Monday, December 31, 2012

A time of reflection...


Bonus:

As the year comes to a close, I felt led to share the following passage.  As you read through the passage, reflect back on your year and see where each verse has been fulfilled in your life.  Look back on where God has worked in your life.

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

2a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to rear down and a time to build,

4a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7a time tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace,

9What does the worker gain from his toil?  10I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  11He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  12I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  13That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil--this is the gift of God.  14I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.  God does it so that men will revere him. 

I pray God’s blessings on all of you as you enter a new year.  May your year be filled and may God use you for His purposes.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Great is your reward...

Week 52:

Matthew 5:11-12 11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.



I believe that we are on the cusp of experiencing (and in some ways are currently experiencing) this verse in our culture here in the United States today. More and more haters of Christianity are voicing their sentiment daily on the open waves of the internet and the social media. Through politics, we are seeing a large move away from the traditional family and strong words from those who are for this move. Some of the criticism received from this move angers us a Christians, especially when we experience the insults to our own character as practicing Christians.

I challenge us to welcome that persecution. Jesus tells us in this verse that it will happen and that we are blessed because of it. It is inevitable that there will be opponents to Christ and his teachings. I have heard several times throughout the years through scholars and preachers this concept: One can talk about God in general and not create too much of a controversy. However, start talking about Jesus and people become uncomfortable and at times even defensive and/or hostile. Too many in this world cannot accept that Jesus is the only way to the Father. In short, it is convicting at times and people do not want to be convicted. To be convicted would mean that something is not right and has to be fixed or adjusted. To that person, the only answer is to refute, defend, insult, and persecute.

One area I would like to challenge readers to look into is for all of us to ask, “Why” are we personally invoking this persecution? The “why” is personal and requires some personal reflection. When someone has opposition to me as a Christian is it because of Jesus or because of me representing Jesus poorly? Jesus tells us in this verse that we will face this persecution because of his name. I fully expect this to happen throughout my lifetime as I follow Jesus. However, another side to this coin is…do I use the teachings of Jesus as an oppressive, exclusive “we’re in and they’re out” way of living my life? I have observed that there are some in the world who would be Jesus followers had they not experienced religious people in their life that misrepresented Jesus. I must take each opposing situation and look at my life and decide, “Am I living as Christ would have me live or am I using Christ’s teachings to mask my inconsistent living and hypocrisy?”

So I go back to my original challenge. I need to welcome the persecution. It will be a blessing in one of two ways: One blessing is “great is the reward” because I am being persecuted because I live in the name of Jesus. The other blessing is when I am misrepresenting Jesus and need to make a change in order to reach those who have been wounded by others who have lived in that same misrepresentation. I close with a reminder for myself as to how to live for Jesus from I Peter 2:12 “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (NIV)

Questions/challenges:

1. In what ways have you seen a rise in the persecution of Christians?
2. In what ways has any of this persecution bled over into your life?
3. Explain a time when you were insulted because of your belief in Jesus and reacted in a way where you had forgotten the heart of this verse.
4. Pay attention this week to the general persecution of Christians (or a particular persecution you are enduring) and look at whether that persecution is because of Jesus’ teachings or because of a misrepresentation of Jesus.
5. As you see this going on, what changes need to be made in your life?

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Because of righteousness...

Week 51:

Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Standing up for what is right is not always an easy thing to put into practice. In fact, in this present culture, there are those who would say, “What is right?” The waters of righteousness can become clouded by deception and misdirection. Out of that cloudiness can come persecution to the person who is standing in true righteousness against the relative view of what is right. To know what is right and true can create an atmosphere of persecution.  



As an educator, I deal with students who stand for what is right. Many times I observe these types of situations and have to counsel students as they are shunned or socially punished because their decision may have caused discomfort or trouble for those who did not stand for what is right. The blessing God speaks of is not always immediate. Many times, the person who has stood for what is right, has to endure this persecution to the point of questioning, “Did I do the right thing?”  

As Christians in this culture, many are taking stands for righteousness and are being persecuted through hateful dialogue and accusations of closed mindedness. We watch our country’s moral decay continues to spiral downward and decide to speak up. This is met with strong opposition that mirrors the intolerance the persecutors claim that Christians are living under.  

I was always told and continued the message to others that it is never wrong to stand for what is right. I believe that in the back of my mind as I proclaimed this message was this verse from Matthew 5:10. For one to stand for what is right is not always comfortable or popular as I have noted in examples above. However, I have always believed that blessings would be rewarded for standing in the right. I do not claim to have stood for the right thing in every case; for whatever reason (fear, ignorance, or just plain sinfulness). Because of those decisions I reaped (and sometimes still reap) the consequences of not standing for what is right. I have come to believe the consequences of persecution outweigh the consequences (or perceived rewards) of not standing for what is right.  


Jesus promises the kingdom of heaven for those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. I have made mentioned before in other writings that this kingdom is both now and in the future. The future is the heaven described after our death. This kingdom is the one we are storing up treasures in for the afterlife. Some of the persecution for righteousness we suffer now will have great eternal blessing.  

I also believe that there are blessings in the current kingdom on earth. Amidst the persecution, I know that my character is intact because of what I have stood for. Even though it may be painful and uncomfortable to deal with the persecution, I can rest well in my conscience that I have stayed within my character based on Jesus’ character. At times, standing for what is right throughout a situation will be rewarded in the end. When the situation has run its course and right has prevailed, the one standing in righteousness will be rewarded in some way.  

I do want to briefly give warning about self-righteousness. If I am to stand for what is right, I am to make my stand according to a righteousness that is outside of me, a higher authority, Christ. For me to stand for what is right based solely on my need be right does not reap blessing.  

Now, more than any time in our history, it is time to stand for God’s righteousness. We must do this in a loving way. Follow Christ’s example of righteousness and know that we are blessed.  

Questions/challenges:

1. On what do you base your righteousness? Explain.
2. Describe a time when you have been persecuted for standing up for what is right.
3. Have you seen a blessing from that stand? What was it?
4. This week, observe where righteousness is being championed and what persecutions follow. Make note of the cloudy and misdirecting statements around the persecution.
5. Take a stand for righteousness this week. Pay attention to what God is doing as you step into this action.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Peacemaking...

Week 50:

Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Jesus was called the “Prince of Peace” at times. Jesus was also the Son of God. One of the ways to become a son of God is to become a peacemaker. I am amazed by the people I encounter who just seem to be able to create harmony amongst groups of people. I have also watched as I see how blessed these people are.  



The peacemaker seems to be one who not only creates and maintains harmony, but also is one who seems to have a sense of peace in his demeanor. No matter the situation, this person is calm and has exactly what is needed for any situation. Jesus was one who created harmony amongst those who would seem to not mesh if it were not for his presence. Just look at his disciples. Who besides the Prince of peace could hold a group of men like that together?

