Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday, February 28th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Leviticus 27; Psalm 43; Mark 15
Today's scripture focus is Daniel 1:9-20

Daniel 1:9-20

English Standard Version (ESV)
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel hadunderstanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Accompanying John MacArthur sermons: An Uncompromising Life, The Consequences of an Uncompromising Life Part 1 and Part 2
Accompanying Ray Pritchard sermon: Dare to Be a Daniel

In today's passage we see Daniel's uncompromising life.
MacArthur: [the Babylonians] wanted these young men brainwashed and first they decided to change their names to cut them off from their heritage. And then they, of course, removed them from their country so that they wouldn't have any roots or connections there. They then wanted them to be educated and learned in all the Chaldean information. They wanted them to be attacked from every angle with Chaldean identification. And the final thing was to brainwash them by feeding them the food of the king so that their life style would become adapted to that of the palace of the pagans in Babylon. And that, of course, is where Daniel drew the line. Why? The Old Testament didn't say anything about taking a foreign name and the Old Testament didn't say anything about learning information from foreign teachers, but the Old Testament said - Don't eat food offered to idols and don't eat food that isn't properly prepared according to God's dietary laws for His people. And the bottom line for Daniel was the Word of God. And when eating the king's food violated the Word of God, because all of the food that was offered in the palace was, at one point, offered before the gods, Daniel couldn't do it and that's where he drew the line. He drew the line at the Word of God. This is true conviction. This is the character that is so admirable in Daniel. At a young age, he and his three friends, out of all of the 50 or 75 young men, and we don't know how many, but we only know four who took a stand. And later on when all of them appeared before the king, down in verse 18 and following, there were only four that the king noticed as different. The rest of them in this three year education had bought the bag, had eaten the king's meat, had adapted the life style, had become Chaldean and in so doing they had lost that unique place that God would have given had they been obedient to His law. And so, Daniel is a tremendous illustration of conviction, especially in a young man.

Living an uncompromising life requires unashamed boldness.  Daniel didn't beat around the bush, hem and haw, or try to come up with some lame excuse for not wanting to eat the King's food.  In v8 he straight up tells the chief eunuch that it would defile him.  That's boldness!  Do you and I speak up for God's standards with unashamed boldness?

Living an uncompromising life means rising to an uncommon standard.  God's standard was not to eat certain unclean foods, and not to eat meat that had been offered to idols.  Daniel went a step above and ate no meat at all.  He didn't meet the bare minimum, he didn't play around at the edges, he chose the highest standard he could - like leaders were called to do (priests, Nazarites, etc).  A cut above, an extra step that set him apart.

Taking such a stand often results in divine protection. You don't have to compromise to get what you want.  When we are uncompromising, we invite the protection of God himself.  And here He blesses Daniel for his uncompromising stance by granting him favour with the prince of the eunuchs.  Who would you rather have on your side - the king, or God who can control the heart of the king?  God will honour such uncompromising obedience.

An uncompromising person is persistent, they never give up.  Daniel does't give up when the chief of eunuchs nicely refuses his request.  He goes lower down the food chain (which is interesting!) and talks to the steward, who was less threatened by the king and was willing to grant Daniel's request.  Daniel didn't give up at the first sign of resistance, claiming "well, I tried".  He was persistent!

He also had unshakeable faith.  He knew God would come through for him on this.  Holiness produces somewhat a sense of invincibility - you trust that God will deliver.

Do you believe that if you live an absolutely uncompromising life, no matter who gets angry at you for taking such a firm stand, no matter who gets upset at you because you will not compromise, no matter how many people are offended for your lack of love-quote-, if you take your stand, God will honor it. Do you believe that? Do you believe that if you take your stand against sin and evil, God will fill your life with joy and happiness? Do you believe if you take your stand with honesty, God will fill your life with all those things you need for sustenance and support?
Well, if you really believe it then you won't compromise. You'll take God at His word. 

When you commit to taking such a stand, what usually happens?  It gets tested.  For Daniel the test was 10 days long.

