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.