How God restores His garden paradise!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Isaiah 10-12
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1)
Our world is a mess: violence, war, oppression, abuse, injustice, misery.
In this mess God plants a tree – Israel – in the hope of reclaiming His garden.
But that tree is as messed up spiritually, morally, socially, as everyone else.
Despite serious pruning, God eventually has to chop that tree down too.
But God’s plan is not a failure, for out of the stump we see a shoot.
That shoot from the line of David (Jesse’s stump) is different.
It bears good fruit, and produces life, goodness, blessing, hope.
Of all humans ever, Jesus alone lives as a good tree, with good fruit.
I believe that Jesus is the key to restoring God’s kingdom paradise.
When violence and immorality will end, and everyone will live in peace.
As Jesus followers, we are invited to become branches in this tree.
By ourselves we cannot restore God’s garden paradise.
But if we remain in Him, like branches, we can bear good fruit (John 15:1-8).
We help Jesus restore God’s paradise by dong good with/like/for Him!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, You are working to make my life fruitful like Yours. Help me to plant seeds of goodness, and not mess up Your garden with more weeds.

A light that pierces the darkness!

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Isaiah is speaking to people of his day, words of challenge and hope.
The land of Judah is under attack, and the people are desperate.
God assures this humbled nation that He will bring new life.
This new life will be a miracle, like a virgin birthing a son!
This new life will finally rule in God’s Name, in God’s way!
The powers of darkness and death will not prevail.
God’s promised messiah (Genesis 3:15) will crush the serpent.
Whenever we find ourselves in darkness, we can cling to this hope too.
Somehow, some day, God will appear in a miraculous way to put things right.
Jesus followers see His birth, life, death and resurrection as a great light.
When we see Jesus, His whole life a miracle, we feel hope deep inside.
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
The darkness is not gone yet, but its days are numbered.
Like the sun on the horizon, a new day is dawning – and we rejoice!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, You bring the light of joy into our darkness, and give us hope to hang on when it seems like the darkness will never end. May someone else experience the joy of meeting You today!

A dream worth pursuing!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 12:22-31
“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31)
In Matthew’s account, Jesus says to seek God’s kingdom AND righteousness.
These both go together, and can be summarized as God’s kingdom.
God’s kingdom is the world as God intended it to be.
God’s righteousness is the way God intended us to live.
If we pursue one, we pursue the other, for both reflect God’s character.
Jesus is urging us to make our top priority God’s dream for this world.
God’s dream includes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.
This was Adam and Eve’s task from the beginning.
God provided their daily needs, what they needed to serve His kingdom.
We pursue God’s honour, kingdom and will, and He provides the rest.
This is also how we are to pray – seeking these things first.
This is what LIFE actually consists of – the God life!
Our mistake is to pursue the ‘everything else’, seeking life in them.
But the good life is not found in food, clothing, money, sex, fame, etc.
We will not find life (contentment, joy) until we pursue the God life.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, help me to see that if I really want to be fulfilled – to live the full life – then pursuing Your kingdom dream is the only way! Nothing else will satisfy or last.

Beware of greed – yes, me!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 12:13-21
“Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Most people I know would agree with this statement.
We all ‘know’ that money cannot buy happiness.
Yet we still spend or invest our wealth as if it will.
We are willing consumers in a consumeristic society.
We fight or work hard to get more, or to get our fair share.
We turn to Jesus, trusting that He came so we could be ‘blessed’.
Some people act as if their wealth were a blessing, not a responsibility.
We offer our percent to God, but keep the lionshare for ourselves.
We do not live as if we believe that life consists of generosity.
What could I spend less on, that I would have more to give.
Do I see my surplus as mine to spend as I please, for my comfort or pleasure?
Do I give to be generous, or to maximize my tax return?
As a Jesus follower, I am a steward of God’s abundant grace to me.
All that I am and have is mine to share, to bless others… will I?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, in the business of life, the higher the overhead (what I need to maintain myself), the lower the profit (joy, life). Expose the greed that lives in me, and stretch me towards greater generosity!

Rejecting the source of life?

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 12:8-12
“Anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10)
My guess is ‘blasphemy’ means more than just speaking ill of the Spirit.
The Spirit is the invisible presence and power of God at work in us.
It was the Spirit of God breathed into us that made us human (Genesis 2:7).
If we reject the Spirit, we reject our only hope of life within.
If we cut off the supply line, we will lose our spiritual oxygen.
God and Jesus keep pursuing (and forgiving) us to the very end.
But if we shut out the Spirit, we are shutting out their forgiveness.
How can those who reject forgiveness experience forgiveness?
How can those who cut their oxygen line survive in the depths?
I believe to ‘blaspheme the Spirit’ is our final rejection of life in God.
Which means that as long as we breathe, we still have a chance.
While we breathe, God and Jesus are extending grace and mercy to us.
Our last breath will be when we stand before God and Jesus.
At that moment, our final decision will determine our final destiny.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, this is my best guess at what it means to blaspheme the Spirit. It gives me courage to know that as long as there is life in me, and others (including those who reject You now), there is hope for forgiveness and grace.

