Word of the Day

New Wine

1 Timothy 5: 23

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

Paul in writing to Timothy included this statement at the end of his discourse about elders. It is actually awkwardly placed between two statements that are about the sins of others. So, maybe Paul was attempting to communicate to Timothy that a little wine, even among the elders is not sinful.

I have always held that being Christian must not necessarily be synonymous with being a tea-totaller, or completely abstaining from alcoholic drinks. People will remind us that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water to wine. I still hold this position. One need not completely abstain, but then again . . ..

The culture in the United States has quickly changed from the occasional social cocktail to a beer culture. In just a few years we have seen the complexion of restaurants change dramatically. There are fewer and fewer eateries which do not serve alcohol and more and more pub like establishments. In fact, even the movie theaters now serve alcoholic beverages. You can’t have a party without serving alcohol. People used to be concerned about offending someone by serving alcohol. Now you are more likely to offend someone if you don’t. It is a change, no doubt. I think a discussion is needed without putting a judgment on it. We don’t have to say this is good or that is bad to consider how those things affect us and how we want to think about them.

Christians have gotten swept up in this change too. Being a Christian doesn’t seem to affect everyone’s drinking habits or the way people think about alcoholic consumption among Christians. In fact, you might be surprised how often people give me gifts of alcohol even knowing I am a minister and pastor. I am not offended but I am always surprised.

It is funny how we label ourselves sometimes and what we think those labels mean. For some, the definition of a Christian includes being a non-drinker. There doesn’t seem to be a label distinguishing drinkers and non-drinkers. What label do you wear that says, “Yeah, I am open for getting together drinking?”

So here is what I have observed. A lot of us call ourselves Christians but there is wide disparity among us on almost every level. I think, though, that our Christian name tag should separate us. It seems to me that my life in Christ ought to be a major facet of my life, not just another jewel in my charm bracelet. It  ought to be bigger and should identify me as if to say, “This is my self-identity. I am in Christ and he colors my world.” Instead, I see groups of people getting together, all of whom call themselves Christians but they get together over a beer or bottle of wine rather than the Word. Again, let me be clear, I am not criticizing anyone having the occasional drink but my observation is that we have departed from that paradigm. Now, the drink is the central figure and we park Jesus at the curb. I recently saw a Christian post this question, “If you were an alcoholic drink, what would you be?” This isn’t a criticism of that person but rather an observation that this is where we are as Christians. I think episodes like this should stimulate a conversation as to whether this is where we want to be. If the answer is, “Yes,” then so be it but I think many Christians might want to consider if we have gone too far.

Personally, I think we have. When I see Christians getting together to drink but never to fellowship over the Word then I wonder if we still have the right to label ourselves Christians. It seems the drink has become more important than the Son and that we should wear a different name tag which more accurately describes us.

I am not saying that I never have a drink. I just recently visited Ireland and we were treated to some of Ireland’s finest. However, I am home now. It was lovely sampling Irish culture but that was for then. It is not part of my culture or routine. I tell you this to prove to you that I am not advocating that every Christian must become a strict non-drinker. That is a decision we each must make with God but if alcohol is more important or plays a more significant role in our lives than Jesus, then there is certainly something to be concerned with. I don’t think food, or drink, or sport, or work, or anything should occupy a bigger part than Jesus. And I certainly think as Christians we are supposed to look and act differently from the world. I also think we are supposed to want to.

I wonder if we haven’t taken grace a bit too far when it comes to alcohol. I can only tell you what I have observed and that is that many Christians seem more interested in their drink than in their Lord. There is nothing wrong with watching football with your friends and having a beer or the occasional drink but when the party is more important or more prominent in our lifestyle than seeking Jesus, the Christ then I don’t know how worthy we are to be called his disciples. It’s also okay to go to the football party and not drink alcohol and it needs to be okay for each of us.

