Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 334: 1 Corinthians 13, 14, 15 and 16

Love . . . always hopes. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Eugene Peterson translates this phrase as Love . . . Always looks for the best (The Message). My own paraphrase reads: Love . . . always gives the benefit of the doubt. And yet that is one of the most difficult things we will ever be called upon to do.

The antithesis of giving the benefit of the doubt is assuming the worst. Easy to do, and probably the default setting for most of us. Unfortunately this lack of trust is a killer for relationships. Countless marriages have succumbed to the ravages of distrust, and countless hours of counseling have been spent in an attempt to stem the tide of disbelief.

And the church is not immune. When circumstances can be taken in more than one way, too often we err on the side of misgiving (we miss giving the benefit of the doubt). When a simple statement can be received as innocent or sinister, our insecurities make it too easy to come down on the negative side of things.

In fact, an inability to trust says a lot more about us than it does about those in whom we lack faith.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Doubt? There was none. We were guilty and God still chose to believe in us.

Is there someone whom you need to give the benefit of the doubt?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 333: 1 Corinthians 10, 11 and 12

Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, for the common good. (NCV, 1 Corinthians 12:7)

Paul reminds us that everyone has a gift.

Here's the thing: the gifts of the Spirit are not for personal use. Your gifts are not for you; they're for me, and my spiritual gifts aren't for me; they're for you.To be fulfilled, I must share my gift with the church.

Lots of people can preach better than me. Lots of people can sing better. Lots of people can write better music. Many are more discerning, more merciful, and more filled with faith. But when God put my spiritual gift mix together, he made me just the way he wants me, and I'm the best me there is in the whole world.

But even in being the best me in the whole world, I'm still falling short, because no matter how good a me I am, I'm not you. We were not meant to work in isolation, but in community. We really do need each other. No one has every gift; not everyone has the same gift; but everyone has a gift. And in God's kingdom, everyone's a 10 at something! It is in joining our gifts together, uniting for a common purpose that we function as the Body of Christ.

Together you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of that body (v. 27).

It's almost Christmas. What's your gift to the Body?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 332: 1 Corinthians 6, 7 and 8

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9)

What should I do when standing up for my rights hurts other people? In yesterday's text, Paul states we have the right to do anything, but that some things aren't good for us and other things, if indulged in, could enslave us. In today's reading, Paul gives us another assessment as to whether or not a decision is wise.

Specifically Paul is writing about eating meat offered to idols. Those whose faith is strong know that idols have no inherent power, and for them meat offered to idols would not be considered guilty by association. However, for those whose faith is weak (those who still associate said meat with their earlier pagan worship rituals), the problem is very real. Paul says those who don't see a problem have more to consider than just that. They have brothers and sisters in Christ who would feel like they were betraying their Lord if they were to eat that devil meat.

In Romans 12, Paul writes: Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (v. 10). This suggests that when my rights clash with those of another, I should consider carefully whether or not it's worth it to assert my rights. Perhaps it would be better, in that instance, to honor someone else by setting my rights aside.

Is standing up for your rights hurting someone else?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 331: 1 Corinthians 4, 5 and 6

I have the right to do anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)

Paul rebukes the Corinthians for abusing their freedom in Christ: "I have the right to do anything," you say - but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything," - but I will not be mastered by anything.

In a self-indulgent society that at times rubs off even on the church, Paul gives us some guidelines for discerning whether or not certain choices are wise. Just because something is legal or permissible doesn't mean it's smart. Paul gives two assessments.

It's permissible, but is it good for me? Some things won't hurt me, but they won't help me either. They aren't necessarily bad for me, but they're definitely not good for me. Does that mean I can never indulge? No, of course not. An occasional chocolate bar is a delicious treat, but eating one every day is diabetes waiting to happen.

It's permissible, but could it master me? Though I personally choose not to drink, I know the biblical writers never say we should avoid alcohol completely. At one point Paul actually recommends wine for its medicinal value (1 Timothy 5:23), although in another place he warns against drunkenness (Romans 13:13). My father and both my grandfathers struggled with alcoholism, so my decision not to drink is based more on family history than religious conviction.

Is it good for me? Could it master me? God leaves some things to our discretion.

