October 8 – If You’ve Got the Power….

Revelation 8; Nehemiah 11; Psalm 103

“The Lord executes righteousness And justice for all who are oppressed.” (Psalm 103:6 NKJV) 

The idea that God will execute righteousness and justice for the oppressed should either give you comfort, or it should strike fear into your heart. Your reaction to that statement may pinpoint what side of oppression you’re on: giving or receiving. Here’s a quick hint, if you’re in a position of power, you’re more likely to oppress others than to be oppressed.To be fair, if you are oppressing others, you may not realize you’re doing so, because that’s the way you’ve always done things. If you are treating someone you have power over as less than a beloved child of God, then you’re most likely finding some way to use them for your own benefit without regard to their needs and personhood and you’re oppressing them. The sneaky part is, sometimes our efforts to help, if they do not encourage the God-given dignity of humanity, are actually forms of oppression. 

Jesus was perhaps the only person of power who was oppressed. He gave up His power, though, to endure everything He went through, ultimately ending on the cross. When you look at His ministry, He fought back against oppression. He never attacked the people out of power, He only dealt harshly with those in power who oppressed others. Think about the woman caught in adultery, or the woman at the well. Realize that when He cleared the Temple, those who felt His wrath were oppressing poor people. In all of this we learn that God has an affinity for people society rejects – whether they know Him or not. As followers of Christ, we’re called to invite people to eat who would never invite us; reach out to the downcast, the prisoner, the hungry, the poor. We should, by ou example of service, lead others to show God’s compassion to those who are oppressed. Find ways to serve others today.

Lord, too often I engage in oppressing others without even thinking about it or realizing it. Teach me to recognize that in my life and then mold me into the image of Jesus so that I can treat those who are oppressed with Your righteousness and justice.

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October 7 – God In The Midst of our Problems

Revelation 7; Nehemiah 9:38-10:39; Psalm 102

“Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my trouble; Incline Your ear to me; In the day that I call, answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, And my bones are burned like a hearth.” (Psalm 102:2-3 NKJV)

There’s a heretical idea floating around some Christian circles that you shouldn’t admit to having problems, especially illnesses, because problems and illness don’t come from faith. Since you know that God’s going to take care of things, start proclaiming God’s solution instead of focusing on your problem. If I were to believe that, I’d be spending a lot of time admonishing the different psalmists. David, and many other authors speak deliberately about their troubles and their sicknesses. The complain about persecution, when it happens, and God hears and answers them in their complaints, just as He does in their praise. In today’s Psalm, the author laments his troubles and asks God to respond speedily – as if God’s been meandering along in the past. My interpretation of the last sentence is that he’s in great pain and in a kind of mental fog. The most positive thing to say about this opening is that no matter what he’s going through, he’s given his problems to God.

We need to recognize that problems and sickness are not caused by lack of faith. They don’t continue because you lack faith. (2 Corinthians 12:7ff) They happen. While I don’t believe that these things happen because God decided we needed to be tested, they become a test of faith. Do we become so consumed with the sickness or the problem that we lose sight of God and His provision during these times? The key is, don’t forget God when you go through troubles. Get mad at Him, and let Him know about your anger. When I’ve done that, He’s given me the assurance of His presence and let me know that He’s dealing with the problem. Weep before the Lord, He dries your tears. Let God know that you lack faith when the problems come. You won’t surprise Him and He’ll continue to work in the situation to bring faith. This doesn’t mean that the problem will be solved the way we want, though. It means that we’ll recognize God’s presence in the midst of any situation and continue to love Him.

Lord, in the midst of my despair, I’ll call out to You.You may not solve my issues the way I want, but You’ll always be in control and I’ll trust You to do what’s right. In those times when I may cry “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” Comfort me with Your presence.