I believe that one common myth about the peacemaker is this idea that she is a negotiator or mediator. The negotiator/mediator can very well possess the gifts of a peaceful demeanor. However, the negotiator/mediator may not possess peacemaking ability at all and would still be successful due to training. Conversely, many negotiators/mediators are true peacemakers.

There are times in my life where I have seen peacemaking ability show up for me. I believe that most of the time, I tend toward peacemaking. Sometimes it is in playing negotiator/mediator for the greater good of the situation. As I reflect back on some of those situations, I have to ask myself, ”What was my motivation in lending my help to this situation?  ” If my help was to ease my discomfort around the conflict that was occurring, then my motivation was not necessarily from a peacemaker’s heart. My intervention or assistance was motivated by selfish gain. If my help was to genuinely see two believers work better together, then my motivation was like that of a peacemaker.  

Another thought is that a true peacemaker should have a spirit of reconciliation. The peacemaker has a heart of reconciliation between man and God, husband and wife, parent and child, person to person, and church member to church. This spirit of reconciliation should not be motivated by satisfaction, but a general concern for relationships. Jesus came to reconcile us back with God. Those who have this spirit of reconciliation have a real conviction of seeing conflicts to reconciliation.  

In my life, I am convicted that I should continue to work on my peacemaking abilities. Obviously, I want to be called a son of God. Beyond that, I want to continue to see God’s kingdom grow and spread. Without reconciliation and peaceful relations, the growth is stunted. I ask that God give me a spirit of peace.

Questions/challenges:

1. What comes to mind for you when you think of the term peacemaker?
2. Describe some traits you have seen in the peacemakers in your life?
3. Do you feel you have the spirit of peacemaking/reconciliation in your life? Why or why not?
4. Describe a situation in your life where you stepped in as a peacemaker. Did you do this out of the spirit of peace or out of discomfort?
5. Over the next few days, look for a situation that will require peacemaking. Check your motivation, and then intervene. Pay attention to what God does through the situation.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

To see God...

Week 49:

Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Have you been in situations where you wonder to yourself how does one see God? I see God working around me and in the lives of people serving. However, at times in my life I do not feel or see the presence of God personally. Yes, I can reflect back and see where God has taken me and has worked in my life. But, I don’t always feel his presence or see him. Of course, scripture tells us that no one has ever seen God face to face. I do want at least the next best thing, sensing his presence.

One way to allow the presence of God to show up is through a pure heart. What does one with a pure heart look like? I think many look for purity of heart through purity of thought. We think that if we keep our mind clean that equals purity. Although that is important (I must be constantly renewing my mind and filtering what I take into my mind) it is not the only way to a pure heart.

The way to a pure heart is more than just the way we think. Our beliefs, our values, our emotions are all tied to the heart. To be pure in heart would be to be pure in thought, motives, feelings, and integrity. What we believe in the heart is ultimately what drives us.

Another thing to think about is that actions do not always match the heart…at least for a while. Many of us will not reveal how we feel out of fear of vulnerability. So, we put on an exterior mask to cover the heart. Eventually, however, this catches up to us and we show our pent up heart in unhealthy ways. There is no denying what the heart is holding. We can modify behavior but the heart speaks louder. A simple example would be this: I am a school administrator. Several years ago we adjusted our dress code because we felt that our students were pushing the limits of modesty. With some resistance, our students would abide by the code during the school day. However, when it came time for a sporting event, not during school hours, the students would wear the clothes that verged on immodesty again. We changed their behavior around the issue of modesty during our school day but we did not change the heart as our students went back to their desire to dress their way.

Jesus speaks a lot about the heart. Throughout the Gospels Jesus teachings are heart oriented; especially when he spoke to the Pharisees. David spoke about the heart when he wrote Psalm 51. In verse 10, he asks God to create in him a pure or clean heart. This Psalm was written after the prophet Nathan had pointed out David’s sin with Bathsheba. God spoke about the heart when he chose David as king.  

So, what does it take to have a pure heart? I believe that first and foremost I have to want a pure heart. If it is not my desire to have a pure heart, no amount of work will get me there. Second, there does have to be a renewing of the mind. I have to have a mindset change in order to work on a pure heart. Third, I need to be emotionally healthy. I need to know what I am feeling and be honest with myself and others where I am emotionally. When I do this, I become self-aware and I am able to be authentic. Fourth, I have to be in God’s word and have it written on my heart. We cannot discount this piece of transforming the heart. I cannot count how many times I was able to keep my heart pure because of passages of God’s word written on my heart. Finally, I have to pray. I need to continue to ask God to cleanse me and help me to have a clean heart. I also need to ask others to pray for me as well.  

With a pure heart, we will be able to see God face to face one day. I also believe that he reveals himself to us in small ways as purity of heart grows within us. Prayerfully, as I do my heart work, he will show himself to me in ways that I cannot even imagine.

Questions/challenges:

1. In what ways to do feel you have a pure heart?
2. In what ways is your heart lacking in purity?
3. Describe someone you know who demonstrates a pure heart.
4. Describe someone you know who fakes a pure heart. How do you know?
5. Name some steps you are willing to take in order to improve your purity of heart.
6. Choose one step…then over the course of this next week spend time meditating on and incorporating this step into your life.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Mercy...

Week 48:

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

In order to talk about mercy, we must first recognize the difference between mercy and grace. Basically, mercy can involve a pardoning or forgiveness. Mercy also includes compassion and kindness shown to others. Grace may include mercy but is not always the case. Grace is the giving of an undeserved gift. In our case, God gave us the gift of eternal life when we were sinners and totally undeserving. In fact, we deserve eternal punishment.  

I can receive mercy on a daily basis from others. There are people who show compassion and kindness to me in light of whatever situation I might be experiencing in my life. I receive pardons for transgressions I commit against friends and loved ones. I receive forgiveness when I have wronged one close to me. These are some examples of how I receive mercy.

So, how am I to be merciful? I am to give the same consideration to others. I need to be compassionate and kind to those who are dealing with life’s harshness. I have often thought of mercy only in terms of forgiveness when I have been wronged. Recently, I have noticed that blessing others with compassion and kindness is a form of mercy. Letting a person know I am praying for him is a form of mercy. Checking back with a person and asking how her recent situation is coming along is a form of mercy. Withholding or eliminating my judgment of a person is a form of mercy.

To be shown mercy, I must be merciful. This reminds me of the verse later in Jesus’ sermon from Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” What stands out her for me is the ‘measure’. I notice in many of Jesus’ teachings he uses cause and effect. There are measures, consequences for actions, firsts and lasts, and judgments.  



