Friday, July 31: Psalm 52- Handling evil in the world.

Sadly it seems like every day there is an evil perpetrated in our world. Earlier this summer 9 people at a Bible study were gunned down in cold blood in Charleston, SC. Jos, Nigeria had 2 bombings earlier this month. Wars, genocides, organizations committed to violent advance like ISIS and Boko Haran and others exist. It can be depressing to read the daily news.

We may see more of this due to the global information available today, but evil has existed since the earliest days of humanity. And every one of us has to come up with ways to handle evil.

Today’s Psalm is in part David’s way of handling evil. The backstory is that David fleeing Saul stops at the priests for supplies (see 1Sam 21). All the priest knows is that David, the king’s right hand man, made a request, so he filled it. Word got back to the king that the priest aided David, so the king sent men to the priest to get David. By the time they got there David was gone, so they murdered the priest and his family for aiding a fugitive… EVIL!  Innocent people, innocent religious people were killed in cold blood.

And so in today’s prayer David processes this evil holding onto God’s ultimate judgment. The fact that God will judge everyone in the end does not answer all questions or put salve on all wounds, but it can bring a measure of peace following an evil outbreak.

In an earthly sense one may ‘get away with it’ but from an eternal perspective, no one will ‘get away with it.’ David sings: Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin: He will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. … “Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!” (5, 7)

At the same time David professes his ongoing love for and trust in the Lord, his God, and this carries him. And I will hope in your name, for your name is good (9b).

I still ruminate much about why there is so much evil in our world and how from an earthly perspective it can seem so unfair. But at the same time I hold onto the truth that God is good and God will execute justice in His time. And for that I wait; more importantly, it drives me to my knees in surrender and praise of the Lord, MY God.

Praise God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, before whom all humanity, every person, will stand and give an account of their life lived. Secrets will be revealed. Thanks be to the Lord for the blood of Jesus which covers my sins. Praise be to Jesus, my Lord, my God and my Savior. Amen.

 

Thursday, July 30: Mark 16- A glorious day.

Central to the Christian Faith is the resurrection of Jesus. Simply put, no resurrection, no Christian faith.

Mark’s account is brief. At the tomb an angelic messenger gives the women this message. “Don’t be alarmed, You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” (6-7).

Three words changed the course of human eternity… He has risen!

The women were bewildered. The truth of the resurrection can be bewildering. It is utterly fantastic and beyond normal human existence. And yet, it is central to the Christian faith… Jesus died and rose again on the 3rd day!

It took the women some time to wrap their heads around this fact. It still takes some people time to come to grips with this truth, but it remains central to our faith.

I sat this morning not wrestling with its truth… I believe. Instead, I sat thinking about how it changes everything.

Since Jesus is raised, then all who believe in Him will also be raised. There is eternal life. My mind flips to John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Belief in Jesus is to be the orientation of my life… living for, serving, following Jesus, this is how one who believes lives…

Lord Jesus, may I live for You.   Give me strength when I am weak, clarity when I am confused, dogged determination when I am tired and a love for You which guides everything. Jesus, I pray this in Your name. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 29: Mark 15- . Can a day be both sad and joyous?

Can a day be both sad and joyous?

The day described in the chapter 15 is both sad and joyous for me.

Sad: That humans can be this cruel and have no true regard for life. To torture and kill an innocent person while letting a murderer and scoundrel go free, shows how expedient we humans can be. It is sad that soldiers can make ‘sport’ of a person, mocking and torturing them for a few laughs on the way to execution. That spectators would watch this kind of a death and be so up close and personal that they would taunt the dying person and mock him as he died.

The scene itself is incredibly sad.  That we humans have done this sort of thing throughout our history reveals how depraved to the core we can be. Sad, very sad.

Joyous -maybe this isn’t the right word; happy isn’t correct either. Wonderful? Blessed? Whatever the better word might be, this day is arguably the greatest and most important day in human history. As horrible and heinous Jesus’ death was, it paid the penalty for human freedom from sin.

Maybe it had to be heinous to match the despicable sins it was covering and atoning for.

On that cross, Jesus paid the penalty of human sin with His life.  And that is wonderful… that elicits joy. The greatest blessing humankind has ever received was given that day on that blood-stained cross.

That Friday was absolutely horrible and sad but at the same time it was amazingly good and wonderful. Joy to the world!  Jesus’ death gives all who believe in Him…life!

All morning I sat and thought about that fateful, terrible, wonderful day…

Thank You, Jesus. Thank You.

