Wednesday, July 6, 2016

One Prayer Away From Stumbling

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Joshua 9

The early chapters in the Old Testament book of Joshua outline Israel's invasion of Canaan. Under the Lord's direction they entered Canaan much as they left Egypt with the Lord holding back the waters of the Jericho River as they crossed on dry land. Then the Lord instructed Israel concerning her first military encounter against the city of Jericho and they were given victory over the city without any opposition. Witnessing God working in our lives in such powerful ways is exciting. While such experiences encourage us to be even more devout in following the Lord, they also bring with them a temptation.

An example of this temptation is given in Joshua chapter 9. The people of Gibeon had heard of what God was doing through Israel and knew that as inhabitants of Canaan they were doomed. However, they also knew that if they portrayed themselves as non-Canaanites they might not be destroyed. So they "took worn-out sacks on their donkeys and old wineskins, cracked and mended. They wore old, patched sandals on their feet and threadbare clothing on their bodies. Their entire provision of bread was dry and crumbly." (Joshua 9:4-5) All of this to give the impression that they had traveled a long distance to come to Israel and worship their God.

What was Israel's temptation? Their temptation was the presumption that the amazing victories God had given them were due, at least in part, to their own amazing prowess. Thus further tempting them to think they could discern this situation with the Gibeonites without conferring with the Lord. This is probably the temptation that plagues me more than any other. Receiving God's blessing and then feeling proud of myself as if I am responsible for the blessing. Filled with this pride I take my next step without the Lord's guidance, exposing myself to a fall. This cylce seems to happen over and over.

I come to identify with Paul who embraced his weakness saying, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." How can this be? Because when he acknowledged his weakness Christ's power could reside in him and he then operated out of Christ's power and not from his own weakness.

Israel, and us, was just one prayer away from stumbling, from making the foolish mistake of engaging in a peace treaty with the Gibeonites without seeking the Lord's guidance. It didn't matter that the Lord had given them victory upon victory in their march across Canaan. The point was that the victories came from the Lord and not their own wisdom. Even one lapse in relying on their own wisdom made them susceptible to a very unwise decision. Just one prayer would have made all the difference.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Motive Is Everything

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 20

Motives are so subtle that we often don't even recognize our own motives.  Those who are followers of Christ must be continually examining their hearts which can only truly be done through the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit. Unless I am continually spending time with God and allowing His Spirit to permeate my mind and heart, I will forever be duped by my own motives.

Peter listened to Jesus' conversation with a rich young man who was seeking eternal life. While on the surface this young man appeared to be devout and honestly seeking God, he was unaware that God was not his primary pursuit. It became apparent in his conversation with Jesus that his possessions were more important to him than anything else. Jesus told him to "sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me." (Matthew 19:21) But the man went away sad and Jesus pointed out to His disciples the difficulty of those who are rich being able to place God first in their lives. This prompted Peter to ask, "Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us?" (Matt 19:27) This question throws doubt on whether Peter's motive at this point were pure. Was he following Jesus merely for the reward?

This occasion sets the scene for Matthew chapter 20 in which Jesus tells the parable of the Vineyard Workers. In this parable the land owner hired men to work in his vineyard at various times throughout the day. Some were hired early in the morning others at mid-morning, others at noon, and still others just an hour before quitting time. But the owner paid all of the workers the same amount for their labor. It is not surprising that the workers who worked all day were unhappy with this arrangement. But Jesus concluded the parable with a statement He also made at the conclusion of the conversation with the rich man, "So the last will be first, and the first last." (Matt 20:16)

Jesus was not saying that God arbitrarily reverses the order of things. That those who show up first will automatically be sent to the end of the line, so to speak. It was a statement of motive. Notice in the parable that those who went to work first, started work only after they had negotiated for their pay. But those who were sent into the vineyard later in the day were simply told they would be paid whatever was 'right,' and they accepted. Peter's question suggested he thought the disciples should have a special reward because they had left everything to follow Jesus.

Jesus was emphasizing that this is not the way it works in the kingdom of heaven. It is not about great reward for great effort. It is those who serve out of great love and no expectation who are most likely to have the greatest rewards.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dealing With Injustice

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 18

Matthew 18:1 and following records an occasion when Jesus' disciples asked, "Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Previous to this occasion, three of the disciples had accompanied Jesus to the top of a mountain and been witnesses to His transfiguration. Possibly this event had prompted the question. But this was not the only occasion on which the question was raised by the disciples.

We know from the lives of these men that they were good and faithful servants. Servants unto death, in fact. But they, as with many of us, had a concern with prestige and recognition. Jesus' teaching had not yet permeated their thinking to the point it had become a part of their own mindset. For them, as is no doubt the case with all of us, the concept of self-denial just did not come naturally. Looking out for one's self and not letting others run over us is engrained in most of us from an early age. Partly due to human nature and partly due to the teaching of society.

This engrained behavior, along with our own sin nature, is difficult to break. I find it one of the most difficult characteristics in myself to break. As a result, I will sometimes find myself almost obsessing over some perceived wrong by another. I mentally rehearse what I'm going to say to the one who "wronged" me in order to set the situation right. It is only after I have spent considerable time in these mental gymnastics that I realize what I am doing and begin to make it a matter of prayer. Envariably it is I who is set straight through the prompting of the Holy Spirit rather than me setting the other person straight. Too often, though, I have acted on my sense of injustice in such a situation out of emotions rather than out of prayer and spiritual guidance. When I have acted out of prayer and been prompted to "back off," I've never been sorry. Rather I have been thankful I did not act on my emotions.

Jesus had much to say about injustice, but His concern was more in defense of injustice toward others than that aimed at Himself. Is there a rule of thumb concerning injustice aimed at ourselves upon which we should take action? Not to my knowledge. Jesus' teachings often leave unanswered questions. We are not always pleased with this, preferring to have neat explanations and guildlines for everything. Following Jesus, however, is not about following a set of rules. Rather it is about a relationship with Him and functioning out of that relationship to respond to life as He guides us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Being Honest With Our Doubt

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 14

When Jesus came walking on the water to His disciples who were perilously caught in a storm in a small boat, Peter boldly stepped out of the boat to join Jesus on the water. But then he took his eyes off Jesus, focusing instead on the enormity of the storm and becoming overcome with fear and doubt causing him to begin sinking. Jesus said to him and the other disciples, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Indeed, why do we doubt? Was Jesus admonishing the disciples as we often assume, or was He raising an important question for them to ponder? Is doubt bad or can it have a positive affect? Is it a sin or not?
I lean on the side of doubt having potential beneficial results. There are times, in fact, when we should doubt. It is not that God warrants our doubt but that our assumptions concerning God can warrant it. To pursue that thought further, let's consider Peter's assumptions when he stepped from the boat. He had witnessed Jesus' power in a number of instances, witnessing that very day the miraculous feeding of 5,000 people with only five loaves and two fish. He was also witnessing Jesus at that very moment walking to him on the water. He would be accurate in his belief that Jesus not only had power to walk on water Himself, but to also enable Peter to walk on it.

