Cleopas

In Luke 24, we read the story of the road to Emmaus. The experience of  two disciples who were walking home to Emmaus after the crucifixion of Jesus. Cleopas and his friend were trying to understand what had happened following the crucifixion, then after – having heard reports that the body of Jesus was now missing. They were wrestling with all they had gone through and the apparent impossibility of an empty tomb.

As they walked and talked that they were joined by a stranger who asked what they were talking about. This stranger – the risen Lord himself – gave them the gift of telling them everything that was there concerning himself.

As He broke bread together with them that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (v. 31). Suddenly they understood why it was that, as He talked with them, they sensed something happening inside which they could only describe as their hearts burning within them. This experience is a deep inner knowing of the presence of God and the revelation of the truth about God. When our hearts are gripped by the truth about God, His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we can never be the same again.

The Poor Widow

Mark 12:41-44

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums.  And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.  And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

A couple of months ago, my son Samuel got a $5 bill from his grandma. Actually, all of the kids received a cash gift from her that day. While they were all chatting about what they were going to buy with their money, Samuel looked at me and said, “Mom, I want to take this to church for the kids in Haiti. They don’t even have clean water to drink.”

This is the passage that I thought of when he told me that. $5 will not make a dent in repairing Haiti’s water problems. But that is not what mattered about the gift. He gave all that he had, with a happy heart.

Pray today that when faced with an opportunity to be generous, we are able to do so with joy and humility.

 

The Magi

In Matthew 2, just after the the telling of the birth of Jesus, the infamous King Herod is introduced, along with the wise men – or Magi. The Magi were searching for the newly born King of the Jews.

Usually, we see the wise men depicted in imagery as being in the stable nearly immediately after Jesus was born, kneeling or standing by the manger. Historically speaking though, it’s more likely that Jesus was nearly two years old when the wise men actually found him. The arrival of the Magi seems to have caused quite the stir. The quest for the newly born king was found out by King Herod, who was displeased (to say the least) that there was a rival for his throne. Herod tells the wise men to go find the newly born king and return to Jerusalem to report his whereabouts so that Herod could also go and worship this fulfillment of ancient prophecies.

Once the Magi found Joseph, Mary and Jesus, we learn that they were told in a dream not to return to Jerusalem to report to Herod where they had found the child. So when they left they did not return the way the had come. Then, in verse 13, we learn that “after they [the wise men] had left an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream ‘get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,'” (Matt 2:13).  And Joseph did just that. He got up and took his family away – immediately.

Both the Magi and Joseph are “told” what they need to do in dreams. I think we all can agree that dreams can be weird. I doubt that anyone would make the argument that every dream we have should be viewed as some kind of command or message to take action. But in the case of Joseph and the wise men, their hearts and minds were open and receptive – listening for wisdom. Whether it comes in a dream, following prayer, through conversation with a trusted friend, or just as a conviction in your heart – God speaks to us. It may sometimes be labelled as “instinct” or a gut feeling, but I believe it is there.

Pray that God will cause your hearts, minds, ears and eyes to be open to Him. Listen for the commands – and take action. God speaks to us through his word, through the advice of trusted and faithful friends, and more.

 

Jeremiah

Today we are in the book of Jeremiah – chapters 1, 18 and 32.

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 1:7-8

God was calling Jeremiah to declare the coming of His judgement on the nation of Judah. This isn’t the kind of news a young guy – or old one, for that matter – probably feels good about spreading around. Jeremiah had never done this before,  and it seems that he wasn’t an eloquent speaker (1:6). But, God assured the young Jeremiah he would be with him. And isn’t that the most important to any calling – that God be with us? Jeremiah didn’t have to worry, because God called him to speak. And not on his own authority, but on God’s.

We each have a calling and a part to play as members of the Body of Christ. This can be a scary thought for us too, as we face the responsibility we have to other believers. Thankfully, God’s call never requires us to lean on our own talents and abilities first and foremost.

And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Jeremiah 18:4

In Chapter 18, God helps Jeremiah understand what was happening and why with the people of Judah. He sent Jeremiah to the house of a potter where Jeremiah saw the skill of the potter as he formed and fashioned a pot on his turning wheel – and as he fired and baked the pot in the furnace of fire.

Through all the twists and turns of the rotating wheel as well as the heat of baking kiln, the artistry and skill of the potter was used to shape and mold and form and complete whatever vessel the potter chose to make. If the clay in the hands of the potter was ruined in process – he would start right over again, turning it into another vessel – a good vessel – a vessel that seems right to him.

The picture of the potter demonstrates that the vessel that stays patiently in the hands of our heavenly Potter, as He carries out His best purpose in our lives, is the one that will be formed and fashioned the best way for us.

Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:27

Here, God asks Jeremiah to buy land in Jerusalem. At the time this seemed crazy because Jeremiah was in prison, Jerusalem was under attack and disease filled the streets. But Jeremiah trusted God and bought the land without delay. The action showed his confidence in God’s ability to fulfill His promise of restoring Jerusalem and bringing His people back.

As Christ-followers, we can have the same confidence knowing that nothing is too hard for God. The same God who fulfilled His promise to rebuild Jerusalem is the same God who will keep His promises to us. Our steps of faith look different from Jeremiah’s, but our willingness to obey should be the same. By trusting and acting, we will grow in our relationship with Jesus and move boldly into God’s plan for our lives.

He may call us to quit a job, move to a new town or start a small group, but no matter how big or small the step, we have to have faith.

Nehemiah

Today’s reading is from Nehemiah, chapters 1-2.

Nehemiah had received some disheartening news in regard to the state of Jerusalem and those of the Israelites who were left behind after the rest of the people were carried off into exile by the Babylonians. The city was in ruins and those that remained were vulnerable to the surrounding nations. They were in trouble. It broke Nehemiah’s heart because this was his country – his people -who were suffering. It was also a reminder to him of the continued unfaithfulness of his people that led to the situation they now faced. The news of the condition of the city and those left behind that brought Nehemiah to his knees.

Ch 1:1-6: As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.  And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments,  let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.Nehemiah understands the power of prayer and to whom he is presenting his petitions. He trusts in the power, love and faithfulness of his Lord.

Nehemiah confesses not only the sin of his people, but also his own sins. He correctly points out that they have acted in disobedience to God’s command and are deserving of the punishment that they are receiving. He also “reminds” God of the promises He had made to His people – a promise to restore them to their land, no matter where they may be, if they would be faithful to God’s command. Nehemiah was praying day and night for the restoration of his people. Finally, four months after receiving the news of the dilemma that the
remnant found themselves in, Nehemiah had the opportunity to present his request before the king.

Ch 2:1-6: In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence.  And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.  I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”  Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”  And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.

There was a danger in approaching the king with a rejected look. Servants in the king’s presence were always to be “on their game.” Additionally, Nehemiah was asking for something huge. Some would consider his request to be a backhanded condemnation as to the way that this ruling family had handled the situation in Jerusalem. Regardless of the potential danger, Nehemiah took the opportunity to make his request and the king responded in the affirmative. Not only that, he also granted Nehemiah’s request for letters to allow for safe-conduct through the region and supplies for his rebuilding program.

Most, if not all, of us have had situations in our lives that just broke our hearts. We find ourselves on our knees praying for hope, healing or maybe that the situation would be completely different. Nehemiah was well aware of his past and the past of his people that led them to the predicament that they were in. He also knew that his God remained true to His promises, loved His children and never stopped being involved in their lives, whether in Jerusalem or in exile. God never left them. Knowing this about God gives us comfort and reassurance that we can go before Him 24/7 and present the things that are on our heart, the celebrations and the struggles. God loves His children and He is active in answering prayer – maybe not always the way we had hoped for or in our timing – but He is always answering prayer.

Phillipians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Ahab and Ben Hadad

Today’s reading comes from 1 Kings 16:29-34 and 1 Kings 20:1-21; 29

The first twelve verses of 1 Kings 20 describe the problems facing the northern nation of Israel, summarized briefly in bullet points:

  • Ben-hadad is the king of Syria and leads an attack against Samaria, the capital city of Israel.
  • Ben-hadad sends messengers to Ahab, the king of Israel, with a choice. Either be destroyed or hand over your silver, gold, wives, and children
  • Basically everything and everyone is now under Syrian rule
  • Ahab agrees but it his quick acceptance seems to have caused the king of Syria to up the ante
  • Ben-hadad sends messengers back to Ahab to say that he is going to send his servants into Ahab’s palace and homes to take whatever they want – tomorrow
  • This is too outrageous and Ahab rejects the terms of the treaty
  • Verse 10 records Ben-hadad’s response that he is going to turn Samaria into dust. “There will be so little left of the city that there would not be enough for a handful of dust for each of my soldiers.”
  • Ahab’s response in verse 11 is pretty humorous. “You act like the battle is already over and we have not begun to fight.”  With this response the preparations are made for battle.

THEN an amazing grace from the Lord happens. A prophet comes to Ahab and tells him that the Lord is delivering the multitude of armies from Syria into his hand. The young officers are going to win this battle and Ahab must lead them into the battle. Ben-hadad is so confident in the victory that he is drinking himself drunk in his tent along with the 32 other kings who are fighting against Israel. So the army of Israel comes against the Syrians and just wipes them out. The Syrians go into full retreat and Ben-hadad must escape for his life. Rather than seeing the power of God, the Syrians come up with a foolish plan. They figure that Israel’s gods are gods of the hills and that is why they were stronger than us. They had a false understanding of God. They thought that the God of Israel had limitations.

