Thursday, June 30, 2016

Day 101: Luke 2:1-21 & Psalm 102 - Why Are Some of the Most Familiar Bible Passages So Misunderstood?

Today's Reading: Luke 2:1-21 & Psalm 102

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Why Are Some of the Most Familiar Bible Passages So Misunderstood?

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 

"And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear." - Luke 2:7-9, ESV

I love Luke 2. It has been one of my favorite Bible passages since I was a kid. I remember growing up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. I still get goosebumps when I watch that with my children and Linus steps forward to tell Charlie Brown what Christmas is really all about by reciting from Luke 2 - 

And yet, as wonderfully familiar as this passage is, we still misunderstand it. Several errors are commonly made:

1. There was no inn, not as we would understand that term. The word translated "inn" in Luke 2:7 was not a first-century Holiday Inn. There was no "inn-keeper." It likely refers to the room in the house where guests would sleep, which was probably on the floor of the dining area. 

2. There was probably no stable either. The reference to a "manger" is a reference to a feeding trough for animals. However, this is probably because animals were frequently brought into the house at night, kept in the back of the main room of the house. Yes, Mary and Joseph and Jesus were sleeping with the animals and Jesus was placed in a manger as a cradle. But it was probably inside the main house and not likely in a cave or stable. 

3. The sign given to the shepherds is the main point of the passage, but we miss the sign. The shepherds would have understood the significance of Jesus being "wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." We are given a version of this description of Jesus three times, in verses 7, 12 & 16. 

Shepherds in the region near Bethlehem would often be called upon to provide lambs for sacrifice in the Temple. But not all lambs qualified; only spotless lambs could be used. How would shepherds keep a spotless newborn lamb spotless, keep him from hurting or dirtying himself? They would wrap him in swaddling cloths and place him in a manger. Thus the shepherds would have know the the sign for them meant one thing: Here was the spotless lamb of God, come to take away the sin of the world! 

Let us rejoice like the shepherds and glorify God for sending us such a Savior!

Prayer Based on Psalm 102:

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
   let my cry come to You!
Do not hide your face from me
    in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
    answer me speedily in the day when I call!

For my days pass away like smoke,
    and my bones burn like a furnace.
My days are like an evening shadow;
    I wither away like grass.

But You, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
    You are remembered throughout all generations.
You will arise and have pity on Your people;
    it is the time to favor her;
    the appointed time has come.
For Your true servants hold Your church dear
    and have pity on her suffering saints, bearing persecution for Your name.

Nations will fear the name of the Lord,
    and all the kings of the earth will fear Your glory.
For You, O Lord, build up Your church;
You regard the prayer of the destitute
    and You do not despise their prayer.
Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
    so that a people yet to be created may praise You, O Lord:
You looked down from Your holy height;
    from heaven You looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
    to set free those who were doomed to die,
that they may declare in the church the name of the Lord,
    and in Your congregation Your praise,
when peoples gather together,
    and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
     but You are the same, and Your years have no end.
The children of Your servants shall dwell secure;
    their offspring shall be established before You.   

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Day 100: Luke 1:57-80 & Psalm 101 - What Does it Look Like to Repent?

Today's Reading: Luke 1:57-80 & Psalm 101

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What Does it Look Like to Repent?

And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. - Luke 1:63-64, ESV

When you fail and God disciplines you, how do you respond?

Yesterday, we looked at Zechariah's doubt and saw that his was sinful because he doubted God's truthfulness. We saw that Gabriel rebukes him and that God disciplined him by making him unable to speak until after John's birth. Today, we see Zechariah restored gloriously and, in being restored, he gives us a model of true repentance.

As followers of Jesus, we need to know how to repent well. Because we sin daily, in ways we don't even realize, the words of Martin Luther echo truth to us 500 years later, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, `Repent' (Mt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." So, how can we follow Zechariah's example and repent well?

