The least of these

Read: Leviticus 7-9, Matthew 25:31-46

Last May I had the opportunity to join seven other members of my church on a missionary trip to Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. Our week was planned out ahead of time by the leaders at the missions base there. We’d go visit some migrant camps, men’s and women’s rehabilitation homes, and minister to the homeless who live under the city bridges.

The day came for us to head to the bridges. We arrived, cleaned up an area that was known to bring many people, brought out chairs and a guitar, but no one came. A local man who’d worked with our mission before came by and explained to us that the Bridge People, as they’ve come to be known, wouldn’t be coming. They’d been burned out of their camps, rounded up, and taken to prison all in preparation for the Baja races which would run through the dry ravines in the city.

This presented a bit of a problem. We’d prepared to meet these people on their own turf, feed them, bless them, pray for them. No connections had yet been made with the local police to reach out to the incarcerated. But the gentleman who found us at the ravine had an idea. He paced away with his phone in hand. Less than an hour later, we’d packed everything back up and were parked outside the city’s 48 hour holding facility.

If you’re imagining a North American holding prison, get that image out of your head. This is not a well-lighted place with concrete benches, let alone padded cots. There is no stainless steel toilet in the corner nor is there a phone with which to call a lawyer or a relative to come get you (if you even have a relative with a phone of their own). You don’t get your one phone call. You get concrete and bars and a hole in the floor that serves as a communal toilet.

I don’t mean to be gross, but I need to be real.

In the parking lot across from the barred entrance, we could already smell the sharp odour of stale urine and who-knows-what-else. After a quick chat with the officers on duty, we were permitted to unload our coolers, bags, and boxes. Two by two we were allowed in with the guards to present each inmate with a dry sandwich, a juice box, granola bar, and second-hand blanket. They filed passed offering quiet thanks and blessings. To those who were considered to violent to let out of their cells, team members went to them deeper in the prison. They set aside their own discomfort to offer a small comfort to someone else.

As we sat in the van afterward, our pastor brought to mind a portion of scripture from Matthew.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you have me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)

Circumstances prevented the people we planned to minister to from coming to us, but God made a way for us to go to them. Doors were opened and even the locals were amazed at what we were able to do. People were fed, given something to drink, clothed, looked after, and visited in prison—all by complete strangers.

Several days after our prison visit, a man approached our van at while we sat at a red light. He was selling candy bars. Our pastor purchased several. As he walked away, we noticed something. Aside from the candy, he carried only one thing. Tucked tightly under his arm was one of the blankets we’d handed out in the prison.

Matthew 25:40

The process of promise

Read: Exodus 22-24, Matthew 20:17-34

Many of us, when we pray, would like to see our entire prayer answered right when we pray it. We’re used to instant gratification. Drive-thrus. On demand. Our prayers have become a reflection of that. Like Veruca Salt, we want it and we want it now!

But what happens when we get everything we want when we want it whether we’re ready for it or not? Did you know some studies show that up to 70% of people who unexpectedly come into large sums of money end up broke within five years? Getting rich quick isn’t always the best thing for us.

Exodus 23:29-30

I’m sure Israel would have loved nothing more than to walk out of Egypt and right into the Promised Land. God could have gone ahead and cleaned house, sweeping out the land and preparing it for His people. But He didn’t. He chose not to for a couple of reasons.

  1. Israel wasn’t ready. Here was an entire nation who had been enslaved for four centuries. While their physical captivity had ended, anyone who has been held against their will can tell you that it takes longer for the mind to adapt to freedom. God had a lot of things to teach His people before they were ready to take the land. He needed to renew their minds to His plans and purposes before they could move ahead.
  2. The land was ready. Israel had some learning to do, but the land was move-in ready. It was inhabited. It was already being farmed. Cities had already been built. There was a population that was tending to it, keeping it profitable. Had God scattered those people, the land would have reverted back to its original state. Fields would go fallow and fill with weeds. The cities would begin to crumble and wild animals would once again take over. The Israelites would have had to start from scratch.

Our land, our promise, may be ready for us, but we may not yet be ready for it. There may be lessons we need to learn along the way. We may need to build up endurance and strength. We may need to renew our minds, changing our old way of thinking. We may need to be broken down so that we can be rebuilt. And while all of that is happening, God has made sure that our promise will be ready for us when we are ready for it. The process is just as, if not more, important than the promise.

