Making Wrongs Right

Read
John 2:13-25
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  Verse 15 (NIV)

Reflect
Growing up I went to Sunday School and Catechism Classes regularly. As a bit of a rough and tumble kid, I used to think that Jesus was kind of on the wimpy side of the manly scale. Love, kindness, forgiveness, and mercy were the words that were associated with Jesu and his ministry.  So, as I remembered the story of Jesus clearing the temple courts, it was a bit confusing to me. In this story about Jesus clearing the temple courts, we have a picture in which Jesus is upset and seems to be angry. Does this fit with the way you normally think of him?

Vendors are defiling the temple area during the Passover festival, and that is a problem for a couple of reasons. For one thing, they are selling animals in a space where people are supposed to be able to pray. Another concern is price gouging. Animal sacrifices are required for the festival, and it was difficult for travellers to bring animals a long distance. So, the merchants are maximising profits by charging the travellers high prices for their animals.

All of this makes Jesus rightly upset. But this is not without proper reason, and it does not mean he is out of control. Rather, Jesus is purifying a holy space and protecting people from exploitation. He is taking on something wrong and setting it right. This is what we call righteous indignation – anger due to unrighteous behaviour.

As we seek to be followers of Jesus, we are called to put God first in our lives and to seek our neighbors’ well-being. But because we continue to struggle against sin, we still need to be corrected and even rebuked at times. In those moments Jesus may need to get our attention, or even speak a hard word to us, to shake us out of focusing on ourselves in order make us become more like him.

Love, kindness, forgiveness, and mercy sometimes looks different than we imagine. All those things are also wrapped in Jesus’ righteous indignation and it is for our own good, making things that are wrong in our life – right in our life.

Pray
Lord, show me where I have sinned, and give me the courage to honor you and do what’s right. Amen.

Living Water

Read
John 4:1-26
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  Verse 10 (NIV)

Reflect
I have a friend who speaks about church as if it were a club that comes together weekly just to do their Christian calisthenic. His point is that we tend to trade in our relationship with God for a social club with good morals.

As pastors, we are always grateful for people who want to support our ministries and programs. But we know it can be tempting for people to equate their church involvement with faith itself. When I ask about their spiritual lives, they might focus on music, programs, or committees in the church without ever describing their actual relationship with God.

When that happens, I am challenged to remind people of the greater gift that Jesus ­offers. Jesus did not come just to make us busy volunteers or to get us to donate to the church’s ministries. Jesus came to invite us into God’s presence.

Through Jesus, we are brought into a loving relationship with God. And it is in this relationship that we find forgiveness, healing, and purpose.

Belonging to a church is an important part of being a disciple. But in this passage, we are reminded that the purpose of the church isn’t merely to make ourselves busy or to create a comfortable worship service. It’s to enter into the presence of God – to give us the chance to drink the “water welling up to eternal life.”

Pray
Father, help me to move beyond church attendance or religious activity to develop a life-giving relationship with you. Amen.

The Way, The Truth, The Life

Read
John 14:1-14
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
                                                                                                                                    Verse 6 (NIV)

Reflect
If you have uttered these words in a place other than a Christian gathering you may well have had a negative response or two to your statement. I usually respond with, “Jesus said it not me.” Then the debate begins. My conclusion is this: “I believe that Jesus is the creator and if he created me has the right to make the rules. Besides, he gave up his life to purchase mine.”

Many people today disagree with this. They argue that it’s wrong to make such an exclusive claim. Today everyone has their own truth and say that all belief systems get us to the presence of God. By the way, I agree, but after you get to God there is still the judgement seat and unless you come through Jesus the end is not desirable.

In this passage, Jesus makes it hard to stand in the “undecided circle” when it comes to Christianity. Each person who reads John 14 must make a        decision to accept or reject Jesus’ claim. Following Christ is ­either the one true way to know God, or it’s not.

For some of us, this either/or choice may seem extreme. But as we consider Jesus’ words, it’s helpful to remember that he makes this statement while he is preparing to go to the cross. He knows he will be arrested this very night and be crucified the next day. Jesus is comforting his disciples in the face of his impending death by reminding them of the truth.

As he gets ready to die, Jesus wants his friends to have the assurance that he and they are doing the right thing. He will give up his life on the cross in order to open the way for us to have full life with God forever. No matter what happens over the coming days, he wants them to know that if they believe in him, they can trust that they will be with him forever. Are you trusting him for your forever?

Pray
Father, help me to find confidence in the claim of Jesus. Give me the courage to follow his teachings, trusting that he is leading the way to you. Amen.

