Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wednesday, July 31st

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 2 Corinthians 3; Psalm 131; Nehemiah 5-6
Today's scripture focus is Luke 9:46-50

Luke 9:46-50

English Standard Version (ESV)

Who Is the Greatest?

46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, andwhoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

Anyone Not Against Us Is For Us

49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

Accompanying John MacArthur sermons: The Mark of True Greatness Part 1 and Part 2
Accompanying Mark Driscoll sermon: Redeeming Greatness

This is an extremely familiar passage of scripture and I'm sure we've all heard numerous sermons on it.  Generally, we see this text as a call to humility - to live in complete opposition to everything that is natural in human nature and to turn away from our pride and self-exaltation.  And this is very true! It's also true that such humility is required in order to both receive salvation and to progress in our sanctification.  Pride simply ruins things.  It ruins unity among believers (as it did amongst the disciples in this very passage), it generates competition amongst believers which leads to contention, it reveals the corruption in your heart, it rejects Christ as God and put ourself in that place instead, and it creates exclusivity (like when John was upset about someone else casting out demons).  This is what MacArthur's sermons focused on, and it's all very true.

But Driscoll made an excellent point in his sermon.  Jesus didn't necessarily rebuke them for desiring greatness.  He rebuked them for desiring greatness that glorified themselves.  Greatness that glorifies God is indeed something we should aspire too.  Just being in the presence of Jesus would inspire you to greatness!  The key is redeeming greatness for God's glory and the blessing of others.

We can't simply receive the world's definition of greatness because that's completely wrapped up in pursuing greatness for the glory of self, not the glory of God.

We don't want to outright reject the pursuit of greatness in some sort of profession of false humility.  Being lazy and not maximizing the gifts, talents, money, and opportunities that God has given us, is also not glorifying to God.

Do you think that if you drive around in second gear, and you don’t maximize the gifts, talents, dollars, and opportunities that God gives you, do you think that’s humble or sinful? Do you think it glorifies God to kind of live a half-hearted, dispassionate, disorganized, somewhat lazy routine, predictable, ultimately safe life? Do you think you’re a being a good steward under those conditions, investing and maximizing who you are in what God has entrusted for you to accomplish? No.

Do you think it’s very loving toward other people? I mean, if they’re in need, and you can help, and you’re not doing what you can or should, is that very loving? No, it’s selfish. Sometimes it’s cowardice, it’s poor stewardship, it’s laziness, it’s disorganization......

Do you not want to have a great marriage? Do you not want to be a great parent? Do you not want to be a great spouse? Do you not want to have a great prayer life? Do you not want to have great theology? Do you not want to be part of a great church? Do you not want to have a great ministry? Do you not want to have a great impact on the needs of those who are suffering and hurting? When you die, do you not want to leave anything for anyone?...

you want your pilot to aspire for greatness, right? You want your brake mechanic to aspire for greatness. You want your heart surgeon to aspire for greatness. You would like your spouse to aspire for greatness...

See, the truth is, we should desire greatness. We’re built for greatness. We long for greatness....

if you just pursue greatness as the world defines it, you will not be a faithful Christian. You cannot live a healthy, holy, happy life.

Furthermore, if you reject all forms of greatness, you will live a simple, pathetic, unimpressive, minimal life that is not what God intends for you, and you will not be giving glory to him or stewarding life well. And you can call it humility, it’s not. It’s cowardice, and laziness, and foolishness.

And it pushes us into the third category, which is redeeming greatness...

So they come to Jesus, say, “We want to be great.” He doesn’t say, “Well, be great like the world.” He doesn’t say, “Oh, no, no, no don’t aspire to greatness, that’s really dangerous.” He says, “Okay, let me tell you how to be great.” “That’s a decent motivation and ambition. Let me tell you how to do that. Let me tell you how to achieve that,” and he pulls up a child....

Jesus is saying, “You know what? Until you humble yourself, and you’re willing to have a child-like,” not a childish. Again in Matthew 18 and Mark 9, the corollary texts where he gives us, through his servants, this summary; he talks about a child-like faith, not a childish faith. He’s talking about hanging out with those who would otherwise not be your first choice for friends, learning some humility, and service, and love of others.

Driscoll goes on to define greatness.

G - live for the glory of God alone, not the approval of man
R - reject unhealthy comparisons with others.  You can learn from others, but don't compare yourself to them in an unhealthy way because that either leads to pride or despair.
E - enjoy humbly serving the outcasts - like children, widows, prisoners
A - accept the circumstances of your life and do your best with what God has given you
T - take opportunities to redeem your ambitions.  Sometimes we start well but go off course, we need to redeem our ambitions and get back on track.  Sometimes we've started wrong and our tendency is to over-course correct when what's really needed is to redeem the ambition, not change it entirely.  As an example, it's wrong to be rich if you were ruthless to get it and then used it selfishly.  It's not wrong to be rich if you made your money wisely using the talents you were given by God, and then once you have the money you use it generously to advance His kingdom.

