Checking the church calendar
Isaiah 1: Meetings, meetings, meetings, I can’t stand one more!
As a pastor I admit that this phrase resonates with me! In this case, though, it’s God who’s talking and he’s weary of his people going through the motions, filling their lives with meetings and other religious activity, but never simply getting about the business of righteous living. Sometimes, I think, religious activity is a cover up for spiritual failure or it may be a substitute for actually going out and making a difference in the world. There’s a time for meetings but those meetings are to move us to real living in the Lord. I fear that we church folk attend a committee meeting and think we’ve done what Jesus intended we do. In some cases, we’d be better off to drop the meeting and get out into the real world, making a difference in people’s lives for Christ’s sake.
Take Away: Remember, Jesus told us to “go and make disciples” – not “go and have meetings.”
Psalm 4: I have…more joy in one ordinary day than they get in all their shopping sprees.
Now here’s a current application of an ancient truth. Possessions don’t give true joy but God does. My society is in love with “stuff.” People stand in line in the cold all night to be one of the first to own the latest toy. When that expensive bit of plastic is six months old, do they still think it was worth all that discomfort? I doubt it! David reminds me that living an “ordinary day” in the joy of the Lord is better than having an extraordinary day without him. The thing is that these people standing in line are doing so because they don’t know any better. They think that the latest gadget is the best life has to offer. When I see them sacrificing so much for so little I’m not to feel superior. Instead, I’m supposed to feel compassion. By God’s grace I know something they don’t know and I have a commission to somehow show them that there’s something better.
Take Away: Possessions don’t give true joy but God does.
A tale of four lepers
2Kings 7: Let’s go tell the good news.
The capital city, Samaria, is under siege and the result is a terrible famine. Things can’t get much worse there and people are being driven to horrible acts of desperation. Four lepers decide they have nothing else to lose. They’ll throw themselves on the mercy of the invaders. If they’re executed, they’ll die a quicker death than they would die by starvation anyway. When they arrive at the camp they’re surprised to find that there’s no one there! God has moved bringing terror to their camp. The mighty army has fled in panic not even knowing why they were running. The lepers have the time of their lives, eating their fill and ransacking the place. It’s at that point that one of them says to his friends, “We aren’t doing right. Back in Samaria people are starving to death while we’re enjoying all this bounty.” This real life story is also a parable for Christians everywhere. Like the lepers we’ve discovered something wonderful. Meanwhile there’s a world that desperately needs to know what we know. Like those lepers, if we aren’t telling we aren’t doing the right thing.
Take Away: I found it, but I’m glad to share it with you.
People are watching
Ruth 3: Everybody in town knows what a courageous woman you are.
There’s a lot of cultural stuff in this story that seems odd to me. Apparently, even though Ruth is a widow, she’s still considered to be “married” to her husband’s family. If she marries again, it needs to be “in the family.” Naomi tells Ruth it’s time to act. Boaz is eligible to marry Ruth and he’s shown kindness to her. Maybe even more than kindness is in the air! Ruth makes herself as beautiful as possible and attends his harvest party. As the festivities wind down, Boaz finds a place to sleep and that’s when Ruth makes her move. She quietly lies down at his feet. Again, there’s some cultural stuff happening here that feels strange, but apparently this is a way for Ruth to let Boaz know she’s interested in him. When Boaz sees her there he’s quite pleased and promises to pursue the legal side of marrying her. I find his comment that “everyone knows what a courageous woman you are” to be interesting. Apparently, from the time Ruth arrived with Naomi people have been watching her. She’s not an Israelite; in fact, her people have been sometimes enemies of Israel; so they’ve kept an eye on her. At first, she was possibly even unwelcome but little by little her faithfulness to Naomi, her solid work ethic, and her courage have won them over. People may not be interested in hearing me tell them about Jesus. They may think I’m strange and not worthy of their trust. However, they are watching. As I go about living for the Lord in good days and in bad and as I concentrate on doing the right thing whether or not it’s convenient doors will open for me that were closed in the beginning.
Take Away: A life lived for Jesus will open doors for spiritual conversations with people who have been watching.
Sign me up
Numbers 10: If you come with us, we’ll make sure that you share in all the good things God will do for us.
What a sight it is! Banners are flying, the Ark of the Covenant is leading the way, and the Pillar of Cloud is overhead. It’s time for the Israelites break camp. Hundreds of thousands of people with all their possessions move forward with precision and purpose. In just a few months this nation of slaves has been transformed into an organized, decisive people of God. During the organizational process, Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses has kept company with the Israelites. Now, as they prepare to break camp he tells Moses that he’s going to leave for home. He’s not an Israelite and his family and neighbors are elsewhere. Moses, though, encourages him to cast his lot with God’s people. For one thing Hobab is an outdoorsman, familiar with this territory to the east of Egypt. His expertise will come in handy in the days to come. For another, he’s welcome to share in the blessing of these descendants of Abraham. If he stays, Moses promises, he’ll get a part of the blessing God has for them. Today, I’m drawn to this good man who, before we ever hear of the righteous Cornelius of the book of Acts, or follow Paul and Silas on that first missionary journey, connects himself to the people of God. That’s what I’ve done too. I don’t deserve it and should, instead, be forever an outsider. Instead, as Moses did long ago, God’s Son Jesus invites me to tag along. When I agree, he connects me to himself, making me a citizen of a country that will forever be blessed by the Lord.
Take Away: How wonderful it is to be invited to join God’s people on their journey!
The God of the House of God
Genesis 35: He built an altar there and named it El-Bethel (God-of-Bethel).