We have to be careful not to misuse mercy. There are times when we have been wronged and we grant mercy out of fear. We may fear that we will not be liked or someone my think badly of us. There are also times where if we were to not show mercy, someone may call us ‘unchristian’. There are times where showing mercy for wrongs only allows a person’s behavior to continue instead of calling him on his behavior and giving him a gift of seeing how he hurts others. This is a form of hiding behind mercy because I may fear my boldness will create a conflict. I don’t believe Jesus wanted us to misuse mercy in this way. And, even in the calling out of the wrong, we are merciful by walking alongside the person as he adjusts his way.

I want to revisit my initial thoughts about mercy growing up…where I equate mercy with forgiveness. To forgive is to show mercy as well. To receive forgiveness, I must be a forgiving person. I think of the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) when it comes to this form of mercy. He had been forgiven a large debt by his master. He turned around and demanded repayment of a small debt from a friend and was unmerciful as he dealt with his friend. In turn, the mercy shown by his master was rescinded. To receive mercy, I must show mercy.

Lord, help my heart to be more merciful every day. Thank you for the mercies you have shown me.

Questions/challenges:

1. List some ways you have received mercy?
2. In what ways have you been shown the mercies of kindness and compassion lately?
3. In what ways have you shown compassion and kindness lately?
4. Where in your life and to whom do you need to show kindness and compassion as mercy?
5. Whom in your life do you need to extend forgiveness?
6. Who in your life needs to be called on a continuous behavior? Are you willing to do this in a merciful way?
7. Look for and take opportunities this week to show the various forms of mercy. Keep notes on how that happens for you and what God does in your life around these mercies.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

To be filled...

Week 47:

Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  



To hunger and thirst for righteousness is something I would like to improve in my life. I read the Psalms and see that the writers, especially David, hungered and thirsted for righteousness often. David had a love for the word, the law, and God’s righteousness. That is where I long to be.

I have had spurts where I longed for God’s word and righteousness, and like the verse promises, I have been filled. There are other times where I do not even know what hungering and thirsting for righteousness looks like. I sometimes confuse this with self-righteousness. It does not take long in the midst of self-righteousness to find out that is not what this verse is talking about. When I am in the middle of a self-righteous run in my life, I find myself critical, judgmental, and miserable.  

Throughout the Psalms there are examples of hungering and thirsting for righteousness and the rewards that come with that longing. In Psalm 1; blessed is the man who does not walk in the way of the wicked but delights in God’s law. In Psalm 19 the man who delights in God’s law finds several rewards. In Psalm 37 we are not to envy the wicked but commit to God’s righteousness. Psalm 63 is a beautiful discourse on seeking, thirsting, and longing for God and his righteousness. Psalm 119 is full of language around the love for God’s law and how it fills a man. When I wonder how do I hunger and thirst for righteousness, all I have to do is open the Psalms and read the language of the Psalmists.

Is the example of righteousness only following God’s law? I think it is deeper than that. We are to love the good and do what is right. James 4:17 talks about knowing the good I ought to do. If I do not do it, I sin. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.”

Jesus further expands on righteousness in other teachings. He tells the people to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). In Matthew 5:20, Jesus talks about our righteousness needing to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees. This brings us back to self-righteousness which is what the Pharisees were practicing. Jesus wants us to follow God’s righteousness.  

To become righteous, we are to follow the standard of God’s righteousness. To hunger and thirst for God’s standard of righteousness is twofold; work on ourselves, and incorporate God’s standards into our everyday lives. We want to be careful that we do not make this a checklist. That is what the Pharisees did. To draw ourselves to hunger and thirst for righteousness I believe we must love the good, love the word, and make righteousness a daily goal in our lives.

As we hunger and thirst for righteousness, God will fill us with His love, His knowledge, and His grace and mercy. We must avoid the checklist and make righteousness a part of us.

Questions/challenges:

1. In what ways have you hungered and thirsted for righteousness?
2. In what ways have you made this goal a checklist?
3. In striving to be righteous, in what ways have you become self-righteous?
4. In what ways has God filled your hunger and thirst?
5. This week, meditate on Philippians 4:8 and see where God fills you.
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Monday, November 12, 2012

The meek...

Week 46:

Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

What does it mean to be meek? I believe that our society judges meekness to be weakness. In fact, I recall not too long ago in a commercial a line that said, “The meek will not inherit the earth.” There has been such a push in our ‘have it now’ culture to outdo, out work, be number one, climb to the top…that to be meek would be an insult.

I am here to argue that meekness is not weakness. In fact, I believe that it takes great strength to be meek. When I look at the general definition of meekness I see gentleness, patience, humility, and submissiveness. I know that in my life it really does take great strength for me to practice those parts of meekness. I had a friend describe meekness as great strength and power under control. In other words, to practice meekness one does not misuse his/her power for selfish gain. That alone takes discipline.



I see two types of meekness and feel that the Lord blesses them both. First, I believe that there are those who are naturally meek. Their personality is just ‘laid back’. As I watch this type of person, I see one who is naturally humble, patient, gentle, and submissive. This type of person is not a pushover as the world would label him/her. This type of person does not need to fight for what he needs; he just naturally harmonizes with those around him. When I see this type of person, I notice that he/she is just naturally blessed and everyone who comes into contact with him/her seems to leave a better person. These are the people who when all is chaotic around them, they are still at peace and they come out on the other side strong, humble, and…meek.

The second type of meekness is what I call a practiced meekness. This is the person who is not naturally meek but feels the call of the Holy Spirit through scripture to practice meekness. This requires great discipline and intentionality. As I describe this kind of person, I do not want to leave the impression that this is someone who represses his/her power in order to be meek. That does not work. That type of person is a poser, and the false meekness he/she displays will unravel at some point. The person I am talking about is the one who has taken great strides through prayer, study, and practice to become meek in everyday life. This person can be assertive without damaging relationships. This is the person who has put into practice two scriptural philosophies; the practice of doing good to everyone and if it is up to him, to get along with those around him.

Neither of these types of meekness requires that a person give up his/her character and become a pushover or a self-martyr. This person has confidence in the abilities that God has given her and does not in any way feel slighted or like a victim. Those who are meek approach life with a joy of knowing that God has blessed them. And God will continue to bless them.    

Meekness is not what the world describes it to be. Jesus was the picture of meekness. It took more strength than I could muster to die the death that Jesus died…for sinners.

”Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Questions/challenges:

1. What are some of the worldly descriptions of meekness you have heard or seen?
2. How do you describe meekness?
3. Would you describe yourself as naturally meek, or do you have to work at it?
4. When you read this passage, what comes up for you?
5. Make a commitment this week to take one measurable step to lean into meekness. Put it into practice and watch what God does in your life.
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Monday, November 5, 2012

Those who mourn...

