Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Blessing

Everybody likes reunions, as they are a fun time to re-unite with old friends and share memories of the past. You remember the good times, and sometimes the bad times, and reflect on how it all worked together for good.

You may notice in this chapter that Jacob is now called "Israel". This reflects Genesis 32, when Jacob wrestled with God and lived. When Jacob grabbed his brother's heal when coming out of the womb, his name meant "deciever". But when Jacob wrestled with God, God blessed him by naming him Israel, which meant "he struggles with God and still lives." And this is the same name that Jewish people have called their state today. Jacob's 12 sons represented the 12 tribes of God, who went from Canaan to Egypt because of the famine. Then God raised up Moses, Jacob's great, great grandson, who delivered them from the Egyptians at the Red Sea and led them back into Canaan.

But today Jacob upon being reunited with Joseph, blesses Joseph and his two boys, Ephraim and Manessah. But Jacob puts his had on Ephraim's head instead of Manasseh's who was the older brother. Joseph notices the mistake and tries to correct his father. But Jacob refused saying, "Manasseh too will become a people and become great. But his younger brother will become greater and his descendants will become a group of nations." These would become the nations that went back into the promised land.

Isn't it ironic that Jacob came out of the womb grasping his brother Esau's heal, and that is why he is called the "supplanter". Later when they were older and their Father Issac was about to die, Jacob deceived his dad when he was old and blind, by putting hair on his body to look feel and smell like his brother. Issac mistook Jacob from Esua and blessed Jacob. Understandably Esau was mad. Now Jacob blesses the younger right before he dies as well.

There is great power in the blessing. When a young man asks for a family's daughter in marriage the father says, "You have our blessing." Today in church we still use the Aaronic blessing to end our church services. We bless the congregation as they go out saying, "May The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord upon you with favor and give you peace. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit". Who in your life are you a blessing to? Who can you bless today in Jesus' name? God bless you and your family!

15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,

“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
on the earth.”
17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

Can We Do What Jesus Did?

As Peter and John continue to preach in Jesus' name in the power of the Holy Spirit, they meet resistance from the religious leaders, who are greatly disturbed. And why are they disturbed? Because they thought they had quelled this Jesus thing, and now it is getting even worse. And we shouldn't be surprised because Jesus himself said, "You will even do greater things than I have done." And it was greater in the sense of the range and scope of the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. They were doing what Jesus was doing. They were preaching God's kingdom come, and doing the things Jesus did, healing and doing miracles.

So they did the only logical thing, they locked them up thinking it might cool things off a little bit. But the results spoke for themselves. The number of those who believed the message swelled from 3,000 to 5,000. By putting them in jail it added fuel to the missional fire. Why? One, because the Holy Spirit was using the message they were preaching to convict people of their need for Jesus. Two, because they saw these ordinary, unschooled men preaching, teaching, and doing miracles in Jesus' name with authority and power. Bottom line, God's kingdom coming on earth after Pentecost, and the coming of the promised Holy Spirit, could not be stopped by mere men. As Jesus said to the disciples, "All authority has been given to you, go and make disciples of all nations and I will be with you until the end of the age."

So what does this mean for us? Do you think we have any less power and authority than the early disciples had? Some say that kind of spiritual power was only given to the disciples, as they started the Christian movement. There is only one problem with that argument. It doesn't make any sense. Think of it, why would God say, "Okay enough of that Holy Spirit stuff, no more power for future disciples." And we see throughout the history of the church similar movements of God through the power of the Holy Spirit that revived the Church from its spiritual malaise.

We also see such movements happening today in the Church. God is always present when we preach, teach, and heal in Jesus' name in the power of the Holy Spirit. Really the only question is will we be obedient to the commission Jesus gave to us. Friends in Christ, this is exciting news. As we read the accounts of the early church and subsequent movements in the church throughout history, do we expect it could happen in our time? Do we pray for it? Are we ready for it? Do we even want it?

Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin
4 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Greatest Psalm

This Psalm is the most known Psalm of the 150 psalms in the bible. It is the most memorized and most quoted psalm as well. It is often read at funerals because of its comforting words and assurance of God's presence. But we needn't wait until then, as it brings great comfort to us today when life's trials hit.

It is a psalm of King David. And we know how many perilous situations David encountered, before he became the greatest king of Israel. We know King David was a "man after God's own heart", and this prayer of his gives us insight into why he had such an intimate relationship with God.

