Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

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

Thoughts: We are not merely to give intellectual assent to Christ.  We are not merely to be interested in Christ.  This is a challenge for us.  We are to long for Christ as a starving person longs for food.  We are to long for Christ and his holiness and justice like a person in the desert longs for water.  We are not asked to be a half Christian, but to be all in.
     We are not called to hunger and thirst for the world's improvement or the other side's political improvements.  We are called to hunger and thirst for our own righteousness.

Prayer: Lord, may I want what you want.  May I will what you will.  Give me grace to hunger for more of you.  Give me a thirst for you the Living Water.

Blessed are the Meek

Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the earth.  (Matthew 5:5)

Thoughts:  Aristotle said that the highest virtue was balance between one extreme and the other.  He saw meekness as being in the middle.  Meekness is an ability to not lose your temper.  It takes a stronger person to turn the other cheek than to fight back.
     We can learn from the animals about meekness. It is not the wild and fierce who are numerous.  If so there would be more eagles and hawks than sparrows and doves.  There would be more lions and tigers than lambs.  The domesticated are well fed and loved, and do not bite and claw to survive.
     Certainly Jesus sets a good example of meekness.  But he was no coward.  He faced his enemies bravely.  He could have started a rebellion.  But instead he is the most revered religious teacher and philosopher on earth.  He is the only religious leader who has adherents in every country on earth.  He has literally conquered the earth- not by a sword, but by a cross.
     To be meek means to be teachable.  To be able to listen well.  To be meek means you do not have a know-it-all attitude and you are not filled with pride.  A meek person knows there is room for improvement and is ever-learning and growing.

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to be meek and humble.  May my meekness point to you, Lord of all the earth.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Blessed are Those who Mourn

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

You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. (John 16:20)

And God will wipe away  every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17) 

To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor...to comfort those who mourn. (Isaiah 61:2- quoted by Jesus in Luke 2) 

Thoughts: Of course there is the comfort of Christ to those who are mourning in that He comes to offer eternal life.  In heaven mourning stops and every tear is wiped away.  But there is also a hope that Christ offers in life.  The sadness of life is mollified.  Jesus came to offer us the hope of heaven right now.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  He raised Lazarus and others.
      The mourning, many feel is not the mourning over death but of the sin and problems of life.  World sorrow bring remorse, but godly sorrow brings repentance and life.  Jesus calls us to mourn over sin, but not to stop there.  Jesus promises a way to life and hope in the face of sin, guilt, and death.
     The Christian way is to always choose love.  If we never loved, we would never mourn.  Jesus was affirming it is right to love even though it hurts.  Jesus mourned for Lazarus when he died- even though He raised Lazarus.  Jesus mourned for Jerusalem that rejected him. He mourned for the world in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He mourned for evil and death.  But one of the names of God is "The Comforter."  He is "The God of all comfort."  (1 Cor. 1:3). God comforts the mourning, and our call is to do the same.
     At the sentencing hearing of Dylan Roof (who killed nine in Emmanuel AME Church in a race-hate crime) many mourned.  But one in the courtroom did not cry- Dylan Roof.  It is a blessing to be able to mourn.  Those who truly love and care will be enveloped by the love and care of God.  

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to mourn my sin.  But let me trust in your tidings of comfort and joy.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Poor in Spirit

He said:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3) 

The word "blessed" (makarios in Greek) can be translated "happy" but a better translation would be "joyful" or "Blissful" (or in a state of bliss).  Jesus changes our expectations about life.  Without God there is little hope for the poor in spirit, the sad, the meek, the persecuted.
Calvin rightly points out that many are poor in spirit- and if they do not have God they could grow angry, cruel, or ironically proud.  But with God in our lives- with a right trust in Him we can have hope and enter into the kingdom of God.  One of the requirements for entering the kingdom of heaven is a recognition that we cannot do this on our own.  We must submit to God to go His way instead of our way.  We should be willing to give our pride and rights up in order to make God our Lord.  

John Calvin Commentary abridged:
Many are pressed down by distresses, and yet continue to swell inwardly with pride and cruelty. But Christ pronounces those to be happy who, chastened and subdued by afflictions, submit themselves wholly to God, and, with inward humility, betake themselves to him for protection.  He gives them hope and the patient assurance of eternal life.  For 
he only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit: for they who are broken or overwhelmed by despair murmur against God, and this proves them to be of a proud and haughty spirit.

