Saturday, April 29, 2017

"Arm's Length Ministry?" April 29 Readings: 1 Samuel 17-18, Luke 18:31–43, Psalm 54, Proverbs 11:29-31

Today's Readings - 1 Samuel 17-18, Luke 18:31–43, Psalm 54, Proverbs 11:29-31


Zaccheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he...

It's one of the stories that we church kids heard in Sunday School, about the little guy who climbed the tree to see Jesus. As is often the case, our familiarity with stories like this often causes us to miss the bigger picture.

The heart and soul of this story is the nature of the kingdom of God and the nature of Jesus Christ's mission in this world. He was locked in a constant battle with the religious leaders who had, by this time, decided he had to go and were plotting his demise. They disdained him for many reasons. But he was not focusing on them, not trying to appeal to them. They were not the primary targets of his message. Jesus came for the lost sheep of Israel, those broken by sin.

He came for Zaccheus, a tax collector. A cheater. A thief. Someone everyone else hated, rejected, and avoided. But Jesus dined with him. That drew the ire of the Pharisees but it was the heart of Jesus to reach out to men like him.

It ought to be the heart of the church as well. The poor. Minorities. Refugees. Addicts. Those whose lives have been totally broken by sin. We need to not simply speak a gospel message to them, but we need to engage their lives. Jesus did not stand at the doorway of Zaccheus' home and shout the message inside to him. Jesus went in and stayed at his house. He accepted Zaccheus' hospitality. He built a relationship and from that relationship he declared the message of repentance...effectively.

We cannot proclaim the gospel at arm's length. We cannot simply send gospel tracts to the other side of the tracks. We have to get our hands dirty. We have to engage the sinful world personally, lovingly, and genuinely. Anything less than that will not only be ineffective, it will be unChristlike.

Father, forgive me for how I have often tried to engage in Christ's work at arm's length. Help me to find a way to minister in this world as Christ ministered to Zaccheus. 

Think and Pray

Think through the implications of "hands-on" ministry.

What is required of you to minister to sinners in this world as Christ ministered to Zaccheus?

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Prayer-ables" April 28 Readings: 1 Samuel 15-16, Luke 18:1-30, Psalm 53, Proverbs 11:27-29

Today's Readings - 1 Samuel 15-16, Luke 18:1-30, Psalm 53, Proverbs 11:27-29


In Luke 18:1-14 Jesus tells two "prayer-ables." Sorry, is that too corny? Okay, parables about prayer? These stories tell remind us of some important lessons about prayer.

The first parable, in verses 1-8, tells the story of a hardhearted judge who neither feared God nor respected people. He didn't care a bit about the people whose cases he heard. There was a widow who had been wronged by another but she could not get this man to listen to her case. But she would not let him be. Day and night she harassed him, begging for justice. Finally, because he was annoyed with her pestering, he listened to her plea and gave her what she asked for.

Of course, our God is not cruel or hard-hearted. He is kind and loving; a judge who hears our prayers willingly. But the message of this parable is plain. If even a cold-hearted judge is moved by persistent entreaties, will not our good God be moved by our prayers? The point is made in the introduction to the parable; it is reminder to "pray always do not be discouraged." Our God listens. He hears. He answers.

Verses 7 and 8 tell us that his attitude is very different from that of the hardhearted judge.
And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.
The God who loves us listens and responds to the prayers of his people.

The second parable, in Luke 18:9-14, focuses on the posture of prayer. Jesus tells the story of two men who approach God in prayer. The first, a Pharisee, is convinced of his own righteousness and worth. Of course, God is going to hear him. As good a person as he is, God just has to listen!

The second man is a lowly sinner, a tax collector. He did not stand in pride and self-righteousness but called out in humility and repentance. "God, turn your wrath from me, a sinner." He knew who he was and what he deserved from God - nothing!

But Jesus made it clear that it was the repentant sinner, not the self-righteous and arrogant Pharisee, was heard by God.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.  18:14
So, in these two prayer-ables we learn to be persistent in prayer because our good God desires to hear and respond. We also learn to be humble in our approach to God. We can be confident, but we must not be self-confident or arrogant. We come clothed in the righteousness of Christ not our own worth. He responds to the prayers of repentant sinners, not the self-righteous and arrogant. A key to prayer, then is PERSISTENT HUMILITY! We must approach God with humility, as beggars asking what we do not deserve, not as those demanding our rights. But we must also be persistent and faithful in prayer. Persistent humility!
Father, I come to you as a sinner in need of grace, one with no righteousness of my own to merit a hearing with you. Help me to be faithful and persistent in prayer, not to become discouraged. 

