Thursday, March 31, 2011

Exposed

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 8:1-30

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus spoke to them again saying, 'I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.'" John 8:12

The scribes and Pharisess who brought the adulterous woman to Jesus figure largely in many incidents in the gospels. My Thompson Chain Bible (NKJV) gives a simple description of them:

"Scribes: Writers or secretaries who copied the Scriptures.


Pharisees: A party among the Jews of Jesus' time that laid great stress upon the observance of rites and ceremonies. They made a pretense of superior piety and separated themselves from the common people. They were believers in the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body and the existence of angels and spirits" (p. 1939).

Most people of that day held the scribes and Pharisees in awe because of their showy saintliness. But not Jesus. And not the Gospel writers. Matthew, for example shows the Pharisees and scribes as:

  • Not righteousness enough to get into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:20).
  • Insincere when they pretended to be on the verge of following Jesus if He would give them just one more sign (Matthew 12:38).
  • Hypocritical when they tried to entrap others over transgressing the fine points of the law (like hand-washing) while they themselves transgressed the big points (like failing to honor parents) (Matthew 15:1-9).
  • Conniving as they attempted to trap Jesus into saying or doing something they considered wrong (Matthew 19:3).

Today's story from John 8 shows them in just such a scheming mode. And though there was no question that the woman they hauled before Jesus was a sinner, He was masterful in staying out of their trap. When they insisted that she be stoned:

"He raised Himself up and said, 'Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.' Then He bent down and went on writing on the ground with His finger" - John 8:7-8.

Surprise of surprises, instead of picking up stones and getting to work they began, one by one, to leave. Why? Obviously each one was convicted of his own sin.

Some say that the source of their sin-conviction was what Jesus was writing on the ground — that he was listing their sins right in front of their eyes. But I believe it was His simple presence. For in my Bible, verse 12 — Jesus' declaration of being the light of the world — follows the narrative as if it's the lesson or point of the story. Their slinking away showed that in the light of Him, each one became painfully aware of his own sin and knew he could not be the one to start the stoning.

Like the self-righteous Pharisees we too find it easy to categorize sin and stand in judgment over those whose sin is, in our eyes, worse than our own. Until, that is, we come into the presence of Jesus, the light, and see our own soiled selves.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please keep me from being pharisaical and judgmental. Help me to view myself realistically and to treat fellow travelers with the same grace that I need. Amen.

MORE: God-light
"This is the crisis we're in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won't come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is."  John 3:19-21 (Message).


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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Superstition

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Leviticus 17:1-7

TO CHEW ON: "They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons after whom the have played the harlot. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations." Leviticus 17:7

Where these people knowingly sacrificing to demons? The word "demons" - "having the form of a goat or a satyr" has overtones of animism. The picture I get is of a people puzzled by and fearful of natural phenomenon. But instead of acknowledging God as the creator and sustainer of life, they are trying to appease some folk god (goat or satyr) thought to be in charge of these things.

However it came about, this false worship offended God at the deepest level. An end note in my Bible expands on this:

"The greatest sin in ancient Israel was idolatry (see Deuteronomy 32:17)...The essence of the Jewish monotheistic faith was contained in the verse, "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" - Deuteronomy 6:4 (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 153).

Though we ourselves may eschew any overt involvement with the demonic, I wonder if there remains a vestige of it even in the lingering hold superstitions have on us. Do we ever find ourselves thinking, after a day has got off to a bad start: There's bound to be more because bad things always come in threes? Or saying things like "Gesundheit" after a sneeze, or "Touch wood" after mentioning that things are going well? Or fearing Friday the 13th? Or avoiding black cats and walking under ladders? Or needing to wear certain lucky clothes and go through certain luck-generating routines before a sports event?

Any fear we feel, any changes in behaviour we make that are inspired by superstition show that at some level we're sacrificing — to what? Demons? God's prohibition to Israel through Moses's words in Leviticus ring across the centuries to us today: "They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons..."