Week 45:

Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

I believe we live in a culture that makes it hard to mourn and grieve when one suffers a loss of any kind. Think about how much effort so many of us make to not be sad. I know I do not like to feel sadness and I will jump through all kinds of hoops just to avoid most forms of sadness.



Briefly, I would like to describe some ways we as a culture avoid mourning and grief. First, when a child loses a pet, what is the first thing a parent will say? It may sound something like this, “Don’t be sad, we’ll get you another one.” We try to replace our loss hoping we will feel better. Do we really love the replacement pet as much as the first? No, we have not grieved the loss of the first one. A second form of grief avoidance is the idea that “time heals all wounds.” Time does not heal, God heals. Time allows for healing to take place. However, if one does not grieve properly, time will only create a wound that will fester and cause other problems in life. A fourth form of grief avoidance is to bury it and move on as if life is normal. As a culture, we have taken a virtue like perseverance and created a “push through all things” mentality. This only creates a powder keg ready to explode at any time. The final grief avoidance practice is a “don’t let them see you cry attitude.” This type of avoidance teaches us to cry alone. Healing for grief comes from community. Grieving alone prolongs the sadness.

How God wants us to handle grief is opposed to what our culture advocates. I believe, according to this passage, to be comforted, we must feel our sadness to completion. One sociologist believes that if we try to numb the emotions like sadness, anger, and fear we will also numb happiness, excitement, and tenderness. We cannot selectively numb the emotions or we will not be able to feel what we consider positive emotions. In order to feel joy and happiness, we must feel sadness to completion. I believe this is part of what God is saying that we “will be comforted.” When we feel our grief and sadness, we are released to feel joy and happiness again.  

Although death tends to be the most severe or traumatic form of loss, it is not the only form of loss one can experience. Divorce is a form of loss that also needs grief or mourning. In fact, divorce is difficult in a different way. Because the loss does not have a finality like death, constant reminders of grief can last for years because in a lot of cases, the other party is still around. The loss of employment requires grief and mourning. These are two major areas besides death that cause grief, but there are many other areas where grief and sadness need to be felt to completion.  

I invite you to look at places in your life where you have not mourned or grieved loss. Reflect on how you handled your emotions. Do you need to spend a time period in grief so that God can heal you, comfort you, and release you to feel more joy and happiness in your life?  

Here are some steps you can take to mourn and grieve properly. First, ask God to be part of the process. Second, admit that you have a loss in your life. Third, admit the emotion of sadness and maybe even fear and anger around this loss. Fourth, find someone or a group of people who can support you through this time. Finally, feel your loss to completion and allow God to fill your heart with what is needed for you.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Questions/challenges:

1. Describe a time of loss in your life.
2. How did you handle that loss?
3. Describe how you handled the emotions around that loss. What were some consequences for you handling the emotions in an unhealthy way?
4. Do you see a connection between a lack of joy and some loss in your life?
5. This week, think about a loss in your life you did not face with grief and mourning. Ask God to come in to your heart and help you to work through that situation.

Note: It is never too late to go back and grieve losses. In my own life, I never really grieved the loss of my Grandmother whose life was taken by a drunk driver. Many years later in therapy it was revealed to me that I had not grieved that loss. I spent some time in grief then and was comforted and released to feel joy and peace in my life. I invite you to walk into that place in your life and gain healing that you may not know you needed.
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Monday, October 29, 2012

Poor in spirit...

Week 44:

Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Poor in spirit; what does that mean? Scholars seem to be all over the map as to how to interpret this passage. Some believe that Jesus refers back to the type of people left as a remnant in Israel and Judah when Babylon took the Israelites into captivity. Those left behind were the poorest of poor. They were in charge of the keeping of the land. Those people basically inherited the land. Other scholars believe that Jesus is speaking of those who are or feel fated to a simple life. Life is just not complex for this type of person. This person is filled with what God gives him. Finally, some scholars believe that this is the person so broken that he has nowhere to turn but to God.  

Regardless of where one lands when interpreting this passage, it seems clear that Jesus in some way is referring to someone who is humble, or at the least, someone who would be perceived in some way as being of lower status.  

When I read this passage, the first verse that comes to mind for me is Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” I think about when I have no place left to turn, I am broken in spirit or poor in spirit; God is what I have left. It is in this place where I am in His kingdom. I have access to all God has to offer. I want to note that the interpretation from Greek to English shows “kingdom’ and “heaven” not capitalized. This observation tells me that this is a here and now situation.


Scholars and preachers alike believe that the kingdom Jesus speaks of is both later and now. God reigns over both. There are aspects of God’s kingdom that are established now. There are other aspects that are in the Heavenly realms. And yet, there are other aspects in the spiritual realm, unseen.  

Those who are poor in spirit have an access to God and His kingdom that is unique. Because of their situation, the only place they can turn is to God. In those times, the communion with God is pure, deep, meaningful, and in many ways unexplainable. I think God sustains those who are poor in spirit much like he sustained Moses and Jesus during their 40 day fasts. God sustains those who are poor in spirit with His Spirit.  

Furthermore, I believe that there are times in life where we are poor in spirit. Situations in life may dictate such a plight. However, I also believe that there are those who are just poor in spirit for life. As I make that statement, I think about how many times and in various ways Jesus talked about the first shall be last and the last shall be first. These who are poor in spirit perpetually will be filled with God’s Spirit and have a connection with him that is deep and fulfilling.  

I go back to what does poor in spirit mean? How do I become poor in spirit in order to find a special place in God’s kingdom? Do I humble myself? Do I empty myself? As I think about this, I wonder if at times I’ve been poor in spirit and God has granted me keys to his kingdom and I have not even seen it. For some reason, I make this passage more confusing than it really is. Bottom line, I need the Holy Spirit of God to lead and guide me. If I get in the way, I do not hear that Spirit speak to me. I must find a way to be poor in spirit so that I can hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance. At that point, I have access to the kingdom of heaven in a new and deeper way.

Questions/challenges:

1. What interpretations have you heard for this passage?
2. What is your interpretation?
3. Describe someone who you see as poor in spirit.
4. In what ways can you become poor in spirit?
5. Ask God this week to reveal to you what it means to be poor in spirit and pay attention to what goes on around you.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Finishing the year.

Over the next nine weeks I will be writing the devotional thoughts based on the nine Beatitiudes from Matthew 5

I would like to grow my readership for this blog.  If this devotional blog has been helpful to you, please share it with others.  I have also been able to add an email opt-in on the blog.  If you or anyone else opts in they will receive this blog by email.  The email opt-in has a one day lag time, so when I post on Monday, one receives the email on Tuesday.

Thank you to all of you for supporting me in this blog venture.

