Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Making a Difference: Start Small

Exodus 2:11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.
16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.”20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.
It is evident why Moses ran: he was scared.  He had seen a way he thought he could make a difference in the life of his oppressed birth people: eliminate them one at a time. It backfired. So as he is running he finds himself in a place he can make a difference: young women who are being harrassed by bully shepherds over watering rights.  He demonstrates the same courage in a much wiser and righteous way, standing up for an oppressed people.  
So often I talk to people who say they want to do something for God, something big. But they keep waiting for the right moment or big event, ignoring the valid, important, and doable things right in front of them. It is when we do those things, one small event at a time, that God prepares us for the big things. God was not going to use Moses to eliminate the oppressors of Israel one at a time; He was going to move His people all at once to remove them from their oppressors.  Moses would never have thought of that.  God's ways are much higher than ours.  Let's obey Him and serve Him in the small stuff, one day at a time.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Not an easy path to fulfilling ones' dreams.

Genesis 37:5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.
Joseph is what we would qualify one of the "good guys" of the Bible - a positive example of one who lived for God.  Eventually his dreams were fulfilled, and he did have such great authority in the most powerful kingdom of the day that his siblings did bow before him.  But it was no easy road. He was not appreciated. He went through extensive times of rejection, being ignored, and even enslaved and imprisoned.  It was years seeing his dream become a reality. How many of the obstacles Joseph faced would it take you to give up on your dream? Have you already?  Joseph's path was far but straight and easy, but even though it seemed his dreams had impossible, he realized God was still leading his paths. Do you?

Monday, May 29, 2017

I want more...

I Kings 12 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.
Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs. 11 And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”
Since people started having grandchildren, I think older adults have always said: "this younger generation...", followed by some shaking-the-head complaint.  Often young people entering adulthood do have bigger vision for their lives and for the world; they are not yet bogged down with the skepticism that comes from repeated failure and frustration.  Also, on a positive note, we do see evidence that Millenials, our current generation of younger adults, do demand a sincerity and reality of faith other recent generations have not insisted upon.  There is a good way in which we can want more.  But there are also some bad ways.  The last few generations have created a monster. In trying to make sure the next generation has it "better" than they did, we now see a flashback to this scripture passage above. Rehoboam wanted more: more riches, more power, more pomp, and more taxes on the people to pay for them. Millinials have been given the impression they can have it all with never working for it, never waiting on it, and never wondering what their instant gratification does to others.  This, of course, is a stereotype, and many, and even most members of this generation fit it completely.  But there is evidence that it is prominent enough to cause them, and our nation, a problem.  In wanting more, let's make sure it's more of the good, important, and righteous things of life, which will not lead coming generations to say: "What were they thinking???"

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Serious Soldiering...

II Timothy 2 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Paul loved to pile up comparisions to emphasize his point. Here he uses the solider, athlete and farmer to emphasize the strength of commitment to Christ a believer should demonstrate.  Farmers work hard, giving attention to every step of tilling, planting, cultivating and harvesting.  Atheletes train hard and competes, not using steriods or trying to get away with fouls. And soldiers remember what they are called to: staying strong and alert to protect, suffering lack of sleep, shelter and some of the simple pleasures of life so as to not be distracted from keeping guard.  The soldier here is the main illustration, and one more point is made from his/her example: "his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." This is not a reference to the recruiter who signed him up, but to the ultimate authority, his "Uncle Sam", his president and his country. Our goal, as follower of Christ, need to make it our primary goal to please Him, through our obedience and endurance. One of the key aspects of obedience is entrusting what has been given to us to others - passing on the "orders" to the next soldier. He has called us to be and make disciples - to teach others how to farm, to encourage them on in the race, to sign up to join us in the spiritual warfare all around us.  May we be serious soldiers, devoted to His call on us.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Soldiers: people of many uniforms.

Philippians 2:25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.
Paul was not afraid to face anything on his own: angry crowds, highscale ruler, physical torment. But he much prefered working with a team, a band of brothers and sisters.  God provided many qualified, quality people for him to team with. Epaphroditus was one of them. He was known as a man who cared about people, and was more concerned about them than himself, when he realized they were worried about his sickness.  One of the terms Paul uses for him is fellow soldier. This describes his commitment and his courage. But soldiers are people too. They wear many hats: messenger, servant, brother, worker.  We need to treat them as such.  Sometimes they take the uniform off, and have many other responsibilities. May we pray for the challenges they face in uniform and out. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

What a soldier needs...

Philemon 1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul was a master if imagery, like Jesus, using everyday examples to express what it means to follow Christ.  Soldiers were everywhere in the world during the Roman empire.  Christian soldiers were beginning to go everywhere too.  Here Paul emphasizes the faithful diligence of the soldier - always ready to serve and do battle if necessary.  Paul appreciated these spiritual warriors, and he asked God to bless them with his most common, but by no means ordinary, blessings: Grace and Peace. Grace: the God-given ability to do above and beyond what we can do on our own. And Peace: Soldiers don't need more war; they need peace within and without. Fighting day and night wears one down.  He needs more than a break; he needs all out peace.  May God bless you with those things today as you fight the battles that come your way.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Soldiers' Struggles...

