Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Forgive plain and simple

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 11:20-33

TO CHEW ON: "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses." Mark 11:25

Some time ago I heard a local talk show host speak with great indignation against the idea that the way to handle Jerry Sandusky, the former football coach and child predator, was to forgive him. I only heard a snippet of his argument so I don't know whether the call was for law enforcement to let him go free for his crimes, or for the individuals wronged by him to forgive. But the man's rant got me thinking.

What is the way, the Jesus way, to handle people who have wronged us in a deep, life-altering manner—the investment counselor who has absconded with our life savings, the father or mother who never loved us, the coach, teacher, or family member who stole innocence?

Jesus' words are unequivocal: "...if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses."

Of course on a societal level, the government should enforce its laws against criminals and see that the penalty is paid. An orderly society demands that people live by standards and that law-breakers be dealt with. The Bible supports that - Ezra 7:26; Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13,14.

However, personally, according to Jesus, we need to forgive. It sounds unfair and unrealistic, another example of the upside-downess of the Kingdom of God lifestyle. Leslyn Musch says about this passage (along with Matthew 6:14,15):
"Understand that God forgives us our sins as we forgive others who have sinned against us. Adopt the forgiveness of others into your prayer life as a daily discipline" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action Through the Synoptics, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1439.

PRAYER: Dear God, something inside me balks at giving forgiveness—until I look at what You've forgiven me. Help me to measure every act of forgiveness on my part against Your forgiveness of me. Amen.

MORE: Forgiveness in action

Josh MacDowell tells the story of his struggle to forgive several people who had wronged him in his book Undaunted. Here is his account of how he forgave the man who abused him as a child (ellipses enclosed in square brackets indicate words left out of the quote, other ellipses are in the quote):

"It didn't happen immediately; in fact, it took several months and a lot of counseling with Pastor Logan. [....]

"He lived in a drab apartment in Jackson, Michigan. I knocked on the door, he opened it, and I walked inside. [....] I looked at the greying, worn-looking man with troubled eyes and started in without preliminaries: 'Wayne, what you did to me was evil. Very evil! But I've come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And I've come here ... to ... tell you ...' My carefully rehearsed words failed me. I prayed for strength and realized that what I had to say had to come from my heart, not my head.

"I sighed deeply. 'Wayne, all of us have sinned, and no one measures up to God's standard of perfection. We all need redemption and, well, I've come here to tell you something you need to hear.' He looked at me his pale eyes unblinking.

"For a moment, I wished it weren't true, but it was, and I had to say it out loud. 'Christ died for you as much as He did for me. I forgive you, Wayne.'

"[....] I walked out to the parking lot and got into my car. Where is the emotion? I asked myself, starting up the engine. Where is the euphoria I should feel having stared down the demon—and the demons—of my past? [....] And then it hit me. There was peace in my heart. A peace unlike anything I had experienced before. I had chosen to forgive an enemy out of obedience to God's command, and I had the steady, full peace the Bible describes as surpassing human understanding" - Josh MacDowell, Undaunted pp. 140-142 (Kindle edition).


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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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Monday, March 30, 2015

The Lord has need of it

The Donkey at Bethphage - James Tissot
The Donkey at Bethphage - James Tissot, 1886-96
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 11:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it,' and immediately he will send it." Mark 11:3

Jesus' curious instructions to His disciples to just 'take' someone's colt have always fascinated me. He could have told them to buy it, which would have been less controversial. But instead, it was to be a loan or an outright gift.

The unquestioning and generous response of the donkey's owner is beautiful. Did he know that when the disciples said, "The Lord has need of him" they were referring to Jesus? Do you suppose that later he witnessed Jesus' ride into Jerusalem on 'his' colt? What a thrill that would have been.

I ask myself, would I have been as willing to let the disciples just take possession with the simple explanation, "the Lord has need of it"? Would you?

Perhaps a better question to ask is, are we as welling to give the Lord what He asks for when He comes with a claim on the stuff we consider ours—our time, our friendships, our hospitality, the use of our car for a trip to the airport, help with grocery shopping?

Did the disciples ever return that colt with the explanation of what they had used it for? Whether they did or not, I hope that generous man had the satisfaction of knowing that the release of his possession into Jesus' use was a significant and essential part of God's plan.

I wonder, If we felt that the fulfillment of God's plan was connected to whether or not we give Him what He asks of us, would we be as possessive and protective of what we feel is ours?


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I love the unquestioning generosity in the owner of this colt. Help me to be just as generous when You come to me with "I need it"—whatever 'it' is. Amen.

