for a purpose that we saw only as random and unmeaningful events? Maybe even as unjust events? Life can only be properly understood when seen through God's eyes and to do so we must pursue Him and the wisdom He gives.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Is Worth Dying For Is Also Worth Living For

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 22 Acts 23 Acts 24 Genesis 35 Genesis 36 Psalms 15

Chapters 22-24 give account of the Apostle Paul's arrest in Jerusalem and the beginning of his journey toward Rome where the Lord had told him he would testify about Jesus. Following his arrest in Jerusalem the Lord said to him, "Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." Opposition to the gospel has never been a deterrent to it but rather more of a propellant to the spread of the gospel. Much like throwing water on an oil fire. Rather than dousing the fire, it is spread. In fact, it becomes explosive.

One of the first examples of this in scripture came following the stoning of Stephen, found in chapter 7 of Acts. After this, persecution broke out on the church in Jerusalem and many of its members relocated throughout Rome and Asia. But as these believers moved from Jerusalem, they took the gospel with them. In the years following, Philip the evangelist and Paul both encountered believers in various areas to which they went to evangelize. This pattern has been true thoughout history. The Communist movement of the last century has been an enormous propellant to Christianity. This is not the way we have viewed it, though, with it policies of persecuting Christians in an effort to shut them down. But through small, underground groups of Christians, Christianity in most every country that has fallen under Communism has spread like wildfire.

James Draper, former president of Lifeway Christian Resources once asked a Christian leader in China how American Christians could pray for house churches in China. His response? "Stop praying for persecution in China to end, for it is through persecution that the church has grown." Furthermore, this Chinese leader told Draper that the Chinese house church movement was praying that American Christians "might experience the kind of persecution they have seen in China so that it would ignite a similar revival in America."

What is it about persecution that is so revolutionary to Christianity? One important key is the credibility given to Christianity through persecution. If it is worth dying for it must also be worth living for.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Are Our Hearts A Good Guide?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 19 Acts 20 Acts 21 Genesis 33 Genesis 34 Psalms 14 Proverbs 5

We are complex beings with many forces pulling us in various directions to the point we often are not even aware of our own motives. Why do we do what we do? We certainly wonder why we are motivated to do evil, hurting ourselves and others, but why, even, do we do the good we do? We might even ask, is a good deed good if done without good intent, or is it importantly only that we have done the good?

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that, "The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick--who can understand it?" This excludes even ourselves who lack understanding of our own hearts. And yet we are told by many to "follow your heart." This might not be the most sound advice if we are deceived by our own hearts. And if our hearts are directing us in harmful directions if could be particularly unsound advice.

An account is given in Acts chapter 19 of a person attempting to do good for the wrong reason. "God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul's hands," we are told. Some, who were not followers of Jesus, observed Paul casting out evil spirits from people in the name of Jesus, so they thought they might do the same, invoking Jesus' name as if there was something magic in the name itself. Whether or not these men recognized their own motives, the evil spirits knew they were frauds, saying, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize--but who are you?" Then the spirits, acting through the man they possessed, overpowered the men and beat them.

Why do we do the good we do? It is good to always keep in touch with our motives. But if our hearts are deceitful, how can we be sure of our motives? In response to the statement in Jeremiah 17:9 telling us of the deceit of the heart, God said, "I, the LORD, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way." Only God knows our true motives. This is another very important reason to keep in touch with God, allowing Him to reveal to us the intent of our hearts, keeping us in touch with our true motives.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Strength in Weakness

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 16 Acts 17 Acts 18 Genesis 31 Genesis 32 Psalms 13

What are we to make of it when we do what is right and it only leads to trouble? When we serve God and are mistreated and abused as a result? We are so inclined to think that serving God and doing the right thing leads only to blessing, that it messes with our mind when we encounter trouble instead. In fact, we often use the blessings as a gauge for whether or not we are doing God's will. Don't we say things like, "This effort has gone so well it must be the Lord's will." Or we say, "Nothing has gone right with this, it must not be the Lord's will."

When the Apostle Paul was in Philippi he went about telling the good news of Jesus. After a while a girl "who had a spirit of prediction and made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling." began to follow him around constantly saying, "These men are the slaves of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." It became an aggravation to Paul and finally he commanded the spirit to leave the girl, rendering her unable to make her predictions and therefore unable to make a profit for her owners. The owners stirred up the people of Philippi and as a result, Paul and his companion, Silas, were thrown in jail. What should Paul have concluded from this?