I don’t write this today as condemnation of anyone. I also do not intend that any of us have a license to judge others. I write this today to get you, all of you collectively, to ask if this is who we are and who we want to be? Have we gone too far with being relatable that there is no meaningful distinction between us and those who do not profess Jesus as Lord? I intend to stimulate some thought and hopefully a dialogue. What are the hallmarks of Christians? I want us to think about who we are as a people and what we stand for. I want us to consider where Jesus stands in our lives compared to all the worldly pleasures that are available. Are there boundaries and who should set them for us? The Christian culture has changed as much as the social culture and we should ask ourselves if we like the direction.

Witness This

Psalm 39: 1 – 2             NIV

I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.” So I remained utterly silent, not even saying anything good.

If you want to keep yourself from sin, the tongue is an excellent place to start. Most of us do more damage to ourselves and others with our mouth than any other way. In my book, Journey Through the Bible, chapter 64 is titled Loshon Hora. This is a Hebrew expression for derogatory speech. If you study Loshon Hora, you will discover that the Rabbinical teachings advise against derogatory speech, otherwise called evil talk, not only because of the negative impact upon others but also because it is damaging to the speaker. The words which come out of our mouths either edify us or defile us. So, when we speak negatively about someone else, even if it is true, we tear down ourselves. I encourage you to take this to heart as absolute truth.

David knew the truth of this. Sometimes it is more beneficial to remain silent even when you want to speak truth. Fools cast their pearls before swine. Yet we find ourselves with many words. We want to preach people into the Kingdom of God, but God never told us to do that. Preachers are for the saved, to train them and teach them so they can do into the world and save the wicked. Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Corinthians 2: 4). If Paul’s witness was demonstrations of the Spirit and his power, then why do we choose to talk people to death? We are on the wrong path entirely. We should all know by now that people aren’t listening to what we say, they are watching what we do. So, are our lives demonstrations of God’s love? Are we harbingers of His power and grace? People are not interested in what we think. They are interested in God’s presence and we can be those carriers of God’s presence to people, literally, everywhere we go.

Our goal should be to honor Jesus’ commission to us by first obeying Romans 12: 2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” See, our job is to be transformed so that people see that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Not us, but God in us. We aren’t perfect in ourselves, but He is. Our mission is to allow the Lord to transform us. That is accomplished through the renewal of our minds. You see, mine and your first task is not to tell the world how to be. It is to let God show us who we should be. Our effort should be focused on our own renewal and subsequent transformation. When we are renewed and transformed, we won’t have to say much because God in us will be loudly visible. We will demonstrate the love and power of the Almighty as did Paul.

We have had this all upside down for so long and we absolutely must correct this. We are the church, we are the temple of the Almighty. That is where people are looking to see if God is alive. We must become more attractive images of Christianity. Don’t try to change them so they can go to heaven. Change you with the power of the Holy Spirit so they want to go to heaven. We’ve been making heaven look like hell. We’ve got to right this ship and mirror our Lord. We are to be his disciples which means we act like him, we talk like him. David said, “I will watch my ways.” We’ve been busy watching their ways. We’ve been acting like the world and frankly, talking like them too, and then trying to persuade others that we know truth.

Let us save ourselves. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2: 12). Let derogatory speech have no part with you. Keep your tongue from sin. By this we guard ourselves and minister to others.

The Book of Jesus

Luke 24: 27

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

The backstory here is that it is the third day after the crucifixion. Mary and several of the other women went early in the morning to Jesus’ tomb. They found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. There appeared unto them angels who told them Jesus was risen. The women raced back to tell the apostles and others of Jesus’ followers that Jesus had arisen. Later, two of the men from this group went to Emmaus. In route, they encountered a man whom they did not recognize. He asked them about all they were discussing. They were amazed he didn’t know the news about Jesus. So, they told him the story about Jesus and the crucifixion and what the women discovered that same morning. They also told him of their disappointment because they had hoped and believed that Jesus would be the savior of Israel. Then the man revealed himself to them and it was he, Jesus. He responded, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (vs. 25 – 26). He was, himself, disappointed for the prophets had foretold these very circumstances yet the men did not understand. Therefore, Jesus explained all these things to them beginning with Moses and continuing through all the prophets.

