Sunday, March 01, 2015

A disposable life

"Jesus heals a bind man"
- Chartres Cathedral
"Jesus heals a bind man"  - Chartres Cathedral
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 8:22-9:1

TO CHEW ON: " ' For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.' " Mark 8:26,30,31

It is interesting what Peter (Mark is believed to be John Mark's recording of what he heard from Peter) recalls of a time about a year before the crucifixion.

Jesus heals a blind man, then commands him to tell no one (Mark 8:26). Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is. Peter answers, " ' You are the Christ.' " Jesus tells Peter and all of them to " ...tell no one about Him" (Mark 8:30).  Then He predicts His suffering, rejection by the Jewish leaders, death and resurrection "openly" (Mark 8:32).

Why this secrecy about some things and openness about others? '

My thought is that we view these things, about which Jesus asks for secrecy, in the light of His death and resurrection and see how His ability to heal and His title as Messiah fit into God's scheme of things. But Jesus' contemporaries had no such advantage. His reputation and resulting popularity as a healer and Messiah (who the Jews thought would be their political savior from the Romans) would conflict with His real mission. And so He hushed up these things, or tried to.

I wonder if we still don't do something similar with Jesus. We ask for His healing and invoke His power, but without a view to the price He paid and what it means for us if our lives are to actually connect with His plans and purposes. It means:  " 'Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his crosslose his life for My sake and the gospel…' "be proud of Jesus' unpopular work and words - Mark 8:34-38.

His power and popularity then, and through the Holy Spirit in our lives now, are not to serve our relief from pain or desire to be on the winning side. Rather, they are to serve the purposes of the kingdom of God, to fit into a picture that is way bigger than any one life, or even lifetime. Our part may not feel like health or winning at all, but like losing.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for becoming a man and living clear-sighted about Your mission. Help me to see my life as similarly disposable—for You and the gospel. 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 28, 2015

God's answer

"The Empty Tomb"
 Illustration from a book by Martin Luther.
The Empty Tomb - from a book by Martin Luther
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 22:16-31

TO CHEW ON: "You have answered Me." Psalm 22:21b

This psalm pivots at verse 21. There the speaker (prophetically Jesus, Messiah) comes to the triumphant conclusion "You have answered Me."

Up to that point He has dwelt on the dreadful things that would and did happen as His life spiraled toward death. Today's reading includes the howls of the suggestible crowed insisting Barabbas go free and Jesus die, His pierced hands and feet, the gawking scorn of onlookers, and the dice game for His robe. And then He proclaims, "You have answered Me."

But He died. So we ask,  how did God answer Him?

The answer came three days later. As explained by the writer of my Bible's Psalm footnotes: "The resurrection of Jesus was an answer to His prayer and to the agonizing prayer of every sin-laden human soul"-  K.R. "Dick" Iverson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 702.

That last phrase snags my attention: "...every sin-laden human soul." That includes me. It prompts me to ask: How does Christ's resurrection impact me—and you?

Wayne Grudem devotes an entire chapter to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus in his Systematic Theology. Here are some bits, gleaned from that chapter to answer our question: 

How does Jesus' resurrection impact us?

1. We are made spiritually alive.
"When Jesus rose from the dead he had a new quality of life .... When we become Christians our bodies remain as they were .... But in our spirits we are made alive with new resurrection power."

2. The penalty for our sin is paid.
"When Christ was raised from the dead, it was God's declaration of approval of Christ's work of redemption .... There was no penalty left to pay for sin, no more wrath of God to bear, no more guilt or liability to punishment—all had been completely paid for."

3. There will be resurrection bodies for us.
"In calling Christ the 'first fruits' (1 Corinthians 15:20) Paul uses a metaphor from agriculture to indicate we will be like Christ .... Christ as the 'first fruits' shows what our resurrection bodies will be like when, in God's final 'harvest' he raises us from the dead and brings us into his presence" - quotes from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 614-616.

The rest of Psalm 22 sparkles with the joy of this resurrection answer. Praise God, we can join in Messiah's celebration!

PRAYER: Dear God, "My praise shall be of You in the great assembly .... All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord's and He rules over the nations." Amen (quoting Psalm 22:25, 27-28)

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.
    Bible Drive-Thru

Friday, February 27, 2015

A human Jesus

Mary holding Baby Jesus
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 22:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts.
I was cast upon You from birth
From My mother's womb You have been My God." Psalm 22:9,10

One of the things I like about the New King James Version of the Bible is the way it capitalizes the pronouns of deity. When one pays attention to that detail, Psalm 22 comes across differently than many other prophetic passages which readers recognized as prophetic only after the events occurred.

All the upper case 'My's and 'Me's of Psalm 22 tell us this is considered to be God speaking—God in human form sent as Jesus, giving a prediction through David of "The Suffering, Praise and Posterity of Messiah" (the title the NKVJ give this chapter).

Jesus' humanity comes through in words like
"I am a worm and no man;
A reproach of men and despised by the people"  vs. 6.