Of course, this was not the only time Paul encountered trouble from serving the Lord. In 2 Corinthians chapter 11 Paul gave an accounting of his troubles on behalf of Christ, "Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the depths of the sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing. Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches." (2 Cor 11:24-28)

Had Paul been guided by the prevailing thought of our day he would surely have concluded that God was not in his efforts and he needed to do something else. But Paul didn't get it. While cooling his heals in prison, he and Silas openly prayed and sang hymns to God. Then something amazing happened, "there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains came loose." Paul and Silas didn't use this as an opportunity to escape, though. Instead they stayed around and led the jailer and his whole household to accept Christ.

While we are also inclined to think it was different for Paul than it is for us, a lesson we may need to learn is that in the midst of trouble is when God does His greatest work. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians, "because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (V. 10)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Add-on Christianity

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 13 Acts 14 Acts 15 Genesis 29 Genesis 30

The Jerusalem Council, an account of which is found in Acts chapter 15, is an example of man's perpetual need to put the things of God on his own terms. Terms that make sense to him. It didn't make sense to some of the Jewish Christians that a practice required of them for centuries should not still be required. When they learned of Gentiles receiving Christ and being added to the Church without the requirement of circumcision they were appalled. Peter stood up among them and said, "we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus." That was it. Nothing more.

No doubt those who thought circumcision should be required would agree with Peter, and then they would add a "but . . . ." In so doing, they ignored that the Gentiles had not only believed as had they, but had also been given the Holy Spirit as evidence of their belief, also as had the Jewish Christians. This wasn't enough for these legalists. Requiring circumcision was not a logical expectation but an emotional one, and fortunately, wiser voices prevailed.

I fear, though, that this practice of adding requirements for salvation continues. Jesus and only Jesus just doesn't seem to be enough for some. They want to add other requirements that validates a person's salvation to them. And if this person takes on practices similar to their own, they feel the person is validated. For these Jews in Paul's day it was circumcision. It made them feel the new converts were legitimate. For us it will be other things. Maybe the way the person dresses or opinions they may hold that are unlike our own. For some, it may even be the political opinions of the person. Never mind the transformation of their hearts and minds that has taken place. We want them to look like us and think like us plus maybe a few other things.

When Peter went to the home of Cornelius and ate with him, an uncircumcised man, the Jews later challenged him on it. But Peter replied, "if God gave them the same gift (of the Holy Spirit) that He also gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?" And there it is, plain and simple. God validated these Gentiles and that should be enough. We are asked to love, not to judge. God is quite up to the task of judging without our help

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Growing to Expect the Unexpected

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 7 Acts 8 Acts 9 Genesis 25 Genesis 26 Psalms 11

The Lord spoke through a vision to a disciple named Ananias who lived in Damascus telling him to go to a certain house in Damascus where he would find "a man from Tarsus named Saul." This man Saul had also seen a vision in which Ananias came to him and restored his sight. (Acts 9:10-12) Because of Saul's reputation for persecuting Christians, Ananais was reluctant to go to him. But the Lord told him, "This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel." (Acts 9:15)

We are prone to reject anything that does not make sense to us. How often throughout history have people rejected God or His plans for them because they didn't make sense to them? We don't have to read too far into scripture, however, to discover that expecting God's ways to be as our ways is what doesn't make sense. Throughout the history of mankind, God has always done the unexpected. Unexpected, that is, based on man's reasoning. But God is God and His ways are different from ours and we are wise to embrace this and become willing to respond to God's unexpected activity in our lives. However discomforting this may be to us, though, this is often where the greatest blessings lie.

Saul of Tarsus was one of God's unexpected choices. Why would God use this man who was working against Him? After all, wasn't God already using men like Peter and Philip in powerful ways? Wouldn't Saul just be a distraction not to mention the risk he might be? But God had big plans for Saul, who we now know as Paul, from which we still benefit. Why would God use people like Paul who did such atrocious things to the followers of Christ? But we cannot answer this question without touching on the reasons we find God's ways so foreign to us. God is forgiving when we are reluctant to forgive. God restores lives we might think undeserving of being restored. God uses weak and sinful people whom we look down on because He is glorified even more through their weakness than He is through our supposed strength.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Signing Away Our Lives

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 4 Acts 5 Acts 6 Genesis 23 Genesis 24 Psalms 10 Proverbs 4

"This is from the LORD; we have no choice in the matter." (Genesis 24:50) These are the words of men who were not without a choice, but rather men who chose to be compelled by things that were from the Lord. Men who had signed away their lives to do what God instructed them to do. These words were spoken by Laban and Bethuel, relatives of Abraham whom he had left behind in the land of Ur. As Abraham became old and neared the time of his death, he sent his servant to his relatives to get a wife for Isaac so he would not marry a Canaanite pagan. God directed the servant to Rebekah, granddaughter of Abraham's brother Nahor. When the servant related to Rebekah's father Bethuel and her brother Laban how God had directed him to Rebekah, and asked their permission to take Rebekah to be a wife for Isaac, they responded with the words above, "This is from the LORD; we have no choice in the matter."