How do you decide what's best for you?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 330: 1 Corinthians 1, 2 and 3

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth how neither he nor Apollos can claim all the credit for their conversion. Paul may have been the first to tell them about Christ, but Apollos had followed up with faithful teaching. Working together, they brought the message that resulted in salvation.

In John 4, Jesus teaches his disciples to be on the lookout for kingdom opportunities. He borrows two agricultural axioms. The first: Four months more and then the harvest (v. 35), is addressed on Day 310 (November 6). The second: One sows, another reaps (v. 37), was commonly used in a fatalistic sense. One might do all the hard work, but someone else would surely reap the benefit. But Jesus applied it in a new way. He taught, like Paul, that evangelism is a team sport. Paul said one plants and another waters. Jesus said one plants and another harvests. Same thing.

19th century preacher Dwight L. Moody preached in Chicago the night of the great Chicago fire. By popular account he did not give an altar call and many of those who delayed making a decision for Christ perished. Moody vowed to never again put off asking for a spiritual commitment. While I admire Moody's conviction, I am relieved that the responsibility for evangelizing lost souls is a shared one.

Are you prepared to either plant the seed, water, or harvest this week?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 329: Romans 13, 14, 15 and 16

Accept those whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputed matters. (TNIV, Romans 14:1)

St. Augustine is usually credited with saying: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

Paul tells us there definitely are such things as non-essentials. He says we are to accept those who disagree with us on these gray areas without feeling the need to set them straight even though we think they're wrong.

Disputable matters are those about which God has not seen fit to give us detailed instruction. But even though God did not set down in black and white what we are to do or believe in regard to these things, he left nothing to the imagination about how he expects us to treat those with whom we disagree.

Too often in today's polemical atmosphere, we have taken what are rightfully matters of opinion and elevated them to the level of doctrine or even dogma. If not quarreling (feeling the need to prove someone wrong) is how Paul describes acceptance, then quarreling must be a synonym for rejection, and we will never win someone over to our way of thinking while at the same time rejecting them.

If God, rather than giving us a paint-by-numbers Christianity, chose to leave some issues to our own discretion, then perhaps even more important than defining answers to these disputed matters is how we treat one another.

Is there someone you need to accept without struggling to set them straight?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 328: Romans 10, 11 and 12

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

Occasionally I am tasked with creating worship slides for projection. Since the chorus is repeated after every verse, I simply cut and paste the original lyric into its new spot as many times as it's needed. This works fine unless there's a typo in the original slide because then all my cutting and pasting replicates that same mistake into every chorus.

Given the opportunity, our environment will imprint its values and behaviors on us. Not easily ignored, society very aggressively cuts and pastes its way of doing things into our thinking. Paul is telling us we don't have to be carbon copies of the world around us. Rather than being clones of our culture, we can reflect the character of our Creator.

When I access certain programs on my laptop, it asks, Do you want to allow the following program to make changes to this computer? There also, but much less noticeable are the prompts I receive from the Holy Spirit when my surroundings try to make deleterious changes to my programming.

The world is very determined to find its way into my brain. If I want to submit my conscious mind as well as my subconscious to the life-changing power of the Spirit, I must be intentional about connecting with God and his Word.

How will you allow God to access your mind this week?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 327: Romans 7, 8 and 9

In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Did God one day create cancer and say, "This is great! People are going to love this once they figure out it's for their own good!"? What about tsunamis? ...child abuse? I don't think so. While I'm sure that occasionally something that appears bad could be planned by God and ultimately be a good thing after all, the truth is bad things happen to good people, and there's no sense blaming God for that.

But Romans 8:28 doesn't say nothing bad will ever happen to us. It doesn't even say every bad thing is a good thing that we are too limited to see. What it does say is that God works for our good in everything that happens. The question is, Will we let him?

When bad things happen to us, we can spend the rest of our lives being resentful, blaming anyone and everyone else for all our problems, or we can surrender those hurts to God and ask him to reveal himself to us and help us to grow through them. By submitting to God in those difficult times, we allow him the freedom to work into our lives the healing and growth we need, which brings about the abundant life (John 10:10). The end results are often determined by our response.

