Thursday, September 30, 2010

September 30th

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Luke 5:1-11, Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 5:12-16, Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26, Mark 2:13-17, Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 5:27-32, Mark 2:18-22, Matthew 9:14-17, Luke 5:33-39.

For less flipping read Luke 5, Mark 1:40-45, 2:1-22, Matthew 8:1-4, 9:1-17

A few different things jumped out at me in this passage.

First, was the response of Peter to Jesus' request that they throw their nets back in the water in Luke 5.

Now Peter was a fisherman by trade. He was no novice. And they had already been fishing all night long and hadn't. caught. a. thing.

And now Jesus, who, as far as Simon Peter knew, had never caught a fish in His life, was telling him to "go fish".

Peter's response demonstrates how much respect he already had for his new Master.

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." Luke 5:5 (emphasis mine)

Because you say so.

No doubt there have been times in the past, and there will be times in the future, where God is going to command you to do something that literally makes no sense.

This didn't either.

And yet, because his Master said so, Peter obeyed.

To me, this demonstrates two things.

First of all, that Jesus really was Peter's Master. There are a lot of people out there who claim to be Christians. But if they are not obeying Jesus, they demonstrate by their works (or lack of works) that Jesus is, in fact, not their Master.

Second, that Peter had complete trust in Jesus, even when it didn't make any earthly sense.

I want those two things to be evident in my life. First, that Jesus is my Master as evidenced by my obedience to His commands. And secondly, that I completely trust Jesus, as evidenced by my obedience to His commands, even the ones that don't make any sense.

The next thing that jumped out at me was the faith and determination of the paralytic's friends. Lesser men would've given up. They brought him and it was just too full of other equally sick people waiting to be healed - sorry buddy, better luck next time. But not these guys. They had faith in Jesus, they loved their friend, and that faith and love resulted in determination to finish what they started. I want that kind of love, determination and faith too!

The last thing is another reason I'm so thankful to have started this blog with the purpose of studying, and not just reading, the Bible.

"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." Matthew 9:16 (also in Mark 2 and Luke 5)

I've read this passage before. Considering the fact that it's also in Mark and Luke and that I read through the Bible last year, I have now read this passage a minimum of 6 times. And it's a familiar passage, so I know I've heard it numerous times more than that. And I've never understood what it meant, and, to my shame, I've never bothered to find out!

And now, all it took was reading the notes in my new Life Application Bible to find out. I didn't even have to study very hard to get something out of reading the Bible - imagine that!

I found out that new wine expands as it ferments and as it does so, it naturally stretches the wineskin bag that it's kept in. If you tried to put new wine into previously stretched bags, they would burst when the win expanded because they had already been stretched and could take no more. Ok, that all makes sense (and I think I've even heard that explanation before), but what does it mean? What's the relevance? (And maybe I've heard the application too and just don't remember it - not sure what is worse, never bothering to find out, or not paying attention when it is explained!) Anyway, my Life Application Bible has 4 different applications to this parable.

1) Jesus did not come to patch up the old religious system of Judaism with its rules and traditions. His purpose was to fulfill it and start something new (though this "new" thing had been prophesied for centuries). Jesus Christ, God's Son, came to earth to offer all people forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. This new Good News did not fit into the old rigid legalistic system of religion. It needed a fresh start.

2) The message will always remain "new" because it must be accepted and applied in every generation. When you follow Christ, be prepared for new ways to live, new ways to look at people, and new ways to serve.

3) The Pharisees had become rigid like old wineskins. They could not accept faith in Jesus that would not be contained or limited by man-made ideas or rules. Your heart, like a wineskin, can become rigid and prevent you from accepting the new life that Christ offers. Keep your heart pliable and open to accepting the life-changing truths of Christ.

4) Our church programs and ministries should not be so structured that they have no room for a fresh touch of the Spirit, a new method or a new idea.

The first one is the meaning of the parable, and the remaining three are different ways we can apply that meaning to our lives.

At first glance, it didn't look like that verse had any applicable meaning to my life. I don't drink wine, and I've certainly never seen it stored in wineskins before. But it took very little studying to realize exactly how applicable that verse actually was.

It's amazing how applicable the Bible can be to our daily lives when we put even a little effort into studying it in order to understand the truths God is trying to teach us through His Word.

Tomorrow's passage: John 5, Mark 2:23-28, Matthew 12:1-8, Luke 6:1-5, Mark 3:1-6, Matthew 12:9-14, Luke 6:6-11, Matthew 12:15-21.

For less flipping read John 5-6:11, Matthew 12:1-21, Mark 3:1-6

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September 29th

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Mark 1:14-15, Matthew 4:12-17, Luke 3:23, John 4:46-54, Luke 4:16-30, Mark 1:16-20, Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:21-28, Luke 4:31-37, Mark 1:20-34, Matthew 8:14-17, Luke 4:38-41, Mark 1:35-39, Luke 4:42-44, Matthew 4:23-25.

For less flipping read Mark 1:14-39, Matthew 4:12-25, 8:14-17, Luke 3:23, 4:16-44, John 4:46-54

I love the story of Jesus healing the government official's son in John 4:46-54.

What strikes me the most about this story is the man's faith. "The man took Jesus at his word and departed." John 4:50b (emphasis mine)

What was the evidence of the man's faith? Obedience.

He didn't ask for proof before leaving.

He didn't demand the Jesus act the way he wanted Him to act (he had requested Jesus come with him, but Jesus did not).

He did not question Jesus' decision.

He believed. And his belief was evidenced by his obedience.

We can talk all we want about how we believe in the promises of God, but if we do not act as though we believe them, we prove ourselves faithless.

The way we live, the way we act, is the most accurate reflection of what we truly believe.

In his sermon Go, Your Son Will Live, John Piper has several very interesting observations to make about this passage as well. He first talks about some things that can keep us from seeing Jesus' glory, just like the unbelief of those from His hometown. He mentions three things and it was the third that particularly jumped out at me....

And third... is a sense of over-familiarity with Jesus. This man is one of us. We know his mother and his brothers. He has always been so ordinary. How can he be what he claims to be? That same mindset can be in us: We are so familiar with the Bible, and with Jesus, and with Christianity, that it can’t shock us. He can’t do anything really mind-blowingly powerful. He’s too familiar.

O how we need to guard against these three impulses in our own souls. The first two (the pride of attachment and a sense of entitlement) minimize his grace. And the third (over-familiarity) minimizes his power. (emphasis mine)

That is one thing that I liked about watching the movie, The Passion of the Christ. Growing up in a Christian family, attending church every week, I was too familiar with the story of Jesus' crucifixion - it was like I just didn't get it. This movie jolted the story out of the familiar and helped me to get a glimpse of what Jesus' endured because He loves me.

Tomorrow's passage: Luke 5:1-11, Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 5:12-16, Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26, Mark 2:13-17, Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 5:27-32, Mark 2:18-22, Matthew 9:14-17, Luke 5:33-39.

For less flipping read Luke 5, Mark 1:40-45, 2:1-22, Matthew 8:1-4, 9:1-17

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 28 - Miriam

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is John 3-4:45; Luke 3:19-20.