In the psalm David shows us:

1. How he trusted in God for all the provisions he needed.
2. He trusted in God for guidance, wisdom, and for right path to walk in.
3. He trusted in God in his battle against darkness and evil. He could face it without fear, for He knew God was with Him in the darkest valleys and would deliver him
4. He knew God's provision always be there in the present, and when he died he would be with God forever in heaven.

His trust in God and His promises is what gave David the courage to be a man after God's own heart. So the question today is what do you need to trust in God for today? This psalm just about covers it all, but it is up to you and I to actively trust like David did. Pray today asking for God to meet your every need in Christ!

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The First Lady

I'm sure you have not seen much teaching on the book of 2 John. Like 3 John, it is a short note, more like a memo than a letter. The first question you might ask is, "Who is the elder, the Lady chosen by God and her children?" Most think this refers to the church, the bride of Christ. And the children are the sons and daughters of Christ, the believers. The great majority thinks this book is written by John, whose name is obvious in the title of the letter. Also it is a personal letter from John to the church as evidenced by the first chapter.

So what is the message of this short letter?

1. The church toward the end of the first century is already being plagued by heresies that were teaching that Jesus only appeared to be a human, but couldn't have been if he was God. That is why John quite often refers to the "truth" as opposed to "error". The truth was that Jesus came in the flesh. And to all those who would receive and believe in Him would become children of God. John says "the truth" lives in them and will be with them forever. A reference to the Holy Spirit that believers receive when they come to faith and are baptized. This is the Spirit of God, who guides us into all truth.

2. Then, the question is how do we live out that we are children of God and children of the Truth. 3 John teaches this is a response of obedience, which is carried out in love. A lot of people make obedience to God confusing and obtuse. John says that love is walking in obedience to His commands. Simply put if you love someone you will obey their commands. And again the commands of God are not complicated or burdensome. They are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, giving up His life for us.

So how might this apply to us? Paul says to young Timothy, "Watch your life and doctrine closely." Meaning we need to know what we believe and why, so we can notice when false beliefs are introduced into the church. But if all we are about is doctrine how will the world know the love of God. Notice love is not a feeling or emotion, but a conscious choice. Just as Jesus chose to love us in obedience to the Father, we choose to love in obedience too. But this is not a slavish obedience, but a response to the love Jesus has willingly and sacrificially given to us.

Each day we wake up we say God I receive your love not help me to choose to love others you put in my path in obedience to your command.

2 John 1:1-6
1 The elder,

To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth— 2 because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

3 Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.

4 It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. 5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What Does Love Look Like?

This is one of those passages where careful interpretation is in order. Taken literally, one might say anyone who does not do what is right is a child of devil. Considering we have to confess the things we have done wrong or the good things we failed to do on daily basis, we seem to be in big trouble. After all, who wants to be known as a child of the devil.

So what can this actually mean? As always it is important to understand the writer's purpose in writing the letter, and the prevailing conditions for the church at that time. At the time of the turn of the first century, lots of heresies were starting to take root in the early church. One of those heresies was that once you became a believer and were forgiven, your behavior wasn't the issue anymore. Or, love is subjective. What is love is relative to each person. As Jesus' favorite disciple John saw Jesus' love as much as anyone. Jesus trusted in John so much that he entrusted his mother to him when he died.

So how do we learn about how we should love one another, especially the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ? First he says, don't expect the kind of love God commands in the world. Since the world doesn't know God, they won't know how to love like him. So how can we know what this love looks like? John makes it simple, "This is how we know what love is that Jesus laid down his life for us!" So if you are not quite sure what love looks like, study Jesus' life. How he loved his disciples and the others God brought into his life that others found unloveable. And then the penultimate example of true love is when Jesus willingly gave up his life for ours on the cross. How could you have a truer, more pure example of unconditional love?

And so John summarizes the message to this new community of faith, this is the love that should characterize the Christian community. If we call ourselves a Christian, we should love like the One whose name we bear. And here is the thing, though none of us are Jesus, he is the One we follow and pattern our lives after. And as we remain in Jesus' love (see John 15), we can love like Him. Apart from his presence in our lives we can do nothing.

As Jesus' love abides in us, it will flow over to those we live in community with and into the world. After all how will they know we are Christians if we don't love like Jesus did?

1 John 3:10-16
10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

More on Love and Hatred
11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters,[a] if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Spiritual Battle!