And what did God do?
God poured out blessing. It's a tremendous thing, people, to realize this, but here brings together the two wonderful truths of God's sovereign blessing and man's total commitment. God blessed sovereignly when they were totally committed to live an uncompromising life. From their viewpoint, the whole thing depended on their own commitment...from God's viewpoint, the whole thing was entirely in His hands. You can't have one without the other....And so, God blessed them... immeasurably in knowledge and learning and wisdom.....Verse 21: "And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus." Seventy years...seventy years...and you know something? When I see Ezra chapter 1 and all the people going back to Jerusalem, you know who's behind that? Daniel. When I see the wise men coming from the east, I have to see lurking in the shadows...Daniel. God gave him influence...influence that led, I believe, to the decree of Cyrus to send the people back to their land. Influence that led to the rebuilding of the wall with Nehemiah. Influence that led to the reestablishing of the nation Israel. Influence that led the wise men to come to crown the King who was born in Bethlehem. He is behind the scenes of the history of the Messiah as well as the Messiah's people. He has an unlimited influence, for he it is who brings homage to the King who is the King of kings and Lord of lords, who reigns forever. Daniel has unlimited influence because Daniel has penned in his prophecy the history of the world till the reign of Christ

Do you think Daniel knew at the time how important that one decision would be?  I doubt it.  Our choices may very well impact the entirety of our lives! It may not have seemed so important at the time, but what Daniel decided changed the next 60-70 years of his life and, as MacArthur pointed out, influenced history to come.

Make no mistake, this was a hard decision.  This was tantamount to rebellion against the king.  He was truly risking his life over this.

But I like Pritchard's point...

You can always find an excuse when you don’t want to do right. But Daniel didn’t need an excuse. He had already decided to do right no matter what happened.

Verse 8 says that he “purposed in his heart” (KJV). That is, he made up his own mind. He couldn’t decide for anyone else, but he decided for himself what he would and would not do. And that changed everything. I don’t know if he tried to convince anyone else or not. It doesn’t matter. Daniel made up his mind, and his three closest friends decided to join him.....

The Babylonians could change everything—his diet, his location, his education, his language, even his name—but they couldn’t change his heart. Why? It belonged to God. When your heart truly belongs to God, you can go anywhere and face any situation and you’ll be okay. You can even live in Babylon and do just fine because your body is in Babylon but your heart is in heaven. So the question for all of us is, Where is your heart? Does it truly belong to God? Or is your heart fixed on the things of this earth?....

This story comes to an end on a very positive note. We discover in these verses that God always honors those who honor him. In this case the reward came very quickly. Often it takes much longer than that. And sometimes when we are faithful, our reward doesn’t come until we get to heaven.

I mention the timing because it’s possible to read this story and get the idea that every time we stand up for our convictions, we will be immediately rewarded. This passage proves that sometimes it does happen that way, but on this Sunday when we honor the Persecuted Church around the world, we ought to remember that God’s timing and ours are often quite different. In many parts of the world, our brothers and sisters are paying with blood for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Therefore, I think it appropriate that we marvel at Daniel’s reward and also remember that God deals with us as individuals. Our call is to be faithful, knowing that in the end, whether on earth or in heaven, no one will ever regret standing up for Jesus.

Verse 17 informs us that God gave these four young men wisdom and understanding. That guaranteed they would stand out above their Jewish contemporaries and far above the Babylonians. Since cream rises, these four young men will soon find themselves in positions of enormous influence in a pagan government.

By the way, it’s important that we notice the order. First, the decision is made to stand up for what they believed. Second, God honored that decision. Third, God gave them wisdom and understanding. You can hardly ask God for wisdom while you are living in a state of spiritual compromise. Again, God honors those who honor him.

The world will always try to reprogram our thinking into society's worldview.  We need to decided in advance that we will be loyal to God.  We need to know His Word so that we will know where to draw the line, and we must not do what we know is wrong.

Monday's scripture focus: Daniel 2:1-30
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Numbers 1-2
Sunday's passage: Numbers 3-4
Monday's passage: Number 5-6, Psalm 44, Mark 16

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thursday, February 27 -- Miriam

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Leviticus 21-22; Psalm 42; Mark 14.
Today's scripture focus is Daniel 1:1-8.

The Choice Young Men

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, 4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. 6 Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego.

Daniel’s Resolve

8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.