A couple of the most well known verses in the entire Bible are in today's passage - most notably John 3:16.  It may, in fact, be the best known verse next to "Jesus wept."  A different verse stood out to me today, however, and I found a commentary that examines each verse of the entire book of John here that shed light on this verse for me and may further explain things that stood out to you in the passage as well.

Scripture:  John 4:23-24
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

The Samaritan woman spoke to Jesus about whether the Samaritans were right to worship on the mountain as their fathers had or whether the Jews were right and they were to go to Jerusalem to worship.  The verse is the latter part of Jesus' answer to that question where he says the Jews have been correct but a time is soon coming where the place of worship will not be what is important, but the manner in which people worship.  From the commentary noted above:
Note that Jesus’ statement also implies a change of the Mosaic Law. The Law clearly required worship in a specific place, and Jesus says that teaching was true. But by saying that soon would not matter, He was indicating that the law in this matter would soon change. This change occurred when He died on the cross, removed the Old Testament, and instituted the New Testament.

God is a living spirit, who thinks, chooses, loves, acts, and communicates with man. As such, He is not limited to any specific place, so under the New Testament He would not restrict worship to a place.

Because God is spirit (not physical), He wants worship that is in harmony with spirit as well as truth. Truth is God’s revealed will in the gospel (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16,17), so worship must harmonize with God’s will. Any unauthorized acts in worship displease God (Matt. 15:9; Gal. 1:8,9; 2 John 9; Rev. 22:18,19; etc.). This was the problem with the Samaritan worship in context – it was not based on truth.

However, worship must also be in spirit. It must emphasize spiritual concerns, proper attitudes, sincere meaning from the inner man. God does not want outward pomp, splendor, and display for the sake of show and enjoyment of man’s senses. He wants a sincere heart that expresses itself in harmony with the teachings of His word. There exists too much worship that involves going through outward motions without proper regard for the condition of the heart.

It's easy, with everything we have going on in our daily lives, to spend some or even much of the time that we should be spending worshipping, planning and thinking about other things instead.  We're easily distracted from the service, showing that our focus is all too often on earthly things rather than on heavenly things.  Or we are too focused on the details of the service in church to pay much attention to the attitude or spirit of the worship.  Or we're busy lamenting about what the church does or doesn't have (both the building and the people within it) instead of keeping in mind that the purpose of being there and being with those people is about fellowship and worship and not about the hymnals, the instruments that are or are not played, or who's doing what. 

I doubt that I'm the only one who could use an attitude check some Sunday mornings, or before Bible study, or any other time when worship and prayer and studying the Bible come into my day or my week.  Too often I find myself disappointed in the energy or the accompaniment of the music in church to properly focus on what the message of the song is and to whom I am supposed to be singing it, as an example.  While we should get enjoyment, fulfillment and fellowship from spending time worshipping together with other Christians, we must always remember that the main purpose of the service is to worship GOD.  It's about HIM, not about ME.

Heavenly Father, we know that you see our hearts.  You know our attitudes, our priorites and our focus in every area of our lives.  We pray that when we come to worship you that we would set our distractions and other priorities aside, whether it be for our church service, a praise and worship evening, a Christian music concert, a Bible study, or our own devotions.  Help us to focus on you, to align our attitude and our spirit with worship in a truthful and honest way, and to remember that it's not about the place, the time, or the accoutrements.  It's not for our enjoyment or entertainment, but to bring glory and honour to You.  In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Tomorrow's passage:  MARK 1:14-15; MATTHEW 4:12-17; LUKE 3:23; JOHN 4:46-54; LUKE 4:16-30; MARK 1:16-20; MATTHEW 4:18-22; MARK 1:21-28; LUKE 4:31-37; MARK 1:29-34; MATTHEW 8:14-17; LUKE 4:38-41; MARK 1:35-39; LUKE 4:42-44; MATTHEW 4:23-25.

With lots of flipping or with less flipping.

Monday, September 27, 2010

September 27th

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Mark 1:12-13, Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-15, John 1:19-2:25

Today I want to focus on Satan's temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

In his sermon Christ in Combat: Defense by the Spirit, John Piper explains the reason Luke put these chapters in the order that he did....
Matthew records Jesus' genealogy at the very beginning of his gospel and takes it back only to Abraham. Luke, however, records the genealogy here just after the baptism of Jesus (where he is announced as Son of God) and just before the temptations of Jesus (where he is attacked as the Son of God); and Luke takes the genealogy all the way back to Adam (whom he calls a son of God). This arrangement is all very important in communicating Luke's message about Jesus. I think the message goes like this: Adam had a unique relation of sonship to God in that he was directly created. But Jesus has an even greater unique relationship to God as the virgin-born divine Son of the Most High (1:35). Adam had a unique relation to humanity as the head from which all of us came. But Jesus has an even greater unique relation to a new humanity which he creates and redeems. Adam was tempted and failed, bringing all of his people into misery. Jesus is about to be tempted, but will not fail; so he will bring all of his people to victory. By taking the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam and making Adam a son of God, and by inserting this genealogy between the announcement of Jesus' sonship and the testing of Jesus' sonship, Luke shows that Jesus is like a new Adam, entering a new battle to redeem a new people. So when we read the account of Jesus' temptations, we must realize how much is at stake here. If he fails, he will be in the same class as the old Adam.

And, of course, Jesus does not fail. He resists the devil with the power of the Holy Spirit and with obedience to God while wielding the sword of the scriptures. And that is the template for us to resist temptation as well.

A few interesting observations about the temptations used by Satan....
1) some of the things were not wrong in and of themselves. Our desire for food, for instance, is a God-given desire. So is our desire for sex. However, this doesn't mean that we can steal food, or that we can engage in extra-marital sex. Satan likes to use our God-given desires to tempt us to satisfy them in the wrong way or at the wrong time or with the wrong motive.

2) Satan is often disguised as an angel of light. He misuses scripture out of context to try to tempt Jesus to sin. People pull verses out of context all the time to try to justify sin. This is exactly why we need to study the entire Bible carefully, so that we know, not only the verse itself, but the context of the verse and how it is applicable to our daily lives.

3) Satan focused on several different areas - physical needs/desires, possession & power, and pride. He attacks us when we are low (hungry, tired, lonely, worries, uncertain, vulnerable) and when are high (wealthy, proud, successful). He can use both our strengths and our weaknesses against us. There is never a time to let down our guard. We must always be armed for spiritual battle.

4) Satan is real, his power is real and we cannot make light of him. However, we also cannot make too much of him. He is not God, he is not even the opposite of God (the archangel Michael is the opposite of Satan), God has no equal, Satan is going to lose in the end and it's going to be a trouncing. But that is also what makes him desperate. Again, we must always be armed for spiritual battle.

We need to follow the example of our Saviour and resist the devil with the power of the Holy Spirit, with obedience to God while wielding the sword of the scriptures.

