Clear Direction

Matthew 1:18-25, 2:13-23

Imagine Joseph’s surprise when Mary shares her news.  As the words are coming from her mouth, his heart drops.  She’s pregnant.  But how?  But, why?  He thought they were perfect together.  How could she go and do this to him?  Why did she agree to marry?  His mind races with questions while the anger and frustration build.  But, he was a reasonable man and, he loved her.  He resolved at that moment to control himself and not shame her.  It was not over, however.  His heart and mind would continue to stew on the matter.

As Joseph considered his options, according to verse 20, an angel appeared to him providing specific instruction.  More than that, the angel provided hope and security amidst his uncertainty.  The angel gave Joseph a clear path to follow.  Angels, become a common thing for Joseph.  He continues to get council and direction from them in chapter 2.  Joseph’s response was always, yes, I will go.

As I think about Joseph, I wonder about the unique privileges he was given. First, he played a huge role in the Christ story.  Second, he was directly guided by angels.  I don’t know about you, but I want to be directed by angels too!  How do we get that?  If we are to know how Joseph got it, we must know Joseph better.

First, Joseph was had a Holy bloodline (Luke 2:4).   If we are not careful, we will use this as an excuse.  We may believe Joseph was given special privileges because of it.  Guess what?  Jesus says otherwise.  Through his sacrifice, we become part of his royal priesthood (2 Peter 2:9).  Like Joseph, we’re part of this larger context.  We can be part of a much bigger story, but there is one catch.  We must be ready.

To be ready, we must do as Joseph did.  Look back again at Matthew 1:20.  It says that “as Joseph considered these things.”  What do you think Joseph’s consideration looked like?  If it were us, it might look like worry.  Or, maybe an endless list of strategies to get out of the situation.  Clearly, that wasn’t true for Joseph.  His consideration must have included God.  I imagine him in prayer and reviewing scripture.  Maybe he found comfort in the Psalms or wisdom from the Proverbs.  We don’t get that kind of detail, but we do know the result.  He was given a clear direction.

I believe that we are all able to get direction from angels.  Actually, we get a better opportunity.  Through the gift of Jesus, we get the Holy Spirit.  The real question is, do we hear him?  You see, Joseph ordered his life so that he recognized the angels when they came.  Furthermore, he was also able and willing to turn their direction into immediate action.  Today, we get a privilege that Joseph did not have.  Every minute of every day, we get the power of God at our fingertips, through the Holy Spirit.  He is not a privilege to a select few, we have all been chosen.  Now, the choice is ours.  Will we order our world to hear him?

 

Faith Under Fire

Isaiah 36 & 37

Trouble will come.  Even to the faithful.  Hezekiah proves that in our reading today.  He had been a faithful king, returning the land to God.  He restored the temple and reorganized the priests to present it as a holy place for God.  He brought worship back, providing sacrifices and burnt offerings to God.  He reinstituted the Passover, commanding all of Judah to participate.  Hezekiah was faithful in all he did.  “He did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:20-21).  And yet, trouble came.

As we read today, Hezekiah’s faithful kingdom came under attack by Sennacherib, the king of Assyria.  He attached them where they were most vulnerable, in their faith.  Threatening to take their city and kill everyone, Sennacherib argued that God could not and would not save them.  That he would be just like the god’s of other cities that he had easily overthrown.  Why would it be different, he asked.  His talk rattled the city and sent fear through their leader, Hezekiah.  This is where faith and leadership collide.

While he may have been overcome with fear, Hezekiah knew where to put his hope.  First, as we see in Isaiah 37, Hezekiah seeks wisdom.  It is important to note who Hezekiah seeks wisdom from.  It was Isaiah, his most trusted prophet.  He knew that Isaiah was a Godly man that would give him direction from the Lord.  When the words of Isaiah were brought to him, Hezekiah’s faith was quickly restored.  This restored faith resulted in further action.  Prayer.