Getting rid of the trash!

“Fear him who has authority to throw you into Gehenna.” (Luke 12:5)
The valley of Hinnon (ge-henna, ‘weeping’) was south east of Jerusalem.
In the past children were sacrificed to the god Molech here (2 Kings 23:10).
It was loathed by the Jews, and was where the garbage was dumped.
Including to bodies of dead animals and unburied criminals.
Jesus uses this valley as a parable for what happens to the wicked.
To those who live ‘garbage’ lives of selfishness, cruelty, hate, violence.
This valley represented more than just physical death.
It represented loss of our ultimate worth and self – ultimate death.
Jesus assures us we were created with value – identity, worth and purpose.
We are worth more than garbage, we should not live garbage lives.
God doesn’t want to throw us in the refuse pile, but if we refuse to repent…
Take sin seriously, says Jesus, because sin has serious consequences.
As a Jesus follower, I want my life to reflect goodness, not garbage.
Are there things in my life that belong in the garbage… will I pitch them?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, I am not garbage to You, You do not want to throw me out with the garbage. May my life reflect Your goodness, not the garbage of seflishness and sin.

Seeing the goodness of God!

“Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it…” (Psalm 86:17)
I believe that there is a God, and that God is good.
Though I cannot see God, I see signs of God all around me.
That’s not all I see; I also see signs of evil and misery.
Many times I feel like David in this Psalm – ‘do something good, God!!!’
I share David’s belief that God is ultimately compassionate and gracious.
Slow to anger, and overflowing in love and faithfulness (v.15).
Honestly, I have to believe this, otherwise I’m not sure I could go on.
Although I see evil, I choose to focus on God and good and hope.
And I keep praying, like David, to see signs of goodness.
Sometimes I’m praying for God to do something good.
Other times I’m praying for eyes to see it, because the signs are there.
Acts of kindness, miracles, friends that care, unpexpected gifts.
I want to see it, but I want others to see it too, even ‘enemies’.
If all of us would focus on seeing and being good, our world would change!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, help us to focus on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — on anything that is excellent or praiseworthy – so that we may see You!

Here am I, cleanse me!

“The voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8)
Isaiah is being asked to be God’s messenger, to announce God’s judgment.
This is not a good job with benefits.
Who wants to preach against their own people, their own ‘church’?
Jesus had this same job, and it didn’t go well for Him either.
I have sensed for some time that the church needs to be preached against.
By this I mean the church in general, in my experience here in the west.
We have majored in minors, and ignored the things that matter to God.
We’ve grown comfortable with wealth and ease, and use our faith to justify it.
“And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
Before I can say this, I need to say ‘Here I am, cleanse me!’
Like Isaiah, I am a man of unclean lips, my own faith is compromised.
I’ve grown up in this ‘churchy’ culture, its as much a part of me.
If I am not following God’s heart, I cannot judge others who are not.
Jesus speaks TO me before He speaks THROUGH me.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, keep me humble and open to hearing Your gentle rebuke, so that I may take steps towards living and speaking for You!

Do we share God’s priorities?

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed…” (Isaiah 1:17)
According to Isaiah, God is not very happy with His followers.
His old covenant followers were going through the motions of religion.
They offered plenty of sacrifices, and observed holy days.
They prayed and offered incense in the temple, but God was not impressed.
Jesus, like Isaiah, challenges the religious leaders of His day.
They too are very religious, but have missed God’s real concern.
Jesus shows us what God really cares about – justice, compassion.
Helping the hungry, thirsty, strangers, sick, imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-36).
As followers of Jesus, we also risk missing the point.
History shows how often we forget justice, mercy, grace, compassion.
This passage shows how bad this, and how it puts us outside of God’s grace.
God wants to treat us as white as snow, but we need to get out of the muck.
Is my faith more than religion, does it express deep love for God and people?
Are we just GOING to church, or are we BEING the church?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, too often we forget what following You is all about. Shake us up, wake us up, and help us get on board for Your purpose in the world.

Unhelpful witnesses for Jesus

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 11:45-54
“You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:52)
What a sad commentary on the church then, and now.
The church – God’s family – was and is blessed to be a blessing.
We are welcomed by grace, and are to welcome others by that same grace.
Too often God’s people have hindered the struggling and seeking.
The history of the church is filled with many sad and horrible moments.
People have been judged, shamed, abused, pressured, shunned, killed.
By their actions, many ‘witnesses’ showed they did not truly know God’s grace.
These words may hurt our feelings (v.45), but they need to be heard.
Am I helping or hindering people from knowing God’s grace in Jesus?
“In every way… make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:10)
Do I make it hard or easy for others to believe in Jesus?
Do people see me and feel drawn to Jesus, or repulsed by Him?
Am I critical, negative, dour, or spiritually unattractive?
Have I entered the grace of God, so that it shows through me to others?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, forgive me for standing in the way of others knowing and experiencing You. May we as Your church be attractive, not repulsive, for You!