Friday, January 22, 2021

Prayer for the Nation

"Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, 'The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.'  When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven." Nehemiah 1:2-4 

On January 6, 2021, the world watched while the Capitol building of the United States of America was temporarily overtaken by members of its own citizenry.  Most Americans were horrified and could not believe that it was happening. Many were brought to tears. It was clear evidence of the profound division that exists within the country. What are we to do?

Though it may feel that given the pandemic, social upheaval, political discord and economic devastation, these are the worst of all possible times, they are not.  The world has endured much more and much worse.  Even in this country, a Civil War was survived. This is not to say that emotions are out of place because they are not.  These days, times and events have never happened to us, therefore we feel how we feel.

The message today, beloved, is that there is a remedy available if we would simply avail ourselves of it.  If we, with one voice, would appeal to our Heavenly Father, He most surely would heal our land and our hearts. After all, He is the same God who delivered His people out of Egyptian slavery, fought for them against enemies who arrayed themselves against them, fed them from His own hand in the wilderness and caused them to thrive despite every attempt to exterminate them.  That same God is the God under which these United States was conceived and established.  There is nothing too hard for Him. Is appealing to Him too hard for His New Testament people, the Church? Is placing the things we have in common (in Him) ahead or in place of our differences too difficult?

Historically, the people of God turn to Him in crisis.  While it is sadly human nature that we cause these crises through disobedience, unfaithfulness, division and a lack of love for Him and one another, His nature is to hear our plea and respond (Judg 2:18). All who call upon the name of Christ ought to do as Nehemiah did when he learned that his nation was in a shambles: he mourned, fasted and prayed.  After months of doing so, he took action, with God's favor, to bring about change.  Israel was restored. So too can be the United States of America.

Discipling,

Lee

Friday, January 15, 2021

A Waste of Talent

"And the one who had also received one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.  And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground.  See, you have what is yours.'"  Matthew 25:24-25

In the parable of the talents, Jesus imparts the story of a man who entrusts his servants with varying sums of money, ostensibly to grow, while he goes away on a journey.  When the man returns, two of his servants doubled that which they had been entrusted.  The kind master complimented and rewarded them both with promotions and greater resources to manage.  One of them, however, buried the funds in the ground so as not to risk losing them.  Upon returning to his master exactly that which was entrusted to him, he was not happy.

The larger context of this story is that we Christians must be prepared for the Lord's return.  More specifically, here, that we are not to neglect the use of the skills, abilities and gifts he has provided in the pursuit of producing desired outcomes.  In other words, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, has made an investment in us and he expects a return on that investment.

Beloved, we are too often like the scared servant who essentially does nothing with what he has been given.  Make no mistake, all children of God are the recipient of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).  These gifts are to be used for the common good, which is to say that they are not so much for ourselves as they are for others.  When we fail to use our ability to teach, comfort, provide financial resources, do manual labor, provide expertise in our field of work or study or any other skill with which are blessed, we are in effect, burying the "talent."  In no uncertain terms, this is failure.

As much as when a farmer plants his or her crops with the expectation of a yield, Jesus expects for us to produce fruit.  Failure to do so can result in the withdrawing of that which sustains us and our removal in favor of another that will produce (Luke 13:6-9).  Be it far from us that we should ever waste the talent that has been given us.  We have been saved by the blood, invested by our Savior and commanded by our Master.  Let us use what has been given in his service and for the benefit of others.  After all, every Christian is the result, in part, of the work done by a faithful servant.

Discipling,

Lee

Friday, January 8, 2021

Message to the Messenger

“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.'" Ezekiel 3:17-18

Every now and then I run across a Bible passage that makes my blood run cold. Ezekiel 3:17-21 is just such an example. The prophet Ezekiel was being sent by God to the rebellious people of Israel to deliver a warning from Him. One of the reasons he was being sent was so that the people would know that a prophet, and by extension, God Himself was among them. In turn, the message he was sent to deliver was designed to warn the people to turn from their wicked ways and return to the previously established covenant relationship, lest they die.

