Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31, 2011 -- Sandy

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is: Genesis 33-35 and Matthew 20:17-34

I LOVE the patriarchs. These stories in Genesis are some of my favorites. Today's soap operas have nuthin' on these guys. Lies, trickery, polygamy, murder, rape. Golly. Talk about dysfunctional family?!

And our Patriarchal Soap Opera continues. The brutal rape of Dinah by Shechem. (Who then has the gall to say he loves her and demand her as a wife. Ew.) The murder of every man in the city by Jacob's sons.

After the pain of seeing his daughter brutalized and his sons' cold hearted act of murder, Jacob must have been in considerable pain. Could he have been angry with God? Who knows. In that position, I probably would be. The Word doesn't say. But it does say that God spoke to Jacob and told him to move. Jacob does. Right away.

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. 3Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone." Genesis 35:2-3

That's not only some serious faith, that's a man who's desperate for God's blessing and comfort in the midst of heartache. The Word doesn't say much about Jacob's reaction after Dinah's rape, but what father wouldn't be sick with anger and grief? I can't imagine that kind of pain.

What waits for Jacob when he arrives?

9God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10And God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name." So he called his name Israel. 11And God said to him, "I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you." 13Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. 14And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. 15So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel. Genesis 35:9-15

God's blessing. His reminder of His promise.

This is a family who has done more than their fair share of deceiving, cheating, distrusting God's promises, and even murder. This is God's chosen line?

OH YES! And how much the better for us. The entire Patriarchal line was a train wreck. Yet God blessed them and made a great nation out of them. How much more will He do for us? His chosen children?

How many of us have lied? Failed to trust? Sinned in our anger or grief?

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

We're all trainwrecks. Just in different degrees. Yet God chooses to bless us. He chooses to love us and give us grace and mercy despite our own yuckiness. A lineage of broken people who make mistakes...and from THAT lineage, He gives us Christ. What a display of His mercy! His grace! His mighty power to heal!

Why would I say that these stories are my favorites? Stories of dysfunctional families, pain and deceit? Because I'm no better.
"But for the grace of God go I...."

Jesus as our savior has so much meaning! Eternal life. An earthly life filled with grace and mercy and the blessed freedom from the sin that once held us in a choke hold. Coming to Christ as a young adult (I was 23), I can remember with a pain all too fresh the grip sin held on me not too long ago. A heart filled with anger and bitterness. Unkind words flowed from my lips like water from a faucet.
A marriage on the way to fulfilling a legacy of generational sin and divorce.

But, God called THIS trainwreck to something better. He brought me to Bethel. To the 'House of God'. El Bethel brought me home. And gave me a future better than the one I had laid out for myself.
Thank you God. I can never thank You enough.

(As an aside, if you ever get the opportunity to participate in "The Patriarchs" by Beth Moore, I highly recommend! It's an amazing study!)

Tomorrow's passage: Genesis 36-38 and Matthew 21:1-22

Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30th

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Genesis 31-32, Matthew 20:1-16

OK, I confess.

This Matthew passage is so intended for me it's ridiculous.

My Life Application Bible says this....
This parable is not about rewards but about salvation. It is a strong teaching about grace, God's generosity. We shouldn't begrudge those who turn to God in the last moments of life, because, in reality, no one deserves eternal life.

Most of the time, I'm 100% on board with that. I pray that all my friends and relatives (shoot, most everyone in the world!) will turn to Jesus before they die and I wouldn't begrudge their deathbed confessions one bit.

Except for the really bad people.

The Hitlers and Stalins of the world. The serial killers, the child molesters, the rapists. People who inflict tremendous cruelty on other human beings. If I'm being completely honest and transparent, I want them to rot in hell.

And I know that's wrong.

A fairly normal, natural, human desire I think (tell me I'm not the only one!), but wrong nonetheless.

And so I confess this sinful heart attitude, and acknowledge that, even though I don't want to, I want to want to have a better, more godly attitude towards even the most despicable of people. I need God to perform that work in me cause I know I surely cannot.

Lord, help me see sin through your eyes. Help me see that my "little" sins are horrific in your sight but that you are merciful to me, just as you are merciful to the "big" sinners. Give me a love for the lost. Not just the average person, but all people. Give me a heart that is able to desire salvation and redemption from even the worst among us. I can't do it God, only You can. I know that this does not mean I am excusing, condoning or making light of their sin. It means I am making much of your grace. Lord, please, help me. Amen.

Tomorrow's passage: Genesis 33-35, Matthew 20:17-34

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29th

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Genesis 29-30, Matthew 19

Wow, there's a lot going on in today's readings! Deceit, marriage, polygamy (and all it's disastrous consequences!), jealousy, competition - it's never ending, and the majority of it is not good.

I do kinda feel like Jacob got his just desserts when he was tricked by his uncle into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. Of course, what Laban did was totally wrong, but it definitely feels like a "what goes around comes around" kind of moment, kwim?

I always feel for Leah in this passage. But I did read one interesting devotional that made me rethink this passage just slightly.

Leah did nothing to stop the trickery.

I know, she didn't have a lot of options. Women weren't worth much in those days and I'm sure she was ordered by her father to do this. But when we are ordered to do something that is wrong, we are culpable if we go along with it.

And Leah did.

She could've spoken up at some point and let Jacob know that she was not Rachel, and yet she chose to remain silent. Whether out of fear of what her father would do, or maybe because she loved Jacob and wanted to be his wife, we don't know. But she obviously went along with the plot. And it succeeded. And she was miserable for years afterwards.