First of all, notice what Zechariah does not do:

1. He does not complain about the consequence God gives. If I had been unable to speak for over 10 months, I might be tempted to complain. Zechariah does not. Whatever discipline or consequence God gives, we know it is much less than our sins deserve. Christ took the true punishment on Himself on the cross, and whatever consequence God gives us is for our good and very limited.

2. He does not blame anyone else for his sin. Zechariah doesn't look for someone to blame, to escape responsibility.

3. He does not dwell on his sin at all. Zechariah does not try to explain why he questioned Gabriel or why he was disciplined. 

Instead, consider what he did do:

1. Zechariah obeys God. God has told him to name his son John. Even though no one in his family had that name and it made no sense to his neighbors and peers, Zechariah obeyed God and named his son John, as he was commanded. Obedience is an essential part of repentance. The desire and ability to obey both belong to God, so even in our obedience, we must be careful to do what Zechariah did next:

2. Zechariah praised God. Once his tongue was loosened, Zechariah immediately glorified God. Our obedience is true obedience if we glorify God. If we're seeking to exalt ourselves or prove ourselves righteous, we have missed the point. Glorifying God alone is the fruit of repentance. 

3. Zechariah spoke the truth of God, declaring His deeds and proclaiming His Gospel. Zechariah's wonderful speech in vv. 67-79 is a beautiful proclamation of saving activity of God. It is Gospel preaching at its finest - covenantal, biblical, God-centered, worshipful.

So when God disciplines us for our sin, we must accept the consequences and be thankful, never seek to pass the blame or dwell on our sin, but obey God, praise Him and speak forth His Gospel truth. This is the rhythm of the Christian life: repent, believe, obey, proclaim. 

Because of the finished work of Jesus, we are given the gift of being able to do this, rather than having to wallow in our sin, despair of our future and feel sorry for ourselves. Praise God from Whom all blessing flow, including the grace of repentance!

Prayer Based on Psalm 101:

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
    to You, O Lord, I will make music.
I will ponder the way of Christ, Who is blameless.
    Oh when will You come to me?

I will walk with Christ, Who alone is the integrity of heart,
    within my house;
Let me not set before my eyes
    anything that is worthless.
Let me hate the work of those who fall away;
    it must not cling to me.
Please make a perverse heart be far from me;
    That I may know nothing of evil.

Let me not walk in the way of the wicked,
   Keep me from standing in the path of sinners,
       Draw me far from the seat of the scorners. (Psalm 1)

Let me look with favor on the faithful in the land,
    that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way of Christ the Blameless
    shall minister to me.

Let no one who practices deceit
    dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies
    continue before my eyes to deceive me,
       let them never lead me astray from You!

Purify Your city from false brethren, hypocrites, deceivers and make us Your people indeed!

In the name of Jesus the Blameless One, Amen. 

Day 99: Luke 1:25-56 & Psalm 100 - Can We Express Our Doubts to God?

Today's Reading: Luke 1:25-56 & Psalm 100

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Can We Express Our Doubts to God?

"And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” - Luke 1:34, ESV

Do you ever doubt God? You may not be comfortable with that question. Maybe you're afraid to answer it honestly, so let me ask different questions: Do you ever wonder why something has happened in your life? Do you every wonder how you're going to make it through something? Do you ever doubt whether or not you're going to be able to handle something? We may direct our doubts toward our circumstances or toward our own ability, but if we understand that character and promises of God, we know that all such doubts are forms of doubting God. 

In today's passage, Mary expresses some doubt, some question about the promise of God given to her through the angel Gabriel. She is unsure of how God will fulfill this word to her. She knows that she has never slept with a man, and so she knows it is impossible, humanly speaking, for her to have a child. So she asks, "How will this be?"

Mary's question is very similar to the question we saw Zechariah ask yesterday, "How shall I know this?" Interestingly, Mary's question is answered by Gabriel, but Zechariah's question is answered with a rebuke and a punishment. He is struck dumb and unable to speak until after John is born. So, why is Mary given an answer to her question while Zechariah is rebuked for a lack of faith?