We need to rejoice in the greatness of others (v49-50) instead of resenting them, provided they are pursuing greatness for the glory of God.

Jesus is not only our example of greatness, and not only our inspiration of greatness, he is the means by which we receive greatness. He is our God and Savior....

you and I now possess, through faith if we are the children of God, the righteousness of Jesus, the perfect, sinless, obedient, selfless, worshipful, imaging life of Jesus. It’s reckoned, credited to our account. So now we want to pursue greatness, not for an identity, but from our identity in Christ. We want to pursue greatness, not for our righteousness, but from the righteousness that is given us by Jesus. Not for our glory, but from the glory of God. Not for God’s approval, from God’s approval in Christ. Not for the love of God, but from the love of God.

Greatness is pursued by the children of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells them in newness of life, greatness of life, rich or poor, living or dying, healthy or sick, succeeding or failing to the glory of God and the good of others by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, which is our joy, which is our joy. That’s what greatness is. I don’t know if I’m the only one excited about this, but I am very excited about this. It means a passionate, free life that glorifies God, helps others, and gives me joy. What a gift. What a gift.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 9: 51-56
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: 2 Corinthians 4, Psalm 132, Nehemiah 7-8

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tuesday, July 30 ~ tammi

Today's Bible In a Year reading: 2 Corinthians 2; Psalm 130; Nehemiah 3-4
Today's scripture focus passage: Luke 9:43-45 --

And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.

But while everyone was marveling at all that He was doing, He said to His disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement.
Today's passage seems to be a bit of general wrap-up for what has previously been talked about in this chapter.  Luke's told us briefly about the missions trips the disciples were dispersed to pursue, the feeding of the 15-20-ish thousand people, the amazing and glorious transfiguration three disciples were privileged to witness, and then a dramatic exorcism the very next day.  Naturally, they marveled at the greatness of God.

They knew Jesus was God.  They knew He was the promised Messiah.  And by this time He'd become so wildly popular that this was likely His highest point on the public opinion polls.  It would rapidly decline after this because His words would become increasingly more blunt.  To this point Jesus had been performing wonderful, spectacular miracles and winning people with what they interpreted as the promise of a perfect welfare state ~ no hunger, no disease, no demons (no Romans) ~ but His words had been veiled, His teaching in the form of parables. After this point, with only about six months remaining in His earthly life and ministry, His message is going to become a lot less palatable.

But right now, the disciples especially, are reveling in the euphoria of a Messiah who appears to be following their idea of how the Messiah was supposed to present Himself.  Signs, wonders, a great Teacher with a growing following... one can easily see how they would assume overthrowing the Roman government and freeing the Jews to live in their utopic, promised kingdom would shortly follow.

Now Jesus has told them a few times already that He will suffer and die, but they've somewhat disregarded that statement.  It doesn't fit the picture in their minds, and so maybe they just dismiss it, figuring it's just another one of Jesus' parable-like teachings.  Or maybe it was like what still happens so often in our minds and from our pulpits today ~ we just skim or gloss over the things we don't understand or don't really want to purse, understand, and agree with.  We still tend to prefer believing in a God who makes us feel comfortable, who fits OUR vision of who He should be and what He should do.  We tend, even as Christians, toward man-centeredness.

But here Jesus stresses a little more the importance of what He's trying to tell them.  There's a new urgency:  "Let it sink into your ears," He says.  Pay attention.  Absorb it.  "I am going to be handed over to evil, sinful men and they will kill me."  (This is apparently the literal meaning of the Greek words used in the original manuscripts.)  And yet, once again, the disciples don't really get it.

But this time, the indication in the text is that it was concealed from them, hidden from their understanding.  An act of God which, MacArthur points out, is really an act of mercy.  If they had understood it plainly all of a sudden, if they had been able to see the future, say, 6 months to a year down the road, would they really have stuck around for the last six months of their training?  Not likely.  Most bolted after Jesus' arrest, but when they reunited, the power of the Holy Spirit finally opened their eyes and they understood and believed why and how Jesus was still the Messiah even though He'd been crucified and the Romans were still firmly in control.  If they had been able to see the future at this point, they would have bolted immediately, because in their minds, He was still there to lead a great uprising to overthrow the Romans.  And they still had six crucial months of education left.