 

Tuesday, July 28: Mark 14- Faith in the face of God's 'No'.

I was drawn to Jesus praying in the garden, His agony and honesty with the Father and self. It was the record of His 3rd prayer time that really pierced me. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (36).

I stared at His last words: “everything is possible for you.… Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Absolute faith and absolute surrender.

Jesus knew the Father could do anything… He knew He could do anything. One word from the Father or the Son and the ordeal Jesus was about to endure would end. The answer to Jesus’ throbbing heart’s cry was not a matter of ability. God could do it.

And yet, at the same time, Jesus knew the Father’s answer was ‘No, I will not intervene’. This is the course of things that Jesus must walk for salvation’s plan to be fulfilled. He had been preparing his disciples for weeks now the day was coming. So with the same steadfastness Jesus showed with his absolute faith he offered absolute surrender. Yet not what I will, but what you will.

I don’t have as direct a pipeline to the Father as Jesus had. And I certainly do not have the clarity of prayers answered, especially before the prayer is prayed, that Jesus had. So with me it is even more important to maintain the firm stance of absolute faith and absolute surrender displayed by Jesus.

Absolute faith... God can do all; He is mighty to save… and

Absolute surrender... I will not waver no matter God’s reply. My faith is not built on a particular outcome.

Paul displayed this with his prayer about the ‘thorn in his flesh’ (2Cor 12:8-10). The three friends of Daniel displayed this as they stepped into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3: 17-18)…

O, God, may I display this every day of my life until You bring me home to be with You in eternity forever. Amen.

 

Monday, July 27: Mark 13- The end will come.

In today’s reading Jesus gives a long answer about when the ‘end will come.’ His last few lines give the punch line. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.… “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (33-37).

There will be an end… there will be a judgment and we will all stand before our Maker and answer for our lives. As I ponder this, it doesn’t truly matter to me if my end is merely the day I die or the cosmic end of things, someday I will stand before the Lord and He will judge me.

Until the end I need to be about my Master’s business… do not let him find you sleeping. The message in context is that when He comes (or my time comes), I better be attending to the tasks He gave me. I am an ambassador, a witness, light & salt, etc. I have been called to love and serve, to care for and extend God’s reign here on earth…

As I sit this morning, it seems like the best way I ‘prepare for the end’ is to make sure I am doing God’s work today. If I am engaged in God’s work today, and all of my todays, then I will be ready whenever the end comes.

Lord, God, lead me today in the things I should do, so that I am faithful to You today.  Then, Lord, help me have this same attitude and pray this same prayer every day. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

 

Saturday, July 25: Mark 12- Representing God well.

As I am reading and meditating I sometimes wonder why a particular passage leaps off the page and captures my attention. This remains a bit of a mystery to me… how the Lord God speaks to me during my times with Him. Yet, I love and cherish these times… my heart & mind and God’s heart & mind wrapped in an embrace.

Today the Lord grabbed me with verses 38-40: As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely” (38-40).

My heart cringes under the weight of this morning’s strong warning. Religious prominence is a position that the Lord scrutinizes closely. When we mere humans represent God to others, we best do it well and honorably and with integrity…

·         Not for personal show… (flowing robes and respect filled public greetings)

·         Not for personal honor… (important seats and distinction of honor)

·         Not for personal gain… (devouring widows houses)

·         Not with hypocrisy… (for show, making lengthy prayers)

My meditations turned these “nots” into “oughts” as I contemplated how religious prominence should be lived. Thoughts went in these directions. We, who represent the Lord God Almighty to others, should represent God well and live honorably and with integrity by:

·         Caring for others more than self… (love neighbor as self)

·         Honor the Lord God well, no matter what others think… (John the Baptist and his word to Herod)

·         Live reasonably and with contentment… (Jesus and apostles none of whom amassed wealth)

·         Practice what they (we) preach…

Clearly I have my meditation points and living-action points for today. Thank You, Lord!

Father, God, thank You for drawing me onto Your lap and being with me during the quiet of the morning today. Thank You for this call to integrity.  I love You… I am Yours to be used as You wish all the days You allow me to live. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

 

Friday, July 24: Mark 11- Seasonal shifts.

The writer of Ecclesiastes observed:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:…

a time to tear and a time to mend,

    a time to be silent and a time to speak (1,7).

For Jesus the time to speak and ‘go public’ apparently had come.

The last few chapters He has been preparing His disciples, explaining that He would die in Jerusalem. And now some of His actions seem to be pressing or even forcing the issue.

