Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday - September 30 - Tiffany

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 1 Timothy 5; Proverbs 24; Isaiah 61-62
Today's scripture focus is Luke 15:17-24

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
When he came to himself....
This line speaks volumes.  We read on Friday how much pride this young man had in himself.  To take his money, but not his responsibility, to leave home without regard to his family, to take a job feeding pigs rather than admit he made a mistake.
But then, he wakes up one morning, hungry and alone, and he wakes up.  He comes to his senses.  He sees his life for what it is.

I've heard various sermons on this passage, some say the young man was very repentant, others say he wasn't repentant at all, but merely hungry and looking for an angle to get back into his father's good graces.

I prefer to believe that when the Bible says "he came to himself" it means, he realized he was wrong, and he longed to be with his family, but knew he had almost certainly broken his relationship beyond repair.

And this is where the beauty of the story begins.

While he was a long way off...

The Father is waiting.  Just as this young man's father was waiting, was watching, so is our Heavenly Father.  He is watching for us, watching over us, waiting for the day when we will come to our senses and return to him with repentance and hope that we can, in some way, still live in His light.

And, with complete joy, this father runs to his son, brings him in, offers him full forgiveness and pardon, not even waiting to hear the words of repentance.  He restores his son with a full celebration.

God is waiting for us to do the same.  And for those who have returned to the Father, we have received full forgiveness and pardon.  We have been fully restored, and a celebration is being planned.

If we will only come to our senses.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 15:25-32
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: 1 Timothy 6; Proverbs 25; Isaiah 63-64

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday, September 27th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 1 Timothy 4; Proverbs 23; Isaiah 55-56.
Today's scripture focus is Luke 15:11-16.

Luke 15:11-16

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

Accompanying John MacArthur sermon: The Tale of Two Sons Part 1
Accompanying Mark Driscoll sermon: The Parable of the Prodigal Son
Accompanying Matt Chandler sermon:  Deconstruct/Reconstruct

God rejoiced over repentant sinners.  That was the point of both the preceding parables - the lost sheep and the lost coin.
Verse 7, "I tell you in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance."
verse 10, "In the same way I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
That was the point.  Along with the fact that Jesus was pointing out to the Pharisees that they were so far from the heart of God that they didn't even understand what brought God joy.

this story is intended to demonstrate the same thing, the joy of God over the recovery of a lost sinner. But this story goes even beyond that and it identifies the nature of repentance. Repentance has been mentioned in verse 7 and mentioned in verse 10, but never defined. In this story it is fully defined and for the first time in this story, the Pharisees and the scribes actually appear. They are a character in this story and we see them in all their ugliness, and so did they see themselves. And that's the surprise ending of the story. Up to that point, they were pretty much in agreement with the story. And that was always Christ's approach, to get them to buy into the story in terms of interest and understanding, and then to get them to understand the ethical issues in the story because they celebrated their own high level of ethics. And then to take their own ethical understanding and turn it on them and make the theology of the story like a knife that penetrated their sinful hearts....

The first two stories, about the sheep and the coin, emphasize God as the seeker, the one who finds and the one who rejoices. But the third story looks not so much at the divine side, but at the human side...sin, repentance, recovery and rejection. ...

Now the story doesn't contain everything that needs to be said about salvation. It's not the whole of salvation theology. But it does lead us to the cross which is yet to happen because it's a story of reconciliation and there is no reconciliation apart from the death of Christ who having paid the penalty in full for the sinner provides reconciliation. But the cross is not in the story, it's yet to come. And so this is not a full theology of salvation, but it deals with some of the essential elements of sin and recovery and rejoicing and rejection.

Now, this is a story about a loving father and his two sons.  It's termed the Prodigal Son, but it's actually the story of two sons.  And, in fact, it's almost more about the second son than the prodigal.

When the younger son goes to the father and asks for his inheritance, the Pharisees and all those listening to the story, would see this as utter, blatant disrespect.  The son is really telling the father that he wishes his father was dead.  In the middle Eastern culture of the day, this was utter shame.

The system was very clear to everybody. The father was at the head of the honor list, then came the older brother, then came the younger. This is shameless at its highest level. The lowest in the family, the lowest in the line of honor expressing aggravation and irritation and hatred about his father that he's even still alive and standing in the way of him getting what he wants is the highest degree of shame imaginable. There was no way that Jesus could portray greater shame upon a person than that act. In the social structure of Israel, that was the supreme act of shame.

