Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Exposed!

"The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat"
- Matthew 23:2, by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:23-39


TO CHEW ON: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone." Matthew 23:23

It's easy to cheer Jesus on as He exposes the scribes and Pharisees. A footnote in my Bible about verse 23 says:

"They were flagrantly inconsistent, having lost all sense of proportion in the importance of spiritual matters. Scrupulously attentive to external things of the most trivial kind, such as tithing small seeds and plants, they forgot the major principles of morality" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1333.

Jesus goes on to denounce them for hypocrisy (Matthew 23:25), lawlessness (Matthew 23:28), and being in the line of the Old Testament prophet-killers with blood on their hands (Matthew 23:31-36).

But even as I cheer, there is in me a vague sense of uneasiness. For have I not been guilty of some of these things myself—dwelling critically on externals (the music style, the sometimes inappropriate dress, behaviour, and speech of people who call themselves Christians) while my own heart is ugly—full of judgement, condemnation, and self-righteousness.

Some of these things are simply matters of taste (and I'd better get over them). About the ones that are issues of holy living, I believe God would say to me: "These things you ought to have done without leaving the other (weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith) undone."

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see my own hypocrisy. May my heart be ruled by justice, mercy, and faith. Amen.

MORE: Cleansing

In Matthew 23:25-27 Jesus talks about the Pharisees' focus on external hygiene and cleansing. This obsession comes up again in Mark 7:1-5 when the Pharisees accuse Jesus' disciples of eating with unwashed hands. My Bible's footnote gives some background on this:

"The charge was not that the disciples were guilty of poor hygiene, but that they did not observe rituals of cleansing. The Pharisees taught that religious defilement could be spread by touch, so they prescribed elaborate ceremonies of cleansing that were part of the tradition or oral law, which they regarded as having equal authority with the written law" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1361.

A parallel in our day might be us, setting up our own "traditions" by which we condemn, reject, and even deign others untouchable (those with tattoos and piercings, guys wearing hats in church). We need to ask ourselves, is this a thing of substance, or just a style that I don't understand? This kind of tradition-keeping also raises its head in intergenerational conflict, when one generation doesn't understand and so condemns the styles of another. Whatever is behind it, judging anyone as 'untouchable' is so not Jesus' way!

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Upside-down greatness

"Jesus upbraids the scribes and Pharisees"
by Mathys Pool & Arnold Houbraken


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant." Matthew 23:11

Jesus' teaching about greatness flew in the face of everything the prevailing culture taught. The "great" of their time—the scribes and Pharisees—burdened their followers with do's and don'ts but never lifted a finger to help them carry those loads (Matthew 23:4). They performed for an audience of admirers (Matthew 23:6). And they insisted on receiving due honour, deference and respect (Matthew 23:6-7).

Jesus, on the other hand, said things about greatness that were hard to swallow for those using their position to feed their egos.

  • He called his unconventional relative, John the Baptist, great (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28). And yet He said that the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven was greater than John.
  • When the disciples asked "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Jesus beckoned a child to come over and presented the little one as the prototype of greatness. The great, He said, had the simple trust of the converted and the humility (need, dependence on God) of a child (Matthew 18:3-4).
  • When they argued about which of them was the greatest, Jesus told them true greatness proved itself by service (Mark 9:35). It wasn't the kind of greatness that forced compliance on underlings because of position, but rather served everyone (Mark 10:43-44).
  • It wasn't even a matter of proving that you were a great because you served, but also earning the label of great simply because you were least (Luke 9:48).

This is all fine and good for us to know in our heads. But when we're in a position of "greatness," and its demands hit home—we need to recruit workers, work out schedules, make phone calls, pitch in when people don't show up, stay till the end to make sure everything gets cleaned up—it's easy to feel stepped-on and sorry for ourselves. That is, until we remind ourselves, serving is exactly what being "great," in leadership or any position, is all about.


PRAYER: Dear God, please grow in me a servant's attitude, whether I lead or follow. Amen.


MORE: A "great" leadership story

Pete Wilson is one of the pastors of Cross Point Church in Nashville. When the biggest flood in their state's history hit on May 2, 2010, he led Cross Point Church to the front lines of the relief effort.