Tomorrow's passage: John 3:1-4:45, Luke 3:19-20

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Guest Post By Alicia

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Matthew 2:1-23, Luke 2:41-52, Mark 1:2-8, Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:1-18, Mark 1:9-11, Matthew 3:13-17, Luke 3:21-22

For less flipping: Matthew 2:1-3:17, Luke 2:41-3:18, 21, 22, Mark 1:2-11

There is so much in these passages one could focus on. The prophecy of Rachel crying for her children being fulfilled, the calling of God's son from Egypt being fulfilled, the declaration of Jesus as a child to be about his father's business, and on and on. My thoughts were very focused on Jesus being baptized however. Perhaps because we are in discussion with our near 13 year old daughter on the importance of baptism. She was deadly afraid of her head going under water until two years ago so when she came of age to take communion we allowed her to on basis of her profession of faith. Now however, we are bringing her back to the table on the issue as she is no longer afraid of water and she needs to obey God's command to be baptized. So, it's on my heart and mind lately.

It got me wondering why the sinless son of man really wanted to do this. I've read it before and understood the main concept John MacArthur explains here:

Yet, I wondered if there was more significance as well. I found some interesting thoughts.

"Quite simply, Jesus was baptized so he could enter into the Melchizedek priesthood so He could be the High Priest and offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.

In Matthew 3:13-15 it says, "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' Jesus replied, 'Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.'" Jesus got baptized to fulfill all righteousness.

Exodus 29:1-7, "This is what you are to do to consecrate them, so they may serve me as priests: Take a young bull and two rams without defect. And from fine wheat flour, without yeast, make bread, and cakes mixed with oil, and wafers spread with oil. Put them in a basket and present them in it -- along with the bull and the two rams. Then bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and wash them with water. Take the garments and dress Aaron with the tunic, the robe of the ephod, the ephod itself and the breast piece. Fasten the ephod on him by its skillfully woven waistband. Put the turban on his head and attach the sacred diadem to the turban. Take the anointing oil and anoint him by pouring it on his head."

Oil is a type of the Holy Spirit: "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth...As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit -- just as it has taught you, remain in him," (1 John 2:20,27).

The Holy Spirit descended from heaven as a dove and rested upon Jesus (Matt. 3:16).

Jesus was baptized because He had to fulfill the legal requirements for entering into the priesthood. He was priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Heb. 5:8-10; 6:20). Priests offered sacrifice to God on behalf of the people. Jesus became a sacrifice for our sin (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21) in His role as priest.

To be consecrated as a priest, He had to be:

•Washed with water (Lev. 8:6; Exodus 29:4, Matt. 3:16).
•Anointed with oil (Lev. 8:12; Exodus 29:7; Matt. 3:16).
Both of these were bestowed upon Jesus at His baptism.

Additionally, He may have needed to be 30 years old - (Num. 4:3)

•Exodus 29:1 - "This is what you are to do to consecrate them, so they may serve me as priests: Take a young bull and two rams without defect."
•Exodus 29:4 - "Then bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and wash them with water."
•Exodus 29:7 - "Take the anointing oil and anoint him by pouring it on his head."
"Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets," (Amos 3:7). "

(Taken from here.)

I thought this gave some further valid insight into this event.
It is interesting note also in the life of Christ, a great respect for the law. He was circumcised, baptised (the new sign of cleansing and anointing) and he kept the passover and Jewish feast ordinances. None for the purpose of cleansing sin, but for fulfillment of righteousness.

Tomorrow's passage:
Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-15; John 1:19-2:25

Saturday, September 25, 2010

September 25th

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Luke 1:39-80, Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-40

What jumped out at me in these passages was all the angelic messengers and all the fulfilled prophecies - what an amazing contrast to the last 400 years of silence! For us, reading the Bible, flipping from the OT to the NT takes a second - but those 400 years must've felt like a really long time. Can you imagine - that would be like us having heard nothing spiritual since the 1600's!

After all this wait, God made sure that those who needed confirmation received it in the form of angelic messengers - Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. The amazing heavenly display for the shepherds in the fields is almost beyond imagination - it would make our northern lights look like nothing in comparison.

But mostly I am struck by Joseph. So little is said about him, and yet his was such a difficult position to be in.

From my Life Application Bible....
Joseph was faced with a difficult choice after discovering that Mary was pregnant. Perhaps Joseph thought he had only two options: divorce Mary quietly, or have her stoned. But God had a third option - marry her. In view of the circumstances this had not occurred to Joseph. But God often shows us that there are more options available than we think. Although Joseph seemed to be doing the right thing by breaking the engagement, only God's guidance helped him make the best decision. But that did not make it an easy decision. Consenting to marry Mary surely cast doubt on his own innocence regarding the pregnancy as well as leaving them both with a social stigma they would carry for the rest of their lives. Yet Joseph chose to obey the angel's command. When our decisions affect the lives of others, we must always seek God's wisdom and then be willing to follow through no matter how difficult it may be. (emphasis mine)

Some might say that anyone would obey if an angel appeared to them and told them what to do. But the truth is, not everyone would. There were some serious repercussions to Joseph's decision to marry Mary, but he was a man of integrity and honour. He had character. And he was obedient to God despite the personal cost to himself.

Can the same be said of us?

Tomorrow's passage: Matthew 2:1-23, Luke 2:41-52, Mark 1:2-8, Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:1-18, Mark 1:9-11, Matthew 3:13-17, Luke 3:21-22
For less flipping read Matthew 2:1-3:17, Luke 2:41-3:18, 21, 22, Mark 1:2-11

Friday, September 24, 2010

September 24 ~ tammi

Today's reading from the One-Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Mark 1:1, Luke 1:1-4, John 1:1-18, Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38, Luke 1:5-38.

Guess what, ladies and gentlemen? Today we begin the


(I feel like there should be some trumpet fanfare or something, don't you?!)  And I am so excited to be able to post about the genealogies of Jesus!

Yes, you read that right ~ I love reading through these particular lists of names!

The accounts in Matthew and Luke differ a fair bit for a couple of reasons: 1) Matthew's only goes back to Abraham where Luke's goes all the way back to Adam, and 2) Matthew's traces Jesus' lineage through his earthly father Joseph, where Luke's traces Jesus' only biological lineage, which is through His mother, Mary.

Where Matthew was concerned about linking Jesus with the Jews, Luke ~ a Gentile ~ was concerned with linking Jesus to the entire human race. Where Matthew used official records, Luke used eye-witness accounts, and according to tradition, actually interviewed Mary to get his information about the foretelling and the birth of Christ.  But while those things are of interest to me, my favourite thing about the lists of names is found only in Matthew's account. Can you think what that might be?

That's right ~ Matthew's account includes some women.

But I don't love these women for the reasons you might think.  I don't love them because, "ah, FINALLY, the Bible is recognizing the importance of women in the appearance of Christ!"  No, that's not it.  What I love about the inclusion of these women is that all but one stand out because of sin ~ either theirs or the sin surrounding them.

