Archive for June, 2006

Born in a manger.
Attended by shepherds.
Acknowledged by praising angels.
Circumcised on the eighth day.

He was recognized by Simeon, who said,
“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
I didn’t realize it was understood so early that he came for Gentiles and Jews both. Granted, his role wasn’t fully understood by anyone, even Mary, but maybe that prophetic statement was overheard. I guess it doesn’t say either way.

Jesus stayed in Jerusalem when his family returned home. They hadn’t gotten him a cell phone, even though most 12 year old boys already have one, so they had to go back to look for him. Ok, maybe they didn’t have phones either. When they asked why he wouldn’t realize they were anxiously searching, I understand that completely! Call me a mother but, I would have felt the same way. His explanation was not OK with them and he returned with them, obedient to their role as his earthly parents. They had an unprescedented family dynamic.

Luke 1

The gospel of Luke gives us a historical background of Jesus’ journey on earth. In the beginning, Luke tells his readers that he has investigated and carefully wrote everything in consecutive order. During the next few weeks as we read Luke’s account, I think we need to keep our focus on the purpose of his writing. His writing was not to persuade or to give us some theological view but to give us an accurate account of what has happened.

He starts with telling how John and Jesus’ birth was foretold and the chapter ends with the birth of John the Baptist. The part I would like to point out in this chapter is the place John spent his days until his ministry started. John stayed in the desert until he was ready for ministry. I think that is interesting because we seem to learn a lot in life when we have those wilderness experiences. I think we would look at this different if it said that John spent his years in the mountains because then we would consider that most of our challenges or life lessons come at the high points in life. As we all know that our greatest growth comes from the times that we have experienced in the driest moments of our life.

Let us keep this in mind as we continue on our journeys.

4:9 Jabez was more respected than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, for she said, “I experienced pain when I gave birth to him.” 4:10 Jabez called out to the God of Israel, “If only you would greatly bless me and expand my territory! May your hand be with me! Keep me from harm so I might not endure pain!” God answered his prayer. – 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

If you have been around the church world for any length of time you have heard about the book, The Prayer of Jabez. It was a Christian bestseller. I have to tell you up front that I only read part of it before I set it down. It really was not very good in my opinion. It really may have been a fabulous book that lead many people into a deeper understanding of God. The truth is, I did not finish it, because I just did not get it. Every person who raved about the book seemed to be taking these words and turning them into some kind of magical incantation. As I read these words of Jabez the only thing that comes to my mind is how simple they really are. These words are not magic. These are the words of one man who sought to serve God with every talent and ability he had. I am sure the author, Bruce Wilkerson, never intended these words to become the incantation it became for so many. I am sure he is actually a man, just like Jabez, who is simply seeking hard after God. The real beauty of the Prayer of Jabez is that it is a prayer that any of us can pray and many of us actually have prayed in our own way. It is not about the exact words you say, but it is about your heart.

Heavenly Father,

I thank you for giving us example of people who truly sought to serve you. We know very little about Jabez other than this prayer. However, we know a lot about Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, D. L. Moody, Billy Graham, and many others. All of them were failed humanity, but all of them ask you to expand their influence for your Kingdom and you did it. Help me to be that kind of person. I love you Lord. Amen.

Philemon

You know, wouldn’t the Bible have been so much better if God had let us write it?

Take Philemon, for example. I’m sure we modern day humans could have done a much better job with this one. In our “improved” version, Paul would have said something like this:

I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Why do I appeal to you? Because 2000 years from now, most right-thinking people will know that slavery is a bad and evil thing that should not be condoned, so I want to set the record straight in this letter and tell you, Philemon, that you are sinning by having Onesimus as a slave. Stop it. Now. And while you’re at it, pay him a living wage and make sure that his wife has the right to vote. And don’t forget to spay and neuter your pets. Support the United Way.

But no, God wouldn’t listen to the finite wisdom of our wonderful minds, and He put this letter in the Bible just as it was (without one plea).

And we have to deal with it.

