Life Journal (9/2/2015) – Prayers of the Saints Shaking the Earth

Scripture     Revelation 8:3-5

Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Observation

  • Censer — used in worship to spread incense
  • The incense was “mixed” with the prayers of the saints
  • Is the censer filled with fire  and flung to earth still intertwined in some way with the prayers of the saints??
  • There is a great quantity of incense — to go with a great quantity of prayers?

Application

Some of John’s vision in Revelation is hard to imagine or envision. I imagine the symbolism/imagery would be more readily “accessible” to those who first heard these words.

The image of the incense mixing with the prayers of the saints is compelling. They prayers almost sound like they have a physical reality, a presence of their own – a substance even. When I think of prayer I think of words spoken and somehow heard by God. But what if they also have some reality that I don’t understand, some substance to them? Probably much too speculative but an image worth pondering.

And the censor that was used by the angel gets flung to the earth. The image I have is that the prayers are part of this picture of then – that the prayers of the saints (as we fervently hope and might dare to believe!) have a power on earth that is beyond our ability to understand. But is real and is vital in the plans and purposes of God.

Prayer

O Lord of Glory and Might – my prayers rise to you as the incense in John’s vision. Give me a sense of their reality, their power, their substance beyond just the words I say or the thoughts I think. They are power and they are real. May I see this so with my eyes as I believe it with my heart. Amen.

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Life Journal (91/2/2015) – Hurry Up God

Scripture     Psalm 70:4-5

Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, “God is great!”
But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!

Observation

  • What is different about the Psalmist from those who seek the Lord and those who love the Lord’s salvation (“But” in verse 5)?
  • Interesting parallel in 4a: seek you, be glad in you
  • Is then God’s greatness reflected in our salvation (4b)?
  • Poor and needy… in contrast to God who is help and deliverer?
  • Verse 5 repeats the notion of hurry – hasten and do not delay — the need for God’s help and deliverance is urgent!

Application

David writes this short Psalm that speaks here of haste, of hurry. Perhaps sometimes I fail to reap God’s blessings because I am too complacent? Because I have “enough” and have no sense of urgency, of haste? If I am poor and needy in God’s sight then my need is great. I need God’s provision now. If am not hungry, if I am not in need then I am in no hurry to have God come and provide.

The trouble is I am poor and needy! I am poor and needy sometimes in physical terms (although not really – only relatively) but more in spiritual I am poor in love. Needing to receive and share grace. Poor not in spirit but in faith. Needy not in dependence on God but needy in being too self-absorbed?

Prayer

Lord, hasten now to show me my neediness and poverty. Sometimes I think I am rich and am really without… in good shape when my soul is really a shambles… a heart in need of you that is clogged up and atrophied. Hasten to me and meet my needs. Hurry without delay to bring me a step closer to you, to your presence and to my deepening sense of need and poverty in contrast to your abundance and riches!! Amen,

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Life Journal (8/31/2015) – One Nation Under God

Scripture     Revelation 5:9-10 NRSV

They sing a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
    saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
    and they will reign on earth.”

Observation

  • “They” in verse 9 are the four living creatures and twenty-four elders of John’s vision of the throne of God
  • “You” is the Lamb that was slain (Jesus)
  • The worth of the Lamb to open the unopen-able scroll is from his being slain and ransomed saints from every “tribe language and people”
  • The Lamb has made these ransomed ones into a “kingdom and priests” (only place in the Bible this phrase occurs). However in Revelation 1:5-6 John says “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” This construction is echoed in the passage here
  • What does it mean exactly to be “a kingdom and priests?” This kingdom is more than the Jews alone but people of all the earth who will now reign over it
  • Priests – no longer needing priests? Or a special class of them?

Application

Looking back almost 2,000 years to John’s time it is hard to imagine the society in which the recipients of this vision lived. The seven churches mentioned in the opening of his vision were in modern-day Turkey. In John’s vision many see depicted the context of his time – Babylon (Rome) and its demands contrasted with those of the kingdom of God as symbolized in the New Jerusalem. Where would they put their first allegiance? How can a people whom John styles as a “kingdom and priests” bow its knees to the all-powerful, all-demanding Rome which, among other things, demands sacrifice to the emperor and therefore to his state.