Byron

Monday, October 22, 2012

Run together...

Week 43:

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us through off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

I notice that when I exercise alone I tend to lose focus and eventually quit exercising all together. When I have a partner exercising with me, I tend to stick with it. It seems that when taking on a task in community, the task seems to get done quicker and with more efficiency.

This is a great passage full of imagery of our life in Christ as a race that is to be run. Not only is it a race to be run (which races take training), it is a race that requires perseverance. Just taking that from this passage alone is edifying. However, something that stands out in this passage are the words “we” and “us”.  

This takes me back to having an exercise partner. I do much better when I know someone is working with me. I know that some training is done better alone, but for the most part when tasks are worked on in community it seems to just go better. I like to look at this Christian life as a team sport.

It takes my community of believers to help me through this race. I need their comfort. I need the accountability that my group offers. I need wisdom of the ones who have experienced the part of life I have yet to go through. I love knowing that I am not in this alone. That what I am experiencing, others are also.


Satan loves to make us think we are alone in this race for Christ. If he can make us think we are alone, we can become discouraged and eventually give up. We are in a race as a team…not competing with each other, but against Satan and his lies and schemes.  

Next time you are discouraged and thinking that you are running this race alone, find a community of believers. Share where you are in life. Compare notes. Use the strength of the community to help you build the stamina needed to persevere to the end.

Questions/challenges:

1. Describe a time when you have felt singled out and alone.
2. Describe a time where community helped you back into the race.
3. When you feel alone what is it for you that block’s you from being in community with other believers?
4. Spend time this week in prayer for those who are in community with you. Pray for their race and perseverance. If you do not have a community, pray for God to lead you to one.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Lord longs...

Week 42:

Isaiah 30:18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

The book of Isaiah, like many of the books of the prophets, is a description of what will and does happen to the disobedient Israelites. In the midst of all of this is this passage giving us an insight to God’s character. So much of what I love about the Old Testament are the glimpses the writers give us about God’s character.

This passage makes me think about parenting. I long as a parent to be gracious and compassionate to my children; especially when they are not following my guidance. This is how I imagine God. He looks at our disobedience and/or our waywardness and longs to grant us grace and show compassion. However, parenting also requires the correction of our children. Justice also has its place.  

At this point in Israel’s history, God, longing to show grace and compassion has to administer justice. In the prior verses, Isaiah gives the people some reflection on where they should have been as a nation. Repentance and rest were their salvation; quietness and trust their strength. But as Isaiah told them, they would have none of that. Therefore, God has administered justice. Again, using the parent example, we have to administer justice to our children when they have missed the mark or are defiant. All the while, we would like to see our children follow our guidance and avoid the consequences that come with justice.



The final piece of the verse, “Blessed are all who wait on him!” gives us one more glimpse into the character of God. I imagine this to be all of those who eagerly await a fulfillment of a promise from God. I think about the story in Luke about Simeon. Simeon was one who waited on the Lord to see the Messiah with his own eyes. Simeon was blessed by waiting on the Lord. There are times that I have waited what seems a long time. Some of those requests and waits have been fulfilled. Some are yet to come to fruition. Some may not come to fruition for me, but God will fulfill it to someone down the line.

It is good to know that God longs to have compassion and grace for His followers. I in turn need to practice that character in my life for those around me.  

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”

Questions/challenges:

1. Describe where in your life God has shown his grace and compassion.
2. Describe a time in your life where God has shown His justice.
3. Who in your life do you long to show your grace and compassion? Explain.
4. Where in your life has waiting on the Lord been fulfilled?
5. Where are you still waiting on the Lord?
6. Pay attention this week to the areas of your life where you need to show grace and compassion. Ask the Lord to give you strength and boldness to follow through.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Things above...

Week 41:

Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

This is something I need to be reminded of often. I live in a highly materialistic culture. It is easy to get caught up in the materialism that surrounds me. I am frequently caught up in status, salary, better things, clothes, etc. There are worldly mindsets to deal with like not granting forgiveness, competing, gossip, relativism, selfishness, vindictiveness, etc. All of these things become distractions to who I am and who I am to become as a new creation in Christ.

This verse and its context remind me of where my thoughts should be. “This world is not our home.” It is a phrase that is repeated among circles I am involved in on a regular basis. I want to be careful and not over-use that phrase and use it just because I do not want to face a difficult task. However, the phrase is true. This world is not home to those of us who follow Jesus. We await the time until He comes back to make everything new. Until then, we are to be light to those who do not yet know Him. As we live that life, we are to keep the mindset that we are to keep our minds and hearts on things above.



How do we set our minds on things above? Paul goes on to explain some things we should do to work toward looking above. First of all, he lists several things of the flesh and earthly nature that we are to put to death. These are (vs. 5): “…sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed…” There are two things of interest about this list. One, Paul tells us that these are the reason for the wrath of God to come. Second, we used to walk in these ways. That would mean that we have changed. Paul also gets more detailed about things we would rid ourselves of by listing anger, rage, malice, slander, fifthly language and lying. All of these are parts of our old nature that we should continually be working on and purging from our lifestyle.

The second part of what we should do to set our minds on things above is focusing on the positives we need to add to our lifestyle. Paul lists these things (vs. 12-15): Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace and thankfulness. As we de-robe ourselves of the earthly nature, we are clothing ourselves with these positive attributes.  

I am to continually work on myself, getting rid of the old and putting on the new. This is the work that allows me to set my mind and heart on things above and recognize that this world is not my home.

I close with this summary statement Paul made at the end of this section of passage: (vs. 17) “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Questions/challenges:

1. When you hear the statement, “Set your minds on things above” what comes to mind for you?
2. What are the negative attributes that you still struggle with?
3. What are the positive attributes that you are successful living out in your life now?
4. What are the attributes you want to work on?
5. If you have uttered the statement (or something similar, or have even felt this way), “This world is not my/our home”, what was/is the situation or context?
6. This week, ask God to reveal to you where you do have your mind on things above. Also have Him reveal to you where you have your mind on earthly things.
7. Spend time in prayer asking God to help you to become more “above” minded.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Anxiety and peace...

Week 40:

Philippians 4:6-7 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is a favorite passage of mine. I notice it is quoted and used often among Christian circles. However, many stop short on teachings or thoughts at verse 6. Verse 7 has such power that it is hard to get the whole of this passage without it. This passage is loaded with so many nuggets. I could write multiple devotional thoughts just around these few words.  

The first and obvious part of this passage is about anxiety. “Do not be anxious about anything…” Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25ff) tells his disciples to not worry. He goes on to explain that God will provide whatever is needed. Paul echoes this in this passage. The key and convicting word in this phrase is ‘anything’. Wow, I understand about worry and anxiety but to not be anxious about ‘anything’ is difficult. I come from a family of worriers. I carry worry in my heart often. This one strikes close to home for me.



