A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Micah 6:8 "Do Justice"

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

If we are going to be God’s people –if we are going to be the kind of people that God desires us to be, it all boils down to three things.  Regardless of personal theological bent, whether Reformed, Charismatic pr anything in between, this is God’s bottom line –this is what God says is truly important –this is the way God says we can please Him.  It all comes down to these three things: Our outward conduct (do justice), Our inner character (love mercy), and our personal devotion to the Lord (walk humbly with God).

Over the next few posts, I will give a few thoughts on what I believe this means, taking it a thought at a time.  Today, we look at doing justice.
The first requirement that God has for us is to do justice.  As Believers, we are be the standard bearers for society.  It is not enough for us to avoid doing injustice.  I think that for the main part, the Church, the Body of Christ, has been marginalized in our society –we have been pushed to sidelines and no longer have any significant impact on our culture because we have bought into the lie that religion ought to be a private personal thing.

We have agreed with our culture that we are entitled to our own religious opinions so long as we don’t let those opinions out of the closet.  We can believe whatever we want to believe as long as we do not use our religious convictions to change society.  We have accepted the mandate of our culture to not force our beliefs on others. 

So, we have come to a place where we try not to do injustice ourselves, but we do very little to change the injustice we see all around us.  But that is not what God requires.  God does not simply require that we avoid injustice on a personal level and look the other way when we see it in society.  God calls us to be actively involved in doing justice and working to change our society.  Our country is, at least in part, in this awful state of moral decay because we as Christians have defaulted on our moral obligation to do justice.  We have chosen to hide rather than to confront.   

When it comes to politics we have chosen to vote based on economics and secular politics, rather than spiritual principles.  We have left the political arena open to the ungodly, and then we sit and wonder why these godless people have failed to provide us with a godly nation.  

I hope that we truly understand that as Christians, as God’s people, we are to be actively involved in our culture, working for justice.  But it’s possible that we don’t exactly understand what justice is.  True to his nature as the Father of lies and perversion, Satan is always working to pervert truth.  So, there are those who are political activists working for some perverted standard of justice that has nothing to do at all with what God is talking about.  There are those working to keep abortion legal in the name of justice.  There are those who value animal rights above human rights and animal life above human life in the name of justice.  There are those who defend human cloning and partial birth abortion and stem cell research and all kinds of horrific things in the name of justice.  So, I do want us to be clear on what our Biblical mandate is about.

In Zechariah 7:9-10 we are told, "This is what the LORD Almighty says: `Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'”

In Psalm 82:3,4 it tells us, “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.  Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

This, then, is God’s bottom line.  His people are to be actively involved in defending the weak, the poor and the innocent.  It must be our concern as both Christians and as citizens of this country and as participants in society to see that true justice is dispensed.  Where we see injustice, we must work to correct it.  And it is only through God’s truth that justice can ultimately be accomplished.  So if we do not want society to quit dispensing justice, we must not allow them to easily dispense with truth.  We have a divine mandate to make our voices heard and make God’s love known through the way we live.  This is what God requires:  do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Luke 19:41 "And Jesus Wept"

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, it caused quite a stir- in fact, it broke into an impromptu parade, with people lining the streets cheering. Some laid their cloaks and garments on the ground in front of Jesus –some waved palm branches –most sang and shouted and cheered. Jerusalem was welcoming Jesus as their long awaited Messiah –the Deliverer promised to them by God. Jerusalem was ready to make Jesus their King.

If the disciples had been reluctant and a little fearful about coming to Jerusalem, that all changed. Now, it was clear that the time was right. Now was the time for the Messiah to reveal Himself, and raise an army and liberate Israel from Rome’s iron fist. Now, Jesus was finally coming into His own –and, of course, when Jesus assumed power, His 12 faithful companions would, naturally, be recognized and honored and given positions of authority in the new kingdom. I can imagine what these 12 guys were thinking. Remember who they were and where they came from? They were an unlikely lot of commercial fishermen and tax-collectors and other unnotable people. These were not the kind of people that normally had any possibility of entering the ranks of nobility –but Jesus had hand selected them, and personally trained them for three years –and now, the time had arrived, and people were cheering, and it seemed like it was really going to happen.

But with all of the cheering and carrying on, and all of the excitement, and each disciple lost in his own thoughts and daydreams, almost nobody noticed what Jesus was doing –in Luke 19:41, we read, “As they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to cry.”