When we read the names of her sons we see her desperately trying to win the love of her husband. Reuben - the Lord has seen my misery, surely my husband will love me now; Simeon - The Lord heard that I am not loved; Levi - now at last my husband will become attached to me. But, she realizes sadly, that though Rachel remains barren and though she herself has borne Jacob three sons, he still does not love her.

But finally, after her fourth son is born, she names him Judah - this time I will praise the Lord!

And it seems like she has finally realized that her worth is not dependant on the love of Jacob but on the love of God.

Unfortunately, it seems like she forgets this lesson fairly quickly when her and her sister begin a child-bearing contest as the rest of her and her maidservant's children's names do not reflect the same assurance.

Both Rachel and Leah illustrate the wrong way that we sometimes go after the love of God. We either think that we have been good enough to earn His love, or that we can never be good enough to earn His love. But the reality is - we can't earn His love. It is a gift, freely given! It's unconditional and it's endless! There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and there's nothing we can do to make Him love us less. We can live life to the fullest, assured of His love every day.

I love it that Jesus is descended from the line of Judah - God made Leah a princess!

Speaking of marriage relationships.... on to Matthew!

"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." Matthew 19:7-8

There is an excellent two part sermon by John MacArthur on this passage that you can read here and here.

First of all, the Pharisees twisted the Deuteronomy passage (Deut 24:1-4). Moses did not command divorce. And divorce was not God's original intent. But the people were disobedient. They were committing adultery and not following through with capital punishment. But God was merciful. He could've executed the death penalty Himself, but He didn't. However, if they had carried out the appropriate penalty, the innocent party would've been freed from the relationship (widowed) and free to remarry. God's mercy to the sinful party should not make things worse for the innocent party (having to remain married to an unrepentant adulterer). So in order to protect the innocent party, God allowed divorce. But it is clear that unrepentant adultery, and an unbeliever wanting to leave their marriage to a believer (1 Corinthians 7) are the only acceptable reasons for divorce.

Irreconcilable differences don't cut it. Falling out of love doesn't cut it. "He's changed" or "I've changed" also not a valid reason. "God wants me to be happy" as an excuse for divorce is a lie straight from the pit of hell.

There is likely nothing Satan delights in better than the destruction of marriages and families that is running absolutely rampant in our society today.

A few of them qualify as biblical divorce, but the majority do not.

And we are suffering the effects.

Marriage was intended to super-glue two people together for life. When you rip apart two pieces of paper that have been super-glued together, you're left with two ripped up jagged pieces of mess. Yes, God can heal. But there are consequences that are lived with forever. God can and will heal those jagged pieces, but it simply is not possible for it to be as though it never happened.

We need to teach our children about what marriage is and what it is not. It represents God's covenant with His people - it represents the glory of God.

We need to teach our children how serious this covenant is. To choose their mate carefully, and to choose spiritually. Beauty fades. Character and virtue don't.

Tomorrow's passage: Genesis 31-32, Matthew 20:1-16

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday, Jan 28 ~ tammi

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Genesis 27-28, Matthew 18:21-35.

Today's Old Testament reading carries on yesterday's theme of sibling rivalry and we see Jacob usurping the blessing that would rightfully have belonged to Esau and then running for his life.  I constantly wonder why Rebekah suggested what she did and why she helped Jacob trick Isaac.  Why would she have chosen to be so deceitful to her own husband when God Himself had told her that her favourite son would rule over his older brother?  (25:23)  Seriously, what was she thinking??!

Why, oh WHY, are we not content to rely on God's promises?  I tend to hold some of these Old Testament people to a slightly higher standard because God's promises to them were often much more direct and specific, but in those rare moments when I'm really honest with myself, I have to admit I am so much MORE culpable because I have so much more knowledge of God at my disposal than they did ~ I have His entire WORD from start to finish!!  Yet I struggle with trust and allowing God to work things out in HIS time, for HIS glory.  We're so quick to lend Him a "helping" hand, aren't we?

You wonder how, exactly, things would have played out if Rebekah had had more faith and just kept minding her own business.  Would Jacob and Esau, as nations, have remained allies instead of becoming bitter enemies and staying that way, even to this day?  And I can't help but feel horrible for Isaac, finding out that his wife had deceived him; had been behind the whole plot from the beginning.  To die feeling like your spouse had betrayed you and your entire line of descendants would be horrible, especially given the importance of the family blessing in that culture.

Later on, we see something of a reconciliation between the brothers, and it's possible that during their physical lives, they remained on good terms after that, but the same cannot be said of their descendants.

And then once again, we see that little link between this Old Testament passage and the one from the New Testament, where Jesus tackles the issue of forgiveness by offering His disciples the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor.

Jesus has just been talking about how to address sin and wrong-doing amonst believers and Peter pipes up, asking how often they're required to forgive.  Jewish religious law at that time taught a "three strikes and you're out" policy on forgiveness, so it's safe to say that Peter thought he'd get a pat on the back for suggesting one should forgive more than TWICE as often as the Pharisees said you should.  Maybe a bonus pat for recommending a number that was considered perfect.