John 19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things,
One of the things the Gospel writers address about soldiers are their stereotypes.  In Jesus' day they were seen primarily as heartless killing machines.  After all, they were trained to help Rome rule with an iron fist. Many were underpaid, underappreciated, and under a lot of stress to perform. Dereliction of duty meant death.  But they were not savage animals. They had the common sense to not fight over or rip up the seamless garment. They were not pure destruction.  Eventually, at the end of the day, these soldiers would say what many suspected: "Truly this was the Son of God." (Matthew 27) They had more spiritual sensibility than many of those who daily went to the temple.  Stop the stereotypes.  Sympathize with the stuggles of soldiers.  See them as John the Baptist and Jesus did: able to respond, able to change, spiritually sensitive people.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lessons in Uniform...

Matthew 8:5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.
Jesus often commented on people's lack of faith; rarely did He comment on their strong faith like He did here.  In other word's we have something to learn from his example. From all of the encounters Jesus had with people, we learn different principles for life.  Here was a Roman officer, one who expected respect from his men and from the people he had watch over. He knew how the system worked, and was committed to following procedure.  In the spiritual realm, he had come to believe that Jesus is the authority. He is the one to make requests to; He is the one entrusted with power; He is the one who cares enough to do something. We also see that no matter how tough we need to be as a soldier, parent, boss, or other position of authority, faith is not sissy, and compassion is appropriate. The same is true for us.  Jesus is worthy of our trust, and our submission to His authority.  We can entrust to him those people and concerns most important to us and know he knows what to do.  May we have like faith.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Day the (Parade) Music Died...

I Samuel 4 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.
Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”
10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
The Israelites were losing in battle.  So they decided to bring God into the picture, but bringing the ark with them, probably with the musicians joining in. (It had always worked before!) It was an afterthought. They should have sought Him and His will first.  Life is often like that: we get ourselves into trouble because we leave Him out, then we try to bring Him into the picture, kind of.  We talk about Him, sing about Him, wear His T-shirts, etc.  But He is not our forethought, our first thought. And the music dies.  Soldiers must always remember for whom they are fighting, taking orders from Him, fighting for Him, lest they die and the music die too.  As we go out into the battles of life today, let us seek Him first, have His song in our hearts, and listen as we go.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The exciting life of a soldier.

Acts 23:31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him.33 When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod's praetorium.
Lots of times, when those of us outside the military see a person in uniform, we think of the danger, the discipline, and the devotion that they have - being on call to step up and defend our country.  But as many of them will tell you, every day is not like that.  I'm sure these men, entrusted to watch over the Apostle Paul, could think of a lot more exciting ways to spend their days. He was no physical threat - he even had a disability. He was no warrior, except in prayer. And he was not some zealot, though he proclaimed to follow a deceased One.  He was, in a sense, boring. But protect Him they must, with all diligence. 
As soldiers of Christ, we would like our lives to be exciting all the time as well. And while we are involved in a deadly spiritual war, much of the Christian life is a daily discipline of devotion lived out in the little things of life.  But those days are necessary so we are ready when the major encounters come, at a moment's notice, without warning.  May we live the life today, even if it seems for a time less than exciting.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Expecting a Bonus???

Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This is yet another of Jesus' examples from the workplace. The servant, or steward, is watching over the owner's affairs while He is gone. He has been given a great position of honor and responsibility.  If He does it well, he can expect to be rewarded and entrusted with more at the owner's return. But if he takes over, begins to act like everything is his, and abuses the trust he has been given, he is living like he does not expect the owner to return, and should expect punishment when he does.
This is practical life. The example Jesus uses is not an empty one. It should be an example of how we conduct our work life today - don't expect a raise, bonus or blessing if you mishandle your responsibilities; expect to be fired and/or fined. Followers of Christ have every reason to be good stewards. 
Of course Jesus is going much deeper to the truth of the Gospel with which we have been entrusted.  What are we doing with it?  Celebrating it? Investing It? Sharing it with others? Or using it as a tool to abuse others by comparing them to ourselves.  This is not the intended use, and shows a lack of understanding of what the Gospel is all about.  Expect no bonus, only the "wages" due such behavior.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Who owns Salvation?

Luke 19:11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”
Context is important.  Jesus used one of his regular themes in this parable: stewardship.  These servants were entrusted by the master with investments, and were rewarded, or punished, according to what they did.  The third servant did nothing but hide it. He treated it as if it was his own, not the master's. In context here, Jesus had just come into the life of Zacchaeus, who responded in faith, receiving salvation, as evidenced in his changed life - giving back freely. The account following this parable is the Triumphal Entry, where Jesus presents himself formally to His people: Will they receive Him as King, Lord, and rightful owner of Salvation? Salvation is the key theme uniting all three. Jesus came to offer it, entrusting the message of salvation to his people. He does not want us to hoard it.  He wants us to invest it, to give it to others, to see it grow. If we do not, we are wicked stewards.