·         Riding into Jerusalem in a prophetic crowd stirring manner (1-11);

·         Clearing the Temple of the money changers… coupled with the prophetic cursing of the fig tree, a sign to His followers (12-25);

·         His more belligerent response to the religious leaders (27-33).

What I see in this is that His time for more declarative action had come.

There apparently was a ‘shift of season,’ that called for a different ministry style and manner of living and presenting the kingdom of heaven.

This got me thinking about my life and times… I (we) also experience ‘shifts of season’ that call us to different ways of living. As a pastor there are different seasons for preaching, some require stronger confronting words (I think of Martin Luther King Jr and his non-violent protests to confront our discrimination). Then there can be times that call for soothing comfort or the responding to the questions of ‘why’ like after 9-11.

Parenting has seasonal shifts as children grow.

Marriages have seasonal shifts…

Evangelism efforts by individuals or churches have seasonal shifts when our manner or words need to be altered to meet the challenges of the moment.

As I ponder all this I wonder if God is setting me up for a seasonal shift somewhere in my life’s set of responsibilities.

Jesus understood the times and changed His approach accordingly… do I? Do we?

Thoughts to chew on today…

O, God, may I have wisdom to discern the times and live accordingly. I pray through my Savior, Jesus and I pray this for His honor and glory as well. I am Yours, Jesus. I am Yours! Amen.

 

Thursday, July 23: Mark 10- Value of a life.

I was attracted to a brief vignette in this chapter. It begins in verse 13. People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (13-16).

Children’s value back in the day was not equal to that of an adult. Children were lower-value humans.  In some ways we have come so far on this issue, but in others not so much.

Admittedly a stretch from this passage, but I found myself pondering how we minimize children in our world. I believe abortion is a cancer on our valuing of children. Many might disagree with me but for me, life begins at conception.  Therefore, the so called fetus is a child and should be valued. To steal its life is certainly not valuing.

There are many other ways I see that we devalue the life of a child subtly…

How many of our birthing practices are designed to make the mom more comfortable rather than asking what is best for the child?

How is it that schools continue to begin their day so early, when study after study shows that is not best for children or their education?

Is the advent of preschool really to better the child or so parents can return to their careers?

What about the anesthetizing effect of screens on children?

I realize some of my thoughts may seem harsh, maybe they are… I am simply wondering if we truly value children equally with how we value adults in our age.

If Jesus were coming to town today, wouldn’t we arrange daycare and child-friendly activities to keep the children out of the event so adults could have Jesus’ time? Isn’t that what the disciples were doing? Isn’t that why Jesus rebuked them?

Think about it. I know I am…

Lord, how do I devalue people and kinds of people? Open my eyes, Lord. In Your name, I pray. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 22: Mark 9- Awe inspiring.

I wondered what I would have been like to be on the mountain when Jesus’ appearance changed and a voice from heaven spoke. I suspect I would have been frightened and confused. Nothing in the story indicates that Jesus prepped the 3 for this event. It just happened.

This is the kind of a scene you see in a sci-fi movie, where the person morphs in front of you into something different. It would be scary. At least that's what I think as a read this account.

Then there is the appearance of Moses and Elijah.  Then the voice from the cloud. I would have been babbling nonsense like Peter or petrified silent like James and John.

As I think about this scene and faith, I’m realizing there are things about Jesus that are frightening.  It not so much like I’m frightened, I might die, as if a gang of thugs just broke into my house.  But I’m frightened because I don’t understand this man in front of me whom I know can do things a human can’t do… walk on water, calm a storm, raise a dead person to life, change water into wine. I mean, normal people don’t do these things. And, yet, Jesus did.

I am realizing that there is an awe, a perplexed awe, a fear that I should have for Jesus that is healthy and honorable and right.

These are my thoughts this morning as I sit with text and Savior in devotions…

O, Jesus, help me to understand what I am able to understand, trust and accept what I cannot understand, and always to revere and serve You as my Lord and my God. In Your name, I pray. Amen.

 

Tuesday, July 21: Mark 8- Living on Jesus' leftovers.

I suspect that my recent trip to Africa caused me to notice a detail in this story. While in Africa if I couldn’t eat everything prepared for me, the staff at the JETS Guesthouse were more than willing to eat my leftovers. Uneaten vegetables, rice, whatever, even part of a soft drink were received with grateful thanks.  When food is scarce, all food is appreciated.