I try to imagine the scene: keep in mind, Jesus is possibly still holding the young child on His lap from v. 2 and He's been teaching them about how to live like believers.  I imagine it's a warm, sunny day and they're resting in the shade of a large tree.  Some women are nearby, keeping their hands busy with mending or washing; their children play nearby, occasionally running through the circle of men.  Suddenly, Jesus reaches out and grabs one as he dashes by and the men enjoy a good chuckle at the boy's suprised expression.  Jesus tickles him until he almost can't breathe, and then tucks him close under his arm as he continues to teach His disciples.  The little boy listens, too.

Then Peter makes his very magnanimous suggestion about forgiveness and Jesus absolutely blows them away by answering that seven times isn't nearly enough!  I imagine those disciples and on-lookers who were maybe dozing off in the warm afternoon were suddenly very awake!  I wonder if their expressions weren't similar to the little boy's when Jesus snatched him off his feet.

Jesus then goes on to tell the story of God and His great capacity for forgiveness, continuously forgiving debts we simply cannot repay, and how as a result, we're expected to extend that constant forgiveness to others.  Interestingly, the word we see translated as "ten thousand" is apparently the highest number in the Greek language that there is actually a word for, so it may not be referring to a specific number at all, but an unimaginable amount.  It would be like if Jesus was telling the story now and saying the first servant owed the king a zillion dollars.  It's just an unfathomable number, something no one would ever be capable of paying back.

It's safe to say God takes a very dim view of unforgiveness.  Verse 34, in some translations, says the master gave the wicked servant to the tormentors or torturers till he could pay all that was due.  I believe He may be talking about hell here, and how our eternal destination hangs in the balance when it comes to forgiveness.  This is serious stuff.

Forgiveness is hard, no doubt about it!  We so much rather hold a grudge, harbour resentment, or tuck the memory of the wrong-doing away to dig up later and rehash at just the right moment.  And yet we see the damaging effects a lack of forgiveness has on any relationship and how the resulting bitterness destroys people from the inside out.  You'd think, knowing how detrimental it is, it would be easier to desire to forgive, and yet it just doesn't work that way.

We continuously need to be reminded of our own sin, our own HUGE debt of gratitude to a God who paid for our sins even before we committed them, and to avail ourselves of the power and grace of the Holy Spirit to help us extend that grace and mercy to others.

Tomorrow's passages: Genesis 29-30, Matthew 19

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday, January 27 ~ Miriam

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Genesis 25-26; Matthew 18:1-20.

What I saw today in the reading wasn't so much a particular verse.  Rather, I saw these things:

Abraham had seven sons besides Isaac.  Isaac received everything Abraham owned upon his death, but prior to that Abraham "gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east."

Ishmael had 12 sons "And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers."

Jacob and Esau were not only brothers, but twins, and yet they were as different as could be - Esau loved hunting and the outdoors and Jacob preferred peace and quiet and stayed among the tents.  Consequently, "Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob."  Which led to Jacob blackmailing Esau out of his birthright.

Then, of course, you have Cain and Abel from a couple of weeks ago.  The very first murder on Earth and it's one brother killing another.

Sibling rivalry is a common thing.  We more or less expect our children to fight with each other at least to a certain extent, as we did with our siblings when we were young.  Yet at the same time, I try to tell my children, when they've been having "one of those days" where they can't seem to be in the same room for more than two minutes without getting into a scrap of some kind, that their brother/sister is part of their family no matter what - they need to learn to get along and care about each other.  Of course this is great practice for being kind, compassionate and thoughtful towards everyone else in their lives as well, but there is something special about siblings.

My sisters and brother and I fought with each other growing up, as I'm sure most people with siblings did.  And yet today they are some of my best friends in the world.  In particular Rebekah (sorry, Rebekah, hope you don't mind me saying this) who is two years younger than I irritated me beyond all reason when we were kids and teenagers (not saying it was all her fault) and she and I are now as close as I can imagine sisters being.  We've often said to each other in the last couple of years "Who do people talk to about this stuff if they don't have sisters?"  (I'll leave the stuff up to your imagination.)

I can't imagine my siblings and I not being friends.  We still don't always agree about everything, but I can't remember the last time there was an actual "fight" with hurt feelings between any of us.  I just assumed that it was because we're all grown-ups now and we've matured to the point where we can get along and love each other without agreeing about everything all the time.  Apparently this is not always the case.  I've heard a number of instances in the last while of grown siblings who are having or have had disagreements, arguments, fights... whatever you want to call it... and stop speaking to each other.  That makes me very sad to hear.

Linking nicely with our Matthew passage today, we have the verses on A Brother Who Sins Against You"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'"  Of course this is not talking only about siblings, but brothers and sisters in Christ.  I take notice, it doesn't say to talk to the two or three others first, talking behind his or her back.  Nor does it say to stew about it for a while or let it grow and fester.  Talk to him or her privately.  If that doesn't work, bring one or two people along.  In other words, don't broadcast it to the general public and cause embarrassment or defensiveness, which is likely to make him or her less receptive to what you have to say.  And only if that doesn't work, tell it to the church, who are still the loving Christian family of this person, who (hopefully) have the person's best interests and wellbeing at heart and will seek to correct lovingly.

The Bible says that Jesus had siblings... I wonder... we know almost nothing of Jesus' childhood.  Did they argue?  Did they wrestle?  Did they purposely provoke each other when they thought their parents weren't looking, and then tattle when the other one retaliated?  Did Jesus look at a younger sibling and think "Man, what a dork!"  Were his siblings envious of him, not only as the oldest (who inherited everything in those days), but because he was different?  Could they see, even then, that he was special?  Or was he "special" in the way that gets teased, bullied and made fun of?  I don't know... what do you think?