Even though their questions sound similar, there are some key differences: Mary asks, "How will this be?" She is expressing uncertainty as to how God will do what He is promising to do. Zechariah asks, "How shall I know this?" He is expressing doubt of the truthfulness of Gabriel's promise. In other words, Mary is asking how and Zechariah is asking how he can know for sure that Gabriel is not lying. Also, Zechariah is a mature priest ministering in the Temple, while Mary is a very young woman at home in her simple village.  

Mary and Zachariah are both children of God. They are both believers. They both receive the fulfillment of God's promise in their lives. Yet the way they express their doubts or questions is profoundly different: Mary expresses uncertainly about the process. Zechariah expresses unbelief in the promise itself. 

Doubting the truthfulness of God's promises is doubting the very character of God Himself. Questioning the process is an expression of our limited human understanding and of our desire to better understand the ways of God. Some people like to say, "God is not afraid of our doubts." That's true, of course, and the language of the Psalms often gives us words to express doubt, fear, uncertainty and even complain to God. 

However, while God is not afraid of our doubts, sometimes we should be. When we start doubting the truthfulness of God's word, we are moving onto shaky ground, stepping off the rock into the quicksand. When we feel ourselves moving in this direction, we need to take our doubts to God and confess them, asking Him for help: "I believe. Help my unbelief!" 

Can we express our doubts to God? Yes! If we are feeling doubt, we'd better confess them to the Lord. Go to Him in prayer and then open His word for answers. We may or may not be rebuked, but if we are children of God, we will be strengthened and comforted in the end. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 100:

Psalm 100 is a famous Thanksgiving Psalm. Psalms 95 & 103-107 are also Thanksgiving Psalms. This may be a good time for us to pause and consider the importance of thanksgiving and how we can give thanks. Here are some posts from my other blog that may be helpful:

The Transforming Power of Thanksgiving        
Thankful for God
Thanksgiving: Count Your Blessings

In today's Gospel reading, Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) is a wonderful example of thanksgiving. [Learn more]

Psalm 100: "All People That on Earth do Dwell"

O Lord, You are most worthy of all of our praise and thanksgiving!
  For You alone, O Lord, are the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
The whole earth owes You thanks, O Lord, for You are good and You do good to all.
  You are our God; You have made us.
We are Your people, the sheep of Your pasture.
  You are the Good Shepherd, who speaks and we follow, who lays down His life for the sheep.

You are good.
   Your steadfast love endures forever.
      Your faithfulness endures through all generations.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Day 98: Luke 1:1-25 & Psalm 99 - Are the Gospels Myth or History?

Today's Reading: Luke 1:1-25 & Psalm 99

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Are the Gospels Myth or History?

"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah." - Luke 1:1-5, ESV
Many people have asserted that the Gospels of Jesus Christ are religious myths and not historical accounts. But this assertion is a reflection of a pure bias against the truth claims of Christianity and against the supernatural. To dismiss something as mythological because it contains supernatural activity is to reveal the nature of your own bias more than the nature of the text itself.
Myths generally deal with things that either happened a long time ago, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . " begins George Lucas' space myth. At other times, myths can have a certain timeless quality, not rooted in any specific time. A myth does not claim to be "an orderly account" of things handed down by "eyewitnesses." They do not open with reference to a specific time period and a specific person within the past 50-60 years. 
The fact is that any fair reading of the Gospels will reveal plainly that they are relentlessly historical. Time and again, the Gospel writers anchor the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth in a real place at a real time. Jesus was born under Herod the Great in Bethlehem and died under Pontius Pilate about 30 years later. 
Cross-checking historical references with other contemporary historians further reveals that all the historical details - the political parties, the customs and language, the names of key government officials, etc. - all make sense and stand up under verification. In other words, the Gospels claim to be historically accurate and, upon further research, they check out as being historically accurate. 
What is the significance of this? Most importantly, it means that the truth claims made by the Gospels writer regarding Jesus must be weighed as historical claims and not dismissed as mythological. Luke's opening paragraph, in particular, sets his Gospels as a document claiming to give greater certainty. Now such a claim itself does not make Luke's document certain, accurate or reliable. Many documents claim to be reliable when they are not. But it gives us a frame of reference, a starting point, once we know what Luke claims to have written. 