It really is a gracious act of mercy that we don't know the future.  Can you imagine having nothing to anticipate, nothing to gain from the experiences we go through?  As MacArthur says, "There's nothing really very new [in this passage].  But it just provides for us a wonderful, wonderful summation of some of the very core astonishing realities about Christ. Everything about Him is beyond human explanation. Everything about Him is startling and astonishing and shocking and amazing."

Let everything about Him fill US with wonder.  May we resist the urge to turn Him into something of OUR making.

Let us forever be riveted on every detail about Jesus Christ as revealed in His Word, so that we steadfastly remain Christ-centered despite the sea of man-centeredness we live in.

May He truly become the sole purpose of all Christian living.

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year reading: 2 Corinthians 3; Psalm 131; Nehemiah 5-6
Tomorrow's scripture focus passage: Luke 9:46-50

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday, July 29 ~by Pamela

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Luke 9:37-42
Today's scripture focus is 2 Corinthians 1, Psalm 129, Nehemiah 1-2

Luke 9:37-42

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
37 On the next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met Him.38 And a man from the crowd shouted, saying, “Teacher, I beg You to look at my son, for he is my only boy, 39 and a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming at the mouth; and only with difficulty does it leave him, mauling him as it leaves. 40 I begged Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not.” 41 And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was still approaching, the demon slammed him to the ground and threw him into a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy and gave him back to his father.

One of the first things I noticed about this passage is that as soon as "they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met Him". They were away from the crowds and yet as soon as they came back a crowd met them. I know that Jesus regularly took time to be alone with God but I wonder if sometimes He was overwhelmed by the crowds and the demands that they placed on Him. Each member of the crowd likely had a legitimate and valid concern. They all needed Him.  This father needed his "only boy" to be relieved of a menacing spirit. It was a concern that needed Jesus' time and attention. The disciples couldn't do it and yet the father persisted because he believed Jesus could. He had faith in Him.

MacArthur says:

Let me make it very simple without dealing with all of the possibilities and say this, faith, true faith, legitimate faith, what is biblically defined as faith is simply this, believing what God said simply because He said it. That's faith. Not because it's necessarily been proven to you. Not because you've necessarily experienced something. But simply because God said it you believe it and you believe to the point that you base your life on it. It is in that sense that we are people of faith. It is in that sense that we believe. It isn't that we just believe in believing. It isn't that we think we can somehow activate some reality by believing hard enough. It isn't that we believe we can make things happen by our faith. It is that we believe that what God said is what is true. That is what our faith is. It is faith in the revealed Word of God.....Faith is not somehow a power, some kind of spiritual muscle by which you make things happen. Faith is putting your confidence in what God has revealed as being true simply because He said it. It is faith in things we cannot see.

One of my favourite verses is Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."

Faith is different from belief. I've used this example before on this blog but I think it is worth repeating. A person can believe that airplanes can fly but they may not have faith that an airplane will be able to carry them to a destination safely. We can believe that Jesus can heal but the father in this passage had the faith that Jesus would be able to heal his son and he persisted until Jesus did. The disciples may have believed in Jesus but did they have faith in the power that He had and gave to them?

MacArthur doesn't think so:

In Mark, I believe it's in Mark 6:13, "They went out, they preached that men should repent. They were casting out many demons." He gave them the power to do it. He commanded them to do it. They did it. Now remember, they literally were sent out two by two with this power to blitz in one final sort of gospel blitz attended by these powerful signs to gospelize, as it were, for one last time Galilee. It wouldn't take long with the disciples going everywhere, multiplying the presence of Jesus by twelve times, for everybody to know that they had demonstrated this power. The word would spread rapidly. And it did. And this man probably the day before when Jesus was up in the mountain with the three came to the nine based upon their reputation and what they had done and asks them to do what evidently they had the power to do. And all three gospels record the same result...all three gospels in one way or another say what verse 40 says, "And they could not." They couldn't do it.
Why? They had the power. They had the commission. They had the experience. They already had the success. Why can't they do it? Why? What was wrong?
Matthew 17:19 and 20 gives the answer. "The disciples came to Jesus privately and asked, 'Why could we not cast it out? Why...why couldn't we do it?'" which means they must have tried. "And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith. Because of the littleness of your faith." There was no lack of available power. There was no lack of experience. There was no lack of knowing whatever a formula they might have known. There was no lack of commission. There was no lack of privilege. There was no lack of right. There was a lack of faith. And Jesus says, "You didn't believe you could do it." They must have concluded that this was way over the top. This was too much for them, too severe. They had done it before by the power that had been delegated to them from Christ, but this was more than they could hope to see, deliverance. There was a severity about this. There was an extremity in this situation that was beyond their ability to believe. And Jesus answered and said, "O unbelieving and perverted generation, you don't believe because your view of Me and My Word is perverted," distorted is what it means, twisted, wrong. You know, He says, "How long shall I be with you and put up with you?"