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to recognize false worship in my life in whatever form it takes. Please free me from bondage to superstition or anything else that would make me a slave to anyone but You. Amen.

MORE: Do you believe in bad luck?

Well don't! As John Piper writes in article he wrote on a Friday that was also the 13th day of the month:

"In Christ there is no Bad Luck"
"Today is Friday the 13th! Bad luck day.

In case this or any other superstition frightens you or, worse, controls you, take the sword of the Spirit and kill it.

Here’s a few sword thrusts that I use.

There is no enchantment against Jacob, 
no divination against Israel; 
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, 
“What has God wrought!” (Numbers 23:23)

Does this apply to us Christians? Yes. Because “It is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7).  That’s us. We are Jacob. We are Israel.
And because we are, "all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So in Christ we cannot be cursed. There is no jinx or hex that can stick against those who are in Christ Jesus. 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. (Galatians 3:13)

Christ took on himself every curse that is against me. God is for me and no one can successfully be against me.

He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1John 4:4)

© 2011 Desiring God




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Friday, March 25, 2011

"The Lord is with you"

"Study for 'Ecce ancilla Domini!'
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1849

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:26-38

TO CHEW ON: "And having come in the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women.'" Luke 1:28

I wonder what the angel found Mary busy at when he came into her Nazareth house. Perhaps she was sweeping or preparing food, sewing or tending the fire, daydreaming or folding clothes. Whatever she was doing, the angel's pronouncement, "The Lord is with you" tells us God had watched and was there, present with her in her everyday living.

God is no less involved in the day-to-day of our lives. And we can be aware of Him by inviting Him into the mundane. I am reminded of Brother Lawrence, that 17th century man, of whom it is said in the preface to his recorded conversations and letter The Practice of the Presence of God:

"No conceited scholar was Brother Lawrence: theological and doctrinal debates bored him, if he noticed them at all. His one desire was for communion with God, We find him worshiping more in his kitchen than in his cathedral: he could pray with another


Lord of all pots and pans and things...
Make me a saint by getting meals
And washing up the plates!


And he could say, "The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God n as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees" -  p. 8 (in my 1976 edition).

Of course God is with us too, whether we acknowledge His presence or not. But why not? Here are some little things we might do to help us in this:

  • Play praise music while we work, instead of listening to talk radio or TV.
  • Review memorized scripture.
  • Pray for family members, friends, and the world situation as these things come to mind, even as our hands are busy dusting or setting the table.
  • Lay before Him the problems that come up as they occur to us.
  • Use our imaginations to see those around us as if Jesus were right beside us (because He is).


PRAYER: Dear God, help me to practice Your presence by consciously inviting You into every setting, gathering, and activity. Amen.

MORE: "He is Here" - Gaither vocal band



Today the church celebrates "The Feast of the Annunciation." The liturgy for the 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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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

True worship

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 4:1-24

TO CHEW ON: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him." John 4:24

There is at this time in Protestant church circles, a range of opinions on the best way to worship God. On one hand there are those who are discovering new-to-them practices of worship by exploring and reintroducing the old ways. A return to liturgy and various methods of contemplative prayer are gaining popularity. Here, for example, is an article by a former Baptist pastor explaining how he uses a rosary in prayer.

On the other side there are those who caution against any and all whiffs of the contemplative, warning that even though these things were modeled and taught by the early church fathers and mothers, they were influenced by paganism and thus tainted and suspect.

Personally, I understand the need for caution but also wonder if we're not going overboard when we label as dangerous everyone with whom we don't agree on every detail. I find myself siding with A. W. Tozer who, when he was criticized for reading and quoting Catholic writers like Julian of Norwich, Augustine, Francis of Assissi, and Michale De Molinos "...handled these naysayers in the same way he dealt with negative comments from his frequent references to the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers, or moderns such as Thomas Merton. These saints, from Tozer's angle of vision, knew the Lord intimately and he learned from their writings about drawing closer to Christ — even if he did not agree with everything they believed" - Lyle Dorset,  A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer , Moody Publishers 2008,  Kindle location 2074.

