Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I'm sorry. Please forgive me

"David Asking Forgiveness" by Julius Schnorr Von Carolsfeld (1851-60)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 51:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:17

Psalm 51 is David's eloquent prayer of repentance, prayed after the prophet Nathan confronted him with God's reaction to his role in the Bathsheba affair. I wonder, had he been avoiding God in the interim? Or had he carried on as usual, pretending everything was fine between them? Now that he knew things weren't fine, a lot of seemingly pent-up realizations came bubbling to the surface:

  • He's been feeling dirty: "wash me thoroughly ... purge me with hyssop ... wash me..." (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10). My Bible's footnotes explain, "The Hebrew word for wash (vs. 10)  is not the one used for the simple cleansing of a dish in water but rather the washing of clothes by beating and pounding them" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 727.
  • His sin has been bothering him—even if he squelched it down pretending it was no big deal: " sin is always before me..." (Psalm 51:3,4).
  • He admits that he deceived himself and needs God's help for that not to happen again: "Behold You desire truth in the inward parts / And in the hidden part you will make me know wisdom" (Psalm 51:6).
  • His sin has sucked the joy out of life: "Make me hear joy and gladness .... Restore to me the joy of Your salvation" (Psalm 51:8,12).
  • It has silenced his praise: "O Lord, open my lips / And my mouth shall sing aloud of Your righteousness" (Psalm 51:15).
  • He fears God's Spirit has left or will leave him: "Do not cast me away from Your presence / And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me" (Psalm 51:11).
  • He has a renewed realization that God is holy and not someone with whom to toy: "Have mercy upon me, O God ... Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed" (Psalm 51:1, 14).
  • No bargaining, he gives God carte blanche to deal with him over this sin: "Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion" (Psalm 51:18).

I would suggest that David's reactions to his uncovered sin are frequently ours as well. That's why Psalm 51 is often our destination when we've sinned and we're needing to confess and repent.

May our words be as sincere, our spirits as broken, our hearts as contrite as David's appear to be when we read or recite this sacrifice of confession and repentance.

PRAYER: Dear God, You know how easily and often I sin and feel the same emotions as David expresses here. Help me to be as repentant as he was. May I learn from these times so that "truth in the inner parts" and wisdom in the "hidden part" become my lifestyle. Amen.

MORE: Ash Wednesday
Today the church commemorates Ash Wednesday. Here is the Collect that begins the Ash Wednesday liturgy:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 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.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Veiled or unveiled?

The rending of the veil - 1890 by William Bell Scott (1811-1890)
“The rending of the veil” 1890 by William Bell Scott (1811-1890)
Copyright © 2016 Peter Nahum. All Rights Reserved.

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:5

TO CHEW ON: “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Moses had been away from the camp for a long time. His second 40-day absence didn’t end in a golden calf though, but a golden face. The joy that Aaron and the people of Israel felt when they saw the familiar figure approach turned to fear as he got closer. Something had happened to his face. It shone so brightly they could scarcely look at it. The time Moses had spent with God and the intimacy of their fellowship resulted in God’s visible glory remaining evident on his physical features (Exodus 34:29-35).

This is the incident to which Paul refers in this passage, so rich with veil imagery. Out of consideration for the people, Moses got into the habit of covering his face with a veil after he had spent time with God. That way the people didn’t have to fear him – or damage their eyes.

Paul refers to other types of veils here too. There is the veil of understanding (2 Corinthians 3:14-15). God the Holy Spirit is the One who removes that barrier to belief in Jesus by helping us make sense of the Bible (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).

The "veil taken away in Christ" (2 Corinthians 3:14) is the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the temple. Only select priests could go behind the veil into the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant sat and God’s glory rested. But at Jesus’ death that veil was torn in two. Now anyone can come to God.

That’s why we can approach Jesus face-to-face now. Actually Paul describes our interaction with Him as “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.” Jesus, the physical man, was God’s glory reflected in a human form.

As we study His face and His life, and make Him our example in attitude and action, an amazing thing happens. We ourselves are transformed, through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, into carriers of His glory.

Just as Moses didn’t realize his face shone, you might be unaware of the glory of God’s presence on you. But as you exalt Jesus, God’s light shines through you, illuminating dark hearts and drawing the veil from puzzled faces.

PRAYER: Dear God, what a privilege to be a reflector of Your glory. Please show me anything in my life that might obscure it from shining through. Amen.

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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Monday, February 08, 2016

Glory that lasts

yellow sun
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 3:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious." - 2 Corinthians 3:11

Throughout the Bible we read about mortals catching glimpses of God's glory. The Israelites saw it on the face of Moses. Elisha saw it in the chariot that came down to catch up Elijah and take him to heaven. Stephen reflected and saw it during his message to the Jewish council.

Paul in his treatise to the Corinthians argues, if the Old Covenant—that system of laws he calls the "ministry of death"—led to glory appearing on Moses' face, how much more will there be glory associated with Jesus whose victory over sin and death is a final one?