How much faith do we have? Do we believe in Jesus or do we have faith in Him?

MacArthur concludes his sermon with this:

 You can't live this life, beloved, as a Christian if you don't believe what God said in His Word. First you need to know what He said, and then you need to believe it. And if you believe it, He'll reward you with blessing. And if you don't, you'll frustrate Him and He may well have to rebuke you as He rebuked them. If you're going to say you're a person of faith and you live by faith, then what that means when it flushes out is, "If God said it, I believe it and I'm going to live my life that way."

Tomorrow's scripture focus: 2 Corinthians 2, Psalm 130, Nehemiah 3-4

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Luke 9:43-45

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday, 26 July 2013 ~ Roxie

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 1 Corinthians 16; Psalm 128; Ezra 5, 6
Today's scripture focus is Friday, July 26th: Luke 9:27-36

27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure,[a] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

I wonder a little bit about the comment Jesus makes at the beginning of this passage. Is He saying "some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God" in reference to the following events? Is he referring to seeing Him rise from the dead? Is He referring to the perception changing experience of receiving the Holy Spirit?

I think that the Kingdom of God is not even close to what we think it is like. I often have to remind myself that God is so very much bigger than I could ever even imagine. These three disciples got one tiny glimpse of what the Kingdom will look like. They watched as Jesus prayed on a mountain, off kinda by Himself, like the gospels describe Him doing. These disciples were probably already used to this practice...and, if the tales of the garden of Gethsemane are a glimpse of the usual occurrences among these men used to physical labour, not sitting and waiting...sitting and praying...sitting and dozing.

When I worked night shifts, I was often surprised by the stamina and alertness that kept me awake and working when there was work to do. Occasionally, there were nights when very few patients would come in (often that would be when it was raining...snow storms usually meant that all the children of the city would be on their way!) and just sitting and waiting would leave me nodding off at the desk...trying so hard to keep my eyes open...just like these disciples, watching their beloved teacher pray.  

How bright did Jesus' face get before the disciples were nudging each other awake, rubbing their eyes, wondering if they were dreaming? How many pinches did it take before they realized they were fully awake and Jesus had two other companions, shining almost as brightly as He?? How much squinting did it take for them to recognize that Jesus was chatting with Moses and Elijah?? How they would have known who these men were, I am unsure, but apparently they knew them. 

I love the way that God sends these two men to encourage Jesus as He prepares for the dark struggle of the coming days. The NLT translates verse 31 this way: "And they were speaking of how he was about to fulfill God's plan by dying in Jerusalem." How many hours had Jesus spent talking with these men, discussing the salvation of creation? How much of Scripture had they picked apart together enjoying the cleverness of God, weaving the same story of His love throughout generations...a story drawing each generation closer and closer to the moment when the Kingdom of God is no longer confined to the boundaries of Heaven, but is poured out on those who recognize Jesus for who He is.

And "a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

The voice of God, the Father, Jesus' Father, telling these three petrified disciples...telling Jesus that God, His Father is proud of Him. Beautiful. Holy perfection....A Father loving on His Son...loving enough to let Him make a difficult choice...loving Him enough to let go...and save the world through death. A kingdom unlike anyone was expecting.

Monday's scripture focus: Monday, July 29th: Luke 9:37-42
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Ezra 7, 8

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thursday, July 25th ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Ezra 3-4, Psalm 127, 1 Corinthians 15.
Today's scripture focus is Luke 9:23-26.

23 And He was saying to them all, If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his [a]life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Sorry this is so late; somehow this week got away on me and I totally forgot what day it was.

I'm sure many or most of us have heard a lot about these verses.  I know I have.  Interesting, though, that what struck me today in verse 23 was the word "daily".  Maybe because a lot of emphasis is placed on "deny himself" or "take up his cross" or "follow Me"... daily.

Following Jesus, living in God's will, is not something you choose once and then never have to think about again.  You keep having to make choices.  "...deny himself, and take up his cross daily".  Just as we have to eat and drink each day, get dressed each day (okay, most days), get our work done each day, we choose to deny our own will and follow the will of God daily.

MacArthur sermon:  The Gospel in Perspective

So Jesus says, here's the principle, if you want to come after Me you deny yourself. You say I no longer will live for my own bodily lusts, I no longer will live for the things I can see, I no longer will live for my own self-glorification. And I am willing to deny myself and if need be I will even give my life in death on a cross and I commit myself to follow obediently. That's the gospel of Jesus. That's what He's calling for. It's an attitude of penitence, repentance, brokenness, contrition, poverty of spirit, sense of your own bankruptcy, mourning, meek, sorrowful over your sin. It's the level of desperation that beats on the chest and says, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." That says, "In my flesh is no good thing." This is the heart of Jesus' message and if a sinner is going to come after Jesus into the Kingdom, it's going to be in an absolute and total abandonment of himself.