The message God gave Ezekiel to deliver was a critical one, however, before he was given a word to speak, God impressed upon him the importance of carrying out the assigned task. In short, He told his prophet that if anyone perished (due to their own iniquity) without him having delivered the assigned message, he would bear responsibility.

Beloved, the reason this passage caused a chill to run down my spine is due to the realization that we have been given the same charge and bear that same responsibility. Those of us who call upon the name of Jesus are the messengers of God. We are sent to all nations to bear witness to the love of the Lord and to deliver His message (Matthew 28:19-20). We are to fill our mouths with His word and warn the stubborn, obstinate and unrighteous about the dangers associated with pursuing their current course. We are charged with nothing less than attempting to literally save the lives of the lost. Our failure to speak up and speak out condemns to death the people we refuse to warn just as if we failed to take the keys from an inebriated person attempting to get behind the wheel of a car. It is not our fault that the person is drunk, but we would bear at least some responsibility for refusing to intercede if that person tragically died or worse, caused the death of someone else. Chilling indeed.

Let us not view our Christian lives simply as "going to Church," attending bible studies, participating in potluck dinners and fellowshipping with those of like faith. Let us instead act as fire marshals engaged in literal fire prevention and fire fighters engaged in literal rescue of those in danger of being lost in the fire.

Discipling,

Lee

Friday, November 20, 2020

Bottom of the Barrel Prayers

"Pray without ceasing." 1 Thessalonians 5:17

One of my favorite stories in the bible can be found in Judges 10.  Essentially, the people of God had a habit of adopting the traits, behaviors, beliefs and religious practices of their pagan neighbors.  This is characterized by the following: "And the children of Israel did evil again [emphasis mine] in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab...thus they forsook the Lord and did not serve Him," Judges 10:6.  The result of such faithlessness was that they were turned over to the crushing and brutal hands of their enemies.  Whenever this happened, they cried out to God for salvation and relief, promising to quit their wicked ways and to never be idolaters again, if only He would help them.

On this particular occasion, God had a rather unexpected answer for them.  He said, "You have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you.  Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress," Judges 10:13-14.

I'm reminded of this story because it is not unusual for me to receive calls from friends, acquaintances and church members, soliciting prayer.  In a recent particular case, however, the call came from someone dear to me.  I know this person to be a believer but also know them to be inactive in the faith and in their relationship with God.  They are experiencing a season of need, uncertainty, discomfort and distress.  Inevitably, a pleading to God for relief has begun and yours truly has been engaged.

Beloved, it is always a mistake to treat God as if he is an alarm, an axe or a fire hose behind glass to be broken in case of an emergency.  Our relationship with God is designed to be as that of a Father and his children.  In this relationship, we are to be constantly engaged, in constant communication and in constant proximity, in spirit if not physically.  When the trips, falls, bruises, other accidents or even disobediences of life occur, it is in our best interest for us to have well worn paths of access to Him from whom we seek our help.  How much more readily available is that assistance when we are close than if we are distant and disconnected?

None of this is to say that God will not rescue even the dilettante among us.  "The sons of Israel said to the Lord, 'We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.'  So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer [emphasis mine]", Judges 10:15-16.  The encouragement herein is to not have a prayer life that consists of last minute, emergency or bottom of the barrel prayers but one that is indicative of a close, warm personal relationship with the Father.  Then, you will have gained the experience to know that whatever His answer may be, it will be for the ultimate good.

Increasing in faith,

Lee

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Ancient Path

"Thus says the Lord, 'Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls.'
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’"
 Jeremiah 6:16

These days, it seems that humanity is moving at nearly the speed of light. There are technological advances announced just about every day. New developments in medicine, health, electronics, communication, transportation, business and education boggle the mind compared to what was available just 10-15 years ago. As a result, there is an increasing appetite for the newest and latest thing when it comes to just about everything we need and desire. Those who are first to the market with their offerings typically are greatly rewarded, which in turn speeds the cycle even faster.

This can cause the older among us to say "Whoa. Slow down." We become nostalgic for the simpler times and ways of yesteryear and wonder if the world has forgotten about the things that are really important like loving God, loving your neighbor, taking care of one another, hard work and being kind. We wonder what happened to morality, common sense and just trying to be the best people we can be.