Tomorrow's passage: Genesis 27-28; Matthew 18:21-35.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - Kathryn

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is  Genesis 23-24; Matthew 17

My goodness, there is so much in today's reading!  Where to begin!  This is almost like a mini-movie.  We have death, action, love and spectacular events!  Wow!  The word of God is so full of life, is it not?

I am always comforted in reading that Sarah lived a long life even after the birth of her son.  She really got to know him, to raise him to a man and to see who he would become.  I believe the Lord blessed Sarah for her faithfulness even in spite of her disbelief and mistrust of Him.  This again shows the generous side of our Lord in that, He is not vindictive, but is gracious and loving toward us.  He wants to give us good things, as Matthew 7:11 tells us "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"  We do not know the prayers that Sarah may have prayed, but we can guess, as most of us are mothers and have prayed the same prayers, that she wished and hoped to be around for a good long time to get to know her son and to raise him.  The blessings of children are not just in having them, but seeing them grow and being a part of that.  Sarah was blessed in this.

The 'courtship', shall we call it, of Rebekah and Isaac has always interested me.  I love it how specific the servant is in his prayers about finding this woman.  He lays it all out to God, so that he will know for sure this is the one.  I don't know about any of you, but I was specific in my prayers too about finding a husband.  I had made a list of 10 attributes that I sought in a husband.  And I kid you not, the Lord answered each and every one of those attributes.  He even had a little fun with it.  I asked that my future husband play some sort of instrument, I was thinking piano, or guitar.  I should have been more specific.  This was the last one to be 'revealed' to me while dating Andrew.  I found out that Andrew played a flugabone in marching band.  Yeah, that's what I said.  I learned that day, as we can see here in scripture, to be careful what we pray for, we just might get it.  And that it's ok to be specific in our prayers.

I believe the Lord hears ALL our prayers, the ones that are general "Lord, help me!" and specific.  I don't think there is a 'formula' for praying.  Sometimes I get so bogged down by trying to pray the perfect prayer.  And that's not going to happen!  I do believe there is a reverence that is lost in today's generation, but I also believe that the Lord wants us to come to Him open and honestly.  Granted, He's not a genie in a bottle to obey our every wish and whim, but I believe He wants to know what is on our hearts.  I believe when we open our hearts and are truthful about what's there, our desires, our hurts, our passions and our sins, it is then He is able to cleanse and mold us to His making.  If we keep those things closed in He cannot change us.  Ah, but being transparent with the Lord also means accepting the reality that He might not answer how we think He should.  But I think the portion of scripture that comforts me the most in regards to prayer is from Ephesians 3:20 "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..."  So no matter what I say, or ask for it is according to His power that He will answer and to more than I can imagine. I'm sure the servant of Abraham was more than thrilled that his prayers were answered so precisely.  The man prayed with boldness!  Do we pray that way?  Do I?  Hebrews 4:16 tells us "Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Woah, we are told we can speak frankly and honestly with the Lord God.  So do we?  Why not?  Are we afraid?  Am I afraid?  How does this knowledge change our prayer times?  I wonder how different my walk would be with the Lord if I were more honest in my prayer times.  Something to think about.  

You taught us how to pray in Your word, continue to teach us how to pray.  Continue to draw us to You that we may practice and grow our relationship with You.  Please continue to be patient with us as we learn about You.  You are so complex, yet You make things so very simple for us.  Thank you Father God.  We do love You.  Amen.  

Tomorrow's passage: Genesis 25-26, Matthew 18:1-20

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25 - Jody

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is:Job 41-42; Matthew 16

The end of the book of Job. After such heart-wrenching despair, judgement from friends, feelings of abandonment from God, we see Job's redemption!! But what part of these chapters is his redemption??
My first inclination is to quote 42:12-13
The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters.

Wouldn't we consider that Job's full restoration? This ending satisfies our human idea of Job "finally getting what is owed him" after suffering for God so much. And yes, I do think that this is part of God restoring Job and rewarding him for his faithfulness, but when I read these chapters today, something else struck me.

Job's Spiritual Restoration

Job has spent the entire book, lamenting, calling out to God "WHY ME"?!?! He deals with extremely judgemental friends trying to answer that question on behalf of God and yet, hears nothing from God for 37 chapters. Finally, after 3 Chapters of response from God, I believe Job actually experiences his Spirit and Soul restored.

Job 42:1-5
1 Then Job replied to the LORD:
 2 “I know that you can do all things;
   no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
   Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me to know.
 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
   I will question you,
   and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
   but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
   and repent in dust and ashes.”

He fully understands and experiences God's sovereignty. He submits 100% to God's plan and realizes it was never his place to question what God was doing. And. He. Repents. This is the part I often forget. I sin, I question, I submit, but often... to often... I forget to repent.

 I love, love, love, verse 5: "My ears have heard of you but now my eyes have seen you." What a gift, what a place to be for Job. He is at a point where he not just knows OF God, he KNOWS GOD!

And notice, it is AFTER this that God has him pray for his friends (which is a WHOLE other post!) and THEN restores his earthly wealth. I just love, this story of complete restoration. Did anyone notice how this reading totally tied in with Sandy's post from yesterday??? The fact - again - that we need to remember our place:

"Jesus is our friend. He's our co-heir, according to the Word. He's our Savior, He loves us and wants our company and fellowship.

But we are not equals.