In the opening story Jesus feeds the 4000 and after everyone was satisfied, the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over (8). I suspect this was what the disciples ate. They distributed what Jesus gave them and then they ate from the leftovers… and it was good.

I am seeing in this account that Jesus invites us to give away what He gives and through the miracle of His grace live off the leftovers, which will provide more than enough for us, his followers, to live on.

This is a radical thought. In truth, I can feel some ‘buts’ welling up inside of me…

But God, what if there isn’t enough?

But God, what if they eat all the good stuff?

But God, it’s mine…

But God…

Truth is, I have to chew on this and meditate on this thought more.

Lord, I am seeing my selfishness as I ponder Your nugget for today. I sing, “I surrender all” but my reaction to my meditation this morning about living on Jesus’ leftovers makes me realize that I am really surrendering less than all.

Show me where I need to grow and how to grow to be more like You, Jesus. In Your name, I pray. Amen.

 

 

Monday, July 20: Mark 7- Talking with people about the ways of God.

I was fascinated the way Mark relates Jesus’ story to his readers, who are likely mostly Gentiles living in Rome. There are two times where Mark inserts a brief comment to explain a Jewish tradition noted in the NIV by parenthesis. Verses 3-4 where Mark explains the Jewish washing of hands… (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) And again in verse 12 where he explains Corban (that is, devoted to God).

As I mused on these brief inclusions, I though, “Mark is a master at telling Jesus’ story to his audience.” What I noticed is that when needed he included a brief statement about some cultural item they wouldn’t understand, but then quickly returns back to telling Jesus’ story in a way that connects with his readers.

This blossomed into thinking about talking with people about the ways of God. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in giving Christian background, correct theology and the rest.  I overwhelm them with information about which they don’t really care! And what I miss is telling the simple story of Jesus in a way that they can easily understand.

Mark is much more concerned about telling Jesus’ story in a way that his readers get it than making sure they have all the correct background. The other thought that hit me is, he spoke in plain language. I have to beware of using “Christian-ese” or “Christian-speak” when talking with people about Jesus who don’t know much about Him.  

Dear God, thank you for this simple word and instruction this morning. Help me to internalize it and live it as I live for You in my world. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Saturday, July 18: Mark 6- Faith, healings and miracles.

It says in verses 4-6 that Jesus had trouble doing miracles in His own hometown due to their lack of faith. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

I struggle with the place of faith with the miraculous… so rather than run from it, I ponder these things.

How I am picturing my understanding right now is that faith is a conduit between us and God through which God works His miracles. A lack of faith can clog the conduit so miracles don’t happen, or as in the case of Jesus in his hometown only a few miracles happen. Faith does not guarantee a miracle, nor does the lack of faith guarantee no miracle. God is always Sovereign; He can knock an enemy off a horse and turn him into a great apostle/evangelist.

And yet faith is somehow generally a component to being used of God and seeing the great works of God.

The sad thing about the account read today is that people missed out on seeing miracles and a demonstration of who Jesus truly was by their lack of faith. In fact, verse 3 tells us some took offense at him. This is not only a lack of faith but distain for Jesus. Ouch. Distain is a strong word. It seems they rejected Him… to which I say, ‘no wonder miracles could not be done!’

After all my wrestling with this idea, I land on my feet crying:

Lord, I believe… help me gain victory in those areas where some unbelief still lives! Give me the power to believe and to know Your love, which is higher, wider, deeper and more vast than I can possible imagine. Help me to know Your love… to live in Your love so that I can give away Your love to as many people as I can. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

 

Friday, July 17: Mark 5- The first evangelist.

My heart was attracted to this account in the middle of the chapter. Jesus has just healed the man by casting demons out of him that had tormented him for many years. His behavior was so erratic and violent that town’s people had chained him in amongst the tombs. He was so strong he would eventually break the chains and shackles. He lived a pitied life among the tombs. After Jesus healed him we read: As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.

To want to go with the person who has healed you dramatically, and from such intense afflictions, is understandable. Jesus, however, had a different assignment. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed (18-20).

This former demonized, violent man is sent to his family as the first evangelist on the pages of Mark. Before the 12 are sent out or the 72, before the great commission, this man is sent to tell his family what the Lord has done for him. And the message of Jesus is now circulating in the Decapolis where the man lived.

What a simple plan tell your family what the Lord has done for you. This is something every one of us can do…

Think about it.

Lord, give me words to express to my family all You have done in and for me. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Thursday, July 16: Mark 4- Kingdom growth.