We can make the same mistake as Ben-hadad. We may think that we know that God is over all places and people, but our actions may not reflect this truth.

What limits have you placed on God? One limit sometimes placed on God by his people is “limitations in sight” – we will believe that he only sees us at worship. People act like God is limited in sight and that he does not see what we are doing Monday through Saturday. He only sees us on Sunday and he sees me as a good, moral Christian. But God sees all that we do.

Sometimes we act like God is limited in knowledge. We think that God does not understand what we are going through. We feel like we are alone. We feel like God does not comprehend the challenges we are facing. Jesus said that God the Father knows what we need even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8, 32).

Think about God’s full power and presence in your life. Are you “limiting” or minimizing what He is capable of in your life?

Samson: strong AND weak

Judges 13-16

“Then the Philistines seized Samson and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison.” Judges 16:21

The Bible has a lot to say about Samson. Four whole chapters are devoted to a character study of this strong man. Everyone tends to remember what the Bible says about Samson’s strength, but the biblical record tells us a lot more about this leader of ancient Israel.

The story of Samson is a study in contrasts – Tremendous feats of physical strength vs. spiritual shortcomings.

Samson lived in Israel during the period of the Judges. In fact, Samson was the last judge of Israel before Samuel. Soon after Samson’s death, Saul was anointed by Samuel as the first king of Israel. The period of the judges was certainly not a time of spiritual growth in Israel’s history. The people of Israel had gone downhill since the days of Moses and Joshua. Disobedience to the Word of the Lord was the reason for this downhill spiral. A “do your own thing” attitude characterized the age of the judges. Judges 17:6 and 21:25 state that “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.” God permitted the enemies of Israel to come in and oppress and defeat His people because of their sin.

Periodically during these dark days the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help. God then graciously raised up a judge to deliver them. But soon after they were delivered, they turned their backs on the Lord again and plunged into renewed idolatry and immorality. Against such a background Samson came on the scene – during a time of Philistine oppression. Right from the start Samson had everything going for him.

In chapter 13 we learn that Samson came from a solid home. He had godly parents who believed and worshiped the Lord. Furthermore, Samson was designated by God to be a deliverer of Israel from the hands of the Philistines (13:5). Victory was guaranteed. What more could one ask for? And then, of course, there were Samson’s physical attributes. Not only did God bless him with great physical strength but it seems that God gave him good looks as well. (An ugly Samson just could not have had the “success” that Samson had with the Philistine women!) On top of all this, we read further that God blessed young Samson and the Spirit of the Lord was at work in his life (13:24-25). To sum it up, Samson had everything going for him and apparently unlimited potential for success.

Instead of delivering Israel from the Philistines, Samson had delivered himself to the enemy. Who would have believed that this could ever happen to Samson–the teenager who had everything going for him? What went wrong, anyway?It doesn’t take much insight to discover the key to Samson’s downfall. It is found over and over again in chapters 14-16. Samson had no self control. He could not govern his passions. He was weak-willed and self-willed. What he wanted, he wanted now. “Not Thy will but mine be done” was Samson’s standard operating procedure. Look, for example, at Samson’s uncontrolled selfish passion in chapter 14:1-4. He saw a beautiful pagan Philistine woman and wanted her. His selfish response to the godly counsel of his parents was, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” Decisions made only on the basis of looks and pleasure are usually a sign of little self-control.

Look also at Samson’s weakness with Delilah in chapter 16. Because of his selfish “love” for this ungodly woman, Samson not only gave her the secret of his strength but he sold her his soul as well–“he told her all that was in his heart” (16:17). The almost unbelievable magnitude of Samson’s weakness is seen only when it is realized that he had three clear warnings of what was coming (16:8-14). How blind could Samson be–especially when Delilah had told him openly why she wanted to know his secret. “Please tell me where your great strength is and how you may be bound to afflict you(16:6).

How important it is for a growing Christian not to fall in love with an unbeliever. Love can be so blind at times that you do things you never dreamed possible–against all logic and common sense. What a mess you can get yourself into if you fall in love with a “Delilah”. No wonder God’s Word says that marriage between believers and unbelievers is wrong. (See 2 Corinthians 6:14.) Step by step Samson let his lack of self-control take over. He had taken the Nazarite vow as a youth, but one by one he was breaking the rules because of his undisciplined and selfish life. Samson ended up breaking every one of the rules because of his uncontrolled selfish desires.