Why is it so hard to become a Christian? Let's go back to our text. It's hard because you have to deny yourself, that's what makes it hard. Self-denial to the degree of cross bearing, to the degree of submissive obedience to Christ as Lord. That is hard. That goes against the grain of everything human. As I said earlier, everything in the world...the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life...that's what dominates us. Look at the world around you. What makes people do what they do? It all comes from inside of them. It's the desire to have all their passions fulfilled. It's the desire to have all their visions realized. They see a more beautiful this or a more beautiful that, or a fancier this, or a fancier that and they want it. They're driven by these passions and, of course, the third one and the dominating one is the longing for honor, acceptance, prestige, prominence, power, influence, affection, respect, pride. That's...that's people's lives. That's...that's the way they live. That is their world and that's why Jesus said if you could get all the world delivered to you on those terms, everything you lust for, everything you long for, everything you see and everything you desire for your own self-glory, if you had it all it would be a bad bargain if you lost your soul. That's why in verse 24 He says, "If you're going to save your life, you have to lose it. If you're going to lose your life, you're going to find it, you're going to save it so you've got to give up everything you are."

Happy Thursday!

Tomorrow's scripture focus:  Luke 9:27-36.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  Ezra 5-6, Psalm 128, 1 Corinthians 16.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday, July 24th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 1 Corinthians 14; Psalm 126; Ezra 1-2
Today's scripture focus is Luke 9:18-22

Luke 9:18-22

English Standard Version (ESV)

Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ

18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Jesus Foretells His Death

21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Accompanying John MacArthur sermon: Life's Most Important Question

Who is Jesus?  This is, undoubtedly, life's most important question. How we answer that question determines, not only our eternity, but how we live our lives during the only existence we currently know and understand.

Obviously, as Christians we believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God.  But the Bible is also historically accurate.

Is the Bible reliable?
In the case of the New Testament, we have thousands of complete manuscripts and multiple thousands more fragments available. There are more than 5,000 copies of the entire New Testament or extensive portions of it. In addition, we have several thousand more fragments or smaller portions of the New Testament. If these numbers don't seem like a lot, compared to other works of ancient history, the manuscript evidence and copies for the New Testament far outweigh manuscript evidence for other works. For instance, there are less than 700 copies of Homer's Iliad and only a handful of copies of any one work of Aristotle.3So when it comes to manuscript evidence, the New Testament definitely has numbers on its side.
It's also interesting that within the early centuries of the Christian church a number of scholars quoted the New Testament. Amazingly, they quoted the New Testament so much that every single verse of all 27 books of the New Testament is quoted by these scholars with the exception of only 11 verses, all within a few hundred years of the beginning of the Church.4 We could also add the fact that much of the New Testament was written within just a few decades of the death and resurrection of Christ. First Corinthians, for instance, dates from the 50s – only twenty years or so after the death and resurrection of Christ. This is important because 1 Corinthians 15 contains key elements of the gospel message, emphasizing the importance of Christ's resurrection, and claiming that more than 500 people had seen the risen Christ. People who would still have been alive at the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians would have been around to corroborate or criticize the claims made in the letter...

But what about manuscript evidence for the Old Testament? Space does not allow a thorough treatment here, but it is likewise incredibly accurate. Manuscripts that are part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance, clearly show that our modern copies of the Old Testament are incredibly accurate.

There is archaeological evidence of the Bible, there are non-Biblical accounts that verify New Testament events or people, and scientific accuracies in the Bible as well.  The fact that the Bible is theologically consistent - despite having 40 different authors (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) over a period of about 1600 years - is also a testament to it's accuracy and reliability.

And the Bible says - repeatedly - that Jesus is God.  The demons testify to this, angels testify to this, men testify to this, Jesus Himself testifies to this.

You cannot read the Bible without coming to the obvious conclusion that it claims that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God - just like Peter claims right here.

So, why do people not believe this?  Why do they continue to claim that He was just a great prophet or a great man?  Why did people in the NT times believe He was Elijah come back, or another prophet raised to life?  They didn't deny His supernatural abilities or try to explain away the miracles.  It was simply too obvious.  So, they concluded, rightly, that He was not of this earth, that He was supernatural in origin.  But they stopped short of the truth.  Why?

I think there are several reasons.

In biblical times the fear of being excommunicated from the synagogue (an therefore, virtually all of society) would be a pretty big reason.

Today, fear of being seen as a Jesus freak would come into play as well.