In what circumstances is God trying to work good into your life?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 326: Romans 4, 5 and 6

People cannot do any work that will make them right with God. (NCV, Romans 4:4)

O Lord our God, grant us the grace to desire Thee with our whole heart; that so desiring we may seek and find Thee; and so finding Thee may love Thee; and loving Thee, may hate those sins from which Thou hast redeemed us. Amen. [1]

During these few days before Thanksgiving, I find it necessary once again to thank God for his saving work in my life. Coming from a holiness movement background, it is always tempting to fall into the thinking that says my behavior earns me right relationship with God. Today I am reminded that my best behaviors are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) before a perfect God.

We must remember that holiness is about loving God so much that it affects who we are, which in turn affects how we act. John wrote that we love because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19). God, as your love pours into my life, may it flow back to you in worship and obedience. May your love for me be increased in how I love your children.

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen. [2]

What motivates your good behavior?

[1] Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), as printed in Harry Emerson Fosdick. The Meaning of Prayer. (New York: The International Committee of Young Men's Christian Associations, 1915), 3.

[2] The Book of Common Prayer, "The Holy Eucharist: Rite One." (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 323.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 325: Romans 1, 2 and 3

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven. (Romans 1:18)

Romans 1 lets us in on the reasons for humanity's downward spiral. Verse 29 tells how bad things have gotten: They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. We have to back up a few verses to find where things went wrong: They wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks (NLT).

The consequence of mankind's rebellion was God's wrath. The idea of people venting their wrath paints a picture of a mindless explosion of uncontrolled anger. But that's not the wrath Paul writes about. Three times he states: God gave them over . . . to sexual impurity (v. 24); . . . to shameful lusts (v. 26); . . . to a depraved mind (v. 28).

This illustrates how poorly we understand wrath and grace. We have things backwards. We see discipline as God's wrath and his permissiveness as grace, when in fact that is exactly opposite of the way things really are. According to New Testament scholar Paul Achetemeier, God's wrath is exhibited in allowing us to continue down the sinful path we've chosen. [1] In other words, wrath means God takes a hands off posture, and allows us to push deeper into sin. In this equation, discipline becomes an act of grace, as God's loving attempt to get us back on the right track.

How does Achtemeier's explanation of wrath impact your understanding of grace?

[1] Achtemeier, Paul J. "Romans." Interpretation - A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox, 1985.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 324: Acts 25, 26, 27 and 28

We want to hear your ideas, because we know that people everywhere are speaking against this religious group. (NCV, Acts 28:22)

In 2004 Alan Sorensen and Scott Rasmussen of Stanford University evaluated the effects of book reviews from the New York Times. Not surprising, they found a positive review results in more book sales than a negative one. Perhaps more surprising is that even a negative review increases a book's sales by over 34%. [1]

This study may bear out the claim Any publicity is good publicity. P. T. Barnum is credited with expressing a similar sentiment: I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right. And poet and writer Oscar Wilde is reported as saying, There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is NOT being talked about.

After Paul was transported to Rome and awaiting his trial before Caesar, he was free to have guests even though he was under house arrest. Local Jewish leaders told him they hadn't heard anything bad about him, but that no one had anything good to say about Christianity. Apparently that negative press made them want to hear about it all the more.

While negative press may not be the worst thing in the world, Jesus tells us: Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (NIV 1984, Matthew 5:16).

How are you making sure your light shines positively?

[1] Sorensen, Alan T. and Scott J. Rasmussen. "Is Any Publicity Good Publicity? A Note on the Impact of Book Reviews." Palo Alto: Stanford University, 2004.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 323: Acts 22, 23 and 24

When they heard [Paul] speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. (Acts 22:2)

From his travels Paul returns to Jerusalem knowing he has been branded a traitor by the Jews there. One day in the temple he is recognized by some Jews visiting from the province of Asia (where Paul has spent a great deal of time ministering), and they turn on him. The violence of the attack attracts Roman soldiers who break up the beating and arrest Paul, taking him to be the troublemaker. Paul asks permission to address the crowd and his request is granted.