God’s Heart For Reconciliation

Read
Genesis 33:1-11
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  Romans 12:16 (NIV)

Reflect
One of the things that has always drawn me to the Bible is its ability to be so open about the characters that have a less than stellar reputation. The story of Jacob and Esau is one of those stories. Deceit, not just by Jacob but also by Rebekah in deceiving an ailing and blind father. The tradition of birthright thrown aside for greed and status.

If anyone had good reason to hold a grudge, it would be Jacob’s brother, Esau. Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright and his blessing; then he fled because Esau planned to kill him as soon as their father, Isaac, died.

Years later, after they both had wives and children, they met again, but Jacob was terrified that Esau still wanted to kill him. He sent messengers and lavish gifts ahead of him, hoping to appease his brother. But he need not have worried. As Jacob bowed before his ­brother, “Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.” Jacob responded, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably.”

If we have also read the previous chapter, Jacob’s response may remind us that Jacob had just had an experience of seeing God face to face. Now Jacob saw a reflection of God in Esau through their reconciliation.

Pray
Father, thank you for reconciling the world to yourself in Christ. Thank you for making us Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation. Help me to reconcile today with anyone who has hurt me. In Jesus, Amen.

Spiritual Power In Meekness

Read
John 8:1-11
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” . . . “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Verses 7 & 11 (NIV)

Reflect
Have you ever run into any “power play” Christians? They are never wrong; their view and interpretation of scripture is always the right one and you are an inferior believer because you just don’t get the point they are trying to make. For the most part they are doing these things with a sense of sincerity and truly believing they are right. In our text today the power play is deliberate and has nothing to do with sincerity.

The story appears to have three simple steps. The religious leaders try to trap Jesus as they publicly shame a woman caught in adultery. But instead of falling for their trap, he silences them, and they leave. And then he forgives the woman.

If we look a little deeper, we can see there is more going on. We can even say that this story shows how meekness – that is, gentle, firm strength – is the spiritual power at work and can lead people to change their actions.

The religious leaders are doing more than exercising power plays, they are exercising spiritual abuse, first by shaming the woman and then by trying to undermine the ministry and the credibility of Jesus. Jesus, recognizing their awful abuse of spiritual power, avoids their trap by ignoring them at first.

Then, as they keep badgering, he responds, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” It’s as if he is saying, “Your abuse prevents you from receiving God’s grace. Come clean, confess your sin and surrender that godless power, and you too can find life.”

Then he calls the woman to die to her sin as well, and to be invited into true life.

The meek, life-transforming Saviour invites everyone to die and truly live! Who could have known that meekness could be so radically powerful and renewing?

Pray
Lord, open our eyes to reject spiritual power plays that pretends to be holy, so that your true life will shape and guide all we do. Amen

Love Is Service

Read
1 John 3:11-24
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with ­actions and in truth. Verse 18 (NIV)

Reflect
“Put your money where your mouth is.” I have heard that phrase a number of times in my life. It probably means I stick my nose into places it should not be.  The meaning behind the phrase is that if we believe in something or if we believe something is wrong, we should not just talk or complain about it; we should take action to support the cause or to fix the problem.

This is what the apostle John teaches about love. Love is not some idealistic concept to sit around and talk about but is shown to be real by our actions.

Love can get messy. Love sees the hurt and the brokenness in our world and takes action. Love goes out and serves ­others.

the cross, Jesus took action to show the greatest love of all, he gave up his life for us. And he also instructed his followers to go out and demonstrate sacrificial love for others. The resurrection of Jesus empowers believers with the joy and freedom to live by his love.

God’s love fills us with a desire for honesty, integrity, humility, justice, and respect for all people. Jesus’ resurrection power frees us to go out and share the burdens of people who are suffering, to spend time with people who are lonely, and to seek justice for those who are persecuted and oppressed.

As you celebrate freedom in Christ through the resurrection, let God show you where you can serve and show his love today.

Pray
Lord Jesus, fill us with your love, justice, mercy, and compassion. Give us eyes to see the world as you see it and give us the courage to serve others in your amazing love. Amen.

Ambassadors

Read
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
…. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  Verses 19b-20 (NIV)

Reflect
An ambassador is an official envoy, a high-ranking diplomat who serves as one nation’s representative to another nation.

The priesthood of all believers means that we are all priests serving in Christ’s kingdom, therefore we are ambassadors.  You represent God. You are an official agent commissioned to bring God’s message of reconciliation to the world.

As Christians, as priests, we are called to use our status to minister to others in a way that leads people to be reconciled with God and with each other. This is an awesome and humbling task.

The world needs ambassadors for Christ today. Our present world seems to dismiss reconciliation and claims that when conflict or tensions arise, they can’t be repaired. So, we live with fractured pieces and ongoing tensions everywhere.

