Archive for Devotions

Lean into the Lord

leaning_man_(s)

 

Henri Nouwen says “the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’”

I think the Christian’s most important move is to step aside and give God the proper room to do what He does best. You see, we are completely dependent upon Him. We may not realize or accept it, but that doesn’t deny its reality. Everything we have comes from Him.

Consider the air you breathe.

Did you produce that in and of your own strength?

No. It comes from the God of the Universe.

The Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the men of Athens was simple: “For in Him we live and move and have our being.”

He even quoted some their famous poets in saying, “We are His offspring.”

Our lives are often marked by independence and a renegade spirit, but this shouldn’t be the case in the Kingdom of God! Our high calling is one of submission and servanthood. Our strength comes from above and can only be made active as we approach God in humility and contriteness of heart. Let’s push aside our pride and create space in which God can act!

Let’s continue to be dependent upon the Lord. Let’s lean into the Lord for HIS wisdom and strength.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

knockingRecently I was reading Luke 18 in my daily devotions. Jesus told a parable about a widow that wouldn’t leave a judge alone. He taught this parable to show his disciples (that’s us, by the way) that they always pray and not give up.

If you have your Bible nearby I encourage you to read Luke 18:1-8 and notice a few things along with me.

1.  The Plea
This widow had a particular plea: “Give me justice against my adversary.” In other words, “HELP ME!” How many of you have prayed that kind of prayer? I know I have. “Help” prayers are very common – perhaps the most common of all prayers on this planet. And I don’t think God minds it. He asks us to bring him our concerns, worries, and fears. He’s big enough to handle our stuff.

2.  The Passion
I’m always impressed with this woman’s passionate approach to getting justice. She was a real “go-getter!”

What are you passionate about? What makes your heart beat and your voice sing? Perhaps it’s your family, physical fitness, a hobby or upcoming event. Those are all wonderful things, but I ask you this question:  Are you passionate about Jesus?

3. The Persistence
The Judge said some pretty wonderful things about the woman: “This widow keeps bothering me…she will eventually wear me out with her coming!” One might think that these comments are less-than-flattering, but I see them as a badge of honor. She was a persistent person and got the results to show for it.

Notice the word “eventually” in the Judge’s statements. Eventually means possibly, someday, not now but perhaps soon. We tend to think of “eventually” like a child thinks about “maybe” from the mouth of a parent. Parents toss the word “maybe” around all the time in answer to our persistent children. Frankly, we know how frustrating that word is our to kids, but it’s SUCH A GOOD WORD (am I right?)!

Do you ever hear a “Maybe” from the Lord? Rather than quit, perhaps it’s an invitation to persistently and passionately keep praying.

Do give up. Keep knocking.  Jesus encourages us in Matthew 7:7 to:

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

 

How to Lose 100 Pounds in 2 Hours!

help1How to Lose 100 Pounds in 2 Hours!

If you read this ad would you pay attention?

A while ago I was given one of those daily calendars. It has a different church bulletin blooper on each day. One of the bloopers caught my attention.

“Our church will present a series of classes on various subjects throughout the month of March. The classes offered include: ‘How to Lose 100 Pounds, from 7-9 PM Monday.’”

Many would show up if it meant losing 100 pounds in only two hours! Everyone wants a quick fix to our physical conditions. But it just doesn’t work that way. Neither does it work that way with our spiritual condition.

1 Timothy 4:8 says “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

No one can promise instant results because Christianity is an on-going journey.

Eugene Peterson calls it “the long obedience in the same direction.” If you are struggling with unresolved issues in your life or if you are anxious for a life-change then I encourage you to“go to the Lord” and allow him to work the process in your heart.

Forget the quick fix.

There is no magic pill that can be taken in order to bypass hard work and discipline. Commit yourself for the long haul and trust that “he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it…”

 

Jesus Did It. Shouldn’t We?

Solitay confinement“At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place…” Luke 4:42

“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Luke 6:12

Jesus knew how to take timely breaks to replenish his soul. He was the master at balance. He purposefully took time off, not based upon the calendar but for the condition of his soul.