Paul was well-versed in multiple languages, but when they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. This gained Paul a hearing from the very people who were set on his arrest and punishment. There's something about someone speaking to us in our own language.

On the Day of Pentecost, what got the crowd's attention was that every person heard the disciples speaking to them in their own language (Acts 2:8). To the Corinthian Christians Paul wrote: I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).

We have a large Hispanic population where I minister. I could complain about how they refuse to learn English, or I can put the effort into learning to speak Spanish. I know which one Paul would choose.

Do you speak the language of the people you're trying to reach?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 322: Acts 19, 20 and 21

There is danger... (Acts 19:27)

As a kid in the 1960s, I loved the TV show Lost in Space. Its premise was built around a failed attempt to colonize a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. Unfortunately, the Robinson family's spaceship was sabotaged, went off course, and became lost in the far reaches of space with no apparent way home.

9-year old Will was best friends with the family robot, tasked with keeping the boy out of trouble. When peril threatened, the robot would shout, Danger, danger, Will Robinson!

Thirty-some years later when my kids were about the same age, they would often mimic Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's familiar expression: Danguh, danguh, danguh.

After the crucifixion, when Peter and John were taken before the Sanhedrin, their interrogators recognized the disciples had been with Jesus (4:13). In the Old Testament we read that the Israelites were afraid of Moses when he descended Mt. Sinai because his face was radiant after being with God (Exodus 34:30). Danguh, danguh, danguh.

In today's reading, artisans complain that Paul's ministry in Ephesus is threatening their livelihood. So many people are abandoning handmade idols to worship Christ that it has impacted the silversmith's income.

As followers of Christ, do we still have the potential of being dangerous in our communities? Do negative elements of society look at us and say, It's only the church; they never do nothin'! Or do they exclaim, Danger, danger, Will Robinson!

How will you be dangerous for Christ this week?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 321: Acts 16, 17 and 18

...they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. (CEV, Acts 16:7)

In 1990, the song Unanswered Prayers hit #1 on the Billboard country music charts, which helped keep Garth Brooks' album No Fences on top for 30 weeks. Based on a true story, the song details a husband and wife at a home town football game where they run into his high school flame. Thinking back, all those years ago he thought that girl was the one, but realizes the best thing God ever did for him was not answering that particular prayer... at least not in the affirmative.

Two times Paul and his missionary troop encountered a divine detour. First, they planned to travel due west from Galatia into Asia, but God shut that door. Then they diverted north and thought they'd visit Bithynia (the northernmost part of Asia Minor bordering the Black Sea), but again God said, No. By default they ended up in Troas, where Paul had a dream bidding him come to Macedonia. Troas was, by the way, the seaport lying on the most direct route to Macedonia.

If Paul hadn't been responsive to the Spirit's leading, he would not have met Lydia (the seller of purple cloth), who was already a gentile convert to Judaism and in whom the Spirit was at work drawing her to Christ. God said no to Paul's plan because he had a better plan.

What unanswered prayers are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 320: Acts 13, 14 and 15

We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)

Legalism comes from believing that Christ's death on the cross was insufficient to guarantee our salvation. Whatever it might be there is always something, in addition to Christ's shed blood, necessary to pay for our guilt.

In the early church as the church shifted to include the Gentile population, many believing Jews thought Gentiles should be circumcised and obey Jewish law in order to be saved. In other words, they were expected to convert to Judaism first, and only then could they be received as Christians. On one occasion Peter almost bowed to the Judaizers' pressure, but then Paul took him to task and the matter was favorably resolved.

Today we have our own forms of legalism. Legalism may influence our choices of food or beverages; it may dictate that Sunday and only Sunday (or Saturday and only Saturday) is set aside for worship. It may require women to wear long hair and long dresses and men to wear short hair and short dresses... nah! Just seeing if you were paying attention. The point is we put our hope in following a set of rules.

Whatever the recipe of our particular brand of legalism, the security that it brings is false. When we get right down to it, legalism says all that really matters is following the rules better than the next guy.

Your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus plus what?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 319: Acts 10, 11 and 12

God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. (Acts 10:34,35)

Here we see the progression from Christianity for Jews only to Gentiles tolerated to Gentiles actively engaged. Before Peter's dream of clean and unclean animals, he would never have considered that non-Jews could be included in the gospel message. Without the dream, he would have rejected those sent by Cornelius, and without Cornelius he would not have understood the dream.

