Saturday, April 30, 2016

Marching Orders!!

Readings for the Day
2 Samuel 4-5, Psalm 139, Matthew 16

Verses for the Day
Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; 23 so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. 24 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” 25 So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.

We see David defeating the Philistines, as he has been now made the King. We immediately see two things that David does right. First, before he attacks the Philistines he inquires of The Lord. Before he does anything he asks God if it is His will for David and his men to attack. And then he waits for God's answer.

In this case, God is very specific and tells them not to take them straight on, but circle around behind them before they attack. Then, we see something interesting in God's reply. He says as soon as you hear the sound of marching in the poplar trees, move quickly for The Lord has gone ahead of you.

Finally, the last reason for David's success was he did exactly what The Lord said. He didn't doubt, he didn't try to figure it out, he knew The Lord was ahead of him and that is all he needed. God even gave him a sign of His presence, the sound of marching on the tops of the trees. It was the armies of The Lord advancing to fight the enemy before David. You might say it was David's secret weapon.

I wonder how many of us step out to do things FOR The Lord before we inquire OF The Lord. Do we wait for God's sign that He has gone ahead of us? And how would we know He has gone ahead of us? Do we see even see the results when God is front of us. Our enemies are completely wiped out!!

What enemy are you facing? So often I know want to rush and meet it head on. But God may have another way of attacking our own worst enemy. Importantly have we asked God how we should fight it? Have we made sure he is out in front of us? We know one thing if God is for us, who can be against us. In a sense Jesus has already defeated all our enemies when he died on the cross and made a spectacle of them when he conquered sin, death and the power of the devil.

But until Jesus returns we still have an enemy who fights us and is bent on destroying us. But God has armed us with an array of spiritual weapons to fight the principalities of this present darkness.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hypocrite!

Readings for the Day
2 Samuel 3, 1 Chronicles 12, Matthew 15

Verses for the Day
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” 12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

If you read the context of these verses and then what happens in the rest of the chapter, you will see something significant in Jesus ministry. As the Pharisees and teachers try to undermine his teaching, he calls them out and labels them as "hypocrites". They rebuke the disciples for not washing their hands before meals, while they disregard helping their parents for their so called righteousness.

Jesus points out the core of their hypocrisy when he teaches the crowd that it is not what goes into a person that defiles them but what comes out of them. And what comes out of them reveals their heart condition. And how do the Pharisees react to this? It says they are "offended". Why are they offended? Because Jesus is pointing out their true heart condition. They are not used to being called hypocrites who "honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him.

So what is Jesus saying? I think he is saying that though someone might look or seem religious on the outside, it doesn't reveal the true condition of their hearts. Of course, when our hearts are changed by God's love, we will walk in obedience, but this is always a work God does in us. We cannot fake it. This is one of the reasons people shy away from the church. They see a lot of hypocrisy similar to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.

A true change of life only happens with a true change of heart. We can't manufacture holiness. It is God's work in us as we present ourselves as a living sacrifice in view of His mercy. Romans 12:1

How is your heart condition? If it is not very good, spend some time with God asking him to renew your heart in the power of the Holy Spirit. Far from being a hypocrite you will draw others to the church by your life and love.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Real Friendship!!

Readings for the Day
2 Samuel 1, Psalm 140, Matthew 13

Verses for the Day
25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.

So begins the book of 2 Samuel. The era of King Saul is over as he is injured to the point of death, and asks a young soldier, an Amalekite, to finish the job. When David learns that this man did not think twice about killing the King, the Lord's anointed One, he had him put to death. Most likely the man did not show honor to King Saul, and handled the matter in a nonchalant way. Though David had plenty of reason to be glad King Saul had met his end, but he has so much respect for the office of King, he calls for the daughters of Israel to weep and grieve.

Meanwhile more personal to David is the loss of his best friend Jonathan, King Saul's son. Jonathan and David made a personal covenant in 1 Samuel 18:3, "And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself."

In Samuel 20, David leaves the King's table, which makes King Saul furious. So furious he wants to get David and kill him. He even hurls a sword at his son, when he tries to defend David. He and Jonathan make a pact that if David is to flee from his father, he will shoot three arrows past a young man. If he shoots the arrow behind the young man, David is safe. When David sees the three arrows behind the young man, he comes back and finds Jonathan. The text says this about their reunion,

"After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most."