Notice, too, what the son asked for.  He asked for his share of the property or the estate (his share would've been 1/3 because 2/3 would go to the older brother).  He didn't actually want his full inheritance.  An inheritance would include the responsibility to manage the estate for the family and build it for the family's future.  He didn't want that.  He didn't want responsibility, leadership, accountability.  No, he wants his freedom, his independence - and he wants his father to finance his leaving.

At what would the father's expected reaction be?

They would expect him to be furious with his son. They would expect him to slap the boy across the face, to rebuke him, to shame him, to punish him, to dismiss him from the family and perhaps even to hold a funeral.

This would not have gone over well, to say the least.

Now, the father could have done this as a gift, if he had wanted.  But for a son to request it was utter disrespect.  The son was telling the father he'd rather his father was dead.

I cannot even imagine what it would feel like to have your son say that to your face.  But what does this father do?

Rather than strike him across the face for his insolence, the father grants him what he wants. He extends to him this...this freedom because he is willing to endure the agony of rejected love. And this is the agony that's the most painful of any personal agony, the agony of rejected love. The greater the love, the greater the pain when that love is rejected. This is God. This is God giving the sinner his freedom. There's no law in the customs of Israel that would forbid a father to do this. He's not doing this because...because he thinks this is best. He's giving the sinner his freedom. And the sinner's not really breaking the law but he is demonstrating the absence of a relationship. And that's the point.
The sinner has no relationship to God whatsoever. Doesn't love God, doesn't care about God, wants nothing to do with God, nothing to do with the family of God, wants nothing to do with the future of the family of God, wants no accountability to God, wants no interest in God, doesn't want to answer to God, doesn't want to submit to God, doesn't want any kind of relationship at all. In fact, has none. And God in the agony of rejected love lets the sinner go.
And so the father divides up the property.  Now, normally, if he had done this as a gift, the father would still be the one responsible and in charge, until his death.  But in this case, he lets his son go.

And this son does not take long to leave.  So, he liquidates all his assets.  He sold his portion of the property (even though, in that day, the new owner would not be able to take possession until the father died, the son did have the legal right to sell it, and the new owner would likely be willing to buy now anyway because the price would only go up in the future).  And when you liquidate your assets in a hurry - you inevitably take a loss.  That's how badly this kid wanted out.  This son had no relationship with his father, no relationship with his brother, and he just wanted out of there.

This is the foolishness of the sinner. He wants to get away from God, he wants to get away from God now. He wants no accountability to God. He sells cheap all of the opportunities that God has provided for him, all the good gifts, all the gospel opportunities, everything that's good that God has put into his world. All that goodness and forbearance of God that's meant to lead him into a relationship with God he spurns 

And he left.  To a Gentile land.  This kid couldn't get any worse.

Then MacArthur makes a very interesting point I hadn't considered before.....

where's the older son in this? Why doesn't he ever rise to the defense of the father's honor? Why doesn't he ever step up and protect the father? Why isn't there a verse in here about "But the older son went to the younger and rebuked him for dishonoring the father?" The answer: because he didn't love the father either. He was happy to get his share, stay home. Never came to the father's defense, he has no love for the father as we shall see.
The whole scene is filled with shame. It's a totally dysfunctional family, a loving generous father who's provided massive gifts to two sons. One is a flagrant rebellious irreligious sinner, the other is a religious one who stayed home but neither of them has any relationship to the father or to each other. They both hate each other and the father.
So the son left, and squandered his money on a reckless and sinful lifestyle. That's his fault.

And then a severe famine hit.  That's not his fault.

But when those two combine, it can be devastating.  And life is like that sometimes.

Now, a severe famine hit.  We can't even imagine that here.  We think "recession", but that doesn't even come close.

In the OT, the Jews were under siege for such a long length of time that the women ate their afterbirth and even cannibalized their own children.  That is a severe famine.  It's a level of desperation that we cannot even imagine.

This son made some horrible choices, and circumstances combined to make the situation even more desperate.

And the Pharisees and the scribes listening to the story now are feeling the weight of...of the horror of the life of this young man. From a wonderful place under a loving father in a generous environment, he has come to this. It is life at its lowest in the pits at the most desperate. He has no family. He has nobody left. He's in a foreign land, nowhere to turn. All his resources are gone. He is destitute. He is on skid row. He is penniless. He is alone. The party is over for sure.
But he's still not ready to go home. That's a big one. Still not ready to fully humble himself, to eat crow, to go back, to be shamed, to be humiliated, to face his father and the resentment of his older brother for having wasted the substance. The older brother knows that once the thing was split, he no longer could draw resources from the other third and therefore it would cheat him out of what he would get and that elevates his hatred. He doesn't want to face any of that. 
He thinks he can pull himself up by his bootstraps.  So, he manages to get hired on - feeding a Gentile's pigs.