Was it Jesus' ability to enable him to walk on water that Peter doubted or did he doubt that Jesus was willing to enable him? Given Jesus' statement to him and Jesus' demonstration of calming the storm after He got in the boat, we might conclude that Peter doubted Jesus' power. But neither should Peter assume or should we assume Jesus' willingness to exercise His power on our behalf without conferring with Him. This is where I struggle the most with doubt. Does Jesus want to exercise His power at my request?

Either way, whether it is doubt of Jesus' ability or doubt of His willingness, doubt can be a point of growth if we do not camp out in it, remaining in doubt indefinitely. We should go to God with our doubt and allow Him to correct us and teach us and get through the doubt, doing it right away and hitting it head on. It is important to resolve our doubt as soon as possible for while in doubt we are also susceptible to Satan's attack with additional doubts.

We need to hold to our faith while examining our doubts, keeping our eyes on Jesus rather than the source of our doubt.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Faith: A Choice

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 13

Matthew chapter 13 marks a shift in Jesus' teaching methodology with the crowds following Him. His shift was from revealing direct concepts to the use of parables which hid the truth behind the parable from the unbelieving mind. Jesus made this shift when it became apparent that the Jews, as a whole, where rejecting Him. By using parables those whose minds were open to receive what He taught could continue to learn from Him, but the truths of His teaching would be hidden from those whose minds were closed.

In revealing to His disciples His reason for using parables, Jesus gave an important principle: "whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away." (Matthew 13:12) The ability to understand is not the key to discerning spiritual things. It is faith. If one is open to receive what is revealed to them, they will be given understanding. An understanding that is spiritually discerned.

Something else we learn from Jesus' statement in 13:12 is that faith is a choice. People make statements such as, "I wish I had faith, but I just don't," or "I wish I could believe, but I just can't." Such statements misunderstand the nature of faith seeming to imply that faith is an ability that one either has or does not have. But Jesus' statement in Matthew says to us that faith is not an ability, but rather a choice. Nor does faith come only as a result of full understanding. It is FIRST a choice. And with that choice to believe understanding will follow. If one chooses to believe, more and more understanding will be given. But for those who choose not to believe, understanding is closed off.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Caught By Our Words

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 12

We are bombarded with words constantly whether they be verbal or in print. Everyone wants to be heard, assuming they have something to say that should be heard. There is a message about ourselves, though, that is revealed in our words that may say more than we assume to convey by our words. With our words we reveal the heart of the person behind the words, for our words serve as a gauge of  our lives.

This is why Jesus said, "I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37) Yes, it is true people can be deceived by our words, but if we talk long enough, and we usually do, and people listen long enough, which the often don't do, the true person comes out. We will sooner or later become "ensnared by the words of (our) mouth." (Proverbs 6:2) As Proverbs further says, "When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise." (Proverbs 10:19)

We are wise to heed the words of James 1:19: "be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

First Things First

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 8

People were drawn to Jesus' works of healing. The more He healed, the larger the crowds that gathered around Him. One day a couple of followers proclaimed their interest in being a regular follower of His, going where He went. Jesus made it clear that following Him was not a casual decision to be made. If they were to go wherever He went they needed to count the cost.

Jesus told the first of these two, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head." Who knows what this man thought were the benefits of following Jesus? But Jesus disavowed him right away of any great expectations. There would be no outward benefits or prestige to following Him. A second man also expressed interest in following Jesus but said that he had an obligation to fulfill before he could do so. The obligation was to bury his father. There is much discussion about whether the man's father was already dead or the man was saying he was obligated to his father until he was dead and buried. While this may be an interesting discussion it is insignificant to Jesus' point. The point being, followers of Jesus place Him first above all else.

We easily give this man a pass for we are often slack in our own priorities regarding Christ, thinking there are reasonable excuses for placing other obligations before Christ. But Jesus taught, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it." (Matthew 16:25) Losing our lives to Christ is the expectation of a follower of Christ. The life He offers is found in placing Him first above all else. This doesn't mean nothing else, including this man burying his father, is of any importance. They have their place, but we cannot give them their proper place until we have made Christ first.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Two Roads

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 7

So much of Jesus' teaching seems counterintuitive to us requiring us to exercise faith to even accept them or practice them. What is it that keeps us from accepting His teaching? Is it unbelief? Certainly, but primarily, it is pride. Pride in our own reasoning over Jesus' teaching. Jesus says, "Do this and you will have life." But it doesn't make sense to me so I reject it. Although the Son of God, Creator of all that is, has said this is the road to life, we trust our own reasoning over His. That's pride.

In what is known as the "Sermon On The Mount," found in Matthew chapters 5-7, chapter 7 records Jesus' teaching about the road to life being a road of self-denial, saying, "whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them." In other words, telling us that if we live a lifestyle of doing for others we will find that they will also do for us. We reason that if we want something we should go for it trying to get it from others and even demanding it if necessary. But Jesus tells us that this has only short-term benefits. It eventually turns on us and brings destruction.

Instead, Jesus says, if you want something from others, do it for them first. Though this may not bring an immediate result, in time when people are convinced we are genuine, they will begin to reciprocate. And we do have to be genuine in this, not doing for others simply to get something in return. Compared to the practice of being self-serving, self-denial is like a narrow gate through which few pass. Not many are interested in self-denial while the road of self-service is broad and many take this road.

The outcome of the two pathways is very different, and opposite to what we might think. Jesus taught that the broad road of self-service leads to destruction while the narrow gate of self-denial leads to life. Unfortunately, few discover this truth, convinced that the broad road of doing what I want and getting what I want is really living.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Putting First Things First

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 6

Most of us spend a great deal of time and energy worrying about things over which we have little or no control. Things, for instance, such as our lives, the food we will eat, or the clothing we will wear. But Jesus said that we should "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be provided for you."

Jesus wasn't saying that these things are not important, only that we should make first things first. And the thing we should make first, He said, is "the kingdom of God and His righteousness." Neither was Jesus saying we should do nothing to provide ourselves with food or clothing. He was simply saying we need to get our priorities straight. The truth He wants us to learn is that if we will put Him first in our life we will have everything else we need, when we need them.

Jesus gave some examples of how nature is taken care of. Birds seek food when they need it but do not store up extra for fear of what the future may hold. Wildflowers grow in the field unattended, but even Solomon in his kingly splendor was not adorned any better. Then Jesus admonished His listeners saying, "If that's how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won't He do much more for you--you of little faith?"

Some might mistake Jesus' instructions to suggest that we don't need to do anything to provide for our needs. No, He was not encouraging laziness. He taught against laziness. Rather, He was teaching priorities in life. The main priority being God - to seek Him above all else. When we get this priority right other priorities begin to fall into place. When material concerns are no longer our first priority no longer do we misuse them or squander them, for they are no longer as important as before. Nor are we making decisions as we once did.

Putting God first in our lives means seeking Him and spending time with Him. It means seeking His guidance for how we use our time and our money. It means looking to Him for the decisions and choices we make. And along with these changes comes an inner peace and joy. Life is as it should be and we are no longer stressed about things that we need not be stressed about.

But we must first accept that God has made us His first priority.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Christian Humility

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

The Gospel of Matthew gives the account in chapter 2 of the visit of the wise men from the east to the baby Jesus in Nazareth. These men are a mysterious group. Who were they? What country in the east were they from? How did they know of Jesus birth and of the significance of the star they followed? And how did they know of Jesus' significance? The list of questions about these men could go on, but these are an example of the mystery surrounding them.

