Monday, July 27, 2015

Testing, testing...

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 16:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day that I may test them whether they will walk in my law or not.'" Exodus 16:4

In today's reading we see that the very mundane instructions for the gathering and handling of manna were were not options or suggestions but a God-designed test. What God was testing here was whether the people took Him and His instructions seriously.

[Test - nasah  means to put to the test, prove, tempt. The basic idea is to put someone to the test to see how he will respond - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 747.]


Other places this word us used shows various ways God may test us.

"Nasah" is the word used of what God did to Abraham when He asked Him to sacrifice Isaac - Genesis 22:1.

God sent a nasah-test in the form of the ten commandments followed by fearful trumpet sounds and an electrical storm. This was to impress the people with how seriously they should take these commands and Moses' instructions about staying off Mount Sinai - Exodus 20:18-20.

Nasah is also the word used to describe what Moses accused the Israelites of doing to God at Rephidim when they demanded water as a proof of His presence - Exodus 17:1-7. Later, in his final instructions, Moses told them testing God was something they should not do - Deuteronomy 6:16.

Again in his Deuteronomy sermon, Moses reiterated how the desert wanderings were a test: "And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not" - Deuteronomy 8:2 (emphasis added).

Which brings me to the question, what things in our lives may be God's tests?

It could be an Abraham-sized test like an accident or tragedy happening to a loved one or to us as a test of whether our faith is in God or someone or something else. Or perhaps it's a little manna-sized test—an item on the grocery cart missed by the checkout lady to test honesty; a string of rainy days to test contentment; someone cutting us off in traffic to test love ("...love suffers long ... does not behave rudely ... is not provoked" - 1 Corinthians 13:4,5).

Rich Warren defines life: "The Bible offers three metaphors that teach us God's view of life: Life is a test, life is a trust, and life is a temporary assignment."

Of the test part he says:
"Character is both developed and revealed by tests, and all of life is a test. You are always being tested. God constantly watches your response to people, problems, success, conflict, illness, disappointment, and even the weather! He even watches the simplest actions such as when you open a door for others, when you pick up a piece of trash, or when you're polite toward a clerk or waitress" - Rick Warren - The Purpose Drive Life, p. 42, 43.   

PRAYER: Dear God, it sure changes the complexion of life when I view the details of my day as tests. Help me to pass today's tests. Amen.

MORE: More about life's tests
"When you understand that life is a test, you realize that nothing is insignificant in your life. Even the smallest incident has significance for your character development. Every day is an important day, and every second is a growth opportunity to deepen your character, to demonstrate love, or to depend on God. Some tests seem overwhelming, while others you don't even notice. But all of them have eternal implications" - Rick Warren, Op. cit., p. 43.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jesus' descent

Golgotha - from The Children's Friend - Part 5

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 4:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all heavens, that He might fill all things." Ephesians 4:10

Where was Jesus in the hours between His death and resurrection?

Paul suggests one possibility here as he explains a quote from Psalm 68:28, applying it to the ascended Christ:  "Now this, 'He ascended'—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? ..."(verse 9).

What that descent meant has been a source of discussion. Peter, preaching in Acts 2 from the text of Psalm 16:8-11 says:
"…he (David, the writer of the psalm) foreseeing this (the resurrection) spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption" (Acts 2:31)
Isn't Peter implying that Christ visited Hades? Was that what we call hell? It was some aspect of the underworld in any case.  Peter refers to this again in 1 Peter 3:19-20.

Another view is that Jesus' descent refers to His coming to earth from heaven. Paul describes the extent of that lowering beautifully in Philippians 2:5-11:
"… Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross..." - Philippians 2:5-8.

Still another view is that Jesus suffered in hell. Of that view the writer of my Bible's notes on Ephesians says, "… there is no biblical support for the notion that Jesus suffered in hell, only that He descended to hell to release the righteous dead into eternal glory, proclaiming the adequacy of the Atonement and validating the testimony of the prophets" - Jack W. Hayford, notes on Ephesians,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1650.

Surely He was enjoying Paradise, for at least part of the time. After all, He said to the believing thief on the cross, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" - Luke 23:43.

Whatever, wherever, it was enough! No part of earth or hell has been unaffected by His death and resurrection. As Paul says it in our focus verse:
"He who descended is the [very] same as He who also has ascended high above all the heavens, that He [His presence] might fill all things—the whole universe, from the lowest to the highest" - Ephesians 3:10 (Amplified Bible).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Jesus and Your plan for my atonement, which was enough. Amen.

MORE: It Is Finished - Gaither Vocal Band

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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation - Used with permission.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rulers serve

spaghetti served with tongs
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 10:35-45

TO CHEW ON: "… whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all." Mark 10:43,44

James and John's idea of ruling was to sit in a high place next to Jesus and share the glory of His position.

Jesus looked at the job of a ruler quite differently. To Him it was drinking the cup—of betrayal, mocking, beating, nailing—and experiencing the baptism of death to resurrection. Being a ruler or leader was all summed up in the word 'servant.'