I found two things interesting in this passage.  Number 1 - "The Lord gave Johoiakim king of Judah into his hand".  Nothing happens on this rock spinning around the sun without God's knowledge.  He knows, He sees, and He is capable of preventing, but He does not.  At least, not always.  I often wonder how many things He does protect us from that we never even find out about?  And yet why do so many terrible things happen?  Does He just allow them, or does that fact that He could prevent them but chooses not to mean that these things are from Him?  "He gave Johoiakim..."  Does He give us hard things to teach us, stretch us, mold us, or does He simply use things that happen to His good purposes?  This verse would tend to indicate the former.  Or is it both?  This is so hard, so very, very hard to wrap our human minds around when we hear and see terrible things happen and can't understand the reasons for them.  He knows and sees all.  Nothing happens that he doesn't know about, allow, give permission for, or however you want to say it.  For me, what it boils down to is how much do I trust Him?  First, do I trust that when things happen that I don't understand or can't see any possible way that this could have been part of His plan that He will work it together ultimately for good?  And second, do I trust that no matter what my circumstances are He is with me and will help me, even if I can't see how until later?

The second thing I thought interesting was that Daniel sought permission from the commander.  Human nature would normally say that one would have to be sneaky and devious or go behind the commander's back.  Sneak food from the kitchens, hide the fact that he's not eating the king's food or drinking the wine, etc.  Not Daniel.  He sought permission.  I sometimes wonder what we miss out on because we don't ask?  From God, first of all, but also from others?  Okay, so the manager at your job isn't a Christian.  Does that mean you can't ask not to be scheduled to work Sunday mornings?  Just an example, but I think you see what I mean?

Anyway, so sorry for the lateness of my post.  I didn't have a chance to check out the sermons on this passage, but I'm sure they have some excellent insights to impart.  Happy almost-Friday!

Tomorrow's scripture focus:   Daniel 1:9-20
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Leviticus 27; Psalm 43; Mark 15

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wednesday, February 26th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Leviticus 19-20, Psalm 41, Mark 13
Today's scripture focus is Titus 3:12-15

Titus 3:12-15

English Standard Version (ESV)

Final Instructions and Greetings

12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.
Grace be with you all.

Accompanying John MacArthur sermon: The Last Word on Relationships
Accompanying Robert Rayburn sermon: Once More: The "Good" Life

In our passage today, we find out more about the historical details of this letter.

Rayburn: As we mentioned in our introduction to this letter several months ago, Paul wrote Titus, perhaps in largest part, to tell him to join him in Nicopolis, on the Adriatic coast of Greece. But Titus can’t leave to join Paul until his replacement arrives. Paul understands that the work in Crete is not complete and is unwilling to require these young churches to fend for themselves. We know nothing else of this Artemas, but Tychicus is mentioned on several occasions in the New Testament and in 2 Tim. 4:12 we learn that he was sent to Ephesus to relieve Timothy, indicating, perhaps, that Artemas was the one sent to replace Titus in Crete.

[Zenas and Apollos] no doubt carried Paul’s letter to Titus. We don’t know anything else about Zenas, but Apollos was the gifted Alexandrian, whom we find in Acts 18 receiving instruction from Priscilla and Aquila, and whose later teaching at Corinth was so enthusiastically received that it created a division between his followers and those of Paul. So far as we can tell, Paul and Apollos themselves were always on good terms and this statement is further indication of that.

This is the tenth and last reference in this short letter to the Christian life as a doing of what is good. Obviously the hospitality and help asked for on behalf of Zenas and Apollos serves as an example of what Paul is after. The NIV’s “daily necessities” is not a literal translation. What Paul wrote is literally “necessary needs,” that is, pressing or urgent needs. It seems he is still talking about such things as providing help to strangers coming through. In other words, Paul is eager that the Christians on Crete learn to be ready at all times to do good, to invest their lives in the service of others and, all the more, in the service of the gospel. Then, when the opportunity arises, as it often will, they will be ready. That is Paul’s prescription for a fruitful life or what Paul calls a productive life.

As Christians, we are to live lives of purity in obedience to God, from a thankful heart and for His glory.  That involves service.  But what, exactly, are we to do?  Sometimes, we get so distracted in trying to figure out our grand purpose, that we miss the forest for the trees.  We need to do what is set in front of us to do.  And then the next, and then the next.  As God gives us opportunity, as He places people and needs in our lives, we need to meet those needs and serve those people, which will bring us to the next opportunity and the next after that.

