Friday, November 30, 2012
Thursday, November 29, 2012
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).
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
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 (6:12 in its entirety).
In a self-indulgent society that sometimes 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 at all is based more on family history than religious conviction.
Is it good for me? Could it master me? God leaves some things to our own discretion.TODAY’S MEDITATION
How do you use good judgment regarding “permissible” things?
Monday, November 26, 2012
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.
Nineteenth 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?
Sunday, November 25, 2012
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 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?
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).
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?
Friday, November 23, 2012
In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
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?
Thursday, November 22, 2012
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 .
What motivates your good behavior?
 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.
 The Book of Common Prayer, "The Holy Eucharist: Rite One." (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 323.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
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 God’s discipline as 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 Achtemeier, God’s wrath is exhibited in allowing us to continue down the sinful path we’ve chosen . In other words, wrath means God takes a hands off posture, and allows us to push on 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?
 Achtemeier, Paul J. “Romans.” Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox, 1985.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
We want to hear your ideas, because we know that people everywhere are speaking against this religious group (NCV, Acts 28:22).
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?
 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.
Monday, November 19, 2012
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?
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Nine-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 Jesus that it has impacted the silversmiths’ 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?
Saturday, November 17, 2012
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?
Friday, November 16, 2012
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?
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 toGentiles 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?
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?
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).
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 not only of 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.
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?
During the forty days after his crucifixion, . . . he talked to them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
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?
Sunday, November 11, 2012
[Jesus] said to [his mother], “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26,27).
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?
 Hayford, Jack. How to Live Through a Bad Day. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
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?
Friday, November 9, 2012
But Jesus responded, Unless I wash you, 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 this 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?
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 (vv. 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?
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 read 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?
When the disciples came back and were surprised to find 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?
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 .
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 Christ as the giver of life and as the giver of new life?
 Sweet Little Jesus Boy, W/M: Robert MacGimsey, © 1934.
I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:32).
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 1) to dethrone self; 2) to 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?