One of the things he took away from that day:

"Be willing to sacrifice first. Before asking others to sacrifice, first be willing to sacrifice yourself. If there are sacrifices to be made—and there will be—then leaders have to step up and make the greatest sacrifices themselves."

Read all of "Why Plan B is Often Your Greatest Opportunity As A Leader"



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Sunday, October 23, 2011

The big two

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 22:34-46

TO CHEW ON: Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." Matthew 22:37-39

If you're like me, it's not the first command of this duo that gives you the most trouble, but the second. And yet they appear to stand on equal footing.

A sidebar article in my Bible commenting on these verses says:

"One of the greatest indicators that we are growing in our relationship with God is found in our willingness to love. God is love. Love is not just something that He does. It's what He is. It follows, then, that we are never more godly, never more like God than when we love.... we cannot fulfill the first commandment to love God without obeying the second command to love our neighbour" - Kenneth Ulmer, "Growth in Love," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1332.

One way to make it easier to love one's neighbour is to narrow the definition. It's hard enough to love the neighbour who is "in our neighbourhood" of family, physical closeness, friends, persons similar to us in income, lifestyle, intellect, and values. But Jesus defined neighbour much more broadly. When a young lawyer asked Him who his neighbour was, Jesus told the Good Samaritan story, illustrating that a neighbour is any needy person who comes across one's  path (Luke 10:29-37).

Looking at the challenge of how to love my neighbour from the perspective of a parent has helped me understand God's heart here. We have two kids. It gave me a lot of joy to see them laughing, kibitzing with each other, helping each other out and generally getting along. But it grieved me to see them fight. I loved both of them and wanted them to love each other.

So, when I'm tempted to harbour ill will or dwell on thoughts of dislike for a person, I remind myself that God loves that person. He is the Creator-Father of both of us, and He would want me to love him or her too.

PRAYER: Dear God, I have far to go in obeying Your command to love my neighbour as myself and to live it out in practical ways. Help me to grow in this today. Amen.

MORE: John Piper on this passage

"The command to love my neighbor as I love myself really feels like a threat to my own self-love. How is this even possible? If there is born in us a natural desire for our own happiness, and if this is not in itself evil, but good, how can we give it up and begin only to seek the happiness of others at the expense of our own?


I think that is exactly the threat that Jesus wants us to feel, until we realize that this—exactly this—is why the first commandment is the first commandment. It's the first commandment that makes the second commandment doable and takes away the threat that the second commandment is really the suicide of our own happiness. The first commandment is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (v. 37). The first commandment is the basis of the second commandment. The second commandment is a visible expression of the first commandment. Which means this: Before you make your own self-seeking the measure of your self-giving, make God the focus of your self-seeking..." (you've got to read the rest of this excellent article!) - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org



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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Loyal Luke

St. Luke by Frans Hals c. 1625
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 4:9-22

TO CHEW ON: "Only Luke is with me..." 2 Timothy 4:11a

The first part of our reading today gives us a rare glimpse into Paul's personal situation. It's rather sad. Demas has checked out ("forsaken me, having loved this present world"), Cresens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia, Tychicus to Ephesus. He doesn't even have his books and favourite cloak. But he does have Luke.

This articulate physician accompanied Paul on many of his travels and had stuck with him through high points and low. At the time of writing this letter, Paul was in a Roman jail and at a particularly low point. This imprisonment wasn't like a previous one, when he was in his own hired house and could receive visitors easily (Acts 28:30). Now he was in a dungeon, where it was hard to find him (2 Timothy 1:16-17). Before he looked forward to release. Now he looked forward to death (2 Timothy 4:6-8). This letter contains his last recorded words. The friends who surrounded him had dwindled to one.

But the friend he had was a quality person. In addition to being a medical doctor, Luke was an investigative journalist (who wrote both the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:1-4) and the book of Acts (Acts 1:1-3).

He showed himself an astute theologian who emphasized the universality of the Christian message while showing Jesus' Jewish roots. He included stories of Jesus as the Saviour of all kinds of people, some of whom the other gospels leave out — like Zaccheus the tax collector and the thief on the cross.*

And he was a loyal friend. His sticking with Paul shows that.