MacArthurs adds some encouraging thoughts here as well.  As Christians, we are to work together as a team.
You're a part of a team, we're all inter-dependent, we need to be supportive and trusting and delegating. We all share. We move to assist each other, what's ever best for the cause. That's a very important thing in spiritual leadership.

This is an evangelistic epistle.... But the key to evangelism is right relationships. That involves shunning false teachers, rejecting factious people. It involves helping fellow servants and loving faithful friends. You see, the whole thing in evangelism, the whole credibility issue is built on the character of our lives. And the only way to pull this off is his final conclusion, "Grace be with you all." Apart from God's grace it can't happen. By His grace it can.

I've really enjoyed digging deeper in this book as it's the first (and so far, only) book of the Bible I've memorized.  It will provide much deeper meditation as I continue to review it!

Tomorrow - Daniel!

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Daniel 1:1-8
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Leviticus 21-22, Psalm 42, Mark 14

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tuesday - February 25- Tiffany

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Leviticus 17-18, Psalm 40, Mark 12
Today's scripture focus is Titus 3:8-11
Titus 3:8-11
This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.
 I read this passage, and then read all of chapter 3. Verse 8 is actually referring to the 4 verses before it:  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
And while verse 8 belongs with the verses before it, it also is a good precursor to verses 9-11.  In verse 9, avoiding foolish controversies, arguments and quarrels about the law is pretty straight forward, but what about "genealogies?" According to my Archeological Bible, this most likely refers to Old Testament history. In which case, genealogies makes sense considering how many family trees we read through when studying the OT.
And I believe that is important. We need to know what we believe, and we need to stand behind our beliefs, but silly arguments  about tiny details do not bring people closer to Jesus.
I also like the advice given in verse 10.  It is difficult for me to walk away from a person sometimes when they are just insistent on arguing with me. I feel guilty if I don't attempt to smooth things over and leave a conversation on a good note.  But Paul tells Titus here not to bother with those who just enjoy arguing. Warn them twice on the problems caused by an argumentative spirit, and then walk away.  No point into dragging yourself down.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Titus 3:12-15
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Leviticus 19-20, Psalm 41, Mark 13

Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday, February 24-by Pamela

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Leviticus 15-16, Psalm 39, Mark 11
Today's scripture focus is Titus 3:3-7

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The first thing that jumped out for me from today's verses was: "were once". For we ourselves were once foolish, [were once] disobedient, [were once] led astray, [were once] slaves to various passions and pleasures, [were once] passing our days in malice and envy, [were once] hated by others and [were once] hating one another. 

Were. Once. really? Most days in my life seem more like "are always" than "were once". However, we are reminded that each day is a new start... a new chance to say that we "were once" behaving in a way that is counter to what God desires. 

Lamentations 3:22-24

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

I just will remind you of the general tone in which we approach these particular verses. New Testament churches were small islands in a sea of paganism. You see, they existed in an absolutely pagan culture. The Gentile world knew nothing about the Bible. It knew nothing about biblical morality. It knew nothing about Christian values. It knew nothing about a godly sense of mercy or justice. It knew nothing about a proper understanding of freedom within the framework of moral code. It was purely and totally and comprehensively and utterly pagan. These churches were born them in a culture with no Christian influence. There was no cultural Christianity. There was no Christian influence on social behavior or on the belief systems. The Gentile world was literally engulfed in idolatry, all of it designed by Satan. Their cultures were totally controlled by a Satanic agenda worked out through utterly and totally depraved human beings involved in worshiping demons.
So the churches then were in direct opposition and contrast to everything within the framework of cultural life. Given that obvious understanding, we might assume if we listen to Christians today in America that the early church should have made its primary agenda to impact culture, to try to get the various nations into which the church had been born adopt some kind of politically Christian agenda. Somehow the early church, some would seemingly want to tell us, should have put together some kind of biblical morality, some kind of biblical value system and worked very hard to get the nations to adopt that biblical moral code. However, the early church never did that. It had nothing to do with that. It did not concern itself with whatever the moral code of the nation was. It was not concerned about social behavior. It was not trying to influence culture politically or judicially or legislatively. The early church existed to do one thing and that was to reach lost people with the gospel. That was the beginning and the end of their purpose and that is still the church's purpose, that is still our only purpose, that is why we are in the world.