The entire book of the Bible speaks of Jesus. It is all about him. Sometimes it may be a bit like an Easter egg hunt, but he is there. That is why publishers are still putting all those Old Testament books in our Christian Bible. It is the story of Jesus. The two men on the road to Emmaus revealed they did not know the stories or at least that they didn’t understand them. Jesus accused them of unbelief. Worse, he called them foolish for not recognizing the connection between him and all the prophecies.

We have the benefit of historical perspective, we know Jesus as Messiah. I think, though, that we don’t always see him in the richness of the culture into which he was born. It is hard for us to see him in the context of the time, location and his ancestry. Reading about Israel and Judah reveal some of Jesus because these were his people and their traditions were the traditions Jesus was born into and lived by. The Old Testament writers give us a glimpse into the lives of the Jews. It is exciting to know Jesus and then read a prophecy about him.  From our perspective we can see how it came true.

Of course, the New Testament is all about Jesus and the New Covenant he established for us. So how do we relate to it. It is much easier for us because we have been coached in the New Testament and because Jesus is unveiled in those books. Still, there is a haunting refrain which calls out to us from today’s passage that we must consider. The men Jesus encountered on the road were some of his own followers. They knew him personally. Even though they knew him and followed him while he was alive, Jesus perceived them as slow to believe. We think if we lived in Jesus’ time, we would be true believers, but we are in danger of being called slow of heart too. There is much to challenge us in the life of Jesus. I heard a minister preach that the feeding of the 5000 was not a miracle but that instead, it was the work of the women who were always prepared. There is a perfect example of someone who doesn’t actually believe the Bible, not even New Testament text.

I wrote on Wednesday that we must be diligent to challenge ourselves. We must confront these passages and decide if we are going to believe them or if we will reason away what they say. What does it take to be a believer? Can we go the next step and accept that what the Bible says is not only true but that it is applicable to our lives? Jesus said we could have whatever we believe so now we must press ourselves to believe big and even expect big. That is the calling of the gospel.

Communing

Luke 24: 15          KJV

And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.

Ministers, me included, are always telling you to commune with God but what does that mean and how do you do it? Here is a definition for the verb commune: to converse or talk together, usually with profound intensity, intimacy, etc.; interchange thoughts or feelings, to be in intimate communication or rapport. Does that help?

The first level of communion is communication. That seems logical and reasonable, doesn’t it? They are from the same root word. Even think about taking communion at church. At its core, it means to commune with God or to communicate with Him. Secondly, this is not ordinary conversation. It is not business talk or casual chatter. Communing with God has an intimate component. I encourage you to talk with God about the weather and well, everything, but communion adds your intimate thoughts and your feelings. When we talk about communing with God, we mean more than just chatting with Him.

Notice also that communion involves an interchange of thoughts and feelings. Not only are we to share our innermost thoughts, hopes, dreams, and feelings with Father but He speaks too and we share in His intimate thoughts and feelings. This is a key component of communing with Him. It is as much about listening to Him as it is about sharing our thoughts. Communion is a heart felt open communication between you and Yahweh.

I think this understanding might impact your thoughts and practice of taking communion. Actually, I hope it will. Further, it should certainly impact your prayer life. Don’t leave out the word rapport as you consider what communing with God means. Think about talking with your dearest friend about your deepest thoughts.

Ultimately, I hope this clarifies communing with God for you. God isn’t looking for us just to pray. His desire is that we go hang out with Him, sharing our intimate thoughts and feelings and listening to Him as well. Take some quiet time for you and God to just be still together. If you have difficulty being still, then let’s work on that together. Call me or write me by replying to this devotion. Secondly, give yourself time to work into this model. You may have to do it for a while before it becomes comfortable. No worries. Just begin. Today, when you speak with the Lord, slow yourself down. Take a few minutes when you aren’t driving your car or pumping gas to reach into your inner self and ask what is going on in there. Then share it with Dad. Don’t make this weird or cumbersome. Remember, this is conversing with your best friend about that which is closest to your heart and then listening as He responds.