God is not into forcing Himself on anyone. Nor are we without a choice when He makes a request of us. Those who have committed themselves to follow Christ, however, have already made their choice, which is to follow where He leads and to do what He asks of them. The term "follower of Christ" is intentionally used here in place of "Christian" since the term Christian has come to mean many things. Many may have accepted that salvation is through Christ and even accepted His salvation for themselves, but have not really given themselves to actually follow Him.

Jesus made it clear what it means to follow Him, which is equivalent to being His disciple. He said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, and even his own life--he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple . . .  In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26-27, 33) It means to place Christ above all other relationships and priorities. It means to do as my wife did many years ago. That is, to sign a blank sheet of paper giving Christ permission to fill it in with whatever He wanted for her life.

If this is what we have done, our words become the same as those spoken by Bethuel and his son, Laban, "This is from the Lord; we have no choice in the matter." Our choice has already been made.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Is Anything Unimportant That We Withhold From God?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 1 Acts 2 Acts 3 Genesis 21 Genesis 22 Psalms 9

Abraham had proven he was a man of faith when he followed the instructions of a God he had not known before to leave behind his extended family and go to a place that had not been revealed to him. God then promised him an heir and Abraham believed Him, though he presumed at one point that the heir must not be intended to come through his wife Sarai. So Abraham took it upon himself to have an heir through a plan that made sense to him. That mistake is still causing problems for Abraham's intended line of descendants.

Finally, at age 100, some 25 years after God's promise, Abraham had the promised son, Isaac, with his wife, Sarai. After a few years God announced a test to Abraham. Was God and His promised plan more important to Abraham than his long-awaited son? Would he withhold the son and walk away from God's covenant with him? So we have the familiar account of God telling Abraham to offer his son Isaac to Him as an offering. And those who are familiar with the account know that God stopped Abraham from killing his son and produced a ram to take his place as the intended offering. God is not into child sacrifice!

Who was the test for - God or Abraham? I suspect it was really for Abraham since God knew what he would do. The whole ordeal revealed to Abraham what was of importance in his life and how willing he was to follow God. I recall a time in my own life when, as a young man, I had come to the point of telling God I was willing to give myself to Him and do whatever He wanted with my life. I was satisfied to keep doing what I was doing at the time but was expressing my willingness to do what God wanted of me. I prayed this prayer repeatedly over a period of time and finally God revealed to me that there was something I wasn't really willing to do for him. I then had to go through a time in which I also released that thing and said I was willing also to do it. By then, God had revealed that this was the thing He wanted me to do.

If Abraham had not given back to God the long-awaited son, history would have taken a very different turn. Had I not released to God the thing I wanted to withhold, my life also would have gone a very different direction, and probably so would that of my children. Besides failing to do what God wants of us and missing the opportunity and blessing, what does it do to a person to refuse to do what God asks of them? How does it affect their future decisions for God? If they withhold the one thing, what else will they withhold in the future? And what lessons do their children learn about following God?

No matter how small the thing may seem to us that we withhold, it becomes a big thing when withheld from God. For it represents our unwillingness to be obedient. And at that point our relationship with God takes a turn. No longer do we continue to grow in that relationship. At best it simply maintains, but the risk is that we begin from that point to withdraw things we have already released.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Deceit: An alarm That Can Point to Truth

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 27 Matthew 28 Genesis 19 Genesis 20 Psalms 8 Proverbs 3

Deception should always serve as a clue to us that we are on the wrong track. It is not just the fact we are being deceit, but of greater concern is the reason for our deceit. For deceit is always used to cover a wrong. We convince ourselves that the track we are on is right and then that the deceit is necessary for the good of our right cause. It is at that point that an alarm should be going off. If our cause is so right why should deceit even be necessary? If it is right, its merit should be defense enough. Why resort to deceit? It should be at this point that the alarm in our heads sounds and we realize that we are resorting to deceit because our cause is not as right as we have convinced ourselves that it is.