For me today this reminds me that my first allegiance as a follower of Jesus is not to America – of which I am proud and grateful to be a citizen. But to the King of Kings, to the Lamb Who Was Slain. My fellow-citizens are others who follow this Christ and whose allegiance also lies with Christ. This gets messy because while Caesar may no longer demand my sacrifice to him, the powers of this world demand similar loyalties and even sacrifices in other ways.

It is no wonder that the first century rulers and authorities didn’t know what to do with these Christians. They were seen as disloyal, subversive, even dangerous. Perhaps we need to reclaim some of that in our time – to be seen by the culture as out of sync and out of the mainstream. My own faith doesn’t seem very subversive or dangerous but tame and even pale by contrast.

Prayer

O Lamb Who Was Slain.. I offer you today that allegiance that you alone can demand and that you alone deserve. You will have no place but first… and will not allow us to put other allegiances before this ultimate one if we are to follow faithfully. We are the one nation under God, the nation of those from every nation who believe and who have been ransomed by the Lamb. Amen.

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Life Journal (8/26/2015) – I am an Imitation

Scripture        3 John 11

11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

Observation

  • Addressed to “beloved” or “dear friend” – written to people with whom the author has a close relationship
  • Parallel – imitate and whoever does. One is advice, the other a description/contrast
  • What does it meant to imitate good? King James has “follow.” Strong’s says comes from word from which we get English “mimic” Greek might suggest “do not have the habit of imitating” (Robertson’s Word Picture)
  • Similarly to do good? Or its opposite, evil?
  • Good actions come from those from God – evil does not
  • The wider section suggests the author has two particular people in mind representing evil and good

Application

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery the old saying goes. As I think about imitation this morning, some imitation is intentional – we imitate those whom we admire, like whom we would like to be. Or those whom we think others like, admire, follow. But much imitation is unconscious and comes from long exposure to a person or environment.

I say things that my mother and father said when I was a child, that friends with whom I spent much time said or did. It is part of being human – this reflection in our mannerisms and speech those with whom we are most familiar and with whom we have spent the most time.

This verse leads to the suggestion – rather obvious but worth remembering – that I will imitate what I am most around and admire. The second sentence suggests this to me – those who are with God, who spend time with God will imitate divine goodness. Those who do not will do evil.

It is a little unsettling to think about where and with whom or what I spend the most time – and how that shapes who I am and what I do. To be like Christ means to be with Christ, to spend time with Christ, to imitate habitually, to follow (as in the example and character) Christ. May I be an imitation of Christ today by being with him and following him more than any other.

Prayer

Lord of Good, may I be good as you are good and because I have been with you, have been in the presence of your goodness. I am a reflection of those I have known and those with whom I spend time. May the best of my time be with and the clearest imitation be of you. Amen.

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Life Journal (8/24/2015) – Catching Jesus’ Attention

Scripture      1 John 5:14-17

14 And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. 16 If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal.

Observation

  • Boldness comes from asking anything according to “his” (Jesus Christ in this context) he hears
  • If we know he hears… then we know he answers
  • What is “his will?” 2:17 also promises – “And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”
  • Is the will of God expressed in the commandments in 5:1-5?

Application

1 John includes this prescription for boldness in prayer. But it comes with conditions – if we ask according to Jesus Christ’s will, we know he hears us. And if we know he hears us, then we know that we’ve received what we asked. His will is the key to this whole thing. What does 1 John mean by it? In one sense it seems to be a paradox – if I know his will I can ask for it. But how do I know it? Do I just guess? Or do I judge by my prayers not being answered (hence not being “heard?). Questions about unanswered prayer are one of the things with which many of us struggle in our faith.

This chapter seems to suggest that his will is learned through love, through obeying his commands. The ending portion seems to support this as it talks about praying for another’s sin.

Too often my prayers are about me aren’t they? What if my prayers became another avenue – the primary avenue alongside Scripture – for learning love and obedience instead? To pray as we do in the Lord’s Prayer “thy will be done” and seek then to do and live it toward others?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, what encouragement it is to know that you hear when I pray. And to know that what catches your attention is your will. Today may I love you and your commandments. May I grow in real love for my neighbor and for his well-being body, soul, and spirit. May my prayers be less and less about I and more and more about “you” and “they.” Amen.

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Life Journal (8/20/2015) – Completing Our Joy!