In our time, loyalty isn't something that gets held up as a quality worth striving after. We''ll be loyal to a brand as long as it serves us. But when something better comes along, we'll switch. That utilitarian attitude readily infects our relationships with people too.

But Luke wasn't like that. Though the days of basking in the reflected glory of being Paul's assistant and companion were over, though we might expect such a versatile and talented man to find more profitable, satisfying, even safe things to do, he chose to stick with his aging, unpopular and imprisoned friend.

Let's let his loyalty challenge us to be that kind of friend. The kind that demonstrates Agape love: "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." The kind that Proverbs says "sticks closer than a brother."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for men like Luke who in their quiet loyalty demonstrated the quality of Your love for us. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Luke

Today is the day the church celebrates the Feast of St. Luke Evangelist. The liturgy for this day begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

*General information about Luke and his writings from the introduction to the Gospel of Luke, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, pp. 1381-1383.

(This is a repost from September 18, 2010)


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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Doubt, skepticism (a.k.a. unbelief)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 22:15-33

TO CHEW ON: "Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk .... But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, 'Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?'" Matthew 22:15,18

What "wickedness" was Jesus referring to here? What was the root of the Pharisees' sin in their plot against Jesus?

On the surface, their henchmen were pleasant enough—deferential and flattering. "Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God in truth," they fawned.

Of course if they and their sponsors knew such a thing, they certainly hoped their knowing would be proved wrong by how Jesus would trip Himself up with His own words, perhaps even say something that would incite the Romans to arrest Him. So one sin they were guilty of was what Jesus named, hypocrisy.

However, I believe their hypocrisy grow out of a more serious sin—unbelief (little or no trust, skepticism).

The Bible is full of unbelievers:
  • Abraham was one when he doubted God's promise of a son - Genesis 17:17.
  • Moses was one when he doubted God could feed the people the meat He had promised - Numbers 11:21.
  • The disciples proved themselves unbelievers when they couldn't exorcise a particularly difficult demon - Matthew 17:19-20.
  • Israel's religious leaders  (the chief priests, elders, scribes, and Pharisees) showed themselves unbelievers on many occasions - Matthew 21:32, Luke 22:67, John 3:11, John 12:37.

The consequence of unbelief was serious:
  • It kept Moses and Aaron from entering Canaan with the people - Numbers 20:12.
  • It silenced Zacharias throughout Elizabeth's pregnancy - Luke 1:20.
  • It hindered Jesus from doing more miracles - Matthew 13:58.
  • It was the root of Judas' betrayal - John 6:64.

However, unbelief is not a sin only Bible characters committed. Jesus' warnings against unbelief echo down the years to us today. Because unbelief is the sin that will finally condemn us to an eternity without God:

"He who believes in the Son has ever lasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" - John 3:36 (see also John 3:18, 8:24, 16:8-9).

I ask you, have you made that initial decision to believe in Jesus? (Jesus called it being "born again." Check here for a longer explanation of what that means.)

I ask myself, do I as a believer in Jesus live a life characterized by belief or unbelief? What about you?


PRAYER: Dear God, unbelief is serious. Please grow my faith in You deeper and stronger. I say with the man who came to Jesus: "Lord I believe, help my unbelief." Amen.


MORE: Unbelief—"the A1 sin"
"Is it not a sin for a creature to doubt the word of its Maker? Is it not a crime and an insult to the Divinity, for me, an atom, a particle of dust, to dare to deny his words? Is it not the very summit of arrogance and extremity of pride for a son of Adam to say, even in his heart, "God I doubt thy grace; God I doubt thy love; God I doubt thy power?" Oh! sirs believe me, could ye roll all sins into one mass,--could you take murder, and blasphemy, and lust, adultery, and fornication, and everything that is vile and unite them all into one vast globe of black corruption, they would not equal even then the sin of unbelief. This is the monarch sin, the quintessence of guilt; the mixture of the venom of all crimes; the dregs of the wine of Gomorrah; it is the A1 sin, the master-piece of Satan, the chief work of the devil."
~Charles Spurgeon~

(From this post on The Old Guys blog that features a daily quote by now-dead saints.)




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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Trio of the good life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of God and Father." 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

What an encouraging start to a letter! We all love to be told that we're making our leaders proud, that they're praying for us, that they've observed good qualities in us, and have noticed our spiritual progress.