This looks like Jesus with low self-esteem,   Jesus not unaffected by the people's reaction to Him. It brings to mind the verse, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" - Hebrews 4:15.

As a mother I notice the verses that speak of Jesus' childhood. For Mary the risks of pregnancy and childbirth were the same as for any other mother and the psalmist credits God with His help in that process:
"You are He who took Me out of the womb ….
I was cast on you You from birth" - Psalm 22:9-10.

The way Mary trained Jesus also played a part in who He became:
"You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts…" - Psalm 22: 9.

If the early years of Jesus were important in making Him the man He would become, how much more the early training of our children!

Are you a young mom, distracted and  tempted by dreams, ambitions, and outside opportunities? Don't let anything take your focus off the priceless responsibility and opportunity of raising your little ones to trust God from day one. Honor God in this season of your life and He will surely make it up to you in another.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, this human picture of You tugs at my heart. I know You understand my weakness. Help me to put my confidence in God when I am faced with scorn, like You did. 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 26, 2015

Plot points in God's story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 17:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you." Genesis 17:11

You probably own a few things that signify watershed moments in your life — the Bible you were given at your baptism perhaps, a wedding ring, maybe the clothes your daughter wore when she was dedicated. As people we benefit from such tangible reminders of our history, the things we've experienced, and the promises we've made.

God has sealed His dealings with humanity with signs and markers too. We have the record of them in the Bible (and mentioned some of them a few days ago in "Signs of God's goodness"):

1. Rainbow — a sign marking God's promise to never again destroy all humanity by flood (Genesis 9:12-15).

2. Circumcision — " external sign which showed that Abraham and his descendants were God's covenant people" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p.27.

3. Blood, painted on the lintel and door frames of the house — a sign that the death angel should pass over that house (Exodus 12:13).

4. Unleavened bread — to remind the Israelites that God had brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 13:6-10).

5. Sacrifice of firstborn animals —  a reminder of God sparing Israel's firstborn sons the night the death angel visited (Exodus 13:16).

6. Scarlet cord draped from the window of a house —  a sign that marked Rahab and her family for rescue from Jericho (Joshua 2:12, 17-18).

7. Altar of 12 stones — a sign to remind the Israelites of how God helped them cross the Jordan River to Canaan (Joshua 4:1-7).

8. Dove as the Holy Spirit, ascending and alighting on Jesus at His baptism — a sign of God's favour on Him (Matthew 3:16).

Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God, says this about the way God works—the actions behind the list of signs, above:

"God works in sequence to accomplish His divine purpose. What He did in the past was accomplished with a kingdom purpose in mind. What He is doing in the present is in sequence with the past and with the same kingdom purpose. Every act of God builds on the past, with a view toward the future" Experiencing God Workbook, p. 124.

If you look back over the signs I've listed (and there are many more), can you see a thread? Are they not all part of God's history of salvation—from God's promise to never again destroy all humanity by flood, to His establishing His covenant of nationhood with Abraham, to His keeping of that nation through Egypt's slavery and their wilderness wanderings to, finally, the coming of Jesus, the lamb that would save us all?

God's message of love to us through these markers and signs is a reason for awe, worship, and making our lives available to God, to carry news of that salvation thread to our contemporaries.  

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your plan of salvation and how you have threaded signs of it through the Bible story. Help me to be alert to the signs of Your working in my life. I pray, with David, "Show me a sign for good...." Amen.

MORE: Personal markers

It is good to reflect on the signs, objects or markers that tell the story of God at work in our lives. For me those include significant Bible verses, certain books, a special song...

If we read the accounts of God giving His people signs, one of the reasons He gave the sign, in almost every case, was to help parents explain God's ways their children and grandchildren.

Could you use the signs, objects or markers you recalled to tell to your children and grandchildren the story of how God has worked in your life?

Bible Drive-Thru

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Peacemaking—foolish giving in, or heavenly wisdom?

"Parting of Abram and Lot" - from Treasures of the Bible
"Parting of Abram and Lot" - from Treasures of the Bible (Genesis)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 13:1-18

"And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's stock. … So Abram said to Lot, 'Please, let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brethren.' " Genesis 13:7,8

Conflict within the family and between workers, fights over the same "piece of the pie," standoffs that lead to broken relationships—these are not unusual situations to us. But perhaps Abram's way of handling conflict in his family was.

1. He exposed the problem—brought it up in conversation with his nephew rather than ignoring it till it got worse.

2. His solution—to give Lot first choice of grazing land—had the potential to damage him. And indeed Lot, true to his personalty "…chose for himself" (Genesis 13:11), and Abram was left with the inferior pastureland.

3. But God was way bigger than what might look to us like a foolish giving in by Abram. For it was after they split that God came to Abram again with such a fantastic promise, he may have been left shaking his head: Did I hear right? (Genesis 13:14-17).

