May 17: Face to Face

Read Deuteronomy 34

Since then no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face (v10) . . .

One hundred and twenty years old. That’s how old Moses was when he died somewhere on the mountain. How old he was when he climbed with God to see the place He would take the next generation, the people of His promise. He was old, but not too old old to look over the land God had promised. Not too old to see the Promise that God’s children were about to receive.

He’d been leading Israel for all of 40 years. Leading them as they wandered. I wonder if Moses ever thought about the irony in that. He led the nation of Israel out of captivity and straight through 40 years of desert-meandering. I wonder if he ever pondered the craziness of it. I do not know Moses’ thoughts as he neared the end of his life, but I can tell you this for certain: Moses knew God like no man ever had. Yes, he knew the LORD God face to face.

I read that and and have to think how amazing it is that, although he had disobeyed God in such a way as to be dealt the consequence of not entering the Promised Land, God still counted this man a best friend. He had called Moses to follow Him, to lead His children to do the same. And, oh how Moses had followed. He followed God and led the people straight through the stress and the complaining. Forty years, he endured their wandering hearts even as they wandered the desert. And still, Moses’ leadership had given them the Law, God’s own instruction manual on how they should live, how they could be blessed, how they could survive. Yes, God kept Moses from entering the Promised Land, but still, he allowed him the abundant blessing of knowing Him face to face.

God could have let Moses die without seeing it. He could have left him unaware of the vastness of the Promise He had given. Or He could have just told him about it. But He chose, instead, to show him the whole land. He pointed it out instead. And then Moses was ready to die.

Alone with God, Moses the leader of the children of Israel, passed on from this life and left Joshua in charge. He led them through the wandering as He followed closely behind God. It’s the only way to lead, really, in direct communion with the God of Life, deeply rooted in the true Vine. It was true for Moses. And it’s true of us.

brw

May 16: Available to God

Read Isaiah 6:1-13

Glorifying God by bearing fruit requires availability.

For some, availability is absolutely no problem.  They are available…perhaps to a fault!  As a parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle, they are there for all of the important events and celebrations… and even run the taxi service to and from extracurriculars.  They are the ones famous for dropping what they are doing and giving priority to the needs/wants of others.  If you aren’t a person like that, you likely know people like that.  Lives are certainly blessed because of people like that.

But there is yet one more aspect of Jesus as the Vine that deserves our focus this week.  Our availability to God.  Isaiah’s story reminds us of that.

Isaiah had a stirring encounter with God in the temple.  He observed the Lord in His glory.  He watched and listened as angels proclaimed His holiness.  This was a sacred moment, and Isaiah recognized it.  With the backdrop of the Father’s glory and the reminder of His holiness, he suddenly felt the full impact of what it meant to be a sinner living in a sinful world.  How undeserving he was to be an unclean man of dust in the presence of the pure God of heaven!

Thankfully, God did that which only God can do.  He extended forgiveness.  The uncleanness was cleansed.  The impurity was purged.  Isaiah’s sin and guilt were removed.  Thankfully, God does that yet today for people like us in Christ!

Still, there remained one last question…the ultimate reason for the encounter.  It came from the Lord Himself.  He did not allow the angels to do His bidding.  He asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  (v. 8)  As far as I can tell, Isaiah was the only one who experienced the vision.  It seems unlikely that Lord was inviting him to nominate a few candidates from his circle of acquaintances.  No, the question must have been more pointed, “How about you, Isaiah?  Having caught a glimpse of My glory…having experienced what it is to be forgiven…how about it?  Would you be My ambassador?  Are you available to do My work?”

Those are stirring questions to ask.  Today, are you available to be God’s instrument who accomplishes His work?

sbk

May 15: By My Spirit

Read Zechariah 4:1-14

9/11/01…The events of that day may be etched indelibly in your mind.  Among other things you can still picture the Trade Towers belching smoke and ultimately collapsing.  Those are painful, discouraging memories.  You probably know that there is a plan to rebuild at Ground Zero.  The “Freedom Tower” is designed to stand 1776 feet high as a tribute to those who lost their lives and as visible reminder of our nation’s resilience.