In our humdrum lives, where God's presence, and certainly His glory, often seem muted at best, it's easy to lose sight of the glorious destiny that awaits us. Here are a few promises God has given us about how we will experience and participate in this glory that remains:

Matthew 13:43 - "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."

Philippians 3:21- "...who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body."

Colossians 3:4 - "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."

Revelation 7:9 - "After these things I looked, and behold a great multitude which no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands."

Revelation 22:5 - "There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these promises of a future glory that is eternal and won't fade or change. Help me to keep my sights on lasting, eternal things as I go through this transitory life. Amen.

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, February 07, 2016

Words that need to sink into our ears

Image: Openicons /
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:37-50

TO CHEW ON: " ' Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.'
But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying." Luke 9:44,45

Three times in Luke 9 we see Jesus speaking of His death. In Luke 9:22, after Peter called Him the Christ (Messiah), Jesus told them, in confidence: "'The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected and be killed and be raised the third day.'"

Then on the mountain, groggy as they were, they overheard Jesus, Elijah and Moses speaking of Jesus' "decease" - Luke 9:31.

And again in our reading today, after healing the demon-possessed boy (to the amazement and marveling of the crowds) Jesus' words to His disciples were urgent and insistent: "'Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men'" Luke 9:44.

They didn't get it (Luke 9:45)!

Some questions that come to me about this story:
- Why was it so important to Jesus that they understand?
- How could they not understand such plain language?
- Are there spiritual things to which I'm similarly deaf?

One reason I can think of for the importance of their understanding was that it would prepare them for what was ahead.

As to why they didn't  understand, I believe their expectation of Messiah and his role played a big part in their inability to hear and absorb what Jesus was saying. They saw the adulation of the crowd and that part of Jesus' ministry fit in with Him being an earthly savior, so that was the belief they clung to. In fact, in the verses after Jesus pleaded with them to hear Him, they were arguing about who was the greatest, no doubt  thinking of position in His "cabinet."

Finally, I ask myself, are there things to which I am (perhaps all of us are) similarly dull? As I examine my beliefs and compare them to what the Bible says, I do see some things that make me squirm. One is Jesus' teaching that He is the only way to God (John 10:9; Acts 4:1,2 etc.). I believe it in my head, but do my actions support what I say I believe?

Then there's the whole teaching about those rejecting Him ending up in the other place—"hell"—a concept that doesn't sit at all well in modern ears. Yet Jesus Himself speaks of it at the end of the chapter in Mark that tells the very incidents we've read about in Luke. He describes a place of utter torment and separation from God: "'Where "Their worm does not die / And the fire is not quenched"'" - Mark 9:42-47.

Like the disciples, it's important that I (we) hear what the Bible is actually saying and not be swayed by human interpretations and the ideas of a culture that seek to explain away what is hard for us to accept and understand. Like the disciples, there is no excuse for us to enter the future (now and eternity) unprepared.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please open my eyes, mind, and heart to Bible truths that clash with the values of humanism or any other belief systems. Amen.

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.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

God's glory brought down to earth

 Detail of "Transfiguration" by Raphael (1516-1520)
See the entire painting and read its history on Art and the Bible.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:21-36

TO CHEW ON: "Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray." Luke 9:28

Luke links Jesus' sobering words of Luke 9:23-27 (where He speaks of His death, the need for the disciples to face their own deaths daily, the Father being ashamed of those who are ashamed of Jesus and His words, and some disciples not seeing death till they see the kingdom of God) with Jesus' transfiguration. It's as if Luke is saying, With Jesus' pronouncements ringing in their ears the disciples experienced this (Luke 9:28 - 36).

How might the two be connected?

  • The transfiguration conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah underlined the fact of Jesus' impending death - Luke 9:22,31. (My Bible's Harmony of the Gospels dates the transfiguration somewhere in the beginning to middle of AD 29, about a year before the crucifixion.)
  • The disciples were given a taste of the glory Jesus referred to in Luke 9:26. The glory the disciples experienced was visible. Jesus' clothes became white and glistening. It was a glory of well-being. Peter wanted to stay in it and the disciples only became fearful as the cloud that eventually separated them from it overshadowed them - Luke 9:34. This experience gave them a foretaste of what it was like to be in God's penetrating, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-revealing presence—a place they would not want to enter with the shame of having denied Jesus and His words.
  • God's words from the cloud ("This is My believed Son. Hear Him" - Luke 9:34) supported Jesus' claim of being on the side of His Father and the angels - Luke 9:26.

And then, kathunk! The voice was silent. The cloud lifted. They were alone with Jesus. I can imagine their thoughts: What just happened? Did it really happen? What does it mean? To their credit the puzzled disciples kept this experience to themselves for the time being.

Some takeaways from this story for me, for us...

1. God's  revelations, when He pulls back the curtain to show us glimpses of the divine, will line up with what He has said in other places, e.g. the teachings of the Bible.

2. We don't want to enter His presence ashamed because of our short-sighted fear of man.

3. It's okay to keep divine encounters to ourselves until we gain insight into what they mean.

Dear Jesus, help me to live in such a way that I can someday stand unashamed before You in all Your glory. Amen.

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.