From the above passages in the Book of Luke I see a pattern of health for the Christian believer.

Withdraw…in Preparation for…in the Process of…and Prior to!

First, notice the context in which Jesus withdrew in preparation for ministry to people (Luke 4:42).  This happened to be a time when his popularity was growing and his name was catching on. People wanted to be around Jesus – therefore he knew the value of first being with his Father.

Secondly, see how Jesus got away in the process of intense ministry (Luke 5:16).  Crowds, sick people, and draining ministry situations are all reasons to step back and quietly connect with God.  What are the pressing issues that you are facing right now?  Before going any further – go be with God! It will make all the difference.

Lastly:  Jesus took extra time with his Father prior to making a large decision (Luke 6:12).  Before he chose the twelve disciples he went away for an extended time to get the “mind of God” on that significant issue.  He ended up spending the entire night in prayer.  Do you have a large decision to make?  If so, follow the model of Jesus by getting away to pray prior to making that decision.

I encourage you to take some time to carve out a solitary place with the Lord.  It is a great way to prepare you for a season of ministry or hard work to come in the future. If you’ve been in the middle of a trying time, then perhaps a time away to pray and be refreshed is in order. Or maybe you have a large decision that needs to be made and you need wisdom from the Lord…find a solitary place to get his heart for your next steps.

Jesus did it. Shouldn’t we?

A Spirit-Filled Partnership

candle wickThe following blog is a repost of something I wrote in 2010. I, along with many in my church use the LIfe Journal devotional Bible reading plan, so every year we read the same passage right around the same time. Undoubtedly, the Word of God is powerful and active, because once again it pierced my heart as I read Exodus 27. Read on…and chime in. 

 

 

Ah…the Book of Exodus. In it we discover such great detail regarding the construction, decor and maintenance of the temple of the Lord. If you’ve ever read through Exodus then you too have discovered the incredible minutia. Everything detail has of corresponding detail. Everything has a purpose and a place. The lampstand must be made of certain materials. The frame of the tabernacle has specific dimensions. Even the curtains must be made of a particular fabric and have just the right amount of embroidery  and yarn. Lots and lots of detail. Almost mind-numbing. Just when my eyes were beginning to gloss over I was captured by these verses:

“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.”  Exodus 27:20-21

Here we discover God’s command to the priests that there should always be a light left on in the temple. The inner court must alway have illumination. The lamps were to be filled with pure beaten olive oil.  The process by which olive oil is harvested and refined is amazing. There are various grades of oil (ie: extra virgin) and the command was such that only the purest form be brought to the inner court to keep the light burning day and night.

Throughout Biblical history, we discover that oil is often used as a typology of the Holy Spirit and His anointing presence. From this passage, one can surmise that the Lord God desired that there be a visual reminder of His Presence always burning brightly within the temple and before the people.  God’s desire for His manifold Presence to be expressed, enjoyed and exalted remains today. He wants His Presence to be evident in our modern churches.

How often have we been a part of or at least aware of congregations in which God’s Presence has not dwelt for some time?  These are empty shells, white-washed tombs, and shadows of their former selves.

The lights are barely on, and God is certainly not at home.

How can we, in our postmodern culture, insure that the Presence of the Holy Spirit still burns brightly within our midst?  I believe there are two components that are found in the Exodus 27 passage.

1.  The People Bring It

The people of Israel were commanded to bring the pure oil to the temple for the lamp to remain lit. There is a responsibility on their part that is often overlooked today.  Our contemporary churches have largely become spectator based in which folks rate the service like that of an episode of American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance? In large part the leaders of the local church have a heavy expectation to “bring it,” and if there seems to be a lack of God’s Presence then the service is rated accordingly. In this passage we discover the opposite expectation.  The people were to “bring it.”

Imagine, Spirit-filled believers coming together and collectively bringing the indwelling Presence of God with them. Our church gatherings would be lit up! That’s where the pastors role begins.