What can we learn from Abram to apply to our own lives?
  • To confront conflict and strife, not let it fester.
  • To be realistic about the cost. We need to realize that in confronting the strife, there may be consequences, maybe even negative consequences to us. Maybe the partner will decide to buy us out, the relationship will break up, the adult son or daughter will move out…
  • To be reassured that by pursuing peace, we make ourselves a target of God's blessing.
- Such an action identifies us as God's children - Matthew 5:9.
- It is a characteristic of heavenly wisdom - James 3:17.
- It, along with holiness, sets us apart as ones who will see God - Hebrews 12:14.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to pursue peace above my own self-interest, knowing that Your ways are always the wisest and best despite what it may look like right now. 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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 12:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing." Genesis 12:2

We cannot read God's message to Abraham and not be struck by the repetition of one word: BLESS. In the span of two verses it occurs five times (in forms of "bless," "blessing," and "blessed").

["Bless" here is the Hebrew word barak - "to bless, kneel."

In English we define bless as "to consecrate, make holy; to honor, exalt; glorify; to invoke God's favour upon; to bestow happiness or prosperity; to guard and protect."]

As we follow the idea of blessing through the Bible, here are some things we discover:

1. Blessing is within our creator God's power to bestow (Psalm 134:3).

2. It is involved with God's plan for the Jewish people (Genesis 26:24)
  • Blessing is evidenced in the unusually large harvest of year six in a seven-year cycle, so that the people would have food when they let their land rest in year seven (Leviticus 25:21).
  • It is visible in their large families (Deuteronomy 1:11).
  • It results in them settling in Canaan — the land of promise (Deuteronomy 26:15).
  • Israel's independence and self-sufficiency are an evidence of God's blessing (Deuteronomy 15:6).

3. It is connected to obedience. Fourteen verses of Deuteronomy 28 are taken up with promises of personal, family and national blessings that will flow out of obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-14).

4. It is closely connected with giving (2 Chronicles 31:10; Ezekiel 44:30).

5. It is an expression of God's love (Deuteronomy 23:5).

6. It is His presence (Psalm 21:6).

7. It comes when people live peacefully together (Psalm 133:1-3).

8. It makes rich (Proverbs 10:22).

9. It is part of the upside down Kingdom of God, where we inherit a blessing when we refuse to reciprocate evil with evil, but with blessing (1 Peter 3:9).

But, you say, these blessings were for Bible time people not for us now — right?

Wrong! The exciting thing is that the blessing pronounced on Abraham and his descendants is linked to us too. Look at Galatians 3:13-14:
"Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith." - Galatians 3:14 NLT

So when we say, "God bless you," we are not mouthing empty words. Rather we are invoking a rich heritage of blessing that is ours because of Jesus — just another fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and the way he would bless, made way back in Genesis ("And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed" Genesis 12:3)

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live blessed and under Your blessing. May my life be a means of blessing to others today. Amen.

MORE: "I Will Delight" - Fernando Ortega

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.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Signs of God's goodness

rainbow bridge
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 9:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the clouds, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.'" Genesis 9:12,13

Here we read of God giving the rainbow as a sign or token of His promise to never again destroy earth and its creatures in the way He did in the flood. What a genius sign—beautiful, visible at one time or another to everyone on earth, and simple enough for even a child to appreciate. However, this is only one message in the sign language between God and mankind. Here are some others:

  • God told Abraham to circumcise all his male offspring. This was the sign of the covenant between God, Abraham, and his descendants - Genesis 17:1, 4-11.
  • The blood on the doorposts of the Israeli homes in Goshen the night before the Israelites left Egypt was a No Admittance sign to the death angel - Exodus 12:13.
  • Purging their houses of leaven and eating only unleavened bread for seven days was a sign of the importance of obeying God's instructions (His law) and His abhorrence of sin - Exodus 13:9.
  • Redeeming the firstborn was another reminder of God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt - Exodus 13:16.
  • Aaron's rod budding was a sign to the rebellious Israelites that the Levites were the people God had chosen to lead them - Numbers 17:10.
  • A dove descending on Jesus at His baptism was a sign of the Holy Spirit - Matthew 3:16. John the Baptist explained it as a sign of the One who had the ability to baptize others with the Holy Spirit - John 1:33.

I think we can view these signs as clues in the mystery of God's intentions toward humanity.

  • The rainbow tells us it's His intention to preserve earth and the humans on it.
  • Circumcision shows that God's plan will involve a certain race of people, through whom He will bless all earth's nations.
  • The blood on the doorposts and the redemption of the firstborn show that this preservation is costly.
  • Cleansing the house of leaven and eating only unleavened bread for seven days shows God's abhorrence of sin. (Leaven is often depicted in the Bible as a symbol of sin - Matthew 16:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.)
  • Aaron's budding rod illustrates the importance of following God-appointed leaders.
  • The dove descending on Jesus and His ability to baptize with the Spirit is a sign that Jesus is God and that it is through Him we receive new life.

David prays for a sign of God's goodness:
"Show me a sign for good..." -  Psalm 86:17.

Let's make David's prayer our own as we ponder the signs God has given throughout history and the personal signs of His presence and love that He blesses us with in the daily round of life.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these signs and tokens of Your care for us humans  throughout history. Please open my eyes to signs of Your goodness to me as I go through this day. 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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