All of us who consider ourselves to be faithful followers of Christ should take caution from these men. Why? Because we are ever in danger of becoming smug in our understanding of scripture and of God's purposes as were the religious leaders of Jesus' day. No one was wise as they were, they supposed. No one merited God's favor as did they, or so they thought. And yet, here were these non-Jewish and unknown men, from who knows where, who were wiser than they regarding the birth of God's Son.

We must ever be cautious about presuming to be the only true followers of Christ or having greater knowledge or inside information from God or in general being smug about our relationship with God over anyone else. Warren Wiersbe comments on these wise men saying, "Their experience is a good lesson in finding the will of God: (1) they followed the light God gave them; (2) they confirmed their steps by the Word of God; and (3) they obeyed God without question and He led them each step of the way. Note that they went home by “another way” (Mat_2:12). Anyone who comes to Christ will go home another way and be a new creature (2Co_5:17)."

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Living in Mature Relationship With God

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Deuteronomy 27 Deuteronomy 28

Chapters 27 and 28 of Deuteronomy form the first half of a set of blessings and curses Moses gave the Israelites prior to entering Canaan to take possession of the land. The blessings were theirs if they worshipped and obeyed the Lord and the curses came if they did not. These instructions cannot be fully appreciated, however, if viewed simply with a rules oriented perspective. A tit for tat mentality. This is the mentality we often default to in our approach to God. A works oriented mentality in which we think in terms of appeasing an angry god. If we disobey he will be angry with us and if we obey he will be pleased with us.

A full appreciation of obedience to God, however, can only be viewed within the context of relationship. This was what God was striving for throughout the whole history of Israel. The establishment of a people with whom He had a relationship in which He could demonstrate the blessings of living in relationship with the Creator-God of the universe. If we view God's instructions for living as simply a set of rules by which to please God, we distance ourselves from Him much as a teenager distances himself or herself from the relationship of their parents when they view their parent's instructions simply as a set of restrictive rules.

The blessings that come in obedience to God's instructions are first and foremost the blessings of living in right relationship with God. He has made us and designed life itself with full knowledge of how that life is lived to its fullest. This is the goal of His instructions and of our relationship with Him - to live the life He has given us to its fullest. If we live in rebellion to our Creator-God, we not only are displeasing to Him, we fail to live our lives to the fullest. Furthermore, by distancing ourselves from God He is not able to bless us as He would like.

We have to grow up and quit living like teenagers in relationship with God if we are to fully enjoy the life we have been given. God's instructions to us are the instructions of a loving Father, not of an angry God.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

It's Not About Me

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Psalms 77

Psalms 77 depicts a psalmist who went from despair to praise. In the beginning he was despondent and blaming God for his circumstances and in the end he was singing God's praises. What made the difference?

In the beginning the psalmist was focused on his problem and on himself, refusing to be comforted, as he says in verse 2. The first 10 verses are all about him and God is the cause of his problem. He raised the question in verse 9, "Has God forgotten to be gracious?"

But in verse 11 he decided to change his focus from himself to God: "I will remember the LORD's works; yes, I will remember Your ancient wonders." And with this change in focus came a change in his attitude. As he remembered what all God had done for him and his people in the past he was renewed in spirit.

He despaired over a moment in time in which he was troubled, and in his despair that moment seemed like forever. But as he remembered God's wonders in past history he regained his perspective. God is indeed a gracious God, and this time of despair will indeed pass!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Can God Protect What Is His?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Psalms 74

Psalms 74 provides a picture of God's work in the life of individual believers through His relationship with Israel. Israel was/is His covenant people. A covenant which He has promised to remember forever. But Israel had not been faithful to the covenant, turning from God to other gods. Finally God acted, bringing judgment on Israel.

This psalm tells of an enemy, possibly Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, invading Israel and destroying the temple. The questions and petitions of the psalmist to God are not what we might expect. Rather than questioning why God was doing this to Israel as if it were an affront to the people, he reminded God that they were His people who He had "redeemed as the tribe for Your own possession." (74:2) The affront was to God, said the psalmist, and his questions concerned whether or not God would allow His name to be mocked as if He could not protect His own people. He recalled God's might saying, "The day is Yours, also the night; You established the moon and the sun. You set all the boundaries of the earth; You made summer and winter." (74:16-17) Was the God who had established the moon and the sun going to allow this enemy to mock Him so?

Then the psalmist called on God to "Arise, God, defend Your cause! Remember the insults that fools bring against You all day long. Do not forget the clamor of Your adversaries, the tumult of Your opponents that goes up constantly." (74:22-23) In the end, the battle was not Israel's but God's, even though Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant. The covenant was still in affect, Israel was still God's people and so it was God's possession that was at stake along with His reputation.

Under Christ the question is often raised whether a person's salvation can be lost. This psalm, I believe, helps to provide an answer to this question, the answer being, "No, a person's salvation cannot be lost once gained." In Paul's letter to the Corinthian Christians he reminded them, "You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) As Israel was purchased by God, so those who have received Christ have been bought with His blood. We are His possession which He will not allow to be lost. It is His cause and His reputation at stake. Can He not keep what He has purchased?

The real question is not whether a person's salvation can be lost, but whether it has been gained in the first place?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Misplaced Fear

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Deuteronomy 20

Chapter 20 of Deuteronomy comes in the midst of godly instruction for Israel prior to her invasion of Canaan. At this point the instruction is regarding warfare and verse one of the chapter instructs: "When you go out to war against your enemies and see horses, chariots, and an army larger than yours, do not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you." So Israel was not to fear even superior armies for God would be with them. As occurred over and over for Israel in their battles, God would fight their battles for them if they depended on His superior might rather than their inferior might.

Fear is frequently used to describe our regard for God. We are to fear Him, scripture tells us, referring to the awe and reverence we should have for Him. For Israel to shrink from going up against a superior army due to fear, they would in effect be in awe of that superior force rather than in awe of God whose might could defeat that army. This is instruction we can learn from as well. Not necessarily in regard to warfare, though that could apply too, but in regard to any threat that we face, be it a threat to our security to our health or whatever it might be. Sometimes we are immobilized from doing what we should, due to fear. It applies here as well.

Fear in the face of a threat is natural. I do not think this is the type of fear to which this refers. Instead I believe it is a fear that places more awe on the threat than on God who can enable us to face the threat and be victorious. In such a case, not only is our fear misplaced but we are also making a wrong comparison. The comparison should not be between our might or ability and that of the threat we face, but of God's might and ability compared to the threat.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Is God Is Enough?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Psalms 73

"What is in it for me?" This question tends to be the spoken or unspoken question with which we approach most any concern. When considering how we will relate to God it is a primary concern. "If I follow God and buy in to His instructions and try to live by them, how will I benefit?"

This was the struggle had by the writer of Psalms 73. Though he was a follower of God, he saw how the wicked lived. They had no concern about God, living their lives as they wished. Money and power were their pursuits and they seemed to have everything. People did their bidding for them and looked up to them. Was this not the life?