Prayer: Lord, help me to humble myself before you.  Help my poverty open the way for the richness of kingdom.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Sermon on the Mount- introduction

1Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them. (Matthew 5:1,2)

Thoughts: Jesus was growing in popularity.  One day he found the perfect amphitheater- a mountain that looked down toward the Lake.  While his disciples came around him, the crowds came too- making circles around him as he taught.  The greatest teaching of Jesus- the greatest sermon ever- was about blessing.  Jesus teaches us to look deeper at life.  He teaches us that under some of the rocks of life are nuggets of gold.  He turns the world upside down by saying it is the mourning, the persecuted, the humble who are blessed.  There is a kind of hope given here of heaven.  We see God when we are pure- but we see Him face to face in heaven. We are ultimately comforted not in this life, but in heaven.  But that is not all- the meek do not merely inherit heaven- they inherit the earth!  The blessings of following Christ do not just come when we die. Eternal life does not begin after we die- but when we begin to really live the way God intends us to live.  Jesus defines for us what a blessing is.  It is not always a material, proud, haughty blessing.  The best blessings- this infers- is an eternal spiritual blessing from trusting in God in the midst of pleasure or pain.  

Prayer: Lord, when you teach me, help me to listen and to respond.  

To Read/See a Sermon on the Introduction to the Beatitudes, click here

Mountain of the Sermon on the Mount.  You can see the Church of the Beatitudes in the trees.  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jesus Begins Ministry

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis,g Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. (Matthew 4:23-25)

Thoughts: Jesus taught good news, and lived good news.  He helped people, healing them.  His ministry was threefold: preaching, teaching, and healing.  His popularity grew even to the Gentile community.  In some ways Matthew was seeing in the following of the Gentiles in the beginning as a foreshadowing of of the faith opening up at last to the whole world.  Jesus was not just the King of the Jews- He was the god of all.  All people need to hear the good news.  All people need more hope, more love, more grace, more heart.

Prayer: Lord, help me to spread good news wherever I go.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

All Can Answer the Call

18As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20At once they left their nets and followed him.
21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Thoughts: This is not a call to a profession,  but a call to follow.  It is a call to put the profession, the money, the family the things valuable to our security behind and take a step of faith.  They had no way of knowing where they would go or how much it would cost them.  The disciples had followed John earlier and had heard John point to Jesus as the Lamb of God.  They were ready to go when Jesus came.  His call was that He would give them something more meaningful than catching fish.  When he called them they did not ask "How much are you going to pay?"  Or, "What are the hours?" Or, "What are the benefits?"  They asked no questions.  They left "at once" (vs. 20) and "immediately" (vs. 22).  When Christ calls us- and He will at some point- we do not weigh the nets or wonder if we can take our boat along.
     Later (recorded in Mathew 8) Jesus would tell a parable about those God calls that do not answer.  One volunteered to go, but wanted to know where he was staying.  Jesus said he had no place to lay his head.  Another said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."  His father was still alive, but he wasn't willing to leave his father until he died.  When God calls us, He doesn't offer us the false security of the world- no home, no inheritance.  He does offer us His inheritance and the opportunity to do something that makes an eternal difference. We can make that difference no matter where we are.  We can make that difference no matter what we do. We do not have to be professional clergy or full time Christian workers to make a difference for God.  All we have to do is answer the call and be willing to drop everything and go. 

Prayer: Lord, Give me ears to hear your call.  Give me the will to answer.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Moving To Galilee

12When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”f
17From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:12-17)

Thoughts: The Herods did not mind imprisoning, persecuting or killing religious leaders.  John was a prophet who rebuked Herod for marrying his brother's wife, so he was imprisoned and eventually beheaded on a whim.  When John was imprisoned- the last of the pre-messianic prophets- Jesus work could  begin.
     This quoting of Isaiah is an indication that the coming of the Messiah also meant that the way was opening up for the Gentiles to be brought in.
     Galilee is a medium sized lake in the shape of a bowl with mountains all around.  As a bowl the sun rises up later and sets earlier.  It is a land of darkness, but in its midst was God's light.
     Part of the light shining was an appeal to turn away from darkness toward the light- repent. 