We are as dogs at His feet. Beloved companions to be sure, but not equal."

I've attached a link to my favorite Praise and Worship song of all time. I've also included the lyrics underneath. I think it totally describes what we see with Job in this book, and is a song of victory for those of us living in complete and utter dependence on God. I mean - who else can turn mourning into dancing, but our loving, SOVEREIGN GOD!!!

You bring restoration
You bring restoration
You bring restoration
to my soul

You've taken my pain
called me by a new name
You've taken my shame
and in it's place, You give me joy

You take mourning and turn it into dancing
You take weeping and turn it into laughing
You take mourning and turn it into dancing
You take my sadness and turn it into joy

hallelujah, hallelujah
You make all things new, all things new

~Praying we all dance, laugh, and bask in the restoring love that God pours out on us all!~

 Tomorrow's passage: Genesis 23-24; Matthew 17

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24th, 2011 -- Sandy

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is: Job 38-40 and Matthew 15:21-39

I must say, thank you for your grace and patience with me. Morning sickness is passing and I'm feeling fabulous! I'm grateful for your kindness and prayers!

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us." 24He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." 26And he answered, "It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs." 27She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table." 28Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.
Matthew 15:21-28 (ESV)

It took me a long time to love this passage. I didn't understand it. It seemed confusing and so unlike Jesus.

But, with understanding comes embracing!

This passage is so much more than another healing. It's a challenge to all of us.

Jesus wasn't just addressing the woman, He was giving a lesson to His disciples too. As an aside, I find it rather amusing how often the disciples needed re-direction and teaching. Kinda like our kids! I'd like to say I'd learn faster than they would...but I know better. I need re-direction and teaching from my Father all the time. Thankfully He's gentle.

Back on subject.

Anyhoo. This woman comes, begging for healing. So many times we see people come to Jesus to be healed. And how often do we see Jesus question their faith, or remind them He's about MORE than healing. Yet, He's always compassionate and heals.
This is no different. It seems different on the surface, after all, Jesus compares the woman to a dog sitting under a table for crumbs!

He's not being cruel. He's asking this woman, asking US, if we are willing to be as dogs at His feet.

Are we? That's so the opposite of what our human pride says for us to be. All too often we take the kind and friendly side of Jesus a step too far and forget just who He is. (Which ties in nicely to our OT reading. God takes 3 chapters to remind Job just who the holy God of the universe is!)

Jesus is our friend. He's our co-heir, according to the Word. He's our Savior, He loves us and wants our company and fellowship.

But we are not equals.

We are as dogs at His feet. Beloved companions to be sure, but not equal.

Are we willing to embrace that position? Can I humble myself daily and be grateful for His mercy and grace, because without it, I am worthless?

Draw us close. Allow us the privilege of sitting at your feet. Help us to understand Your holiness, while we embrace Your grace and mercy. Let us not forget that Your holiness is boundless, as well as Your love.
Help us to be willing to be your servants.
In the holy name of Jesus,

Have a wonderful day ladies!

Tomorrow's passage: Job 41-42 and Matthew 16

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23rd

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Job 36-37 and Matthew 15:1-20

I don't know about you, but I found Elihu's speech to be rather confusing. I did, however, find a sermon by John Piper that I found quite enlightening.

In Job: Rebuked by Suffering, Piper says....
The three friends have been wrong—suffering is not the proof of wickedness. And Job had been wrong—his suffering was not the proof of God's arbitrariness. Nor had God become his enemy.

Back in Chapter 33, (33:14-19) Elihu indicated that....
God's purpose for the righteous in these dreams and in this sickness is not to punish but to save—to save from contemplated evil deeds and from pride and ultimately from death. Elihu does not picture God as an angry judge but as a Redeemer, a Savior, a Rescuer, a Doctor. The pain he causes is like the surgeon's knife, not like the executioner's whip....

Elihu explains his view of suffering in one other place, namely, 36:6–15. The helpful thing in these verses is that Elihu makes clear that there is such a thing as a righteous person who still has sin that needs to be revealed and rooted out. To call a person righteous does not mean that the person is sinlessly perfect. There is a "righteous sinner."

This is helpful because God himself called Job a righteous man in 1:1, and Job won his argument on the basis of his reputation as a righteous man. And yet at the end of the book Job repents and despises himself. So Job is righteous (by the testimony of God!) even though he has sin remaining in him. He is not among the wicked.

Elihu looks at these two groups of people, the wicked and the righteous, and he distinguishes the different roles that suffering has in each. We'll start reading at verse 6:

He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right. He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings upon the throne he sets them for ever, and they are exalted.

Now if he had stopped there, he would have sounded exactly like Eliphaz: the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. There is a sense in which this is true in the long run. But the question plaguing Job is why the righteous suffer in the short run. So Elihu goes on in verse 8:

And if they [that is, the righteous] are bound in fetters and caught in the cords of affliction [so Elihu admits right away that the righteous are not always with kings on the throne; they do suffer], then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly. He opens their ears to instruction, and commands that they return from iniquity.

In other words the righteous are far from sinlessly perfect. There is much of the old nature left in them, and from time to time this old nature of pride breaks out in actual sinful behavior—as it did with Job when he accused God of being his enemy. This is what Job repents of at the end of the book.....

So the new slant that Elihu gives is that the suffering of the righteous is not the fire of destruction but the fire that refines the gold of their goodness. For the righteous it is not punitive but curative.