We are all sinners. We "were once" sinners. Through Christ we are redeemed and it is through Him alone that we can be "were once" sinners. We are all the same. All sinners. All foolish. All disobedient. All led astray. All slaves and passing our days in malice and envy. 

This reminded me of some of the lyrics to a casting crown song "Jesus, friend of Sinners"
Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away
We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth's become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You but they're tripping over me
Always looking around but never looking up I'm so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

"The world is on their way to You, but they're tripping over me". What I choose to do and say affects the people around me--who are actually just like me-- sinners. However, each day I have the grace of God to become more like Him and less like me.

John MacArthur ends his message so eloquently:
That's not how it's done, folks. You might get a crowd and you might even preach the gospel and have some people saved, but you're going to have immature carnal ignorant believers whose lives are not going to demonstrate to the culture the transforming saving power of God. When the church comes together, it comes together to be spoken to with boldness and called to holy living and out of the Word of God because those who take the Word of God seriously are going to engage in the good deeds that are going to become good and profitable for the watching world. That's the mandate. We can't just be sad. We can't certainly be hostile. We've got to pray for those in our culture and our society who are lost. We've got to pity them and love them with the love of God and show them Christ's saving power in our lives. The church does not need now to become more like the world, it needs to become utterly and distinctively the church so that there is such an obvious difference that the world can see it clearly. We're doing exactly the opposite and that's the tragedy. For us here we have a mandate, we can't fix everything but we can be what God wants us to be here. And God will in His grace use us to bring many to righteousness.
Father, we thank You again this morning for Your Word. We are a people who can say we believe You. If You speak we listen. We take Your Word seriously and we want, Lord, to live the kind of lives that You want us to live so that we can demonstrate a transformed person is like. And then they'll know You have transforming power. Help us to live holy lives, lives of compassion and love, lives of grace and kindness and mercy that they might see in us the first born of heaven, even Jesus Christ and His love and compassion and pity and His virtue. And seeing what we are might conclude their God is a saving God and come themselves for salvation. To this end we pray for Christ's sake. Amen.

Tomorrow's scripture focusTitus 3:8-11
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Leviticus 17-18, Psalm 40, Mark 12

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday, February 21st

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Leviticus 13-14; Psalm 38; Mark 10
Today's scripture focus is Titus 3:1-2

Titus 3:1-2

English Standard Version (ESV)

Be Ready for Every Good Work

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

Accompanying John MacArthur sermon: The Christian's Responsibility in a Pagan Society Part 1
Accompanying Robert Rayburn sermon: Being Good

Sometimes it seems like no matter how often we've heard something, another reminder is in order.  That's what our passage today suggests.  "Remind them".   Obviously these were things the Cretans knew or had heard before, but about which they needed to be reminded.

There are two reasons why these Christians especially might need to be reminded of these duties. First, the Cretans were notorious in the ancient world for their rebelliousness and insubordination. Second, new Christians, with their glorious new sense of loyalty to the Almighty God, might think the pretensions of human rulers of little consequence. Why should they obey petty human rulers when their allegiance is to the Triune God, the Maker of heaven and earth? But Christians have obligations as citizens of this world and it is particularly important that theymeet those obligations precisely because they are Christians. In the then current situation, the last thing the gospel needed was unnecessarily to be associated with political rebellion....

Not easy commandments to keep when you are surrounded by people whose view of life and of morals you are now convinced is profoundly wrong. Not easy commandments to keep when you are likely to be the butt of a great deal of negative comment by those who think your conversion to Christianity passing strange.

Interestingly, “peaceable and considerate” are found again as a pair in the qualifications for elder in 1 Tim. 3:3. We are reminded again that the qualification for an elder is simply that he be a mature, practiced, and faithful Christian man. Nothing is required of him that is not required of us all.
“Meekness,” what the NIV translates here as “humility,” is the Christian’s attitude not toward God, but toward man and, clearly in this case, toward all men, not simply fellow Christians.

we are living in a sub-Christian America. We want to say we're Christians, we just don't want to commit to what Christianity is. Our Christianity has become hollow. We are clearly pagan but we wear the mask of religion. 