Strength in numbers

Read: Exodus 9-10, Matthew 18:1-20

For some Christians, asking them to pray is akin to letting them know that you’ve booked them in for a five hour dentist appointment. When it comes time to commune with our Father and bring our needs as well as thanks to Him, these people are nowhere to be found. Perhaps they don’t like to pray in front of other people. Maybe they feel their prayers are better said in private. It could be that they don’t even like to pray at all (at which point I would begin to question their claim to salvation). No matter what their reason, these people are missing out. And, not only are they missing out on the benefit of corporate prayer, but they are robbing everyone else of their contribution.

Matthew 18:19-20

If one can put a thousand to flight and two can put ten thousand to flight, how much more could three or four or eighty-nine or three thousand accomplish? One person believing that their presence won’t be missed in prayer is sorely mistaken. Biblically speaking, numbers tend to expand exponentially. When you add one, you add nine thousand. So my question to those who withhold their agreement in prayer is this: why would you want to rob your brothers and sisters in Christ of the strength you can add to their prayers?

Everything Jesus taught was for the benefit of believers, to bring them together, to strengthen them. He didn’t give commands to flex his authority, but gave them for the benefit of all. When he told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, it was for the benefit of all. When he commanded them to go heal people and cast out demons, it was for the benefit of all. When he said that it’s a good idea for two or three to stand in agreement together, it is for the benefit of all.

In the book of Acts, the more people that joined the church, the more people were drawn in. Like a magnet pulling in another then another, soon you have a stack of magnets that is far stronger than one or two on their own. The more we, as the active body of Christ, draw close to, work with, and pray in agreement with one another, the stronger we will be.

I believe that the more we can all come in agreement not only in prayer, but as a church body—a family, the greater our results will be. I think we should all be able to agree that our strength is in our numbers.

The business of prayer

Read: Genesis 20-22, Matthew 7

Matthew Henry the business of prayer

I have noticed that prayer meetings—though some of the most important meetings a church can hold—are often some of the least attended. Everyone will turn out for the day when they get something, but no one wants to show up when they have to give something, especially of themselves.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7 (NIV)

Ask. Seek. Knock. These terms are not meant to indicate a single action, but a repetitive one. Keep on asking. Don’t stop looking. Continue knocking. Keep doing it until you get an answer.

In a culture of instant everything, having to wait for anything seems like a waste of time. Time is money, after all. But aren’t there things in life that are worth far more? Perhaps our relationship with Jesus? The greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward.

Take a look at Abraham. God gave him a very specific instruction.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and got to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Genesis 22:2 (NIV)

Now, if you’re Abraham, do you simply say, “OK,” and go about that which God asked you to do? The scripture doesn’t say so, but I believe that Abraham would have been praying the entire three day journey to their destination. What father wouldn’t do everything and anything possible to avoid the loss of his only child? I am sure that his words were very similar to Jesus’ before his death.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

Luke 22:42 (NIV)

How often do we pray like we really mean it? As though our very lives—or the lives of loved ones—depend on it? Is prayer a hobby or it is our business? It could be said that prayer is the family business. If we declare ourselves to be a part of the family of God, then prayer has become our business. It is our trade. It is our responsibility to hone that trade.

If you have yet to see the answer you seek, keep on seeking. Ask until you get a response. Knock, pound on the door if you have to, until it opens. Because then, and only then, will you see the rewards of your labour.

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:8 (NIV)

Superstition

In the practical sense, I am not at all a superstitious person. I have a broken mirror in my hallway. I don’t care about black cats. And I walk under ladders all the time. So what? Superstition goes beyond the obvious.

Superstition, i.e. a way of live divorced from God and his guidance, is the parent of restlessness and instability and reduces men to the level of shepherdless sheep.

J.E. McFayden, The Abingdon Bible Commentary.

Zechariah opens chapter 10 telling Israel to ask the Lord for rain in the spring and then follows that up discussing sheep without a shepherd. At a glance, these two topics have nothing to do with each other. But a deeper look says that they have everything to do with each other.

Let’s say that a church has experienced great revival. The leaders prayed for it and, when it came, they couldn’t quite put their finger on what started it, but they refuse to change a thing so that it won’t stop. God’s Spirit moves. People get healed. People get saved. The church grows by leaps and bounds. But, after a while—like nearly every time of refreshing, things start to slow down. The leaders start to pick apart everything they’ve done. What changed? Who picked that song? Why did that greeter wear that jacket? Why did the colours on the screen change? Who folded the bulletin backward? We need to start right at 10:28, not 10:31!