Prayer: Lord, let me turn toward your light and away from my darkness today.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Worship Matters

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’e ”
11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:8-11)

Thoughts: Sometimes people worship because of what God can give them.  Maybe if they come to worship they will have better answers to their prayers- or even salvation for their souls.  The devil was promising everything to Jesus if Jesus would just worship the devil.  But the devil cannot give the world- only the illusions of the world.  But no matter what is promised as a reward for worship, it is not enough if it is worshiping the wrong God.  God is worthy of our worship in and of Himself.  He is the One who made all things including our own lives.  He is the One who sustains, orders, and redeems all of life.  He alone is worthy of worship.  There can only be one number One- one final cause- one unmoved mover- one true God.
      What matters in worship is not style, not the type of music, not how much gold (much or little) or liturgy is used.  What matters is that our hearts worship the one true living God as He prescribes- gathered with His people, focused on Him.  He is worthy of our time for He made time.  He is worthy of our tithes for all that we have is a gift from Him (we didn't make any of it- He blesses us). We lay our crowns and honors before Him. 

Prayer: Lord, may my heart worship you.  You alone are worthy in and of yourself.  Forgive me for wanting to manipulate you by my worship.  Help me to see my true worship of you, the true God, matters more than anything else I may do in my life.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Trust vs Manipulation

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’c ”
7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’d ” (Matthew 4:5-7)

Thoughts: This is the temptation to manipulate or control God.  Jesus was taken to the highest point around- where everyone could see Him.  He could prove God's existence if He jumped and an angel saved Him.  It was abuse of God's promises, and an effort to make God do magic to wow people.  But God is not concerned with show- but with the heart.  God wants us to do what is right and then trust Him.
     Jesus was always willing to say, "Lord, not my will but thine be done."  He said this in the Garden of Gethsemane right before the cross.  The way of love is to trust in the other instead of manipulate the other.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to trust and submit to your way.  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The first temptation

1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempteda by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’b ” (Matthew 4:1-4)

Thoughts: Right after Jesus declared his ministry beginning He took time out to pray and get His heart right.  This passage tells us that the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted.  Jesus asked His disciples to pray, "And lead us not into temptation."  Maybe that prayer came from this experience.  It was obviously not a pleasing experience to Jesus.
      This temptation was to use His power to magically satisfy His own needs.  This was to elevate His needs over the glory of God.  Jesus showed later He had this kind of power.  He turned the water into wine.  He fed the 5,000+ with just a few loaves and fishes.  But Jesus would rather be uncomfortable than to tarnish the glory of God to make His hunger go away.
     Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8 in refuting and resisting this temptation. We should know scripture that well.  Psalm 119:9-11 says, "How can a young person keep their way pure?...By taking heed according to your Word.  I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you."  We can resist sin by putting God's Word in the forefront of our minds. 

Prayer: Lord, do not lead me into temptation.  But when I am tempted, help me resist.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Three in One at Baptism

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Thoughts: This is one of the great passages about the Trinity.  Here you see all three persons of the godhead in one spot.  Jesus, the Son, was in the water.  The Spirit, the second person of the Trinity, descended like a dove.  The Father's voice was heard saying, "This is my Son..."  This passage totally overturns the heresy that is called "modalism" that God is Father at Creation, that the Son came for 33 years, and then the Spirit carried on the presence of God afterwards.  Instead you see the three persons at once.  God is one essence but in three persons.  The Father is not the Son- but is pleased with Him.  The Spirit is not the Son- but descends blessing on Him.  The Son is the radiance of both.  

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love and presence in Jesus.  Thank you that Jesus is my good Lord and as I follow Him may you also be pleased with me and may your Spirit descend on me with blessing and hope.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rationale Behind Jesus' Baptism,

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Matthew 3:13-15) 

Thoughts: Jesus, as the pure and good soul he was did not need a baptism of repentance.  But he was willing to humble himself under the water as an example for us all.  Sometimes we need to do things whether we like it or not- or whether it is necessary at the heart or not.  Jesus was obedient to the idea that we need to be cleansed and we need to repent.
     Jesus submitted to John- the greater submitted to the lesser out of respect for his office as the baptizer and as a human being.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to respect others.  Help me to see the necessity of my baptism. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Real Baptism

11“I baptize you withb water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you withc the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12)