Meanwhile, Zechariah’s vision from chapter 4 takes us to a 9/11 event in the history of God’s chosen people.  Under Nebuchadnezzar, Babylonians had invaded Jerusalem, destroying the walls surrounding the city and the temple that had been central to worship.  Decades after God’s people returned to Jerusalem from exile, they began to rebuild the temple under the leadership of a man named Zerubbabel.  But problems arose.  Opposition and fear brought the project to a standstill.  Years later, construction began again.  This time, discouragement permeated the construction site and the city as they compared what they were building with the size and beauty of the temple Solomon had built centuries before.  Who wants to be part of a project where completion is questionable and where the end product might be disappointing?

In the midst of that discouragement, God gave this vision of a beautiful lampstand supplied with oil.  He gave a message to Zerubbabel that the project would be completed and He would be pleased.  In the midst of discouragement, God gave a message of hope!

Are you experiencing discouragement in your work and ministry?  As one drawing from the Vine of Jesus, make sure you pause to note two important things that God’s people needed to know in Zerubbabel’s day.

  1. Human strength and wisdom were not the key to their success.  It would be the divine Spirit’s provision that would lead to ultimate completion of the project.  (v. 6) Are you relying on something else in the work and ministries you perform?
  2. Small things done for God were meaningful to Him.  While the people were discouraged about the size and appearance of the temple, God told them not to despise the day of small things.  (v. 10)  Do you look down on your contribution to what God is doing because someone else is doing it with more splash or with greater response?

sbk

May 14: Fruit from the Vine

Read Galatians 5:1-26

If many of us were honest, we would likely have to admit that the Holy Spirit is the member of the godhead least familiar to us. In fact, we may find ourselves giving mere lip service to His existence.

The Bible, however, teaches that the Spirit of God is instrumental in our coming to repentance and faith in Christ (Jn. 16:7-11). It is His cleansing and renewal that give us new life in Christ (Titus 3:5). He indwells believers at the point of salvation (Gal. 3:2; Rom. 8:9). And, if we choose to walk consistent with His indwelling and empowering presence, our lives are different. The fruit of our lives is transformed.

That fruit lies at the heart of today’s reading. Before we came to Christ (and even today if we fail to respond to the Spirit) our lives were characterized by the “desires of” or the “works of the flesh” (vv. 19-21). But the fruit resulting from the Holy Spirit’s presence stands in stark contrast. This fruit includes godly virtues like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (vv. 22, 23). Those are qualities that we cannot, merely by our own will, tie onto the branches of our lives. No, they flow from the Spirit.

These virtues of godliness should be on the grow as we are developed into fully devoted followers of Christ. And they will be the focus of our attention over the next several days.

But before we close today, we must ask, “Do I have a personal responsibility in seeing these supernatural virtues manifested in my life?” Or, stated otherwise, “If this is the ‘fruit of the Spirit,’ do I just have a passive role in seeing them manifested?”

Clearly, Paul understood that we have responsibility. We are to “live by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (vv. 16, 25). In fact, he instructs us to “sow to please the Spirit” (Gal. 6:8).

We all know that water is key to fruit production. Which garden of your life are you watering through the focus of your attention and thoughts and even through your entertainment choices? The garden that is causing your natural desires to grow? Or the one that is fueling the growth of the fruit that God wants to produce through His Spirit?

Water the right garden and you’ll produce the right fruit.

sbk

May 13: Daily Time

Read Galatians 1:1-24

There is no doubt that one day changed the entire life trajectory of the apostle Paul. Acts 9 describes it well. While walking along the road leading to Damascus, he encountered the crucified and risen Christ. That day marked his life for eternity. He would never be the same.

But there is something about the flow of events that is not abundantly clear from the narrative found in Acts. Verse 23 includes the simple phrase, “After many days had gone by…” We are inclined to think that this was a week, maybe a few weeks, or perhaps a couple of months. Meanwhile, Galatians 1 gives us more insight into the actual length of time: “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem…” (v. 18).

That may seem like a useless piece of trivia except for the fact that Paul describes what he did after his conversion with these words, “my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” (v. 16) Oh, I am sure that he had contact with others. His point, however, was that his faith and convictions were not being formed by the opinions of others. Those three formative years spent in both Arabia and Damascus (v. 17) were apparently a timeframe during which God Himself was molding him into the servant that he was becoming. During these three years, the apostle was careful to remain in and draw from the true Vine.  Eventually, the day came when Paul both met up with other spiritual leaders and fully embraced his ministry. But first, he spent time with God.