Something strikes me about Hezekiah’s prayer.  It is all about God.  Hezekiah is reaffirming who God is.  He acknowledges his most high position and sovereignty.  Hezekiah invokes God’s power not for his own salvation and maintenance of his kingdom, but for God’s sake alone.  Hezekiah’s true faith allowed God to prove to the world that He alone is Lord.

As I reflect on Hezekiah’s actions, I wonder about my own faith.  When I encounter trouble, do I invoke God for my own salvation, or do I see the opportunity for God to expand his kingdom?  If you have trouble in your life today, consider praying, as Hezekiah did.

 

Influenced

Ezra 7-10

As a teenager, I remember my mother questioning me about my friends.  You become the company you keep; she would tell me.  I knew what she meant. Many of my friends were not scholars or great athletes nor did they have any desire to be.  More importantly, they did not share my belief in Jesus. Consequently, I often found myself engaged in behavior that was counter to who I wanted to be.  I knew this, but, at the time, giving up all of my friends seemed like too big of a cost.  You already know.  If we want to live a Christ-following life, we must be prepared to make some adjustments in our lifestyle.

I recalled this as I studied Ezra this week.  He was given the task of re-populating the Temple in Jerusalem.  God provided everything that he would ever need to do so.  It seems like it was easy.  Think about it, he received special permission from the king to take the Israelites and relocate them.  Then, he was given access to the king’s treasury.  More so, he was given authority to take as much silver and gold as he could carry from Babylon.  This turned out to be 24 tons of silver, 7,500 pounds of silver articles, 7,500 pounds of gold, 20 gold bowls and 2 fine articles of polished bronze (Ezra 8:26).  Clearly, he was well funded.  To top it all off, God granted him safe passage (Ezra 7:31).  For Ezra, it seemed, nothing could go wrong.  Until it did.

As they were settling into their new land, Ezra became aware of sin in their lives.  His investigation uncovered cause of the sin. It was the bad influence of the peoples they had just fled (Ezra 9:1).  To make matters worse, they had brought many of the people with them.  Now, the ones that came along were special.  They were their very wives and children.  You see, they had intermarried while they were still in captivity.  Unfortunately, they had “taken up their detestable practices.”  If the Israelites were really to choose God, they would have to remove these wicked influences.

The real work of Ezra’s leadership was just beginning.  The next several years would test his medal as he challenged the Israelites with God’s laws.  If you continue reading into Ezra 10, you will see that the people do choose God.  Their choice, however, comes with a disturbing cost.  They would have to leave behind the relationships that they had built.  It was, Afterall, these relationships that were causing them to fall.  They had to choose.  Love God, or love the world.  So do we.

Dynasties

1 Kings 11:26-40, 12:25-14:20

“I will always be with you. I will establish an enduring dynasty for you as I did for David, and I will give Israel to you.” (1 Kings 11:38”)

That’s quite a promise.  God gave it to Jeraboam as he became king.  As I reflect on it, I am amazed at the big promises that God makes to people.  He offers them freedom, power, riches, and this time, for Jeraboam, he offers up a dynasty.   That’s a big deal!  It’s a serious promise that Jereboam will be remembered.  That his life, his family and future generations will matter because of his life.  If you haven’t read today’s verses yet, I’ll give you one guess as to what happened.  It’s not hard to figure out.  I mean, Jereboam is not exactly a household name.  Why not?  The promise was conditional.  Jereboam did not hold up his end.

Before God promised Jereboam a dynasty, he said: “If you listen to what I tell you and follow my ways and do whatever I consider to be right, and if you obey my decrees and commands, as my servant David did, then…”.  You see, if Jereboam did not put God first, then the promise was null.  Of course, Jereboam did everything but worship God.  It seems as if he had no intention of serving God.  In fact, his actions suggest that he was only in it for himself. Thankfully, we are not like Jereboam.  Right?

Most Sunday services at Eastview include a baptism.  Baptism by immersion, we believe, is the outward expression of our inward desire to follow Christ.  To put God first.  This baptism is among the first steps of obedience in becoming a Christ-follower (Romans 10:9).  The tradition, at Eastview, is to ask the baptizee this simple question.  “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and do you take him to be your personal Lord and Savior?”  Today, I’ve been thinking about that phrase as it related to Jereboam.