The three things Paul names—his readers' work of faith, their labor of love, and their patience of hope—occur together in other places in the Bible. Note their appearance in
~ Romans 5:15
~ 1 Corinthians 13:13
~ Galatians 5:5-6
~ Colossians 1:4-5
~ Hebrews 10:22-24.

A commentary article in my Bible draws attention to the fact that these three things make up a large portion of Godly living:

"Godly living is characterized by a life lived to please God. Through Jesus' sacrifice we have already found favour in God's sight; therefore we are to live a life that reflects that favour. Like Jesus, our work is to flow from faith and love, honouring God in all that we do...


Understand that Godly living includes: 1] work that flows from faith, 2] labor that flows from love, and 3] patient endurance that flows from living hope" - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through 1 Thessalonians," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1689 (emphasis added).

So as you and I go through the humdrum activities of this day, let's do those dishes, care for those babies, attend those meetings, work those jack hammers, coffee grinders, and cash registers with the awareness that our mundane jobs have big significance as we do them with faith, hope, and love before our appreciative Audience.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to link my ordinary activities, my labor and my leisure, with the knowledge that You see and approve...or prick me where You don't. Amen.


MORE: Audience of One
“Only madmen, geniuses, and supreme egotists do things purely for themselves. It is easy to buck a crowd, not too hard to march to a different drummer. But it is truly difficult–perhaps impossibleto march only to your own drumbeat. Most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, do things with an eye to the approval of some audience or other. The question is not whether we have an audience but which audience we have.

This observation underscores another vital feature of the truth of calling: A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others" – Os Guinness, The Call, p. 70




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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A new song

(OOPS! This post published by mistake on Oct. 6th...that's why some of you are seeing it again. Sorry!)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 96:1-13


TO CHEW ON: "Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord all the earth." - Psalm 96:1

My husband—an eight-year-old at the time—tells of a surprising scene the morning after his father asked Jesus into his life. His dad was at work in the barn, determinedly chewing gum (he had tossed out his cigarettes) and singing! This man who claimed he couldn't carry a tune was unable to suppress the joy of new life that bubbled up inside him. He had a new song.

Why do we, who put our faith in God, sing? The Psalms refer to singing more than seventy times.* It also plays a part in New Testament worship.
  • For the Israelites it was sometimes linked to victory in battle - Psalm 27:6.
  • It was an expression of gratefulness for salvation - Psalm 95:1.
  • Song was a natural outflow of praise on remembering God's past work in individual lives and nationally - Psalm 126:2.
  • Of course it was part of formal worship as well - Isaiah 39:29.
In the New Testament and for us:
  • It is linked with prayer - 1 Corinthians 14:15.
  • It is a way to encourage and build others up - Ephesians 5:19.
  • And it is a way to build ourselves up - Colossians 3:16.

A "new song" is another facet of singing in general. It suggests we have found new reasons to praise. It proves we are not in a singing rut, doing it by rote or because that's what Christians do, but because there is something alive in us that needs the expression a new song brings. The new songs of Revelation imply that new melodies and lyrics will accompany the unveiling of God's plan at the culmination of history - Revelation 5:9, Revelation 14:3.

I love how a commentary article in my Bible encourages us to sing:

"Singing is a dynamic and vital part of our devotional life with God.... Even if you feel that you do not sing well, know that your heavenly Father loves the sound of your voice (Song of Solomon 2:14). It is not important how well you sing but simply that you sing. Praise is a pathway to joy" - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through Psalms 90-106," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, pp. 770-1.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the inner witness of Your Spirit's presence through song. Please stir up a new song in me today. Amen.


MORE: "Bein Happy" -  by Lori and Russ Taff, sung by Mark Lowry and the Gaither Vocal Band.




* Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through Psalms 90-106," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 770.
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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Do you have a reputation for gentleness?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 4:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand." Philippians 4:5

I read Paul's directive about gentleness and I feel an objection rise in me. What about those of us who aren't naturally gentle, who have an ungentle, fiery streak, who lack the patience for the extra time it takes to deal with people and situations softly, who have reputation for being anything but gentle?