Just when they thought the situation couldn't get any worse. Pigs were unclean animals.  For this Israelite boy to get a job working for a Gentile, feeding pigs - and not only feeding pigs, but fighting them for the pig slop to eat - it just couldn't get any lower than that.

What is the lesson here? The lesson is that sin is rebellion against God the Father. It is not rebellion so much against His Law, it is more rebellion against His relationship. It is the violation of His Fatherhood, His love. Sin is disdained, sure, for God's Law, but before that it's disdain for God's person, God's authority, God's will. Sin is shunning all responsibility, all accountability. It is to deny God His place. It is to hate God. It is to wish God was dead. It is to not love Him at all, dishonor Him. It is to take all the gifts that He's surrounded you with in life and squander them as if they were nothing. It is to run as far from God as you can get to give Him no thought, no regard, no concern. It is to waste your life in self-indulgence and dissipation and unrestrained lust. It is to shun all except what you want and it is reckless evil and selfish indulgence that ends you up in the pig slop, bankrupt spiritually, empty, destitute, nobody to help, nowhere to turn, facing death, eternal death. And then the foolish sinner has exhausted plan A, I'll fix my own life, I'll go to psychology, I'll take drugs, I'll drink alcohol, I'll go to some self-help group, I'll move to a new neighborhood, I'll marry a new person. When all that stuff is exhausted, the sinner wakes up at the bottom. And this is where the young man is

Thankfully, repentance is coming!

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 15:17-24
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: 1 Timothy 5, Proverbs 24, Isaiah 57-58

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thursday, September 25 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 1 Timothy 3; Proverbs 22; Isaiah 53-54.
Today's scripture focus is Luke 15:8-10.

The Lost Coin

“Or what woman, if she has ten [a]silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Well, this parable is basically the same as yesterdays.  When you lose something of value, of course you're going to look for it until you find it.  Obvious, right?  I don't know if any of you have ever "misplaced" one of your children, but my 2nd son went missing at the Niverville Fair a couple of years ago.  A month away from his 5th birthday, and he walks out of the fun house after his brother and a couple of friends had already come out and gone back in again, didn't see them, didn't see me, and decided to go off by himself.  He knew where he was.  He didn't consider himself lost.  He was totally fine.  Meanwhile, my parents, my friend and I are running all over Main Street (and dragging 3 or 4 other kids with us) with pounding hearts and shaking hands wondering how we're going to find him in all those people.  We looked for at least an hour, and I was doing okay up until that point because I just kept telling myself "He's here somewhere, he's on a ride..."  But as the time passed I started to wonder "What if he decided to try and find Grandma & Grandpa's house, thinking we went back there?"  or worse, "What if someone took him?"

Well, obviously we found him again.  I went to check the little kids' rides again (for about the 3rd time), and there he was.  He was completely unconcerned.  He had gone on the Ferris Wheel.  Waited in line, by himself, and got into one of the carriages with two teenagers.  He had a wristband, and I guess the ride operator assumed he was with the teenagers and never asked, and they never said otherwise.  The weakness of relief that I felt when I found him is indescribable, but I'm sure it comes absolutely nowhere close to the joy that God experiences when someone repents.

I like what Mark Driscoll says in one of his sermons:

And he says that God here is like this woman and that we therefore are like what? The lost coin that God is searching for, that God is committed to, that God is devoted to finding. Every time you take out change, currency, I want you to remember, “I’m like a lost coin.” Every time you drop a coin and go to pick it up, remember Jesus’ words. God treats you like you treat that coin. As you pick it up, remember, that’s how God saves you. That’s how God saves me. That’s how God saves us.

It would be a very foolish coin if it was boasting to all the other coins, “Yeah, I picked myself up, flipped myself back up off the floor into the purse.” The other coins would say, “That’s not how that works. We were there. She picked you up.” That’s how salvation works. We sin, we’re spiritually dead. We don’t save ourselves. We don’t know God. We don’t pursue God. God knows us. God pursues us. God literally, in Jesus Christ, he picks us up because he cares about us. And some of us, he’s been looking for for a really long time, but he doesn’t give up his search. God never gives up his search for his people. He searches until he finds them. That’s the big idea of the story.