Luke is careful in how he expresses himself. He wants Theophilus to know that he mas been careful in his investigation. He sets his Gospel within the context of eyewitness accounts and reliable testimony. While we are 2,000 years removed from the writing of this account, we need to know that many of the claims made in Luke - and in Matthew, Mark and John - were easily verifiable or falsifiable to the original recipients of these Gospels.

We, like Theophilus, can use the evidence and testimonies and details compiled by Luke to gain a more certain understanding of the truth concerning Jesus. Through his writing, we can know that God has indeed spoke, acted and redeemed His people through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Prayer Based on Psalm 99:

O Lord, You do indeed reign over all the earth. You are great and You are highly exalted far above all the peoples of the earth. Everyone on earth owes You honor, praise, allegiance and worship, with all that we are. 

Lord Jesus, in Your awesome power, You revealed to us that You indeed love justice. You have set prisoners free and have reached out to lift up the downtrodden. You have perfectly executed righteousness and justice in Your sinless life, Your wondrous works, Your atoning death and Your triumphant resurrection! 

O Lord, in Your word, we have a sure testimony of why You are and what You have done, You have spoken and we can trust and receive what You have said. You have shown that You forgive and also that You avenge, Our response should be - must be - wholehearted worship. Let us worship You acceptably in reverence and awe!

In Jesus perfect name we pray, Amen! 

Day 97: Mark 16:1-8 & Psalm 98 - Did the Disciples Expect Jesus to Rise from the Dead?

Today's Reading: Mark 16:1-8 & Psalm 98

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Did the Disciples Expect Jesus to Rise from the Dead?

"And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them . . ." - Mark 16:1-8, ESV

If there's one thing we know for sure, it's that dead men don't come back to life again. Of, sure, some people have had "near-death" experiences, when their hearts have stopped beating for a few minutes and then they've "come back" from the dead, but if someone has truly died and been buried, that's it. It's over. Right?

Sometimes, Jesus' disciples are accused of being naive, simplistic, backward and gullible. Some modern skeptics can look at people in the Bible and dismiss them as dupes, easily taken in and suspicious because of their readiness to believe in the supernatural. 

But the truth is that the average person in Bible times has far more experience dealing with death than we do today. They knew what happened when someone died and was buried. At Lazarus' tomb in John 11, the family of Lazarus were reluctant to open the tomb, because Lazarus had been dead for four days in a warm environment and they knew that his body would be stinking. 

And so, in today's passage, we find Jesus' three of Jesus closest female followers going to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea to anoint the body of Jesus with burial spices, to honor and more thoroughly and properly prepare His body. The last thing they were expecting to find was an empty tomb. Men who die brutal, public death at the hands of professional Roman executioners don't come back to life and leave the tomb after three days. That's the last thing anyone expected.

Jesus had told His disciples, on three different occasions, that this was going to happen. Thew Jewish leaders knew Jesus had said this, which is why they requested a Roman guard detail for the tomb. They wanted to prevent the disciples from stealing the body. But the disciples had no plans to steal the body. They were in deep shock and grief, and these faithful women just wanted to honor their Master. 

The empty tomb and the presence of these women with spices, ready to anoint the body of Jesus, are two key pieces of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Everyone knew that Jesus had been buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. He was a prominent man, with a new and expensive tomb. The tomb was now empty. No one ever found the body, though both the Jewish and Roman authorities would have loved to have found it. These women, coming early in the morning with spices, demonstrated that the disciples did not have the body.