So now we see the context of David's words in 2 Samuel 1, when he learns of Jonathan's death in battle. Some interpreters have insinuated that the above verses point to a homosexual relationship. But this is clearly reading too much into the text. We know David and Jonathan both have children through women, and we have the story of David and beautiful Bathsheba. The usual Hebrew words for an intimate sexual relationship are glaringly absent.

This is a case of how we often try to read back into a text something that is simply not there. We always have to be careful we don't bring our own agenda in when we interpret the bible. All kinds of horrible things have happened with the perpetrators citing the bible as the justification for their actions. E.g. Slavery This is why as students of the bible we need to learn how to interpret the bible in the context it is written.

The bottom line is that Jonathan and David had a very special friendship, so much so that he calls him his brother that he loved as much as himself. All too often men don't have close relationships with other men who they could call a brother. Men need other men they can confess their sins to, pray with, and be encouraged. Men often stay isolated and avoid close friendships. But the scripture says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

David and Jonathan were sharpened by their relationship with each other. Who do you have in your life who makes you a better man or woman? Who encourages you to be a more committed follower of Christ? I believe God wants all of us to have a Jonathan in our lives. I hope you find someone like him.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Solution to a Stressed Out Life

Readings for the Day
1 Samuel 28-29; Psalm 109; Matthew 11

Verses for the Day:
Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

How could I pass up these verses for they give us insight to Jesus' call to us as his disciples. I love Eugene Peterson's "The Message" translation of these verses. He says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Usually we think of rest in terms of physical rest, which of course is necessary. But Jesus addresses a different kind of stress today. The stress of putting forth enough religious activity to appease God, which leaves us tired and unsatisfied. Jesus has in mind a different type of relationship with us. The metaphor Matthew uses is that of the yoke of an oxen. A yoke linked two oxen together, so they could pull the plow in the field together.

Jesus says, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Simply said, Jesus wants to pull the plow with us. While it is work, we are not alone in it. When we try to do it on our own through religiosity, it leaves us burdened and weary. As we realize that Jesus has carried our burdens to the cross, we can find rest for our souls. Such begins the life of discipleship, the life of walking and pulling the plow with Jesus. Or as the passage says, "work with me, walk with me, watch how I do it."

So here is the balance. When we try to do it all by ourselves we get burnt out, tired out and aren't very effective. But on the other hand we don't say, "Okay Jesus you do all the pulling, I will just watch you do it." It is a relationship. Jesus is the master, we are the student. Jesus teaches us in the "school of life". When Jesus calls us to follow him, he invites us into a new way of living. He helps us to "recover" our lives, and to experience the joy of living a life bigger than ourselves.

How about you? Are you experiencing joy in your walk with Christ? Or is your faith life joyless and burdensome? Jesus said in John 10:10, "I have come to give you life and life abundantly." Are you experiencing abundant life? If not Jesus says to you, "Come unto me all you are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your souls." Respond to Jesus' invitation to a new way of life in His easy yoke.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Refuge of the Rock

Readings for the Day
1 Samuel 23; Psalm 31,54; Matthew 7

Verses for the Day
Psalm 31
2 Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

King David is credited with writing 75, or approximately 1/2 of the Psalms in the bible. The context of today's psalm is he is trying to escape King Saul, who is vigorously hunting him down. Saul is extremely jealous of David because many of his people have gone over to David, praising him more than the King. And on top of that his son, Jonathan, is David's soulmate and friend unto death.

1 Samuel 23 says this, David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.

One might suppose that David wrote some of these psalms while hiding in the crags and caves of the wilderness in the deserts of Ziph and Maon. While he is hiding out fearing for his life, he calls out to God who is his refuge and strength. He uses the metaphor of a "rock" to describe his relationship with God. I am drawn to the word "refuge". Refuge is defined as, "shelter, protection, safety, security, asylum, sanctuary; hiding place." Though David is a proven warrior, David's security is completely in God his shelter and in the shadow of his wings.

When we see the words, "Into your hands I commit my spirit", this is a phrase Jesus uses on the cross before he gives up his life to the Father. David thinks his life is in the balance, and amidst of how lonely he is in hiding, he knows God is faithful.

While you may not have a King Saul chasing you, maybe you may feel backed into a corner, and you don't know where to turn. While David was alone and being hunted down, he knew he was not truly alone. God had delivered and rescued him before, and he knew he could commit himself into His arms and be protected. I am sure this gave him great peace. He knew that although he was hidden in a rock, that God knew exactly where he was and as the True Rock!