Yes, the Bible does say "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 19:13), but what about the people who don't know they are lost?  What if, like my little Mason, they know (or think they know) where they are and don't realize there is anyone to look for or looking for them?

How thankful I am that God doesn't wait for us to look for Him.  He comes looking for us.

Tomorrow's scripture focus:  Luke 15:11-16.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  1 Timothy 4; Proverbs 23; Isaiah 55-56.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday, September 25th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 1 Timothy 2; Proverbs 21; Isaiah 51-52
Today's scripture focus is Luke 15:3-7

Luke 15:3-7

English Standard Version (ESV)
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Accompanying John MacArthur sermon: Recovering the Lost Sheep
Accompanying Mark Driscoll sermon: The Parable of the Lost Sheep & Coin
Accompanying Matt Chandler sermon: Deconstruct/Reconstruct

The key to all the parables in this chapter is to view them with yesterday's passage in mind.  Both the "high-class sinners" (the Pharisees), and the "low-class" or even "outcast sinners" (the tax collectors), had a wrong worldview.

The tax collectors and other social outcasts and pariahs, would've believed that they were so far gone, there was no hope for them.  God would never forgive them, much less pursue them.

The Pharisees had the opposite worldview. They believed they were so morally upright that they had curried favour with God.  They're in, and the outcasts are out. They're worthy, and God can't even be bothered with the "sinners".

And so, Jesus deconstructs both world views with these parables.

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus shows the outcasts that not only will Jesus forgive them, He will pursue them.  He will rescue them.  He will search for them.  And then He will rejoice over them!

Matt Chandler explains....
This side [the outcast] thinks that heaven rejoices over God’s just judgment on their lives, which is why they aren’t coming to God. And He goes, “No, no, no. There’s more celebration in your coming home than you being judged.” And this side [the Pharisee] over here believes there’s more celebration over their goodness than the repentance of those who are wicked, and they just found out that’s not true either. Do you see the reconstruction? So He tore down both belief systems and rebuilt another one.
Chandler is quick to remind us though, that both groups need grace.
If all you do is switch the characters in the story, we’re no better off. If you show grace and mercy to the tax collector and sinner but you show no grace and mercy to the older brother, you’re in the same world-view. You’re in the same world-view that Jesus deconstructed, that He destroyed. If the hardest, darkest of life get all grace and mercy and love but the religious bigot gets none, then we’re still operating in the same’ve got to be gracious to the grace killers. If you haven’t, you are them. Now the line’s thin, because there’s got to be times where you go, “That’s a lie.” But matters of doctrine are very, very different than matters of philosophy. Be careful that you don’t let deconstruction become fuel for your bitterness.

This parable would have been extremely offensive to the Pharisees because Jesus tells the story in such a way that they have to see themselves as the shepherd - some of the lowest of Jewish society.

As a side note: it is a sign of Jesus' humility that He would identify with shepherds when He declared Himself to be the Good Shepherd.  Which makes us the stupid and utterly defenceless sheep - apt description as we are prone to wander, and can do absolutely nothing to save ourselves.  We rely completely on our Good Shepherd.

But though the parable was offensive, the story would make sense.  I mean, the basic rule of shepherding is that you don't lose the sheep.  So, it would make sense that the shepherd would have to go looking for the lost sheep.  And they would celebrate and rejoice when the lost sheep was found.

So, they're with Him in the story itself, though they're offended by the idea of having to think of themselves as hypothetical shepherds.

But it's the application that really gets them.

The whole story is about the joy of God when a lost sinner is sought and found and recovered. And the point is, how is it that God can be so eager, that God can be so desirous, that God can be so concerned to seek and save the lost, and you, who claim to be God's representatives on earth only despise the lost? How can that be? Another way to say that was, you couldn't be further from the heart of God. You despise the lost and God rejoices over them. You don't want to go near the lost and God pursues and finds and carries them back. And how is it that you can respect the shepherd, an unclean shepherd, who goes out to find an unclean animal and bring it back? How is it that you can take the lofty, ethical posture on the fact that he did the right thing and condemn Me for rescuing eternal souls? How warped are you? You are far from the heart of God and you are caught up in superficiality and triviality while souls all around you are perishing. Matthew, chapter 9, Jesus was teaching and doing His miracles and delivering people from illnesses and diseases. And it says He was moved with compassion because He saw all the people as "sheep without a shepherd"...nobody to come and find them, nobody to rescue them, no one to come and pick them up out of their hopeless, helpless, wounded, nearly lifeless condition and carry them back. What hypocrites the scribes and Pharisees were.....