He began to doubt whether or not it was in his best interest to keep worshipping God. "Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?" (Psalms 73:13) This was the question he began to ask himself. It seemed to him that all he had were problems while the wicked had everything. But then he entered God's sanctuary and God opened up his thinking and life came into perspective for him. He realized he had been a fool to even think like this, for it lacked understanding.

While we live this life, what we see is all we think about. But this is not all there is. There is an eternity to come and by comparison this life is like a puff of smoke that fades quickly away. As for the wicked, the psalmist realized in God's presence that their lives placed them "in slippery places," and they would eventually "fall into ruin." (73:18) "How suddenly they become a desolation! They come to an end, swept away by terrors." (73:19) Such was the plight of the wicked. As for the psalmist, he determined that, "God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever . . . I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, so I can tell about all You do." (73:26, 28)

How easily our thinking is drawn to the thinking with which the psalmist struggled and we are tempted to throw in the towel and forget about God. But as the psalmist entered God's sanctuary, we must every day enter God's presence in prayer and reading of His Word. Otherwise we lose perspective.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Result of Losing One's Compass

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Revelation 3

Another of the churches addressed in the early chapters of Revelation was the church in Sardis. This church had a reputation for being alive. But the church was put on notice that in reality it was dead. In what way was it dead? "I have not found your works complete before My God." (Verse 2) Whatever works they had been engaged in had not been completed. Works started but not completed are only activities. Was this why they had a reputation for being alive? They had started many works giving the impression of doing much and being alive. Andy yet, they had not completed what they started and were therefore not doing anything at all. It was as if there was a lot of excitement in the church but no substance. But excitement about what? Their reputation?

Another clue to the problem in this church is found in verse 3, "Remember therefore what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent." Instead of saying, "Don't forget," they were told, "Remember." They had already forgotten the word of truth they had received when they first came to Christ. Having forgotten, they were not being driven by the truth they had be given, but by other ideas. They had lost their compass and were lost.

There were some in the church, however, who had not left the truth and "defiled their clothes." Most likely, these people were not well regarded by the church at large. But this needed to change. And unless it did, the church was warned that, "I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Time for Church, But No Time for Christ

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Revelation 2

Revelation chapter two brings a statement of judgment against seven churches. The first one, given in verses 1-5, is against the church in Ephesus. At first it appears to be a statement of commendation, and the church was being commended for its faithfulness. But the main point was the judgment which follows the commendation.

What was the church in Ephesus commended for? It could not tolerate evil. It tested those who claimed spiritual credentials they did not possess and did not tolerate them. The church also had shown endurance, tolerating "many things because of My name, and have not grown weary."

All of this sounds rather good. So what was the problem? They had lost their first love - their love and deep devotion for Christ. No longer was it their love for Christ motivating their actions, but rather they were motivated out of a sense of obligation. Christ was not pleased with their sense of obligation. It was the relationship with them He desired. Nor was it a small matter, for if they didn't repent and return to their first love He intended to "remove your lampstand from its place."

A marriage relationship is always a good analogy for our relationship with Christ. Especially since Jesus is considered the bridegroom and the church His bride. What happens in one marriage after another when the husband spends too much time with work and little with his wife? Even though the husband may be capable of providing lavishly for his wife, she is not pleased with his lack of attention for her. Though he argues, "But I'm doing it for you," she is not impressed. And if he continues in this and does not change, she threatens to leave him.

The wife - or at least most wives - is more interested in the relationship. Being with him and having his attention. The things he provides are nice but a poor substitute for him. This is the charge Christ brings against the church in Ephesus. And this is the charge He could bring against many modern day churches.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Spirit of Generosity

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Deuteronomy 15

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 instructed the Israelites to be generous with their fellow Israelites. If a brother was in need one was to be generous toward him, loaning him "enough for whatever need he has." (Deuteronomy 15:8) The year of Jubilee was not to be a concern when making the loan. In that year, which came every 7 years, all debt was to be cancelled. So if it was the sixth year and a person was in need, one might not want to make the loan thinking it would never be repaid because of the debt cancellation the next year. But Moses said, "Give to him, and don't have a stingy heart when you give." (15:10)

There was a promise that came with these instructions: "the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you do." It was/is to be a win-win situation. Those who are need receive the help they need and those who help are blessed and will not be in need because of their generousity.

These principles are clear enough from a reading of the passage. However, we are then inclined to seek further answers asking such questions as: "Does this just apply to help for a spiritual brother or anyone?" Or, "If I help just anyone won't I just be enabling a person in a bad lifestyle?" Those are just two of a whole list of questions we might raise. There may well be legitimate questions that must be raised when a need presents itself. However, there is the risk when we start asking our questions that we might eliminate our obligation to help in any situation. In so doing, we also eliminate any blessing we might receive and eliminate help a person might receive that could make a significance difference in their life.

We will find little help from scripture to help answer these questions for it consistently admonishes us to be generous and to help those in need never offering guidelines for when we should be generous. But this is the case for much of what scripture teaches. Guidelines remove the need for us to seek God's guidance and it is that relationship of spending time with the Lord and following His leading in all matters that He encourages rather than to give us a rule for all situations.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Scoffers Are To Be Expected

Reflections for this date are based on readings in Jude 1

A Christian may become discouraged because of people who scoff at their faith in Christ. It becomes increasingly taboo to mention the name of Jesus in society. To mention God in many settings is not contested too much since this is a rather generic topic. But to mention Jesus is over the top for many. What is the Christian to do in such an environment?

The writer of Jude addressed this with those to whom he wrote, saying that they should not be surprised by scoffers for the apostles of Christ had forewarned that scoffers would appear, saying, "In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires." (Jude 1:18) As the saying goes, "To be forewarned is to be forearmed." And how were they to be forearmed? By "building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life." (Jude 1:20-21)

Jude did not give any offensive advise but rather defensive advise aimed at keeping themselves safe. Our natural instinct is to go on the offensive, trying to shut down such people. But by doing so we adapt their tactics and potentially turn more people from the faith than they are able to accomplish through their scoffing. Jesus said His followers would be known by their love. Love serves as a magnet to others, but hateful and angry actions turn people away and do not appropriately represent Christ. Jesus cautioned His disciples from such efforts to get rid of scoffers through the parable of the weeds.

In this parable, an enemy (Satan) secretly sowed weeds (doubt) in people's wheat fields (Christians). Then when their wheat grew the weeds grew up among the wheat. The workers wanted to go in and pull up the weeds, but the owner of the field cautioned them not to do this since it would also pull up wheat along with the weeds. Instead, he said, they should wait until the harvest and gather the weeds first and destroy them and then gather the wheat which would be stored.

This parable is a good picture of what Jude was addressing concerning scoffers. They are Satan's agents to sow "weeds" among the "wheat." In other words, to plant seeds of doubt among the believers. But Jesus was discouraging efforts to combat these efforts because it would cause greater harm to the wheat than would the "weeds." Instead, He was saying to leave the weeds and their sowers to Him. In the end He would destroy them and the wheat would be safely gathered unto Himself.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Shaped By Our Thoughts

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Psalms 71

As I read Psalms 71 this morning, my mind was drawn to the thought of how we are shaped by what we allow to dominate our thoughts. While the statement, "We are shaped by our thoughts," might be attributed to a loose quote of Buddha, the context in which I use it here is quite different. Buddha's meaning relates to the power man holds within himself through his mind. The meaning that comes to me from Psalms 71 relates to God's power to overcome in our lives and the space we allow God to have in our heads.