May you find comfort in The Lord your rock and refuge. As you call on His name, He is near to you and come to your rescue. Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

This is Then How You Should Pray!

Readings for the Day
1 Samuel 22, Psalm 17,35, Matthew 6

Verses for the Day
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

In chapter 6 Jesus turns to the spiritual disciplines like giving, fasting and praying. He teaches that instead of being practices that bring people closer to God, they are seeking approval from others. Jesus says if you are doing these things to be noticed and praised, you have already received your reward in full.

Just like Jesus re-interprets the Ten Commandments for their true meaning, he also does the same for the spiritual disciples. And then he turns to the practice of prayer. Instead of praying long, babbling prayers he urges them to go to their room and pray to father in secret. The focus in prayer is not for others to see how spiritual you are, but to connect with your Heavenly Father and communicate your needs with him.

So Jesus says, "When you pray, this is how you should pray!" Of course Jesus knew a lot about prayer because he prayed early and often. So if Jesus is teaching how to pray and gives us this as a model for prayer don't you think we might want to give this prayer some serious thought. It is called the Lord's Prayer. It was the Lord's and now He has given it to us. While this is not the only prayer for us to pray, it is a model for all other prayers.

So what can we learn from this prayer? First Jesus addresses his Father in heaven. This establishes who we are praying to and our relationship to Him. He is our Father, who is in heaven. We have an earthly father and a Heavenly Father. By using the term "father" it implies a very personal relationship. In another instance Jesus prays "Abba Father", which essence meant "daddy".

So that is who we are praying to, what are we praying for? What is the overarching purpose for our prayers. Jesus prays, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Meaning we are praying that earth will look more like heaven. We are praying for God's kingdom, which means his "rule or reign" to come through our rpYwr. When God's kingdom comes His will is done. This is not something we can engineer through human means but only through God's power. It is supernatural and comes through prayer.

In order to accomplish this task of bringing in God's kingdom we need three things from God.

1. We need daily bread. We need God to supply our basic needs. Food, clothing, home, health, family and friends.
These are our needs not our wants. As we go about seeking to bring in God's kingdom, God will supply our basic physical and emotional needs.

2. We need forgiveness and we need to give forgiveness. This is our spiritual need. Forgiveness helps us to stay in a right relationship with God. We are freed from our sin to focus on kingdom work. When we forgive others we are freed from anger and resentment. Forgiveness is the fuel for an authentic and effective ambassador for the kingdom.

3. We need protection from the evil one. As we seek to bring in God's kingdom, the kingdom of this world led by Satan will certainly oppose us. Paul says our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of this present darkness. God will certainly protect us but in our prayer we ask for it.

As you can see prayer is not complicated and does NOT need to be long. This prayer keeps us focused and ready to bring God's kingdom here on earth on heaven until Jesus returns in great promised glory! A pretty good prayer don't you think?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Staying Salty!

Readings for the Day
1 Samuel 20,21 Psalm 34, Matthew 5

Verses of the Day
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

In chapter 5, Jesus takes his disciples away from the crowds, by the mountainside, to explain what the kingdom of God looks like. This is what is commonly referred to as the "Sermon on the Mount", and comprises chapters 5-7 in the Gospel of Matthew. Whether or not this is one sermon or collections of his teachings does not really matter. It is one of the most comprehensive bodies of what he taught. Importantly since he is teaching his Jewish disciples, he uses the message to help them to re-frame their understanding of the Old Testament.

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, "I did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it." Meaning Jesus didn't come to overturn all of the scriptures from the Old Testament, but to teach how He was the fulfillment of them. Later in this chapter, he will take each of the Ten Commandments and teach them the deeper meaning of them.

In the passage today Jesus uses the metaphor of salt to describe how they interact in the world. Salt was a vital resource as it preserved meat, as there was no refrigeration. Salt not only gave taste, but preserved the meat from rotting. As such the disciples will be the ones that preserve a rotting world. The disciples will not be hiding in a corner, but at work in the world. Their presence will give God's flavoring to the world.

The bottom line is that it is not always easy to be in the world, but if we lose our saltiness what is the result? If our purpose is to be God's preservative agents in the world and we provide no flavoring at all, who will?
Have you lost your saltiness? Do you blend in the world or are you acting as a preservative? There is also a warning in here about salt that has lost its saltiness. It reminds us that at the heart of what it means to be a disciple is to be "in" the world but not "of" the world. Let's not lose our taste!!