But, I think the biggest thing is our pride and our desire to remain Lord of our own lives is the biggest thing holding people back from admitting that Jesus is who He says He is.

After all, how can you claim He is God and then not follow Him?  How can you confirm His deity and then refuse to allow Him to be Lord of your life?  How do you acknowledge Him as the Saviour who died for the sins of the whole world in order to reconcile us to a holy God - and then not allow Him to rule your heart?

It's our pride, it's our desire to be God ourselves, and it's our love of sin.  People often simply choose to love the darkness more than the light.  It's too high a price to pay.

This is also what makes the doctrine of election make sense to me.  We are, quite simply, spiritually dead.  We cannot raise ourselves to life.  We can't.  Only God can.  He stirs our hearts to accept biblical truth.  He reveals truth to sin darkened minds.  He lived.  He died. He rose.  He extends grace. He extends mercy.  He forgives.  He reconciles.  He justifies.  He. does. everything.

Matthew says that Jesus added a statement that's not in Luke. Matthew 16:17, "Jesus answered and said to Peter, 'Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, son of Jonas, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." You don't know this kind of truth unless it's been revealed to you by God. The reality of spiritual knowledge is it's not available to flesh and blood. "The world by wisdom knew not God." "The natural man understandeth not the things of God, they're foolishness to him, he can't know them." Flesh and blood can't know who Jesus is, that's why these people who attempt to know who Jesus is, who are doing it in their human wisdom rather than accepting the revelation of God can't find out. The disciples believed the revelation of God, they believed the disclosure of God. They believed what Jesus said and what He claimed. They believed what heaven revealed. Because of that, God opened their hearts to receive the truth. He still does that. Matthew 11:27, "No one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." This is the great mystery of conversion. You're called upon to believe. You can't believe unless God awakens your heart to believe. But in the marvelous conflux of those two great spiritual realities, the power of God works upon a sinner to bring that sinner to believe and at the same time God awakens the sinner so that that becomes a saving and life-giving faith.

MacArthur adds this sobering thought:
Let me just tell you this very simple truth revealed in Scripture. If you won't believe, the time will come when you can't believe. Genesis 6, "My Spirit will not always strive with men." The time...there comes a time when your rejection is hardened by God Himself, when God hides from you.

And then, immediately after the disciples pass the test, and Jesus' Messiahship is confirmed - Jesus tells them not to say anything.


Partly because it could be dangerous by inciting the crowds to make Jesus king by force.

And partly because this is judicial judgment - hiding the truth from people who have already confirmed their rejection of it.

And then He immediately told them that He was not going to be the type of Messiah they were expecting. He wasn't going to lead a revolt against Rome.  He squashed that quickly.  And told them that He would be rejected, He would die, and then He would rise again.

And Jesus sets on a course that would lead to His death.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 9:23-26
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Ezra 3-4, Psalm 127, 1 Corinthians 15

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday, July 23 ~ tammi

Today's Bible In a Year reading: 1 Corinthians 13; Psalm 125; 2 Chronicles 35-36
Today's scripture focus passage: Luke 9:12-17 - The Feeding of the Five Thousand

Hey, all y'all!  Welcome to Tuesdays with Tammi!  This is my new weekly spot as of today.  Hopefully it won't take me too many weeks to remember I need to post EVERY week now!!  ;)

So today we see Jesus miraculously feeding a huge group of people ~ most scholars figure somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15-20 thousand men, women, and children combined ~ with just five little crusty rolls and two salted, dried fish. The lunch of one young boy.

Two things struck me when I read this story again ~ one that always makes me wonder and one that was a new thought for me.

We know the story: a crowd of Galileans running after Jesus because, essentially, they're drawn to the spectacle of the healings.  They're not particularly interested in the message, but they love the healings.  And Jesus, in His infinite patience and mercy, sees their need for salvation, takes pity on them, and once again spends the day not only healing their sick and casting out their demons, but telling them about the glorious Good News about His Heavenly Kingdom.

And the day wears on, people start getting hungry, and it's really too late to send them all home to eat because they're quite a way from town, and there's really nowhere to buy food even if the disciples had the money to do so, which they don't.  It seems hopeless, but one of the disciples finds a boy with a small lunch, and Jesus miraculously feeds the multitude.

What struck me for the first time is that this is almost immediately following the disciples' "missions trip."  Jesus had just sent them out in pairs to preach the Kingdom of God throughout the countryside.  And He had specifically given them the power to perform miracles.  They had just finished a several-day miracle tour, but now they can't figure out how all these people are gonna get something to eat!  Philip even literally empties out the money bag to see if it might be possible to buy the food.  Makes me shake my head in wonder that it never seems to occur to them that the power Jesus had given them earlier would work here, too.  I guess it's possible they assumed now that they were back with Him that He would once again be the sole miracle-worker, but even so, how could they not have thought He could handle this situation with His special power?