MORE: Palm Sunday

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day we celebrated Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem (our reading today). Here are a few Palm Sunday facts (gleaned from my Bible's Mark study notes by J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1371).

  • When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the way He did, he was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.
  • The fact that the colt had never been ridden (Mark 11:2) was significant since objects used for sacred purposes must never have been used for any other reason (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7).
  • Spreading clothes on the road (Mark 11:8) was the customary way for a king's subjects to pay homage to him (2 Kings 9:13).
  • "Hosanna" means save now. It came to be a customary shout of praise, like 'Hallelujah.'

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Extravagant Mary-love

"Mary Anoints Jesus" - Jeremy Taylor
Image from Pitts Theology Library.
Mary anounts Jesus - Jeremy Taylor
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 12:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "But Jesus said, Let her alone. It was that she might keep it for the time of My preparation for burial—She has kept it that she might have it for the time of My embalming." John 12:7 (Amplified)

It's interesting to me that Mary even had in her possession this "very expensive" jar of spikenard. [Spikenard was the "fragrant essential oil obtained from Nardo-stachys jatamansi—a perennial related to valerian but having more pleasantly scented roots. It is a native to North India where it is still used as a perfume for the hair. In biblical times spikenard was imported in sealed alabaster boxes which were opened only on special occasions" - New Bible Dictionary, p. 1210.]

Jesus explained that she had planned to open it after His death and use it in the preparation of His body. So why did she open it early?

Perhaps she wanted Jesus to know she had heard and believed what He'd been saying about dying. (She may have been one of the women who traveled with Him, taking care of His needs [Mark 15:11] and thus heard Him speak on many occasions.)

Or perhaps it was another way of thanking Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead.

Or maybe she just wanted to show Jesus how much she loved Him while He was still alive.

Her gift at that dinner gathering was impossible to ignore because its fragrance filled the house. It was socially gauche in its extravagance. It seems people didn't often act out their love in such graphic ways, especially women.

Jesus wasn't embarrassed. He gently and graciously welcomed her gift. His defense of her stands in stark contrast to the disapproval and criticism of Judas and the others.

Mary's lovely action speaks to us on two levels.
1. She is a good example of someone who expressed her gratitude and love before it was too late and the object of her love was dead. We can do that with each other, not saving up our loving words and actions for the funeral tea but saying and giving while our loved ones are still with us.

2. Mary's great love needed extravagant expression. Is our love for Him so deep it would move us to do something so lavishly crazy? Perhaps we too should be less inhibited in expressing that love. Like then, our demonstrativeness may prompt criticism. But Jesus, who knows our hearts, will not only understand but welcome and be blessed by the honest outpouring of your heart's devotion and mine. 

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, help me to have a Mary-love for You that gives the best and costliest now. Amen.

MORE: Sunday of the Passion - Palm Sunday

Today the church celebrates Palm Sunday—the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, to the adulation of the crowd. The liturgy for today begins with this Collect:
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Phillips, Craig and Dean have written the beautiful "Pour My Love On You" that captures the spirit of Mary's act and ignites a similar response in our own hearts.  



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

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Shades of humility

"The Lord's Blessing"
by Kathy Lawrence
"The Lord's Blessing" by Kathy Lawrence
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 2:1-11


TO CHEW ON: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself...Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus..."  (2:3-5)

Humility. I think we'd all agree it's a quality that's attractive in other people, yet easy to transgress in ourselves. A close look at our reading today along with a few other Bible bits will help us discover shades of biblical humility and give us ideas on how we can nurture it in ourselves.

  • Other-centered
Paul alludes to one of the big reasons it's hard to be humble in Philippians 2:4 — because each one of us is at the centre of our own universe (as Adrian Plass says it: "Everyone is I"). We take a big step down the road to humility when we "look out not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others."

  • Childlike
In Matthew 18:4 Jesus talks about humbling oneself as a child. A childlike attitude toward God is rooted in the reality of His power and bigness, and our dependence on Him.

  • Live for the praise of the One who matters
If we have trouble being humble, James 4:10 tells us to put ourselves before God — the One whose opinion really counts. From this place we say, I don't know best, but You do. I'll take whatever lot in life or assignment You give. I'll let You decide.

  • Defer to the deserving
Peter in 1 Peter 5:5 gives common sense advice when he says tells us to defer to those who deserve honour — like wise elders. But then he quickly enlarges the net: "all of you be submissive to one another and clothed with humility."