These are the thoughts I bring from my reading of Matthew 27 & 28. I ask myself why such a violent reaction reaction to Jesus? I'm aware of the obvious responses to that question, the most obvious being that their religion and way of life were being threatened. I also ask myself how I might have reacted. How could I be certain this man was who he claimed to be? There are also obvious responses to this question such as the various miracles Jesus performed. These should have been sufficient evidence of who He was. But then I come to the arrest and trial of Jesus. Deceit was used from beginning to end. False witnesses were engaged and charges were trumped up. Not even Pilate was convinced Jesus had done anything wrong. And then, even when Jesus was resurrected, deceit was used to cover it up.

A person serious about their relationship with God and about doing the right thing may have had doubts about this man Jesus, but once they began to engage in deceit to protect their cause the alarms should have sounded. Am I willing to be right at any cost or am I more concerned about always being in pursuit of truth? While seeking to discover the truth of a given situation may be confusing at times, resorting to deceit in the midst of that confusion should be a clue that points us to the truth.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Crucible of Waiting - Part 2

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 25 Matthew 26 Genesis 17 Genesis 18 Psalms 7

In Christian circles we talk about the testing of our faith that occurs through trials and difficulties in our lives. And yes, it is true that during these times we come to know the nature and strength of our faith and our walk with the Lord. But we should also come to recognize the same concerning those periods in our lives in which we find ourselves waiting on the Lord. It may be an answer to prayer or providing the next step in a direction in which we feel God has directed us. Whatever it is in which we find ourselves waiting on the Lord, the waiting period can be a time in which we become very vulnerable to temptation.

Abram was an example in our previous reflection on waiting, and continues to be an example in chapters 17 & 18 of Genesis. Abram was 75 years old when God first promised that although he and his wife were childless, they would give birth to an heir who would be the beginning of a line of descendants as numerous as the stars. By the time we come to chapter 17 Abram was 99 years old and still did not have the promised child. So when the Lord returned to him and said of his wife, "I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will produce nations; kings of peoples will come from her." Abram laughed. It wasn't just a chuckle, but he fell to the ground laughing and thinking in his heart, "Can a child be born to a hundred-year-old man? Can Sarah, a ninety-year-old woman, give birth?" Again Abram offered Ishmael as the fulfillment of God's promise. But God insisted, "No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him." Abram proved himself faithful and continued his wait on the Lord.

Matthew chapter 25 provides further examples of waiting on the Lord. Several of these examples had to do with the wait for the Lord's return at the end of the age. In the first part of the chapter Jesus compared it to a wedding party waiting for the bridegroom to come with his bride and enter the place where the wedding would be held. Ten virgins were given as the example of those waiting for the Lord to come and enter into the wedding chamber. But only half of them were prepared for the wait. Who knows what those who were unprepared were thinking and why they were unprepared, but it appears that they thought it no big deal and they could easily get what was needed to enter the wedding when the bridegroom arrived.

All ten virgins had grown weary with the wait and fallen asleep, but when the bridegroom suddenly appeared, those who were prepared were able to pick up and enter with him into the wedding chamber. Those who were unprepared tried to borrow what they needed and then had to go to a merchant to buy the needed oil. But when they returned they were locked out of the wedding and forbidden entry. Their faith was not equal to the wait.

Other examples are given in Matthew 25 & 26, and Jesus admonishes those involved to "be alert, because you don't know either the day or the hour." This counsel applies not only to our wait for the Lord's return but to every instance of waiting on the Lord. As Jesus and His disciples waited in the garden prior to His crucifixion, Jesus admonished them to "Stay awake and pray." And herein lies the key - staying in continual fellowship with the Lord. Though remaining in fellowship with the Lord through prayer may not give us any clues to when our wait will be over, it will keep our hearts in tune with Him so we do not lose faith and lose our vigilance in serving the Lord as we continue our wait on Him.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Crucible of Waiting

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 22 Matthew 23 Matthew 24 Genesis 15 Matthew 16

Waiting on the Lord is one of, if not the most difficult thing we do as a follower of Christ. But it is also one of, if not the greatest demonstration of our faith. Genesis, chapter 15 gives account of God's promise to Abram that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. (V. 6) God followed this promise with a covenant, "I give this land to your offspring, from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates River." (Gen 15:18) We are told that "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness."

God's promise and covenant with Abram must have been an exciting experience for Abram, but then time passed without seeing evidence of this promise. After 10 years of waiting Abram was 85 years old and the promise of an offspring was no more evident than when God made the promise. So he and his wife began to question the promise and to justify other means of fulfilling it. God said Abram's heir would come from his own body, but maybe He didn't mean it would be Sarai's child? This thinking led to an alternate plan that was of their creation and not God's. Waiting on God tested Abram's faith and it came up wanting. Yes, he still believed God would give him an heir, but he doubted how it would occur and took his own measures to make it happen.