Take Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law. She was married to Judah's son, Er, but God killed him because he was evil. Then Judah gave Tamar to his next son, Onan, as was the custom, but Onan was wicked too, and refused to preserve his brother's lineage by producing an heir with Tamar, so God killed him, too. Judah's third son was obviously considerably younger and needed time to grow up, so Judah invited Tamar to live in his home where he could provide for her until such time as his youngest son was old enough to marry her. Only that never happened. And Tamar got tired of waiting, stuck in cultural limbo. So she takes matters into her own hands, dresses up like a prostitute, and seduces her own father-in-law (who obviously had issues of his own, given he paid for the services of a prostitute), and became pregnant with twins as a result. And one of those twins, Perez, is recorded in the line of David and Jesus.

Take Rahab, the prostitute, whose faith saved her after she hid the Israelite spies on her rooftop and lowered them over the wall to escape. She ended up being the great-great-grandmother of King David, and also, as a result, an ancestor of Christ.

Take Ruth, the Moabitess, who should never have been taken as a wife by an Israelite man in the first place. She was from a nation God hated and He had forbidden intermarriage between Israel and Moab. Yet her love and dedication to her widowed mother-in-law is one of the most loved stories in the Old Testament; the love story of her meeting and marrying Boaz is one of the most beautiful. And in marrying Boaz, she became Rahab's daughter-in-law and King David's great-grandmother.

And then there's Bathsheba, who isn't even mentioned by name, but everyone knows this is who Matthew's talking about when he writes, "Uriah's wife." Man, one little relaxing bath on the rooftop before bed and her life is plunged into the centre of one of the biggest, ugliest, most notorious scandals of the Bible! And yet she becomes the wife of a king, the mother of the wisest man who ever lived, and an ancestor to The Messiah. Interestingly, Joseph is a descendant of her son Solomon and Mary descends from her son Nathan. This woman is inextricably linked to Christ!!

And then...

...and then we come to Mary, who stands in stark contrast to the other women mentioned; the only one in the list who doesn't appear as a result of any national or personal sin.  The only one willing to take on the appearance of sin for the glory of God.  She is young ~ oh, so very young ~ but so dedicated to doing God's will, no matter how she'll be labelled, no matter what Joseph and all Nazareth will think of her when they find out she's expecting yet still unmarried. No matter the cost, she gives herself up as a sacrifice to God and puts herself fully at His disposal to do with whatever He pleases. She uses the word "handmaiden," which is the feminine version of the word bond-slave ~ the word used to describe people who, though they had been set free, VOLUNTARILY CHOSE to stay and spend their lifetime serving their masters.

I love these women.

I love Bathsheba and Ruth whose names should never have appeared due to their nationalities, and whose circumstances were so unfortunate and so beyond their control, yet God used them in remarkable ways to shape the men in their lives and their descendants for many generations.

I love Rahab and Tamar, two women of VERY questionable repute who did some truly despicable things, and yet were both blessed for their faithfulness in the end, and rewarded with a position in the heritage of the most famous, powerful, loved and revered Jewish king of all time, and even of the Messiah Himself.

I love how through the inclusion of these women, and really, all the men as well ~ the good, the evil, and the mediocre ~ that God shows us over and over again, that He is in control. And not only that He's in control, but that He can work with ANYTHING we humans have to offer Him.  If He can provide salvation to the world through these unsavory characters who, by all outward appearances, had absolutely NOTHING to offer Him, surely He can use us to show off His glory as well.

And I love the example Mary sets for all people ~ of giving herself ENTIRELY to God's purpose. I love her willingness to be used by Him at all costs. I love that she's so young ~ God can use people of ANY age to do amazing things!!

We see in this genealogy that God can use people even if they are not committed to serving Him, but oh, I pray we would rather all have Mary's heart of service and say, "Behold the handmaids/bondslaves of the Lord; be it unto [us] according to thy word."

PS. I found SO much more information than I ever dreamed one would need about the details of the two genealogies, their discrepancies (including the case of Shealtiel's two fathers ~ Luke says it's Neri and Matthew says it's Jeconiah), possible reasons for them, and SO much more! If you're a geek like me, and have some time on your hands,  there's some pretty cool stuff there.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 23rd

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Malachi 2:10-4:6, Joel 1-3

Commentaries on Malachi passage
Let None by Faithless to the Wife of His Youth by John Piper (Malachi 2:10-16)
He is Like a Refiner's Fire by John Piper (Malachi 2:17-3:6)
You Will Be a Land of Delight by John Piper (Malachi 3:7-12)
I Will Spare Them as a Man Spares His Son by John Piper (Malachi 3:13-18)
The Sun of Righteousness Will Rise by John Piper (Malachi 4:1-3)
He Will Turn the Hearts of the Fathers to the Children (Malachi 4:4-6)
Commentaries on Malachi on
Sermons on Malachi by David Legge

Commentaries on Joel
Sermons on Joel by John Piper

I love how my Life Application Bible sums up the book of Malachi....
Malachi gives us practical guidelines about commitment to God. God deserves the best we have to offer (1:7-10). We must be willing to change our wrong ways of living (2:1,2). We should make family a lifelong priority (2:13-16). We should welcome God's refining process in our lives (3:3). We should tithe our income (3:8-12). There is no room for pride (3:13-15).

There are so many different things that we could focus on in these passages, but the one that jumped out at me was this one.....
"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse - the whole nation of you - because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." Malachi 3:8-10 (emphasis mine)

Now that is an incredible word picture for an incredible promise.

Money is a pretty sensitive topic. But I'm gonna tackle it anyway! ;)

As a whole, I think that Christians have taken advantage of the freedom we have in Christ to avoid giving back to God what is His to begin with.

In Malachi, God was telling the people that they were robbing Him by refusing to tithe - and their excuse at least, was that they were experiencing hardship and couldn't afford to tithe. Now that is still wrong.

But we in America, have the opposite "problem". We are refusing to tithe - and we have, if anything, too much! We are a wealthy people. Of course, some of wealthier than others, but the statistics show that the more money we have made, the less we have tithed.

Why is that?

I think there are 3 main reasons.

1) Because we love our money and we love our stuff and we love to spend our money on ourselves. Harsh, but true.

2) Because we view our money as our money and not God's money. A wrong perspective results in wrong action every time.

3) We do not believe God. If the reason we are not giving is because we are tight for cash, our actions say that we do not trust God and we do not believe God.

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

Contrary to popular belief, the NT has not abolished tithing per se. No, tithing is not specifically commanded. But it is assumed.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former." Matthew 23:23 (emphasis mine)

Jesus was not telling them that their tithing was wrong, in fact He states that they shouldn't be neglecting it. He was telling them that they were neglecting the spirit of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. They were to practice EVERYTHING.

In fact, not only is at assumed, MORE is commanded. We are commanded to give, not 10%, but sacrificially! We are commanded to give cheerfully. We are commanded to store up treasure in heaven, not on earth (the only way to do that with our money is to invest it in things that will impact eternity - like church, missions, etc).

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

Giving our 10% because we feel we have to, will not be blessed. Paul is emphasizing willingness!