Thoughts: Repentance is good, baptism is good, but the most important thing is when the Holy Spirit comes.  We can repent without meaning it from the heart.  We can be baptized and it means very little.  When Jesus comes- everything becomes very. very real.  There is no pretense, there are no fake shows with Jesus.  He knows the heart, sees the heart, affects the heart.  Jesus is the judge who can see what is really right and true.  We can fool each other- and put spin on things, but Jesus is fully discerning.  John was comparing his water baptism to the baptism of the Spirit through Jesus.
     There is a parable about the wheat and tares/weeds that Jesus told recorded in Matthew 13.  There Jesus advises not to separate the wheat and weeds until they are through growing and at the end of time when they are fully grown they are separated.  The weeds are burned up and the wheat is saved.  This is similar to what John is saying.  John the Baptist is saying here that God is coming- and when He comes there is no pretense.  We can fool people and we can fool ourselves.  But there is no fooling God.  When God's presence visits us- and this will happen some time for each of us- we realize the masks and makeup do not hide the real us.  

     If God were to sit with you today at the end of the day, what would you want to change?  Repentance means to turn, but it also means to change our direction, behavior, beliefs, words, and even thoughts.  True repentance is a changing of the priorities of the heart- putting God first.  We do not have to be re-baptized every time we feel the Spirit.  I knew a homeless man who would give up his alcoholism at each church's revival and demand to be re-baptized.  But the Spirit's baptism makes the water baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost real.  We do not need to try to cage the Spirit (that's impossible) by saying things like we have to show some particular of gift to evidence that the Spirit has come to us.  The fruit and the gifts of the Spirit come when our hearts are right with God and the Spirit is in us.
      Real baptism does not depend on how old you are, how much water you have on you, or some formula.  Of course we should respect and use the formulas in the New Testament.  But real baptism is the baptism of the Spirit.  If we are baptized as infants or teens or adults our baptism becomes real when our hearts are right with God.  We can become like the Pharisees if we emphasize the mode or the age and do not emphasize the act itself and the heart.  

Prayer: Lord, come.  Help me to see the uselessness of pretending.with you.  Send your Holy Spirit to quicken my heart and love for you.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Cry of John the Baptist

7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.9And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:7-10)

Thoughts: The religious leaders were not interested in change for the better.  They were interested in keeping up appearances and holding onto the status quo and their power.  John the Baptist was saying that the time of God's wrath is coming.  This was a prophecy that came true.  John was speaking about 30 AD by 70 AD- less than a generation later- there would be a brutal war that the Jews would lose.  No more sacrifices would be made in the Temple ever again.  The Temple would be torn down, and the Jews tossed out of the land until 1878 years later.  The axe was a the root of the tree.  The call of John the Baptist was to repent while there was still time.
     The problem of living in an evil society, an adulterous society is we are lulled to sleep by evil, and buy into the illusion that God doesn't care about our spiritual and physical adultery.  In such a society standing on the precipice of destruction- without God's protection- our main duty is to repent- and produce good fruit in keeping with repentance.  

Prayer: John the Baptist's plea, Lord, rings true for me.  Help me to turn to you with my whole heart and to give myself fully to you.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Dream of No Color

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Thoughts: Attitude, work ethic, love, respect for others, that doesn't know any color (Dabo Swinney- Football coach at Clemson University).  Once Martin Luther King said in his "I Have a Dream Speech", "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." The parable of hte Good Samaritan is about someone of a different country helping the total stranger- with a different religion and race.  Human beings need to treat other human beings with love and not hatred.  This is true of the things that divide us even now. Jesus came to preach love.  Human beings find ways to divide from each other.  The dream of Martin Luther King is the hope of love.  It is a love that involves sacrifice and wins by turning the other cheek.
    How can you be kind to someone today who looks different, thinks different, lives differently from you?  