So the central lesson for us from the book of Job today is that the children of God—those who trust in God and are led by his Spirit and have their sins covered by the blood of Jesus—may indeed suffer. And when they do, it is not a punishment for sin. Christ has borne the punishment for our sin, and there is no double jeopardy!

The suffering of the children of God is not the firm application of a principle of retributive justice. It is the free application of the principle of sovereign grace. Our Father in heaven has chosen us freely from before the foundation of the world, he regenerated us freely by the work of the Holy Spirit, he justified us freely through the gift of saving faith, and he is now sanctifying us freely by his grace through suffering according to his infinite wisdom.

Suffering is not dispensed willy-nilly among the people of God. It is apportioned to us as individually designed, expert therapy by the loving hand of our great Physician. And its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified. (emphasis mine)

Sometimes we have sin in our lives and just don't recognize it. We need the refiner's fire to rout it out.

Which actually relates quite well to our Matthew passage (surprise, surprise!).

Jesus talks about how important our hearts are.

Out of my heart, out of the deepest part of my heart, where my true self lies with all it's flaws - out of that heart flow my thoughts, words and deeds.

It's what's in our heart, it's what flows out of that heart, that makes us unclean.

Sometimes the righteous need the Surgeon's knife to reveal the parts of our hearts that still need cleansing by the blood of the Lamb. He is not satisfied with part of it - He wants it all!

Are you willing to give your entire heart to God?

Are you willing for God to do whatever it takes to mold you to more accurately reflect His image to a watching world?

Am I?

Tomorrow's passage: Job 38-40, Matthew 15:21-39

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday, January 22-Pamela

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Job 34-35 and Matthew 14:22-36.

I have been spending some time reading the passages in different versions and I am becoming a big fan of the Message and the Contemporary English Version. It may be because I grew up reading the NIV and I find these versions give a new perspective to verses that I have read many times but not fully understood. (As a Grade 1 teacher, maybe I am just partial to the "Grade 1 version"!) These verses stood out for me:

Job 35:9
9 “People cry out under a load of oppression;
they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful. (NIV)

9-15 "When times get bad, people cry out for help.
They cry for relief from being kicked around,
But never give God a thought when things go well,
when God puts spontaneous songs in their hearts (The Message)

9In times of trouble,

everyone begs the mighty God

to have mercy.

10But after their Creator

helps them through hard times,

they forget about him, (Contemporary English Version)

Isn't it true that in times of trouble that we are acutely reminded about our need for a Saviour? I know that God has used difficult circumstances in my life to draw me closer to Him. I often try to work things out on my own-failing miserably-and then I turn to prayer, instead of leaning on God right from the beginning. Job was a righteous man and that it was this that prompted God to offer him up knowing he could stand against anything Satan would throw at him. Job was out of options. He had lost everything. He had no choice but to lean on God, despite the fact that Job felt God was being distant and unfair. I'm not saying that Job didn't cry out to God during his times of prosperity, but it is clear that in his troubles he cries out to God repeatedly.

When Peter gets out of the boat (pretty amazing-I don't know if that would have been my first reaction to a ghost like figure on the water!) he is fine until he takes his eyes off Jesus and starts to look around at the storm around him. He starts to sink and he cries out for help. Then Jesus reaches out and rescues Peter from the storm. Some storms, like Job's, last a long time. We question, we ask "why?", we struggle and through it all, we are taught to lean on Him and reach for Him. We just need to be sure that when the storm is over that we don't forget about Him and to not wait for the next storm to come before we reach out again. (I wonder what Job's life was like after his storm???)

Dear Lord,
Thank you for being all that we could ever want or need. You know what we need even before we ask and You are there to offer it when we ask. Lord, we fall short. We think we can do it all alone without You and we fail. When things are going well, we often forget to thank you for that. It is during the difficult and trying times that we find ourselves leaning on You. Thank you for not holding this against us and forgiving us for our mistakes. Help us to reach for You through all things, not just the storms, but in everything. Amen.

Tomorrow's passage: Job 36-37 and Matthew 15:1-20

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday, Jan 21 ~ tammi

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Job 32-33, Matthew 14:1-21.

I want to touch very briefly today on a phrase or two in Matthew and then focus on Job, because again, I find a direct relationship between these OT and NT passages.

Look at the transitional verses between the account of John the Baptist's death and the feeding of the five thousand.  Matthew says when Jesus heard the news, He wanted to be alone.  He withdrew by boat to a solitary place, most likely to grieve.  But what happens in that solitary place?  Literally thousands of people come to Him, expecting Him to heal their physical wounds and ailments and to offer them words of hope.  Jesus has just lost a friend, the messenger sent by His Father to announce His earthly ministry.  We don't know how much time they spent together other than Jesus' baptism, but I think it's safe to say John was important to Jesus, and He wants to mourn.

But instead He's surrounded by needy people, clamouring for His attention, expecting words of comfort and hope.  Jesus' day is not going according to plan, at least not according to what looks like the plan or what the disciples may have thought the logical plan was.  But notice how Jesus responds:  "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick."  Jesus always has time for the crowds, it seems.  He always makes time to show His love, to minister to the needs of others, even in times when, humanly, all He probably wanted was to be left alone for a while.

Obviously, Jesus offers here the perfect example of the outward manifestation of an appropriate response to personal suffering:  to selflessly continue to serve regardless of how we feel, seeking always to be a blessing to others.  And this is, of course, how we tie into the reading from Job, which also focuses on having a correct response to suffering.  Because here in young Elihu's speech we find a clue to the heart-attitude necessary to produce this kind of outward response.

