Sunday, April 5, 2015

Day 40 - Coming Home

Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV) - Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

 He came back home with amazing stories of a faraway land that his fellow residents of Venice found impossible to believe. A land in the East with cities that dwarfed the great cities of Europe, a culture that had paper currency, a mysterious exploding powder, and a king whose palace dwarfed the great castles of Europe, with a dining hall that could seat 6,000 people eating on plates made of gold. Marco Polo lived for seventeen years in China, having been accepted into the court of the most powerful man on earth, Kublai Khan, in the year 1266. To his dying day, Marco Polo was rejected by skeptics who found his tale too far-fetched.

Some find it hard to believe that there is a future state of being called “a new heaven and a new earth.” A new creation. A restoration of the way things ought to be. A reversal of sin and war, earthquakes and hurricanes, disease and temptation. A condition in which there is no death, no pain, no tears. 

Yet this is exactly what you would expect God the Almighty to do. He wants us to be home with him.
Our place, in his plan, is to come home. Finally, truly, irrevocably—home. 

This call of God in Revelation, this promise of “a new heaven and a new earth,” has one all-important characteristic: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.” In Genesis Adam and Eve fled the home of the garden and entered the hard life of the field. Ever since, people have lived away from home: in Egypt, in Babylonia, under Roman occupation. In sin, transgression, rebellion, conflict, divorce, unemployment, illness, fear. 

All that will be swept away, and we will dwell with God in a new condition beyond imagining.

PONDER:  Dwelling with God begins now. What are some ways your life can be different if you fully believe that you belong to God every hour of every day? 

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
What does home mean to you? Revelation is a book of the Bible that brings us hope. We are told in Revelation that on the day Jesus returns that we will finally be home with God forever.  What does that mean to you.

Day 39 - You are an Advertisement

1 Peter 2:9 (ESV) - But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

The advertising industry is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. Some of the most creative and intelligent people in the world develop campaigns using a multitude of media to represent products, services, and interests to capture people’s imaginations (and money!). In Latin, the word “ad vertere” means literally to turn the mind toward.

Peter was no advertising genius. But he did understand the people of God were his “advertisement” in a hostile and evil world. Peter wrote to Christians experiencing increasing suffering and persecution under the ruthless Roman emperor, Nero. Peter used numerous images that have their roots in the Old Testament to remind the beleaguered Christians of their identity and role as the people of God in a hostile world. 

Peter tells the early Christ-followers that they are “a chosen people,” a select people defined and unified by common habits or characteristics. He calls them a royal priesthood and holy nation. Peter roots their identity in the Old Testament concept of the priesthood. In the Old Testament priests were to represent the people to God and God to the people. Peter refers to Exodus 19:6 when God tells Moses that among the pagan nations, Israel as a nation was to be a “kingdom of priests.” The nation of Israel as a whole was to represent the reality of God to a hostile world. Representatives embody the interests, values, and identity of an agent (in this case God) to a foreign entity. 

Peter then tells the persecuted church that they are a people of God’s own possession—the idea that God has marked a ring around this people to identify them as particularly his. For what purpose? For the people to literally be a walking advertisement—to proclaim or publish abroad his excellencies, the very things that characterize God and his heart for the human race: namely, loving one’s neighbor, social compassion, fairness, honesty, sexual integrity, economic generosity, and justice. 

Peter’s words remind the church that we are a representative people, a walking “ad vertere” of God’s holiness and character, and that this has deep implications for how we engage in the realities of society and everyday relationships.

PONDER:  If your life were an ad campaign for the reality of God in the world, what would it turn people’s minds toward? 

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION
If someone were to closely watch your life what would they see? Would they see you as a follower of God? Or would they focus on how much time you spend at work? Or in the garden? Imagine your family as a living advertisement. What are you advertising?

Read 1 Peter 2:9-10. These verses say that we are chosen to proclaim the excellences of God. How are you being a light for those around you? What are you --- is your family advertising?
 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Day 38 - Genealogy of Faith

Hebrews 11:1-2 (ESV) - Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.

Genealogy, the study of family ancestry, has gone high tech. Ancestry.com, the largest genealogy company in the world, has over two million paying subscribers who research their family lineage. From over eleven billion online records, researchers and ancestry sleuths can explore newspaper archives going back 300 years, peruse ships’ passenger lists, discover old photos, and explore over forty million family trees. All this to find out something about the ordinary people, the heroes, the scoundrels, and mavericks that are part of one’s genealogy. 

Hebrews 11 (READ) pointed the early Christians to their spiritual genealogy and noted that the ancients were commended for their faith. Faith is not an abstract concept but a practical reality that was lived out in the lives of all those mentioned in Hebrews 11. The author of Hebrews points out two orientations of faith: faith looks forward to the future with confidence and hope that God will fulfill his promises, and faith also looks up, with assurance of the unseen reality of God’s presence.