But how does one decide what to use, and what to throw out? Worship leader LeMar Boschman writes, in a sidebar article in my Bible:

"It is the believer's responsibility to discover how the Lord wants to be worshiped and to explore and cultivate a relationship with Him out of which sincere, Holy Spirit-enabled worship will flow. Jesus instructs it:
Worship in "spirit" — that is alive through new birth (John 1:12-13; 3:6-7) and aglow with holy Spirit enablement (1 Corinthians 14:14-15). This is not mechanical, rote or merely human activity but dynamically capacitated spiritual action.
"In truth" emphasizes biblical integrity joined to personal honesty, manifest in a heart of sincerity, a humble manner of transparency and a relational integrity. Meaning and being what we say, as well as being spiritually energized in our worship, opens the way to that worship the Father seeks" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1449.
With the Bible as our plum line, we won't go wrong.

PRAYER: Dear God, direct me to true worship through Your word. Please warn me by Your Spirit against any practice or method of prayer or meditation that is dangerous, forbidden, or will do me harm. Amen.

MORE: "Heart of Worship" - Matt Redman




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Friday, March 18, 2011

Bore deep into God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 89:1-29

TO CHEW ON: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Mercy and truth go before Your face." Psalm 89:14

Who of us hasn't set some person on a pedestal only to find, when we get to know them better (or if they are a historical figure, we read about them), there are, running through the strata of their lives, veins of unrighteousness, injustice, falsehood, selfishness, or other failing? We will never experience such disillusionment with God!

God is righteous and justice at the deepest level: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne" is expressed in the Message as, "The Right and Justice are the roots of your rule."

The result and evidence of His rule is love and truth: "Mercy and truth go before Your face" (NKJV) is translated "Unfailing love and truth walk before You as attendants" - NLT, and "Love and truth are its fruits" - Message.

Psalm 89:18 uses the adjective "holy" to encapsulate all God's good, sinless, peerless, authentic, above reproach qualities. He is called "The Holy One of Israel."

[holy - qudosh: set apart, dedicated to sacred purposes; holy, sacred, clean, morally or ceremonially pure...Holiness is separation from everything profane and defiling; and at the same time dedication to everything holy and pure" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 155.]

A commentary note in my Bible gives some ways to work the holiness of God, into our lives:

"Holiness is understood and learned by going directly to its source, the Holy One of Israel.
  • Search the scriptures to learn the truth of God's holiness.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to walk in holiness (1 Peter 1:13-19) - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 756.


PRAYER: Dear God, I am so glad that You are holy through and through, that in You there is no hint of injustice or unrighteousness, no whiff of hatred or lies. I revel in Your name (vs. 16) — Your essence and reputation. Amen.

MORE: Thoughts on knowing God

"What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God (Jeremiah 9:23 ff). What of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him most pleasure? Knowledge of God (Hosea 6:6).


In these few sentences we have said a very great deal.... What we have said provides at once a foundation, shape, and goal for our lives, plus a principle of priorities and a scale of values. Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life's problems fall into place of their own accord" - J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 31.


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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

God's eyes on you

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 33:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy." Psalm 33:18

After drawing attention to the grandeur of God's creation, the heavens, the seas, the earth and its nations, the psalmist zooms in. Speaking from God's point of view, first His lens catches the crowds: "....He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth." And then with several clicks on the + button, He's looking right at individuals — you and me. With each person He sees something unique:"He fashions their hearts individually". He sees and comprehends everything each one does: "He considers [understands] all their works" - Psalm 33:15.

His attention is caught particularly by those who are linked to Him in a trust relationship. What does He see and know?
  • That we are loyal to Him. In 2 Chronicles 16 we have the story of Hanani the seer who came with a message to King Asa of Judah. It was a disappointing word about how because Asa had gone to Syria for help and not to God, he would suffer ultimate defeat. Then Hanani makes this insightful comment about God's help: "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him" 2 Chronicles 16:9.