The psalmist was overwhelmed by the difficulties he faced. Like any of us, he was pulled down emotionally and depressed by the threats he faced. Allowed to take over his mind, these thoughts would bring him down, providing a greater threat to him than did his enemies. But instead, the psalmist went to God in prayer and allowed God into his thoughts. Thoughts of God's deliverance replaced the threats he faced. He was reminded of how God had helped him since his youth which gave him renewed confidence of God's help in his present situation. He pleaded with God to "not be far from me" and was given a sense of His presence that gave him hope. Then he went from depression to praise.

Notice, then, verses 14 & 15: "But I will hope continually and will praise You more and more. My mouth will tell about Your righteousness and Your salvation all day long." As mentioned, the psalmist went from depression to praise, but then he took an important next step which was to tell others of how God had helped him, praising God's righteousness and salvation. The process of allowing God to take over our thoughts begins in our alone time with Him, but it is continued and strengthened when we are with others as we share what God is doing for us. Not only do we help and encourage others but our faith is strengthened as well. The more we voice God's praises, the more these thoughts take over our mind in place of the thoughts that threaten to defeat us.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sin that Leads to Death

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 John 5 Deuteronomy 12

Some find it troubling when they come across scripture such as 1 John 5:16 that speaks of sin that leads to death, or a passage such as Hebrews 6:4 which speaks of sin for which one cannot be renewed to repentance. Another such passage is Matthew 12:32 which says that anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. These passages are troubling to them because they are concerned they might have committed a sin that is unforgivable or for which they might be punished with impending death.

But on the contrary, it is those who are not troubled by such passages in scripture who should be troubled, rather than those who actually are troubled. For the desire to be pleasing to God and to avoid sin is in itself an indication that such a person need not be concerned about an unforgivable sin. While one cannot speak with certainty of what specific sins to which these passages might be referring, we can know that they refer to sin that is blatant and unrepentant.

The passage in Hebrews 6, for instance, speaks of one who has acknowledged Christ and gotten a taste of the gift of life He gives and has become companions with the Holy Spirit. But then they have turned their back on it all and rejected it. For them to be renewed to repentance is impossible because it would require Christ to be recrucified, says Hebrews. This is a blatant turning away from God and His provision of salvation through Christ. One who turns away from God as this describes is not concerned about whether or not they have committed an unforgivable sin.

We should always be diligent to avoid sin in our lives. Though we will never completely succeed in this we can be assured that in our diligence we will avoid any unforgivable sin.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Judging Versus Discerning

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 John 4 Deuteronomy 11

Is there a difference between judging and discerning? Consider dictionary definitions of the two: judging is said to "form an opinion or estimation of after careful consideration." while discerning is to "Exhibit keen insight and good judgment; perceptive." Both involve forming an opinion or judgment. The main difference between the two may have to do with the motivation and the outcome. In making a judgment, one may be more conclusive about it, acting accordingly, while in making a discernment, one may hold the opinion or judgment in reserve keeping an open mind.

The question of judging or discerning comes to mind with the reading of 1 John 4:20-21: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And we have this command from Him: the one who loves God must also love his brother." If I observe one who says he loves God speaking or acting unkindly toward a person do I not form an opinion or make a discernment concerning this person? I will naturally do so. But while doing so I will also put myself in check on two points: First, I will consider my own thoughts and actions. Am I guilty of similar behavior? and Second, I will consider my actions toward that person. Am I going to conclude that the opinion I formed based on their unkindness is conclusive and therefore treat them accordingly, or will I store away this information and hold my opinion in reserve? Will I continue to treat the person with kindness and consideration?

Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge, so that you won't be judged." But in verse 5 He added, "Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." He was not necessarily saying that judgments should never be made, but rather that they begin with ourselves. It is necessary to be discerning so that we are not taken in by false teachers or taken advantage of by those whose words are not supported by their actions. If someone speaks of his love for God but I observe his treatment of others to be unkind and inconsiderate, I will be kind to that person while also being slow to fully embrace them. If they are being deceptive about this, in what else might they be deceptive? I will be careful about committing myself to them, but will also not assume I have the full picture.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blaring Actions

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 John 1 1 John 2 1 John 3 Deuteronomy 9 Deuteronomy 10 Psalms 70 Proverbs 22

1 John testifies to the truth of the saying, "Actions speak louder than words." A believer that actions show the real person, John points to four lies we may tells ourselves and others trying to convince ourselves we are spiritual. With the first lie, a person who is walking in darkness says, "I have fellowship with God." But John says this is not possible. One who walks in darkness cannot have fellowship with God who is in the light. A way that we can know if we are walking in the light or not is by our relationship with others. If we do not get along with others well we can know we are not walking in the light.

A second lie we may tell ourselves is that we do not have a sin nature. John says, "If we say, 'We have no sin,' we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Closely related to this is the third lie in which we may say, "I have not sinned." Not only do we lie in saying this, we make God a liar who has said, "All have sinned."

The fourth lie is to claim to be obedient to God when we haven't kept His commandments. And how do we know if we are keeping His commandments? We walk as Jesus walked. No, we are not Jesus and will not walk as He did without stumbling. But our walk as a whole will reflect His walk.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wise But Uncomfortable Choices

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 21 Psalms 69

Contrary to what we might want to think, the wise choice is not always the easiest or most comfortable choice. So we must decide whether we want to be wise or be comfortable. More difficult even than choosing wisdom over comfort is to choose wisdom when others consider you a fool because of your decision. Not only is the choice uncomfortable, but the ridicule of others can cause you to doubt your choice.

Such was the situation expressed by King David in Psalms 69. He chose to be a devoted follower of God and to devoutly worship Him. But it brought him ridicule. Not just a little ridicule but he was a derision in the eyes of many. People sat at the city gate and talked about him and made up songs ridiculing him. Why? David described it this way: "because zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult You have fallen on me. I mourned and fasted, but it brought me insults. I wore sackcloth as my clothing, and I was a joke to them."

His ridicule came not only from the drunkards but also from city leaders who made up part of the crowd at the city gates. Many of these were supposedly religious people and devout Jews. There is no doubt that David was discouraged. In fact his prayer in Psalms 69 was a request that God would not hide His face from him, but would draw near to him and comfort him and not let "the floodwaters sweep over me."

But David did not give in to the ridicule or doubts. He did not decide the cost too great to stick with the wise choice of going with God. Instead, he appealed to God for help and chose to praise God.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Hook in Pride

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 20 Deuteronomy 8

Pride, once considered by the church to be one of the "Seven Deadly Sins," is defined as an "excessive view of one's self without regard to others." Or also defined as "a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements." We readily see the pitfall in pride of having a disregard for others. In so doing, we fall short of the second part of the Great Commandment Jesus spoke of which sums up all of the commandments given through Moses. That is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27) The second part of this commandment obviously being a disregard for our neighbor. But the greatest "hook" in pride has to do with the first part of this Great Commandment which is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart."