We don’t know how or why Onesimus was “separated” from Philemon, but the possibility is raised (verse 18) that Onesimus may have done Philemon wrong or owed Philemon something. It doesn’t sound like Onesimus left with any intention of ever going back. Yet Onesimus does go back to Philemon – and that’s not the only example of obedience in this letter. Paul notes (verse 13) that it would be easier for himself (and presumably for Onesimus) if Onesimus had just stayed with Paul, but Paul obeys the rules of society by sending Onesimus back.

A third example of obedience is requested in this letter. Not commanded; requested (verses 8-9). Other parts of the New Testament testify to the idea of our works proceeding from our faith; Paul is asking Philemon to demonstrate his faith here by welcoming the slave as a brother.

The rest of the letter, with its talk of grace and prisoners and “sharing your faith” and “full understanding,” also testifies to this need to be obedient to God and God’s love.

OK, I guess that God knew what He was talking about…

Others on Philemon: Daniel B. Wallace; InterVarsity Press.

Colossians 4

In the final chapter of Colossians, Paul again reminds the slave owners to treat their servants well, because they, too, have a Master.

He requests prayer that God will open a door for him to continue spreading the Gospel, “for which I am in chains”. In this way, we are slaves, as well.

Paul says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” I frequently hear Christians state that we are to be salt to the world whenever their narrow-minded legalism is challenged. They use the salt metaphor as a command for us to aggressively confront individuals about their sinful behavior. Has anyone else noticed this? I don’t think this is what the Bible means when it talks about salt.

I did a web search for some commentary on the subject, and found this one, which aptly describes my own interpretation of the passage:

Paul’s instruction in the area of our speech comes at the beginning of verse 6, where he describes our speech as “gracious”. It is to be marked by a winning quality or an attractiveness that invites a favorable response. People should find the Christian’s language attractive, charming, or winsome.

Though there have been a number of suggestions for its exact meaning when applied to the Christian, and nearly as many when applied to his language, there seems to be agreement on its preserving and flavoring elements. When we applied these elements to the Christian’s language, we understand that his words should not tear down an individual but help him (“preserving”) and appeal to him in such a way that he would want to listen (“flavoring”).

Mercy – Amos 7-9

7:1 The sovereign Lord showed me this: I saw him making locusts just as the crops planted late were beginning to sprout. (The crops planted late sprout after the royal harvest.) 7:2 When they had completely consumed the earth’s vegetation, I said,

“Sovereign Lord, forgive Israel!

How can Jacob survive?

He is too weak!”

7:3 The Lord decided not to do this. “It will not happen,” the Lord said.

7:4 The sovereign Lord showed me this: I saw the sovereign Lord summoning a shower of fire. It consumed the great deep and devoured the fields.

7:5 I said, “Sovereign Lord, stop!

How can Jacob survive?

He is too weak!”

7:6 The Lord decided not to do this. The sovereign Lord said, “This will not happen either.”

Amos 7:1-6

Maybe today is a day that I need God’s mercy more than most. Maybe I needed to hear these words today. As I read Amos 7:1-6, I am struck profoundly by God’s unending mercy toward his people, Israel. God did not take a way all judgement from Israel. In fact, they were still judge fairly harshly, but he did refrain from judging them in a way that would completely wipe out these people. He could have done it and they deserved it. Every covenant he made with them that promised continued existence in the land required their faithfulness to him. They had totally abandoned that faithfulness, so they could not count on the words of the covenants. However, God did not judge them as harshly as they deserved. He loved them so much that he promised them a remnant to re-establish the people of Israel.

We need to look at this in our own lives. No matter how much we have done… No matter how far we have gotten from God… No matter how horrible we think we are (and we probably are really that horrible)… God still loves us and is still seeking us. Just think about it for a minute. God is not just waiting for us to return to him, to worship him and to love him. Instead, he is seeking us out, loving us continuously, and showing himself as worthy of worship. We are truly a fortunate people!

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your continuous love. Thank you for your mercy that goes on and on. Thank you for not turning your back on me even though I completely deserve it. Help me to continue to seek you. Help me to put you first in everything that I am and that I do. I love you Lord. Amen.