2.  The Pastor Tends It

Aaron and his sons were the priests of the temple. They were commanded to tend to the lamp from evening to morning. What is notably absent from this passage?  Bringing oil was not their responsibility. Their role involved tending. Today in our churches, we have pastors that are given the same role: to keep the lamp burning with the oil that the people bring.

I have known good and Godly leaders that are struggling in their place of service. There are a number of reasons why this could be the case. But it occurs to me that perhaps they are trying to keep a lamp burning without oil. Another image would be: making bricks without straw.  These well-meaning pastors have too great an expectation upon them to be both bringer and tender. That is an undue expectation.

Welcome to the Kingdom of God partnership:  people and pastor. Together we can keep the light on for God.

Listen Up

listeningman2013 is nearly upon us (I’m writing this post on December 31, 2012).

 

This is the time in which many people, myself included, give mental ascent to resolutions, life-change, habits and goals. It’s the perfect time for reflection AND anticipation.

 

Reflection of the past year.

Anticipation of the coming season.

 

As you ponder and plan will you remember one key thing?

Hear the word of the Lord for yourself.

 

This last weekend at West Salem Foursquare Church, our Executive Pastor Rich Marshall spoke about the word of the Lord. I listened attentively for 3 services (ok, I also was checking Instagram during the 9 am service…don’t judge!), and I was fairly certain that I had the whole “hearing the word of the Lord” thing down.  I’ve been serving Jesus for some time now, and I’ve been actively involved in pastoral ministry most of those years, so this stuff has been a part of my lifestyle. But, all too often, I pray and seek the Lord for direction for the work that I’ve been called to, and for the people that I serve. What has taken a back seat over the last few years is hearing the word of the Lord for…

 

Me.

 

God, what are you saying to me? 

 

This morning, after a long drive around my fair city, listening to my devotions over my car stereo, and spending some reflective time with Jesus, I heard the word of the Lord for…

 

Myself.

 

Now, what about you?  What is God saying to you for this next year? Spend some time with him this week. He still speaks. Are you listening?

One/Two Punch

Recently I was sitting in one of our local coffee shops having my devotional time…but I wasn’t alone.

To my right was a young leader from West Salem Foursquare reading her Bible. At my table was our youth pastor digging into the Scripture (and occasionally checking his Twitter account). Then about 20 minutes later one of our quality teenagers joined us. He mentioned that he had “a bunch of homework to get done,” but he wanted to start out his day in God’s Word.

I love this. 
Regardless of where you are (coffee shop, home, work or school) and regardless of who you are with (a friend, family member, or just the Holy Spirit), a consistent time in the Word of God is so vital for growing followers of Jesus.

In a day when Pentecostal/Charismatic people have been accused of being an “inch think and a mile wide,” we need believers that go deeper in both the life of the Spirit as well as in the truth of the Scripture.

 

Jesus did both.  He knew the one/two punch of the Spirit and the Word.

 

Matthew chapter 4 details how Jesus was both initiated by the Spirit and infused by the Scripture.  In other words, he was baptized by the presence of God and brought up by the Word of God.

This is a primary reason why Jesus had such staying power. He was able to stand up to the devil’s temptation and endure the pressure of physical hunger by the power of the Spirit and the life-giving Word of the Lord.

Do you have staying power? Are you going deeper in the things of the God?

Mary, Seven Demons & Extravagant Giving

There’s something about Mary.

She was one of the LAST people to see Jesus laid into the tomb.

And then she was the FIRST individual to encounter the Risen Christ.

After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, along with another Mary and Salome, brought spices to the tomb of Jesus in order to anoint him. These would undoubtedly have been expensive. Only families with resources could afford to bury their loved ones with spices. Others would have forgone that part of the process due to restricted funds.

Interestingly, the anointing spices may have included a perfume known as Myrrh. This was a perfume spice given as a gift to Jesus (and his parents) by the wise men at the Saviors birth. It was also mixed into wine and offered to Jesus at his crucifixion. Myrrh in Aramaic means bitter. So, having been a key element at his birth and death, it would seem only appropriate that Myrrh would make an appearance at his resurrection!