Think and Pray

What is your prayer-attitude? Are you a petulant child, demanding things from God as if he were your grandfather in heaven? Or do you approach him in humility as a repentant servant?
Are you persistent and faithful in prayer, continuing to come to God and not giving up? 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"No Thought to God" April 27 Readings: 1 Samuel 13-14, Luke 17:20–37, Psalm 52, Proverbs 11:25-26

Today's Readings - 1 Samuel 13-14, Luke 17:20–37, Psalm 52, Proverbs 11:25-26


In Luke 17:20, the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was going to commence. Of course, they shared the common belief that the kingdom of God was the resurrection and expansion of the Old Testament Jewish theocracy. They were looking to figure out when Jesus was going to raise his army and get going chasing the Romans from Israel. 

Jesus made it clear to him that the kingdom he had come to build was not physical, political or military (that would come at his second appearing). Jesus was building a kingdom of the heart, a kingdom that was among them and within them. 

But then Jesus gave some indications about what life would be like in this world when the end did come, when he came a second time to establish his earthly kingdom. He draws comparisons to two times in the past. 

First, he says that the last days would be "as it was in the days of Noah," in the days that Jesus the Son of Man would return. But it is interesting what Jesus focuses on. He does not talk about the extreme wickedness, immorality and perversity that may have been going on before the flood came. Look at verse 27. 

They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 
They ate and drank. They got married. None of those things is a sin, is it? (I don't think that drunkenness is in view here when it says that they "drank.") We all have to eat and dehydration will kill you. Marrying and giving in marriage are good things, aren't they? 

What Jesus is saying here is that people went on about their lives without regard to their sin or their need for him. They just went about their lives as if there was no God to whom they would have to answer at the end of life. They went about their lives without regard as to what God wanted or what he commanded. They lived life without a concern for God. 

Jesus reinforced this principles when he talked about Lot and Sodom in verse 28. 
It will be the same as it was in the days of Lot: People went on eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building. 
Again, Jesus did not highlight the wickedness of Sodom. People ate and drank, they bought and sold, they planted their fields and built houses. Nothing wrong with any of that, is there? But like the people before the judgment of the flood, these people lived as if there was no God who would judge their sins. We know that God was about to pour out his wrath on the sins of Sodom, but these people just didn't care. 

In both of these instances, judgment was about to fall - cataclysmic judgment from God. A flood. Fire and brimstone. The end was near. But people just went on about their lives giving no concern as to the will and ways of God.

I have no idea when Jesus is coming again. But I do know this - the worst thing any of us can do is live our lives in disregard to the fact that Jesus is coming back and that we will give account to him. 

And isn't that pretty much the way people live today? Seek your own happiness without regard to God's will. Do what you want regardless of the teachings of the Word. Give no thought to Jesus, his gracious work or what that sacrifice demands. 

There is a God in heaven who sent his Son to redeem us and his Spirit to indwell and empower us. To live in rebellion, ignorance or defiance of that God is the ultimate folly. 

Father, may I live every day in recognition of who you are and what you have done for me. May I never ignore you or forget you. And I am thankful that when I stand before you it will be in the grace of your Son. 

Think and Pray

Do you live your life with the constant expectation of God's activity - his power, grace and intervention?
Do you walk by faith instead of by sight?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Nine, or One?" April 26 Readings: 1 Samuel 11-12, Luke 17:1–19, Psalm 51:15–19, Proverbs 11:23-24

Today's Readings - 1 Samuel 11-12, Luke 17:1–19, Psalm 51:15–19, Proverbs 11:23-24


In one of the better known stories of the life of Jesus, one that we tell our children often, Luke 17:11-19 records the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. Each of them returns to their lives rejoicing in the fact that they are no longer exiled and ostracized from home and family. It is my guess that each of them was immensely grateful to the one who had healed them.

But only one of them bothered to take the time to go back to Jesus and actually express that thanksgiving. The other nine were not evil, ungrateful or thoughtless jerks. They just forgot to take the time to tell the Healer how thankful they were to be healed. I'm guessing they were so excited to go home and tell their families the good news that they just forgot. But whatever the reason. They forgot. They did not return to say thank you to the Savior.

That is me, far too often.