It is Christ who seeks the lost. It is Christ who finds whomever He seeks because He knows His sheep. And it is Christ who bears the full burden of their restoration. In fact, in that very act, the shepherd was making a tremendous sacrifice, the pain, suffering, to bear the full weight of the sheep back home. And so Jesus Christ bears the full weight of our recovery, the full weight of our restoration. He finds us when we are lost and lonely and hopeless and helpless and nearly lifeless and He comes to us and He picks us up and He puts us on our [His] back and there was nothing the sheep could do or did do....He is the Shepherd who pays whatever the sacrifice is to bring the sheep back. It reminds me of Isaiah 53, that wonderful Messianic chapter. Listen to these words. "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, our sorrows He carried...He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell on Him and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." He bears it all. It's all of grace. It's all of Christ. All we can do is acknowledge our lostness and our helplessness and our hopelessness and yield in faith to the Great Shepherd who picks us up. The Shepherd does the seeking, the Shepherd does the finding, the Shepherd does the lifting, the Shepherd does the carrying, the Shepherd does the restoring and the Shepherd leads the celebration.
And, of course, the end of v7 is just pure sarcasm - Jesus couldn't have been talking about them because they were so holy they didn't need to repent.  Pure sarcasm.

Self-righteous people are deluded into thinking they don't need to repent.
On the other hand, there are those who are lost, and know it. They're lost, they're desperate, and they need to be rescued by the Good Shepherd, who rejoices over them when they are found.

Christ rejoices over all lost sinners who are found - that's the accurate worldview.

Have you acknowledged your lostness?  Have you been found?  Is God rejoicing over you?

And, are we, who have been found, doing our part to participate in God's joy of finding lost sheep?

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 15:8-10
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: 1 Timothy 3, Proverbs 22, Isaiah 53-54

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday, September 24 ~ tammi

Today's Bible In a Year reading:  1 Timothy 1; Proverbs 20; Isaiah 49-50
Today's scripture focus passage:  Luke 15:1-2
Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
This is the beginning of a chapter on God's joy.  Something we probably don't think or hear much about.  But it gives us a look at what brings God joy, and as such, shows us where our own true joy can be found.

But first we have these two verses as an introduction to that theme.  Jesus is spending time with low-lifes and undesirables.  Again.  Giving them a message of HOPE, of all things.  The Pharisees and scribes ~ the high-class, educated leaders of the time ~ are incensed.  I mean, who does this guy think He is, claiming to be sent from God and surrounding Himself with the filth of society??!  This was flaunting the law, their traditions, the purity and holiness of God!  Pharisees wouldn't THINK of going near these people, let alone eating with them, or ~ perish the thought ~ receiving them, hosting them, in their own homes!  Pharisees essentially spent their time only with other Pharisees.

MacArthur says they even had a rabbinic rule that said, "'Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him nearer to the law.'  Well, that's really helpful. You're a teacher of the law and you can't associate with the wicked to bring them to the law? They were so worried about pollution that they didn't even take the law of God to the people who needed to hear it." Such sad irony.

But thank God for Jesus!  Because those people who needed a message of hope... He was sent for them.  Those are the kind He gravitates towards ~ the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the poor, the despised, the infirm and "unclean" ~ the people who know they cannot be clean or holy without divine help.  They have no education or social status to rely on, no religious credentials.  They know they can't keep all the rules because there's no way they'll ever KNOW all the rules.  To these people, desperate for hope, Jesus comes.  He doesn't just speak with them, but He touches them, He heals them, He shares food with them.  He isn't afraid of getting dirty or disgracing Himself.

Who do we gravitate towards?  Is it the people who appear to have it all together, the friendships that don't really demand anything of us, or is the people with messy lives, who have visible needs, whom we KNOW getting involved with is going to cost us?

May God place in our hearts a burning desire to spend time with those who are spiritually desperate, the wisdom to discern their true needs, and the courage to meet those needs, no matter how messy it might become, nor how it might make us look to those around us.  May we be willing to sacrifice our reputations for those who need the Savior.

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year reading:  1 Timothy 2; Proverbs 21; Isaiah 51-52
Tomorrow's scripture focus passage:  Luke 15:3-7

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday, September 23 - by Pamela

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 2 Thessalonians 3, Proverbs 19, Isaiah 47-48
Today's scripture focus is Luke 14:25-35

Discipleship Tested

25 Now [a]large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, 26 If anyone comes to Me, and does not [b]hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends [c]a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
34 “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35 It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, [d]let him hear.”