As the Israelites prepared to enter the land God had promised them, Moses reminded them that they were not to "forget the LORD your God by failing to keep His commands." Not only did God promise to give them victory over the nations that lived in the land of promise, enabling them to take possession of the land, but He promised to prosper them in their new home. But Moses gave them a caution, "You may say to yourself, 'My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me.'"

The greatest risk in pride is that it can cause us to credit ourselves for what God has done and thereby turning away from God and forgetting Him, failing to worship and follow Him. Though in our modern society we may not be inclined to worship idols as was the common practice among the nations at the time of Moses, pride can also do what idolatry does which is to give credit elsewhere for what God has done.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Price Was Voluntarily Paid

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 19 Deuteronomy 7

What do we envision concerning Jesus' sacrifice on the cross on our behalf? We know His whole purpose in becoming a person was to be a sacrifice for our sin that we might have salvation. We also know that He was intent on doing the will of His Father. But do we envision his sacrifice much as that of Isaac whose father took him into the wilderness to offer him as a sacrifice? Isaac didn't know that he was to be the sacrifice, though he was cooperative with his father even to the point of climbing onto the altar as if he were to be the sacrifice.

Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf, however, was more volitive than Isaac's. That is, it was done as much as an act of His will as it was of His Father's. We can see this in his arrest. He did not resist, but went willingly with those who arrested Him. John 19:30, though, gives possibly the clearest picture of Jesus' voluntary participation in the sacrifice as any other. While suspended on the cross and after receiving the sour wine, Jesus said, "It is finished," meaning in the Greek, “The price is all paid!” And then, it says, "bowing His head, He gave up His spirit." Rather than the helpless dropping of His head as one who was being taken by death, with intent, Jesus 'bowed' His head and then, in full control, He dismissed His spirit.

Nothing was taken from Jesus in the whole process of His Crucifixion that He did not voluntarily give up. This He did on our behalf - "while we were yet sinners!"

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Love the Lord Totally

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 18 Deuteronomy 6 Proverbs 21

Deuteronomy chapter 6 gives account of Moses' farewell address to Israel prior to his death and to Israel's entry into Canaan. This was a crucial time for Israel as the nation was about to take possession of the land God had promised to them and for which they had anticipated the previous 40 years. There was only one way they could succeed in this endeavor and Moses reminded them of this in his address to them. That way was to "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." It was the Lord who planned this for Israel and victory would come only through Him.

This venture for Israel serves as an analogy for us in terms of life. Life is a gift of God who is our Maker. We can only expect to succeed in this life as Israel could expect to succeed in taking possession of the land God promised them, and that is to "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength."

The question for any of us who pursue God and the life He has promised is, "Do I love God to this degree? Is my love total?" Total love is certainly what is intended by loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength. But does my love for God even come close to being total? How much do I even seek God's guidance in my day-to-day decisions? How diligently do I seek God's plan and purpose for my life and live by it? Do I say to God, and mean it, "Here I am. Send me." How much do we even trust that God will provide for us if we step out to live the life He has for us? How much do we trust that the life He intends for us will be good and something we will desire?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Life-giving Relationship

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 13 John 14 John 15 Deuteronomy 3 Deuteronomy 4 Psalms 67

Salvation is not a contract which when agreed upon guarantees eternal life. Nor is it fire insurance which when enacted allows one to escape the fires of hell. Salvation is a relationship with Jesus Christ that offers abundant life now and life eternal for the future. This relationship is not entered into by good works or good behavior, but by consent. Good works and behavior are a result of our relationship with Christ and not a condition of it.

In John chapter 15 Jesus used an analogy which helps to picture our relationship with Christ. It is the analogy of a grapevine. Jesus is the vine and all those in relationship with Him are branches on the vine. Branches on a grapevine will naturally produce fruit (grapes) by nature of being attached to the vine. Branches that do not produce fruit are not attached to the vine though they may appear to be.

So it is with those who are in relationship with Christ. As branches we are to "remain" in Him or stay attached to the vine. As long as we do, we will produce fruit that makes our attachment to Christ obvious. This fruit is known as the "fruit of the Spirit:" love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22) This fruit cannot be faked. Though we may try, it will appear to be faked and will not be lasting. It is called "fruit of the Spirit" because Christ's Spirit, referred to as the Holy Spirit, produces it in us. And this is only possible as we remain connected to Christ who is the vine.

As with any relationship, we remain connected with Christ through spending time with Him in prayer, Bible reading, and worship.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Reason Versus Faith

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 12 Psalms 66

Reason and logic can be useful when it comes to the things of God, but they can take us only so far. If we depend on them too much we will miss some of the most significant things God has for us. For when we press our reason too far upon the things of God we begin to form our own God rather than conforming ourselves to God and His ways.

This was, and still is, a key issue regarding people's acceptance of Jesus. During Jesus' incarnation on earth, He performed many miracles primarily to affirm His claim as the Son of Man or the Messiah. It was a bow to reason to help people bridge the gap between belief and reason. But for many, reason won out over belief and they failed to accept Jesus for who He was.

We see a prime example of this in the 12th chapter of John. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead and many were inclined to believe. But many still did not bridge the gap to belief. Primarily due to word of Lazarus' being raised from the dead, a large crowd gathered a couple of days later to greet Jesus as He entered Jerusalem in what is known as His triumphal entry. But John tells us in verse 37 of that chapter that, "Even though He had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in Him." In verses 42 & 43 we get a clue into the reasoning that kept them from believing, or at least accepting Jesus: "because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, so they would not be banned from the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God." And the Pharisees did not confess Jesus for who He was because they feared they would lose their following.

But Jesus brought this reasoning into perspective in verse 44 when He said, "The one who believes in Me believes not in Me, but in Him who sent Me." Did these people, Pharisees and others, truly love God? Did they seek to obey God? If they truy did, they would look to Him for answers about Jesus and would have known that He was God's Son and that all their concerns over believing in Jesus were insignificant compared to following Him. This was the point at which faith had to step in and inform reasoning and they failed to do it. Therefore, they missed the most important opportunity of their lives.

We are no different. Our reason frequently blocks faith or at least holds it at bay for a while and we miss out on or delay the best God has for us. We simply need to take the time to talk with God and seek His guidance, allowing Him to inform our understanding. With God's guidance, it will all make sense and both reason and faith can move forward together.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What Fear Does Our Unbelief Reveal?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 11 Deuteronomy 2

Jesus' miracles prompted a response to Him of either belief or unbelief. Few, if any, could simply walk away from witnessing His miracles without giving some consideration either way. Raising Lazarus from the dead was certainly one of those instances. In fact, God intended it for this purpose. When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick He intentionally delayed going to him, saying to His disciples, "This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." At the tomb, when Jesus prayed for Lazarus to be raised, He said to God, "Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me." (John 11:4, 41-42)

After witnessing the raising of Lazarus from the dead, we are told "Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done." There is a contrast between those who believed in Jesus and those who reported to the Pharisees. The conjunction "but" makes this clear. The report to the Pharisees was driven by unbelief. When the Pharisees received the report they convened the Sanhedrin and said, "What are we going to do since this man does many signs?"