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October 6 – How God Deals With Our Prayers for Vengeance

Revelation 6; Nehemiah 8:13-9:37; Psalm 101

“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:9-11 NKJV)

As Jesus began the process of opening the seals on the scrolls, disaster ensued on the earth. War, famine, and destruction accompanied the four horsemen. That’s why the fifth seal is a puzzle to me. The fifth seal reveals those who had died because of their faith in Christ. In some cases, their deaths were accompanied with unbearable pain. As these martyrs spoke, after all the previous seals of destruction were unleashed, they cried out for vengeance. They asked God how long it would take until they were avenged. Maybe they didn’t know about the four horsemen. Maybe they thought their persecutors were escaping punishment. Whatever the situation, they cried out for God exact vengeance on those who lived on the earth. Then we see the message of Jesus in full display. Wait. Why were they to wait? I believe that God continued to wait, even allowing others to be killed in persecution, so that some might come to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior. While these martyrs sought vengeance, perhaps with some justification, Jesus continued to work for reconciliation.

The natural human reaction when we’re wronged is to seek vengeance. We want to get back at the other guy – after all, what right did they have to <insert reason for grievance here>. The courts are backlogged with civil and criminal cases where people are out to get vengeance for wrongs done to them through the legal system. While I understand that people who commit crimes deserve punishment, as followers of Christ, we’re called to seek reconciliation even when we’ve been aggrieved. We saw an amazing example of that last week when Brandt Jean embraced the cop who killed his brother and offered forgiveness after her conviction. That shames me as I think of how many times I wanted God to “get someone” who did something minor to me. If we’re ministers of reconciliation, we must, even when our heart cries for vengeance, seek to reconcile those who’ve hurt us with ourselves and with God.

Oh Lord, I cry out with my brothers and sisters who’ve died for their faith and wonder when You’ll exact vengeance, but I’m reminded that You love those who deserve vengeance too. You redeemed Saul of Tarsus and made him a warrior of the faith. So, I pray mostly for reconciliation today. I pray that those whom I would seek Your vengeance against and ask that You reconcile them to Yourself. And Lord, if necessary, use me as an instrument of that reconciliation.   

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October 5 – I Just Can’t Stop Worshiping!

Revelation 5; Nehemiah 7:5-8:12; Psalm 100

“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:11-12 NKJV)

I can’t tell you what heaven will be like, but I can guarantee you that we’ll be spending a lot of time praising the Lord. And it won’t be a chore. Sometimes that praise will be organized, like we see here, and sometimes we’ll just break out in spontaneous praise because He truly is worthy. When we think of how Jesus left heaven to die for us, when we think of how much He suffered to pay the penalty for our sin, and when we see Him face to face, we’ll be overwhelmed with joy and caught up in worship of the One who made all this possible. 

Sometimes, you just need to worship. We need to recognize Jesus for who He is and what He’s done. We have a pretty good idea about how to worship in our culture, the problem is that too often our worship is misplaced when we worship the hit singer, the star running back, or the pitcher that just threw a no-hitter. While all those types of people make life enjoyable and there’s nothing wrong with applauding them, too often our celebrations of their excellence turn to worship.As I write this, it’s Saturday. For some, today is a day of worship, for most followers of Christ, tomorrow is the day of worship. As you prepare for that worship time…er…wait, do you prepare for worship or do you just make a mad dash to get to church ten minutes before it starts? Is worship a joy, or do you sit through a worship service checking your watch and hoping you’ll make it home in time for the current sporting event? I don’t know about you, but I plan to spend the rest of eternity doing a lot of worship. I figure it’s a good idea to start practicing now. 

Lord, You are worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing. Help me to worship You while I live on this earth and experience amazing joy when I worship You in heaven.

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October 4 – Lies, Rumors, Character Assassination, and Political Traps

Revelation 4; Nehemiah 5:1-7:4; Psalm 99

“Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.” And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!” Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.” (Nehemiah 6:10-12 NKJV)

Lies, rumors, character assassination, and political traps – it’s not a modern invention. Nehemiah had come to Jerusalem under the blessing of King Artaxerxes. He had protection on his journey and letters to get supplies to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. At first, those who had controlled the people in Jerusalem laughed at them, when mocking didn’t work, they threatened to attack them. When that failed, Nehemiah’s enemies sought to discredit him with lies and by putting him in compromising situations. Nehemiah fought back against all these attempts to discredit him with an effective weapon: his integrity. He refused to give in to their machinations and continued to focus on the job God and the king had given him.