Beloved, these are not new musings. In 626 BC, the prophet Jeremiah was called into service by God. He was charged with preaching and prophesying to the people of God regarding the dark future they were bringing upon themselves. It seems that the they were not satisfied with the tried, true and righteous, but instead ran to new and different "gods" and the pagan and idolatrous behaviors that accompanied their worship. These things were preferred by those who should have known better. For as many warnings that were delivered by many prophets, the people were more interested in the latest religions than they were in what was right and the Ancient One who had fed, freed and sustained them in the midst of all of their enemies.

As we look around today, we might see the same things that Jeremiah saw and lamented. Like Israel, we are being warned. Like Israel, we have a choice. Like Israel, God loves us and desires the ultimate good for us. There is nothing wrong with technology, new methods and new thinking, but we must use these things for good and continue to adhere to the same unchanging message. We must not allow ourselves to be carried off by the pursuit of the new, bright and shiny things that only appear to be Light. They lead ultimately to destruction. Instead, let us follow the ancient path. We know exactly where it is and to whom it leads.

Increasing in faith,

Lee

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Claiming vs. the Calling

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side." Luke 10:30-32

It would be a great speculative exercise to wonder where the priest and the Levite where going as they passed someone in such distress. One should have no trouble determining what a priest is. For those who do not know, however, a Levite was one whose tribe members were responsible for attending to things associated with the temple, the worship that took place there and the needs of the priests. Where could they both be going?

Before that is further pursued, the fact that they "passed by on the other side," away from someone who had been injured is of particular note. Certainly tradition holds that this took place on a road that was frequented by robbers. Perhaps they were both concerned about their own safety and decided to give the situation a wide berth.

Suppose they were just in a hurry. Suppose they were in a hurry because they were late. Suppose they were in a hurry because they were late for a temple worship or class. Suppose they were in a hurry because they were late for a temple worship or class where they were scheduled to discuss how to treat one's fellow man. Just suppose.

Beloved, Christianity is not a claim, it is a calling. Particularly during today's turbulent time, it is not for show but for shouldering. It is not just for hearing but for helping. It is not just for believing but being. I wonder how often we pass up the opportunity to do good on the way to "church"...where we are told to do good.

Faith without works is dead.

Increasing in faith,

Lee

Friday, August 28, 2020

In His Image and Likeness

"Then God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'” Genesis 1:26

Despite the fact that we are always searching for our origins, it is difficult for some to imagine that we are, in fact, created beings.  Further, we are literally created by the hand of God.

Most believers understand that we are created in the image and likeness of God but do we understand what that means?  The word "likeness" comes from a Hebrew word that involves our make up and content.  Otherwise put, we know that God is Spirit.  We also were made of Spirit.  It is true that we were formed by God's own hand from the dust of the ground but our most important component is the breath that he blew into that dust (Genesis 2:7) that caused us to be living souls.  In so doing, part of Him became part of us.  Further, it is written in Ephesians 4:24 that we are to "put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."  Is God not holy and righteous?  We are not gods but we were created to consist of some of the "stuff" of God.

Regarding image, the Hebrew word used here speaks to the fact of our appearance.  It is important to note once again that God is Spirit and cannot be confined to any boundaries or manifestations.  That said, we are told throughout Scripture that we resemble Him.  Though it is done as much for our ability to mentally grasp as anything else, He is always spoken of in anthropomorphic (of or having to do with humanity) terms.  And of course, when he took on flesh in the person of Jesus (John 1:14), it was not as a plant, or beast, but as human.  Though He spoke everything into existence, the one being created by His own hand was the human.  Man and woman were formed by Him and resemble Him.  Thus, the definition of the Hebrew word revealed, "resemblance; representative figure" comes into focus.

Beloved, as we go about our lives, it is critical that we understand from whence we come.  We are nothing less than the creation of God with some of the consistency of God, made to look like God.  It is similar to our own children.  They have the same make up as we do and they look like us, but they are not us.  However, they are ours just as we are His.  And when you know who you are, what you are and from whom you come, that ought to affect your life.  Amen?

Increasing in faith,

Lee