Word of Cornelius's conversion got back to Jerusalem before Peter did, so when he got home he had some 'splainin' to do. After he told the full story, the Jerusalem Christians, who had not appreciated Peter's Gentile connection, were appeased.

Following Stephen's execution but prior to Peter's Caesarea experience, many Christians (Christianity started out largely as a sect of Judaism) had been persecuted by non-Christian Jews and run out of Jerusalem. Naturally, when they arrived in a new city, they would share the message of Christ with their new Jewish friends and as a result many believed in his name.

Only after Peter returned from Caesarea did Christians actively seek ways to deliver the gospel to Gentiles. We read in 11:20 that Christians from Cyprus (in the Mediterranean) and Cyrene (modern day Libya) brought the message of Christ to Antioch (modern day Turkey, just north of the Syrian border) targeting the Gentile population.

Someone brought the gospel to you. To whom will you take it next?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 318: Acts 7, 8 and 9

This man is my chosen instrument. (Acts 9:15)

If there was an unlikely candidate to spread the name of Christ throughout the first-century world, it was Paul. Raised a devout Jew, educated in one of the most prestigious rabbinical schools in the world, and recognized as an up-and-comer with the reputation of being a no-nonsense Pharisee, his passion was to destroy the church before it got off the ground.

Yet this was the man God chose to take the message of Christianity to the world.

After earning his degrees (journalism from the University of Missouri and law from Yale), Lee Strobel served as the award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune. His research into the resurrection convinced this avowed atheist to receive Jesus as his forgiver and leader. He is now a NY Times best-selling author of nearly twenty books, espousing the cause of Christ.

From 1985 to 1992, Kirk Cameron starred in ABC's family sitcom Growing Pains. Another atheist, Kirk became a believer in Christ and has since co-founded The Way of the Master (an evangelism training program) and The Firefly Foundation, which among other things provides terminally ill children and their families a free summer camp experience.

Former marine turned lawyer, and the first to be imprisoned for his role in the Nixon administration Watergate break-in, Charles Colson accepted Christ and has devoted his life to his organization Prison Fellowship, which ministers to inmates and their families.

Now, why is it God would never call you into ministry?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 317: Acts 4, 5 and 6

No one else dared join them . . . Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. (Acts 5:13,14)

These verses seem nonsensical. In the aftermath of Liargate (Ananias and Sapphira died three hours apart, after lying to God), people didn't take their decision about joining the church lightly. Obviously church membership was not for the faint of heart, but a commitment to be taken seriously. Those who weren't serious stayed away. No one wanted to see a headstone with his name on it.

Rather than experiencing a drop in numbers, men and women still received Christ and many were added to the church. In addition to growing in numbers, we are given a hint of not only the power displayed among the saints and the vibrant church experience they enjoyed, but also the reverence and awe evoked among those who were not yet counted as members (vv. 15,16).

Could it be that we have made it too easy for the tentative to make half-hearted decisions for Christ, and welcomed the non-committed into church fellowship with the promise that, after all, grace is free and costs us nothing? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, . . . grace without discipleship. [1]

We make grace cheap when we divest Christian commitment of all responsibility, fearing that demands will discourage conversions and impede church growth. Maybe, exactly the opposite is true.

What does your commitment look like?

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Rev. ed. (New York: MacMillan, 1959).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day 316: Acts 1, 2 and 3

During the forty days after his crucifixion, . . . he talked to them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)

We don't really have a record of Jesus' post-resurrection teachings, other than this statement from Luke. However, we should not be surprised that he chose as his topic one of his favorites from the previous three years with his disciples.

In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus told several stories which encapsulated the mysteries of the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (v. 31). The kingdom of heaven is like yeast (v. 33). The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field (v. 44). The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls (v. 45). The kingdom of heaven is like a net (v. 47).