I have a few issues going on in my life right now - some stresses, trials, heartaches and burdens. That is called normal, I guess. But I also have a truckload of blessings that have come from the hand of God. If I lost everything else in this world, I would still have Jesus who saved me and gave me forgiveness, reconciliation with God and an eternal home in heaven. If there was nothing else, I could spend all day giving thanks for that. But there is so much else. My home and family. My job and my church (for me, those are actually the same thing). God answers prayer and provides for my needs. My life has been one blessing after another.

But I tend to forget that. I've spent yesterday brooding, moody, thinking about some people who have hurt me and the pain that has caused. I never stopped to thank God for the blessings he has given me that vastly outweigh my hurts - even on my worst day.
Count your blessings, name them one by one.
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done. 
The words to that hymn are a fitting warning to me. I need to count my blessings day by day to remind myself that God's work in and through me is always more intense than whatever opposition I might face. God's grace is more powerful than life's hardships. God's goodness is more significant that people's meanness.

Father, forgive me for how often I've been among the nine, those that receive your blessings but fail to thank you for them. Thank you for every good and perfect gift which flows from you. Help me to consider your goodness and give thanks for it. 

Think and Pray

Are you constantly grateful to God for his grace, or are you more like the  nine who failed to thank him?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Anointed Failure" April 25 Readings: 1 Samuel 9-10, Luke 16, Psalm 51:8–14, Proverbs 11:21-22

Today's Readings - 1 Samuel 9-10, Luke 16, Psalm 51:8–14, Proverbs 11:21-22      


I remember eavesdropping on a conversation between my dad and another pastor, in which they were discussing how churches find pastors. Among Baptists, the church chooses its own leader, forming a search committee, fielding resumes, examining recommendations and finally bringing a candidate to the church. In the other pastor's denomination, the district superintendent (whatever his official title was) would select pastors and assign them to churches. My dad asserted that our system had to be the worst possible system. Our friend disagreed. His denomination's system had to be worse.

Selecting leaders for God's people has always been tricky.

1 Samuel 9-12 (today's reading and tomorrow's) tells the story of the selection of Saul as the first king of Israel. He was everything the world wants in a leader - impressive, charismatic, appealing. The nation that made him king would be blessed. Tall, handsome, energetic and enthusiastic; this new king had the people of Israel excited.

Of course, it didn't work out that way. Saul was not careful in obedience to God and eventually, God set him aside. Samuel anointed a young shepherd boy from Bethlehem to succeed him. David had few of the physical characteristics or innate talents of Saul, but he was the one whose house was established by covenant as an eternal line.

What was the difference between Saul and David? By human metrics, Saul was the better candidate. There are few pulpit committees that would not have chosen him over David. But in God's eyes, David was the better man. Why? Because David was a man of obedience, a man after God's heart. Saul was self-confident, willful and often not obedient.

God doesn't need our creativity or our talents. To a God who can create a universe simply by speaking, our creativity is not so impressive. He is an awesome God and our own arrogant sense of self-importance fades in the bright light of God's glory. The sacrifice that pleases God is a sincere heart, a devoted life, a body yielded to his service, a pure and undiluted passion for him.

I wish I knew how to quantify that principle for pastoral search committees. I can't. But the principle is clear in Scripture. The greatest quality of a leader, or any believer for that matter, is simply obedience and a willingness to do whatever God has said.

Father, I am reminded that it is not about my talents, abilities or efforts, but about obedience to you. May I be more like King David than King Saul - a man whose greatest quality is obedience. 

Think and Pray

Are you more concerned with external things or with your character and godliness?

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Against YOU Only!" April 24 Readings: 1 Samuel 7-8, Luke 15:11–32, Psalm 51:1–7, Proverbs 11:19-20

Today's Readings - 1 Samuel 7-8, Luke 15:11–32, Psalm 51:1–7, Proverbs 11:19-20


"You are the man."

That is what Nathan said to David when he confronted him over his adultery with Bathsheba and his arranging of her husband Uriah's death. And following all this serious sin, David even became self-righteous in his condemnation of others. Nathan told him the story about the man who, in spite of having many sheep, stole his neighbor's only sheep. David was incensed at this injustice until Nathan pointed the finger at him.

At that moment, the reality of his sin came crashing down on him and all of his arrogance and artifice was stripped away. That's when he wrote the most beautiful song of repentance ever, Psalm 51.

In Psalm 51:1, David is not longer sitting in judgment on others but is calling out for God's mercy and grace, knowing he deserves nothing from God.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Having called out for forgiveness and cleansing, he addresses the seriousness of his own sin. There is no attempt to blame his sin on anyone else, to rationalize it, or to justify it because of what someone else did. 