I found myself pondering the 3 parables of kingdom growth. The sowing of seed… we never know which seed will bear grain. The farmer has his bag of grain, seed left unsown will NOT bear grain, so he sows in all the fields he has and then he waits. Some sprout and then die off, but others produce incredible yield. The yield more than makes up for the seed lost on the path or rocks. Sow your seed. That is what I am hearing.

Sow your seed and trust God for the growth. The second parable is about the seed growing but the farmer knows not how. When I was in Africa this year I arrived just as the rains arrived and I watched farmers planting. First they removed any large dried residual from the last harvest, then they hand tilled the soil into rows. Finally in rapid motion they moved down each row with a small hand hoe. With one swing they dig a small hole, drop in a single seed and then cover it over, repeating this hundreds, maybe thousands, of times as they moved up and down each hand-tilled row. Rains watered the fields, sun cooked the fields and about one week later I watched as small sprouts pushed through the soil bringing a promise of the harvest to come. It was this picture that Jesus used to say…. after you have sown your seed, you sleep and God does His work germinating the seed to bring its yield.

Finally Jesus taught of the mustard seed, so small yet it produces a plant so big even birds can perch in it.

The kingdom of God is a miracle of God’s work. And yet God has designed it that we, His planters, must do our work for God to do His. We must till and plant and God produces the yield.

So after this winding time in the Word, God took me to the place where He asked me, “Bill, are you planting the seed I have given you? Bill, are you doing the kingdom work I have for you?”

And so God pierce my heart with the call of His work.

Lord, help me to be faithful. Lord, strengthen me for the tasks to which You have called me. Lord, wake me when I slumber, redirect me when I get off Your path. Lead me, I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 15: Mark 3- Doing good for others.

We don’t talk about Sabbath much these days. Our language is generally weekends or maybe the Lord’s Day. But Sabbath is arcane language for moderns.

In Jesus’ day, Sabbath was a big deal for Jews. One day in seven was a day for rest, spiritual renewal and relationships. Sabbath-keeping was one of their 10 commandments and Jews developed many rules to define Sabbath-keeping. The idea behind these rules was to help people know what could and could not be done on a Sabbath. The idea was honorable, but it became a huge burden. And worse, certain things like healing on the Sabbath were forbidden, so people suffered because of the Sabbath… a day meant to replenish and care for people. In God’s design, Sabbath was a day of rest to sustain the human body but man’s rules had made it a day of bondage.

To this Jesus said, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (4).

I found myself pondering the idea of doing good? Do I create rules or patterns of life that actually keep me from doing good? Like Jesus, do I look for ways to do good, even if it calls me to challenge conventions of life?

In my world it has almost become sacred that weekends are for “me.” Serving others on a weekend is unthinkable for many … it is my time. And yet serving others seems like it fits with Jesus’ Words better given the very self-centered way many presently view their weekends.

So this morning I found myself pondering doing good to others…

Lord, I offer my life to You to be a tool in Your hand to help and serve and do good to others. In Your name Jesus, I pray. Amen.

 

Tuesday, July 14: Mark 2- Dining with the sinners.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (15-17).

Jesus was making a name for Himself by dining with sinners and tax collectors, people looked down upon by ‘good people.’ But Jesus didn’t care that others thought He shouldn’t do this. He simply went where He was invited and welcomed.

Levi, thrilled to be called by Jesus, held a dinner party for his rabbi and he invited his friends. And they came. Jesus was probably the only rabbi to do this. Others would have been aghast to go into a sinner’s house. In fact some of the Pharisees made a stink about this. But Jesus put them in their place. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”

I began to think, are there peoples’ homes I will not go into because of some kind of prejudice? Are there some people or kind of people with whom I won’t associate? Why? Am I afraid what others will think? Am I afraid I will be ‘polluted’ by contact with them? Jesus maintained His integrity, yet associated with many people that the religious leaders of the day would never associate with. Yes, He risked ‘contamination’ but it was the only way to meet them and to share with them what God was doing.

Every day doctors and health care workers risk infection in order to care for people who are sick. I think of the brave men and women who went to help those affected by Ebola recently. Their risk saved the lives of thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Shouldn’t I do the same, going to anyone who is open with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, despite what others may think?

Today, God is asking me if I have prejudices that keep me from taking the Good News to anyone or any group of people…

How about you?

Lord open my eyes to the real me. Show me where I need to grow. Show me where I have raised barriers built on race, creed, lifestyle or any other human created distinction in this world. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Monday, July 13: Mark 1- A new era in time .

