Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Do You Have Room?

"She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:7

No room in the inn? The Savior of the world was about to be born but there was no room for His mother Mary to give birth to Him. The phrase "no room for them in the inn" is where I have camped my thoughts and study time today. Joseph and Mary returned to their own town, the city of David, to register for the census. Given the numbers of people that had traveled to Bethlehem for the same reason, the city and its "inns" were full.

As I studied, I discovered that the modern Christmas legend that paints the manger scene as a building with guest rooms not unlike a hotel, and a heartless innkeeper that turned a young woman away about to give birth, is rather inaccurate. Digging down a bit, it is found that the Greek word used for "inn" here is not the same word used in other parts of the gospel. The word here, kataluma (inn) actually refers to a lodging place for a guest. It was guest room, if you will, such as one at a personal residence. It is the same word used for the room where the disciples ate the Passover meal, an upper level room. So at the residence where Joseph inquired, the guest room was already full probably due to travelers that arrived before them. They were likely directed to the homeowner's main room, the lower level floor where the animals stayed at night to feed, keep warm, and produce warmth for the owners and guests on the upper level while they slept. It was in a place like that that the baby Jesus was born, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in the manger, the animals' feeding trough.

This paints a different picture than the hotel being full and the couple being sent out back by an insensitive innkeeper to a barn full of smelly animals. In fact, on examining this passage again, there is no reference to animals being present at all. Given the poor status Joseph and Mary held, not being from a line of wealth or notoriety, no special concessions were made. They were likely given what was left available, not necessarily turned away. This leads me back to a quote I penned in the margin of my Bible, "Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus" (Neal A. Maxwell).

Father God, I pray that for the very first time this Christmas, many will come to understand who You are and why You came. May the realization that the Savior of the world was born penetrate hearts and change lives here and around the world today. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Expect Opposition

"Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." Luke 10:3

Those who dare to live their lives on mission for the sake of the gospel should "go" expecting opposition. There is so much work to be done. "The harvest is plentiful," God's Word says, "but the workers are few" (v. 2).

It would seem the vast majority of believers want the "easy button" and that's why there are so few workers. When God's work gets hard, feels uncomfortable, appears dangerous; when the opposition is great and naysayers seek to discourage, when situations come about that terrify, most shrink back. They revert to what they know, to what is comfortable, preferring their load to be easy and light and in their control. Instead of fearing God, they fear their  circumstances. That may mean living a lukewarm or safe-feeling life, pursuing the "American dream" or "keeping up with the Jones'" instead of getting their hands dirty for the sake of the gospel, or doing hard things for the cause of Christ.

Warfare is real. Just for the record, opposition can be expected. There is an unseen world out there that would scare us half to death if we could see it, but God... God is the Victor. If warfare were visible, we would also see how much interference the Lord runs on our behalf to protect us and prevent bad from becoming worse. Even warfare is used by God to bring about His divine plans. 

Nonetheless, warfare or not, God doesn't want us shrinking back from hard things. Over and over His Word tells us to take courage and not be afraid. Obviously that is our fleshly tendency which is why He said, "Do not fear" more than 365 times in the Bible. It's as though we need to be reminded daily.

As lambs, we are to do our best to remain peaceable and patient in a cruel and threatening world. We are called to be "lambs among wolves." As we set out to follow Christ we must go with resolve to do whatever He calls us to do, and we must go expecting opposition. The work of Christ always gets satan's tail feathers in a ruffle. If we just expect difficulty, trouble, persecution and the like, we won't be so surprised when it knocks on our door. If we anticipate it like we anticipate company, we can almost laugh and say when it arrives, "I was expecting you!" Then leaning into Christ, and with His help, we press on determined to make the best of it, all the while striving to focus more on the mission and less on the distraction. The fruit is worth the trouble!

Go out as lambs among wolves. Expect opposition.

Father God, following You is not always easy, but it is so worth it. I depend on You and ask that You undergird me with Your strength and Your peace, especially when things are hard. Help me to keep my mind on the mission, my heart focused on my calling, and my eyes fixed on You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Broken Heart

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." Psalm 51:17

Both David's broken spirit and broken heart are found pleasing in the sight of the Lord in this passage. As an onlooker, I see him pouring out his heart before God in repentance, truly sorry for the sin of adultery he commited with Bathsheba. Here, near the end of the Psalm, he is humbling himself and professing his willingness to do whatever might please the Lord as recompense for his sin. He knows that sacrifices and burnt offerings will not suffice. David comes to realize it is a heart broken over sin and his sincere remorse that God is looking for.

broken - adjective
     reduce to fragments; ruptured; torn; fractured; changing direction abruptly

contrite - adjective
     caused by showing sincere remorse; filled with a sense of guilt and the desire for atonement

When pride is crushed and the spirit is broken, God often gets our full attention. His Word says in Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall." Our pride (which itself is sin) and the sin that ensues from it, breaks the Father's heart. It is when we fall and lay pride aside that we tend to look up at Him. 

Pride, just for the record, goes two ways. It means thinking too much, or too little, about one's self. We are prideful when we think we deserve ...x-y-z. We are also prideful when we think too little of ourselves to admit we have any needs. It is when either of those are crushed, and we truly lament over the sins our pride caused us to commit that Jesus is pleased with our heart's condition. He is pleased when our hearts are broken over sin. More than anything, He wants the result of our brokenness to be an abrupt change in direction, where we turn and follow Him. It is in that place of humility that God can mold and shape our lives to look more like His.