Raising Lazarus from the dead was like a last straw for the Pharisees. Jesus had performed a number of miracles and popularity was building, but with this miracles they felt forced to do something before their world was turned upside down. It is significant that in none of the sessions of the Sanhedrin concerning what to do about Jesus was there any effort made to seek God's guidance. Though they jumped on Jesus' words, when they questioned Him, to accuse Him of blasphemy against God, it seems apparent it was their own honor rather than God's that they were attempting to protect.

In this we come up against an important question when we are inclined toward disbelief. "Of what am I afraid? What or whom am I trying to protect as a result of my unbelief?"

Monday, April 4, 2016

What Is In A Name?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 10 Deuteronomy 1

What does it mean that a person calls themselves a Christian? It could mean many things depending on the intent of the individual. It could mean their parents considered themselves Christians and so they do the same. It could mean that they attend worship services at a church of the Christian faith which makes them a member of the Christian faith much like belonging to a political party or some other organization. These are just two examples. But in its original meaning the term Christian identified those who were followers of Jesus Christ. They were 'Christ - ians,' much like those who adhere to the teachings of Confucius might be termed Confucians. The term Christian, in its original use, had nothing to do with an organization, but was about a person - Jesus Christ. It was about being a follower of Jesus.

In John chapter 10 we read Jesus' description of those who are His followers. He used the analogy of sheep and shepherd to describe His followers. Sheep, He pointed out, follow the shepherd. Wherever he goes, the sheep follow. They know him by his voice and will follow by the sound of his voice, and if someone else attempts to lead them they will not follow the strange voice. Jesus then said, "My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me."

Jesus used this analogy in the context of religious leaders questioning who He was and what His motives were. He told them they didn't believe what He told them because they were not His sheep. Therefore His voice and teaching were strange to them and they did not follow Him. If they were His sheep, Jesus went on to say, He would "give them eternal life, and they will never perish--ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."

In truth, the real Christian is the one who follows Christ. They spend time with Him and know His voice and His teaching and they follow where He leads, as sheep follow the shepherd.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Logic Versus Spiritual Discernment

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 7 John 8 John 9 Numbers 35 Numbers 36 Psalms 66

I have often wondered how I might have responded to Jesus had I been present during His incarnation and seen Him and heard Him in the flesh and observed His miracles and listened to Him teach. Would I have been like the religious leaders of that day and rejected Him because He did not observe the traditions of the Jewish religion? How would I have known He was really the Messiah and not just an imposter? The question is still valid today as we seek to recognize true teaching from false teaching, or true teachers as opposed to false teachers.

John chapter 8 offers clues to how we are to know truth from untruth. Chapter 8 gives accounts of oppostion Jesus encountered with the religious leaders over His true identity. Their argument that Jesus was an imposter had several points. Among them was the fact that they knew where Jesus was from and who His family was. If He were the true Messiah, they claimed, they would not know where He was from. He would have simply appeared. But in this argument they did not recognize His virgin birth. Other arguments against Jesus' identity as the Messiah included their claim that He broke the Sabbath with His healings and the unorthodoxy of His teaching. Though they did not voice it, they would have no doubt included in their mental arguments against Him the fact that He did not give them the respect they thought He should.

Counter arguments by those who thought Jesus might truly be the Messiah included His miracles and the authenticity of His teaching. In response to the Pharisees' unbelief, a man for whom Jesus had restored sight said to them, " We know that God doesn't listen to sinners, but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He listens to him. Throughout history no one has ever heard of someone opening the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He wouldn't be able to do anything." (9:31-33)

On both sides, however, these are arguments of logic, and in the midst of these arguments Jesus seems to be saying that recognition of His true identity will be discerned spiritually and not through logic. When logic is involved there is always room for doubt, for the logical arguments do not fully address all the questions. But with spiritual discernment there comes an inner "knowing" which comes to us by God's Spirit which infuses an inner recognition.

At the center of Jesus' responses to the doubters was the statement, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, because I came from God." (8:42) In other words, if one is truly following God and communing with Him and desiring to obey Him, they will recognize through spiritual discernment what is true and what is not. As long as we try to approach truth only through logic we will never quite get to the truth. There will always be doubts that hold us back. But when spiritually discerned, there will be a "knowing" that puts the doubts aside.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Filling the Spiritual Void in Us

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 6

"In contrast to animals, which have only physical urges and desire, human beings crave spiritual fulfillment as well. When this spiritual need goes unmet, humans feel vague unrest. While hunger, thirst, or the sex drive are easily identified, spiritual craving is harder to recognize and fulfill. People may feel that something is missing, but not know what that something is." (Abraham J. Twerski, Addictive Thinking)

People turn to any number of practices to fill this spiritual craving or unrest. Many turn to drugs or alcohol or sex only to discover that they do nothing to solve this unmet spiritual need. Jesus offered the woman at the well living water that would forever quench her spiritual thirst and fulfill her spiritual need. In chapter 6 of John's gospel, Jesus offered a crowd of over 5,000 people, "living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever." (verse 51) Speaking metaphorically, Jesus told them He was that living bread. "Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (verse 54)

As so many do, though, many in this crowd to whom Jesus was speaking wanted physical bread that would perpetually meet their physical hunger, rejecting the fulfillment of their spiritual hunger that only Jesus can meet. Initially, this was the response of the woman at the well. She wanted physical water that would perpetually meet her physical thirst and save her from going daily to the well to draw water.

May we quit settling for poor substitutes that only mask, for a time, the spiritual unrest that is within us. May we reach out to the only One - Jesus - who can truly meet that spiritual need and discover that all other needs become less significant when the spiritual need is truly met.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Spiritual Avoidance

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 5 Numbers 34 Psalms 65

John chapter 4 gives the account of a Samaritan woman Jesus met at a well ourside her hometown and offered her living water. She tried to fill the spiritual void in her life through a string of illicit affairs. Chapter 5 of John describes another way people attempt to fill that spiritual void in their lives while avoiding the very One who can fill it.

Jesus encountered the religious leaders of his day who attempted to fill their spiritual void through a pursuit of scripture and adherence to rules. But it had become a substitute for pursuing God. Jesus told them, "You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them," but they ignored the truth to which scripture pointed them, for the scriptures testify of Jesus and they would not accept Him.

Their actions showed that they did not really love God whom they claimed to love through all their religious activity. If they loved God they would have accepted His Son who He sent for them. But they were more intent on accepting glory from each other than the glory that comes from God. They wanted to fill the spiritual void with religious activity without accepting the One who could actually fill that void. They wanted it their way rather than God's way.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Life-giving Water

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 4 Numbers 33 Psalms 63

The question, "who is Jesus?" takes on significance only when the question is personal rather than religious. Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at a well just outside her hometown. She became intrigued when He offered her water which would quench her thirst forever. Her first thought, though, was of the physical benefit. If Jesus gave her water which would keep her from ever getting thirsty again, she wouldn't have to keep returning to the well to haul water home. But Jesus was more concerned with her spiritual thirst. This was the thirst she kept trying to quench in destructive ways.

