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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Day 122: Luke 10:21-42 & Psalm 119:121-152 - Is Salvation Something We Are Given or Something We Earn?

Today's Reading: Luke 10:21-42 & Psalm 119:121-152

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Is Salvation Something We Are Given or Something We Earn?

"In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” - Luke 10:21-22, ESV

Is salvation something we are given or something we earn? What is the difference? What distinguishes someone who is grateful for what God has given and revealed and someone who is discontented and still striving to justify himself? 

In today's reading in Luke, Jesus clearly proclaims the wonderful grace of God in salvation, first in a prayer to His Father (vv. 21-22) and then in a private statement to His disciples (vv. 23-24). In His prayer, Jesus says very clearly that God has hidden the truths of salvation from some people ("the wise and understanding") and has revealed them to other people ("little children"). He then tells His disciples that they are greatly blessed to be able to see and hear the things they have seen and heard. It is clear that Jesus views knowing Him and seeing His kingdom as great blessings given by the grace of His Heavenly Father. 

Jesus' view of salvation is immediately contrasted by a man who desires to justify himself and then by Martha, "anxious and troubled by many things." First, a man asks Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The flaw in his question is obvious: He things eternal life is something to be earned, the kind of thing you do something to inherit. Since he's thinking this way, Jesus pushes him toward the Law, hoping to humble him to the point where he will see his need for saving grace. But he's still trapped in the bonds of legalism, wanting to justify himself, and so he asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" He's hoping to get the requirements of the law down to a manageable task.

When Jesus tells this man the story of the Good Samaritan, He is showing him what a transformed heart and life look like. In the story, the priest and the Levite were concerned about their legal obligations for cleanliness, and they fail to love their neighbor. Only the Samaritan, already and unclean outcast, has the evidence of a changed heart that overflows with mercy to others.   

After Jesus tells this story, we see Martha busily slaving away, serving Jesus. She resents the fact that her sister, Mary, is content to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him. The problem with Martha is that she thought her service to Jesus was more important than learning from Him. She had not learned the contentment of resting at His feet and listening, and so she was "distracted with much serving" and was "anxious and troubled about many things." Mary, on the other hand, knew that only "one thing is necessary." And so Jesus said she had "chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

If we understand that salvation is a gift, to be received and not earned, given and not deserved, grace transforms our hearts. But if we are seeking to justify ourselves or are "distracted with much serving," we remain restless, discontented and anxious. Those whose hearts are freed by grace are filled with mercy for others and a longing to learn more from Jesus. They bind up the wounds of the fallen and they sit at the feet of their Savior, not because they're doing so to earn salvation, but because they know how blessed they are.

Prayer from Psalm 119:121-152:

Ayin

 I have done what is just and right;
    do not leave me to my oppressors.
 Give Your servant a pledge of good;
    let not the insolent oppress me.
 My eyes long for Your salvation
    and for the fulfillment of Your righteous promise.
 Deal with Your servant according to Your steadfast love,
    and teach me Your statutes.
 I am Your servant; give me understanding,
    that I may know Your testimonies!
 It is time for the LORD to act,
    for Your law has been broken.
 Therefore I love Your commandments
    above gold, above fine gold.
 Therefore I consider all Your precepts to be right;
    I hate every false way.

Pe

 Your testimonies are wonderful;
    therefore my soul keeps them.
 The unfolding of Your words gives light;
    it imparts understanding to the simple.
 I open my mouth and pant,
    because I long for Your commandments.
 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    as is Your way with those who love Your name.
 Keep steady my steps according to Your promise,
    and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
 Redeem me from man's oppression,
    that I may keep Your precepts.
 Make Your face shine upon Your servant,
    and teach me Your statutes.
 My eyes shed streams of tears,
    because people do not keep Your law.

Tsadhe

 Righteous are You, O LORD,
    and right are Your rules.
 You have appointed Your testimonies in righteousness
    and in all faithfulness.
 My zeal consumes me,
    because my foes forget Your words.
 Your promise is well tried,
    and Your servant loves it.
 I am small and despised,
    yet I do not forget Your precepts.
 Your righteousness is righteous forever,
    and Your law is true.
 Trouble and anguish have found me out,
    but Your commandments are my delight.
 Your testimonies are righteous forever;
    give me understanding that I may live.

Qoph

 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O LORD!
    I will keep Your statutes.
 I call to You; save me,
    that I may observe Your testimonies.
 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
    I hope in Your words.
 My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
    that I may meditate on Your promise.
 Hear my voice according to Your steadfast love;
    O LORD, according to Your justice give me life.
 They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose;
    they are far from Your law.
 But You are near, O LORD,
    and all Your commandments are true.
 Long have I known from Your testimonies
    that You have founded them forever.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Day 121: Luke 10:1-20 & Psalm 119:81-120 - How Should We Engage in Missions?

