Archive for June 18, 2012
Tags: Abraham, Epistle to the Hebrews, Friendship, God, Jesus, Moses, Old Testament, relationship
Ever had a one-way friendship? You know the drill—people who always need a favor but never give anything in return. Every time they come close, you can almost hear that sucking sound as they bring a new set of demands and needs. In these kinds of friendships, there is clearly something missing if you’re looking for the joy of shared friendship.
I’ve often wondered if God ever feels that way about us with our constant barrage of questions, problems, and prayer requests. Of course, He wants us to cast all our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7), and thankfully He stands ready and willing to help (Hebrews 4:16). But if we aspire to be a friend of God, we need to recognize that true friendship with God is a reciprocal deal.
When Jesus talked about friendship, He told the disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). They probably had a hard time getting past the shock of the first part, “You are my friends . . . ” Any good Jew would have known that Abraham and Moses were the only two people in the Old Testament to have been called a “friend” of God. What a distinct privilege! But notice the second part, “if you do what I command.” Jesus made it clear that His true friends would be those who would show their allegiance to Him by doing what He told them to do: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Jesus proved His friendship when He “laid down His life” for us. Now the question is, what will we do for Him? Although we can never out-give Him or come close to repaying Him, every day we have opportunities to display our friendship with Him when we extend kindness to someone, forgive an offender, and show compassion to the poor and the oppressed.
So, welcome to the privilege of being God’s friend—and the privilege of proving it. After all, true friendship goes both ways!
- In what ways has Jesus proved His friendship toward you? Make a list of things that come to mind, and look for other expressions of His friendship as you go through your day.
- Evaluate your friendship with God. Is it a fair-weather friendship with a few perks thrown in? Or do you feel that it is a privilege and a priority? Be honest!
- How can you express your friendship to Jesus? Are there some habits or routines in your life that need to change in order to prioritize this relationship?
Tags: Base on balls, Christianity, God, Gospel of Matthew, Jesu, Lord, Peter, Saint Peter
We step right out with recognition of God in some things, then self-consideration enters our lives and down we go. If you are truly recognizing your Lord, you have no business being concerned about how and where He engineers your circumstances. The things surrounding you are real, but when you look at them you are immediately overwhelmed, and even unable to recognize Jesus. Then comes His rebuke, “. . . why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). Let your actual circumstances be what they may, but keep recognizing Jesus, maintaining complete reliance upon Him.
If you debate for even one second when God has spoken, it is all over for you. Never start to say, “Well, I wonder if He really did speak to me?” Be reckless immediately— totally unrestrained and willing to risk everything— by casting your all upon Him. You do not know when His voice will come to you, but whenever the realization of God comes, even in the faintest way imaginable, be determined to recklessly abandon yourself, surrendering everything to Him. It is only through abandonment of yourself and your circumstances that you will recognize Him. You will only recognize His voice more clearly through recklessness— being willing to risk your all.
Tags: Ecclesiastes, God, Human, king solomon, Sam Walton, Solomon, Walmart, Walton family
“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” — Ecclesiastes 1:2–3
There is a common refrain throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. The book begins and ends with the author declaring that “everything is meaningless.” But can that really be true? Is King Solomon saying that life is a meaningless accident? Can it be that he believes that there is no point to our limited time on this planet?
There is another phrase that repeats itself throughout Solomon’s writings. That term is “under the sun.” When Solomon talks about life under the sun, he is referring to the material, physical aspect of life. And in that respect, yes – everything is meaningless! Everything physical is temporary and empty. “Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow” (Psalm 144:4).
But that’s life under the sun. There is also life beyond the sun, and that is something else altogether different. Life beyond the sun describes the spiritual part of life. The point that Solomon is trying to drive home is that ultimately, that’s the only part of life that really matters. Only the spirit lasts forever.
The Walton family is one of the wealthiest families in the world today. Sam Walton, the family’s patriarch, was the founder of Wal-Mart. Sam was more successful than anyone could have ever imagined, and so his final words before he left this world are very instructive. When Sam looked back on a lifetime of unprecedented material success, he had just three words to say. His last words were: “I blew it!”
By the world’s standards, Sam Walton had been one of the most successful individuals in the world. But by his own admission, he had failed. Like King Solomon, he wondered, “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” Sam had worked hard and made billions. But what good does that money do for him now?
The legacy of Sam Walton is that material success does not make a life worth living. If your goal is material, you are missing the whole point of life!
So what is the goal of life? Solomon sums it all up for us: “ . . . here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The only achievements that last forever are spiritual. We are here to become better people and to help make the world a better place. The goal of life has nothing to do with what we have, and everything to do with who we are.
Life under the sun becomes meaningful only when we go beyond it.
Tags: Bethlehem, Gabriel, Galilee, God, Holy Spirit, Jesu, Judea, Mary
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a young woman named Mary in Nazareth, a town of Galilee. She was to be married to a man named Joseph of the family of David. When he came to her the angel said: “Hail, highly honored one! God is with you!”
She was startled by his words and wondered what such a greeting might mean. But the angel said to her, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will have a son and will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, for I am not yet married.” The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you; therefore your child will be called holy, the Son of God.” Mary said: “I am God’s servant. May it be with me as you say.” Then the angel left her.
In those days the Emperor Augustus commanded that every one should be registered. So all went to be registered, each to his own town. Joseph, because he was of the family of David, went to be registered with Mary, his wife, from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea where David was born. While they were there Mary’s first son was born. And she wrapped him in swaddling-clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
In that country there were shepherds living in the fields and keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel from God stood by them and a heavenly light shone around them, and they were frightened. But the angel said to them:
“Fear not, for behold I bring you good news
Of great joy which shall be for all the people.