We are told to not be anxious about anything. What is comforting about this passage is what we are told to do with ‘everything’. Present everything to God. Everything? Yes, everything. Through prayer, petition and thanksgiving, lay it all before God. This does not mean always we get what we request. It does mean that we have placed it all under the one who knows what to do with it and what is best for us. As a friend once told me, “God cares about what we care about.”

This is where I add verse 7 to the study. What is so powerful about verse 7 is what happens when we lay everything before God. We gain peace about whatever God will do with our requests. This peace is beyond understanding and guards us. The peace is the key to helping with the anxiety. For me, laying it before God gives me a peace that in the end I know it will be good. Many times in my worry, underneath the worry, I still find peace that something bigger is work in my life. That something bigger (or someone bigger) is God.  

This peace brings me back to the thankfulness from verse 6. I can lay my anxieties before him through prayer and petition, thankful that he is at work through the whole situation. I have heard it said, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” I do not find that to be true. I can write a whole other article on the basis of that belief but for now I want to go this route: God may allow us more than we can handle so that He may be glorified that He is the one who carries us through whatever the situation. This passage tells that no matter the situation (everything) be thankful and recognize the peace that comes with the thankfulness.  

I am convinced that at times anxiety and worry about a situation stems from the fact that I cannot control the situation. Turning over control causes worry and anxiety. This passage is helpful to me to remind me that I really do not want to be in control. The one who knows what is best is in control. That is the source of peace I need to get me past my anxiety. I hope that is true for you as well.

Questions/challenges:

1. What feelings come up for you when you read this passage?
2. From this passage, what is true about you?
3. What are your thoughts about bringing “everything” to God, big or small?
4. What are the hardest anxieties or worries for you when it comes to turning it over to God?
5. This week, pay attention to what you turn over to God. Challenge yourself through prayers to present everything with thanksgiving to God.
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Monday, September 24, 2012

A dwelling...

Week 39:

Ephesians 2:22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

For the past few years I have been led to learn more about transformation. God has been transforming me since I first accepted Jesus as savior and was buried with him in Baptism. And, as I have walked in Him through the years; I have looked back and seen periods of growth. However, lately, I have really been aware of my transformation and watching the transformation of others.  

This passage is just another of those re-enforcing pieces of that walk through transformation for me. Looking at the context of this passage, I see that Paul is talking to Gentiles. That means me and most of the people I associate with. This passage is a partial reminder of what God is doing in my transformation process from the old me to the new creation He set in motion.

Notice that we are a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Without God dwelling in us both through his Spirit and in the form of Jesus his son; there is no transformation process. This passage shows me two things about the dwelling.



First, I am to build myself into a dwelling place for God and his Spirit. I am to be continually working on my heart and my actions to be a place for God to dwell. Many times, I feel that I am stuck where I am, stagnate. At times, that may be true. However, I find that when I reflect back on where I was and where I am now, I see that God has been doing transforming work in me; just not at the pace that I may like. The indwelling of his Spirit has carried me through to where I am now. One way I am able to see my progress leads me to the second part of the dwelling, community.

In this passage, Paul is talking to a group of Gentiles. In Christ, we “are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Community is important for transformation. Community holds us accountable, allows us to share, edifies, gives strength in numbers, comforts, sharpens, and allows for authentic Christ-like living. I would not be a transformed person had it not been for my community of believes. When we see the indwelling of the Spirit of God in others, it inspires us.

To continue the transformation process I must be continually working on myself and do so in a community of believers. In both places, I am building a dwelling place for the Spirit of God.

Questions/challenges:

1. In what ways have you been building your dwelling for God’s Spirit?
2. In what ways do you need to improve your dwelling?
3. How much of a factor has your community played in your transformation? Why or why not?
4. Do you need more community work or more personal work? Explain.
5. This week, spend some time in reflection about where you have been and where you are now. Make note of change made by your personal work as well as what your community has done for you.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

To love Jesus...

Week 38:

John 14:23-24 23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and he will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

It is this simple…to love Jesus we are to obey his teaching. How do you know if someone loves Jesus? He/she obeys his teaching. How do I know I love Jesus? I obey his teaching.

Can it be that simple? I believe so. When looking at following Jesus and making him Lord of my life, it ties to knowing his teaching and obeying. We had a preacher who would not call us “Church” or even “Christians”. He would call us “Disciples”. I believe this was more fitting to what we are. To love Jesus is to obey his teaching. To follow Jesus as a disciple, we are to follow his teachings and commands. Over the years, I have observed Church members and Christians alike carry those labels without the commitment to Jesus a disciple requires.

How do we obey the teaching of Jesus? I want to be careful here and not journey down a path of legalism. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, Church members and Christians have put into “law” what following Jesus looks like. To obey the teachings and love Jesus is not some magical formula and/or a list of dos and don’ts. There are fundamental truths that we are to follow. The rest is looking at Jesus’ teaching and applying it to daily life.

Every time I examine where I am in following Jesus; I am compelled to go back to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. For me to go back to that set of teachings is fundamental. The passage is Jesus explaining how God intended life to be in the Kingdom. The core of what Jesus worked from is in the Sermon on the Mount.

The other side to recognize is in verse 24. Not only did Jesus tell us how to know someone loves him; he showed us how to know if someone does not love him. I do believe that Jesus is talking about overall character here. Obviously, we cannot follow every command at every moment. We will fail and sin. Many passages in the Bible talk about the heart. As we follow the teachings of Jesus, and do work on our heart, it becomes more and more obvious to us those people who do not follow the teachings of Jesus. It comes down to a question of character.

Our challenge as we strive to love Jesus is to build his teachings into our character. Obeying his teachings may not feel very loving at times. However, as I grow older, I realize that love is more than just an emotional response. Love asks for commitment, emotion, perseverance, and in the case of following Jesus…obedience.

Questions/challenges:

1. What is your initial response to love requiring obedience to Jesus’ teaching?
2. When you understood that loving Jesus means to obey his teaching, in what way did you start thinking in terms of a legalistic mindset?
3. When you understood that loving Jesus means to obey his teaching, in what way did you find it freeing?
4. This week, examine your life and take an inventory. Where are you in integrity with this passage and where are you out of integrity with this passage?
5. Spend some time in prayer and ask Jesus to reveal to you parts of your life where you are following him and places you need work.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

I don't know...

Week 37:

Ecclesiastes 11:5 As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in the mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.