After centuries of waiting for God's promised Messiah, the gospel of Matthew records how misconstrued the Jews had made the promise. They had so misconstrued it that they rejected the Messiah when He came. And yet another example of how the difficulty of waiting on the Lord twists our faith is given in chapter 24 of Matthew. In this chapter Jesus addressed His disciples' question about the signs of His coming and of the "end of the age." This wait will also test the faith of Jesus' followers. As the wait is prolonged people will begin to grasp at possibilities saying, "Look he's in the wilderness," or, "Look he's in the inner rooms." But we are not to believe these rumors. Nor are we to believe those who make predictions of when His coming will take place. Not even the Son Himself knows when it will be! What we can know, though, is that it will be when we least expect it and we should be prepared at all times. We can also know that, "The one who endures to the end will be delivered." (Matt 24:13)

The follower of Christ is often called on to wait, and it is in those periods of waiting when we often learn the most and our faith is strengthened the most. As I reflect on the periods in my life of waiting on the Lord, they seem to have occurred in three year periods. From the time I felt the Lord directing me in a particular direction and committing myself to that direction and then waiting to see that direction fulfilled would be a period of three years. I see these as some of the most difficult periods in my walk with the Lord. And yet I emerged from each of these periods more strengthened in my faith and more committed to the Lord than when I entered them. When I emerged out of these periods, as emerging from a fog into a clear day, I was often reminded of Psalms 30:5 which says, "Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning."

Monday, November 23, 2015

What is The Single Most Satisfying Choice In Life?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 19 Matthew 20 Matthew 21 Genesis 13 Genesis 14 Psalms 6

Jesus said, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Matt 19:30) He illustrated it with parables such as the man who hired workers at different times throughout the day so that by the end of the day those who were hired first had worked all day while those hired last had worked only an hour. But the man wanted to pay all of them the same wage. It is no surprise that those hired earlier in the day protested. But the man told them, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my business? Are you jealous because I'm generous?'" (Matt 20:15)

On another occasion Jesus told his disciples that their values were to be different than what is typical of mankind. Rather than pursuing positions of power they were to be satisfied to serve others. For in God's kingdom, "whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave." (Matt 20:26) This was what Jesus came to do. To serve rather than to be served.

We see a similar value displayed in an an Old Testament account involving Abram and his nephew Lot. God had blessed both Abram and Lot with many possessions. In fact, the land could not support their people and livestock when they were all together. So Abram gave Lot his choice of territory. "Separate from me:", Abram said to Lot. "If you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right, I will go to the left." (Gen 13:9) Lot chose what appeared to be the best land which was well-watered and fertile. But his choice did not bode well for him. He ended up losing all, including much of his family. He forgot the source of what he had.

What do we learn from these accounts? I'm sure there are numerous lessons to be gained from them, but the one that strikes me on this occasion is that only one choice, only one pursuit, is sufficient. It is not what we think will make us happy that makes us happy. It is not what we think will prosper us that will prosper us. It is not what mankind typically thinks will satisfy that does so. We must forget the wisdom of the world and hold to the wisdom Jesus taught. There is only one choice, one pursuit that is sufficient. It is the Lord. He is all-sufficient for He is the source of everything.

If we will seek the Lord above all else and accept what He provides, we will find that we are satisfied and fulfilled and want for nothing else. It will not matter that the Lord, as the man who paid his workers out of his generosity rather than by merit, will also bless us out of His generosity and not by what we consider to be our merit. With our eyes on the Lord we will want for nothing and will not notice what the world considers to be inequity.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Jesus Came to Give Us New Life Not to Enhance the One We Already Have

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 16 Matthew 17 Matthew 18 Genesis 11 Genesis 12 Psalms 5

Jesus came to give us new life not to enhance the life we already have. Jesus taught that He had come that we might have life in abundance. Many respond to this by trying to hang onto the life they have while adding Jesus to it. If a fuller life means a busier life, then that probably describes what they have. But this is not what Jesus meant by having life in abundance nor how we find this life. Instead, He talked about giving up the life we have in exchange for the life in abundance that He offers. "If anyone wants to come with me," He said, "he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matt 16:24)

There are many who call themselves Christians to whom this teaching is considered to be only for a select few who are specially "called." But not so. Jesus addressed this to all who would have the life in abundance He offers. But this life requires two things the majority who call themselves Christian are unwilling to do: deny themselves, and follow Jesus. Jesus wasn't calling us to be "Christians" as it has come to mean, but to be "followers." The term Christian has come to mean many things, but to follow Jesus clearly means to go where He tells us to go and do what He tells us to do. Furthermore, Jesus said, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it." (Matt 16:25) This, too many Christians are unwilling to do. Rather than losing their lives because of Jesus or denying themselves and following Jesus, they have added Jesus to the life they already have and therefore have become religious rather than followers of Jesus.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How Can A Loving God Allow Evil?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 13 Matthew 14 Matthew 15 Genesis 9 Genesis 10 Psalms 4 Proverbs 2