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
He admitted his sin without reservation, realized it was a serious offense against God, accepted the righteousness of God's judgment against his sin and pled guilty to general sinfulness of heart. 

Of course, the rest of the Psalm will wait for tomorrow, but we will see that his genuine repentance is accompanied by a deep desire and commitment to change, to return to obedience with God. 

David was a man after God's own heart, but when he sinned grievously he learned and demonstrated one of the keys to living for God. Repentance. Being a "good Christian" is about seeking the power of God to say no to sin and yes to God, of course. But it is also about remembering the work of Christ on the Cross when we fall into sin. It is about facing up to our sin without excuse or rationalization. Face it. Admit it. Repent of it. Be cleansed of it. Return to obedience. That is the lesson we learn from David. 

One note that must be made here. David was forgiven of his sin - washed as white as snow. But consequences of his sin remained until the day he died. God's forgiveness for sin does not guarantee that he will shield us from all of the consequences that flow from that sin. 

Father, thank you for your grace and forgiveness. I need that grace every day. Even as a pastor and a "mature" Christian, I see so much of my sin, the wickedness of my heart before you. Forgive me, Lord. 

Think and Pray

Do you consider your sin in the light of the character and pleasure of God, or just in terms of the consequences you experience?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Don't Mess with My God" April 23 Readings: 1 Samuel 5-6, Luke 15:1–10, Psalm 50:18–23, Proverbs 11:17-18

Today's Readings -  1 Samuel 5-6, Luke 15:1–10, Psalm 50:18–23, Proverbs 11:17-18


It was a time of tragedy and sadness in Israel, but it is a glorious, even hilarious story - one of those grand moments in Scripture in which Yahweh's superiority is clearly demonstrated. Unless, of course, you are a Philistine - then you won't like this story at all.

Yesterday's reading was tragic as the glory departed from Israel. Not only did Eli and his sons die, but the worst thing imaginable happened. The Ark of God fell into the hands of the enemy. That magic talisman that sinful Israel thought would guarantee them victory could not stay the hand of judgment. They tried to use God for their purposes instead of repenting of their sin and humbling themselves before him. They found that we do not get to dictate the terms of God's work among us. He does that. When Israel refused to come to God on his terms he refused to work for them on their terms.

But in 1 Samuel 5 God made it abundantly clear that the defeat of Israel was not a sign of weakness in Israel's God. He was the one true God, maker of heaven and earth and still its sovereign ruler. The Philistines may have defeated unfaithful, sinful, rebellious Israel, but that was only because their God withdrew his hand of protection and blessing on his rebellious servants. Dagon, the god of the Philistines was in no way superior or stronger than Yahweh.

And God made sure everyone knew that - in the clearest way possible.

The Philistines paraded the Ark into Dagon's temple in Ashdod as an act of triumph, glorying in this great victory and the defeat of Israel. Stories of Yahweh's might power were everywhere, but now they could revel in their god's triumph. They laid the Ark before Dagon as a tribute and as a symbol of the defeat of Yahweh.

Never disrespect the Living God of heaven. Just don't do it. There's no profit in it. When the Philistines returned to the temple the next morning, they found a horrifying site. Their idol was bowing down before the Ark of God. They set things right but the next day the same thing had happened. Again Dagon bowed before the Ark, but this time the damage was irreparable - his hands and feet had fallen off.

Things got worse from there. Much worse. A mysterious illness (a wide range of horrific diseases have been suggested as the proper translation here) broke out in Ashdod. These folks had enough of "reveling" in Dagon's victory over Yahweh and they sent the Ark to Gath to let them share in the blessing. The same mysterious disease broke out there. Gath tried to "bless" Ekron, but those people were having none of it.

So, they called a confab of the Philistine elders to discuss what to do. They sent the Ark on its way, even sending some golden offerings with it. Sure enough, the dumb animals headed right back toward Israel to deliver the Ark back to its proper home. While Israel didn't seem to realize who their God was, the Philistines were convinced that they wanted no part of the God of Israel. They messed with Yahweh and they lost!

Israel was defeated because of their sin, not because God lacked power. We see little of the display of God's power today, but that is not because the arm of the Lord has grown short, it is because the people of God have too often failed to walk in obedience and faith. The power of the Cross has not lessened, but too often we fail to look to Calvary.

Father, your power is real and great. May I experience that power as I walk in humility, repentance and faith. 

Think and Pray

Do you walk in the fear of the Lord - showing proper respect by obedience and submission?