I always find it interesting that we always hear talk of  "Job and his three friends," when clearly a fourth friend was present.  I like this guy, Elihu.  I like how he holds his tongue out of respect for the three older men, but finally can hold it no longer.  I love the statement: "Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst.  I must speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer."!

Man, I KNOW that feeling!!!  What I haven't learned quite as well is to hold my tongue and allow people to finish speaking before I chime in.  Or, for that matter, to speak from wisdom rather than feelings and opinions.  I like Elihu.  I wish we knew more about him.  I think he's a great model of respect ~ honouring age and life experience before he breaks out his own wisdom, which, incidentally, appears to be greater than the wisdom of the other three.  Elihu has a better understanding of God and how He operates than the others, and he opens up his lecture pointing out that the other three have nothing on Job and yet they keep arguing that all this calamity is somehow his fault.  He's obviously disgusted with their theology, and so he tells them to be quiet and let him talk for a while.

But what I really want to draw your attention to is what I feel is a pretty key point in his counsel (at least in this section of his lecture ~ he makes a few others later!).  Check out 33:27, where he describes a person who's been restored after suffering, who then admits, "I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light."

How often we forget that God, in His great mercy, doesn't give us the punishment we really deserve!  I constantly have to remind myself that when I doubt God's care for me because things aren't going my way, I sin, and that the just punishment for ANY sin is hell.  Thank God we never get what we really deserve!!!  I believe it is in adopting this perspective that we can be thankful in spite of ~ and even FOR ~ our trials; how James can tell us to "count it all joy."

And that joy is where that heart of service comes from that we talked about in the beginning; the heart-attitude that compels us to minister to others in spite of our sometimes overwhelming-feeling circumstances.  The gratitude that overflows from that joy is what makes God look really good in our suffering.

Tomorrow's passages: Job 34-35 and Matthew 14:22-36.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday, January 20 ~ Miriam

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Job 30-31; Matthew 13:31-58.

Verses 40-42 in today's Matthew chapter speak about the end of the age.  The weeds (those who do evil) were permitted to grow because the owner said "...while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them," so at the end of the age, the harvesters (angels) will "weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil... then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." 

Someone I know was telling me a few months ago that she is terribly afraid because of everything bad she sees on the news going on in the world around us.  She said she wishes God would just take all that evil out of the world and let the good live in peace.  (She told me that she reads the Bible often and prays every day, but her Biblical knowledge is limited, at best, from what our following conversation revealed.)  Apparently she believes that the world used to be a kinder, gentler, less violent place and it's only become like this recently.  I tried to explain to her that sin has existed since Adam and Eve and that evil has always been in the world - in fact, the world was already so evil thousands of years ago that God destroyed every living thing that wasn't on the ark with a flood.  We may have come up with some new and creative ways of implementing evil desires, but human nature and the desires themselves haven't changed.  I won't go into all the details of the conversation, as it was fairly lengthy, but all this to say that I've come to believe that everything that happens, bad and good, serves a purpose and is not in vain, as I said last week.  The weeds must come up with the wheat, but in the end, we're told more than once in today's passage alone, the weeds will be separated from the wheat, or the bad fish will be separated from the good and thrown away.  I want to be the wheat.  I want to be the good fish.  Someday, I want to shine like the sun in the kingdom of my Father. 

Which brings me to the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl.  This really spoke to me today.  The man who found the treasure in the field sold all he had and bought that field.  The merchant found a pearl of great value, sold everything he had and bought it. 

I like nice stuff as much as the next person.  How often do I look on websites or in catalogues and wish I could afford to buy the things I see there?  Or I buy something less expensive, wishing I could afford the one I really wanted?  Pretty often these days, as we're renovating our house.  Most of the time I'm very content with what we have.  We don't have a large house, or a fancy house (and still won't when our renovations are complete), but it's nice and it's comfortable.  We don't have new vehicles or fancy vehicles, but they are reliable and meet our needs.  I don't have a lot of clothes or shoes or handbags, but what I have I'm comfortable wearing (or carrying) and they serve the purpose for which they're designed.  But would I be willing to sell all of it to get just one thing, even one thing of greater value than all my other stuff put together?  I sure hope so.  I pray that if push came to shove, and all I was going to have in this entire world was my faith in Jesus and the promise of heaven that I would give up all that is temporary for that which is eternal.

There's nothing wrong with having things, or even having nice or expensive things.  The problem comes in when those things take on too much importance to us.  Job lost everything - and not just material possessions - he lost his children, his health, the respect of the community, and the faith of his friends.  And still he said "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him."

May our faith be like the mustard seed - though it begins with the smallest seed, may it grow to be a tree.

Tomorrow's passage: Job 32-33; Matthew 14:1-21.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 - Kathryn

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is Job 28-29Matthew 13:1-30

I have always found the parable of the sower very interesting.  I've done some broadcasting in my garden and I'm sure we all have.  Grab a handful of seed, toss it out in an as even fashion as possible.  While the human hand can be extremely efficient, it is still going to cast where it won't grow.  A lot of seed is lost, or wasted in the sowing time.  Even when I take care to plant each individual seed in it's own little hole, cover it, pat it so gently, that doesn't mean it will come up.  If any of us have gardened at any time, we know that all four of these situations happen.  I've often looked at this scripture in regards to myself, where am I at?  Which scenario do I fit?  I always hope I am the seed that yields a crop.  But, alas, sometimes I believe I am the seed that gets choked up by the thorns and weeds.  I am a terrible worrier.