The first thing that stood out for me from this passage was the very first line:

25 Now [a]large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them,

I teach grade 1 and September is both the most exciting (new students, new strategies, new things to try, new supplies, new start) and the most tiring (teaching new routines, training a new bunch of kids, over planning because a full day is the best way to avoid chaos).  Undoubtably, Jesus had both of these, excitement and tiredness, at this point in His life too. Excitement at doing what He came to do and yet the daily physical human exhaustion that comes with a long to-do list and a short deadline.

On Friday night, I had the whole evening to myself. My husband and son had gone to a football game and my girls were at their youth group. Ahhhh...alone time. After a busy second week of school and the tiredness of September there was no other thing I felt like doing except being by myself and vegging out. It was not my desire to be in a large crowd and I pursued my needs.

Yet, Jesus did not turn the people away. Sure He often sought out time alone with God but his desire to reach people, to heal them, to lead them, to guide them overrode all else. Putting our own needs second is not easy. In fact, it is nearly impossible. Such is the cost of discipleship....

MacArthur says:

The extreme character of discipleship. The language is unmistakably absolute, definitive, severe, you might say. But this is not anyone speaking other than God Himself, God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ. He establishes the standards of discipleship. He determines the character of true repentance and saving faith. And it seems, when you study the words of Jesus, that instead of making it easy, He always seemed to make it hard. In fact, by most human assessments He makes it virtually impossible. We're good in our culture at making things easy. Simplify, simplify we're told. Make it as easy as possible. And this even finds its way into the church where we want to devise a gospel or a message that is easy to receive and easy to accept and easy to believe. This is not what Jesus did.

We live in a society that wants easy--fast--convenient--and something that requires minimal effort on our part. Our modern conveniences are supposed to make things easier and yet all these things seem to do is to convince us that we can do even more things in less time. The church can be also influence by society and led to give "consumers" what they want.

This is important to consider:

"The first role of successful merchandising is to give consumers what they want. If they want bigger burgers, make their burgers bigger. Designer bottled water in six fruit flavors? Done. Mini-vans with ten cup holders? Give 'em 20. You've got to keep the customer satisfied. You've got to modify your product and your message to meet their needs if you want to build a market and get ahead of the competition. Today, this same consumer mindset has invaded Christianity. The church service is too long you say. We'll shorten it. One pastor guarantees his sermons will never last more than seven minutes."...that's sick (laughter)..."Too formal? Wear your sweat suit. Too boring? Wait till you hear our band. If the message is too confrontational or too judgmental or too exclusive, scary, unbelievable, hard to understand or too much anything else for your tastes, churches everywhere are eager to adjust the message to make you more comfortable. This new version of Christianity makes you a partner on the team, a design consultant on church life and does away with old-fashioned authority, guilt trips, accountability and moral absolutes. One suburban church sent out a mailer recently promising an informal, relaxed, casual atmosphere. Great music from our band and believe it or not, you'll even have fun. That's all great if you're a coffeehouse. It's Christianity for consumers, Christianity light, the redirection, watering down and misinterpretation of the Biblical gospel in an attempt to make it more palatable and popular. It tastes great going down. It settles light. It seems to salve your feelings and scratch your itch. It's custom tailored to your preferences. But that lightness will never fill you up with the true saving gospel of Jesus Christ because it's designed by men not God and it's hollow and worthless. In fact, it's worse than worthless because people who hear the message of Christianity light think they're hearing the gospel, think they're being rescued from eternal judgment when, in fact, they're being tragically misled."
I hear this quote on the radio quite often as I drove to and from school (but can't seem to find it online) and it said that "the biggest obstacle Christians face is ...Christians." If we are not an example to others about what it means to to truly be a disciple of Christ we do not lead other to Him. Of course, none of us can be that perfect example. Romans 3:23 says

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." 

All. Not some. Not most. All. We ALL fall short and get in the way of being an example. I love the line in this song

"The world is on their way to You
But they’re tripping over me"
We can't be a perfect example of a disciple of Christ. We can't.