Jereboam accepted the promise of God with the conditions given. And, he didn’t follow through. I fear, that sometimes we also accept the promise of God without intending to follow through.  In reality, we easily accept him to be our Savior but want nothing to do with him being our Lord.  Isn’t that what Jereboam did?  Give me everything, so that…. “I.”

I am grateful for the reminder that Jereboam provides me today.  All too often in my quest to be a good and influential leader, to establish a legacy and a dynasty, I miss the only important thing.  God gives, so that… “HE.”  Dynasties are not awarded to the best leaders.  God gives them only to the faithful followers.

Deception

When was the last time you watched a soap opera?  If you are a fan, you probably relish in the scheming and plotting against each other.  Every episode is filled with these stories.  They never end.  Sadly, real-life can be that way too.  Today’s reading of Genesis 27 is a prime example.  Everyone in the story plays a role.  What’s really amazing to me is that they are supposed to be faithful.  I mean, they are in the Bible.  Shouldn’t they be our role models?  Consider the actions of each character.

    • Rebecca – encourages her son to lie.  She conjures up a scheme that will give him the birthright reserved for the firstborn son, Esau.  
    • Jacob – tricks his father into giving him the first-born blessing
    • Isaac – really?  He has the voice of Jacob but he feels like Esau?  Does that work?  Nobody is that stupid.  I wonder if he didn’t know exactly what was going on – – in fact, Isaac knew, had been told, that Jacob was the chosen one
    • Esau – seemingly innocent but don’t forget that a few chapters ago, he signed everything over to Jacob.

As I read and re-read this passage, I fail to see what we are supposed to learn.  The conclusion of the chapter leaves the family in shambles.  Isaac dies, Esau wants to kill Jacob and Jacob flees for his life.  Just like a soap opera, right?  This, clearly, is the result of their deception.  Their sin.  None of the family put God first.  No member exhibited the faith or behaved according to God’s will.

In my search for something redemptive with this story, I found one thing.  It ends.  The lies, the drama, and the hate.  They stop.  How?  We don’t get much insight into that until Genesis 32.  In short, Jacob finally has it out with God and emerges with a new understanding of who he is.  Jacob develops faith.  The result?  Jacob and Esau reunite.  Peacefully.

I wonder how their stories would have changed if they had followed God sooner.  What if Rebecca would have reassured Jacob that God would honor his promises?  What if Jacob refused to win by deception and called upon God instead?  What if Esau responded with the Love of God instead of hate?

Maybe the hardest part of this story is seeing where we are trying to deceive in our own lives.  Let’s ask God to reveal those things to us.  Our challenge is to surrender them to God and, by faith, give him room to work.  He promises not to fail us.  In fact, he promises that we will prevail.

 

 

The Beginning of the End

Revelation 1

Many people struggle with the book of Revelation.  We complain about the imagery presented as we struggle to convert symbology to reality.  Our attempts are futile.  Rather than gaining assurance, we get fear.  Maybe, it is time that we approach this book differently.  Let’s leave our preconceptions and, more importantly, ourselves behind.  I discovered this as I read through Revelation 1. When I began, my focus was on one thing; myself.    Simply put, I begin worrying about my future.  What will the end-times mean for me?  This inward focus inhibits my ability to see the real message John presents.  Thankfully, God is faithful.  His word exposes my error and helps me correct it (Hebrews 4:12).  Today, as I read Revelation 1, I am reminded that:

    • God is in charge.  He gave Jesus the revelation to bring to us.  He commands angels and sits on a throne.
    • Because he loves us, He freed us from our sins by the blood of Jesus (v6)
    • He is the alpha and omega (v8). He existed before time began and will continue after it ends.

So what does the book of Revelation bring us?  A clear picture of who we are who God is.  Nothing else matters.  In fact, everything in this world will cease.  It will no longer exist.  Except for God.  He will continue.  He will rule and he will love us.  Forever and always.  That is enough for me.  Is that enough for you?