It seems Euodia and Syntyche were two such women. They were on the same side—both Christians, and fellow-workers with Paul. But they had had a falling out. Paul's general plea for gentleness after he mentions their situation implies that harshness with each other may have been one of their problems.

What is gentleness?

[The dictionary defines it: Gentle: 1) Mild and amiable in nature or disposition; kindly, patient. 2) Not harsh, rough, or loud; soft, moderate, mild, a gentle voice."]

[The Greek word epieikes used here for gentleness "...suggests a character that is equitable, reasonable, forbearing, moderate, fair, and considerate. It is the opposite of harsh, abrasive, sarcastic, cruel, and contentious" - "Word Wealth" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1702.]

  • Paul brings up gentleness several times in his letters.
- He reminds the Thessalonians of his gentle ways among then - 1 Thessalonians 2:7.
- Gentleness makes his list of leader qualities in 1 Timothy 3:3, 2 Timothy 2:24, and Titus 3:2.
  • James includes gentleness in his description of what Godly wisdom is made of in James 3:17.
  • But the mention of gentleness that woos me most persuasively is the brief reference to its fruit (kindness) in the Proverbs description of the ideal wife: "She opens her mouth in skillful and godly wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness [giving counsel and instruction]" - Proverbs 31:25 - Amplified. Imagine one's tongue being ruled by kindness. How beautiful is that!

The final short sentence of our focus verse, "The Lord is at hand," may offer a key to how ungentle types can become gentle. If God is at hand [near - eggus, i.e. near in place and position, nearby; near in time, coming soon], we don't need to concern ourselves with enforcing our will on the person or situation with bullying, sarcasm, harshness, or cruelty. If we live with the conviction that God is nearby and will make His appearance at any moment, we can afford the luxury of being patient, kind, soft, and gentle, leaving it for Him to be the heavy if that is what is needed.


PRAYER: Dear God, help me to internalize the reality of You, nearby and coming soon. Help me to grow in gentleness, learning from Your gentle ways with me. Amen.


MORE: Gentle Shepherd - Gaither Vocal Band



More on gentleness here

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Christian Carnival - Oct. 5 edition


Welcome to the October 5th edition of the Christian Carnival. Grab a tea, latté or juice and enjoy!

Apologetics:

  • loswl presents Evolutionary Tales Exposed: Part 8 – Creation Demands vs Evolutionary Demands posted at INSPIKS. "Let`s consider the demands of creation versus the demands of the theory of evolution. First, creation demands the presence of a Creator. The theory of evolution demands the absence of a creator. Second, creation demands the creation of matter. The theory of evolution has no explanation for the origin of matter." (Loswl does a good job of confronting us with the major differences between two views of origins.)

Devotionals:

  • Aoide-Melete-Mneme presents Thoughts on Proverbs posted at √† la mode de les Muses. She writes: "Some comments about betraying another's confidence."(Aoide-Melete-Mneme has gleaned some good thoughts from Proverbs about using discretion in what we say.)
  • Zowada presents We use Jesus like a tagline. posted at Zowada Blog. Zowada writes: "Could it be that just because we say, 'In Jesus Name' we are not actually doing it for His glory?"(Zowada asks probing questions about a lot of things we do while invoking Jesus' name.")
  • Russ White presents The Sin of Moses posted at Thinking in Christ.(Interesting speculation on what was the motivation behind Moses' action that really kept him out of the Promised Land.)
Narratives:
  • Ridge Burns presents Unity posted at Ridge's Blog.(Ridge describes an experience of unity that has him—and us, wanting more.)
  •  And, finally my contribution: Do we insist too much? posted at Other Food: daily devos.  "One wonderful day Michael got the invitation to join. Becoming a partner in a large prestigious firm was the dream of every young chartered accountant, and Michael was ecstatic. But when he got home and told his wife, she didn't share his enthusiasm..."

Future Submissions:
Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page. Christian Carnival is also on Facebook. Visit here



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Monday, October 03, 2011

Wedding clothes

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 22:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "'For many are called, but few are chosen.'" Matthew 22:14

Jesus' stories certainly snag one's attention. In today's we have a king's banquet hall all decorated with steaming platters of food for the wedding feast already on the buffet—but no guests. The invited give excuses about why they can't come, and worse, abuse the servants who carry the invitations. As a hostess who has prepared a few big meals myself, I can feel the pang of the king's disappointment when no one shows up.