It’s easy to look at this story and see a lot of today’s political climate, and let’s face it, it happens to both sides. It’s also important to remember that it happens in almost all areas of life as well. Rather than focusing on “them” who are engaged in this, let’s focus on ourselves. It should be obvious, but we need to make sure that we’re never the people spreading lies and rumors about other people. Always speak the truth, in love, about others or avoid speaking about them. At the same time, people will seek ways to bring you down when you’re doing the right thing. The only way to fight back against lies and rumors is to maintain your integrity so that people will know that you couldn’t have done the things you were accused of. When trouble comes, don’t hide. Face it and deal with the situation out in the open. As followers of Christ, we should always be as transparent as possible so that the light of Jesus can shine through us in any situation.

Lord, the most important thing I have is my relationship with You, which is exemplified in the name “Christian.” Keep me strong in You so that people will see by my integrity and love for others that I am bearing Your name well. 

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October 3 – Choosing the Open Door

Revelation 3; Nehemiah 4; Psalm 98

“I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” (Revelation 3:8 NKJV)

When we think of doors in the book of the Revelation, our minds turn to the “sweet” picture of Jesus standing outside the door, knocking, hoping that we’ll let him in, based on the letter to the next church. (Laodicea) In this letter, Jesus described Himself as the one who opens and no one shuts, or the one who shuts and no one opens. He tells the Philadelphian Church that He’s left them an open door in the midst of a message that is completely positive. What did this church do? They used what little strength they had to follow Jesus; they stayed true to God’s word; and in the midst of persecution, they remained faithful in proclaiming the name of Jesus. Their reward would be protection from an even greater persecution and they shall be pillars in the Temple of God.

We often talk about closed doors preventing us from doing the work we believe God has for us. The church at Philadelphia had an open door that no one could shut. Jesus let them know that the opportunity to do His work for the kingdom of God couldn’t be stopped by anything people could do to them because of their faithfulness. I wonder what Jesus would say to the church today. Would He remind us that He can open any door and let us know that He’s set an open door before us, or would He talk about knocking on our door, since we won’t come out on our own, and coming in if we decided to let Him in. For too long we’ve romanticized about Jesus coming in to sup with us if we open the door. From now on, whenever we think of doors, let’s remember that Jesus has given us an open door to proclaim His love and grace to the world. Don’t hide behind your door. Instead, run through the open door that Jesus has given us to share the gospel of salvation.

Oh Lord, let me use the little strength I have to obey Your word and proclaim the glory of Your name. Inspire me to run through that open door You’ve set before me and take advantage of any and all opportunities to share the good news of salvation in Your name.

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October 2 – Love Conquers Stifling Orthodoxy

Revelation 2; Nehemiah 3; Psalm 97

“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Ephesians 2:2-4 NKJV)

The Ephesian Church had some pretty strong leaders. Both Paul and John were shepherds of the Ephesian Church. John had been serving there when he was exiled to Patmos, and the tradition is that John returned to Ephesus after exile when he wrote the gospel. They knew their stuff. They knew what Christians were supposed to believe and do and they didn’t put up with people who believed or behaved contrary to the teachings they had received. As Jesus spoke, while He acknowledged their quest for purity, He also recognized that they had a major problem: they had lost their first love – their love for Jesus. They had turned a beautiful relationship with God into a stifling orthodoxy.

We see that stifling orthodoxy today whenever people make words and deeds more important than our relationship with Christ. We may preach about how important it is that people have a relationship with Christ, but then look down on them for their sin. It’s bad enough when we deal with people in the church like that, but too often, we excuse the behavior of brothers and sisters who should know better while attacking the same behaviors in people who don’t know Jesus. We sanctify that error by saying that we’re hating the sin, but loving the sinner. Guess what people who don’t know Jesus hear: hate. Let’s get rid of that saying and just say that we love everyone. We don’t even need to use the word “sinner” because we know that description fits everyone. If our first love is Jesus, then we should love others like Jesus did. Are beliefs and actions important? Of course, but the truth is, we can’t fix the beliefs and actions of others by being judgmental; when we show others the love of Jesus, our first love, we let God work on what He thinks needs fixing. I trust Him to deal with things like that better than I do myself.