The other thing that I always wonder about was why there was only one person there who'd thought about bringing along something to eat.  Like, really??  Only one mother had the forethought to send food in case her son might be gone all day, listening to and watching the Healer?  Somehow, that seems so unrealistic!  But I guess that's maybe an indication that God planned it that way to make a point.

Essentially, we have here a story of underestimated power and underestimated resources.  And I think those themes continue today.  How many options do we not even consider because, humanly speaking, they are impossible?  And how many times do we not get involved or try something because we don't have the right talent, or enough time, or the required know-how?  But we forget that with God, nothing is impossible.  HE has the power to take what little we have and use it for something far greater than we could ever accomplish.

Oh, that we would be reminded over and over again the importance of spreading the message of the Kingdom of God, and how vital it is that we follow Jesus' example and take pity on the unbelievers around us, taking time from our personal agendas to tell them the Good News.  I forget so often that I am surrounded by people who need to be shown God's mercy and grace, not only physically, but spiritually.  Prisoners who need to be set free; starving masses who need the Bread of Life.

And I have the key!  I have the food!  Maybe not much, but with His math, I have more than enough for those around me.

It isn't about how many loaves and fishes we have.
It's about our willingness turn them over to God so He can use them.

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year reading: 1 Corinthians 14; Psalm 126; Ezra 1-2
Tomorrow's scripture focus passage: Luke 9:18-22

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday - July 22 - Tiffany

Today's scripture focus is Luke 9:10-11
10 On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.

I am SO sorry!  Our summer travelling has begun (here one week, gone the next, home for 3 days, gone for 4....) and I completely forgot it was my turn to blog!

Therefore, as I write this at noon on Monday, I really don't have a lot to say.  I haven't had a chance to study it, or even read last weeks posts about the scriptures leading up to it.
I will say this - Jesus had just lost his cousin.  The disciples had just been sent out with the power of Jesus.  They wanted rest, a chance to talk, and yet, the crowds follow.  And Christ, thinking nothing of himself, welcomed them.  Spoke to them, healed them.
As much as I hate to do it, for more indepth study I will send you to John MacArthur's sermon to learn about these verses. And, no, I haven't had a chance to read that either!

Feel free to start an AMAZING interactive discussion in the comments.  Studying the Bible this in-depth always can bring about new insights and ideas, especially when actively discussing it.
And my next blog is scheduled for, what? August 5?  I'll try to be more ready that day!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday, July 19 ~ tammi

Today's Bible In a Year reading: 1 Corinthians 11; Psalm 123; 2 Chronicles 27-28
Today's scripture focus passage: Luke 9:7-9 -
Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was happening; and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen again. Herod said, “I myself had John beheaded; but who is this man about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see Him.
Today we see Herod having a case of severe Shakespearean guilt and worrying that the freshly-beheaded John the Baptist is back to haunt him.  John's killing is relatively recent ~ still very fresh in his memory ~ and now there's another man talking exactly the way John did.  And performing miracles to strengthen His message to boot!

This was new; John never performed a single miracle during his ministry.  So Herod is hearing about a man who talks exactly like John talked and is ALSO performing amazing miracles, so his guilty conscience and paranoia about losing his "kingdom" have driven him to the conclusion that it must be John back to haunt him, and because he's risen from the dead, he's now been endowed with supernatural power.

The passage says Herod "kept trying to see him" and my tendency has always been to believe he wanted to see these great miracles Jesus was doing for himself.  But if we look a little further in Luke's Gospel, we realize he didn't care at all about the spectacle.  Herod wanted to kill whoever this was.  Whether it was John the Baptist resurrected or some other man who would publicly point out his sin and need for repentance ~ and even worse, preaching a Kingdom that threatened his ~ he wanted to put a permanent stop to it.

MacArthur in his sermon on this passage says Herod here, along with so many others mentioned in the Gospels, asks the most important question in human history:  Who is this man?  This is the compelling question in all four Gospels, actually, and all four answer the question.  Just as the question is the most important question in human history, its answer is the most important answer.  On it hangs our eternal destiny.
If you want to find the real Jesus, read Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, you'll find Him because John at the end of His gospel, which is the last of the four, sums up the purpose for all four gospels with these words, John 20:31, "But these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the God, and that believing you may have life in His name." That's the whole point. He is the Son of God, the Messiah. And if you believe in Him, you will receive eternal life.
But finding the right answer depends on asking the right question with the right attitude.  The disciples asked themselves the question over and over wanting to know the right answer, to understand why Jesus could make the claims He did, why they could place their faith in Him.  They eagerly sought Him to learn from Him, to KNOW Him.  Herod asked the question not really wanting an answer.  He solely sought physical audience with Jesus for the express purpose of killing Him.