As I grow older I am finding that it is okay to say, “I don’t know.” For so many years I felt inadequate when I did not have an answer for someone’s question. I don’t know what it is that makes me feel that way. Maybe it is the people pleasing side of me and I feel that a person would think less of me if I don’t have an answer. Maybe I feel that I will look incompetent and therefore a person will not want to continue in relationship with me. Whatever the reasons, it has bothered me for years to not know an answer. Not as much now, but it still is there for me.



Of course those things are not true about me just because I do not know an answer to a question. I have heard this phrase several times through the years: “the older I get, the less I know.” Now, of course, that is not true…I know more now than I did ten years ago. However, the older I get, I do realize how little I know. This passage, as simple as it is, gives some clarity to why I know so little. There is so much we cannot understand because God, the Maker of all, has not revealed it.

As we look at the passage and read what it says it appears that through modern science we know a little more about the wind and what happens in the mother’s womb than Solomon did. But our proof that we know little spans much larger than the two examples that Solomon gives us. We cannot understand the work of God. We still do not understand why someone has to die young, or tragically. We cannot understand why the bumble bee flies even though aerodynamically it’s not supposed to be able to fly. There are so many more examples. There are some answers we will not find…at least not until we are with God in glory when he makes all things new. Even then, we may not know.

Also, as I grow older, I realize that I don’t want to know the answers. Sometimes knowing the answers is painful. In Ecclesiastes 1 Solomon talks about that with much wisdom comes much sorrow. There are times now that I would rather just be clueless.

Finally, it is okay for me to refer to someone who is an expert in the area that I do not know about. I may not be gifted in a certain area, therefore, I need to send my inquisitor to a source that has more information than me. Furthermore, there are times where I just have to accept the fact that God is the only one who holds the answer and He will answer in His time and in His way...or, he may not answer at all...He knows what is best.

Questions/challenges:

1. How do you feel when you do not know an answer?
2. Where do you think that comes from for you?
3. What do you typically do when you do not know an answer?
4. Pay attention this week to areas of your life where you feel you just don’t know an answer. Fight the urge to come up with an answer and just accept that you may not know. Also, ask God for some sort of revelation whether it be an answer or just the comfort of not knowing.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

All...

Week 36:

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

We have all we need to function in the Kingdom of God. It all starts with God’s grace. God is able to make all grace abound to us. This gives us the ability and power and strength to do good work in the Kingdom. In verse 6 it says, “…Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also rep generously.” From the grace that is given freely to us, we have a choice to sow sparingly or generously in the good work that we attempt to accomplish.

I have to ask, “What is it in me that thinks I need to be at a certain point in my life; I have to have a certain salary; I have to have ‘X’ amount of knowledge; I have to be a ‘spiritual giant’; in order to step out and advance the Kingdom of God?” I get tied up in looking far off to something bigger in the Kingdom without really looking at what is right in front of me. I need to be reminded about the things right in front of me. I need to pay attention and be present for what is happing now. I have all I need to do good work. The far off things may be something in store for me however I need to take care of the here and now in order to be prepared for the far off.



I have a sign in my office that reads, “The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you.” That statement can be based on this passage. “…in all things at all times, having all that you need…” God’s grace equips me for my circumstances. What I have experienced, what I know, where I have been, who I have dealt with, all prepare me for the here and now. I have a good work in front of me…I need to draw on God’s grace to abound in that work.

Now, it is okay to dream. Vision is a good thing. I believe that a vision for things to come and work to be done in God’s Kingdom is planted by God. We may have a vision and even an idea of how to make that vision come true. However, we may not take the path we thought to fulfill that vision. It is our day to day walk, the here and now that prepares us and walks us through that vision. Could it be that the fruition of said vision is partially accomplished through “…in all things at all times, having all that you need…”? It is also okay to not have a vision. I appreciate those who live daily in the grace of God and they are content with where God has them.

Recognize that God has you where you are supposed to be right here and right now. Know that what he offers is all you need to do work in His Kingdom. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Questions/challenges:

1. In what way(s) have you been looking forward and not seeing God’s work in your present situation?
2. Do you have a vision that is still unreached? If so, what is it?
3. What is your interpretation of this passage?
4. Where do you disagree with my interpretation of this passage?
5. This week, find someone to share with both your vision and your current work in the Kingdom. Pay attention to his/her feedback to what you have shared. The lord may be speaking some clarity through him/her.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Current state...

Week 35:

This week will be a lengthy passage with a set of questions/challenges to follow. Read the passage and reflect on its content.

Romans 1:20-32 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.


24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (NIV)

Questions/challenges:

1. List the parts of this verse that are prophetic and relevant to today’s Culture.

2. Where are some specific areas in our culture where you see this going on?

3. How related are these things to the “depraved mind”?

4. How does it make you feel that God gave them over to a depraved mind? Why do you think God would do such a thing?

5. Chapter starts out talking about passing judgment about these people and that we would be passing judgment on ourselves as well. From the above passage, what parts of “list” can you own about yourself?

6. What has to change in order to move away from the life/lives described above?

7. What can you do to make a difference in our current culture?

8. Ask God this week to reveal to you a vision or plan to make a difference in our current culture. Keep in mind the first few verses of chapter 2 as you look for ways of making a difference.

9. Although this devotional thought tends toward the negative, in what way can God be glorified through what has been learned today?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Remember me...

Week 34:

Nehemiah 13:14 Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its servants.

How often have you thought to yourself or even prayed the above ask? So many times in my life, I am focused only on my shortcomings, sin, and shame that I do not even fathom asking God to remember my good deeds. In fact, I am deceived in believing that asking God to remember the good I have done is arrogant or prideful. Furthermore, as the Western Church moves more in the direction of grace, (there is nothing wrong with this movement by the way) I notice that when recognizing my good deeds I feel a since of guilt. This sense of guilt is rooted in a message that I am not to keep a checklist in order to gain favor with God.

I do not think that Nehemiah’s ask is from that vein. Nehemiah has been working hard to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. Specifically in this context, he is in the middle of reforming the house of God. I imagine that Nehemiah, in the midst of this enormous task, felt the need to stop and ask God for favor in what he was doing. In fact, Nehemiah makes similar requests in other instances.



I find myself feeling the need to ask for an “Atta boy” from God every now and then. At times, when I am caught up in Kingdom work, I find myself looking at the weight of what I am doing. In those times, I need to stop and ask God’s favor. He doesn’t need reminding of what I have done. I don’t need to make sure my “good deeds” list is longer than my “shortcomings” list. I just want to ask that God remember what I have done for Him. And I know he does.

I’m sure there is something for God in asking for His favor. But, I tend to think asking for His favor really is more for me. Just knowing that I have an almighty figure in my life where I can go and ask God to remember what I have done reminds me that my work has purpose. This work is not limited to Kingdom specifics. I need to take the mentality that it all works for God’s Kingdom in some form or fashion. Either way, asking for God to remember what I have done is not a bad thing. He is willing to show favor upon me when I am working in His Kingdom. What an encouragement that is for me.