I am breathless reading this first chapter of Mark. In only a few moments Jesus bursts on the scene and before the chapter concludes, He has healed many and may no longer walk around openly because of the crowds. Talk about making a splash, Jesus goes from obscurity to ‘the talk of the region’ in the span of one chapter.

Given the pace of this reading it is hard to find God’s meditation spot, so after reading I returned to the chapter to review and reflect.

My red letter Bible highlighted the words of Jesus so, quite naturally, they caught my attention. And it was the first words of Jesus where I paused to soak in the word of God. “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (15).

Those words mark a new era in time… God’s time has come. The Lord is about to unfold his marvelous plan of salvation. Isaiah puts it like this, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light…” (Isaiah 9:2)

God’s time… living in God’s time. What a privilege we have... I have. All I have known is to live in God’s time. I am truly blessed. In fact, I am doubly blessed because my eyes have been opened by the Lord to the wonders of His time, His kingdom. Thanks to God’s invitation, I have repented and I know and live in the reality of God’s Good News!

I am blessed and I sit this morning reflecting on God’s blessing… His blessing of opening my eyes to who He is and what He is doing in the world today. More than that, the Lord has called me to be part of what He is doing. Like Peter and the others, God called me from a merely earthly existence to be part of His community, which is spreading His name and changing the world for God and for good.

Thank You, Lord. Bless You, Lord, for Your great call. Thank You, Lord, for reaching down and ripping the veil from my eyes so that I might see You and understand Your call to follow You! My soul sings with joy at Your grace, Your mercy, Your love.

My heart sings Your praise as it rests in You, my Lord, my God, my Provider, my Protector, my Savior. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

 

Saturday, July 11: Psalm 51- Facing my sin.

I have never committed adultery. I have never had someone killed to cover up a sin; such is the background of this Psalm of David. But I have sinned. I have grieved God and hurt other people and I have tried to cover it up, so this Psalm touches a sore spot in my life. Even though it confronts me with my sin, this Psalm leads me to confession and joy of restoration when I am honest with God and confess my sin.

Such is the dance of the Spirit I engage in this morning. Facing my sin, confessing my sin, experiencing the love of God flood and energize my life.  Then renewing my commitment to make His name known to others.

Lord, You are so good. You receive me back no matter what. You embrace me with Your love. You set my feet on Your solid ground. Oh to experience Your love and forgiveness, there is no sweeter breakfast in all the world. There is no sweeter way to start the day. You are good and I bow before Your goodness. Thank You, O Lord, for Jesus who purchased my pardon and forgives all my sins on the cross. Praise to You Father, Jesus and Spirit. Amen.

 

Friday, July 10: Psalm 50- God speaks.

My immediate thought, as I opened and began reading, was God speaks. The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets (1). We are blessed to have a God who speaks. He leads. He guides. He is not some mute idol or stone figurine. Our God is a living God who communicates.

As I continued reading I saw that, in this case, God’s speaking calls us to account. “Listen, my people, and I will speak; I will testify against you, Israel: I am God, your God (7). The judicial language sends terror up my spine. God, my judge, knows. He need not wait for others to testify against me, He Himself will testify against me. God sees the secret places of hypocrisy. Nothing in my life is hidden from Him.

Eventually God confronts duplicity and reveals our sin. But to the wicked person, God says: “What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips? You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you (16-17). The Lord leaves no doubt that He sees… He names some of the sins, declaring that He truly does see and hear what we think are hidden.

This Psalm brings me to a place of confession…

I am thankful for New Testament promises like 1John 1:9 as I bow my head and life in confession… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

As I woke this morning there was a song playing,

Lord, I need You; O I need You.

Every hour I need You.

My one defense, my righteousness, O Lord how I need You.

Lord, as I bow in prayer those words are so true. I dare not stand before You in my strength or goodness alone. Were I to do that, Your wrath would be heavy upon me. Instead I stand before You a sinner, blessed that my sins are covered and atoned for by the blood of Jesus, my Savior.

Lord, hear my confession… and purify me from all my transgressions so that I might lead a life that matters, that makes a difference for You in this world. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Thursday, July 9: Psalm 49- Assurance in death.

There is no escaping the inevitable… death will come to all of us. And there is no escaping thoughts of my own death someday as I read this Psalm.

The surety of one’s death is the theme of this Psalm, but this is no morbid look at death. Instead it is a reality check, a reminder that death comes to all of us.