Having returned to his home region, Jacob and his large family settle in. However, it isn’t long before things get complicated. The interaction between Jacob’s family and the natives of the land turns ugly with a rape and then retaliation that includes murder. It’s time for them to go and the Lord names the place: Bethel. It was at Bethel that the Lord first appeared to Jacob when he was on the run from his brother. Now, he moves his entire family and all his belongings to Bethel. Apparently, it comes just in time. Not only are the locals preparing for war against them, but many of Jacob’s entourage has begun to dabble in the religions of the region. It’s time for Jacob and family to go to Bethel. When he arrives he builds a new altar to the Lord there. The name “Bethel” means “House of God.” Jacob names the altar “El-Bethel” meaning “The God of the House of God.” He isn’t only bringing his family to the place where he met God; he’s bringing them to God, Himself. I know it’s quite a stretch, but I can’t help but think of our own efforts to impact our families for God. It isn’t enough to insist that they behave themselves or even attend church with us. We need to bring them to God, Himself. Without that, everything else is just sideline stuff that’s bound to fail.
Take away: We need to do all we can to bring our loved ones to a personal relationship with the Lord.
As the curtain falls
Revelation 22: “Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
The final scene is that of a river flowing with the Water of Life and a tree called “the Tree of Life.” There’s the Throne of God surrounded by his worshipers. Righteousness reigns…holiness everywhere. John is told to publish his vision, making it available to all who will read. Then, Jesus, the star of this whole story speaks, in effect, putting his signature on the entire vision. Now, we hear a word that’s both an invitation to all and a mission for the Church. There’s the invitation to “come and drink…freely of the Water of Life.” There’s also a commission for the Church, the Bride of Christ, to join the Spirit in echoing the invitation to the entire human race, offering this Water of Life to all who will come. What we receive we offer to others. Now, as the curtain is falling, Jesus speaks again, assuring us of his return. From the audience John answers for all of us: “Yes, Come, Master Jesus!”
Take Away: Jesus is coming back. This is our hope. Proclaiming this truth is our mission.
The disposition of the believer
1Peter 3: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble.
The original readers of this letter are under pressure, suffering for their faith. Not only that but they’re in the first generation of Christianity. In this passage Peter describes the general disposition of a believer. Christians are to be agreeable, sympathetic people. We’re to be known for our compassion on others and our humility concerning ourselves. We’re not to advance the cause of Christianity by force and people aren’t to have to worry about watching their “P’s & Q’s” when they’re around us. Even non-Christians are to feel comfortable and it should go without saying that we’re to treat one another in kind, agreeable ways. Sad to say, some believers haven’t gotten this memo. They think that they’re doing God a favor by forcing their moral code down people’s throats. They think they’re being good soldiers in his army by creating lots of collateral damage on fellow believers with whom they have a few differences of opinion. The question I need to ask myself is how do I score on this “agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, humble” test? Peter, it seems, can almost hear people’s self-justification at this point, so he adds: “That goes for all of you, no exceptions.” He continues, “That’s your job, to bless.” Of course, my non-Christian friends are to know that I believe there’s a superior way for them to live. At the same time, they’re to conclude an encounter with me feeling that they’ve been blessed and not cursed.
Take Away: Do people think of time with us as a blessing or a curse?
The secret to evangelism
Colossians 4: Make the most of every opportunity.
Believers aren’t supposed to create closed communities of the faithful. Rather, we’re to live right out in the open, rubbing shoulders with those outside the faith, making friends, sharing in their lives. I don’t think this means that believers are never to “retreat.” After all, Jesus at least attempted to get the disciples away from the crowds sometimes. Still, he always went back to them, loving them, and, apparently, liking those who weren’t his followers. Paul urges the Colossian Christians to not only stay involved in their community but to make the most of that involvement. Interestingly, his directions for them aren’t as evangelistic as you might think. He describes “making the most” as being “gracious in your speech” and tells them that their “goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation.” Apparently, our influencing others for Christ doesn’t necessarily start with a “spiritual conversation” at all. Instead, it starts with friendship, respect, genuine interest. In fact, Paul specifically warns them not to “put them down” or “cut them out.” In light of these instructions, becoming a “friend” to someone just so we can tell them about Jesus is off the table. My seizing the moment starts, instead, with my making some genuine friends outside the body of believers. Then, I make sure I’m always gracious in my conversations with them, wanting the best for them. Real friendships are the secret to evangelism.
Take Away: For church people it’s a big challenge to make good friends who are outside the church. Still, it’s a key component to evangelism.
Starting at the start
1Corinthians 2: God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion.
When Paul begins his ministry in the town of Corinth he knows that he needs to take it easy. These folks have little upon which to build. If he starts off dealing with the deeper things of God (like he does in his letter to the church at Rome) they’ll get nothing out of it and will likely turn back to their former way of life. Paul wisely sticks to the basics: Jesus died for our sins and is resurrected. This message speaks to their hearts and they give their lives to the Jesus they hear about from Paul. Still, there’s much more to learn about the Christian life. Now, though, they’re better prepared to learn of the things of God. The reason for this is that now the Holy Spirit is working in their lives. The Spirit, you see, isn’t into keeping secrets. Rather, he’s all about teaching us, leading us one step at a time into a better understanding of the things of God. To some extent we all start our spiritual journey by taking baby steps. It’s important that we, God’s people, remember that in dealing with those who haven’t a clue. There’s no need to argue the finer points of our faith with people who don’t yet have a handle on who Jesus is and what he’s done for us. We start our religious talk here: “Let me tell you about Jesus.” Once a person receives Jesus into their life, the Holy Spirit begins to commune with their spirit, helping them begin to grasp the deeper things of God.
Take Away: We need to start with the basics in dealing with people, and then trust the Holy Spirit to move them along at the pace he knows is right for them.