And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 2 Corinthians 8:1-8 (emphasis mine)

Poverty resulting in generosity. Sacrificial giving. Giving in love. Giving out of joy.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2 Corinthians 9:6

In his sermon You Will be a Land of Delight, John Piper says of this verse....
In other words the issue isn't meeting a minimum limit. The issue for Paul is how to unleash the maximum liberality. The command to tithe just doesn't suit this approach. (emphasis mine)

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:28 (emphasis mine)
The opposite of stealing, is not working to earn a living, but working in order to be able to give!!

In his sermon on this Malachi passage, David Legge says....
William MacDonald has made this very piercing statement regarding the lack of stewardship in the church of Jesus Christ today: 'We rob God in this sense: often times the Lord's own money is not available to Him'. Imagine and contemplate the possibility that God's own money is not available to Him, because the Christians of Malachi's and today's day are so tight-fisted that they won't let go of it and allow Him to use it! This is the principle of stewardship. (emphasis mine)

Our view on money should not be.... "What is the minimum amount of my money I can give to God and still receive His blessing?" We should acknowledge everything we have as God's, and seek to find out how He wants us to use everything we have to bless others.

I think that it is easy for me to be legalistic, and it's actually easy to become legalistic in the area of generosity too. In other words, does that mean that we all have to live in little shacks and literally give everything away? I don't think so.

I believe this is where the Spirit comes in. We are to give as we are led. If you hear of a need, and you feel the Lord tug at your spirit to give - give! If you don't, and you not just looking for an excuse not to give, but truly don't feel led to give to that particular ministry - don't! Maybe God is waiting for a different opportunity for you. If we sincerely pray and ask God to direct our giving, He will.

And don't just give of your money. Give of your time! If every member of our church used their gifts to serve, even in only one area, imagine what we could accomplish for God!!

And in Malachi - God issues a challenge. A dare, if I may. He challenges us to outgive Him.
"Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."

Are you up for the challenge?

Tomorrow we're taking our first steps into the NT! I am especially looking forward to reading the gospel's chronologically - to really see the different perspectives of these 4 men.

Tomorrow's passage: Mark 1:1, Luke 1:1-4, John 1:1-18, Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38, Luke 1:5-38

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September 22nd

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Nehemiah 12:27-13:6; Nehemiah 5:14-19; Nehemiah 13:7-31; Malachi 1-2:9

Wow, there are a lot of commentaries available on today's passage in Malachi. Here are some of them...

You Shall Go Forth Leaping like Calves by John Piper (Christmas)
The Greatness of God's Electing Love by John Piper (Malachi 1:1-5) which discusses that little phrase "Esau have I hated".
Honor Thy Majestic Father by John Piper (Malachi 1:6-14)
The Curse of Careless Worship by John Piper (Malachi 1:6-14)
The Curse of Priestly Failure by John Piper (Malachi 2:1-9)
The Glory of Priestly Success by John Piper (Malachi 2:1-9)
Message on Love by David Legge (Malachi 1:1-5)
Message on Service by David Legge (Malachi 1:6-14)
Message on Discipline by David Legge (Malachi 2:1-9)

But, today I'm going to focus on the last chapters in Nehemiah.

In his sermon, A Praise Service to Remember, David Leggee, speaking about the celebration that occurred at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, says.....
Holiness precedes happiness! If you look at verse 30 of Nehemiah chapter 12, you will see that Nehemiah called for the priests and the Levites, and they purified themselves, and they purified the people, and they purified the place, and they purified the walls. You've got to understand, if you want to be happy as a Christian, if you want to have the joy of the Lord, you've got to be pure - because holiness precedes happiness. They didn't just say: 'Oh, the walls are built, let's have a party and a great celebration!', but the first thing that was done before all the joyous festivities was that the priests came, they were cleansed, the people were cleansed, the walls were cleansed, the gates were cleansed.....
Charles Swindoll put it this way: 'Moral carelessness and borderline sin give laughter a hollow ring'. Have you a hollow ring in your laughter? Is it because there's sin in your life, there's compromise, there's backsliding in your heart? (emphasis mine)

So happiness takes some effort. We all just want to be happy. Just be happy. It doesn't work that way. We need to be holy first. We need to get our focus off of ourselves, and focus on God.

His second point is that the expression of happiness is celebration and singing. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. Nehemiah 12:43b
Not just the music.... the joy!! And though their celebration was exuberant, it was also organized. And what a procession it must've been! One group led up and around the wall by Nehemiah and one by Ezra - can you just see it?

And his last point is that the secret to happiness is our focus. When we focus on ourselves, we inevitably lose our happiness. But when we focus on the Lord and on His attributes - we cannot help but be filled with happiness.

David Legge also has a sermon on Chapter 13 which I haven't had a chance to read yet.

I wanted to close with this quote from my Life Application Bible....

Nehemiah's life story provides many principles of effective leadership that are still valid today. 1) Have a clear purpose and keep evaluating it in light of God's will. Nothing prevented Nehemiah from staying on track. 2) Be straightforward and honest. Everyone knew exactly what Nehemiah needed, and he spoke the truth even when it made his goal harder to achieve. 3) Live above reproach. The accusations against Nehemiah were empty and false. 4) Be a person of constant prayer, deriving power and wisdom from your contact with God. Everything Nehemiah did glorified God.

Leadership appears glamorous at times, but it is often lonely, thankless, and filled with pressures to compromise values and standards. Nehemiah was able to accomplish a huge task against incredible odds because he learned that there is no success without risk of failure, no reward without hard work, no opportunity without criticism, and no true leadership without trust in God. This book is about rebuilding the wall of a great city, but it is also about spiritual renewal, rebuilding a people's dependence on God. When we take our eyes off God, our lives begin to crumble. (emphasis mine)

Can you believe that tomorrow is our last day in the OT?
Tomorrow's passage: Malachi 2:10-4:6, Joel 1-3

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Nehemiah 11-12:26; 1 Chronicles 9:1-34.

So I had several thoughts as I read today's passage - pretty short thoughts, considering the nature of today's passage.

First of all, briefly, I realize that culture being different, etc. will affect one's perception of what is a nice or acceptable name, but I just had to shake my head at some of the names in the passage today.  Zerubbabel?  Bakbukiah?

Anyway, one of the things that struck me as I read the passage was how well they were organized.  Nehemiah 11:1 - Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. 
Nehemiah 11:20 - The rest of the Israelites, with the priests and Levites, were in all the towns of Judah, each on his ancestral property. 
Most people knew from whom they were descended (thanks probably at least in part to the genealogies we find so dry to read now) and where their inherited land was.  They recorded how many returned to Jerusalem according to each group - from Judah, Benjamin, priests, Levites, gatekeepers, etc.