And following the lead of this Psalmist, I entertained the reality that someday I, too, will die. Is that the end? Is the hole in which they place my body, my final resting place? When my body decays and returns to dust… is that it?

I believe not. My heart resonated with the assurance of the Psalmist, But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself (15). I believe this with all my heart. I believe that upon death God will take me to be with Him, not because I somehow deserve that because I have been so good. Nor do I believe this because God takes everyone to be with Him after death.

No, I believe this because Jesus promised that those who have faith in Him will be raised from death to life for eternity. My assurance of life after death is faith in Jesus…

The New Testament teaches me that faith in Jesus gives us the assurance of resurrected life after death… so to Jesus I cling. In life and in death, I cling to Jesus.

What or whom do you cling to?

Think about it… because death is inevitable.

Lord God, I am so thankful and grateful that You guarantee my future resurrection. I am humbled and in awe of You… thankful for Your gift to believe. I worship, adore and serve You, God… Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit. I praise You and I pledge my life to You.

Lord, I am Your vessel, use me as You will, for Your honor, glory and the announcement of Your name in all the earth. Through Jesus, I pray. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 8: Psalm 48- Delighting in God.

Another morning of praise and lofty thoughts about our God. Psalms like this one lift my spirits and I soar to heights of praise for my God, the God of all creation. This morning, I sing with the psalmist (1-2, 9-10, 14):

Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise,

in the city of our God, his holy mountain.

Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth,

like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. …

Within your temple, O God,

we meditate on your unfailing love.

Like your name, O God,

your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;

your right hand is filled with righteousness. …

For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.

O happy day… O happy day, my God reigns. He is exalted. His name is known around the earth. People from every corner of the world know and praise His name. And today I add my voice to the chorus of praises who sing to our great and mighty God.

As I sit this morning I am simply delighting in God… God, my Savior. I meditate on thoughts of Him. I delight in His grace and mercy and forgiveness and love…

Praise to the Lord the almighty, the king of creation.

O my soul praise his because he is my health and salvation

All you who hear, now to his temple draw near

Join me in glad adoration!!!

Praise and honor be to You, my Lord and my King, my God. Amen.

 

Tuesday, July 7: Psalm 47- .Remember what God has done...

What a wonderful way to start the day… This Psalm bursts on to the page with an exuberant display and declaration of the wonders of our God.

Clap your hands, all you nations;

shout to God with cries of joy.

For the LORD Most High is awesome,

the great King over all the earth (1-2).

From here the Psalmist recites some of the wonders and great things God has done for His people.

It is good to delight in God. It is good to sing God’s praises. It is good to get excited about God and marvel in the wonderful things He has done.

I sit on a beautiful morning… a light breeze brushing my cheeks. Thousands of colors and hues dance in the sunlight as nature shines. God made it all. The Lord created and then placed me in the midst of the world to see and enjoy it. Oh, the wonders of the Lord, my God.

There was a Saturday on my recent trip to Africa when my computer was down to almost no charge and I had much work to do. The computer sent me a message that would have to ‘go to sleep unless I plugged it into a power source.’ I packed up and went in search of electricity. I walked everywhere on campus… no electricity anywhere.  Kai… I walked back to my room. ‘What would I do?’ I sat down at my computer to make sure everything was saved. 2% battery! As I was about to close my laptop, I heard the sound of the electricity coming on. God, be praised. I worked and charged my computer for many hours the rest of that day.

This is a small thing, but a God thing…

Clap my hands, William Gestal;

shout to God with cries of joy.

For the LORD Most High is awesome,

the great King over all the earth

And so I sat this morning remembering and thanking God for the many ways, BIG and small, that He has shown Himself to be an awesome and most high God!

Praise be to the Lord…

praise the Lord most high.

Strike the drum, sound the trumpet;

crash the symbol, pluck the strings

Clap your hands, all you nations;

shout to God with cries of joy.

For the LORD Most High is awesome,

the great King over all the earth

Alleluia. Amen

 

Monday, July 6: 2Corinthians 13- Examine yourself.

The words of verse 5 stuck to me like superglue. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.

Examine myself… test myself…

God bids me to do the hard work, the really hard of looking inside to make sure my life is not a shame or a fa├žade but is one of real and genuine faith.

Have I truly surrendered to Jesus as Lord or am I just pretending?

Do I care more about what God thinks of the way I live or what other people think about me?

Am I giving effort to living my faith?

Do I do what I read in the Bible or not?

If I were put on trial for being a Christ follower would there be enough evidence to convict me?

