Matthew 7:13-14- Switching the road signs

Have you ever thought about how dependent we are upon road signs? Even in our GPS world, we still count on signage to know that we’re headed in the right direction.

But what would happen if someone had a dastardly plan? What if someone switched the signs? Could we still hope to arrive at our intended destination when we’ve traveled the wrong path?

The Devil has changed the road signs, and Jesus warned us as much. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord talks about the importance of making sure we’re on the right road, the one leading to life:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. – Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

It takes moral courage to tell someone else they’re on the wrong path, one that will take them where they don’t want to go. If I understand Jesus’ words, the person on the narrow road had better be prepared to be called narrow by others, even ridiculed.

Maybe you’re still on God’s path but are considering changing directions. Hear these words from Carla Sunberg:

It doesn’t matter where we live in this world or what we do, the call to follow God is the same! The temptations along the way are the same. The world is constantly calling out to believers to walk a path which may seem a bit easier, or is advertised as being more fun. But where does that walk take us? What is hidden behind the next hill? Do we know? Of course we don’t, and that’s the ploy of the enemy. He tries to get us to walk down a path that will lead to destruction because we can’t see what’s hidden behind the next curve.

Read her whole post here.

I’m with Carla. Don’t be duped by the enemy of your soul. Stay on target.

Maybe you’ve already taken a wrong turn. It’s not too late – with God’s help – to admit your mistake and turn around. You’ll be glad you did.

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Photo credit: University of Reading

Honey, I shrunk the Bible

It was one of the more memorable fun flicks from the ’80s. Wayne Szalinski (played by Rick Moranis) was the mad scientist working on an incredible shrinking ray. Sadly, he only managed to blow things up, until the day his invention worked, accidentally shrinking two of his own children and two of the neighbor’s. The rest of “Honey, I shrunk the kids” revolves around the hapless teens’ attempts to avoid dangers lurking in the lawn while their parents search frantically for their diminutive offspring.

Herein lies a cautionary tale: We can shrink things unintentionally that were never intended to be shrunk. 

Take the Bible, for instance. Sometimes I wonder whether we’ve reduced both its size and its function.

Continue reading “Honey, I shrunk the Bible”

Scripture: Our Rule of Faith and Practice

Philosopher Blaise Pascal once said that “man is only a reed, but at least he is a thinking reed.” Likewise, on the great tree of Christianity, the Church of the Nazarene is only a leaf, but we are a colorful leaf. Our emphasis upon holiness of heart and life, evidence of God’s transforming grace radically at work in us, helps us bring color to the branches of the Christian tree.

Sometimes as Nazarenes we get caught up on what makes us different from other Christians, on being the colorful leaf. We can forget that leaves are part of trees. The Church of the Nazarene shares much in common with Christians of other traditions, particularly those that bear the name “Protestant.” One common element is the emphasis we put upon the Bible as the benchmark for what we  believe, how we “do church,” how we hear the Spirit’s voice and how we decide questions of ethics and morality. In theology talk, we accept the Bible as our “rule of faith and practice.” [See discussion in Randy Maddox, “The Rule of Christian Faith, Practice, and Hope,” in Richard P. Thompson and Thomas J. Oord, eds., The Bible Tells Me So: Reading the Bible as Scripture, Kindle edition (Nampa, Idaho: SacraSage Press, 2011),  location 2098].

Continue reading “Scripture: Our Rule of Faith and Practice”

“He must increase, but I must decrease” – John 3:30

All human organizations have “pecking orders.” In junior high concert band, I desperately wanted to play first trumpet. First trumpets sat on the end, and could be seen by the crowd during performances. Second trumpets (which was my position) were buried in the back, out of sight. With time and practice, I moved up. Eventually, I was visible. I had “arrived.”

The Kingdom of God works on exactly the opposite principle. It’s not about prestige or position, it’s about obedience, faithful service in the place God has assigned us, whether seemingly “great” or “small.” John the Baptist seemed to understand this. When his disciples came and complained to him that the crowds were abandoning him in favor of Jesus, John pronounced these unforgettable words:

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

This simply does not compute in human terms, but in God’s calculus, it makes perfect sense. Jesus calls us not to be masters, but to be servants. Greatness comes not through lording it over others, not in bullying them to get our way. True greatness lies in our ability put others before ourselves. To ascend, first descend.

Prayer:

“Lord, help me today to serve others, to put their interests above my own. Forgive me when I have made myself the center of my world. Teach me your way. In Christ’s name, Amen.”

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Reflection based on Scripture reading for Day 62, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

When you think you’re alone – Psalm 12:1

In public high school, a believer can get pretty lonely. Sometimes, it’s tempting to think that there’s no one else who wants to follow Christ. But God gave me new eyes to see those around me for who they really were, and sent other believers my way. We started a prayer time, and met every day before homeroom. By the end of the school year, nearly twenty gathered daily to pray for each other. What a difference that made in my attitude! Truth be told, I had never been alone.