I find it interesting that people generally inherited not only their eye colour, height, male-pattern baldness, and so on from their parents, but their vocation as well.  The gatekeepers were descended from gatekeepers.  The singers were descended from singers.  Nowadays we're very far removed from that.  Of course, I suppose if an ancestor of mine and his descendants had been put in charge of something so important it would follow that someone or several someones from each generation would either volunteer or be chosen to fulfill that duty, especially if charged to do so by a king on behalf of the Lord.  See the reference below:

1 Chronicles 9:22-27 - Altogether, those chosen to be gatekeepers at the thresholds numbered 212. They were registered by genealogy in their villages. The gatekeepers had been assigned to their positions of trust by David and Samuel the seer. They and their descendants were in charge of guarding the gates of the house of the LORD -the house called the Tent. The gatekeepers were on the four sides: east, west, north and south. Their brothers in their villages had to come from time to time and share their duties for seven-day periods. But the four principal gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God. They would spend the night stationed around the house of God, because they had to guard it; and they had charge of the key for opening it each morning.  (emphasis mine)

Back to organization for a minute - look at the brief description for the duties above.  I don't know about you, but I sometimes assume (even though when I think about it, I know better) that because they didn't have the technological advances that we have now, that they wouldn't have been so well organized administratively, and yet we see that they had things organized and scheduled well, if the glimpses in this passage are anything to go by.  They had arrangements made even for the villagers to come and "share their duties for seven-day periods".  How smart is that?  This is just one example - I'm sure if we were to look for them there would be more. 

I think this hearkens back to a previous post where it talked about the fact that, yes, it is important to follow God's will, but we must do our best with what we've been given at the same time and not expect Him to do it for us.  I know that many of the rules they lived by were set down by God, but how to effectively organize and administrate that was up to the people.  In the same way, it is up to us to use our abilities and talents to the best of our abilities, and organize and administrate our resources - be it budgeting our time or our finances in our homes, or the resources of the people in our workplace or church, and so on.  Align your purposes with God's will, and make the best use of whatever is available to you that you can.
Tomorrow's passage:  Nehemiah 12:27-13:6; Nehemiah 5:14-19; Nehemiah 13:7-31; Malachi 1-2:9

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 20th

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Nehemiah 8:13-10:39

If you feel like getting your toes stepped on, I highly recommend that you read Pastor David Legge's sermon Putting Prayer Back in Its Place.

How much time do you spend in prayer?

We claim it's important. We know that God works through prayer. We know that we align our will with God's when we pray. We know that God commands prayer. We know that prayer benefits us.

So, I ask again - exactly how much time in a day do you spend in prayer? Have you given prayer its proper place in your life?

I know I haven't.

He goes on to talk about 4 principles to keep in mind when putting prayer back in its proper place.....
The pattern for revival of our lives, and chiefly our prayer lives, is repentance, reflection, recognition of our sin, and restoration of those things that are lacking.

The prayer in Nehemiah 9 touches all 4 principles.

In verses 5 to 6 the people looked up and worshipped God, and adored and praise the Lord, and because of His greatness they repented of their sin. In verses 7 to 31 they looked back with thanksgiving on reflection of their past to what God had done. In verses 32 to 37 they looked into themselves at their present condition and situation, and then they asked a request from God to help them because they were helpless themselves. Then in verse 38 they looked ahead in great hope at what God would do, because they were going to break out in revival!

Then he goes on to quote a famous hymn....

How long has it been since you talked with the Lord
and told Him your heart's hidden secrets.
How long since you prayed? How long since you stayed
on your knees till the light shone through?

How long has it been since your mind felt at ease?
How long since your heart knew no burdens?
Have you called Him your friend? How long has it been
since you knew that He cared for you?

How long has it been since you knelt by your bed
and prayed to the Lord up in Heaven?
How long since you knew that He would answer you
and would keep you the long night through?

How long has it been since you woke with the dawn
and felt that the day's worth the living?
Have you called Him your friend? How long has it been
since you knew that He cared for you?

Will you put prayer back in its place in your life? Will I?

Other commentaries on this passage
Renewing the Covenant for the Sake of God's Name (Chapter 9) by John Piper (one phrase that jumped out at me in his sermon was "inexhaustible grace" - isn't that amazing?!)
A New Call to Personal Holiness (Chapter 10) by David Legge. I wanted to quote one passage quickly from this sermon in regards to verse 1 where it talks about those who sealed the binding agreement...
the word of God has been found again and read publicly, they have spent much time studying it and are now realigning their lives in obedience to it. They've discovered again the place of public and collective prayer, and now they're actually putting their names to an agreement and a covenant that they will do what they have said they will do. Now this is very novel, because often we - as you will find out even this morning - will hear God's word and say: 'Yes, He's right, the word of God that I've heard this morning, I know that that is true', and we say 'I would like to do that'. We go away with great intentions, but we don't really put our names to it in the sense that we commit ourselves absolutely that we will follow this through. This is what they're doing, they're signing their names, the names collectively of their families, and saying: 'We're going to do what we say with regards to obeying God's word'. (emphasis mine)

He also references another hymn which, if we could pray sincerely and commit to following through on, would result in changes unimaginable!

More holiness give me, more strivings within.
More patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin.
More faith in my Savior, more sense of His care.
More joy in His service, more purpose in prayer.

More gratitude give me, more trust in the Lord.
More zeal for His glory, more hope in His Word.
More tears for His sorrows, more pain at His grief.
More meekness in trial, more praise for relief.

More purity give me, more strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains, more longings for home.
More fit for the kingdom, more useful I’d be,
More blessed and holy, more, Savior, like Thee.

Tomorrow's passage: Nehemiah 11-12:26, 1 Chronicles 9:1-34

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Guest Post By Alicia

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Nehemiah 3:7:3

Scripture: Nehemiah 4:6 So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

Observation: I remember this being a Teen Missions verse we had to memorize. At the time I thought they were using the bible to make us work:). I did not enjoy TMI my first year, but it grew on me and I ended up loving it. Still, this verse was quoted a lot for team unity and diligence on the mission field. Yet, when I really learned what that verse meant was when our Pastor went through this series at our church. Unfortunately they are no longer on our church site (though he just finished a few years going through Acts which was excellent so when we get there the links will be great. We are blessed with a great expository pastor who trained at The Master's Seminary under John MacArthur's leadership. I learned about church body unity and the importance of the work God has each of us focused on. These people faced incredible opposition and potential for great discouragement, mainly in themselves. Having a heart to work had to have a lot to do with getting over themselves and realizing what they did was for God and not about or for them. They learned to run the race that Paul spoke of later.
Application: Having a mind to work demands a lot. It means not letting discouragement nest in our minds and hearts. Keeping our eyes on Jesus and not our failings. It also means not sitting down and expecting others to do our part in the kingdom. Even if our part is changing diapers and taking cookies to our neighbor or helping out at our kids school and planting seeds there. The work God has for use is part of the walls of his amazing Kingdom! Every stone is important and cannot be missing.
Prayer: Lord, help us to have unity. Help the church to have a mind to work, and to work TOGETHER. Help us let go of where we have let you down or ignore the darts of the enemy against us that would slow us down or even stop us in our tracks. More than anything, help us keep our eyes on you and your purposes. May we have joy in seeing your walls being built today whether literally or figuratively in your Kingdom.