For to you is born this day in the town of David
A Saviour who is God’s Anointed.
This will be a sign to guide you:
You will find a baby in swaddling-clothes lying in a manger.”
Then suddenly there was with the angel a great number of the heavenly ones singing praise to God and saying:
“Glory to God on high,
And on earth peace, good-will among men.”
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem to see this which God has made known to us.” So they went quickly and found Mary and Joseph; and the baby was lying in a manger.
When they had seen him, they made known what had been told them about this child. All who heard the words of the shepherds wondered, but Mary kept these things to herself and often thought about them. And the shepherds returned, thanking and praising God for what they had heard and seen, as it had been foretold.
Tags: Apostle, Behold, Christ, God, Isaiah, Jerusalem, Lord, Zion
Until the redeemed know something of the efficacy of atoning blood and have their consciences purged from guilt and filth by its application, they cannot come and sing in the height of Zion. But when they are redeemed from the hand of him who is stronger than they; when atoning blood is applied to their consciences to purge away guilt and filth; when Christ is revealed and made experimentally known; when his gospel in the hands of the Spirit becomes a word of power, and a view of the King in his beauty is granted to the believing heart, then, drawn by the cords of love and the bands of a man, they come to Zion, where the King sits enthroned in glory. It is called “the height of Zion,” not only because Zion was high literally, but because the Lord of life and glory is exalted to the highest place of dignity and power. God‘s ancient promise was, “Behold, my servant shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high” (Isaiah 52:13); and the Apostle says, “therefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9); and again, “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21). But why do they come? It is to commune with him, to worship him in the beauty of holiness, to get words from his lips, smiles from his face, touches from his hand, and whispers from his lips. And when he is graciously pleased to speak a word to them as Prince of peace, to reveal himself to their souls in the glory of his divine Person as God-man, and to shed abroad his love in their hearts, then they can sing, and in them is the promise fulfilled, “They shall come and sing in the height of Zion.”
Tags: Bible, Christianity, God, Memorization, Psalm 119, Word, Word of God, Your Word
By the time I was born, my great- grandfather, Abram Z. Hess, had already lost his sight. He was known for the beautiful wooden objects he had carved on a lathe—and also as someone who could quote many verses of Scripture. He and his friend Eli would often share Scripture verses back and forth. A bit of a competitive spirit resulted in their admission that Eli could cite more references while my grandfather could recite more verses.
Today, the family often remembers Abram as “Blind Grandpa.” His practice of memorizing Scripture became a lifeline for him when he lost his physical sight. But why is it important that we memorize the Word of God?
Psalm 119 gives us instruction on how to follow God by hiding His Word in our hearts. First, in this way, we arm ourselves when temptation comes (v.11; Eph. 6:17). Then, as we meditate on His Word, we come to know Him better. Finally, when we have His words etched in our minds, we are better able to hear His voice when He instructs and guides us. We use those phrases of Scripture as we talk with Him, worship Him, and teach or witness to others (Col. 3:16).
The Word of God is “living and powerful” (Heb. 4:12). Hide its precious words away “in [your] heart” (Ps. 119:11)where they will always be with you.
Tags: Apostle, Christ, Ephesus, Epistle to the Ephesians, Gentile, God, Jesu, Paul
As a pastor, I have often had people come to talk with me about finding God’s will for their lives. Usually, they are thinking in very specific terms: Does God want me to take this job? Is it God’s will for me to marry this person? While it’s certainly right to seek God’s will for such particulars, we should also learn how to have our whole life shaped by God’s will. The will of God can tell us who we are, why we are alive, and how our lives are part of God’s grand story.
As he began the letter we know as Ephesians, Paul identified himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1:1). As I explained in last Friday’s reflection, an apostle was a person who was sent by someone in authority for a certain reason. Paul had been sent by God to share the gospel with Gentiles and to plant churches of new believers. To underscore the fact that he was an apostle, not by his own choosing, but by God’s choosing, Paul adds, “by the will of God.”
Yet, Paul did not see God’s will in narrow terms as having to do simply with his particular calling. In fact, by referring to God’s will, Paul connects his life with God’s larger purposes for the cosmos. The first chapter of Ephesians speaks of God’s will three other times, besides verse 1. God predestined us to be his children “in accordance with his pleasure and will” (1:5). He “made known to us the mystery of his will,” which is to unite all things in Christ (1:9-10). God also “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (1:11).
Thus, the question of God’s will for my life should be seen in light of God’s will for the cosmos. If God wills to bring all things together in Christ, then this should transform my life, my sense of who I am and why I am here. We’ll explore this further as we get into Ephesians. For now, let me encourage you to consider how God’s will shapes your life, not only in terms of specific paths you have taken, but also in terms of how you live each day and how you understand your life’s purpose.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: In what ways is your life shaped by the will of God? How do you see your life in relation to what God is doing in the world?
PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for caring about me. Thank you for giving my life purpose and direction. Thank you for helping me to understand your will for my life.
Yet, as I reflect on the first chapter of Ephesians, I am struck by the fact that your will is much bigger than I sometimes assume. And your will for my life isn’t just about me, but about your will for all creation. Help me, dear Lord, to see myself and live my life in light of your will for all things. May I be caught up in your amazing work in the whole cosmos. Amen.