Psalm 33 underlines this aspect of God's sight and knowledge. "Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him...To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine."

What are our needs today? Are we going to God first for help with them? Or are we relying on our own devices, casting about for ways to help ourselves? Whether it's sickness, business trouble, a stalled career, tangled relationships or whatever, let's bring our cares to Him first and in this way, draw the attenion of His searching eyes.

PRAYER: Dear God, it is reassuring to know that You see me personally. Today I am troubled by ___. I know You have a solution to my problem. Please show Yourself strong on my behalf. Amen.

MORE: "His Eye is on the Sparrow" sung by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount







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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Staged Christianity

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 6:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do....And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.... Moreover when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites...." Matthew 6:2a, 5a, 16a.

What is this hypocrite business Jesus so condemns here?

A word study article in my Bible explains:

"In Bible days actors wore masks, which included mechanisms for amplifying the voice. Since the dramas were questions and answers, the word describing the dialogue was hupokrinomai, to reply or to answer. Hupokrites is one who is playacting, reading a script, or one who puts on an act. The hypocrite conceals his true motives under a cloak of make-believe" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1299.

Our modern definition bears out the above. My dictionary defines "hypocrite" as one who practices "hypocrisy: The pretense of having feelings or characteristics one does not possess, especially the deceitful assumption of praiseworthy qualities; insincerity; masking or disguising one's true nature."

Jesus puts His finger on three practices the Pharisees of His time performed with insincerity. While charitable deeds, prayer, and fasting are all things easily performed in secret, they made sure everyone noticed a good work was about to be performed by sounding a trumpet. They prayed prominently in the synagogue or street corner where they were sure to be visible. When they fasted, their facial expressions broadcast to everyone that their stomachs were empty. They had corrupted these practices which were meant to minister to God, into advertisements for themselves and their piety.

Do we ever playact in a similar way? Oh, it may not look exactly the same but any act that should be God-directed but we're using to get something for ourselves is hypocritical. We volunteer at the mission and love the admiration we get for it. We give, and enjoy our reputation for being generous. We bless and encourage others with the real view to get them to reciprocate.

We may get what we want. But that's the extent of it. We have our reward.

How much better to examine our motives and expunge any vestige of self-interest. Sometimes that will mean we do things secretly, where there is no chance that anyone will see and compliment. At other times that will mean checking at the door any expectation of having the favour returned by the person who we bless. For "...your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (And doesn't even this promise feed into potentially self-serving motives? It could, although I believe God's rewards are often not in kind, but come along a different avenue)

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize the hypocrisy living in me. I repent of hypocritical, pride-inspired actions. Help me to do my acts of devotion secretly, for the right reasons, and for Your eyes only. Amen.

MORE: Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday on the church calendar. This About.com article tells us a bit about the day:

"In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of the season of Lent, which begins 40 days prior to Easter (Sundays are not included in the count).

Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. During some Ash Wednesday services, the minister will lightly rub the sign of the cross with ashes onto the foreheads of worshipers."
...read the entire article

The liturgy for Ash Wednesday begins with the following collect:

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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Monday, March 07, 2011

Faith: seed-sized to mountain-moving

Tree growing through rocks
Harrison, B.C.*

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 17:14-27

TO CHEW ON: "Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?"
So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief..."- Matthew 17:19, 20a

In today's reading — a continuation of yesterday's story — Jesus is down from the mountain and very much back on earth. In fact, the first encounter He has is with the distraught father of a demon-oppressed son. The father tells of how he brought his seizure-prone, self-destructive boy to the disciples (presumably the ones that didn't accompany Jesus up the mountain) "but they could not cure him."

How Jesus' reply must have cut those disciples: "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?"

When they came to Him later and asked why they couldn't heal the boy, Jesus answered, "Because of your unbelief..." Then he talked about how even seed-sized faith was enough to move mountains ("a figure for an obstacle, hindrance, or humanly insurmountable problem" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1322).