Leaders Teach

Titus 2

Last week, I found myself in a debate about leadership.  The cause in question was about who the leaders are.  Sure, leaders can easily be identified as the ones in charge.  That title, of course, does not necessarily make them leaders.  It might simply make them the boss.  Today, our assigned reading is Titus 2, but I would encourage you to read all three books of Titus.  In them, Paul teaches us about leadership.  In addition to outlining the leadership traits we need to develop as Christ-followers, he also identifies who the leaders are.  In short, Paul determines that everyone who is a Christ-follower is a leader.

Before we get too far, I would like to share with you a definition of leadership that I have adopted.  It comes from the founder of Keller Williams Realty, Gary Keller.  He describes a leader as someone who teaches people how to think so that they can get what they want when they want it.  It’s that first part, that I have come to love.  A leader teaches people how to think.  Paul breaks this down for us in Titus.

First, he encourages us to “promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching.”  The ESV translates wholesome teaching as “sound doctrine.”  For Christ-followers, there is only one source; the Bible.  The foundation of this BibleJournal exercise is built on exactly that.  Our core values include the following.

Second, Paul encourages us to be above reproach.  Specifically, he says, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”  Titus 2:7-8

Finally, and perhaps most important is the reminder that God’s grace makes it possible.  Godly leadership is simply not possible on our own.  This is a fact that C.S. Lewis understood clearly.  In his book Mere Christianity, he explains it perfectly.

the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about. And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally have led to some very bad act? But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives.  After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.

All Christ-followers are called to leadership.  I am blessed beyond measure to be part of this BibleJournal.  A team of leaders that are committed to teaching Biblically, living properly and experiencing God’s grace daily through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Godspeed to you all, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 193). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Strength and Weakness

2 Corinthians 12

Sometimes I wonder what my life would look like if God gave me everything I asked for.  Would I turn out like Bruce Nolan in Bruce Almighty, or maybe like the character of Kevin Lomax in The Devil’s Advocate?  I fear that we have all developed our theology from those movies.  Today, thankfully, we get to put Hollywood behind us and look to the Bible.  Through the life of Paul, we see what real character and integrity look like in the face of adversity.

Unlike Paul, we continually misdiagnose our failures and shortcomings.  These often result in empty and hollow feelings, despite our best efforts.  When they persist, we turn to God.  We pray for success.  Sometimes, we demand success.  We want more money. Better relationships, influence prestige, and power; “God’s blessing.” These, however, are the trappings of worldly success.  They are not what God wants for, or from us.  I like the way that Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel illustrate this in their book Beloved Dust.  They explain that “we want to believe we can fix our own lives and we want to believe that learning the right technique will save us.  At the heart of idolatries such as these is the desire to have a different god from the God who has given himself to us in Christ Jesus.  It is taking the deep and evil desires of our heart to make ourselves the center of existence, and generating an idea of a god we can serve – a god who will be impressed with us, a god who is on our side, and, maybe most importantly, a god we can control.”

Paul takes the opposite of my position.  His is worship.  Incredibly, this is Paul’s only response to his circumstances.  In fact, he boasts about it.  Now, I might boast about my weakness in order to gain sympathy or even help from someone else.  Not Paul.  He boasts not for any gain of his own, but only so that the name of God can be known to exclaim God’s revelation that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is time for me to get on with the business of worship for all things in my life.  This life of worship begins with the understanding that my weaknesses, my failures, my shortcomings, adversities, and brokenness that God is looking for.  In fact, all of these have been overcome through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Because of His strength, I can do all things. (Philippians 4:3)

We’ve Got Spirit!