MacArthur closes with this prayer:

Father, we come to you at the end of this great section of Scripture grateful for the truth that it conveys to us with such clarity and power. We know that this comes from You because this is a holy standard. It is above us and beyond us. It is impossible. The only way we could ever abandon the past, the only way we could ever experience the power to see this through, the only way we could ever be sustained in faithful, privileged service, loyal for a lifetime is by Your power. It is in the day of Your power that we become willing and able. Help us to know that only when the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, works in us the resolve and the will and the conviction and the repentance and the faith to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in this way can it ever happen. It is not according to us but it's according to Your power. Lord, we have experienced the power of the Spirit of God working in us causing us to rejoice in an abandonment, in an assessment, in an allegiance to the future, causing us to rejoice that You have done a work in us which is beyond our ability. We thank You for that work that You've done in us. We pray, O God, that You would work this work in the lives of others, that You would produce a true repentance and a true faith and a true devotion to Christ that will powerfully surge across all barriers, that we'll consider everything as loss, waste, manure, as Paul called it, compared to knowing Christ and receiving eternal life. We know You're not asking us to crank this up in our human flesh, but we know we must be willing as Your Spirit overpowers us in the direction of Christ. We pray, God, that You would do that in the hearts of those who are here today who have not come to Christ and maybe some who think they have come because they made some superficial commitment. May there be a true work, mighty work of Your Holy Spirit so that people are born of the Spirit. And we thank You in Your Son's Name. Amen.

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: 1 Timothy 1, Proverbs 20, Isaiah 49-50

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday, 20 September 2013 ~ Roxie

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is
Today's scripture focus: Luke 14:15-24

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Looking a little deeper into this parable has really opened my eyes to what has happened here. Call me slow, call me too distracted to think deeply...but today, today, I looked and learned!!

Like we have already read in previous posts, Jesus has been invited to eat in the home of a Pharisee. As he is sharing the meal with these highly learned men, he is teaching, often in response to questions or comments his fellow suppers have asked or made. I reread this passage after I did a little research and couldn't help but cringe when I read the opening comment made by one of these learned men:

“Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

This man, well versed in Scripture, is speaking, thinking about passages like Isaiah 25:6-9, which reads:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

...and he believes that this banquet is for him and all those who follow the "law" as it has been set out by the high priests...those with whom he dines. These scholars believe their invitations have been received and, through their family lines and pious lives, they have RSVP'd. Jesus' response is highly unexpected...and, once again, a wee bit snarky (ok, a LOT) to those providing him a meal.

This "certain man", the main character in this parable, has a reason to celebrate, but it is not shared with the readers. This man follows the customs of the time and sends out an invitation, to which he receives the positive replies from those he invites. Now knowing the number of people who will be attending this celebration, the preparations begin. 

An animal is butchered; one large enough to feed the number of people who have said they would attend. Side dishes are prepared, succulent desserts baked just so. The banquet room is cleaned and decorated. The musicians tune their instruments and warm up their voices. The table is set. A servant is sent to proclaim the banquet ready so the guests will come and eat while the food is fresh and unspoiled.

And is met with excuse after excuse after excuse...all shocking insults to their friend who has invited them to celebrate with him. It is the magnitude of these insults that I never did quite understand...and makes me look a little deeper at my own responses to the invitations God makes in my life...

The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Seriously? He bought a field, sight unseen? He didn't check into the quality of the soil? The nature of the water supply? The presence of windbreaks or fences? According to an article by Matt Slick, this would have been an utter lie. Purchase negotiations would not have even been broached without a complete inspection of the property right down to a discussion of rainfall patterns. The slave would have known this was a lie as would the master of the house who had extended the invitation.

The second said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Once again, an outright lie, not disguised even a little. According to the same article by Matt Slick, the tradition of the day would have been akin to test driving a car. The owner would have even hooked them up to a plow for anyone interested in the purchase of the team to not only see them in action, but to put their hands on the plow and feel how they work and respond. 

Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ Well, the wedding wouldn't have been on the same day as the man would have probably been invited to the elaborate event that a wedding would have been back then. While I have trouble envisioning this as a huge insult, I know that I think with a modern brain. There have been times when my hubby and I would sigh and wish we did not have to go anywhere because we felt like we had not seen each other for a long time-me with a day job; he on the fields sometimes until midnight. Perhaps this is what this newlywed felt?? However, he would have known that if the banquet was ready, the food would spoil if no guests showed up to eat it. No fridge, no freezer and a man who slaughtered a prized, well fattened animal the right size for the number of expected guests...what wife doesn't need a night out?? To get all gussied up and feel beautiful on her proud new hubby's arm??

All too often, I find it so easy to make excuses to not take time to worship, to study, to just be with my God, my Creator, my Saviour. I know this passage is talking about avoiding accepting the invitation to salvation that God extends to each and every person...and how easily the educated and the wealthy, those who feel they already "have it all together" can reject the invitation....that is far too often me, though just as often I am poor, crippled, blind and lame.