Whenever I am given the opportunity to speak to a congregation on a Sunday morning, I only have one goal. My goal is that they will walk away with some small tidbit that will start them down a path of continuous life change. Essentially, I am exhorting people to “keep seeking the things above.” Paul’s words in Colossians 3:1-11 call all of us to focus on becoming more like Christ. Some have taken these words to be a list of do’s and don’ts, but in my opinion, Paul is telling us to diligently seek God and as we do that we will become more like Jesus. I know this has played out true in my life. I could not possibly live as a person who put off, “anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language” without the redeeming power of the Holy Spirit. I find it amazing and wonderful that we can truly rely on the Holy Spirit to help us be the exact type of person God would have us to be. We will never become perfect, but as we seek things above we will become more and more Christ like.

Now it is bad enough that Paul tells us to give up all of the bad things, but he even takes it further. He tells that we should be people of, “mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” I am not sure I can even bat 500 with the first list, but to be a person of mercy, kindness and humility and on and on is simply not part of who I am. Once again, I know we are truly a blessed people, because we are not called to do this alone. We are called to seek God first and then the power of the Holy Spirit will be in us to help us live lives that exhibit mercy, kindness and humility. Just think that we could actually be people who truly forgive one another.

I think the last sentence of Colossians 3 sums it up when it says, “whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 2

Colossians 2 begins with Paul’s statement of intention for the Colossians. His purposes are, to encourage them, and to assist with understanding of Christ. He hopes they will not be swayed by ‘fine-sounding’ arguments. He delights in how firm they are in their faith and with how ‘orderly’ they are. I would like to see a video of how they expressed this ‘orderliness’. Sometimes orderliness looks like legalism to me, while freedom seems more spiritual. Apparently order has value.

He then calls them to live in freedom from all sorts of human regulation. There’s deceptive philsosphy, human tradition, circumcision, regulations regarding eating/drinking, regulations regarding religious festivals/Sabbaths, false humility, worship of angels, and regulations regarding tasting/touching. These types of human regulations may look wise, but they “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
The only thing that really works to change us is Christ.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (vs 6)
I think it might do me some good to commit this to memory.

P.S. I’ll be gone for a long weekend, at least. We may not be back until the middle of next week. I’ll be looking forward to catching up then. :o)

Colossians 1

Colossians starts out very similar to Paul’s other letters. The letter starts out with a greeting and a prayer for the people that he is writing. I always enjoy the prayers that Paul prayed for the churches. The prayers are always encouraging people to continue to strive to please Christ in everything they say and do.

I want to focus on verses 15-23, Paul is writing about Christ. Paul is encouraging the people to remember that Christ existed before the earth began and He reigns over all creation. Christ holds all of the earth together. It is our responsibility to remember the Good News and to not drift away from what we have learned. As Christ followers we need to stand firm and not be swayed by other messages but be encouraged because it is the blood of Christ that has brought us to this place where we stand.

Philippians 4

(Yet again I’m on another business trip, and won’t be able to post on my usual day, so I’m writing this on Tuesday instead of Wednesday. Plus, Jennifer is in a super-secret location I believe, so I’m not sure if Philippians 3 will be covered, so I’ll make a token comment on that chapter just in case it isn’t.)

In Philippians 3, I don’t believe that Paul is bragging. Sure he establishes himself as SuperJew, but he has gladly rid himself of all for the sake of Jesus Christ. In the NIV, Paul says that he considers the former things as “rubbish”; I think I heard once that Paul actually used a stronger word here.

Now let’s move to Philippians 4 and Paul’s plea to Euodia and Syntyche. We’ve already talked about divisions in the church, but sometimes those divisions get down to the personal level. Both are apparently believers, but as we all know, believers are not perfect. Paul pleads with them to agree with each other in the Lord.

Paul concludes by talking about the gifts that the Philippians supplied to him. In other letters Paul notes that preachers are entitled to sustenance from those to whom they preach – although I couldn’t picture a 20th century Paul following the example of the late Dr. Gene Scott by yelling “Get on the telephone!” to solicit money. Yet Paul also emphasizes that he does not insist on receiving wages, since that could cause problems in the spreading of the Gospel. In Philippians, he thanks the Philippians for their support, but characterizes these as an “acceptable sacrifice” and something which should be credited to their account. (Works proceeding from faith, perhaps?)