The exact word used here for cry is the same word used to describe Mary, Martha’s sister at the tomb of their brother Lazarus –and it’s the same word used later to describe Peter when he realized that he had betrayed and denied Jesus –and it’s the same word used later yet to describe Mary the Magdalene at the Tomb of Jesus. We’re not talking about a little tear trickling down Jesus’ cheek. What the Bible says is that when Jesus saw the city of Jerusalem ahead –while everybody was cheering and hailing Him as King, Jesus was wracked with grief and sobbed uncontrollably. And the Bible goes on to explain that Jesus was grieving, not for Himself –not because of the torment and pain He was about to suffer –but for Jerusalem –for the people –for these very people that were hailing Him as King –He knew that before the week was through they would shouting –“Crucify” instead of “Hosanna.” And He knew what was going to happen, spiritually to these people as a result of crucifying their Messiah –and He knew what was in store for the Jewish people in the years ahead. He wept for these people because they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand. The problem was that even though people longed for a Messiah, even though they accepted Jesus as the Messiah and praised God and worshiped and sang and danced and shouted and cheered, they actually had no idea, no clue about what God’s plan for the Messiah was. They were so focused on their own wishes and desires and hopes and dreams and agendas, that God’s agenda was ignored.

I wonder if maybe we are guilty of the same basic sin that they were. How often do we get caught up in the emotion of worship on Sunday, and then get anxious or depressed or angry or filled with fears and doubts if God doesn’t behave like we want, or if He doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we want during the week? How often do we come to church on Sunday and sing the songs and pray the prayers and worship God, and then during the week go about trying to make our own agendas and plans succeed? You know what –I don’t actually wonder if we are guilty of this at all, I know that we are. We all are.

And that is part of why what Jesus did later in the week as He and the disciples were eating their Passover meal so important. Because we are so prone to try and make God fit into our little box, and try to make the Kingdom fit into our agendas –because we are so quick to forget what is truly important, Jesus, during that final meal on the night He was betrayed –just before He was arrested and falsely accused, and unfairly sentenced, and brutally tortured and executed, Jesus took a piece of bread and held it up for His disciples to see and He broke it and gave some to each one of the disciples and said to them, “Take this and eat it –this is my body given for you –as you eat it, remember me.” And later in the same meal, Jesus took a cup of wine and held it up for the disciples to see –the He passed to each of them and told them to drink, and He told them, “This cup is a new covenant in my blood which is poured out for the forgiveness of many.”

And before the next day, what Jesus said happened. He was arrested. His body was tortured and torn –for us. His blood was shed establishing a new covenant, a new agreement between God and man. The agreement is this –If we confess our sins, and don’t try to cover them up or hide them, and we admit that our sins have separated us from God and caused us to turn away from God –and if we accept the tortured body and shed blood of Jesus as the punishment that we deserve, God will forgive our sins. This isn’t the agreement that we came up with trying somehow to appease God –this was God’s agreement with us.

This is why the Bible teaches that we “can't be saved by believing in anyone else. God has given us no other name under heaven that will save us." (Acts 4:12) This is why Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father accept through me.” (John 14:6) This is why the Bible asks, “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3) This is why the Scriptures tell us, “The one who turns away from this teaching does not turn away from man, but from God.” (1Thess. 4:8)

This is God’s new agreement with us –our sins are forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus. That’s what this week is all about –beginning on Palm Sunday –and continuing through the week with Christ’s arrest, the mockery of a trial, and His brutal execution -then ending up on Easter Sunday morning as we celebrate His resurrection from the dead as He proved that our sins are, indeed, forgiven.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Psalm 19:8, Ephesians 1:18, Romans 1:28 "Rebellion, Blindness, and Foolishness"

Psalm 19:8
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

 Ephesians 1:18
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.

Romans 1:28  
Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking.

Demanding autonomy from God –demanding to live our own lives without the benefit of His wisdom and goodness and blessing is foolish. Yet we do this very thing all the time. Even those of us who have trusted Jesus for forgiveness of sin still often have little areas, little compartments of our lives that we have closed off from God. We have little areas that we have refused to surrender. It is our sinful human nature to want to hide things from God –to want to retain power and control.

The problem is that to whatever degree we deny the authority and sovereignty and wisdom and goodness of God –we are in rebellion against Him. Rebellion against God is not a matter of any specific sin –it is a heart attitude. It is the opposite of loyalty –it is the opposite of surrender, it is the opposite of brokenness before God. Rebellion is the little voice inside of us that says, “Why can’t I do it my way? What about what I want? I just want to live how it seems right to me. I trust only myself.”

Choosing to live by any other agenda other God’s Kingdom is rebellion. Rebellion against God –living as if God has no say, is a dangerous and hurtful way to live. Bad things happen.

Whether we make a conscious choice to reject God’s Kingdom, or the more passive choice to ignore God’s Kingdom, the end result is the same. Rebellion leads to spiritual blindness and ultimately to spiritual death.