O how grateful I am that even the blind, the crippled, the lame, the poor are invited to the banquet! How beautiful to hear the call to feasting even as I wander! How amazing it is that "there is still room"...and even more so, that the Master of the house desires for His house to be full.

Thank You, God, for Your grace...and your compassion...and your invitation. May I learn to seek Your company always.

Monday's scripture focus: Luke 14:25-35
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thursday, September 19 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 2 Thessalonians 1; Proverbs 17; Isaiah 39-40
Today's scripture focus is Luke 14:7-14.

Parable of the Guests

7 And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 10 But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Dang, I knew I had too much time yesterday... I just didn't remember why!

Well, this parable isn't difficult to decipher.  It's human nature to want as much or the best for ourselves as possible.  We buy tickets for the best seats (we can afford) at a game or concert.  We get to the theatre early so we get a good seat for a movie.  Choose the largest piece of pizza, or the one from the middle with no crust, take the crust piece of a freshly baked loaf of bread, even though it may be someone else's favourite.  The list goes on.

This parable is still talking directly to the Pharisees, who had invited Jesus into a trap (so they thought), as discussed yesterday.  The Pharisees were all about self-importance.  "I'm better than you; I'm holier than you; I pray more often and more loudly than you; I'm going to have a better place in the kingdom of God than you because I'm so good."  Our friend Mr. MacArthur says this in Humbling the Exalted--Exalting the Humbled:

And He says, "When you are invited to wedding feast don't take the place of honor." Don't rush to that chief seat and find that all of a sudden somebody shows up who is more distinguished in the eyes of the host or more capable of reciprocation than you are. And you're going to find yourself being told get out of that seat, give place to this man. And then in disgrace you're going to find yourself at the back. You've gone from the proverbial penthouse to the outhouse. The wise thing to do, He says in verses 10 and 11, is start at the last place so that when the one who has invited you comes and sees you there, he's going to say, ah prasan abino, move all the way. You belong in the front. And then you're going to have honor in the site of all who are the table. They're going to say oh look, oh look at him going way up. That's good advice. I think that's practical advice, you know, be humble when you go to an event like that. Don't rush to sit in the chief seat.

You know, in a sense this was nothing new, nothing really revolutionary. These guys were experts in the Old Testament. They were experts in the law of God. They probably remember Proverbs 25:7. "It is better for it to be said to you come up here than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince whom your eyes have seen." Just built on that Proverbs 25:6-7. It's a lot better to be told to come to the front than to be told to go to the back. Is that all it's about. No, it's way more than that. This is all about the kingdom of God. This is all about clamoring for the chief place in the kingdom of God. Rushing in a display of pride and arrogance to the front only to be told by God get out of that seat.

Moving on to the second part of the passage:

And so He says, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner," there were only two meals a day in Jewish life. There was ariston, early in the day, deipnon, dinner at the end of the day. On the Sabbath, they added a third one in the morning, but it was only those two meals and so He says when you invite someone for any of those meals, do not invite...and let me just clarify this, do not only invite. This is a Semitic idiom. Not so much would be a way to say it. It's not so much for you to invite your friends or your neighbors or your relatives or rich neighbors. It's not that that's an absolute prohibition. Don't ever do it under any circumstance. Of course, you're going to have your friends. Of course, you're going to have your brothers and relatives and your rich neighbors because they're you're neighbors.

But what He is saying here is don't do that exclusively. And what He's doing is addressing the pride and the superiority and the self-seeking that He saw in their separation. And what they did was they only invited the people who could invite them back. It was, how can I understand this? I guess maybe one way to say it would be this. An invitation to a meal with a Pharisee was a kind of currency in the marketplace of Jewish society. It was a kind of currency. They exploited hospitality for the sake of self-glory and elevation.

It was the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back" kind of thing. It was a way to elevate them. I'll elevate you and you elevate me. And Jesus says, why don't you instead of doing that all time and only inviting the people who are going to promote you the way you promote them, why don't you give a reception and invite the poor, the cripple, the lame, the blind and be blessed. Why don't you, He is saying, humble yourselves? Why don't you humble yourselves?

The last couple of days' passages have made me think of that song (I apologize in advance if you will now be singing this song for the remainder of the day):

Don't wanna be a Pharisee
Don't wanna be a Pharisee
'Cause they're not fair, you see
Don't wanna be a Pharisee

Happy Thursday!

Tomorrow's scripture focus:
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  2 Thessalonians 2; Proverbs 18; Isaiah 41-42