Prayer: Lord, help me to be more loving- especially toward those who are different from me.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Warner- John the Baptist

1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ”a
4John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Matthew 3:1-4)

Thoughts: Someone needs to say it: God is coming.  Someone needs to say- if God is coming, then you better get cleaned up, straightened up.  Someone needs to tell the people that is time to wake up- and sound the alarm. John the Baptist was the one sounding the bell.
       John was a humble man.  He had no money, no real food, he was like a wild man in the wilderness.  Yet, what he taught was powerful and true.  It was a reminder to quit wearing religion on our sleeve but to have it from our hearts.  People responded to him because the Holy Spirit was moving and at work through John's voice.
            Baptism was a symbol to John and the people of repentance. It was a symbol of wanting to be clean and washed by God. Our baptism too is a symbol of having heard the message and responding by having the water on us.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to repent in my heart.  Give me grace to turn away from selfishness to turn toward you.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Back to Nazareth

19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2)

Thoughts: Once again Jesus is pushed around by political power- pushed to Nazareth to wildly fulfill some prophecy.  Joseph was once again obedient.  He was a listener to God.
Prayer: Lord, help me to be a listener to your voice.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

Give Him Power and Glory

16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

Thoughts: Bethlehem even today is a small town.  There were not thousands of babies there, maybe not hundreds.  So we should not expect archaeological evidence of this atrocity. The Roman historian, Macrobius, records that he had boys under two killed in the region of Syria (the Roman Province that included Judea).  Herod was known for his building.  He totally renovated the Second Temple (which became one of the wonders of the ancient world for a few years), he built the port of Caesarea, the fortress of Massada, and the fortress of Herodium.  Herodium was a huge mountain plateau overlooking Jerusalem.  Herod was eventually buried there.  Herod killed the 45 wealthiest Jews in a play to preserve his power.  Herod killed his wife and his son in a fit of jealousy to preserve his crown.
    Herod had asked to find out where Jesus was born so that he could worship him.  In reality, he wanted to kill him.  To fake love for God and in its place have hatred is the ultimate evil thing.  Herod was not interested if God had sent a righteous king, he was concerned that his power be preserved.  In the end, we should seek God's will more than our own will.  In contrast to Herod who did anything to keep his crown, is John the Baptist who readily pointed to Jesus and said, "He must increase and I must decrease."  Let us choose to lay our crowns before Him. 
Prayer: Lord, keep me from lusting for my own power.  Instead, help me to be willing to give up everything in order to please you.    

Below: Bethlehem (see Church of Nativity) with the mountain of Herodium in center top; rt- Herodium from above

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Jesus in Egypt

3When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

Thoughts: God rescued His Son.  God rescues us more than we begin to realize.  It is interesting that often people who have little and are so dependent upon God for help and for rescue seem to have more faith than those who have much and think they can leave God out of their lives.  Herod thought he did not need God, to the point he would try to kill anyone God sent to take his place.
    There is a classic cross reference about this in Revelation:
1A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.4Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”a And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
This apocolyptic and esoteric passage points to the idea that the worldly and spiritual evil powers that be tried to kill Mary and her child.  It tells us that behind the things we see there is more going on.
      Joseph once more is obedient.  He listened to the dream, and his listening saved the lives of his wife and child.  Jesus knew what it meant to be a refugee.  Fleeing his house (for Joseph apparently had a house by the time the wise men arrived), Jesus went into the wilderness toward Egypt.  This tells us God fully sympathizes with human plight of being pushed around by political and spiritual powers and what it means to be homeless and a refugee as the people of Israel were in Egypt.  

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for seeking to understand and sympathize.  Have mercy on us and our world.  Give us listening ears as Joseph had.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Follow the Light

7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.  (Matthew 2:7-12)

Thoughts: The wise men, magi from the east were called kings by some in a reference to Old Testament passages that speak of kings bringing gifts to the Messiah.  Numbers 24:17 has an ancient prophecy: "a star shall rise out of Jacob."   Isaiah 9, 11 and Daniel 7 also speak of this.  Psalm 68:29 ("kings shall bear gifts to you") and 72:10 ("May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts") speak of the natural response to bring gifts to a king.  Some have made specific guesses of heavenly signs- from a nova, a comet, a volcanic cloud, alignment of planets- all that happened about this time.  
Raymond Brown rightly points out that Matthew was making a theological point.  Star gazers- following a natural light are pointed to the heavenly light of Christ.  So all of us look at the heavens that are telling the glory of God only to specifically find the clearer revelation of God come to earth to show us the way (and make a way).  

Prayer: Lord, help me to see my need to give to you.  Let me follow the light you give me into your presence.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Don't Pray for Football?

"Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God." (Philippians 4:6  CEV)

Thoughts: So what should you NOT pray about?  Little things?  Selfish things? Big things? Things that you know you should do anyway?  I have heard the arguments.  I shouldn't pray about these silly things that bother me, they are too little for God to care about-- that includes hobbies, games, cooking, parking places, et al.  But where is the rationale for that in scripture?  The problem is not that we pray too much- thus somehow trivializing God.  The problem is that we do not think God can care about the little things in our life that bother us.  To say that "My problem is too little for God to pay any attention to- He has bigger things to handle" actually trivializes and shrinks God's love.
    Similarly, I have heard people say that we shouldn't pray for the BIG things- they are too big for God to handle.  Thus do not pray for the world, or world peace, or for the victims of some accident, or for the weather.  But again, where in scripture do we find this?  We do find examples of people praying about the people of Israel, for the emperor, for peace.  Do not shrink the power of God to change anything that He has made.  This was one of the lessons of Jesus' coming- who healed when people didn't think it was possible; who raised the dead; who calmed the storm.  We can say "that was Jesus" or "that was the disciples" or "that was a saint."  But why not us?  Jesus said, "whoever believes in me will also do the works [even greater things] that I do" (Jn. 14:12).
      Some say that praying for selfish things is wrong.  It is wrong to be selfish, and to pray about selfish things or to focus on self aggravates the wrongness in some ways.  But perhaps if we put God into the equation- even in the midst of selfishness- it allows us to be told "No" and at least turn to God.  The problem is that we are mired in sin and selfishness.  It is hard for us to get beyond selfishness in just about any prayer we make.  I am convinced it is better to pray and let God say "No" than to leave God out.  In the end, prayer teaches us that the glory does not go to ourselves but to God.
      Part of praying about everything is allowing God to be a part of your life- recognizing Him.
Part of praying about everything is finding God- the Maker of all things- even in everything.  God can even take evil (like the cross) and turn it into good.
      So, what about football or basketball or cheerleading or volleyball or fishing or golf?  Such things to some are trivial- to others they are their livelihoods.  To some, missing a field goal will affect them the rest of their lives.  Many learn character lessons in sports.  Praying for God to help, to bless, to have mercy, are not bad, evil, or sinful things.  By the way, praying "May the best team win" is as close to a non-prayer/vacant wish as you can get.  It does sound even-handed and is probably the best someone who is trying to talk to both sides (like a journalist/sportscaster) can do.  
     But there of course is a balance.  The temptation is to always think God is on MY side (or my team's side) no matter what I do or what the other team is up to.  People on both sides may be praying for their side (we saw this in wars).  Truth is, we do NOT DESERVE for God to answer ANY prayer or to love us.  It is by His grace and because of His love that any prayers are answered.  If we wait til our motives are absolutely pure- or 90% pure or 80% pure we may be waiting til we get to heaven. But we are taught, and I believe it is not wrong, to pray about everything- letting God into your thoughts- calming your worries- ultimately submitting to God's right to say "Yes" or "No" or "Wait."
     The other part of this is, that when God does say "Yes"- we can give Him the glory and not try to take the glory for ourselves.  So prayer can cause the opposite of selfishness.  It can humble us before God and point to Him- causing people to look up.  So I am also not opposed to a player pointing up- or asking God to protect them in a game.  I am not opposed to a player talking about how they felt God was with them (that does not mean He was not with the other team too).  To say God cares about us in church on Sunday but not on the athletic field on a Saturday or Thursday night is to close God off from a section of our lives- and taking the glory away from Him.
    So pray...about all things.  Do not get mad at those who do, please.  Do not get mad at those who point up (even when they are on the other team).  God made our bodies, gives us talent, and helps things to fall in the right place- not just because of hard work and effort.  God uses our talent, hard work, effort, perseverance, pain, sacrifice, love for others on the team, losses and wins to mold us into better people if we will let Him.  Pray and do not feel guilty- even if people call you a sinner, a hypocrite (unfortunately- NONE are perfect- yet...not even those calling you a hypocrite).  Let God into your concerns, your life.  You may find this keeps you from turning a game into an idol or a god (games and athletic ability are not eternal).  Praying is one of the most free things we can do.  No one should tell you not to pray- that should be between you and God.  Often the people who want to take away ALL prayer really want to take away God- and thus our freedom of religion.  Pray, knowing that God can say "Yes", "No" or "Wait" about football or all things.

Prayer: Lord, help me to grow in my prayer life.  Help me to grow in my belief that you are God and there is no other.  Let me trust in you in all things.