It really is the unfortunate reality that we're living in a pagan culture, and it's so easy to get caught up in our cultural worldview and lose sight of a biblical perspective.  But we need to keep this perspective in mind - our mission is to bring people to God.  It is not to moralize the nation, it is to save the nation!  That can only happen from the inside out.  That doesn't mean that we don't care who becomes Prime Minister (or President, depending where you live), but it means that we shouldn't be spending all our energy into trying to legislate morality, but rather we need to realize that the issue is salvation.  And a huge part of demonstrating the saving, transforming power of God is by living that transformed life.  The way we live, among Christians and non-Christians, is crucial in order for our proclamation to be believable.

Then Paul lists some very practical ways in which to do so.

We need to be subject to rulers and authorities and obey them - whether they're good ones or bad (unless obedience means violating God's commands).
We need to be ready for every good work - we need to be aggressively good, purposefully good, intentionally good.
We are not to speak evil of anyone - pretty self explanatory.  Note this doesn't mean we cannot confront people, but we need to do so in respect and with pure motives.
We are to avoid quarreling.  We should not be hostile or argumentative, but rather peaceful and friendly.  Again, this doesn't mean we never have confrontation when necessary - but we don't go looking for a fight.
We need to be gentle - kind, considerate, patient, and reasonable.
We need to show perfect courtesy - we don't fight for our rights, we don't have an agenda.
And we're supposed to do this for all people - that means everyone.

God loves all men. God desires that all men be saved, he says. God wants you to pray for all men. The grace of God has appeared to all men. You live your life before all men so that they can see the transformation.
Only Christians can live like that. That's our duty. That's how we have to live.
For His glory and the salvation of His people.

Rayburn finishes it off with a bit of a sucker punch....
There is a kind of public goodness that is uncontroversial. We shouldn’t lie about others – slander – we ought to be considerate and kind. Being so is more difficult than people think and Christians have access to a power for living this life that others do not; but the idea of goodness itself is not controversial in many of these ways. But the combination of virtues is another thing altogether. To combine sexual purity with kindness in this modern culture; to combine willing obedience to the government with an absolute and uncompromised loyalty to the living and true God; to combine a genuine meekness and humility before all men – grounded upon the knowledge of our own sinfulness and unworthiness and Christ’s love for us while we were his enemies – I say, to combine that humility in a husband with his wife’s submission to him in their marriage; to combine strict and conscientious truth telling with a genuine love for other people; to combine a saying "No" to malice toward others and saying "Yes" to love; it is in this fullness of goodness, in this life of comprehensive virtue that a distinctly Christian goodness is found.

Don’t ever forget this! Being kind from time to time is not what Paul means by devoting oneself to being good. Not slandering someone is not what Paul means by doing whatever is good. If that is all we do we might as well be Muslims or secular humanists. You cannot live a Christian life piecemeal. It is in the wholeness of goodness, in goodness practiced in many directions at the same time, in this goodness that is attitude and speech and behavior all at once that we find the goodness of which Paul speaks. It was that goodness that Christ practiced in his life and by which he left us an example that we should follow in his steps. In part this goodness mirrors what other people recognize as goodness and in part it is distinctively and uniquely Christian; but both parts must be present in us at the same time. If we are comfortable in our Christian living, it is a certainty that our view of the Christian life is too small; we are thinking of and caring for too few things; we are thinking the whole thing too easy.
That is why we must have Christ and the Holy Spirit at work in us and on our behalf. To be good in so many ways at once is beyond the ability of any frail and fallen human being. We can hardly keep in our heads at once all the things required of us that we should live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age. There is a sense in which the serious Christian will be gasping for air, sucking wind, as long as he lives in this world for all the straining his mind, heart, and will must do to present himself pure and holy before God....the Christian life is difficult and especially for this, that you have to do so many things at the same time.

But how like Paul and how like the rest of the Bible to pile it on. Not one virtue, but many at once. We would prefer that he speak about self-control and talk at length about that. We could get our minds around that. We could commit ourselves to that. But Paul urges upon us self-control and temperance and love and kindness and truth-telling and peaceableness and obedience and everything else that he assumes we know he means by saying that we are to devote ourselves to doing what is good. What a world heaven will be, full of people who are all those things, all the time! You and I set our sights too low. We content ourselves with one virtue or another, when we ought to be seeking a dozen at the same time. If we do not feel that without Christ we can do nothing, and if we are not always, almost in desperation, looking to him for the grace and help to enable us to live a truly godly life, it is almost certainly because we have a view of the Christian life that is altogether too simple, too easy. We have made it a few things, when it is really many things. True goodness is many things all at once!