[What is a servant? My dictionary defines it as "A person hired to assist in domestic matters, sometimes living within the employer's house." The Greek word used here is diakonos  that means servant, servant of a king, waiter, deacon. Other places it occurs it is translated deacon, servant, minister.]

What do servants do?
  • A household servant does all kinds of jobs from washing toilets to driving the boss to the embassy.
  • If a servant lives in-house, he is accessible at all hours. He may have his defined workday but if there's an emergency, the master will get him up.
  • A good servant works with the right attitude: willing, eager, enthusiastic, always doing the job to the best of his or her ability, not only when the master is watching.
Keri Wyatt Kent in her book about New Testament words says in her "Serve/Service" entry:
"For the Christian, service is not an occasional activity, somehow separate from the rest of our lives. As Bob Dylan famously sang, 'You gotta serve somebody.' Whether we're aware of it or not, each of us has decided to orient our life around someone or something. That decision colors all our other choices" - Keri Wyatt Kent, Deeper Into the Word - New Testament, p. 188 (emphasis added).

We do well to ask, who am I serving—Jesus or someone else? Maybe it's myself. If we settle in our hearts that we're serving Jesus, we might ask, what sort of servant am I?
  • Am I available for any job—high or low?
  • Am I always available?
  • Do I serve with the right attitude?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your example of extreme servanthood. I want to be Your good servant. Help me to grow in this. Amen.

MORE: Bob Dylan singing "Gotta Serve Somebody"

Lyrics to "Gotta Serve Somebody"

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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Would we pass this test?

Jesus the disciples & the crowd - Artist unknown
Jesus & the Multitude - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 6:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus lifted up His eyes and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, 'Where shall we buy bread that these may eat?' "
But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do." John 6:5,6


Jesus, seeing the crowds approaching, asks Philip, How are we going to feed these people? What a curious little aside John mentions here—cluing us in to Jesus' motives. For Jesus asks, not to get ideas or information. This is not a problem-solving brainstorm but a probe of Philip's own heart. It's a test.

[Tested - peirazo  "means to explore, test, try, assay, examine, prove, attempt, tempt. The word describes the testing of the believer's loyalty, strength, opinions, disposition, condition, faith, patience or character. Peirazo determines which way one is going and what one is made of" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1820.]

Philip answers, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them that every one of them may have a little."  I wonder how Jesus feels about that response.

It is realistic and practical. It focuses on the big need and the expense they will incur to fill it. But I can't help but think Jesus is disappointed in it. For there is not a whiff of faith here. Nothing to suggest that Philip has been impacted by Jesus' presence, that his faith has grown as a result of witnessing the healings and other miraculous signs Jesus has performed.

(In my Bible's Harmony of the Gospels, Jesus does many miracles between His selection of the twelve apostles and this feeding of the 5,000 event. Philip has probably witnessed these: the centurion's servant healed - Luke 7:1-10; widow's son raised from the dead - Luke 7:11-17; sea calmed - Matthew 8:23-27; Gadarene demoniac healed - Luke 8:25-39; the twelve sent out to heal and preach - Luke 9:1-6).

Somehow Philip's first response despite all he has seen and heard, is still to look at the big problem and cast about for a common sense, material solution.

Aren't we also a lot like that? We view difficult people, accidents, challenges to our resources, illnesses etc. as things that shouldn't be happening to us. They're from the devil, we say. And in a way every problem and brokenness does have its roots in the falleness of us and our world.

But here we see they may also be God-designed tests—the things that show God and us—mostly us—what we really lean on and trust in, where our confidence is. They demonstrate the focus, size and quality of our faith.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, when I'm challenged by life and circumstances, help me to perceive Your view of what this really is. I want to begin to pass these tests. Amen.

MORE: How could Philip have passed this test?

  • What answer from Philip do you think would have pleased Jesus (or maybe you think Philip's answer did please him)?
  • What might a test-answering response to the challenges of life be for us?

"Comments" would love to record your answers.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Are you a fool?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 14:1-7

TO CHEW ON: "The fool has said in is heart, 'There is no God.'
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good." Psalm 14:1


Why would someone deny the existence of God?

I can think of several reasons:
  • He is invisible. He appears and feels absent because we can't apprehend Him with our senses. Even believers sometimes grapple with this (Job 13:24; Psalm 89:46).
  • The way He is defined and the way the world runs appear to conflict. A big objection I  encounter for the existence of God is "How can an all-loving, all-powerful God permit evil?"
  • We don't want anyone, not even God, to tell us how to live. We want to be god unto ourselves, to live like we please. My Bible's footnotes allude to this reason in its explanation of Psam 14:1:
"The fool is not someone of diminished intellectual capacity nor a court jester, but one who makes an intellectual decision to choose moral perversion as a lifestyle" - K.R. "Dick" Iverson (in the study notes on Psalms) New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 694.

How does David expand on his psalm's opening statement?

The rest of the psalm seems to be his attempt to explain the behavior and outlook of the people around him. Why do they act the way they do? Because they don't believe God will ever hold them accountable. But, David reassures himself, time will change all this. When the fortunes of the poor man who has stayed true to God turn around, when God shows Himself true to His word by restoring His people (the Jews), then 'we'll see who's laughing.'