And so it is with anyone asking the question.  Whether or not they find Him will depend on their heart-attitude in seeking Him.


Tomorrow's Bible In a Year reading: 2 Chronicles 29-30
Monday's scripture focus passage: Luke 9:10-11

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thursday, July 18 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 2 Chronicles 25-26; Psalm 122; 1 Corinthians 10.
Today's scripture focus is Luke 9:1-6.

And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. And He said to them, Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece.Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” Departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

So, after spending more than a year teaching and preaching and performing miracles and after having gathered together a group of men who would carry on for him after he was gone, Jesus sends them out to reach more people in less time, to multiply his ministry.  Probably also to let them learn about how to minister on their own while he was still there to instruct them.

People knew about Jesus - he was something of a celebrity.  They knew of the miracles that he had performed and many if not most would have a difficult time to deny that Jesus had power and ability to do things that could be ascribed to no one but God, therefore God must have given him this power.  So how were the apostles going to show that they too were delivering the message of God?  How would people know that they were truly followers of Jesus?  From MacArthur's sermon A Profile of a Christian Messenger, Part 2:

Answer: by giving them the ability to do the very same things that Jesus did which were unmistakably powered by God the Creator and therefore it was clear that God had given them the power to validate the message He had also given them. So they were given the power to do exactly what Jesus did, to preach exactly what Jesus preached. Today we have the same responsibility to preach exactly what Jesus preached, not to change the message at all, to preach the same message He preached. We don't have the miraculous power, we don't need that because our message can be measured as to its validity against the New Testament. Once the New Testament was complete, the need for those validating gifts passed away. 

So then, Jesus goes on to say that they aren't to take any money, bags, extra clothes, food, nothing.  Why would he instruct them this way?  MacArthur has this to say:

 Well, this was training and the deprivation was to teach them that when they did have nothing, which would happen again, they could trust the Lord to provide everything. It's like Matthew chapter 6, "Take no thought for what you shall eat, or drink, or what you shall wear, just know this, you seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, everything else is going to be...what?...going to be added. I'm going to take care of you." He was teaching them that they could trust Him. He was teaching them dependence, such a marvelous thing to learn. 
They were also not to take payment or reimbursement of any kind from anyone.  We all know that someone with a family member who is ill or dying would give or pay anything if he or she thought it would help.  It is very easy to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position and Jesus wanted to make sure that this wouldn't occur.
That's the last thing His apostles needed to do. Jesus would never do that. But the apostles might. And so by giving them virtually zero options, He guaranteed that there wouldn't be any corruption of the enterprise by men who were far from perfect. So they were going like in ancient times, the rabbis used to go to the temple with no staff, no money and no shoes. This was boot camp stuff. This was to learn. Plus, there wasn't a lot of time to assemble certain things, they had to go immediately.
Never, ever, ever put a price on your ministry, I don't care who you are or where you are. Be content with what you have. Make reasonable provision for your life and then let God give you what He chooses to give you, and then be a steward of it. Don't ever put a price on your ministry, ever.
Verse 4, whatever person first offers you hospitality, you stay there until you leave that city.  In other words, if someone wealthier, with a larger home or more food to share with you offers you a place, but you've already accepted hospitality from someone else, you don't leave.
You know, this is a...this is the mark of a true servant of Christ. He demonstrates, or she demonstrates contentment...contentment. Doesn't have to have something better all the time. Doesn't use people for personal gain. Content to let the Lord meet needs.
I really "felt" the summary paragraph of MacArthur's sermon.  I know it rankled a bit with me, and there are some things in this paragraph as it applies to me where a little work will need to take place.

We have the Great Commission. Our responsibility is to go into all the world and preach the gospel, as was theirs. We are to call sinners to repent and believe in Christ. We are to tell them that the only way to enter God's Kingdom, enjoy forgiveness, spiritual blessings through all eternity, is to come to Christ. We are also to show lost sinners compassion, kindness, tender and mercy. We are to live lives that are constantly marked by trust so that no one ever, ever could assume that we do ministry for money. Getting rich at the expense of the people you're trying to reach is sinful. We are also to demonstrate that we live lives of complete contentment with God's sovereign control over our circumstances wherever we are. And as kind and loving and gracious and selfless as we are, we also have a responsibility to speak judgment where there is fixed rejection and a mocking of the truth and move on to open hearts.

Happy Thursday, everybody.

Tomorrow's scripture focus:  Luke 9:7-9
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  2 Chronicles 27-28; Psalm 123; 1 Corinthians 11.