Questions/challenges:

1. Explain a situation where you were working in God’s Kingdom and felt no one was appreciating what you were doing.
2. Did you believe in some way that God was not paying much attention? Explain.
3. What were your feelings toward God during that time? Be Honest.
4. Write out a request for God’s favor in something you have been doing. Look at Nehemiah’s example if you need it.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Love covers...

Week 33:

I Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Growing up (and even at times at my current age) I would worry about my sin. When will I sin one too many times? Then I would read verses like this one and think, “Okay, if I just love enough, I have my sin covered.” I am following such a legalistic path when I think in these terms. This is not what this verse is about…covering sin by loving more.



Looking at the context, it appears that Peter is encouraging a lifestyle, a mindset. A mindset of, “If I love well, God is praised and people are served.” It is putting others needs above my own. It is showing grace when the situation would normally warrant response. To do this, I must call on love. I must come from a place in my heart to love.

A key to this passage comes from verse 7 when Peter starts with, “The end of all things is near.” Many of us have been challenged at some time or another to think about if we had only so many days or hours to live, what would that look like? I think Peter is making this challenge here. The end is near and what really matters in the long run is to love well.

So, what about love covering over a multitude of sins? I think of it this way. If I love well, how much sin will I commit? God is love, so if I am acting out of love I will have the best interest of God, others, and myself at heart. Furthermore, if I have sinned against someone, loving them usually allows for grace on their part. If I act out of love, then I am acting as God…and there is no sin in God. When I do not love I act out of selfishness.

The challenge for me is to avoid my selfish nature and act out of love. When I do not feel love, I selfishly seek it in order to feel better about myself. This becomes a vicious cycle. Once I realize that to be loved by others, I must first love others, it seems to flow so much smoother. In the end, love must prevail.

Questions/challenges:

1. Name some places in your life where you can love better.
2. Where are some places you currently love well?
3. What are some steps you can take to love better in those areas that need some love attention?
4. Ask God this week to reveal to you where you can love better and to show you where and how.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Power within...

Week 32:

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.

I wrestle with the balancing act of; “How much does God control in my life?” I realize that God is creator, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, etc. But, just how much is done in my life by His power and how much is done by my power?

I could spend pages of thought around this whole concept and still not be much closer to an answer. There are those who lean toward the philosophy that God created us and then has turned us loose to live in His Kingdom with very little intervention on His part. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe He is involved in every decision and every aspect of what we do. Most of us fall somewhere in between.

Ephesians 3:20 appears to advocate both. Notice that Paul acknowledges the source of power…God. Notice also, where the power is at work, within us. I really believe that we as conservative, western Christians, we do not acknowledge God the Holy Spirit enough. We have the power to do what we do within us, given to us when we have claimed Jesus as our savior and received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Again, I could go on page after page over-analyzing how much or how little God is involved on a daily basis. The point of this devotional is for us to recognize that power we have within us to accomplish our daily tasks and projects as well as our work in God’s Kingdom. So many times for me, I tend to discount compliments toward my abilities. I feel guilty for taking any credit for work I have done. I feel as though I am not glorifying God if I take any credit. According to this verse, I have the power, it is given to me. I can feel good about any of my accomplishments and that I did what it took to get then done. I am still glorifying God by having pride in using His power. As long I know from where the power came, I glorify God.

 

What I am getting at here is that we should not sell ourselves short in what we have the power to accomplish in our lives. We are created in God’s image and He has given us the power to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. The power comes from both Him and us. As one preacher said, “You have to ability to do immeasurably more because the power resides in you…placed there by the Holy Spirit of God.”

The challenge is to first recognize the power within you to do God’s work. Secondly, recognize who instilled you with that power. Finally, do not sell yourself short, and allow fear and feelings of inadequacy keep you from doing immeasurably more.

Questions/challenges:

1. How have you viewed or interpreted this passage of scripture in the past?
2. In what ways have your thoughts been moved or changed after the above interpretation of this passage?
3. Name some areas where we as westerners do not acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s power and work in our lives?
4. What are some instances where you felt proud yet guilty for accomplishments in your life?
5. What is one measurable step you can take this week to challenge or stretch your thinking in this area of your life? Ask God to reveal this week to you this stretch.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

God alone...

Week 31:

Psalm 62:1 My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.

God alone is my rest and my salvation. I can find those in no other place for a sustainable period. Several thoughts come to mind when I read this short but powerful verse.

First, it is my soul that finds rest and salvation. I have had periods of rest in my life that felt great and refreshing. However, even in those times, my soul would seem restless. It is in these times that I realize that my seeking rest in other places besides God; my soul gains no strength. The soul is God’s realm. It is where we connect with Him. It is through the soul that the language of His Holy Spirit speaks. Rest and direction for my soul is in God alone.


Second, fundamentally, I am truly here to please only one person…God. I catch myself living life as a pleaser. I allow my emotional state of being to be affected by the happiness of others. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to have concern for others and where they are in life. It is good to “be there” for a friend in times of need. But for me to live day in and day out worried about whether or not the people in my life are happy, I really drain my life and soul of their energy. When I am so concerned for their state of being, who am I really serving? Most of the time, it is me. I am really just easing my discomfort by helping them “be happy”. A person’s overall happiness does not depend on me, it depends on God. I am here to please God alone.

Third, I can find my true happiness in only one person…God. Like so many in our current culture, I have chased my happiness in so many worldly things. I have chased money, relationships, social acceptance, co-dependency, activities, work, recreation, etc., in the pursuit of happiness. This one area is particularly hard for me as well. I cannot see God. I do not hear his audible voice. At least not in the way I do in the flesh like people around me. I have experiences with God, but do not get to touch or talk with Him the way I would with others. Fortunately, when I slow down and quiet my life, I see in days to follow God working in my life. He gives me rest for my soul. My true happiness and peace and rest are in God alone.

To be reminded of God’s rest and salvation I must spend time resting in Him. I must set aside silent times of just being. I also must continue to read and apply His Word. Notice the addition to that last statement of the word “apply”. I believe that so many Christians gain a bad reputation simply by not living what they believe. When I combine silence in God with study, application and prayer and I find rest in God. Now, I did not say that I “earn” rest. And I don’t want my methods to become a formula for resting in God. I do recognize however, that when I do the above mentioned things, I find that my soul has peace. Hopefully yours will as well.

Questions/challenges:

1. List some of the ways you have tried to find rest for your soul.
2. Explain at what point you realized that those methods were not filling the need for rest.
3. What are some ways you find rest in God?
4. Spend some time in silence this week and lay before God this verse. Meditate on it several times throughout the week. See what comes up for you.

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