The resurrection was so far from the minds of these women that, even after the angel spoke to them, they fled from the tomb, seized by trembling and astonishment. Their whole view of reality, their whole sense of the world, was turned on its head. Only one thing has such power: resurrection! 

Have we allowed our souls to be gripped with trembling at the astonishing reality of the resurrection? Or are we too skeptical, half-hearted or complacent to realize the world-changing reality of this death-shattering victory? Jesus has conquered the grave, and death itself has been overthrown! 

[NOTE: This is our last reading in Mark? Why? See this sermon from John MacArthur for a good explanation.]  

Prayer Based on Psalm 98:

Heavenly Father, our Lord and God, You are worthy of all praise and honor, of our best songs and highest acclaim, for You have indeed done marvelous things! Your right hand and Your holy arm - You beloved Son, Jesus Christ - has worked salvation. He has accomplished all of Your purposes to redeem and reconcile Your people, and You have revealed this salvation to all the ends of the earth in Your Gospel!

In Jesus, You have kept all of Your gracious covenant promises to Your people, Israel. You have reached down and redeemed and kept every promise in doing so! Just as You told Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him and his seed, so You have blessed the nations through the seed of Abraham, Jesus.

Let the whole earth give You the praise and glory that You are due for Your salvation, O God! We long for and look forward to the glorious day when You will reign openly and powerfully over all things. We rejoice in our great salvation, and we eagerly await the day when our salvation and Your kingdom victory will be final, complete, world-wide and fully consummated! And so we pray, come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen!     

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Day 96: Mark 15:21-47 & Psalm 97 - Are You Looking for the Kingdom of God?

Today's Reading: Mark 15:21-47 & Psalm 97

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Are You Looking for the Kingdom of God?

"Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus." - Mark 15:43, ESV

Everyone is looking for something. Some of us are looking for entertainment, diversion from the cares of life through cheap thrills. Some of us are looking for approval from others, desiring the pat on the back or the acceptance from others that might make us feel better. Still others of us desire power and control; we seek ways we can impose our will on others or shape our circumstances to our expectations and desires. 

What are you looking for?

In today's passage, we meet several people who are involved in some way with the crucifixion and burial of Christ. Simon of Cyrene was there. We don't know what he was looking for, but he would be compelled to carry Jesus' cross. Later, he would almost certainly become an active member of the church, along with his sons, Rufus and Alexander, which is why their names are included in the narrative.

At the cross itself, we see the mockers, who were seeking to humiliate Jesus. These people enjoy making their enemies suffer humiliation in addition to defeat. Others at the cross offered Jesus some sour wine on a reed. They were not seeking to relieve Jesus' thirst but to prolong His life in the hopes of seeing something spectacular happen.

Among all of the people in today's passage, we are told explicitly of only one who was "looking for the kingdom of God." We are told that he was "also" looking for the kingdom of God, which indicates that he was not the only one whose gaze of expectation was directed toward the kingdom of God. Because Joseph of Arimathea was looking for the kingdom of God, he was given a unique role in the death and burial of Jesus. His role was specifically foretold in Isaiah 53:9. 

So, are you looking for the kingdom of God? What would this look like? In your daily life, as you go through trials and triumphs, blessings and burdens, opportunities and challenges, what are you seeking? What drives you? Are you looking for some form of your own glory - your renown, your acclaim, your approval, your control? Or is your heart being guided by the Lord's Prayer, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done"? Are you looking for the kingdom of God?

Prayer Based on Psalm 97:

O Lord, You indeed do reign over all the earth! Let all the earth rejoice in You reign, instead of seeking to establish our own. You reign in righteousness and justice and with incredible power. Your ways are right, just and majestic in power and glory! When we turn aside to idols, we suffer harm and loss. We are fools to take glory from You. Have mercy on us!