In the Parable of the Sower Jesus addressed in part the question of why God allows evil. In the parable a farmer had planted good seed and then an enemy sneaked in at night and sowed weeds among the good seed. When both good seed and weed grew up and it became apparent what had happened, the hired hands suggested to the farmer that they take out the weeds to allow the good seed to grow freely. But the farmer told them, "No, When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them." In other words, Jesus was saying that to uproot evil risked also uprooting those who are not evil. God's love for those who are not evil is such that He doesn't want to risk harming them by rooting out those who are evil.

While this parable provides at least a partial answer to the question of why God allows evil, it also raises other questions. It is a multifaceted question which cannot be answered with one reply. However, our acceptance of God's love cannot be dependent on having all our questions answered to our satisfaction. Our relationship is, and always has been, a matter of faith.

As we pursue our relationship with Him through faith, He provides insights as Jesus did with this parable of the sower. But we will never have full understanding this side of heaven. Nor should we expect to have full insight. Our relationship with God should be all-sufficient without the need for all the answers. As the Psalmist stated in Psalms 4:7:  "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound." God, and God alone, can put more joy in our hearts than material abundance. We do not pursue God in order to have abundance. We do so in order to have God, for in Him we have all we need.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Is God a loving God or A Vengeful God?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 10 Matthew 11 Matthew 12 Genesis 7 Genesis 8 Psalms 3

Is God a loving God or a vengeful one? Scripture says that "God is love." (1 John:4:8, 4:16) However, scripture also depicts God as being at times angry and vengeful. But it is love and not these characteristics that define Him. No being, God included, exhibits only one characteristic, all love, for instance, and no other characteristic. Furthermore, are we to say that anger is always a result of hate and not of love?

God made man to have relationship with him but gave him the freedom to choose how he would respond to his maker. From the beginning man did not choose wisely, starting with the first man, Adam. God gave Adam and his wife, Eve, a perfect setting and a direct relationship with God. But the couple chose to break the relationship by doing what they were told not to do. With this break in the relationship the couple no longer had the direct relationship with God nor the perfect environment. From there it continued downhill with the murder of their son Abel by their other son, Cain. And the downhill slide continued until the time of Noah and God decided it must stop. Man was not intended to live apart from God, and the further he withdrew from God the more evil he became. We must recognize here that evil does not act out in isolation but rather upon others. Other people suffer because of the evil condition of a man's heart. While God is disturbed by our rejection of Him, He is just as disturbed by our evil actions toward one another. In Noah's day, God decided the evil must stop and so He destroyed all mankind and every living creature with the exception of the only righteous man of his day - Noah. Also saved from destruction were Noah's family and a pair of every creature.

God sent His Son, Jesus, because of His love for man. Man cannot overcome his naturally evil heart simply by determining to do so. Two thousand years of history prior to the birth of Jesus demonstrated this truth. With Jesus, man was not only provided forgiveness for sin, but the presence of God's Spirit in his heart to enable him to overcome his evil bent. All of this was an act of God's love toward man. The gospels describe Jesus' efforts to enlighten the people of His day about this new pathway God was providing for them. But the people were not open to hear it. They already had it figured out and were not to be persuaded otherwise. Not even by Jesus despite the miracles they saw Him perform. Rather than shedding the light of Jesus' teachings upon their lives and changing accordingly, they judged Jesus by their own narrow understanding and rejected Him.

Jesus had little patience with the narrow-minded religious types though He had great patience with those who lived in darkness of His truths and hungered for what He brought to them. When He sent out His disciples two-by-two to a series of Jewish villages to announce that: "The kingdom of heaven has come near," He told them to move on whenever they were not received. Those who were open to God's voice would hear them and those who were not would not receive what they had to say. Jesus did not try to convince them nor instruct His disciples to do so. They would live and die with their choice but there were too many who need equal opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus to spend time trying to convince those who didn't want to be convinced.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Revealing Our True Hearts

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 7 Matthew 8 Matthew 9 Genesis 5 Genesis 6 Psalms 2 Proverbs 1

Genesis chapters 5-6, Psalms 2, and Proverbs 1 all portray a sinful mankind whose hearts were intent on evil. It was so bad, in fact, that in Noah's day God regretted making man and decided to destroy all mankind and start over with Noah who was a righteous man. After Noah it didn't go a whole lot better, and after some 2,000 years Jesus came along and got to the heart of the matter which is the hearts of mankind. Though man's sin could be forgiven by God through the giving of offerings and sacrifices, it did not change their hearts. Jesus came, not only to offer forgiveness for sin, but to bring change in the hearts of men.