Judging from His outburst in verse 17, even Jesus was a little jarred by the contrast of the mountaintop experience with life back in the earth-valley. We're not told which disciples tried to heal the man's son. I hope, for their sake, it wasn't the ones who accompanied Jesus up the mountain. How discouraging it would have been for them after seeing heaven open, to come back to earth and find they hadn't changed one whit and that their faith was still practically non-existent.

For that is the purpose of a spiritual high — to build our faith, to give us fuel for living lives that take God's presence and power into our problem-strewn world. A sidebar article in my Bible outlines how faith grows:

"First God says that you have a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). It is resident within you.


Second, God says that this faith comes alive by "hearing...the word of God (Romans 10:17). [For our disciples, this would have been hearing the actual voice of God conversing with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and then declaring "This is my beloved Son....Hear Him!" For us it's hearing God's voice through the Bible and the myriad ways He communicates its truths to us, including those spiritual mountaintop experiences at special weekend retreats.]

Third God says that you can apply your faith to see your daily needs met. How? You do something as an act of your faith. You sow the mustard-seed-sized smallness of your faith into an action of love... speak to your mountain and watch God set about its removal." - Oral Roberts in "God Has a Way of Getting Your Need Met," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 132.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to come down from spiritual high points with bigger faith so I can be more useful in Your Kingdom. Amen.

MORE: "Only Believe" - a collection of quotes by Smith Wigglesworth



* "When you plant a seed God changes the nature of that seed so that it becomes a plant; and the power of life surges in that tender young plant to such a great extent that even a mountain of earth cannot stop it from pushing upward!" - Oral Roberts in "God Has a Way of Getting Your Need Met" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1322 (see photo above).


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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Jesus, my mercy seat

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 3:21-31


TO CHEW ON: "...Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood..." Romans 3:24b-25a

Within the word "propitiation" we have one of the most amazing and offending aspects of the Gospel.

In English when we talk of propitiating someone, we mean that we appease, conciliate and cause them to be favourably disposed toward us.

The Greek word for "propitiation" is hilasterion  which actually means "mercy seat." It refers to the place of atonement between the two cherubim on the top of the ark. "The root meaning of hilasterion is that of appeasing and placating an offended god" - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1738.

The idea that a loving God would personally exercise wrath against His creatures is what's offensive to some. However, the Bible makes it clear that that's the way it is (for example, see Isaiah 53:4-5; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 5:6; Revelation 6:16-17).

But that's not the end of the story. Though we deserved God's wrath, Jesus took it for us. God "set forth" Jesus as a propitiation. "...By His blood" refers to the fact that He died: "Blood is a reference to Christ's death as a substitute sacrifice for us. Christ's blood poured out is a clear evidence that His life was given for us" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1553.

And so God was able to satisfy both His holiness in its complete abhorrence of and wrath against sin, and His love. It really is the most incredible good news (gospel)!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for being my mercy seat. May I never take my sin lightly, but keep in mind God's wrath visited on you for me. Amen.

MORE: More on propitiation

"What is a 'propitiation'? It is a sacrifice that averts wrath through expiating sin, and cancelling guilt.


This...is the real heart of the gospel: that Jesus Christ, by virtue of His death on the cross as our substitute and sin-bearer, 'is the propitiation for our sins' (1 John 2:2). Between us sinners and the thunderclouds of divine wrath stands the cross of the Lord Jesus. If we are Christ's, through faith, then we are justified through his cross, and the wrath will never touch us, neither here nor hereafter. Jesus 'delivers us from the wrath to come' (1 Thessalonians 1:10)" - J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 173.


If you're interested in reading more, check the "Theological Term of the Week," propitiation page of the Rebecca Writes blog.


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Friday, March 04, 2011

"I did the best I could"

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 3:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Romans 3:20

Many people, if asked why God should let them into heaven when they die, respond with some version of: "I did the best I could." Even amongst us who claim to trust Jesus alone as our means to heaven, there is sometimes a sense of earning our way by being good enough.