However, this evening I saw it in a different light.  We here are fervently studying the word.  Why?  To change our lives?  To become better people?  To get closer to the Lord?  Yes, to all of that.  But I believe the Lord has other plans for us.  Studying the word, discerning the word, it is not a selfish endeavor.  We cannot expect that word which we take in to stay in.  Eventually it's like those cherry tomatoes that came up by themselves last year.  The seed lay dormant in the ground all winter long, endured the rototiller and the kids and the drumming spring rains.  Then it came up quietly, building strength and I let it grow, curious.  Soon, by mid summer, it had burst forth from it's growth to produce an abundance I have not seen elsewhere.  We are like that when we study the word.  We burst forth with the wisdom, as Job spoke about, and the knowledge that God has planted there and caused to grow.  But when we speak (or write) that wisdom, we can expect what happens in vs 1-9 to happen.  I see this passage now as a warning, a 'just so you know' so to speak.  Not everyone we talk to about what we read in the word is going to get it.  And we can take comfort in that.

I've heard it said many times, and I say this to myself, we are called not to be successful, but rather, we are called to be faithful.  We cannot control what sort of ears our words will fall on, but we can control whether we are faithful in our commitments to Him.  It is God who causes the increase, the growth.

But imagine, those who do grab hold of this word and eat it up, look at the fruit that it bears!  The potential for exponential growth is astounding!  The word gets planted in them, it grows and they plant it in others, and it grows and so on.  But the fact remains that the word cannot grow, unless it has been planted.  And it cannot be planted unless it is cast out.  Romans 10:14 says:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
Be encouraged when sharing the word.  Not everyone will 'get it'.  But that's ok.  The word is clear about that.  But it is also clear that some will!  They just need a chance to hear it.  

Father God, You have called us to Yourself, You have wooed us, and loved us.  And You are doing the same for others, through us.  Your word says that You are not willing that any should perish.  And You move through us to accomplish Your perfect will.  Lord give us boldness of speech and wisdom to know when and what to speak.  We need Your guidance, because we cannot do this alone.  Holy Father we are humbled that You would call us, that You would use us, such as we are.  But here we are, let it be to us according to Your word.  Thank you Father.  We love you.  Amen.

  Tomorrow's passage: Job 30-31, Matthew 13:31-58

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday, January 18th - Jody

Today's reading from the Chronological OT/NT Reading Plan is: Job 25-27, Matthew 12:24-50

I want to start off by apologizing for being MIA this last weekend from commenting! My husband and I were off in Northern Alberta (in the FREEZING cold) visiting our dear friends for the weekend. I am behind on my reading - and my testimony post! I will get all caught up in the next week!! :)

Matthew 12:43-45
 43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

Wow. These verses just make me say WOW. These verses draw such a clear picture to me regarding how imperative it is to fill our hearts and home with the Holy Spirit. It really couldn't be more black and white to me. I had a conversation with someone once who said how important it was when you cast a spirit out of your home, self etc to ask the Holy Spirit to fill that space.

We moved into a different house this spring and the first thing I did before we moved anything in was go into every room, closet and floor space banishing any spirit that was not from God and inviting the Holy Spirit to enter. For some reason, it became apparent to me that not only did I want to pray God's blessing over our new home, I also wanted to sweep it clean and put it in order - and directly fill it with HIM!! At the time, I did not know these verses even existed - to be completely honest! Maybe that's why they just sat with me today.

I found these interesting thoughts A Demons Journey  regarding this passage and thought I'd share a bit:
God is willing to bless us—as He allowed the demon to be cast out of the man—yet those blessings do not insulate us from further problems. The demon came back and tormented the man again. The Jews of Jesus’ day were allowed to see His glory, benefit from His miracles, rejoice in His teaching, and learn from His example. Yet all this did not make them holy—that was a decision they had to make. If “this generation” was unwilling to truly change after all the blessings Jesus brought, it would have been better for Him not to come. “The last state” of rejecting God’s Son would be “worse than the first”.

The call to Christians is to replace formerly wicked behaviors with righteous ones. It will not do to leave the time and energy we once used for sin to sit unused—sin will soon return, and in greater measure. We must “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts”(Eph 4:22). But take note! We must also “put on the new man, which was created according to God in true righteousness and holiness”(Eph 4:24). Paul explains this in some detail: where we once lied, we must stop and instead speak truth (v. 25). Stealing must end, and work take its place (v. 28). Corrupt language is replaced by words that build up and impart grace (v. 29). It has been said, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, and this principle is confirmed by Scripture. Fill up your life with the works of Jesus, or don’t be surprised when sin returns in spades.

Sadly, Jesus was right. Many of “this wicked generation” basked in the glory of the Son of God, only to turn away unchanged. They rejected Him and returned to their evil ways. Yet for a precious few, the blessings of God were seized and appreciated. Permanent change took place, and they now rest in righteousness. How will you respond to the blessings of our God? Which camp will you be in?

I pray for all of us today, that we seize and appreciate the blessing of The Holy Spirit in our lives. That we bear good fruit, speak words that build and encourage and truly turn from the things that distract us from basking in the glory of the Son of God.

Tomorrow's passage: Job 28-29, Matthew 13:1-30