David sometimes thought he was all alone, too. He cried out to God:

Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind (Psalm 12:1, NRSV).

God did not scold David for his heartfelt plea. David knew that God was big enough to receive his wrenching complaint. He felt all alone, and longed for the comfort of the LORD’s presence. Though in Psalm 12 David never sees the solution to his problem, we know from his life that God was listening. At various times, God sent people David’s way to encourage him. In Jonathan, he found a friend closer than a brother. In Abigail, he found a caring wife. The LORD blessed him with family, children like Solomon who – while far from perfect – sought after God and His wisdom. To one all alone, God gave faithful community. His heart brimming with joy, David proclaimed:

I rejoiced with those who said to me,  “Let us go to the house of the LORD” (Psalm 122:1, NIV).

Thank God today for the companions that He has given you on your journey of faith.

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Reflection based on Scripture reading for Day 45, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Getting beyond “if only” – Mark 14:8

After a dismal nine holes of golf, my dad and I were lamenting the tough breaks. “If only that stream had been ten yards further away, I wouldn’t have put it in the drink!”  my dad observed. “Yeah,” I joined in,  “and if only I’d used my 7 iron instead of my 5, I wouldn’t have overshot the green on the last hole.” Things got quiet as we sipped our Cokes in the clubhouse. “You know,” my dad reflected, “when if comes to golf, maybe the two words we need to remove from our vocabulary are ‘if’ and ‘only.’ ”

As in golf, so in life. In Mark 14, we find a remedy to the “if only” approach to living. A woman wondered what she had to offer the Lord. She may have been tempted to think: “If only I had been born rich, then I could contribute my wealth to the Master.” Then she remembered the jar of aromatic nard. She heard that Jesus was at the house of Simon the Leper. Timidly, she crossed the threshold and made her way toward the table. Perhaps Jesus smiled at her, giving her just enough courage to carry through with her plan. Opening the jar, she slowly poured the perfumed oil on his head. When others protested the lavish waste, the Lord scolded them. “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her?” (v. 6). Jesus insisted that the poor would always be with them, but the woman had done an incredibly loving and selfless thing:

“She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial” (v. 8, NRSV).

Jesus affirmed: “She has done what she could.”  There are lots of things that we cannot do. We can waste a lot of time pondering the “if onlys,” or we can get busy doing what we can, using what is at our disposal. It’s time to get beyond “if only.” It’s time to do what we can.

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Reflection based on Scripture reading for Day 42, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Is the Cross our ‘Mizpah’? – Gen. 31:49

“Mike,” a friend of mine in the youth group, was head-over-heels in love with “Brenda.” They’d gone out together for several months when Brenda learned that her family was moving out-of-state. Before she left, they went to the mall together and bought his-and-her necklaces. She wore the left side of a jagged heart, and he the right side. Engraved on each of the half-pendants were these words, taken from Gen. 31:49 — “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another” (KJV).

Love will do funny things, but it’s doubtful that verse was exactly what they had in mind. In its context, Gen. 31:49 has nothing to do with romance, and everything to do with mistrust. The employer/employee relationship between Laban and his nephew, Jacob, had been anything but positive — see Gen. 29-31 for the whole debacle. Through a series of shrewd flock breeding techniques, Jacob had prospered at Laban’s expense. Jacob took off  in the middle of the night with his own wives, children and flocks, not even saying goodbye, but Laban eventually caught up with him.  That sets the stage for a final confrontation between uncle and nephew. Laban begins:

The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do about these daughters of mine, or about their children whom they have borne? (v. 43, NRSV).

In short, Laban knows he’s been beat, but he doesn’t trust Jacob any further than he can throw a stone. So he resorts to stones. They cobble together a pile of boulders as a “witness” between them, then share a meal. This pile of rocks is a Mizpah, a “watchpost.” Laban explains:

If you ill-treat my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters, though no one else is with us, remember that God is witness between you and me (v. 50).

Every time Jacob passed by that pile of stones in the future, it would remind him of his promise to be faithful and kind to Leah, Rachel and Laban’s grandchildren.

What Laban and Jacob did on that day was an attempt – however unsuccessful – at reconciliation. In the New Testament, that’s an important theme. If Jesus had died on a pile of stones, like Aslan at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then perhaps we’d have a Mizpah at the front of our churches. But Jesus died on a cross, and so we find pieces of wood hanging there.

Yet the Cross goes far beyond what Laban and Jacob were able to hammer out that day. The Genesis 31 account gives no hint of true reconciliation. They left each other with a cloud of suspicion still hanging over their heads. But at the Cross, we are reconciled to God. When we look at its beams, we are reminded that heaven and earth embraced on a hillside overlooking Jerusalem. The Mizpah of mistrust yields to a different kind of Mizpah, a “watching” motivated not by suspicion but by love.  Jesus promises:  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NIV).

Now that’s the kind of Mizpah we can all celebrate.

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Reflection based on Scripture reading for Day 33, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995