How satisfying, then, when he calls in the unworthy, the good, even the bad. The story feels finished with the scene of that hall alive with conversation and laughter, the clink of dishes and cutlery (although I'm not sure they used cutlery. Oh well...).

But no, here comes another instalment. The king sees a wedding guest who has a little problem. He is wearing no wedding garment. A margin note in my study Bible explains about Bible-time weddings:

"Even among the lower class first century weddings often included several days of joyful feasting. The bride and groom wore their best clothes; their guests enjoyed the best food and drink they could provide (Isaiah 61:10, John 2:1-11).


A royal wedding would be even more elaborate. If a guest of the king was unable to find suitable attire, the king himself would provide something to wear (1 Samuel 18:4, Esther 6:8, Revelation 19:7-9).


Of all the guests brought to the wedding—good and bad, worthy and unworthy—this particular guest had apparently rejected the garment provided by the king." - Quest Study Bible, p. 1366.

It turns out the apparent little matter of not being dressed in the right clothes is not little at all, judging by the king's reaction: "Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?" he asks. And in response to the man's silence, the king commands him bound and taken away "...cast into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

It's not hard to see who are the real players in this story. The king is God. His son is Jesus. The intended guests are the Israelites—who spurned all invitations to come to the feast even killing the prophet messengers. And so the invitation comes to all, worthy and unworthy: "For God so loved the world..." - John 3:16.

God provides the wedding clothes to wear (Zechariah 3:4). They are ours when we exchange our rags for robes "washed...and made white in the blood of the Lamb" - Revelation 7:13-14.

Paul describes this exchange another way: "He made Him who knew no sin to be made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" - 1 Corinthians 5:21.

Someday there will be another wedding banquet (Revelation 19:7-9). Have you asked Jesus for the wedding garment to wear to it?

PRAYER: Dear God, Your invitation is so generous. Help me not to interpret Your grace as an attitude of 'anything goes.' Help me to cultivate habits of righteousness, faithfulness and obedience. Amen.

MORE: Bible-time marriage customs

For more information about Bible-time marriage customs, this exhaustive article on Bible History Online includes entries from many sources, including Fausset's Bible Dictionary, Easton's Bible Dictionary, Smith's Bible Dictionary etc.



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Sunday, October 02, 2011

That breaking stone

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 21:33-46

TO CHEW ON: "And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." Matthew 21:44

Another vineyard story! This one Jesus tells to the chief priests and Pharisees during a temple teaching session. They soon suspect that when He refers to wicked vinedressers who kill the landowner's son, He is talking about them.

Jesus clears up any doubt by spelling it out:
"Have you never read the scriptures.
'The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord's doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes.'? (quoting Psalm 118:22-23).
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing fruits of it" (Matthew 21:42-43).

In this way He foretells the inclusion of non-Jews (Gentiles) in His kingdom of God plan. It is a plan, we discover in the very next verse, which involves a crucial life altering decision not only for groups of people (nations) but for every individual who encounters Jesus:

"Whoever falls on this stone will be broken, but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder" (Matthew 21:44).

How does encountering Jesus break us? One way is in its cost. It costs a true disciple everything to follow Jesus. Paul describes it as being crucified (put to death) with Him (Galatians 2:20).

But if we decide to ignore Him and go our own way, that decision too has breaking consequences. Paul spells them out with stark realism in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 (a passage that won't win any awards for subtlety or political correctness):

"... it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed."

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming as the obedient Son and giving Yourself to die for me. May all who read this be broken by you in the disciple, not the eternal destruction way. Amen.

MORE: Doubting Jesus' deity still flourishes today

The heart of the issue of Jesus for the chief priests and Pharisees was that they didn't believe He was who He said He was. Thus everything He said was controversial and sounded like heresy to them.

The refusal, in religious leaders, to believe that Jesus is God, indeed skepticism about the very existence of God, continues to this day. Albert Mohler discusses recent developments within a prominent Protestant denomination in Holland in the article "A Laboratory for Christianity's Destruction"


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