In the first century, Rome was the dominant kingdom. The empire wielded power like a centurion’s sword. Anyone who dared cross it was cut to pieces. The Sadducees appeased their Roman masters, cooperating in order to maintain the status quo. The Pharisees preached that legalistic obedience to the law would persuade God to expel the dominant kingdom from Jerusalem. Zealots brandished their own swords in guerilla style attacks aimed at overthrowing their Roman oppressors. Essenes withdrew into cloistered communities, where they could practice their religion away from the dominant kingdom and prying Roman eyes.

Jesus taught another way, which he called the kingdom of God.

How will your life reflect kingdom principles this week?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 315: John 19, 20 and 21

[Jesus] said to [his mother], "Woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." (John 19:26,27)

In his wonderful book How to Live Through a Bad Day, Pastor Jack Hayford uses the seven last words of Jesus (Jesus' seven last statements from the cross) to show how the Savior made it through his worst day, and how we can make it through our bad days too. [1]

At one point, Jesus sees his mother standing there. In spite of what he was enduring, as her oldest son, Jesus still honored his duty to make sure his mother would be cared for after he was gone. Most of us would think, I'm having a bad enough day without having to take responsibility for anyone else! Not Jesus. He didn't forget that those closest to him still had needs regardless of how bad a day he was having.

How many times have I spoken impatiently to my wife and kids, allowing my selfish needs to trump theirs? How many times have I, in the middle of my hectic schedule, passed by someone in need while I hurried off attending to church duties? I must take a lesson from Jesus and realize if he could arrange for his mother's care while suffering on the cross, then I can be patient with and caring for others even when I'm having a stress-filled day.

Is there someone whose care you've neglected because you've been having a bad day?

[1] Hayford, Jack. How to Live Through a Bad Day. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 314: John 16, 17 and 18

My kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)

Many in Israel dismissed Jesus because he was not the Messiah they were expecting. The Messiah they anticipated would burst on the scene, repel the Roman occupation and establish his political kingdom on David's throne.

In Matthew 13 Jesus spoke of the kingdom: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . . Though it is the smallest of your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree (vv. 31,32). Also, The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough (v. 33).

Many today are still expecting Christ to burst on the scene and set up his kingdom, not realizing he planted the kingdom seed 2,000 years ago, and it has been growing ever since. It's no wonder so many have missed it. Consider this paradox: Narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it (Matthew 7:14). And: Before me was a great multitude that no one could count (Revelation 7:9). How does such a humble investment result in such an incredible payout?

When we watch the mustard seed and the yeast, it may not appear that anything is happening, but the truth is God is working outside the spotlight. It is the kingdom's incremental onslaught.

Where are you investing for eternity?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 313: John 10, 11 and 12

Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet. (John 13:10)

It had been a long day leading up the the last supper. Jesus and his disciples had walked into town from Bethany, taught in the temple, and wandered the streets of Jerusalem. When, during their meal together, Jesus got up and started washing his disciples' feet, they could hardly believe it. Peter protested: You'll never wash my feet!

But Jesus insisted, Unless I wash your feet, you have no part with me.

Peter surrendered, Then not just my feet; wash my hands and my head too.

Jesus explained, Those who've had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean (vv. 8-10).

In walking through the world day after day (in spite of the fact we mostly drive over paved roads), we still pick up the dust and dirt of the world on our feet. We might struggle with mental images that incite lust, unforgiveness for wrongs suffered at the hands of others, or even guilt for wrongs we ourselves have perpetrated.

We haven't turned our backs on the faith; it's just that our feet have picked up some dust. We need to let go of those things and give them to God before the filth becomes part of us. Confession and repentance is like a refreshing basin of water with which to cleanse the spirit of the world's dirt.

Do your spiritual feet need washed? Of what do you need to repent?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 312: John 10, 11 and 12

Lazarus, come out! (John 11:43)

Let's examine a few easily missed ingredients in this miracle narrative.

First: This story is found only in John's Gospel, who seems to describe this event as the tipping point leading to the crucifixion.

Second: In Luke's introduction of the sisters, Martha is all business but Mary displays a more emotional side (Luke 10:38-42). Upon Jesus' arrival, both offer the same greeting: If you had been here, my brother would not have died (Martha in 11:21 and Mary in v. 32), but Jesus' responses to the sisters could not have been more different. To practical Martha: Your brother will rise again. . . . I am the resurrection and the life (vv. 23,25), but when he sees Mary and those with her weeping, he breaks down as well (v. 33-35). His response to each is congruent with their personalities.