In many ways our situation is like David's. In our society the majority of people either deny the existence of God outright or have redefined Him. Very few are open to being convinced of His existence. When it comes right down to it, the reason for that is because of the lifestyle implications ("If He really exists, then the way I live my life will have to change—and I'm not ready for that!").

Of course God has His ways of intervening in lives to convince people of His reality. That is, in the end, a job the Holy Spirit does, not you and me with our apologetics and arguments (though those things may help).

The caution for me in this verse is the possibility that I might say I believe God exists, but then live as if He didn't. Fools may come in more than one guise.

PRAYER: Dear God, I believe You exist and have revealed Yourself through Jesus and the Bible. Please help me to live my life consistent with what I say I believe. Amen.
 

MORE: An argument from logic

In his article "The Presumptuousness of Atheism" Paul Copan makes the following four points to counter atheist Antony Flew's statement that the "onus of proof (for God's existence) must lie with the theist," and  Michael Scriven's assertion that "The lack of evidence for God's existence and the lack of evidence for Santa Claus are on the same level":

1. First, even if the theist could not muster good arguments for God’s existence, atheism still would not be shown to be true....

2. Second, the "presumption of atheism" demonstrates a rigging of the rules of philosophical debate in order to play into the hands of the atheist, who himself makes a truth claim.... The atheist assumes that if one has no evidence for God’s existence, then one is obligated to believe that God does not exist—whether or not one has evidence against God’s existence...

3. Third, in the absence of evidence for God’s existence, agnosticism, not atheism, is the logical presumption...

4. Fourth, to place belief in Santa Claus or mermaids and belief in God on the same level is mistaken...

Read all of  "The Presumptuousness of Atheism."

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Do we hear but not hear?

Pisidian Antioch - Illustration from Thomas Lewin's Life of Paul
Pisidian Antioch - Illustrations from Thomas Lewin's Life of Paul

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 13:13-35

TO CHEW ON: "'For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him'" - Acts 13:27

Here Paul is preaching in the Antioch synagogue. In his talk he tells the story of his people and God's dealings with them. He mentions their enslavement in Egypt, their wilderness wanderings, their conquest of Canaan, their rule by judges, their first kings Saul and David. That latter was to be father of Messiah. Then Paul identifies Him—Messiah—as Jesus and describes how their own rulers put Him to death.

What's chilling in the way he tells it is that these leaders should have known better. Because of their exposure to the Prophets "which are read every Sabbath" they should have recognized how Jesus fulfilled prophecies spoken in Isaiah 7:14, 11:1; Micah 5:2; Daniel 9:25; Zechariah 9:9 and elsewhere. But they didn't. What an irony when they ended up fulfilling more of those very prophecies as they condemned Jesus to death: Psalm 69:21; Isaiah 53:1-9.

We too can hear and not hear. Jesus describes such deaf hearing in His parable of the sower. He diagnoses it three ways:
  • People hear but the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts - Luke 8:12.
  • People hear and respond but the response is superficial. Temptation pulls up their shallow-rooted new life - Luke 8:13.
  • People hear but immediately crowd out any chance that the word will germinate with other things: cares, riches, and pleasures - Luke 8:14 (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, the news, TV?).

Perhaps their closed-ear reaction is one reason Paul says one verse earlier: "Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of salvation has been sent" - Acts 13:26 (emphasis added)

We too can prove that this "word of salvation" has been sent to us by fearing God and really hearing and taking His word—about us, our sinful state, how we need a Savior, and how our life will change as we become His disciples—seriously.

PRAYER: Dear God, I don't want to be one of the people exposed to truth but unresponsive to it. Please help me to listen, hear, and 'fear.' Amen.

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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A parent's prayers

David prays for his child - Artist unknown
David prays for his child - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 12:15b-25

TO CHEW ON: "David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground." 2 Samuel 12:16

Though Nathan told David the child he had with Bathsheba would die, yet David continued to intercede, fast, and plead for the baby's life until it actually died.

I get that. I'm sure you do too. As parents, we are the ones most invested in the lives brought into the world through us. No one else cares for our kids and grand-kids like we do. Seeing them grow and develop is like opening a package—so this is what God has gifted us with.

Sometimes, along with the pleasant surprises, come some not so pleasant. This child has a physical challenge, that one a learning disability, another has trouble keeping friends. Whatever the issue, we're the constant in their lives—their cheering section, helping them cope, loving them through it all, and praying for them every step of the way.

We're in good company here, joining the ranks of David in our today's reading, and:
  • of Abraham and Job who prayed for the spiritual well-being of their children - Genesis 17:18 and Job 1:5.
  • of the father who pleaded for his epileptic son - Matthew 17:15.
  • of the Greek mother whose persistent requests for her daughter with an unclean spirit moved Jesus to heal her - Mark 7:25-28.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please help us to have the faith of these Bible parents to persistently bring my children's and grand-children's illnesses, troubles, challenges, and spiritual well-being to You. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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