  • Free from the need to prove anything
Back at our Philippians passage, I love how a sidebar article in my Bible describes Jesus' humility (Philippians 2:5-8):

"Christlike humility is manifested in the freedom of God's Son to affirm the fullness of all God has placed in Him, without needing to flaunt, prove, or push it through self-advancement. Jesus' complete absence of any need to 'clutch' for power or attention is manifest humility. It is the royal spirit that the King of heaven Himself displayed in servantlike graciousness" - Fuchsia Pickett, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1662.

That's what I want — freedom from a need to flaunt, prove, push for self-advancement, clutch for power or attention. I want my life to display that "royal spirit" Jesus lived by His "servantlike graciousness," don't you?


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to live the humility that You modelled. Show me where I need to humble myself so that I won't need Your disciplinary hand to humble me. 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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Friday, March 27, 2015

A song for all us lost sheep

"Christ, Savior of Mankind" - Unknown Flemish master, 1590s, Alabaster.
"Christ, Savior of Mankind" - Unknown Flemish master, 1590s, Alabaster.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

TO CHEW ON: "All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned every one to his own way
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:6

Our reading today is the final Servant Song. I don't think there's any doubt about who the Servant in it is; it's obviously Jesus. My Bible's notes say about this grand passage:
"It is one of the greatest passages in the Bible, the mountain peak of Isaiah's book; the most sublime messianic prophecy in the O.T. relating to so many features of Jesus' redemptive work" - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 936.
In it we see a multitude of prophecies:
  • Jesus' incarnation and early life: "He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant ... a root out of dry ground" - Isaiah 53:2.
  • His rejection: "He is despised and rejected... He was despised and we did not esteem Him" - Isaiah 53:3.
  • His suffering: "His visage was marred more any any man .... He was wounded ... He was bruised...", He suffered "chastisement" and "stripes" - Isaiah 52:14; 53:4-5.
  • His death: "He was cut off from the land of the living... they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death" - Isaiah 53:8-9.
  • His triumph and exaltation: "He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high .... Kings shall shut their mouths at Him .... Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong" - Isaiah 52:13,15; 53:11-12.

    Significant is Isaiah's explanation of how Jesus will be the substitute lamb—that sacrifice for sin that will appease a holy God (Isaiah 53:4-6). I love how he makes it personal, implicating even himself in this unthinkable action:

    "All we like sheep have god astray, we have turned every one to his own way and the He has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

    And that is, finally, the personal message of Jesus' passion for each one of us. He didn't die because of some theoretical idea. His death wasn't to restore a blurry mass of people. It was an "offering for sin" for me and you because we "turned to our own way" and are full of "iniquity" and have no merit of our own on which to approach God.

    All these thousands of years later, this Servant Song still has significance and application to each one of us on the most personal level. Jesus still invites us to come to Him and promises that God will accept us on the merit of His (Jesus') life, death and resurrection. Hear Him say it Himself, using the imagery of sheep and shepherds:

    "I am the door of the sheep ... I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture .... I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly" - John 10:7-10.

    PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You that You who had no sin became sin for me that I might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Help me to forsake sin every conscious moment and to live the life of rich abundance You promise. Amen.

    MORE: Prophecies fulfilled

    Did the prophecies of Isaiah's come true? Indeed they did. A handy table in my Bible details the prophecies in today's reading with their fulfillment:

    - He will be exalted - Isaiah 52:13
    Fulfilled - Philippians 2:9

    - He will be disfigured by suffering - Isaiah 52:14; 53:2
    Fulfilled: Mark 15:17,19

    - He will be widely rejected - Isaiah 53:1,3
    Fulfilled - John 12:37-38

    - He will bear our sins and sorrows - Isaiah 53:4
    Fulfilled - Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 2:24-25

    - He will make a blood atonement - Isaiah 53:6
    Fulfilled - Romans 3:25

    - He will be our substitute - Isaiah 53:6,8
    Fulfilled - 2 Corinthians 5:21

    - He will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment - Isaiah 53:7
    Fulfilled - John 10:11

    - He will be buried in a rich man's tomb - Isaiah 53:9
    Fulfilled - John 19:38-42

    - He will justify many from their sin - Isaiah 53:10-11
    Fulfilled - Romans 5:15-19

    - He will die with transgressors - Isaiah 53:12
    Fulfilled - Mark 15:27; Luke 22:37

    - From "The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:12)" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 937.

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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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    Thursday, March 26, 2015

    Jesus - suffering servant

    Isaiah - Artist unknown
    Isaiah - Artist unknown
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 50:1-11

    TO CHEW ON: "Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God." Isaiah 50:10

    Isaiah 50:4-9 is one of four sections in Isaiah that Bible scholars have called "Servant Songs." These are passages that seem to refer to someone during Isaiah's time but are also fulfilled in Jesus. (The other ones are Isaiah 42:1-4 || Isaiah 49:1-6 || Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

    Let's go through some of the verses of this Servant Song to discover if they truly are prophetic:

    The Lord GOD has given Me
          The tongue of the learned..."
    Note the observations of those who knew Jesus and interacted with Him in Luke 4:22, 32; John 6:68, and John 7:45-46.