Challenged

Philippians 4: 19                    God’s Word

My God will richly fill your every need in a glorious way through Christ Jesus.

Do you believe this verse? I mean do you really, really believe it? Today’s Word of the Day is not, surprisingly, about God meeting your needs. It is about believing. It is about challenging our beliefs. The truth is, most of us don’t really believe the Bible. We believe a version of the Bible. As we read the Bible we need to learn to challenge our belief system asking whether it agrees with the Bible.

Here is another verse, “By His stripes we are healed,” (Isaiah 53: 5) or its New Testament partner, 1 Peter 2: 24By His wounds you were healed.” Do you believe you were and, therefore, are healed? That is what it means to challenge your belief system.

We encounter verses frequently which are just over the top lavish. Here is another one for you, “Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes,” (Ephesians 3: 20 TLB). How much can we believe that our God really wants to and is going to bless us? How many caveats do we have for each of these verses?

Our belief system is built one verse at a time. You encounter verses like these and you have to spend time with them before you can really believe they are true. How about the verses that tell us to not to fear? How do you get those into your structure? Most people, including Christians, that I hear, talk about fear. They have more belief in fear than in faith. Why? We simply have not integrated God’s Word and our lives. We don’t stop and evaluate our lives in light of the Word. Everyday day when you read the Word of the Day you should look at the verse and ask how fully you believe it and how thoroughly you have slotted into your life paradigm. Do you live that verse? Does it affect who you are? If the words of the Bible aren’t changing your life then you are not allowing the Word of God to do its work. We have to run headlong into these verses and challenge ourselves to believe.

It is an ongoing practice and I doubt anyone has fully integrated every single verse in the Bible but that is our goal. Each week, we ought to become a little more Bible infused. We ought to think more and more like God and less and less as the world does. So, as you read the Bible, stop and ask yourself if you really believe what you just read. Did your mind simply acknowledge the words without affecting your beliefs? The Bible should challenge you. You won’t always like what it says, at least until you let the Holy Spirit teach you about it, but engage it, work with it and let it change your life.

Lordly Necessity

Deuteronomy 10: 12

Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

First, you can line through the name Israel and write in your name. That is how you should read this verse. Second, please recall that you have to modernize this language. We no longer use the word “fear” the way it was used in this context. A better, more modern word would be revere. You would not go amiss by replacing the word fear with the word love either. God’s first requirement of us is that we love Him. That makes perfect sense doesn’t it. We wouldn’t be part of His family if we didn’t first love Him.

Secondly, we are to walk in all His ways. Selah. Pause and think about that for a moment. What are His ways? What does it mean for us to walk in His ways? Think about a typical day for you. What does that look like? How do you perceive that you do walk as He walks? In what ways do you think your walk and His diverge. I do not think this means walking around preaching all day. I believe it means acting like Him in all of the normal things you do. For example, grocery shopping, pumping gas or being on the job, if God was doing those things, what would it look like? How would He progress through a normal day? Walking in His ways not only means doing the things He would do but also doing every day the way He would do. How are we spending our time? How do we use our words? How do we interact with others? How do we set our priorities and carry out the necessary tasks of life? I would add, are we listening to Him on a minute by minute basis or even on a daily basis so that we can get His direction, His leading so that we can follow in His footsteps?

Love Him! That is the directive. Do we? How do we? Is this a passive verb or is it an action verb? What did the author intend to convey when he wrote that we are to love the Lord, our God?

Finally, we are to serve the Lord with all our heart and all our soul? What does that even mean? First, how do we serve Him? I would suggest that first we probably need to spend some time with Him, ask Him what He would have us do and then listen. Second, it probably has something to do with serving and ministering to His kids. Then the calling upon our lives is to do that thing, whatever it is He shows us, to do that with all our passion, with all our heart, with all our strength. It ends up being the passion of our lives, the driving force.

Our lives are never better than when we are ardently engaged with our divine Father. It is that which will fill you with the greatest joy you can know. Let us, then, endeavor to follow this scripture’s leading. Let’s meditate on it until our spirits understand the meaning of it and then let us pursue the Spirit’s leading with vigor.