What started out as an incredible move of God has been reduced to a method—specific natural steps taken in order to preserve something that began supernaturally. The supernatural becomes superstition and, soon enough, God is no longer in the method. It is merely human hands trying to replicate something they have no hope of repeating. And, instead of heading back to the prayer room, many people keep testing theories and methods in hopes of trying to spark something again. They are sheep following superstition rather than a shepherd.

Ask the Lord for rain in the spring and he will give it. It is the Lord who makes storm clouds that drop showers of rain so that every field becomes a lush pasture.

Zechariah 10:1 (NLT)

If God sends the rain in the first place, why would we ever look elsewhere when things start to look dry? Even Christians can become superstitious when a certain process works better than another. But the prosperity has nothing to do with the process and everything to do with the prayer that went into it. So ask the Lord for rain. And when it starts to get dry, ask Him again. And again. And again.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100:3 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 10-12, Revelation 20

 

The Devil’s fence

There is a story that describes a person sitting on a fence. On one side of the fence, there are green pastures. It is clear and peaceful. On the other side of the fence is every pleasure the person could ever desire.

A man approaches from the peaceful side and offers a hand. “I’d like for you to join me here.” The person on the fence considers the offer. The peaceful green grass is mighty appealing.

Then a man approaches from the other side and makes a similar offer. “Join me here and you’ll have everything you ever wanted.” The man on the fence also finds this offer appealing, but cannot bring himself to make a decision and tells both men so. The second man shrugs. “Have it your way.” He turns and smiles to himself. “Good thing I own the fence.”

By making no decision at all, the man on the fence unknowingly made his decision. To do anything other than choose God is to choose against Him. Sitting on the fence doesn’t absolve you of anything, because the Devil owns the fence.

I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem’s darkest corners to find and punish those who sit contented in their sins, indifferent to the Lord, thinking he will do nothing at all to them.

Zephaniah 1:12 (NLT)

There is absolutely no benefit at all in sitting on the fence, waiting to make a decision. An offer has been made from both sides. It’s time to choose. Every day you sit on the fence is a day that could have been spent in the presence of the Lord.

Gather together and pray, you shameless nation. Gather while there is still time, before judgement begins and your opportunity is blown away like chaff.

Zephaniah 2:1 (NLT)

Even if you have already made a decision to follow Jesus, you must still make every moment count. There is no better time to deepen and strengthen your relationship with him than right now.

Daily Bible reading: Zephaniah 1-3, Revelation 15

The Amen

Christians say amen a lot. So much so that we probably don’t even realise we do it and, if we do, its meaning has long since been forgotten.

AMEN: As a verb, it signifies to confirm, establish, verify; to trust, or give confidence, as a noun, truth, firmness, trust, confidence.

At the end of our prayers, amen is meant to say let it be so. But Revelation gives us a different revelation of the word.

This is the message from the one who is Amen—the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

Revelation 3:14b (NLT)

The one who is Amen. Jesus. Read the definition of amen again, but with Jesus in mind rather than a simple word we use to close our prayers. Jesus is truth. Jesus is firmness. He is trust. He is confidence. He doesn’t just inspire these things, he embodies them.

As the Amen, he is the one in whom the revelation of God finds its perfect response and fulfillment.

International Bible Commentary

This is how Jesus introduces himself to the church at Laodicea—a church that had grown lukewarm in their faith. While they still believed, they had grown so confident in their own accomplishments that they failed to recognise Jesus as the Amen—the perfect response and fulfillment of the revelation of God.

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one of the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth!

Revelation 3:15-16 (NLT)

The church was being likened to their city’s water source. Laodicea had water piped in from a hot spring five miles away. By the time the water reached the city, it was tepid, not longer hot yet not cold like the water spring in Colossae. The further from the source the water, the less like the source it is.

When Jesus said that he is ruler of God’s creation, the word ruler can also be translated as source. The cold water at Colossae was cold and refreshing. The source spring from where Laodicea got their water was hot with healing properties. But, like the lukewarm water in the city, the church there was good for very little.

So let us get back to the Amen. Let us get as close to the source of God’s creation as we possibly can. Let us be cold and refreshing or hot and healing, but not lukewarm and useless. If we begin with the Amen, let us also end with the Amen.

Daily Bible reading: Hosea 12-14, Revelation 3