Certainly, the point here is not that we avoid people, that we never ask questions, that we give up seeking godly input from others. Instead, it is the realization that there is no substitute for regularly seeking God in those “one day” experiences of concentrated focus on Him. It is the frequent practice of a personal Sabbath. It is the development of a pattern of consistent retreats from the noise of the world in order to hear the unmistakable voice of God. It is the recognition that there are certain things that the believer can do to give priority to time with God…on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis, and on an annual basis.

What are you doing to make that happen for you?

sbk

May 12: Growth

Read 2 Peter 1:1-11

As the Vine, Jesus promises growth and fruitfulness to those who remain in Him.  Now, I have no propensity for biological terms, no natural tendencies toward physiological studies of any kind. Just ask Mr. Stewart, my 10th grade biology teacher. I do, however, understand that each of us is born with a sort-of program called DNA that holds all it needs for an entire lifetime’s worth of growth. That DNA will not multiply or change according to our age or our maturity. We have it at birth.

In a very real way, the same can be said of our spiritual DNA. According to the Apostle Peter, we already have “everything we need for life and godliness (v3).” In fact, the very God Whose goodness and glory called us to this new life in Him through faith. And the very God Who makes us righteous when we trust His Son Jesus Christ and follow Him in faith, He wants us to live in the divine power that He has given us. He gave us everything we need when we gave our lives to Him. So now He wants us to live in the truth of that power.

That’s why He wants us to grow. For in the growing, we live and act and react according to the divine power which He has given us. It starts with the faith that God Himself gives us. It grows, then, in goodness and knowledge and self-control, in perseverance and godliness and brotherly kindness and love. When we grow in these, we can’t help but share the truth and character of Jesus Christ because we become more and more like Him, thus, following God’s purpose for our lives.

In growing, we fulfill our part of covenant relationship with God. The one we entered into when we asked Him to save us from darkness and sin-living and give us new life. When we asked Him to be the Lord of our lives Whom we would follow wherever.

Here’s the thing about growing: we have everything we need in order to mature in our faith and become Christ-like. But we can’t be complacent with that and not seek to know God more. If we do, we will soon forget the amazing gift of new life, of salvation, that God has given us.

It’s not easy. Just like the pains that my daughter sometimes gets in her legs when she goes through growth spurts, spiritual growth sometimes comes with growing pains, too. But, just as my daughter doesn’t want to be the size of a 12-year-old all her life, neither do we want to be spiritually stagnant.

brw

May 11: He is the Vine. Why must I remain?

Read John 15:1-16:6

The nation of Israel had been represented as a vine in the Old Testament, so Jesus’ reference to it would have made sense to the disciples when He said,

I am the true vine . . . (15:1)

With that statement, He invited His followers to remain steadfast to Him, the only way to the Father.  Jesus was reminding them of the truth that the only way to bear the fruit of the Father and do what pleased Him was through Him.

Remain.  Abide.  Don’t forget the truth of Whose you are.  The truth to which you were called.

And He laid out several promises for not only the eleven, but also for us, His followers today.

  • If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit (v5).
  • If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you (v7).
  • This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (v8).
  • If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love (v10).

All of them good and perfect promises, motivation for abiding.  But then the promises took a turn, and got difficult at best.

  • If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (v20).
  • They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God (16:2).

And suddenly, we get a pretty clear picture of why it was so important to remain in Jesus’ love, to hang in there with Him and endure.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (15:11).

The joy that Jesus knew included full disclosure on His untimely death and shameful suffering.  His was a joy different from any we might otherwise never know.  But Jesus wanted us to know it.  He wanted us to have that joy, unedited.  Completely.

So He told us how to get it.  Remain.  By following Him, knowing Him, trusting and waiting on Him, bearing Him fruit and bringing Him glory.

See, Jesus knew that His disciples, and that we, would know persecution because of His name.  But He also knew that bearing fruit and bringing glory to God the Father was real joy, the kind that fills life.  A fuller joy than any earthly approval would ever bring.

And again, we are faced with the truth of the life He came to give.  The life that only comes through Jesus Christ.

brw

May 10: The Light That Shines From Atop A Cross

Read John 12:12-50

When the people welcomed Jesus like a king into Jerusalem with palm branches and “Hosannas,” He knew His time was near. The time when He would be lifted up on a cross and die a sinner’s death. Even the prophets of long ago had written of it — the culmination of His purpose on this earth.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (v23).