Friday, February 05, 2016

More than just words

Detail of "Moses and the Tables of the Law" (1481-1482) 
by Cosimo Rosselli.
View entire painting and information at Art and the Bible.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 34:19-35

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words, I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Exodus 34:27

In the first part of Exodus 34, God warns the people about compromising with and adopting the religious practices of the idol-worshiping tribes of Canaan. In today's reading God gives specific things His people can do to guard against such syncretism and assimilation.

1. Keep the feasts and in this way remember what God has done for them in the past - Exodus 34:19,20.

2. Give God a portion of their possessions and in this way acknowledge that their stuff is really all His - Exodus 34:19,20.

3. Take off one day in seven from work as a day of rest to give life a healthy balance and remind them of their ultimate dependence on God - Exodus 34:21.

4. Obey God's instructions down to the detail. God's instructions about not offering a blood sacrifice with leaven had to do with the spiritual symbolism of blood (life) and leaven (sin). Whether they understood the connection or not, they were to follow these details that illustrated spiritual truths - Exodus 34:25

Though we don't observe the same rituals today, I would submit that doing some of these things could also be faith-building practices that might serve as preventative medicine against backsliding for us.  We too could:
  • Remember our history with God, commemorating not only the Bible events (like Christmas and Easter) but remembering and retelling the stories of God at work in our lives.
  • Give regularly to kingdom projects—our church, missions, the poor. Where we put our money is, after all, a good indication of what we truly value - Matthew 6:21.
  • Rest one day in seven from our work. Besides giving us the needed physical break, this practice reminds us that our ultimate trust is in God for the success of our work.
  • Obey God's instructions about how to live and conduct ourselves. No, we don't struggle with whether there is leaven in the house or how to handle the blood of a sacrifice.  But every day we do make choices that have spiritual implications. One area  we do this is in our family relationships, where our lifestyle is a testimony to the spiritual realm - Ephesians 5:22-6:12.

As it was for the Israelites so it is for us. Belief isn't just assent and words. We need to affirm, solidify, and protect what we say we believe with our actions.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to give You not only lip service but demonstrate my loyalty to You with my life. Amen.

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, February 04, 2016

Corruption's comet trail

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 34:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "'Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going lest it be a snare in your midst.'" Exodus 34:12

A comet, when it enters earth's atmosphere from outer space, is pulled toward the surface by gravity. As it descends, the friction of our atmosphere increases its heat so that it soon burns, leaving a visible trail of gas and vapor to mark its passage. In much the same way sin seems to exert a gravitational pull on our spirits, and in today's reading Moses describes the comet trail of nation's descent into it.

In Exodus 34 God sets before Moses two choices for the Israelites. One is a choice to be loyal to God — thus staying well away from sin's gravitational pull in the first place. The other involves covenanting with the nations of Canaan. When the Israelites do this, Moses warns them of how they will eventually descend into outright idolatry. A covenant with the pagan nations of Canaan will involve these steps:

1. A softening toward idol worship - Exodus 34:12-14.
2. Polite (or curious?) participation (" of his sacrifice...") - Exodus 34:15.
3. Intermarriage - Exodus 34:16.
4. Idolatrous practices entering the family's culture and legacy - Exodus 34:16.
5. Absorption into the mainstream culture as individuals make idols for themselves - Exodus 34:17.

This portrayal of Israel's possible descent into spiritual corruption can serve as  caution for us. Some things that we as Christians can beware of and avoid as we seek to be wholly loyal to God in our culture are:

  • Intermarrying with non-Christians.
Of course if we're not married, we can place limits on whom we would consider as a possible spouse. As for our kids, in our time and culture where we have little say in who our children marry, we can pray.

  • Dabbling in the occult.
We can avoid things like getting fortunes told, reading horoscopes, involving ourselves with occultic medical practitioners etc

  • Participating in practices that have their origins in other religions.
One popular type of physical exercise, yoga, originates in Hinduism. Though many argue that they do yoga exercises without any acknowledgement of the spiritual aspects of it, others warn that any involvement with it is not spiritually wise. Another trap might be decorating our homes with the paraphernalia of other religions - e.g. Buddha statues or shamanistic masks.

  • Allowing our culture's ideal of syncretism to infiltrate our churches and our personal lives.
No matter what our culture's wise ones say, the Bible makes it clear that not all faith journeys lead to God (John 14:6).

The warnings, above, are not politically correct — but when did God ever concern Himself with our political correctness, except to warn against it? I would much rather err on the side of caution and inherit God's blessing (Exodus 34:6,7a) than allow my life to enter sin's atmosphere and be pulled down by its gravitational force.

PRAYER: Dear God, since You don't change, I need to take Your warnings to stay away from sin and idolatry very seriously. Please help me, by Your Spirit, to become aware of and root out any idolatrous thing in my life. Amen.

MORE: Christians and yoga.

Is it permissible for Christians to participate in yoga exercises? Here are some articles to read and consider from the writings of Albert Mohler:

Yahoo, Yoga and Yours Truly

The Subtle Body: Should Christians Practice Yoga?

Help from Hindu Quarters — The New York Times on "Take Back Yoga"

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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