Third: The religious leaders respond with a hastily called meeting of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court). Together they determine that this miracle is drawing unwanted attention from the people and the Romans alike. So from that day on they plotted to take [Jesus'] life (v. 53).

Fourth: I don't remember this from Sunday School, but John tells us that Caiaphas and Annas (the chief priests) put out a hit on Lazarus too (12:10). Lazarus walking around was too big a threat. Better to put him back in the ground and deny the miracle ever happened.

Jesus knows us intimately. How would he respond to you?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 311: John 7, 8 and 9

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. (John 7:37)

In chapter 6 we saw Jesus feed five thousand with only five loaves and two fishes. In spite of crossing the lake, the crowd found him again. When told by Jesus they must believe in the one sent by God the Father, they asked for a sign. Moses gave our fathers bread from heaven. Respond to that! Jesus' reply? I am the bread of life (6:31-35).

In today's reading, we've relocated from Galilee to Jerusalem and it is the Feast of Tabernacles. On the last day of the feast, it was customary for the High Priest to take a jar of water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out on the ground in remembrance of Moses and the water from the rock. Likely in response to this drama being acted out before him, Jesus addresses the crowd: If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, . . . streams of living water will flow from within him (7:37,38).

Moses gave us bread from heaven. What you got? Moses gave us water from the rock. How you gonna answer that?

Manna was a symbol... a symbol of me. I'm the real bread! The water from the rock was a symbol... a symbol representing me. I'm the real water! Why would you get excited about symbols and miss me?

Are you looking for symbols, or the real thing?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 310: John 4, 5 and 6

Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. (John 4:35)

From 1970-1972, one of the highest rated TV shows (second only to All in the Family) was The Flip Wilson Show, the first successful variety show to be hosted by an African-American. Flip's characters included Reggie the White House janitor, Geraldine (What you see is what you get!), and the Reverend Leroy and his Church of What's Happenin' Now.

When the disciples came back and were surprised to see Jesus speaking with the woman at the well, he took the opportunity as a teachable moment. Do you not have a saying: "Four months more and then the harvest"? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest (4:35).

Because they were making a lunch stop in Samaria on their way from Judea to Galilee, it never occurred to them to consider ministry in Sychar. Surely it would make more sense to aim for a successful ministry event in Capernaum. That's where their headquarters and the bulk of their volunteers could be found. But here? Now? Hey, if you want to do ministry here, let's do it right. Let's do the demographics and lay the groundwork, and then put together a crusade.

The message for us? Don't miss a good opportunity to share the Good News because you're looking for the perfect opportunity to share the Good News. That perfect opportunity might never come.

What's "Happenin' Now" for you?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 309: John 1, 2 and 3

In the beginning the Word already existed. (NLT, John 1:1)

No doubt John is being intentional when he launches his Gospel with the same words the writer of Genesis uses to describe the creation of the world: In the beginning.... Genesis tells the story of creation, while John tells the story of new creation.

On January 1st we focused on God as Beginning. On December 31st we will focus on God as End. But we know before there was a beginning, God already was. And after things come to an end, God will still be. He is, always has been and always will be, I AM.

John writes that the Word who was present with God and who was God at the very beginning, became incarnate and lived with us for a time. But even though he created us, we didn't recognize him. It reminds me of the old Christmas lyric: Please, suh, forgive us, Lawd; we didn't know it was you. [1]

He created us, but we did not recognize him; we belonged to him, but we rejected his ownership over us. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (1:12).

Genesis tells the story of creation; John tells the story of re-creation. Genesis is about humanity's beginning; John is about new beginnings. Genesis: birth; John: re-birth.

Do you recognize Jesus as the giver of life and as the giver of new life?