As You turn us from our idols, let us rejoice in You. Let us receive the light and joy that comes only from You, And let us always give You the thanks You are due as our Great God and Father! In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Day 95: Mark 15:1-20 & Psalm 96 - What Form of Government is Best?

Today's Reading: Mark 15:1-20 & Psalm 96

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What Form of Government is Best?

"And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified." - Mark 15:12-15, ESV

If you took government in school, you learned about different forms of government: dictatorship, monarchy, Constitutional monarchy, oligarchy, republic, democracy. You probably have some opinion as to why you think democracy is the best form of government, especially if you live in the United States. But here's something interesting: Almost no government actually functions according to the purity of the theoretical categories. For example, in today's passage, we can see dictatorship, oligarchy and democracy all at work.

Dictatorship: Pontius Pilate was the appointed Roman governor over the province of Judea, given almost absolute power to do whatever he wanted to do. he ruled with an absolute iron fist. Yet it would be too simple to say that he did whatever he wanted. He was a politician, and he knew he needed to appease the people in order to keep the peace.

Oligarchy: The Jewish ruling council ruled over the Jewish people in religious and spiritual matters. They also exercised considerable sway over Pilate. 

Democracy: Yet the Jewish ruling council knew that the best way to get the agenda fulfilled was to work through the masses of the people. If they could sway the crowds to make their demands for them, they would have even more chance for success. In the end, it was the crowd who demanded that Jesus be crucified.

So, was Jesus condemned by a dictatorship, by an oligarchy or by democracy? Yes! It was the weakness of Pilate, the corruption of the Jewish council and the foolishness of the mob that all had a hand in condemning Jesus, n innocent man, to death.

What was missing from this scene of grave injustice? The rule of law. Jesus never had a fair trial with clear evidence and was never convicted under established law. The weaknesses of dictatorship, oligarchy and democracy are all the same:They rest on the wills of sinful people. People cannot rule justly because people are not just. This is as true for one man as it is for the mob. The rule of people always dissolves into tyranny.

Christians, thinking biblically, concluded that the rule of law was the best method of government. Samuel Rutherford, a great Christian minister and theologian. gifted the world with a right understanding of government when he wrote Lex Rex, The Law is the King. The most just and equitable societies the world has ever seen have been built on the principles in this great book, and yet even they have been deeply flawed and unjust, because even the rule of law depends of laws written and enforced by people.

Thankfully, rising above the flawed human government in this scene, we can see a true King, a righteous King, a holy and just and loving and flawless King. He is the One who silently stands at the center of the whole scene, and He is the One who is perfectly carrying out His own plan. His purposes stand, and His purposes are for our eternal salvation and our determined good. We can praise God that He has given us the privilege, by His grace, to know and serve such a King!

Prayer Based on Psalm 96:

Heavenly Father, You call us to sing praise to You. You call the whole earth to give You the praise that You are due! Let us be led by Your Holy Spirit to declare Your glory among the nations, to tell Your marvelous works of redemption throughout the whole earth. Many corners of Your world are without a Gospel proclamation - too many! Send us out and let the light of Christ shine brightly in the earth, to all peoples and tribes and tongues and nations! Let us tell the nations of the glory of Your reign because You are indeed the sovereign Lord over all the earth!

Lord, how we long to see You come and judge the world, that evil may be vanquished and that Your open reign may be manifest and perfected. While we wait for You, give us work to do and faith to trust in the midst of much darkness. We pray all of this in Jesus precious name, Amen! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Day 94: Mark 14:51-72 & Psalm 95 - What Will Happen If We Tell the Truth?

Today's Reading: Mark 14:51-72 & Psalm 95

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What Will Happen If We Tell the Truth?

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”  And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”  And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need?  You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 
- Mark 14:61-64, ESV

We can often be tempted to take verses out of context and to read our own desires into God's promises. One such verse that can be mis-used is John 8:32: "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We can misunderstand this as a promise for a trouble-free life for those who will know and speak the truth. But as with most things in God's word, we often need our view of freedom re-defined.