To press toward her spiritual thirst, Jesus asked the woman to bring her husband back to Him for this was the root of her problems. She had been married 5 times and was currently living with a man to whom she was not married. She had been trying to quench her spiritual thirst in non-spiritual and destructive ways. But when Jesus revealed her past to her, she knew He was not speaking of physical water and that He could do what He claimed He could, give her water that "will become a well of water springing up within (her) for eternal life."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

God Is Love

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
John 1 John 2 John 3 Numbers 31 Numbers 32 Psalms 64 Proverbs 20

Scripture tells us that "God is love." (1 John 4:16) He is the definition of love for us. A check of the dictionary definition of love shows a wholly inadequate description when compared to God's defintion. As a noun, the dictionary defines love as, "an intense feeling of deep affection." As a verb love is defined as, "a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone)." God defines love only as a verb, and one of the best descriptions of his love is found in John 3:16: "For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Compared to John 3:16, the dictionary definition of love is laughable. Feelings and attachments are not a part of God's definition, only actions. This is not to say feelings and attachments are not involved in His definition. But they are not primary to His meaning of love. For God, love involves giving, and it is no small thing that He gives. It is His Son He gives - the only Son He has. Furthermore, God gave His Son to those who were undeserving. It was not based on merit nor was love given toward God from those to whom He gave. The result is new life for the recipients of God's love. While God's form of love may benefit Him to some extent, the primary benefit is toward those He loves.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

God Alone

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
2 Timothy 3 2 Timothy 4 Philemon 1 Numbers 27 Numbers 28 Psalms 62 Proverbs 19

The writer of Psalms 62 gives us the only perspective that will not fail us. He says, "Rest in God alone." It is only God who is our true source of hope. This doesn't mean we don't place our hope in other people or things. We do. But sooner or later they fail us and then where is our hope? Unless we at some point come to place our hope in God we risk coming to a time when all hope is gone. We only have to look to an increasing suicide rate to realize that this occurs for more people than we might imagine. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are on average, 117 suicides per day in the United States. That is a lot of lost hope.

The psalmist learned to make God his refuge at all times. If God alone can save us eternally, it makes sense the He alone can rescue us from life's challenges.

The psalmist points out that men are only a vapor, here one day and gone the next. Not much security in placing our trust in people. The same is true of wealth, he says. If we place our trust in wealth we might turn to oppression and robbery to gain it. But wealth is not our hope so he says to pay no attention to it. Our only recourse, then, is to trust in the Lord, and Him alone.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Correct Teaching

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
2 Timothy 1 2 Timothy 2 Numbers 25 Numbers 26 Psalms 61

Paul advised Timothy, his son in Christ, regarding his role as pastor. Among other things, Paul counseled him concerning sound teaching. He was to teach the word of truth correctly which called for diligence on his part to stay focused on the word of truth. He needed to be continually immersed on the word of truth so that his mind and actions were guided by it.

By contrast, Timothy needed to avoid "irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness." (2 Timothy 2:16) There were those in the congregation who had deviated from the truth and had turned some from the faith. Timothy needed to avoid any such talk for it was like gangrene that spread through the body infecting and killing healthy tissue. This would be the effect of such teaching on the church. Though Timothy might not be able to stop those who promoted this false teaching, he could hold himself apart from it and set the example and he could promote teaching of the truth to counteract the false teaching.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Christian Conduct

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 Timothy 4 1 Timothy 5 1 Timothy 6 Numbers 23 Numbers 24
In chapters 5 & 6 of 1 Timothy Paul instructed Timothy concerning general conduct and practice within the church.
  • Respect for one another: Others are to be respected treating older men and women as fathers and mothers and treating younger men and women as brothers and sisters.
  • Support for widows: Paul outlined a church welfare system for widows with implications for broader application of welfare. The church is expected to provide assistance for those who are genuine widows. This meant the widow has no other family members on whom to depend. If she has other family members, they are to provide for her and not the church. Furthermore, an age requirement of 60 years old is placed on those widows the church should help. These principles have a two-fold purpose: first, the church has limited resources and cannot provide for all who might request it, and second, providing for those who have other options, such as marriage, encourages idleness and self-indulgence which can lead to various sins. Paul taught that the first responsibility for care falls on the family and not the church.
  • Accusations against church leaders: Though Paul didn't condone misconduct among church leaders, neither did he condone false accusations against them. Therefore, an accusation against a church leader should not be accepted and acted upon unless there were more than one witness. Accusations brought by only witness are to go no further.
  • Caution in appointing church leaders: Timothy was counseled by Paul not to be too quick to appointment anyone to leadership in the church. There needs to be time to observe a person, allowing them to prove their true character.
  • Conduct of workers toward their bosses: Those who work for others are counseled to regard their bosses as worthy of respect. The motive for this is not based on whether or not the boss deserves the respect but on upholding God's honor. The Christian worker represents God and it is God and His teaching that will be "blasphemed" should the Christian worker be disrespectful toward his boss and not be a good worker.
  • Pursue the fruit of the Spirit: The overarching principle concerning our Christian conduct is based in the fruit of the Spirit. Paul instructs all Christians to pursue "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:11)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Legitimate Use of The Law

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 Timothy 1 1 Timothy 2 1 Timothy 3 Numbers 21 Numbers 22 Psalms 60

"The law is good, provided one uses it legitimately," writes Paul in 1 Timothy 1:8. There was a tension in Paul's day, as there continues to be today, about the role of the law under the rule of grace. "For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift." (Ephesians 2:8) So does this mean we forget about the law, that it has no place under grace? As a result of such questions some tend to edge out grace and living by faith in favor of living by the law. This was the issue about which Paul was instructing Timothy. "Yes, the law is good," he said, "but it must be used legitimately."

So what is the legitimate use of the law? His answer to this was that, "The law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious." (Ephesians 1:9) One does not become righteous by the law nor does he maintain a life of righteousness through the law. This is all a work of God's grace through our faith in Christ Jesus. And when we live out a life that reflects the life of Christ, it will by all means be according to the teachings of the law. But Christ is our guide rather than the law. What Paul was saying to Timothy was that “God did not give the Law to save people, but to show people how much they need to be saved.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Overcome By A Strong Delusion

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
2 Thessalonians 1 2 Thessalonians 2 2 Thessalonians 3
Numbers 19 Numbers 20 Psalms 59

Some seek the truth concerning God and salvation, while others pursue ideas without a desire for learning the truth, or they just simply never concern themselves with God's truth. For them, either truth as an absolute does not exist or is not of consequence. While this lack of interest in truth may seem harmless, it is actually very dangerous.

Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2:11 that those who do not have a love for the truth will be given by God a "strong delusion" causing them to believe what is false. This is the first danger. This lack of interest in the truth leaves a person susceptible to "all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, and with every unrighteous deception." And because of a lack of interest in the truth "God sends them a strong delusion so that they will believe what is false." They are then unable to recognize truth even if confronted with it. Instead they are captured by what is false.

The second danger in pursuing ideas without an interest in the truth, or simply giving truth little consideration, is that one can perish spiritually, never coming to an understanding or acceptance of God's salvation. In 2 Thessalonisans 1:7 & 8, Paul says, "at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels," He will take "vengeance with flaming fire on those who don't know God and on those who don't obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." The "gospel of our Lord Jesus," is the truth of which he has been speaking. By ignoring this truth and considering it to be inconsequential and being given a "strong delusion," such talk of God's vengeance at Jesus' coming seems to them to be unworthy of a loving God and hateful for anyone to even mention. In their delusion, they have become blinded to the truth.