At this point I get what God is saying to me, now I have to step away from the keyboard and do it. I suspect if you are reading this you have examination work to do, too.

God, grace me with eyes to see as I look inside… God, grace me with courage to be honest with myself… God, grace me with strength to deal with things You show me. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, July 4: 2Corinthians 12- Counter-cultural way to live.

In my world we strive for power, for recognition, for titles. We work hard to be strong and climb as high as we can.  Then we trust in ourselves and in our strength and abilities.

This morning Paul turns this way of thinking and living on its head.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (9-10).

In Christ, our strength is in the Lord and what He can do in and through us. I do not believe for an instant that Paul is suggesting that we do not apply ourselves and learn our craft and grow in competencies. No, but I must remember that my real strength and ability is not in my own power but in God’s power within me…

This means I must be about God’s will. The Lord will not strengthen me for tasks that are not for His glory.

It means that I must operate in a Christ-like manner, because I do not believe that God will empower me to live in ways that are not His ways.

I believe this means that I should spiritually stretch myself… moving at His beckon call to places beyond where I feel naturally able to operate in His power.

God will do immeasurably more through us than we ever imagine if we live for His will and the advance of His glory.

Lord, I believe Your grace is sufficient for me and I pray that I will advance Your will with all my strength and then beyond that because I operate truly not in my strength but in Your strength. To Your honor and glory I pray. Amen.

 

Friday, July 3: 2Corinthians 11- A true disciple's resume.

When needing to ‘defend’ his apostleship, Paul boasts… to match the boasting of the so-called super apostles, who were really false apostles. What struck me was the aspects of ministry that he boasted about. I suspect Paul’s boasts were quite different, even opposed to the boasting of the super apostles.

It is not that Paul regularly boasted about his ministry. He didn’t. Normally his only boasting was in the cross of Christ, his Lord (Galatians 6:14a May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ) but to counter the dangerous influence of these false apostles Paul needed to counter their boasting with his own.

Paul, then, boasts about sufferings and hardships he endured for the sake of the Gospel. Paul mentions that he supported himself and had other churches cover his living rather than burden the Corinthians with supporting him. In essence he said, ‘I preached free of charge’.

As God’s Word burrowed into my thoughts and heart, I replayed typical pastor conversations at conferences. How large our church is, how big the budget, how many converts, staff members, visitors, yada, yada, yada…

My thought is that these conversations sound much more like the boastings of the false super apostles, than they do Paul.

Now I do not think we should boast at all, except in the cross of Christ, our Savior and Lord, but in the quietness of my devotions this morning I am wondering if I have a resume of devotion that is akin at all to Paul’s.  Are there any places were I have truly sacrificed for Jesus, the Gospel or the advance of God’s kingdom? Reading back over Paul’s list, it confronts me with costly sacrificial effort in the name of Christ. And I see nothing that comes even remotely close in my life.

I feel some shame and sadness rising in me…

Lord, I am finding words difficult right now. You gave everything for me. Philippians 2, Jesus, You left the glory of heaven and the perfection and majesty of the Godhead to become human… and to die on a cross for me, for the world. What have I given to follow You?

The weight of this thought presses upon me. All I can do is bow in adoration before You and pledge my life a new to You. Praise to You Father, Jesus, Spirit. Amen.

 

Thursday, July 2: 2Corinthians 10- We are in a battle.

I found myself thinking about verse 3: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.

My thoughts ran in a number of directions. First, we are in a battle. We are.

Our culture is working overtime to drag us into its mold. Advertisers are battling to have us spend our dollars on their products. And the enemy of God is working overtime to keep us from becoming effective ambassadors for Jesus in the world.

We are in a battle!

Secondly, I thought about our weapons, which are not the world’s weapons and our manner of battle is not the world’s manner.

Our weapons are spiritual in dimension not this-worldly. We have the weapon of prayer… calling out to God for heavenly support. We have God’s weapon of His authority.  We live and move and battle not from a position of weakness but strength… not our strength, mind you, but God’s strength as we live in His name! Our weapons are the various spiritual gifts that God gives us to use and we have the weapons of Spirit-Fruit, too. A character of living and battling that the world simply cannot access because they know not God, Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit.

Not only that, we wage our battle from our ‘knees’ in prayer and humility. Humility, which is born of strength not weakness. I am thinking of the attitude of Jesus that Paul commends to us in Philippians 2:5-8…

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Sadly, too often I resort to the world’s ways and forget that we do not wage war as the world does.

Lord, help me to rely on You and Your ways not my ways… please. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.