[1] Sweet Little Jesus Boy. W/M: Robert MacGimsey. (C) 1934.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 308: Luke 22, 23 and 24

I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:32)

In Jesus' familiar pre-denial encounter with Peter, the Savior's prayer is not that Peter won't deny him, but that Peter's faith will not fail. There is a time when pride is cracked - an incomplete brokenness that can draw us into ourselves - leading to bitterness and rejecting all offers of help. Then there is pride completely crushed by our own failure, when we can no longer pretend to be self-sufficient. Though both are probably God-ordained, the former is just one stop on a downward spiral; the latter puts us right where God wants us.

This brokenness, where pride is shattered - what Jesus in the Beatitudes refers to as being poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3) - leaves us nothing to stand on, empty and helpless, with no bargaining chips; our only hope to throw ourselves on the mercy of God.

That's the kind of brokenness Peter is headed for, the kind of brokenness he needs. Pride demolished by failure is a gift God can use for ministry to 1) dethrone self; 2) give God his rightful place; and 3) for ministry to others.

Christ's prayer is that when Peter's pride is shattered, his faith will somehow hold on, and drawing strength from God he will rise once more to his feet, and use his brokenness to strengthen his brothers.

Has your pride been cracked, or shattered? What now?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 307: Luke 19, 20 and 21

If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount. (Luke 19:8)

As a tax collector, it was understood that Zacchaeus would work the system to line his own pockets. That's what tax collectors did; it was expected. Still, Jewish men who collaborated with the Romans didn't make many friends. As such, Zacchaeus was one of the most hated men in Jericho.

What was it about his encounter with Jesus that changed him so? Was it the simple offering of acceptance? ...this gesture of friendship? It was like he was a spring, wound up and waiting for the opportunity to respond. Jesus invited himself over for a meal, and the man who jumped down from the sycamore tree was a different man than the one who climbed up.

This was evident to everyone when Zacchaeus made amends. Not satisfied to do better in the days to come (which, let's be honest; for most of us is usually the extent of our repentance), this corrupt official confessed his wrongs and promised to make them right, going above and beyond the restitution required by Jewish law.

All the whispers, all the sideways glances, and all the social snubs in Jericho couldn't change this dishonest tax collector's character. What finally changed him was grace, pure and simple. One kindness and Zacchaeus was more than ready to make amends for his shortcomings.

Do you need to make something right this week? Is there someone who needs your acceptance?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 306: Luke 16, 17 and 18

If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

In the familiar story of The Rich Man and Lazarus the rich man, languishing in hell, asks Abraham to send Lazarus with a message for his brothers to change their ways and avoid ending up like him! While many have read into this account a treatise on the theology of hell, that's not what the story is about.

In Matthew 12, following on the heels of Jesus healing a demon possessed man born blind and mute, the crowds put two and two together and question if Jesus could be the Messiah. The Pharisees emphatically respond, No!, and then request from Jesus a sign.

In John 6 after the five thousand are fed, Jesus and his disciples head for the far side of the lake but looking for their next meal, the people find them again. Jesus asserts they are only there for their bellies' sakes. They ask, What must we do to do the works of God? (v. 28) Jesus replies, Believe in the one he has sent (v. 29), after which they, too, promptly ask for a sign.

The message of all three stories is the same: You don't have enough information to make a decision? Your problem is not having too little data; you're problem is not acting on the information you have.

Still analyzing the data? Isn't it time to make a decision?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day 305: Luke 13, 14 and 15

"Sir," the man replied, "leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down." (Luke 13:8,9)

In the Parable of the Fig Tree we are told the vineyard is a finite space, and the owner cannot afford a freeloading fig tree using up the soil's nutrients and taking up room where another plant might bring a profit. When he orders the fig tree be cut down, the caretaker talks him out of it, asking for another year to carefully tend the tree, hoping it will produce fruit.

Jesus is teaching his disciples two things: First, he is teaching them about the love and mercy of God, who patiently waits for his children to submit their lives to him and be productive for the kingdom. Second, he teaches them that as much as God is merciful, there is appointed for each of us a time to die - there are only so many days left.

So how does the story end? Does the fig tree produce fruit or will it be cut down? We don't know. We're still in that part of the story where the caretaker is patiently working, hoping the tree will be fruitful.

How fitting, for this is a story about you and me, and we don't yet know how that story will turn out either. We get to write that ending.

What are you doing this week to produce fruit?