But the Word of God says something different. As priests, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. We are to bring peace and unity to relationships everywhere.

When we seek peace in our relationships by reconciling one to another, we are being priests. This is needed in this dark and hurting world. To ignore any attempts at reconciliation brings destruction, chaos and even hopelessness.

Are you willing to accept the responsibility of being a reconciler – a priest and ambassador in God’s kingdom? It is a difficult calling, but it comes with the promise of God’s presence and power. Go ahead and give it a try.

Pray
Lord, thank you for using me as your instrument today. May I be an agent of reconciliation as your ambassador in this world. Amen.

Treasure In Clay Jars

Read
2 Corinthians 4
We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  Verse 7 (NIV)

Reflect
I remember so well my favourite professor speaking on this passage. He compared Paul’s analogy to placing a million-dollar diamond in the back of a dump truck to move it from one store to another.

In ancient times there were no banks as we know them. So, people would keep their valuables and treasure hidden, and they would keep them in everyday containers like clay jars, tucked away in a secret place or buried in the ground.

Paul makes good use of the contrast between the clay and the treasure. The cheap, rough, material of a clay jar is totally different from the refined, precious jewels and coins it may contain. And Paul compares the treasure to the precious message of salvation that God calls us to share in Jesus’ name, despite all our earthy weaknesses and sinfulness.

How precious are the “wonderful words of life,” the message of forgiveness through God’s love and grace, the news of Jesus’ victory over death, and the promise of our own resurrection! There is no truth so precious as the gospel of Christ!

Often, however, we get discouraged in our own weakness. Even if we are not persecuted or imprisoned for our faith like Paul was, we can understand the feeling of being “hard pressed on every side.” Until the day we are called into eternal glory, we must not lose heart. Till then, let this be our motto: “We also believe and therefore we speak.” Let us not lapse into silence. The same grace that forgave our sin carries us on, through life, so that light may shine out of darkness.

Pray Lord Jesus, you give us the precious words of life. As we follow you, teach us how to live each day in the boundless grace of God. In your name we pray. Amen.

Inheritance

Read
Psalm 136
Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things.
A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.  Proverbs 13:20-22 (NIV)

Reflect
I have never had the misfortune of working through a will that was being contested. For that I am truly grateful.  

Lawyers are often needed when a large inheritance is being divided – even when stated in a legal will. Without that framework, the people in some families would tear each other apart over the money or things they expect to get as their entitlement.

Inheritance issues can be controversial, but, in the Bible, inheritance is also a great example of a good gift: it’s given by grace – not earned. It is a gift received from the God who loves us and gives us good gifts from above. Psalm 136 celebrates the way God gave the promised land to Israel “as an inheritance.” Again, and again the refrain echoes, “His love endures forever.” As history shows, Israel had done nothing to earn that inheritance. God was creating a new nation that would bless all nations by providing a Saviour.

In the New Testament, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). And 1 Peter 1:4 describes salvation as “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”

What a heavenly treasure we have in Christ! All by grace, through faith!

Pray
Thank you, Lord, that you are our inheritance, and that to know you, and the Son whom you sent, is eternal life, greater than all and every earthly treasure! Amen!

In The Grasp Of His Love

Read
Romans 8:31-39
(nothing in all creation) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Verse 39 (NIV)

Reflect
While in Tanzania I was witness to a trial held by a neighbourhood group that had the authority to bring guilty people to trial in the nearby city. Using “switch sticks” on people’s bare backs and the bottoms of their feet, they were beaten until the desired answer was given. When I walked away from that event, I said to myself; “I would confess to almost anything to have that beating stop.” My pastor friend who was there and had been falsely accused of theft told me he had already felt the pain of the switch. Then he said nothing would ever make him tell a lie and disgrace Jesus.

In this passage Paul was naming some of the hardships he had faced and then he declares to his own soul, and to ours, “No, not persecution. No, not famine. No, not that, or that, or that, will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Why? Because God’s love is unshakeable, and God gives us the strength not only to face but also to conquer the enemy’s attacks. How? Through the finished work of Christ’s victorious death and resurrection.

Paul says neither the present nor the future will threaten our confidence in God’s loving grip on us. When my mother was given the news, she had only two weeks to live, she did not shed a tear. She knew that at the end of this life there was a glorious new beginning that would last through eternity. No, not even death could separate her from the love of God, rather death would usher her into the presence of the Saviour she loved.

Is there anything in your life that feels too overwhelming to handle? The power of the living, loving God guarantees a strong grip on you as you face your hardship head-on. Never give up.

Pray
Lord, we are weak, but you are strong. When the troubles of life pummel us, help us to find comfort in your love that never lets go. Help us to keep looking to you. In Jesus, Amen.