Perhaps this particular spice was illustrative of the high price of Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection.

 

High price. 

 

Friends, Jesus’ salvation is free…BUT…NOT…cheap. 

Perhaps Mary of Magdalene was willing to sacrifice so much because she had been given so much. This is in keeping with Jesus’ words: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). When one is immensely blessed, it is only natural to want to extend blessing to others, especially unto the Lord.

Such was the case with Mary.

Mark 16:9 tells us that she is the very woman who had seven demons driven out of her by the loving hand of Jesus. Seven demons. I’d say ONE would be enough of a problem, but seven?

Wow. Imagine how free she must have felt. Like a spiritual spring cleaning.

Now that she’s got room to breath (minus seven pesky demons), she is free to give extravagantly!  Grateful people are generous people.

Freely you have received, freely give.

What have you been saved or delivered from? Are you grateful?

 

The Anatomy of an Absalom

Poor Absalom.  His very name has become synonymous with being a deceiver and a corrupt usurper of authority.  It’s gotta be like having the name Judas or Jezebel. You pretty much have a bad-rap from the get-go.

Absalom was the third son of King David. 2 Samuel 14:25 refers to him as the most handsome man in the Kingdom. A virtual Fabio. Oddly, Absalom’s name means “Leader of Peace.”

Absalom ultimately was killed during the Battle of Ephraim Wood, but prior to that he was the point-man for a rebellious coup. 2 Samuel 15 gives us a birds-eye view to this rebellion. We see in vs. 13 that “the hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.”

How did this happen?  Let me show you.  Verses 1-12 gives us the Anatomy of an Absalom.

1.  Special Allowances (vs. 1)

Absalom “provided himself with a chariot and horses and fifty men to run ahead of him.” This was quite an allowance. Notice that he provided himself. It wasn’t given, but rather, taken. I think big deceptions begin with small decisions. Like John Wooden says, “It’s the small things that make the big things come together.” He said this in reference to the care that basketball players are to give to putting on their socks and shoes. This sounds like a seemingly small issue, but it becomes BIG when the blisters are forming!

Be careful of the small, special allowances that lead to blisters…of the soul.

2. Gathering Disgruntled People (vs. 2)

Absalom would get up early in the day and stand by the side of the road that led to the city gate. It was here that he would catch people on their way to complain to the King. Before David could hear their complaint, Absalom would gather them up and lend a listening ear. Was he being helpful?  Nope. Not whatsoever!

3. Coddling Disgruntled People (vs. 3)

Not only did Absalom listen, but he would give license. Catch what vs. 3 says: “Look, your claims are valid and proper…”  In other words, “I hear you and I agree with you. I’m your man. No need to go to the King, cause he’s so busy.”

Are you starting to see where this is going?

4. Wishful Thinking & Hollow Promises (vs. 4)

Now an Absalom will start to show her/his hand. “If only I were appointed a leader in the land! Then everyone with a complaint or case could come to me and I would make sure he gets justice.” Ouch.

This is full of wishful thinking (if only) and hollow promises (then).  It sounds like the sort of rhetoric that we hear from politicians trying to wrangle our votes, only to not deliver upon their bold declarations.

5. Undue Affection (vs. 5,6)

When I say “undue affection” I really mean “butt-kissing” (just saying it like it is!). In vs. 5 and 6 people would approach Absalom – they would bow – but Absalom would reach out his hand, take ahold of them, and pull them in for a kiss. He gave undue affection in order to “steal the hearts of the men of Israel.”

6. Long-Term Scheming (vs. 7,8)

The text says that “after four years Absalom said (he didn’t ask) to the King, ‘Let me go to Hebron….”  Some Septuagint manuscripts and writings of Josephus have translated the length of time not as “four” but as “forty.”  That’s a big difference. I’m not sure which one is accurate, but I am certain of this:  whether four or forty, Absalom was a long-term schemer! He knew that his plan to dismantle and usurp the throne was gonna be a slow and systematic one.