          "That I should know how to speak
          A word in season to him who is weary..."
    This brings to mind Jesus' wonderful invitation: Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest..."in Matthew 11:28-30.

          "He awakens Me morning by morning,
          He awakens My ear
          To hear as the learned..."
    Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer with His father. At least twice He rose early in the morning, to pray (Mark 1:35) and to spend time in the temple (John 8:2).

           "The Lord GOD has opened My ear;
          And I was not rebellious,
          Nor did I turn away..."
    Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane: "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39) is the utmost in surrender.

           "I gave My back to those who struck Me,
          And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard;
          I did not hide My face from shame and spitting..."
    The accounts of Jesus' appearance before Pilate and Herod and His treatment by the Roman soldiers are graphic fulfillments of this (Mark 15:16-20; Matthew 26:67; 27:26-30).

           "For the Lord GOD will help Me;
          Therefore I will not be disgraced..."
    Note Jesus' words of hope and assurance from the cross: "Today you (the thief who was crucified with Him) shall be with Me in Paradise....Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!" in Luke 23: 43, 46.

          "Therefore I have set My face like a flint,
          And I know that I will not be ashamed..."
    Jesus' determination to see this thing through, along with His knowledge that His death was God's plan and would work out well is clearly communicated in Luke 18:31-33.

    Prophecies spoken by Isaiah about 700 years before Jesus fulfilled them are just another reason to trust God — the Author of the Book. And so with confidence we can reply "We will walk in Your light. We will trust in the name of the Lord and rely on our God."

    PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming as a suffering servant for me. I know I can trust Your word and You (who see and know the future hundreds or years in advance) with my today and my whole life. Amen.

    MORE: Jesus and the Old Testament

    "The glory of Jesus Christ shines more clearly when we see him in his proper relation to the Old Testament," begins an article by John Piper. "He has a magnificent relation to all that was written. It is not surprising that this is the case, because he is called the Word of God incarnate (John 1:14). Would not the Word of God incarnate be the sum and consummation of the Word of God written?"

    Piper then goes on to list five ways in which Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and consummated the Old Testament regime. Here is the list:

    1. All the Scriptures bear witness to Christ...


    2. All the Scriptures are about Jesus Christ...


    3. Jesus came to fulfill all that was written in the Law and Prophets...


    4. All the promises of God in the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Christ...


    5. The law was kept perfectly by Christ...

    - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

    Curious to see how he supports all that? Read all of "How Christ Fulfilled and Ended the Old Testament Regime."

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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, March 25, 2015

    Nothing is impossible!

    "Mary and Angel" by S. Botticelli
    "Mary and Angel" - Botticelli
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: LUKE 1:26-38

    TO CHEW ON: "Then the angel said to her … He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there will be no end." Luke 1:31, 32-33


    The day Jesus rode into Jerusalem accompanied by crowds of cheering followers, I wonder if Mary recalled the angel's words to her before Jesus was born (part of our reading today) and thought, Now it's coming true. The angel's promise is playing out right in front of my eyes!

    I wonder how she grappled with her thoughts and emotions a few days later when all her expectations were dashed by Jesus dying on the cross. We can only imagine the emotional bungee plunge of all Jesus' followers when what seemed like an impending coronation turned into a crucifixion.

    Of course with our long view, we know that this was all part of God's plan. It's a plan we're still living through, in faith that the prediction of the angel about Jesus ultimately establishing a forever kingdom will be seen and acknowledged by everyone on earth as we have acknowledged Him king of our lives and of the church.

    Perhaps we can also take a lesson from this for our day-to-day lives. We pray. We get a promise. We think we're getting our answer as the circumstances line up. And then they turn. The door shuts. The heavens are brass. We cry and wonder, was my faith misplaced? Is God really going to make good on His promise?

    Maybe, as it was for Mary, our answer will be way bigger than an immediate answer would ever be, like Jesus' ultimate kingship will be way bigger than just being a deliverer and king for the Roman-oppressed Jews of His time.

    At times like that we can hold close the angel's further words: "For with God nothing will be impossible" - Luke 1:37.

    PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to hang onto Your promises for their fulfillment in Your ultimate big-picture way. Help me to really believe that with God nothing is impossible. Amen. 

    MORE: Feast of the Annunciation

    Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:
    Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for 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.

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