Though the exiled Jews have been allowed by King Cyrus to return to Jerusalem, Daniel is still mourning over the vision he had seen in chapters 7-9. But as he mourned and fasted for three weeks, a man dressed in linen came before him on the banks of the Tigris river. Daniel is now in his eighties and falls before the man who appears to look like Jesus, as John describes him the book of Revelation. There is debate over whether this is the pre-incarnate Jesus, or an angel. The awe with which Daniel experiences mirrors other theophanies (word means God being revealed on the earth), in Scripture. This is similar to Isaiah when he experiences God and says, "Holy, holy, holy, is The Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is full of your glory."

But in verse 13, it appears he is a powerful angel fighting against the prince of Persia for 21 days, the same amount of time Daniel was praying. Then he says, "Michael, a chief prince came to help me." But verses 15 to 19 appear to be another man with Christ-like qualities. So in cases like this where there seems to be evidence on both sides, we hold these kind of these apparent contradictions in tension. In either case Daniel, the man of God, is given strength and peace. These are the same words the resurrected Jesus said to his disciples, "peace be with you".

So what can we learn from this?

1. There is a spiritual battle going on is one that we cannot see. Some call this spiritual warfare. Paul affirms this in Ephesians 6 when he says, "Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of this present darkness."

2. Spiritual disciplines help us to battle in the spiritual realm, as we see Daniel fasting and setting aside time to pray for 21 days.

3. We are not alone in the spiritual battle, we have angels that battle for us and go ahead of us.

4. There are spiritual strongholds, where evil may be more present in some places than others. You might conjecture where those are today in our world.

5. Jesus comes alongside of us in this battle. Jesus has already defeated Satan on the cross, so He is all powerful. As we rely on His strength and power, greater is He that is in us is greater than the one in the world!

6. There is a time when Satan and his dark angels will be completely be destroyed, but for a time they can still try to thwart God's plans and God's sons and daughters. Paul tells us not to be "unaware of his schemes".

So while we don't need to be unnecessarily preoccupied with the evil one, we mustn't be naive either. We need to fight the battle with the weapons Jesus has given us: faith, the power of the Word, prayer, fasting, silence and solitude. It also shows us to pray for others in spiritual leadership and our friends, and the church as a whole. There will certainly be pushback from the evil one, as we seek to make disciples of the One who overcame sin, death and the power of the devil on the cross.

So as we pray in our Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from the evil one, so your kingdom can come on earth as it is in heaven". Amen.

Daniel 10:2-19
2 At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, 5 I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6 His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

7 I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. 8 So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. 9 Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

15 While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. 16 Then one who looked like a man[a] touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I feel very weak. 17 How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.”

18 Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. 19 “Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.”

When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why Run from God?

Today we have two servants of God, David and Daniel, crying out for their people. In David's case, in Psalm 4, the people have started to turn from God's way and the consequences are starting to happen. David is pleading with God to answer him and have mercy on the people. And then he is pleading with the people to turn away from delusions and false gods. The people are wondering where God is and what happened to their prosperity, but not acknowledging their turning away from God.

In Daniel's case, the people of Israel are in exile after the Babylonian invasion of 586 B.C. He recognizes as well that God is carrying out judgment against the people, as he had promised in the book of Deuteronomy. When God made the covenant with people, it brought blessings if they obeyed God and curses if they disobeyed God and ran after other gods. Daniel acknowledges, according to Jeremiah's prophecy, that this exile would last 70 years before God restored his people. Nonetheless Daniel prays for God's mercy after being completely honest about the people's refusal to repent from their sin. Finally, at the end of the chapter he asks for God's mercy because it is His people who bear His name.

So the question is as we look at the history of God's people, how do we turn away from God? What are the things in our lives that can become god-like, because they become more important than God? It can be subtle. Even busyness, or work-aholism can show who is our God. The key thing is that when we stray from God, he is always there to welcome us back (i.e. the prodigal son) and his love for us never changes. But we miss out on the abundant life he has for us, because all of these false gods will let us down at one time or another. And our lives will not be as fruitful as they could have been if we had remained in the Vine, Jesus.

The good thing is it is never too late to repent and turn from things we know are wrong! God welcomes us back and restores our soul. Take a minute if the Holy Spirit is convicting you of something in your life that needs to change. If you are so bold, tell someone and ask them to pray for you and keep you accountable for that aspect of your life. I think you will see that it will be worth it far beyond what you could ask or imagine.

Psalm 4
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

1 Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2 How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods
3 Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 Tremble and do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
5 Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
and trust in the Lord.
6 Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
Let the light of your face shine on us.
7 Fill my heart with joy
when their grain and new wine abound.
8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

Daniel’s Prayer

9 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes[a] (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian[b] kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.