Lord, we all want to be right. We want to be right on facts, beliefs, and deeds. Somehow, in our desire to be right, we forget to love You and to love others. Remind me as I deal with people that You called me to love God and love my neighbor.

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October 1 – The Only Star in the Kingdom is Jesus!

Revelation 1; Nehemiah 1-2; Psalm 96

“I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1:9 NKJV)

Persecution is never easy to endure. As persecution grew more widespread during the late first century, many Christians must have been wondering if it was worth it to keep following Christ. John had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos during one of the rounds of persecution. It was there that Jesus Christ revealed to John what would be happening with the church and the world. It would have been easy for John to make a big deal of himself: he had walked with Jesus while Jesus lived on earth and now Jesus was revealing the future to him. Instead John described himself as a brother and a companion. He also reminded them that though they were going through tribulation at that time, they were enduring that tribulation for the sake of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. 

John recognized something that many Christians today should, but don’t. There are no stars of the Christian Church other than Jesus. He knew he wasn’t a superstar or even a star, in God’s church, he was a family member and a companion. Sure, he was in exile because of his faith, but others were going through tribulations of a different sort for the same reason. For those of us who have committed our lives to Christ, we have one calling: to spread the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. We may do that in different ways. We may reach different people. We may have different results. But we all have the same mission and we all await the same reward in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. So, don’t think of yourself as too important, don’t look down on others who have a different responsibility, and keep on living for the word and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 

Lord, Your people have endured a lot for the privilege of serving You throughout the ages. As we live in a relatively calm time and place, give us the boldness to proclaim the truth of Your word and the message of grace through Jesus Christ.

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September 30 – How Do I Get Through This?

Jude 1; Ezra 9-10; Psalm 95

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (Jude 20-21)

As Jude described some deep issues of evil in the church and within the spiritual realms, he could have left his readers feeling depressed and helpless.He told them to contend for the faith against the evil doers, but then left the impression that the battle was beyond them. In the midst of the battle, though, Jude reminds us how to get through any spiritual problem: build up our faith, pray, trust the love of God, and keep looking for the mercy of Jesus Christ knowing His promise of eternal life.

Those words of wisdom could apply no matter what’s happening in our lives. While they were especially meaningful to Jude’s readers as they dealt with heresy and other spiritual forces lined up against them, they give guidance for us today whether we’re facing a spiritual battle or celebrating a God-given victory in our lives. Our faith isn’t meant to be solely a light in the darkness; it’s also meant to give us joy and victory in the everyday give and take of life. 

Lord, whatever circumstances I’m going through, build up my faith, remind me to pray, help me trust Your love, and help me experience the mercy of Jesus Christ as I live in the grace of eternal life.

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September 29 – Walking in the Truth

3 John 1; Ezra 7-8; Psalm 94

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3 John 4)

By the time he wrote this, John was old. He saw the church and the followers of Christ as His children. As their “father,” he worried about them. With that understanding of his relationship with the church, it’s not wonder that he took great joy in knowing that those followers of Christ, his “children,” were walking in the truth of God’s word and love.  As a pastor, he sweated blood and tears over his people to guide them in the paths they should go. He probably spent hours in prayer over his “children.” To see that his blood, sweat, and prayers had borne such fruit gave him great joy, as it would any pastor.

As a parent, I want the best for my children. When they succeed in what they’re doing, I rejoice. When they struggle, and when they fail, I hurt with them. As a pastor I felt the same way about the members of my church. But that joy wasn’t just for success in daily life, moreso it was for growth in their walk with Christ. While I cheered their advances in the world, I was careful to look at their spiritual walk because sometimes, the worst thing that can happen to a Christian is success in the world. If you want to give joy to your family and to your church family, especially your pastor, walk in the truth and stay grounded in the faith in all situations. There’s no greater joy for any pastor than to see God’s people walking in the truth. 

Lord, I know that You rejoice when Your children walk in the truth. Let my life bring You joy as I walk in the truth of Your love and grace.

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