We too may have a lot of God-given potential, but we may also lose all of it due to having no self control. Like Samson, we may come from a solid Christian background where we have been taught the precepts and principles of the Word of God. But like Samson, we may turn our backs on the clear teaching of God’s Word because we want to do our own thing and go our own way. Like Samson, we may have it all together in the physical area–good looks, talent, etc. But like Samson, we may take our God-given looks and talents and use them to indulge in selfish pleasure and passion.

Even our spiritual gifts can be misused and abused because of selfish interests and ambitions. Without self-control, a growing Christian with great potential strength will be as weak as Samson. In spite of Samson’s lack of self-control, God was still working with him and through him (see 14:4, 19; 15:14). And Hebrews 11:32 assures us that Samson had faith. All of this should be an encouragement to us who are constantly being tempted to do our own selfish thing.

God can still accomplish His purposes through us, but how much greater to yield to His control and realize our full potential.

You need to become helpless

Today’s reading is from Genesis, chapters 31-32.

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. Gen. 32:24

This is one of those mysterious incidents found throughout the Old Testament, where an element of mystery is given without much explanation. Who is the masked man and what was he doing?? I am sure Jacob must have felt that way too. He thought he was all alone, having sent everyone and everything across the river, when suddenly out of the shadows steps a man, who to Jacob’s amazement begins to wrestle with him. As you read further, there is no doubt who the man is. In fact, at the end of the story, Jacob names the place of this encounter, Peniel, which means, the face of God, because he said, I have met God face to face and still survived. Here is a man who, in some strange way, in one of those Old Testament manifesetations, is God himself appearing in visible form, and he wrestles with Jacob.

What does all that mean? Taken in connection with the whole story there is no question that what we have here is God’s attempt to improve Jacob’s prayer life with a crash course on how to pray. God is attempting to break down Jacob’s stubborn dependence upon himself. Jacob’s problem was that he never really trusted God to do things. He always had that inward feeling that if he did not do it himself, God would probably not come through. Now God is dealing with him in a defining moment. Jacob has to face up to the fact that, though his prayers are eloquent and beautifully phrased they are useless because he does not actually believe that God is going to do anything. All his trust is in himself.  There is no expectation, but rather a stubborn refusal on Jacob’s part to give up and expect God to handle the situation.

Do you recognize yourself here? I recognize myself frequently doing that. The account continues, Verse 25: When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. That came after hours of wrestling. Jacob has resisted, struggled, and fought back. He will not give in until, at last, the divine hand touches him on the thigh and puts the hip socket out of joint. That is the end of it; nobody can wrestle in that condition. All Jacob can do now is to cling in helpless dependence upon this strange wrestler. Knowing by now something of who this man is, he hangs on desperately.

Many messages on this account comment on the fact that Jacob was mighty in prayer because he wrestled with God all night long and prevailed. But it is not true that Jacob wrestled with God. It is God who wrestled with Jacob, trying to break down his stubborn self-reliance, his feeling that it all depends on him, that he has got to do it or else it is not going to get done, that God is really going to do nothing in the situation.

Jacob did not prevail over God by wrestling. The moment of prevailing comes when his hip is broken, when he is absolutely helpless and can do nothing but hang on. That is when he prevailed with God. That is what this account is teaching us. God responds to that sense of human helplessness.

 

“By the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”

Today’s reading is Revelation 12

I particularly like verse 11.  I find it extremely powerful and motivating.

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:11)

Verse 11 points out to all of us that the critical blow for Satan came when the Lamb – Jesus Christ – shed His blood for our sins. This means that the ultimate victory was won and continues to be won by sacrifice – Christ’s death in our place to pay the penalty for our sins, and the sacrifices we are obligated to make when we are faithful followers of Christ.

I believe Satan is real and exists in the world today. Satan presents temptations to us and encourages us to act upon those temptations. As we face the battle with Satan we should not fear it but we should follow the example of Christ. Jesus Christ provides us the power to resist Satan’s temptations.

By resisting Satan, our testimony can be inspirational to others. Our actions can influence the actions of others, and this can help draw others into a relationship with Christ.

1 Timothy 1

Recently I was having a conversation with a lady in a courtroom. She had been found guilty of several crimes and was waiting for her sentencing, unsure whether she would be headed home or to jail for up to a year. Through the conversation she shared other struggles she was facing and her hopelessness. I invited her to come to church and suggested that she may be able to find useful resources through church that would benefit her family. Her response was, “Oh – I can’t go to church, that’s for religious people. People like me don’t go to church.”

Timothy says “…though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” 1 Tim 1:13-16

Sometimes I wish there were magic glasses that I could put on which would allow me to see only what is inside a person without the distraction of all that is on the outside. God is able to do that – appearance means nothing to him. How “religious” someone acts does not impress. He gave mercy so that through His mercy to us we would be an example to others of His perfect patience.

How do you think non-believers perceive Christ’s love and mercy through you?