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Titus 3:3-7
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Leviticus 15-16, Psalm 39, Mark 11

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thursday, February 20 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Leviticus 11-12; Psalm 37; Mark 9
Today's scripture focus is Titus 2:11-15.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

This is a really cool little passage, because it sums up the message of the Bible in a few verses.  Of course, we need the rest of it as well, but here we have the main theme neatly summarized.  Rayburn says the following in his sermon, Christ's Program:

They (the verses above) summarize that life that Paul has just described, they root it in God’s grace and Christ’s work, and they locate it in time. This is the life that a Christian lives from the time he becomes a Christian to the time he is taken from this world, either by death or, in the case of some favored generation of believers, by the Second Coming. It is a life of faith, or, as Paul puts it here, of hope, a strong word in the New Testament. The Christian’s hope is the certainty of things not seen, things that are still to come but are sure to come. A great grace, a great God and Savior, a great redemption, a great future and a great calling meantime are all to lead every Christian to be a zealot for good works.

Characteristic of Paul’s teaching of the Christian life in his letters, the Christian life is described here in a double way. It is described both negatively and positively. Think, for example, of Colossians 3:5-10 where Christians are exhorted to “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” – the negative – and then “put on the new self” and “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, and so on” – the positive. Everywhere we have this double action: mortification and vivification; putting to death and bringing to life.

And we have that same double action here. We have it in v. 12. We are called to say “No!” to ungodliness and worldly passions and, and this is the sense of the context, to say “Yes!”to self-control and godliness. We have it again in v. 14. Christ redeemed us both to deliver us from all wickedness and to purify us for himself, to make us eager to do what is good. And we have it still again in v. 15 where Titus is commanded both to rebuke – to clear away the bad – and to encourage – to strengthen what is good. It is not enough to take the bad parts out of a non-functioning car. The new parts must be installed and then adjusted and then put to work. It is not enough for a student to stop being lazy and to quit watching so much TV. He must now acquire the habits of hard work, of attention to his studies, and, of enjoying the intellectual progress that he begins to make.

All right thinking about living the Christian life will embrace this double motion, this action in opposite directions: to put sin to death in our hearts and lives and to bring more and more to expression the new nature that the Holy Spirit, as the gift of Christ, has created in us. As Paul makes a point of saying and then saying again in these few verses, both the deliverance from sin and the putting on of the new man are the gifts of God’s grace and the fruits of Christ’s redemption.

Happy Thursday!

Tomorrow's scripture focus:  Titus 3:1-2.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  Leviticus 13-14; Psalm 38; Mark 10

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday, February 19th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Leviticus 9-10; Psalm 36; Mark 8
Today's scripture focus is Titus 2:6-10

Titus 2:6-10

English Standard Version (ESV)
Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

Accompanying John MacArthur sermons:  God's Plan for Younger Men and God's Plan for Employees
Accompanying Robert Rayburn sermons: Paul's "House-Tables" and Make "Bonnie" the Doctrine

Yesterday's passage and today's blend right into each other and are one cohesive unit.  In contrast to the false teachers and their lives, Titus was not only to teach sound doctrine but to teach the practical requirements for living that are consistent with that sound doctrine.

Many of the things listed are relatively obvious and even acceptable among our culture today - our culture would (and should) expect Christians to be self-controlled, sober, and reverent.  But, as Rayburn says....wives submitting to husbands, that they should be instructed to be busy at home, and that slaves should serve their masters so selflessly, all of this seems like a communication from some other world, some distant galaxy. It strikes the modern ear as hopelessly out-of-date, even Neanderthal. The younger the reader is, the less likely it is that he or she would appreciate that well into the 1960s, the average American, Christian or non-Christian would find little here that sounded strange or unnatural. So greatly has the world changed in the last generation....though we are falling apart as a country so far as the life of the household is concerned, we somehow pity the mother in the fifties who had a stable home and a committed husband and consider normal a poor woman who, physically and emotionally exhausted, is struggling to raise children by herself and fearful that she is not doing a very good job....

 the other day, on my MSN home page, I noticed that they were offering the results of a recent sociological study on what makes wives happy in marriage. With Paul’s house-table ethics before me, I checked out the article. There were some entirely predictable things mentioned in the accompanying article – a committed husband who cares about her life, her heart, her feelings – a sharing of her responsibilities, etc. But what was genuinely interesting – this is MSN remember – is that the conclusions of the researchers were that women were happiest in traditional marriages, when they were at home with their children, when their husbands were the primary breadwinners, and they were free to make the choice to give themselves full-time to their children.