The rest of the chapter is simply a history lesson of people with this kind of faith orientation. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel, and countless unnamed men and women who had one thing in common: their calling and sending by God was under-girded by faith. As we reimagine our place in God’s plan, faith lies at the core of that re-imagination. The lives and examples of these ancients represent our genealogy of faith—and they teach important lessons today:
  • Faith means outcomes cannot be manipulated.
  • Faith requires a deep trust in God, not self.
  • Faith requires a first step.
  • Faith means not losing hope that God’s purpose will ultimately prevail, though beyond our understanding.
  • Faith is illogical by human measure, but pleases God.
  • Faith is played out on the stage of real human scenarios and relationships.
  • Faith means results cannot be controlled and they may never be seen.
  • Faith assumes a response to God’s call.
  • Faith is necessary to live a life of personal holiness, justice, and compassion.
  • Faith means trusting the Holy Spirit to work through human weakness, inadequacies, and sinfulness.
Our spiritual ancestors remind us that faith is foundational to living out one’s place in God’s plan!

PONDER:  Which of the mentioned lessons of living by faith do you find most difficult?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
Hebrews 11 is referred to as the “Hall of Faith.” The chapter begins with a definition of faith and then goes on to list ordinary people from the Bible who accomplished extraordinary things through faith. When we are no longer around, what will people say about our faith?

 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Day 37 - Our Work, Our Dignity

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ESV) - and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

One day, Martin Luther was approached by a working man who wanted to know how he could serve God. Luther asked the man: “What is it that you do now?” to which the man replied, “I am a shoemaker.”

The man was stunned to hear Luther’s response: “Then make good shoes and sell them at a fair price.” 

It is so easy to speak about “the call of God” and think that it refers only to some religious or spiritual activity or profession. The tragedy of that way of thinking is that the few who are pastors or missionaries, monks or priests, take the role of the elite who have a place in the world defined by God, but everybody else is left to live life shuffling around, trying to scrounge a living, hold things together, be somewhat happy, and die with a few good memories people can speak of at their funeral.

God has a different view of things.

“Reimagining our place in God’s plan” includes envisioning the ways in which God uses the ordinary work we do for his purposes in the world. The shoemaker does not need to become a pastor to be “called.” Society needs shoemakers, ironworkers, teachers, engineers, grocery store managers, data entry clerks, cops, cooks, and cleaners. Society needs moms and dads, captains and lieutenants, students and senators.

This is the way God works. It is the dignity of work. It is the meaning of “vocation” (which comes Latin vocare “to call”).

Imagine this: believers in every corner of society—our schools, businesses, legislatures, neighborhoods, the arts, media, and science—bringing the mind of Christ to their work, seeking the common good. This is what Paul meant when he said: “Each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them” (1 Cor. 7:17).
So if your task today is to make some shoes or raise your kids or analyze some spreadsheets, remember this: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Col. 3:23).

PONDER:   What is the equivalent in your life of “make good shoes and sell them at a fair price”?

REFLECT or DISCUSS:
It is easy for society to look at children - young adults - young singles - and to assume that they have nothing to contribute. This is simply not true. In fact the faith of a child is what Jesus asks for, and children can set an example for people that is both honest and real. In 1 Thessalonians we are told to live “so that our daily life may win the respect of outsiders...” We can pass this truth on to children.

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. What might it mean for you to work with your hands? Do you have to do work at school? Do you do chores? What does respect mean? How can you act so that others respect how you are living?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Day 36 - God's Signature

Colossians 3:17 (ESV) - And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

There were fifty-six signers to the United States Declaration of Independence. Their signatures on this historic document indicated their intent to act on behalf of the American colonies. The last paragraph contains these lines:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America,in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.
The signatures of the Founding Fathers of the United States indicated that their actions and words were being executed in the name of and on behalf of the American colonists. A new nation was formed and the world was changed.

Paul tells the Colossian believers to let their words and deeds be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. To say and do something in the name of someone else means that an individual is acting or speaking as a representative of another person. Their actions and deeds reflect the intent, character, and attributes of the one being represented. Paul exhorts the Colossian believers to let their lives— both words and deeds—reflect the intent, character, and attributes of Christ.

Paul’s statement here is not some lofty, abstract theory, but a summary statement of the previous verses, where he depicts how the transformative power of Christ works itself out in one’s everyday interactions. This ethic of what it is to characterize life in Christ includes compassion, love, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (3:12–14). For the Christian, such living is rooted in and flows out of the reality of what God has done at the core of our very being and humanity: We have been “raised up with Christ” (3:1); we have a “new self which is being renewed in the image of the Creator” (3:10); we are his chosen ones, holy and beloved (3:12).

To speak and act on behalf of another is a privilege and a responsibility. God has put his signature on his people—indicating his will and intent that our words and deeds be done on his behalf in the places he sends us.

PONDER:  Imagine something to say or do today, on behalf of Christ, that might make a difference for someone.

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
In the letter to the Colossians Paul says that everything believers do should be done to represent Jesus. This idea of representation still holds true for us today. When others who know we are followers of Jesus see us, do they see a picture of God?

Read Colossians 3:17. Do your friends know that you have a relationship with Jesus? Part of having a relationship with Jesus is the Fruit of the Spirit. Read Galatians 5:22-23. Which of these fruit do you show in your life? Which fruit do you need to have more of?