Ring – Ring

“Hello, this is BJ.”  “I’m looking for a spirit filled agent to assist me.  Are you him?”  said the voice on the phone.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t know how to respond.  To buy some time, I said, “it depends upon what you mean by spirit.”  My brain was racing across so many definitions of spirit.  Did he want an agent with spirit?  Like a cheerleader?  “We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you?”  Ok, yea. I’ve got spirit.  No, that can’t be it.  Maybe he was looking for a Christian?   If so, I question his method.  That is an odd way to put it.  Why not just ask me if I am a believer?  Because this man was looking for a specific kind of Christian.  He didn’t want someone that was religious, or simply knew the right things to say.  He was looking for someone whose life was shaped by the Holy Spirit.  His follow up to my query was “are you continually full of the Holy Ghost, able to speak in tongues.”  Hmmm…..now I have a problem. I have never spoken in tongues.

Since I have never spoken in tongues, I must reconcile what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Today, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit fills the disciples.  The result?  You got it.  They spoke in tongues.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Does my failure to speak in tounges mean that I do not have the Holy Spirit?  No.  It simply means that the Spirit has not needed to fill me in that way.  He has, however, filled me in other ways.  Galatians 5 provides additional evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.  Galatians 5:22-23

As I reflected on the conversation, I began to think about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Here are a few examples of how Jesus reflected the Spirit’s presence.

Love – Matthew 20:28  “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Joy – Luke 10:21 (ESV) In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Peace –Mark 4:39 (ESV) And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm

Patience – Jesus is incredibly patient with Thomas’ unbelief John 20:27 (ESV) Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Kindness – Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV) Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls

 GoodnessThis is a great tribute to the goodness of Jesus https://youtu.be/ESmuG_5MOiw

 Gentleness – Matthew 19:13-14 (ESV) Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Self-Control – Jesus is tempted by the Devil Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Clearly, the Holy Spirit has powerful effects on our lives.  I can see why the man on the phone wanted an agent that was filled with the Spirit.  Thankfully, because Jesus went before us, these gifts are freely given to those that ask.  What shall we do?

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:38-39 (ESV)

Tested, Proven, Perfected

I am fully enthralled with the story of Peter’s denial.  Today, in Mark 14, we see both the warning that Jesus gives him and Peter’s vehement denial.  These two statements are extreme opposites.  In verse 31, Peter  “said emphatically, If I must die with you, I will not deny you.’”  Contrast that statement with verse 71 where Peter  “invokes a curse on himself and swears, I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  How could Peter so fully believe that he would follow Jesus, at all cost, and, at the same time invoke a curse on himself trying to denounce him?  Clearly, Peter did not understand what he was capable of.  Are we all so fallible?  If so, how do I know what I really believe?
The answer, unfortunately, is that we don’t know.  Seriously, until our beliefs are put to the test, we do not know how we will respond.  My fear, of course, is that I will fail as Peter did.  But why?  Why do I fear failing when, failure is the very thing that leads to success.? That was certainly true for Peter.  After failing the test, Peter broke down and cried.  In that moment, Peter knew himself better than he ever had.  More importantly, he came face to face with the gulf between who he was and who God created him to be.  He fully understood that if he was to be whole again, he would need God to make him so.  I can only imagine how difficult the next few days were for Peter.  Jesus was dead, and he failed.  What hope was there?

God leads into the dark night those whom He desires to purify from all these imperfections so that He may bring them farther onward. ~Saint John of the Cross

I am sure that through this test,  God planned to help Peter become who he was created to be.  Throughout the test, Peter was 100% responsible for his response.  He got to choose what was next.  In the end, Peter could not deny the changes that Jesus had made in his heart.  He was a different man.  While his heart may have reflected sorrow and shame, he was not far from worship.  It shows in his excitement to be reunited with Jesus in John 21:8.  It was this contrition of heart that led him to a full victory in John 21:15-20.

As I learn about Peter in this passage,  I find myself reflecting on how God has and is testing my faith.  I can see times of failure and, like Peter, experienced a dark night of the soul.  Maybe you are experiencing a test of faith right now. I am comforted to know that victory is ours if we choose it.  We choose it by acknowledging that Jesus is our savior and our Lord.  When we do, He promises that we will become “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).  That is who God created us to be.

Diamonds, Hawk Nelson

Saint John of the Cross. The Dark Night of the Soul (annotated) (Kindle Location 151). Kindle Edition.