Jesus' teachings from the beginning had a different nature to them. Rather than being focused on outward actions, they were focused on inner thoughts and motives. The attention previously given to outward actions had brought about a judgmental attitude by most, looking at the actions of others and pointing the finger at their sins. But Jesus told them they had no right to be pointing out the speck in another person's eye when there was a log in their own eye. In other words, each person needed to examine their own hearts to address the sin in their own lives rather than looking at the sin in another person's life while ignoring the sin in their own life.

The true judge of a person, Jesus said, is not so much what they may say or do, but the fruit of their lives. A person can say all the right things and do all the proper things, but if these words and actions are not conveying the true heart of the person, this will eventually come out in the fruit of their lives. Do these actions line up with how they live in all areas of their lives? That is the question.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Turning Man's Philosophy On Its Head

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 4 Matthew 5 Matthew 6 Genesis 3 Genesis 4 Psalms 1

Jesus outlines the foundation of His teaching, in the beatitudes. His way turns man's philosophy upside down. While man is continually concerned for his personal rights, Jesus teaches us to put others first. It is so drastic He goes so far as to say we shouldn't fight another over what is ours but instead, if someone takes what is ours, just let them have it, as He says Matthew 5:40, "As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well."

What is with is? I can only imagine it has much to do with what is most important to us. If our concern is for personal rights, our focus is on what is on ourselves and what is ours. It is not on heavenly things or on the source of life and all that comes with it. An argument could be made that since what I have comes from God to whom it all belongs in the first place, and the same can be said for everyone else, then it is all just interchangeable among us all. God shares it freely with us and we should do the same with everyone else. Most of Jesus' teachings in the beatitudes are so counterintuitive to us, as is this one, that we are prone to provide explanations for their meaning other than what they clearly say. We don't want them to mean what they mean and therefore to be expected to actually do what they say. So we give them other meanings. Ones that are more palatable to us.

Psalms 1:1-2 say, "How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the LORD's instruction, and he meditates on it day and night." It is as we meditate continually on the Lord's instruction that His teaching begins to make sense to us and we can begin to live by them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Answering the Question of Purpose

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 1 Matthew 2 Matthew 3 Genesis 1 Genesis 2

In Genesis we have the beginning of God's interactions with mankind. God existed before there was man or anything that is known to man such as sky and earth and universe. All was made for man's existence so God could relate to him. It was for man's benefit and God's pleasure. There are many questions that go unanswered such as where did God come from? But there is only one question with which mankind really needs to concern themselves and that is the purpose of their existence.

The age-old question that man historically ponders without answer is the question, "What is the purpose or meaning of life?" Apart from God the question truly is unanswerable. But with God in the equation it is not a difficult question at all: "My purpose is to give pleasure to God." While this may seem to be a rather oppressive answer, when one comes to realize the nature of this relationship in giving pleasure to God, they discover that it is not a one-sided relationship at all. God returns pleasure as well. And one of the ways He does is in giving meaning to our lives. This one benefit is the source of most all other pleasure man receives through his relationship with God.

We are drawn to accounts in the Bible, such as the first chapters of Matthew, in which Mary and Joseph play the roles God gave them in giving birth to Jesus and raising Him as their child. In fact, we are drawn to most all accounts in the Bible in which God uses a person for His purposes. Is this not because we are attracted to the significance of purpose we see in the lives of these people as they cooperate in God's purpose? We all want to have purpose in our lives and to feel we make a difference during the short period we exist on this earth. And we find this is only possible when we align our lives with God's purpose for us. Doing so brings pleasure to God and to us.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Reflections on Malachi 4

 Malachi 04  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The day of judgment is certain to come. And it will be like a red-hot furnace with flames that burn up proud and sinful people, as though they were straw. Not a branch or a root will be left. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
  2. But for you that honor my name, victory will shine like the sun with healing in its rays, and you will jump around like calves at play.
  3. When I come to bring justice, you will trample those who are evil, as though they were ashes under your feet. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
  4. Don't ever forget the laws and teachings I gave my servant Moses on Mount Sinai.
  5. I, the LORD, promise to send the prophet Elijah before that great and terrible day comes.
  6. He will lead children and parents to love each other more, so that when I come, I won't bring doom to the land.