Tomorrow's passage:
Nehemiah 8:13-10:39

Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 18th - guest post by Pamela

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Nehemiah 3-7:3
Scripture: Nehemiah 4:6 and Nehemiah 7:15-16
6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.

Observation: Enter into a task with perseverance and reliance on God and even the impossible can be achieved.

Application: God's power to do the impossible is limitless. I am sure that rebuilding a wall that had been down for 150 years would have seemed like a daunting task. An impossible dream. A job that was just too big to complete. And it was...except that "the people worked with all their heart" and the "work had been done with the help of our God". We sometimes underestimate what God can accomplish because the situation just seems too large and so we are reluctant to even start it. I know, for me, I struggle to even start something when I think it is too big and that seeing the job to completion seems impossible and so I procrastinate and I certainly do not work at it with all my heart! Then I think about starting university 7 years ago after being out of school for a LONG time and that at the beginning it did seems like an impossible journey. Balancing a heavy course load with a husband and 3 young children who still needed me at home. It was a test of perseverance for sure and God's help through the prayer that I made it through the impossible and graduated last year. Not only did I succeed at the impossible task but now I am reaping the rewards at my dream job (that I honestly feel God had planned for me the whole time). I am certain that the people were reaping the rewards of the completion of their impossible task when the wall was completed as well. Can you imagine their joy when they had the wall rebuilt after 150 years and it had been completed in less than 2 months?! With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) Is there something in your life that seems impossible and needs rebuilding?

"The thought of rebuilding is something that I think each of us needs to meditate upon at times. I believe that over time in our lives we unfortunately can tear things down. Things that need rebuilding. Perhaps we have torn down our faith in some way. Perhaps our love for God. Perhaps our connection to a church community. Perhaps our relationship with a family member. Perhaps our service to the poor. Will you meditate upon your life and begin to rebuild in that area? Will you pray to God for strength in rebuilding in that area and will you allow his Spirit to lead you? I pray you will be encouraged by our readings this week in Nehemiah as you read about the Israelites rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. And I pray you will begin rebuilding the things in your life that have perhaps tumbled down over time!" excerpt from here

For a while, this song was my theme song. I heard it for the first time during a time when I was struggling with the impossible prospect of staying at my school when there was no job for me. It was impossible and yet I could hear God speaking to me through the words of this song to just trust in Him and that through Him the impossible could become possible. If you are struggling with your own "impossible" situation I hope this song encourages you.

Prayer: Lord, it is only through You that the impossible becomes possible. Our human minds can't even begin to comprehend the amazing power You have. We need Your help to have the desire to work with all our hearts and lean on You for seeing tasks to completion as You have planned. Help us to understand that it is not us but You who make it possible. Lord, I pray for everyone struggling through situations that seem just too big for them and wrap Your arms around them and let them feel Your presence and Your assurance that You will see them through. Amen.

Tomorrow's passage: Nehemiah 7:4-8:12

Friday, September 17, 2010

September 17th

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Ezra 9-10, Nehemiah 1-2

Here are a few commentaries on Nehemiah from Preach the Word.
The Man for the Hour - Nehemiah 1
Preparation for the Work Part 1 and Part 2 - Nehemiah 2

The final chapters of Ezra give us an excellent example of genuine confession and repentance. The Israelites had intermarried with foreigners, something they had been expressly forbidden to do. In this case, genuine confession, repentance and retribution required something extremely difficult - they had to send away their wives and children.

Wow. Those are some very serious consequences to sin. And that's one thing that this passage reminds me of. We may appear to get away with our sin for a time. These people were not immediately struck dead by lightning when they sinned. They or their wives did not die of a plague. Their wives were not barren. In fact, they obviously lived this way for some time, as they had children. Maybe they thought they got away with one. Maybe they had even convinced themselves that what they had done was not wrong because God was blessing them (with children). But you can't pull the wool over God's eyes. Delayed punishment, delayed consequences, delayed wrath, delayed justice, does not mean God condones our actions. It means we are being given a chance to repent, we are being given a chance to change, we are being given a chance to grasp onto mercy. Because eventually the time will come when we have to reap what we sow.

Sometimes the consequences are natural ones whether or not we are sorry for the sin (living in an unhappy marriage due to constant spiritual disunity because of a deliberate choice to marry an unbeliever).

Sometimes the consequences only come about when we repent and recognize what we've done and have to make things right. This was one of those times. And, in this case, they had to send away their wives and children. That is a very serious consequence indeed.

But you know what - sin always has consequences. We like to convince ourselves that it doesn't, when we're trying to rationalize doing something we know to be wrong. But it does. And God will not be mocked. Justice will be carries out. Darkness will be revealed in the Light. No matter how difficult it is.

The first two chapter of Nehemiah give us great insight into the character of this man of integrity. In his sermon Man for the Hour, David Legge says....
the reason why God turned to Nehemiah was not his position. The reason why God turned to Nehemiah to be a man for the hour, were the characteristics that we see in chapter 1 that I want to bring before you this morning. What are they? Here they are, three of them: one, Nehemiah was a man of burden, he was a man upon whom the burden that weighed heavy on God's heart weighed heavy too. Two, he was a man of prayer, he put that burden in his heart into the articulation of the language of heaven, prayer before the throne of grace. Three, he was a man of action - he wasn't just a man who knew what to do, and knew to pray about what needed done, but he was a man willing to get onto his feet and do something about it! Because of those characteristics Nehemiah became the man for the hour. (emphasis mine)

I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but I did want to acknowledge this. Nehemiah was an important person in the king's court, but that is not the reason God chose to use him. Nehemiah had a heart for what God desired, he was a man of prayer, and he was a man willing to act!

If we want to be used by God, there is the recipe right there. We need to have a burden for what God desires, we need to pray and align our will with His, and we need to be willing to step out in faith and do something about it, as He leads us to.

God uses ordinary people to extraordinary things all the time. Am I willing to be used by Him? Are you?

Tomorrow's passage: Nehemiah 3-7:3

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 16th

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Ezra 4:7-23, 7:1-8:36

There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, "The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him." So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. Ezra 8:21-23

There are so many applications to this passage!

We need to humble ourselves, acknowledging our weaknesses, our inability to do things without the help of God. We need to be dependent on God alone for protection. We need to have faith that God is in control. We need to pray first and then step out in faith, believing that God is faithful and in control of each and every situation.

We also cannot take God's promises for granted. We cannot pray glibly and treat God like a genie or fast food takeout.

I love this whole passage today - Ezra consistently gives God the praise for everything. I love 7:27 Praise be to the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king's heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way

And here's another one
7:28b Because the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

And another
7:6b The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.
Ezra had done a lot of dedicated studying, he was determined to obey the law, he taught others - but he did not credit a single thing to himself - he gave all the glory to God.

John Piper has also applied this passage to fasting for the unborn - you can see his sermon here.

Tomorrow's passage: Ezra 9-10, Nehemiah 1-2

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September 15th

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Esther 5-10

Even though God's name is not recorded in the Book of Esther, and even though there is speculation by scholars as to how strong Mordecai and Esther's spiritual lives really were (there's no doubt the Jews of the times were in a backslidden state as a whole) - of one thing there is no doubt - God's fingerprints are all over this book!