7. Secretiveness (vs. 10)

Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the land to declare that he was the King of Hebron. Their secret cue was the sound of trumpets. Secretiveness is a common trait in the Anatomy of an Absalom. Private meetings. Winks. Nods. Cryptic emails. Conversations that begin with “Let’s keep this between ourselves.”

If it’s hush-hush then it’s probably no-no.

8. Recruitment of Innocent bystanders AND Insiders

The final characteristic that I noticed in 2 Samuel 15 has to do with the variety of people that Absalom recruited as his coup gained strength. First he enlisted 200 men from Jerusalem that went innocently and “knew nothing about the matter.”  This is classic. Some people don’t have an clue what’s going on, but they are smitten with charismatic leadership.  Then there was a key insider that was recruited. It happened to be one of David’s close counselors from his hometown. Most likely, a friend.

 

Each of above points form the Anatomy of an Absalom – a person who seeks to deceive, divide and conquer. Should we be suspect of every person with a desire for influence?  No. Every team needs plenty of capable leaders with initiative. But we must be aware of those that seek to take control and function unsubmitted to authority. This is unhealthy for any and all organizations.

God’s heart is for unity in His Body. He wants everyone to lead together for PEACE.

 

Break the Jar

Over the last handful of weeks I’ve been blogging on the topic of stewardship as seen through various chapters in the Book of Mark. I’ve hit on chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and now…you guessed it…14.

Mark 14 has story about a woman that was at Simon the Leper’s house at the same time Jesus happened to be there. That would be a pretty serendipitous meeting! If I was her, I would have taken a photo for Instagram or posted it to Facebook“Look, it’s JESUS.”

But this wasn’t a photo-op moment. It was a time for worship and giving. And here’s how the Woman of Bethany did just that…

She broke the jar.

She poured the perfume.

Let me explain:

The Bible tells us that Jesus was reclining at the dinner table. This was a common posture for mealtime. Perhaps it was before the food was brought out or shortly after a lovely meal, but regardless, there was a moment of time in which the Woman of Bethany made her move. She grabbed a jar of her perfume and approached Jesus at the table. It wouldn’t have been proper to sneak up on him from behind, so most likely she drew close to his face in a posture of submission and reverence.

The woman then did something wonderfully scandalous. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. I have two initial responses:

First, I wonder if she smashed the jar over Jesus’ head. The answer is: of course she didn’t! This isn’t the World Wrestling Federation (which is unfortunate, because I LOVE wrestling!). Perhaps a better way to think of the jar breaking is that the seal was broken allowing the woman to pour it out freely.

Secondly, the thought of perfume being poured over my head sounds kinda gross.

Am I right or am I right?

Maybe it wouldn’t seem so odd if I told you the perfume is called nard. Oh, that doesn’t help? OK…well…sorry. Nard is short for spikenard which is one of the most precious spices of the Bible. The Hebrew for it is actually nerd (now that I understand). The Greeks called it nardos. It grew extensively in northern India, and has been found high in the Himalayan Mountains. It grows with many spikes on one root, bearing pink blossoms, so it’s sometimes called the Indian Spike. Perfumed oil is extracted from these spikes. Mark says a Venti of it (Starbucks terminology) costed about 300 denari, or about one average worker’s salary for one year (rough estimate today would be roughly $10,000).

Bottom line:  this is really good and expensive perfume. It’s the kind that you would pour over people’s heads. Especially, those dying or being prepared for burial. Hmmm. It’s interesting to note that this all happened two days before The Passover, which began on the evening of Jesus’ crucification! Wow!

The woman broke the jar and poured the perfume. She gave her best and her best cost her something. Others (such as Judas) mocked and rebuked her, but Jesus declared that she had done “a beautiful thing.”

This cost her something. It was expensive. It was expressive. It was passionate. It was voluntary.

How is your giving? Don’t give because you GOTTA. Give because you WANNA.