Rebellion leads to spiritual blindness. The problem with blindness is that if we are blind we can’t see. The problem with spiritual blindness is that we can’t see truth –we can’t see reality. And if we insist on living by our own agenda instead of God’s agenda, but we can’t actually see reality –we are always going to be in worse condition than we realize. We don’t realize how bad off we are because our perceptions are clouded by spiritual blindness –we don’t realize the danger we are in.

One night a long time ago when my children were very young, Luke must have been about 5 or 6 and Lee was a year or two old, I was suffering from allergies. We had just gone to bed, but my eyes began itching so badly I couldn’t stand it. So I asked Sarah where the eye drops were. She told me that she thought they were in the living room on top of the computer monitor. So I got up out of bed and groped my way to the living room–all of the lights in the house were out, and it was very dark. But I found my way to the living room, and located the computer monitor, and found the little plastic bottle sitting on top –all in the dark. And I tipped my head back and let a drop fall into my itchy eye. And I quickly realized that what I had was not a bottle of eye drops. As it turned out, what I had actually picked up in the dark was a little plastic bottle of tape recorder head cleaning fluid –mostly alcohol. And it did not sooth my eye –it burned my eye more than I can even describe. It was horrible. My eye felt like it was on fire. And I yelped, and I started jumping around in the dark yelling. And while I was jumping around, I managed to bang my shin into a chair, which caused me stumble, which wrenched my back. All the commotion got Sarah out of bed to see what the problem was. And as I remember it, when she turned on the light and saw what had happened, she thought it was kind of funny.  I, of course, did not.

Basically, I had burning eyes, a wounded shin, a wrenched back and a bruised ego –all because I was trying to operate blindly. This is a perfect metaphor for a spiritual reality.  Just as my physical blindness caused all sorts of problems for me –problems that I had not anticipated, spiritual blindness also causes repercussions and consequences all throughout life that we don't anticipate.  The only way to see reality is to see life from a Kingdom perspective. We only gain a Kingdom perspective as we live in surrender and submission to Jesus, our King.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Luke 4:40(ff) To Be Continued

If you've ever watched television, you've probably noticed that TV dramas follow a formula.  Almost every drama -whether a crime drama, a medical drama, a family in crisis drama -they all follow this same formula  Here’s the formula:  There is a nice person that you like.  There is a villain or a bad person that you dislike.  And there is the hero or the star that you like a whole lot.  The villain causes problems for the nice person you like.  And the problems being caused seem to be insurmountable.  There is a particularly terrible crisis that occurs about 5 minutes before the show gets over.  That’s when the star or the hero that you like a whole lot comes to the rescue and the crisis is taken care of and everyone is happy.  Every once in a while, the crisis just seems to keep getting more and more serious and it gets to within the five minute final warning and the hero has somehow been detained and disaster seems imminent.  So, what happens then?  Well, then three words pop up on the screen.  They say, “To be continued…”  Although it seems that everything is going badly and that’s where the show gets left for a whole week, we all know that in the next show everything is somehow going to turn out all right, and the hero wins after all.  That’s how the formula for a television drama works.  But, of course, that’s just on television.  Real life isn’t like that, is it? 

I want to tell you the story of Jairus.  This story is found in Luke chapter four, in the middle of the chapter, beginning at verse 40.  If you don’t mind, I’ll tell the story in my own words.

Jairus had a problem. He had a dilemma. Jairus was an official at the synagogue. As such, he had talked often with other Elders and leaders about Jesus. Jesus was a troublemaker. That was their official position. Jesus was a troublemaker who had the annoying habit of interpreting Scriptures is such a way that, on the one hand made sense, but on the other hand contradicted all of the long standing interpretations. The common people seemed to like Jesus. They considered Him to be a Rabbi, a teacher. And more than once Jairus, himself had seen Jesus do miracles and had listened, mesmerized by Jesus’ teaching. That Jesus healed people was undoubtable. Everywhere Jesus went, he healed people. But what did the healings mean? That was the question. Was Jesus a Savior, or was He possessed by an evil spirit? Jairus was caught in a bind. He liked Jesus; he was impressed with Jesus. Although Jesus interpretations of Scripture were unorthodox, they made Jairus think. In fact, Jairus thought that just maybe Jesus was a Savior. But as an official at the synagogue, Jairus could not tell anyone what he was thinking. So when others said that Jesus was a troublemaker, Jairus remained quiet. 

But then Jairus’ daughter got sick. She was very sick. The doctors that examined her did not offer much hope. They didn’t know how to cure her. They said she would die. Jairus loved his daughter, and would do almost anything to save her. But the only thing he could think of was to go to Jesus the troublemaker and beg Jesus to come and heal his daughter. He had seen Jesus heal others; he knew that Jesus could heal his daughter. The dilemma was, you see, that if he went to Jesus, he would certainly lose his credibility in the synagogue and maybe lose his job as well. 