I can think of no other book in the Bible where so many little details take place in the exact order necessary for events to play out the way they needed to.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. Proverbs 21:1

I think those two verses basically sum up this book as a whole.

But first, Esther prayed and asked all the Jews of Susa to fast and pray with her. And THEN she acted. You know the saying "Pray as if it all depended on God, act as if it all depends on you". It DOES all depend on God, and we need to act as prompted by the Spirit.

Can you imagine the shock and then the tension in the court when Queen Esther appeared, without being summoned by the King - especially after everyone knew what happened to the last Queen who angered this powerful king, and the consequences of appearing before him unsummoned? There must've been an audible gasp in the court, all eyes focused on the dramatic scene in front of them. But, to paraphrase Prov 21:1, God turned the heart of the King, and he held out the golden scepter, sparing Esther's life.

And then Esther showed restraint. For whatever reason, she felt she should not ask the king in court, but she should invite him to a banquet.

Sometimes we are in the right to confront someone about something, but we don't wait for God's timing. Esther waited for God's timing.

And then Haman is infuriated by Mordecai's lack of respect for his high position and he build those gallows, which is then followed by the king's bout of insomnia during which Mordecai's act of loyalty is read to him and his realization that this loyalty had so far been unrewarded. Then Haman happens to walk in right then and ends up having to reward the man he loathes. Ahhh the irony! It's delicious!

You know, until I read this little tidbit in my Life Application Bible....
Our initial response to the story about Haman is to say that he got what he deserved. But the Bible leads us to ask deeper questions: "How much of Haman is in me?" "Do I desire to control others?" "Am I threatened when others don't appreciate me as I think they should?" "Do I want revenge when my pride is attacked?" Confess these attitudes to God, and ask him to replace them with an attitude of forgiveness. Otherwise, God's justice will settle the matter.

Man, even the story of Haman can hurt my toes.

Obviously my pride isn't as out of control as his was, but the basic sinful nature is the same. And it's only the grace and mercy of God that separates me from Haman.

Anyway, then Haman's rushed to the banquet where the Queen finally blurts out her charge, still witholding the man's name until the most opportune time, and then Haman falls on her couch right when the King returns from the garden and he ends up being hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai.

Detail after detail, timing after timing. This story is not about Mordecai, it's not about Esther, though they acted in faith as prompted to by God.

This story is about God.

It's all about God.

Tomorrow's passage: Ezra 4:7-23, 7:1-8:36

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

September 14 - Miriam

Today's reading from the One Year Bible Chronological Reading Plan is Ezra 6:14-22; Ezra 4:6; Esther 1-4.

So briefly at the beginning of today's reading, the temple in Jerusalem is finally completed, in spite of the fact that every time there was a new Persian king, new opposition was raised and always the kings decreed that the temple building proceed.  I can only imagine how joyful the completion of the temple and its consecration must have been for them after having been without a proper place of worship for so long.

Now we begin the story of Esther, a young Jewish girl who became queen of the Medo-Persian empire.  I was interested to notice that the book of Esther is considerably more detailed in its story-telling than many other books of the Bible.  For example, they even describe the length of time and a few of the beauty treatments that were administered to the virgins before they were presented to King Xerxes.  But they set up the scene very well.  Here is a king who "shows off" his great wealth and majesty for SIX MONTHS when he becomes king.  Then he throws a banquet for a week to finish the whole thing off, requests his beautiful wife to come before him so he can show her off, and she refuses to come.  (I don't know if I'd want to show up at a banquet full of men who've been drinking and partying for six months myself, but anyway...)  So Xerxes and his wonderful advisors decide she's setting a bad example for wives everywhere and consequently she's divorced and stripped of her "royal estate".  So she's not queen anymore.  Hopefully she was intelligent enough to realize that this was a blessing and not a curse.  Anyway, later Xerxes is kind of bummed out at no longer having a beautiful wife (although who knows how many beautiful women were in his harem) and they decided to have a virginal beauty contest.  Enter Esther.

I am always impressed most by Esther's bravery.  She knows what happened to Xerxes' previous wife.  She's been primped and preened and pampered for a year just to be presented to the king (and spend the night with him - did you catch that part?), which must be nerve-wracking in and of itself, and then she is chosen to be his wife.  I can imagine my heart sinking down to my toes upon realizing what the consequences of this could be, if I weren't very, very careful.  Of course, had she not been chosen, she would have had to remain in the harem under the care of a eunuch for the rest of her life, forbidden to marry anyone else.  After all, once one has spent the night with the king, one is ruined for all other men. (sarcasm)  But had that happened, she probably wouldn't have saved the life of the king by intervening in an assassination plot, thereby gaining his trust, and she wouldn't have saved her people.  But I'm getting ahead of the story. 

Moving right along... Enter Haman.  It amazes me how often people are so quick to judge an entire nation of people for having different customs and practices than they have themselves.  I would think Haman could have satisfied himself with all the other people who bowed to him all day long.  But no, he decides to wipe out an entire group of people all across the empire on one specific day.  Can you imagine all the people who would have to be involved in an undertaking like that?  I do not understand how so many people can go along with such an evil plan.  Of course, I understand that many of them would decide they had no choice, as it was a royally decreed undertaking and they are all under the rule of the king.  Not to mention that many of them probably didn't think much of the Jews in the first place.  But still.  To exterminate an entire group of people because they're different than you are?  I know it's happened over and over again, but I don't get it.  (Did anyone else think of the Holocaust while reading this?  Does anyone know how many times the Jews as a nation have been threatened with genocide?) 

Anyway, the royal decrees are issued and now the Israelites have almost a year to fret and worry and get their affairs in order before the axe falls.  (Or whatever other method they were planning on using.)  So now the king has inadvertently decreed that his own wife shall be executed.  She finds out from Mordecai what is going on and she decides to go to the king, knowing that anyone who enters the king's presence without his first requesting it will be killed unless he extends his sceptre to them.  She must have been terribly afraid.  Here she is, a young woman hiding the secret of her heritage from her husband the king and everyone else.  Her husband got rid of his first wife for disobeying him.  He's issued a royal decree at the behest of Haman, the most powerful advisor in the empire, and now she, who was chosen for her beauty and not necessarily expected to have brains, must attempt to see him without his having called for her, inviting a death penalty if he's not pleased to see her, and then convince him not to massacre her people and her along with them.  Whew!  I must say, I'm certainly glad I'm not her.  Or wasn't her.  You know what I mean.

All of this to say that it is easy, in hindsight, to see the hand of God guiding all these events, making sure both Mordecai and Esther were in the right place at the right time, finding favour with the right people, etc.  May we accept our roles in the work of God with grace, whether we're Vashti (stepping aside to make way for someone else, though we don't realize it at the time) or Esther (called upon to do things that terrify us, though probably won't cause death nowadays).

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to tomorrow's reading, for sure!

Tomorrow's passage: Esther 5-10