In our focus verse from Romans, Paul squelches any possibility of that. There's a lot to explore in this one short verse.

1. It implies the need of humans to justify* themselves before God.
Way back in His unfolding revelation, God showed at least two things about Himself:
- He is personal: note His personal appearances to Abraham, Jacob, Moses and many others.
- He is demanding: shown by the giving of the ten commandments and the Mosaic law with penalties for failing to comply.

Theologian H. C. Thiessen says, in his Lectures in Systematic Theology: "The specifications of the divine commands with the announced penalty which would follow failures to obey served to arouse a conviction of guilt and fear of the consequences of sin" - p. 276.

2. It tells us that we can't be justified by keeping the law.
Though we do still take the Ten Commandments as our standard of morality, "They are repeated for our instruction as to what the will of the Lord is, but not as precepts that we are to endeavour to keep in order to become righteous. 'That would be useless,' Paul says,'by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified'" - Thiessen, p. 242.


3. It implies there is a way to be justified.
It is through Jesus. He paid the death penalty for our sin. We trust in Him alone.

"Paul declares that by the works of the law no flesh is justified in His sight. The law merely serves to reveal sin and to impel the convicted soul to flee to Christ. Jesus taught that the 'work of God' is to 'believe on Him whom He hath sent (John 6:29).


Men are not saved by 'doing the best they can' as the statement is commonly understood; but they are saved by 'doing the best they can' if thereby they mean that they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:12)." - Thiessen p. 365.

No matter how "good" we are, it's not enough to save us. We are all, from the most heinous murderer to the most saintly Mother Teresa, on level ground before God and in need of Jesus' death to be justified (i.e. reconciled with God).


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for sending Jesus who kept the law, and then died in my stead because I can't keep it. Help me to hold my dependence on You and Your justification through Jesus always in mind. Amen.


MORE: "Welcome to the place of level ground" by Brian Doerksen



"Welcome to the place of level ground" lyrics and cord chart.

*Justify: 
1] To show to be just, right or reasonable; vindicate.
2] To declare or prove guiltless or blameless, absolve, excuse.
3] To cause to be free of grievous sin, and be reconciled with God.


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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Write yourself out of a funk

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 31:1-24

TO CHEW ON: "Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart
All you who hope in the Lord." Psalm 31:24

Do you notice how the mood changes as you make your way through this psalm? David starts off in an emotional funk but ends in a much better place. Let's track his thoughts as he journeys from desperation to hope.

1. He cries for help (vs. 1-5):
From his bad place David cries to God "Deliver me...bow down Your ear...Deliver me speedily...Be my rock of refuge...Pull me out of the net...Into Your hand I commit my spirit."

2. He does some self-lecturing (even though, judging by what follows, his feelings aren't yet on-board) (vs. 6-8):
"I will be glad...You have considered my trouble...You have known my soul in adversities...(You) have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a wide place."


3. He lays it all out (vs. 9-13):
David speaks his feelings and fears: "I am in trouble...I am a reproach...I am repulsive...I am forgotten...I am like a broken vessel...They scheme to take away my life." Thankfully he doesn't stay there!

4. He declares his faith in God (vs. 14-15a):
"But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord;
I say 'You are my God'
My times are in Your hand..."
In other words, even considering the worst that people can do, David reminds himself that God, not his enemies, is ultimately in charge of his life.

5. He requests specific help (vs. 15b-18):
David puts into words exactly what he needs:
"Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me... Make Your face shine on me...Let the wicked be ashamed...Let the lying lips be put to silence."

6. Finally he offers praise to God, in faith that God has heard and will answer (vs.19-24):
"Oh how great is Your goodness...You shall hide them (those who fear You) in the secret place of Your presence...Blessed be the Lord...You heard the voice of my supplication when I cried out to You...Be of good courage ...All you who hope in the Lord."