Chapter 1 of Malachi raised the question asked of God by the people, "How have You loved us?" It insinuated that God hadn't really loved them implying the additional question: "Why should we keep the law?" Malachi's message closes in this last chapter with a further answer to that question. A day is coming when the righteous, those who fear the Lord's name, will be filled with joy and the wicked will be consumed with fire. The joy of the righteous is pictured as a calf that is set free from the stall and goes out playfully jumping.

Given a description of the coming day which will address the choices they have made, they were encouraged in the closing verses to "Remember the instruction of Moses." Before that day comes, however, the Lord will send Elijah the prophet who will bring a revival that will "turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers." But if Elijah's coming does not result in revival, the Lord will "strike the land with a curse." Elijah came in the form of John the Baptist and many hearts were turned.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Reflections on Malachi 3

 Malachi 03  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I, the LORD All-Powerful, will send my messenger to prepare the way for me. Then suddenly the Lord you are looking for will appear in his temple. The messenger you desire is coming with my promise, and he is on his way.
  2. On the day the Lord comes, he will be like a furnace that purifies silver or like strong soap in a washbasin. No one will be able to stand up to him.
  3. The LORD will purify the descendants of Levi, as though they were gold or silver. Then they will bring the proper offerings to the LORD,
  4. and the offerings of the people of Judah and Jerusalem will please him, just as they did in the past.
  5. The LORD All-Powerful said: I'm now on my way to judge you. And I will quickly condemn all who practice witchcraft or cheat in marriage or tell lies in court or rob workers of their pay or mistreat widows and orphans or steal the property of foreigners or refuse to respect me.
  6. Descendants of Jacob, I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I never change. That's why you haven't been wiped out,
  7. even though you have ignored and disobeyed my laws ever since the time of your ancestors. But if you return to me, I will return to you. And yet you ask, "How can we return?"
  8. You people are robbing me, your God. And, here you are, asking, "How are we robbing you?" You are robbing me of the offerings and of the ten percent that belongs to me.
  9. That's why your whole nation is under a curse.
  10. I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I challenge you to put me to the test. Bring the entire ten percent into the storehouse, so there will be food in my house. Then I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing.
  11. I will also stop locusts from destroying your crops and keeping your vineyards from producing.
  12. Everyone of every nation will talk about how I have blessed you and about your wonderful land. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
  13. You have said horrible things about me, and yet you ask, "What have we said?"
  14. Here is what you have said: "It's foolish to serve the LORD God All-Powerful. What do we get for obeying him and from going around looking sad?
  15. See how happy those arrogant people are. Everyone who does wrong is successful, and when they put God to the test, they always get away with it."
  16. All those who truly respected the LORD and honored his name started discussing these things, and when God saw what was happening, he had their names written as a reminder in his book.
  17. Then the LORD All-Powerful said: You people are precious to me, and when I come to bring justice, I will protect you, just as parents protect an obedient child.
  18. Then everyone will once again see the difference between those who obey me by doing right and those who reject me by doing wrong.

The priests in Malachi's day had concluded, and were teaching, that God was okay with those who do evil and that He was not the "God of justice." God responded to this in chapter 3 telling them that another messenger would come who would clear the way for the "Lord you seek." This One would deal with evil. He would be like a "refiner's fire and like cleansing lye." He would purify the sons of Levi, the priests. The messenger to whom he referred was John the Baptist, and the "Lord you seek," was the Messiah, Jesus. Though He was the "Lord you seek," when He came they killed Him.

In the first chapter God accused the priests of bringing defiled offerings to Him. In chapter 3 He accused them of not bringing all of their offerings to Him. They were to bring 10% of their produce and livestock, but they weren't bringing all of it. Material giving and blessings is one of the most concrete demonstrations both of our faith and of God's response to our faith. Our willingness to give to the Lord of what we have materially demonstrates our attitude toward Him and our faith in Him to provide what we need even when it might appear that we will do without if we give it. But the Lord told the priests, and us, to test Him. Bring the full 10% and see if He wouldn't pour out blessings on them without measure. He told them they were robbing Him, but it was not only the Lord they were robbing. They were also robbing themselves of His blessings.

Verses 13 and following reveal yet another aspect of the priest's attitude toward God. "It is useless to serve God," they were saying. They had not benefitted by keeping His requirements, they said. Those who did what they wanted and were wicked were better off for they prospered and escaped God's judgment. The Lord's response to this was that there was a remnant who feared the Lord. They would be remembered by the Lord and He would have compassion on them. For there was coming a day of reckoning and when it comes the difference between the righteous and wicked, the one who serves God and the one who does not, will be clear.