Scripture     1 John 1:1-4

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Observation

  • Who are “we” in verse 1?
  • What is the “word of life”? revealed, seen, looked at, touched, eternal — the writer is talking about Jesus
  • Their message is what they have heard and seen – they are witnessing to this life
  • Fellowship with “them” is rooted in fellowship with the Father and the Son
  • This message (the entire letter?) is so that the writers may have complete joy

Application

This introduction suggests a need for a common spiritual experience and understanding to have fellowship that is real. To have fellowship with the writer(s), those receiving this note need to experience this word of life (Jesus) that has been revealed and is now being shared with them.

This common faith experience of Jesus – specifically an experience and understanding witnessed and handed down from those who saw it first – is how we have something in common with others. This common faith allows us to have fellowship that is real both with the Father and with those who follow Jesus. This letter will unpack what that means specifically.

What is striking is the claim in verse 4 – this letter is not so that the recipients might have joy that is complete but the writers. We need to share this word of life that has been revealed to have complete joy. It is not enough to know the truth of Jesus and even to experience this word of life. To have the fullness of joy he promises? We need to share this life. Not surprisingly as he did himself in his self-sacrificial love – seen most in the cross but evidenced and shared throughout his life and ministry.

Prayer

Father you have revealed your Son, the word of life to me. What I believe and what I have experienced is what they did – the same Lord, the same Gospel, the same love. May I complete my joy in sharing it as they sought to do. Amen.

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Life Journal (8/19/2015) – Missing Jesus

Scripture      John 21:4-8

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

 

Observation

  • Interesting how many significant moments occur near dawn (the Resurrection, this scene as timed in verse 4)
  • Not knowing the resurrected Jesus also common!
  • Jesus knows they have caught nothing (vs. 5) and enables a miraculous catch of fish in response to their lack of success (vs. 6)
  • The disciple whom Jesus loved recognizes him (John – vs. 7) – but does Peter? Or does he know it is Jesus because John has said so?

Application

Seeing Jesus can be difficult. Especially when he doesn’t look or act or appear as we expect. In the stories of Jesus’ resurrection (including this one), the witnesses don’t know it is Jesus to whom they are speaking immediately. It is a little unclear in the stories how those present come to realize that it is the risen Jesus but they do eventually come to that realization. Some seem more perceptive than others. Or perhaps more open to this different Jesus who is the same Jesus too? John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) who believed in yesterday’s reflection also recognizes him here and seems to point the way to understanding for Peter and the rest.

One of my childhood memories was of my dad reading the newspaper after dinner. He was not easily distracted from this daily ritual! You could speak to him and he might even respond… but he didn’t hear. I used to say you could run naked through the living room or catch the room on fire and he wouldn’t immediately notice because he was so engrossed in his reading.

Perhaps I am not so different (well I know I am not!) when it comes to the Risen Lord? I am so focused on where I want or expect him to be that I miss his work elsewhere. Worse yet, I may complain or grumble at his absence because he hasn’t acted in the parameters I’ve set or in ways that my filter won’t mute.

PRayer

Risen Lord, may I see you today. Surprise me as you did the disciples on the beach long ago. Forgive me when I grumble at your absence when you are in fact right in front of me. Forgive my narrowness of spirit that so hems you in that I miss out on so much of you and your work. May I feast on the abundance you spread and the fish that come even when I don’t recognize the bringer of the goodness and the source of the abundance – you. Amen.

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Life Journal (8/18/2015) – John on Understanding and Belief

Scripture      John 20:1-10 NIV

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Observation

  • Interesting – never noticed before today that  Mary doesn’t go into the tomb or look but reports Jesus’ body isn’t there
  • Why does John mention it was still dark? (John’s emphasis on dark and light?)
  • What doesn’t “the other disciple” go into the tomb until after Peter had entered? (Humility? Same as “the other disciple”)
  • What is the connection in verse 5 (looking into the tomb) and entering the tomb (verse 8) and belief?
  • What did the other disciple believe. The “for” suggests it was not that Jesus had risen from the dead

Application

Faith is not understanding… nor does belief require that we understand. My intellectual bent, my tendency to overthink, needs to remember this! “The other disciple” (John) doesn’t know that Jesus must rise from the dead according to the Scriptures. But he believes! What, exactly, he believes he doesn’t tell us here. Is this in contrast to Peter’s lack of belief or Mary’s? (Not sure about that in the context here but certainly something is different about John’s reaction).