Thank You Jesus for the ways You've broken me, changed me, and made me more like You. Help me not to think too much or too little of myself and to find my confidence solely in You. Keep me far from sin and close to You, my Creator, my Father, my Friend. I love You and ask this in Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Heart's Desire

"They answered, 'We saw clearly that the LORD was with you..." Genesis 26:28

After spending time in Gerar Isaac became wealthy and powerful, so Abimilech the king asked him to move away. He went up to Beersheba with his wife Rebekah and there, Isaac pitched his tent and his servants dug a well for him. 

Meanwhile, Abimilech came up to see him, admitting he had been hostile toward Isaac when he lived in Gerar. Since his departure, the king had come to realize that Isaac was blessed by God and he wanted to make amends. It had become evident that the things Isaac put his hands to had the favor of God upon them. When he planted crops in Gerar they reaped a hundredfold the same year "because the LORD had blessed [Isaac]" (Genesis 26:12). His wealth grew (v. 13). He obtained so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him (v. 14). In their envy, they plugged up Isaac's wells with dirt and the king asked him to move away (v. 16). In hindsight, Abimilech says to Isaac, "We saw clearly that the LORD was with you..." (v. 26).

Wouldn't that be my hearts desire? That those I encounter would be able to look back and say, "We saw clearly that the LORD was with [her]." That they could say, "She was blessed by the LORD."

Charles Spurgeon speaks wisely to this passage with regards to carefully choosing who we walk with. He says, "In your choice of friends, choose those who are friends of God. If you would have a blessing on your friendship, select a man whom God has blessed. Look out for one who is a disciple of Christ and say, 'Thou art the blessed of the Lord, therefore I seek thine acquaintance. Come under my roof; you will bring a blessing with you.'" He goes on to say he values a good man's blessing. 

We are blessed to be a blessing. Those who follow Christ and desire to do His will with all their heart are blessed, and they evoke a blessing on others. Just like Isaac's blessings blessed Abimilech, he just didn't realize it at the time. 

Father God, in my closest friendships I desire to walk with those that walk with You. Lord, I ask You to bless me that I might be a blessing. I ask for Your hand of favor to be upon those things I put my hand to when they are Your will for me. I choose to walk with You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Friday, December 13, 2013

"But First..."

"...'I will follow You, LORD; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.'"
Luke 9:61

God's Word shows us that He tests His people. In this passage in Luke 9 the discipleship of Jesus' followers is put to the test. One man approaches Jesus and tells Him, "I will follow You wherever You go" (v. 57). Jesus' response implies that it won't be easy and won't always be comfortable. He says, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay His head" (v. 58). To others Jesus said, "Follow Me." Their reply was, "I will, but first let me..." Let me go and do such and such, like bury a father who is dying, or say goodbye to family. Each case implies that though the followers desired to follow Jesus, someone/something else took greater precedence in their lives. The LORD however, wants followers that are willing to put Him first, period. Willing to walk in immediate obedience to whatever He calls them to; not obedience that is delayed on order to take care of personal desires first.

When God calls me to something, am I willing to count the cost, trust in His provision for all the "but firsts..." that I might come up with, and immediately follow Him? If I really want to walk with God, I must be willing to bypass thoughts like, "I will follow You LORD,  but first let me" ...get some more sleep, go here or there, do this or that, consult with my spouse or friend for their opinion on the matter, and just do what He's told me to do. There may be naysayers. There may be people who do not agree. There may be others who think they should come first in my life. Nonetheless, I just need to do what Jesus tells me to do as the greatest authority in my life, and walk confidently in it!

Father God, please forgive my unfaithfulness this morning. For saying "I will follow You," but putting laundry and cleaning the kitchen for early morning company in front of my time with You. When tested, I want to be found faithful to You. Help me to walk with confidence in the things You've called me to without delay and without excuse. Guide my steps and make straight the way as I trust in You (Proverbs 3:5-6). In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Way or the Highway

"'Master,' said John, 'we saw a man driving out demons in Your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.' 'Do not stop him,' Jesus said, 'for whoever is not against you is for you.'" Luke 9:49-50

This man the disciples encountered was not one of "them." He was not one of the twelve, that is. And he was not one that was associated with them. Yet, in using Jesus' name to drive out demons it was obvious He had heard of Him, had faith in Him, and believed in the power of His name. He was using His name for His glory, not his own, and not satan's. Therefore he was for the same things the disciples were.

So then, like the disciples did in this case, why do we question people? Let me start with myself... Why do I question people? Am I questioning their motives, or do I lack trust that God will use their different way of doing things for His glory? Am I being overly protective, or is it a control issue? Do I think my way is the best, most thought out plan? Or is it that I want to get the credit, meaning my motives are impure? To answer honestly, sometimes it's a mixture of all these things. 

Lord Jesus, Please forgive for the times my thoughts and motives get out of line. For the times I want the right things for the wrong reasons. For the times I feel indignant about things I should probably not have such strong feelings about. I recognize now that it usually happens in areas where I need to trust You more. That's happened twice in the last two days! Thank You for Your forgiveness in those things and the grace I was able to show myself. I certainly don't want to be a "my way or the highway" personality. Lord, help me to be a vessel of Your grace towards others, and myself. Make my motives pure and help me to be slow to speak, slow to anger, and slow to judge. I need to trust Your Word where it says that You will work for the good of those who love You, who have been called according to Your purpose (Romans 8:28). Thank You that You can be trusted for that! In Jesus' name, amen.