In today's Gospel passage in Mark, we see lots of people lying and only One who speaks the truth. The Jewish Council brought in false witness after false witness. Each one lied or distorted the truth to serve a wicked agenda, but in God's providence, their testimony could not agree. Their voices were in conflict with each other, as well as with the truth. 

Outside of the house where Jesus was on trial, Peter was lying repeatedly, denying his Lord. He denied three times that he even knew the Lord Jesus. This was the same Peter who, mere hours earlier, had vowed to follow Jesus to the death. Now he even invoked curses on himself and swore that he did not know Christ.

One man alone in this passage speaks the truth, and what does He receive? Freedom? Not as we would define it. When asked a direct question, Jesus gives the honest answer, speaking the truth faithfully. For the truth, Jesus receives condemnation to death. The lies could not condemn Him, but the truth did. Worse still, the lying people all seem to escape harm here. The lying witnesses are not condemned and the denying disciple walks away unharmed. Or does He?

If we really understand what is happening here, we will understand why Peter broke down and wept. We will understand why the condemned Man is the only truly free Man in the whole scene. Only in fulfilling the will of God do we find true freedom. Only in aligning our wills with His will do we live out our true purpose and find our real calling. That's why we must allow God to define freedom for us, and why we must believe that only the Truth found in Jesus Himself can set us free.        

Prayer Based on Psalm 95:

Lord, You graciously call us to come into Your presence with thanksgiving and joy. You graciously call us to give You the worship You are do as the great King above all gods. You are certainly the only One who is worthy of our worship. You are our God, our Creator, our King, our Shepherd. We are Your people, Your sheep, Your subjects, Your own loved ones. Everything belongs to You, and our hearts are Yours to claim as Your own.

O Lord, how easily, how readily we harden our hearts. How quickly we give our worship to lesser things. How foolishly we exalt ourselves, making much of our own kingdoms and little of Yours. Forgive us, Have mercy on us, Soften our hearts by Your grace, that we might worship You as You are due! In Jesus' name, Amen!   

Monday, June 20, 2016

Day 93: Mark 14:26-52 & Psalm 94 - What Does Our Boasting Reveal About Us?

Today's Reading: Mark 14:26-52 & Psalm 94

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What Does Our Boasting Reveal About Us?

But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. - Mark 14:31

Jesus' words were very clear: "You will all fall away." He knew well what was coming, and He understood that when the Shepherd was struck, the sheep would indeed scatter. But Peter thought he knew better. Peter said boldly, "Even though they all fall away, I will not."

Jesus then turned personally to Peter and spoke directly to him: "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Now, here's a hint: When Jesus says, "Truly, I tell you," you keep your mouth shut and accept what He says. But not Peter. He doubled down on his boasting: "If I must die with you, I will not deny you." 

Now, so that we're not too harsh on Peter, Mark says, "And they all said the same." In just a few short hours, Jesus would be left all alone, but at this moment, all of His disciples are confident they will stand strong with Him, even unto death. How wrong were they? Peter, James and John couldn't even stay awake and pray with Jesus for a single hour! (v. 37)

It's far too easy to shake our heads at these foolish disciples, but are we any different? How often have we had an over-inflated view of our own righteousness or competence? How often have we strode boldly into battle, trusting in our own strength, only to fall flat on our faces, wondering what happened?

Before I left for college, I boldly told my youth group how college would not change me, but I would change my campus for Christ. I failed, miserably. Before I got married, I was an expert on marriage, having read books and listened to sermons and given advice to many. Today, my wife and I celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, I could not even begin to count the number of times I have failed to live up to my own expectations over the last 18 years. I could say the same thing about parenting, which seemed to easy and clear, until I had children.

Our boasting and our self-confidence shows that we do not understand God's word and we do not understand our own hearts. The Bible tells us very clearly about our own sin, weakness and absolute dependency on the grace of God for every good in our lives. But we are slow to listen, slow to understand, quick to trust ourselves and quick to boast in our own ability.