Believing Christ is not the same as understanding him. Jesus is not a subject to be studied (like math) or a person to be researched (in the saame way I research my ancestors and family history). But someone to be believed.

I need to train my mind and spirit with God’s help to believe as the first response to my experience of Jesus. To let what I experience and learn deepen, strengthen, aid my belief before all else.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I do not always understand. But I can believe. And when I do. may that belief be a gateway to your understanding, to you. I do not need to understand you as I do calculus… but I want to know you as deeply and as well as anyone else I know. Even more. May my understanding flow from my belief in you this day. Amen.

 

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Life Journal (8/17/2015) – Fear and Power

Scripture     John 19:8-12

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

Observation

  •  Pilate is conflicted between his answering to Caesar and to what is right, to higher power represented by Jesus
  • the Jews in this passage set Jesus against the emperor and thus against Pilate
  • Is Jesus’ refusal to answer a sign that Jesus is the greater power here – in contrast to how things appear (even to Pilate)?
  • Jesus speaks of the sin of those who handed him over to Pilate – the Jews argue that Pilate “sins” against the emperor by not punishing Jesus

Application

John’s gospel has this thread of conflict and contrast between the authority of Jesus and the authority of Pilate and others (the Jewish leaders, etc).  Pilate is already afraid – Jesus’ talking about sin and the suggestion from the Jews that not treating Jesus as a threat to Rome likely adds to that fear.

How does power play into my fears, my anxieties? Who or what has control over me? The government in some sense does over all of us. But the real fear, the daily anxiety reflected in Pilate is, for me, more rooted in fears about power. About controlling my future. About my plans and purposes.

I wonder if one of the lessons here is to remember not to listen to the voices that would trump the voice of the Spirit? Pilate struggles with what to do… often I do too. Do I rest in what I know of God – power that is “above” or to the loud voices that worry me about the Caesars in my life (my own desires, the good opinions of others, whether or not people or my church likes me, etc.)

Prayer

Lord, so much of your Son’s final hours as John remembers them are about power and fear. So much fear, so much misunderstanding of what is really power and who really wields it. I confess my own confusion about these things despite the witness of Jesus and his words. May I listen to the voice of your Spirit this day and remember again the power that is yours alone. Amen.

 

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Life Journal (8/12/2015) – Scarecrow in a Cucumber Field

Scripture     Jeremiah 10:1-5

 Hear what the Lord says to you, people of Israel. This is what the Lord says:

“Do not learn the ways of the nations
    or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
    though the nations are terrified by them.
For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
    they cut a tree out of the forest,
    and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
They adorn it with silver and gold;
    they fasten it with hammer and nails
    so it will not totter.
Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
    their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
    because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
    they can do no harm
    nor can they do any good.”

Observation

  • The heavens were thought to reveal the will of the gods (comets, meteors, etc.)
  • Description of how an idol is made and then worshiped – how can we worship what we made?
  • “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field!” — the idols made and cared for so devotedly are like scarecrows in a field
  • 10:5b — they cannot hurt or help (they are impotent)

Application

Hmmmm. The only idols I have seen in my life were on a trip to Singapore when my wife and I visited both a Chinese temple and a Hindu temple. At the Hindu temple we stood outside and watched while a dramatic ritual led up to the moment when a curtain was opened to reveal the deity within before which people then bowed and worshiped.

But when I read Jeremiah’s mocking description of the “scarecrow in a cucumber field” am I as sophisticated as I pretend to be? I may not cut down a tree that I fashion into a statue… but I do make things (careers, achievements, stuff I want or own) that I worship. That have no real power to harm or help me.

My best – my gold and my efforts – are better given to a God who can help (or harm). A God who is not a scarecrow in a cucumber field but the Creator of the Universe, the Redeemer of Humanity, the Spirit of Truth.

Prayer

O God, my idols are no less real than the ones Jeremiah mocked. I have erected my own scarecrows in the fields of life yet thought they had life, power, meaning. May I worship today by deed and sacrifice you who are worthy of my devotion. And who can help and heal and hold where the idols I make cannot. Amen.

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