My journal entries are sometimes a bit like this — a writing journey from trouble to trust. I find it helps to pour it all out on paper: the mixed-up feelings, the fears, the self-recrimination and revulsion. But it's important not to stay there but to move from a focus on self back to a focus on God.

If you're in trouble today, try writing your own version of Psalm 31. Just make sure you end up in the place David did — with your eyes on His face that shines on you.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for David's very real relationship with You, showing even his dark moments. I have them too. Help me to work my way out of them and back to You like he did. Amen.

MORE: Journaling resources

How to Keep a Spiritual Journal

Journaling: Being a Brave Soul (with more resources listed within the post and a link to more articles in Ann Voskamp's 2009 series about journaling).

I wrote a similar devo to this one on July 17, 2010. Check out the journaling resources in the More section there.



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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Teach your children well

"A Family Prayer" after the painting
by George Agnew Reid (1860-1947).

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Deuteronomy 11:18-32

TO CHEW ON: "You shall teach them (these words of mine) to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." Deuteronomy 11:19

My parents must have taken this verse to heart, for early in our family life Daddy instituted something we called schluss (a German word that means "conclusion"). It was a time of family devotions when he gathered everyone around to read a story from the Egermeier Bible Story Book. Then we all got on our knees beside our chairs and prayed oldest to youngest, starting with Dad. No matter that we resisted this, as we did when we got older by claiming we hadn't heard him call, or had homework, or were too tired, or even pretending to be asleep. The family altar my parents set up laid a firm foundation for me and my siblings in the Bible and the things of God.

Here Moses suggests that teaching the things of God to our kids should intrude even more into daily life than a once-a-day time of Bible reading and prayer.

He tells parents to teach the things of God using various sense portals. They can write God's words on the walls (sight). They can bind them on their hands (touch). They can speak them (sound). Additionally this teaching can happen anywhere, everywhere: when they sit in their houses and when they go for walks, the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning.

For us to initiate that level of God-awareness and inclusion in our children implies a similar level of God-awareness and inclusion in our own lives.

In Moses' time God-awareness meant learning, meditating, memorizing and discussing God's character and essence as demonstrated in the laws God gave Moses. It also involved storytelling, reminding each other of the ways He had come through for them in signs, wonders and miracles.

We have a more complete picture of God than the Israelites did. For in addition to what the they had, we have the personal reaction to those laws in the Psalms, the heart of a loving Father grieving over His wayward kids demonstrated in the prophets, the fleshing out of God the Son in the Gospels, what it looks like for us to be subjects of the Kingdom He ushered in, in the Epistles, and our own stories.

And so I ask myself, do I acknowledge God's presence in my life to the extent of bringing Him into the decor of my home? Do thoughts of Him preoccupy me often, like first thing in the morning and as I go through my day sitting, working, walking? Does He tuck me in at night? Do I recognize the incidents of God showing Himself present and strong in the circumstances of my life? In order for me to be able to introduce Him as such an ever-present God to my kids and grandkids, I need to first practice His presence in this way myself.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be intentional about including You in my day. Then help me to pass on my God-awareness to the next generation whenever I have the opportunity. Amen.

MORE: Family Devotions

There is a multitude of ways that families can bring God into everyday life. These are as varied and unique as families themselves.

Here are some resources that young families may find useful:

"How I Pastor My Family" by Justin Hyde on the Resurgence blog.

Josh McDowell Ministry: Family Devotional Archive


"Family Devotion Ideas" from the Every Good Path - Homeschool Family and Discipleship Ideas blog.

Bible Drive-Thru. This daily devotional blog for kids 8-12 is Bible-based and suitable for kids to read/do on their own or with parents. They take children through the Bible, with at least one devotion from each Bible book.

"5 On-The-Go Family Devotions for Summertime" by Kristin Charles on Ministry to Children.com.

"Cooking Up Family Devotions With Your Kids" by Kristin Charles on Ministry to Children.com.



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