But it didn’t take Jairus long to decide. He went to Jesus. He fell at Jesus’ feet weeping. He begged Jesus to come to his house and heal his daughter. People stopped and stared. People whispered. Weeping at Jesus’ feet was not where the townspeople expected to see an important person like Jairus. But Jairus didn’t care about that, as long as Jesus healed his daughter. And Jesus looked down at the man weeping on the ground before Him, and had compassion, and said, “take me to your daughter.” And Jairus got up and began leading the way. 

As Jesus followed, the crowd came along, pushing and shoving. It was slowing Jesus down. Jairus was getting nervous. His daughter was very sick and might not make it if Jesus didn’t hurry. But Jesus didn’t hurry. In fact, Jesus turned around in the crowd and asked, “who touched me?” Even Jesus’ disciples thought the question was absurd. They told him, “Look around, Jesus, nearly everyone in the crowd has touched you.” But Jesus insisted that someone specific had touched him, and he wasn’t moving until he found out. 

Can you see that if this was a television drama, we have just entered into the crisis leading up to end of the show? Would Jesus make it to Jairus’ house in time to save his daughter or not? Would this delay be fatal? 

Then a lady came forward though the crowd and admitted that she had touched Jesus and been healed of a hemorrhage that had been bleeding for years. Jesus told her that her faith had healed her, and Jesus began once again to follow Jairus toward his home. The crisis was averted. All was going to end well. But just when we are ready to begin rolling the credits, a messenger appears. The messenger is a servant from Jairus’ home. “You’re daughter is dead,” he says. “You’re too late.” 

If we stopped the story right here, it’s a sad story –things didn’t exactly work out as hoped. If we stop the story right here, we are left with a whole lot of pain and misery and frustration. And it could be that this is where you are in your life. If you stopped right now, it would be a disaster. From where you sit right now, things don’t look so great. From where you sit, help doesn’t appear to be on the way. In fact, maybe you’ve already gone to Jesus, like Jairus did, and you’ve asked for divine intervention, and things have only gotten worse, not better. It’s painful and it’s frustrating, and we are beginning to feel all kinds of doubts and regrets and bad thoughts that we don’t even want to acknowledge because our thoughts frighten us. That’s where some of us are right now. But I want to assure you that if you love Jesus, the story is not over. Maybe things look bad. Maybe they look desperate. Maybe they look impossible. But our God is a God who specializes in the impossible. And God says that the story isn’t over. The tag at the end of the show doesn’t say, “the end,” it says, “to be continued.” 

So, let’s continue. Jairus was, of course, crushed. His shoulders sagged, his head bowed, tears welled up in his eyes. Jesus came along side of him and said quietly in his ear, so quietly the crowd didn’t hear, “don’t worry, don’t be afraid, everything is going to be alright. Just take me to see your daughter.” Jesus followed Jairus to his home where his now dead daughter was lying. Mourners were already gathering. People were weeping and crying. It was a sad, sad scene. As Jesus made his way through the crowd of mourners, he said to the family of Jairus, “no need to cry –she isn’t really dead –she’s just sleeping.” Some people in the crowd began to mock Jesus. They thought He was a fool. They thought He was a moron. Of course the girl was dead. Everyone knew she was dead. Did this guy think he was going to comfort grieving parents by simply saying, “let’s just pretend she’s asleep?” What did this guy think? Did he think he was going to awaken her? Did he think he could raise her from the dead? 

Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly what Jesus thought. He went to her bedside and took her by the hand and called out, “Get up, child –rise up and live.” And you know what happened –the child got up. 

God, you see, knows more than we do.  Even in bad circumstances, God is at work redeeming the bad and causing good to come of it.  And even when for a time, we can’t see the good, if we understand that God is, indeed, good, and that He loves us, and that He is still in the process of working for the good, we can trust God.  We only see things from our little perspective –and sometimes we misunderstand, and sometimes we don’t even have all of the right information.

There is a lot that I don’t understand –there’s a lot that I don’t know. But here is what I know for sure. Our God is the great and mighty God. He is a good God, a compassionate God. He is a God who specializes in the impossible.

And I don’t know about you, but that’s important to me. When I’m up against the wall –when things look grim –when things look hopeless and impossible –I’m glad that I’m a child of the God of the impossible. And I’m glad that He loves me enough that He will always be working for my good. And I’m glad that even when I don’t see the bigger picture and I don’t understand, God does.. And I’m glad that I can trust that even when things look the bleakest, God doesn’t say, “the end.” Instead, He says, “to be continued…”