The Light of the World had more shining to do, more exposing of our need. But the angle of the Light was about to change drastically from eye-level to lifted up to the top of a cross.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (v32)

The time had come for the Father to glorify His name through the Son.

Father, glorify your name (v28)!

His purpose was set. The Light of the World, God Himself, came to earth to be lifted up and to draw all men to Himself (v32).

The Light had entered darkness some thirty-three years earlier. Now it was time to shine even more of the Father’s glory. Time to point mankind to eternal life. (v50)

The Light of the World would be lifted up for all mankind to see their own darkness and the only way to really live. He lit the way to true life. He exposed the darkness of sin that separated mankind from living.

Still today, He lights the way for you and me, exposes the darkness, shows us how to live out the abundance He has planned for us. Life inside the Light and without darkness.

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (v46)

The Light of the World, Jesus Christ, still shines today because the Light could not be contained in a tomb. The Life the is Light could not be conquered by darkness. In fact, just like the light of a single lighthouse on the edge of a huge ocean, the Light broke through the darkness that first Easter morning so that we could see.

And now we have a way to find Him… He’s called the Light of the World.

brw

May 9: Walking In the Light

Read 1 John 1

The message changes everything.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (v5)

Divine illumination of holy purity and wholeness. There is no imperfection, no spot of darkness in Him at all.

So when Jesus came into the world proclaiming Himself to be its Light, the holy illumination of all that God is exposed sin in its reality and provided a way to purity, real life, eternal life.

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (v 7)

We need the Light to see the path, to know every next step. But sometimes we see it and still let our feet wander a bit. Because sometimes it’s hard to follow that lit path, even with all its fellowship and amazing God-life.

Sometimes I hear His voice, feel His nudge, see the light shine on the wise way to take, and I still choose the wrong way. That’s why I need Him. Why I need His light.

Because He shines ever faithful on the way I should go, but He shines just as brightly into the depths of my heart, exposing the fault in my wrong-way choosing. And He points me back to the way He always has lit.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (v9)

You see the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, exposes the darkness of sin and death that keeps us out of fellowship with Him. He illuminates the way so you and I can walk in truth and live real life.

But His faithfulness remains true. His love does not change. The Light of the World, shining bright on the way of life shines ever-true into our hearts as well. Because light is not choosy. It shines and exposes wherever it is pointed.

So as we walk in fellowship with the Light, He exposes our faltering even as He faithfully points out the way back to the path. The way called humility, brokenness, death to self. Fellowship with God.

And this is faithful God. The Word of Life. The Light of the World.

brw

 

May 8: The Light Who Loves

Read John 3:1-21

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (v. 16)

The song writer expressed it well:

The love of God is greater far, Than tongue or pen can ever tell…

In one of the most famous of Christ’s many encounters with others, a respected first-century Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus came face to face with that love. Compelled perhaps by fear, Nicodemus came by night. He probably didn’t want others to see him. Propelled by curiosity, he came nonetheless. Based on what he had seen and heard, he couldn’t not come.

But what he heard confused him. “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus needed to understand more about spiritual rebirth. “How can these things be?” Nicodemus needed to understand more about the work of the Holy Spirit.

He needed the Light to expose his own sin and the darkness in his life that kept him from truly following God.

Thankfully, Jesus simplified the message so that even you and I centuries later and in a different cultural context can understand it. The Light of the World expressed His truth, exposed Nicodemus’ need, in terms of love, the likes of which we find nowhere else.

It is universal love that God has for all the people of the world, yet personal enough to touch you. It is sacrificial love that caused the Father to give His Son as He humbly became man (Jn. 1:14), yet deeper still that caused Him to become sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). It is rescuing love that saves people from perishing and is extended to everyone but is applied exclusively to those who believe so that they are spared condemnation.

And the love that Nicodemus learned of that day seems to have transformed him. Three years and sixteen chapters later, he was one of two men who gently honored the Lord by taking his body from Golgotha. Together with Joseph, Nicodemus did at least a preliminary, first-century version of embalming and placed his body in the tomb (Jn. 19:38-42). But the Light of the World, Love Himself, conquered even the tomb.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade; To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.” (Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/28#ixzz2HNjVVorN)

sbk