Poured Out

Psalm 38: 9 – 10

Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me.

I am moved by David’s passion and how he lays his heart out before the lord. Is this something we do? Is this something I do?

When I am under stress, I turn into a turtle. I withdraw into my shell and hold everything inside. We all know, at least intellectually, that this is not good, not healthy, and completely non-productive. David had a better system. He poured out his heart to God, his beloved, his father. He emptied himself of every thought without judgment. He just said was he was thinking and what he was feeling without restriction or prejudice.

I know there are many things that we think and feel that we also know are completely invalid. We don’t want to say them because we know they are ludicrous. There is some sense in that but that mature, logical theory does not apply here. When we talk with our Father, we need to feel free to pour ourselves out as David did. You can be as irresponsible as a child and say everything you think, express every emotion you feel. It is His job to pick you up and put your feet back on the right track. We get so busy being grown-up with our stoic faces and stiff back that we functionally shut out our Father and His healing touch. We never let Him rescue us much less touch our broken hearts because we won’t allow ourselves to be completely open to Him. It is as if it is against the rules to let down our guard for even a moment.

We really need to learn that we can run into the shelter of the most high where there is no need for our guard, where we can exhale fully and let ourselves feel the depth and richness of human emotion. God is passionate, you know that right? And we are made in His image. He did not create us to be stiff upper lip, intransigent robots.

God said that David was a man after His own heart. We can meditate on that statement for days, weeks, even years. What was it about David that moved God’s heart? Why is it that we don’t find God saying of David that he stirred His imagination or made Him think? In other words, God reveals that David wasn’t a child of His soul or His mind. I am sure that David and God had great thoughts together. Of course they shared great images from their imagination. Yet when God described David, He reveals him as part of His own heart. David lived in the center of God’s being and I am sure that, to this day, David lives to sing his lovely songs to the Father and they share great joy together. However, when David lived on earth he shared all he thought and all he felt with the love of his heart, his first love, God the Father; Lord and King but Father above all.

Or should I say parent because Yahweh is both Mother and Father. He is One, the One. He is not segregated into Mother and Father but is both. All in all, all in one. He is everything we need. It is just an unfortunate result of language and our humanness that we have gender specific pronouns. Yahweh is as female as male so when you need a trait that we on earth define as feminine have no reservation for that which we need abides in our beloved in richness and fullness. H/she is all the compassion you need and has the answers to every hurt and every problem. We can, therefore, trust in an unhindered fashion. We can, and should, pour out our hearts which are full of fear, frustration, anger, worry, and anxiety. And when we pour it out to our God and Father, then we are no longer full of those negative emotions. We can safely give them to “Him”, and He will give us back the reassurance and confidence we need. The truth of that statement is readily detectable as you read the songs of David.

David’s psalms often begin with expressions of anguish. Sometimes all but the very end is full of the suffering, anger and torment of his situation but always, by the end of the psalm, God has restored him. In the end of every calamitous event is the resurrection of Jesus and the lifting of our own heads.

Here is the morale of the story – God cannot lift our heads if we are stiff necked and proud. It is when we bow our heads that we allow Him to be God. When we pour our guts out on the floor before Him, He can lift us up. Remember, it is in our weakness that we are strong for God teaches us, “My power is strongest when you are weak,” (2 Corinthians 12: 9). The revelation of that statement caused Paul to write, “When I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Corinthians 12: 10). In other words, we can never put on His strength if we never abandon our own. Ours is just a shadow anyway. It is just a projected image of the true strength which is in our Dad.

God makes a trade with us, taking our misery and giving us His glory. Isaiah 61: 3 foretells this as Jesus’ calling, his ministry, “Giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.” We take our sadness, sorrow and misery, all of our challenges and frustrations to the Father and He trades with us giving us all of His goodness. He freely offers to trade happiness and joy for our sadness and grief.

So, be like David. Pour out your heart to God. Purge yourself of those toxic emotions and receive back joy unspeakable.