Our culture is anti-marriage and anti-children, no question.  And that combination condemns our society to extinction by simple mathematics.

If Western nations – if any nation – wishes to survive, it must bear children. The very thing modern Western, secular people want less and less to do. But if children are born they must be cared for. They must be loved, nurtured, educated, brought up to responsible adulthood. And as any faithful mother can tell you, that is a full-time job! Will any of this happen – is there any evidence anywhere that it will happen – without mothers who are busy at home. And, we go on to ask: will that ever happen in a wholesome way if husbands and wives do not again find their God-created and God-appointed order for life in which the husband’s masculine life and the wife’s feminine life are drawn together in a unity of love for the sake of the rising generation? Will any of this happen if there is not that division of labor that God’s Word and all of human history proves is necessary for the welfare and happiness of children?...

what we have here in this house-table is not the ethics of some antiquated and out-moded social system. What we have here is the way of life of a society that will not only prosper and thrive in a sinful and unjust world, but will pass on that life, that happiness, that fruitfulness to its children so effectively that they will bring a still greater measure of the wholeness of human life to the world they inhabit as adults. What we have here is not what people normally will do when left to themselves. Far from it. What we have here is what people ought to do and what a society needs for them to do.

A quick note on the slavery issue.  This passage is in no way condoning slavery. Slavery was the custom at the time, and though often slaves were mistreated by evil masters, the way the slavery system was set up in the Bible was similar to the employee/employer relationship of today.  This passage isn't discussing the issue of slavery.  It's simply saying that if you are a slave, you have the obligation to live out your faith so that the saving power of God is evident in your life. The same is true for us today if we are in an employee position.  Your workplace is your mission field.  How you conduct business and how you perform for your employer has evangelistic implications. You need to work for them respectfully, with excellence, not being argumentative or obstinate, with honesty, showing trustworthiness and loyalty.  No matter where we are or what we're doing, we need to live out our faith.

And notice why we are to live this way....
so that no one will malign the word of God. (v5)
so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (v8)
so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (v10)

MacArthur:  the purpose of your living this way is that the Word of God may not be dishonored, that the opponents may be shamed and silenced and that those who are watching us may indeed see that we have a saving God, a God who delivers people from sin.

The behavior of Christians – that is, if they live as Christians should – should be a recommendation of the Gospel to the unsaved. It should commend the truth about Jesus to others. It should make unbelievers sit up and take notice. The lives of Christians should be the setting for the diamond of the gospel. And those lives should certainly confirm rather than call into question what Christians are saying. It should be easier to believe what they say about Christ and salvation because their lives beautifully recommend their words.....

what finally proves to an unbelieving man that happiness is to be found in Christ and believing in Christ? Well, surely ultimately it is the Holy Spirit illuminating that person’s mind and turning his or her will. But, what instruments does the Holy Spirit use? Well, no doubt he uses the argument of the Gospel itself: man’s need and Christ’s provision. But just as clearly, in many cases, it is the witness of a Christian’s life, his conduct, her behavior. A Christian’s life is to be a pointer to happiness, a roadmap if you will. They are happy people – in the deeper, richer sense of the word; they have found the secret to goodness and contentment and joy – and so it makes sense to discover what that secret is.

When we live out our faith authentically and consistently, it makes others want what we have - it makes the gospel attractive.

When you get up in the morning and begin your day, and when you encounter other human beings, remember that you carry about with you the reputation of Jesus Christ. They will think of him, to some degree, as they think of you. And that should be motivation enough for us to live a distinctively Christian life everyday!

MacArthur puts out a challenge as well...
Approximately 90 percent of all people surveyed as to how it was that they came to know Jesus Christ pointed to a personal witness, a friend, a relative, somebody whose life impacted their life. Less than ten percent of the people who come to Christ come because of something other than a personal witness.

We need to talk Jesus Christ and live Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Titus 2:11-15
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Leviticus 11-12, Psalm 37, Mark 9