Let's learn our lesson from the disciples and say with Paul, "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14, ESV)

Prayer Based on Psalm 94:

O Lord, God of vengeance,
    O God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth;
    repay to the proud what they deserve!
O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
    how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
    all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
    and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
    and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
    the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

O Lord, so often I am among the dullest of the peoples!
   Have mercy on me. When will I be wise? 
You who planted the ear, do You not hear?
You who formed the eye, do You not see?
You who disciplines the nations, do You not rebuke?
   O Lord, may I receive Your rebuke with a tender heart!
You who teaches man knowledge—
    the Lord— You know the thoughts of man,
    that they are but a breath.

Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord,
    and whom You teach out of Your law,
to give him rest from days of trouble,
For You, O Lord, will not forsake Your people;
    You will not abandon Your heritage;
for justice will return to the righteous,
    and all the upright in heart will follow it.

If You, O Lord, had not been my help,
    my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,”
    Your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
    Your consolations cheer my soul.

You, O Lord, have become my stronghold,
    and the rock of my refuge. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Day 92: Mark 14:1-25 & Psalm 93 - What Should our Attitude Toward Money Be?

Today's Reading: Mark 14:1-25 & Psalm 93

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What Should our Attitude Toward Money Be?

"Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him." - Mark 14:10-11, ESV

Some people love money and will do almost anything to earn it. Other people see money as evil and think it should all be given away as soon as we get it. Still others see money as a tool, to be used to accomplish what you want. Which of these attitudes is right? Is any of them right?

In today's passage, we can see three different people's attitudes toward their wealth:

1. Judas Iscariot loved money. John 12:6 tells us that Judas was the one who objected most strongly to the "waste" of the alabaster jar of ointment. John tells us that Judas' concern was not for the poor but "because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it." We know that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). So we can see in Judas Iscariot an example of what happens when the love of money controls someone's life. Judas goes from stealing to lying to betraying the Lord to deep despair and suicide, all driven by the love of money.

2. The chief priests used money to advance their selfish agenda. The chief priests knew how to make money. Their whole money-making operation in the Temple was confronted by Jesus when He drove out the money-changers. They made money for a purpose, though: They used their wealth to advance their agendas and secure their positions of power. They were more consumed with pride and power than with money itself. They were happy to pay Judas money to get what they wanted, to get rid of Jesus.

3. Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, used her wealth to worship and serve Jesus. The woman with the alabaster jar is not named in Mark's Gospel, but we know she is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She takes a very expensive jar of ointment, worth a year's wages, and "wastes" is on Jesus. While the disciples rebuke such waste, Jesus commends her for anointing His body for burial. This would be the only anointing Jesus' body would receive. Mary would come to Jesus' tomb to anoint Him, but He would not be there. 

From these three people, we can see clearly that money is not an end in itself. It is not to be the object of our desires and affection. The love of money will destroy us. Money is also not to be a tool to advance our selfish desires for pride and power. To the world, these are the only possible options for money. 

Some people, reacting against this, think that money itself is evil and that having money is wrong. Jesus never says this. Money is a gift from God and is to be used for God, to advance His kingdom, serve His purposes and worship Him. In this way, money is a tool, but not to serve us. Like everything in our lives, it is a means of serving Him!

Prayer Based on Psalm 93:

You reign, O Lord; You are robed in majesty;
    You have put on strength as Your belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
 Your throne is established from of old;
    You are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
    the floods have lifted up their voice;
    the floods lift up their roaring.
We are surrounded by trouble and turmoil,
   forces that oppose You and Your people. 
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
    mightier than the waves of the sea,
    mightier than all the forces of darkness and chaos,
    the Lord on high is mighty!

Your decrees are very trustworthy;
    holiness befits Your house,
    O Lord, forevermore.