Today's Reading: Luke 10:1-20 & Psalm 119:81-120

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How Should We Engage in Missions?

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves." - Luke 10:2-3, ESV

As believers in Jesus, we are not just in the world to mark our time, be good people and wait until we go to heaven or Jesus returns. No, we are given a mission, to go into the world with the Gospel. Some are called to go to the mission field, serving Jesus in foreign lands reaching unreached peoples. Others of us are called to a more local mission, to reach neighbors and friends, co-workers and family members. Wherever we are called to serve, we should all see ourselves as being "on mission" for Jesus.

So, how should we engage in the mission of the Gospel? Today's passage in Luke is the account of Jesus sending out 72 disciples as missionaries. This was a key training event for the life of the church, as Jesus was showing the disciples how to engage in Gospel missions outreach. Based on this passage, we can see how we are to engage in missions:

1. Prayerfully. (v. 2) Prayer is the great fuel and power source for truly effective missions. We need to pray for the Lord to send more people into the mission field and we need to pray for fruit from their labor.

2. Peacefully. (v. 3) We are not to engage in culture wars, seeking to vanquish our enemies. No, we are to love and serve, innocently and peacefully. We are sent as lambs in the midst of wolves, and though we are hated, we must not hate in return.    

3. Faithfully. (v. 4)We are to be "on mission" by faith, trusting in God to supply our every need. We should not be anxious, not should we seek to avoid all risk or rely on our own resources. Often God takes us beyond our own resources so He can supply our need. 

4. Confidently. (vv. 9-11) As Christians, we are kingdom ambassadors, representatives of the kingdom of God. We should not be anxious, worried, timid, shy or insecure. We should know who we represent and speak His words and show His compassion with confidence. If people reject us, they are not rejecting us but Him who sent us.  

5. Rejoicing in our salvation. (v. 20) These 72 disciples were given unique, powerful authority over demons and sickness, and they were amazed by the power Jesus had given them. But Jesus told them not to rejoice over power and authority, "but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” We must not lose sight of this primary cause for our joy, that we are children of God who have received eternal life in Jesus Christ. 

Where is your mission field? Who has God put in your life who needs to hear the Gospel or see the love of Jesus? Can you engage in your mission with prayer, peace, faith, confidence and joy in your salvation? As we do, we can trust that God will work His perfect will, even through imperfect people like us. 

Prayer from Psalm 119:81-120:

Kaph

 My soul longs for Your salvation;
    I hope in Your word.
 My eyes long for Your promise;
    I ask, “When will You comfort me?”
 For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
    yet I have not forgotten Your statutes.
 How long must Your servant endure?
    When will You judge those who persecute me?
 The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
    they do not live according to Your law.
 All Your commandments are sure;
    they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
 They have almost made an end of me on earth,
    but I have not forsaken Your precepts.
 In Your steadfast love give me life,
    that I may keep the testimonies of Your mouth.

Lamedh

Forever, O LORD, Your word
    is firmly fixed in the heavens.
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
    You have established the earth, and it stands fast.
 By Your appointment they stand this day,
    for all things are Your servants.
 If Your law had not been my delight,
    I would have perished in my affliction.
 I will never forget Your precepts,
    for by them You have given me life.
 I am Yours; save me,
    for I have sought Your precepts.
 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me,
    but I consider Your testimonies.
 I have seen a limit to all perfection,
    but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.

Mem

 Oh how I love Your law!
    It is my meditation all the day.
 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
    for it is ever with me.
 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
    for Your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,[b]
    for I keep Your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
    in order to keep Your word.
I do not turn aside from Your rules,
    for You have taught me.
How sweet are Your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through Your precepts I get understanding;
    therefore I hate every false way.

Nun

Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
    to keep Your righteous rules.
I am severely afflicted;
    give me life, O LORD, according to Your word!
Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD,
    and teach me Your rules.
I hold my life in my hand continually,
    but I do not forget Your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
    but I do not stray from Your precepts.
 Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
    for they are the joy of my heart.
 I incline my heart to perform Your statutes
    forever, to the end.

Samekh

 I hate the double-minded,
    but I love Your law.
 You are my hiding place and my shield;
    I hope in Your word.
 Depart from me, You evildoers,
    that I may keep the commandments of my God.
 Uphold me according to Your promise, that I may live,
    and let me not be put to shame in my hope!
 Hold me up, that I may be safe
    and have regard for Your statutes continually!
 You spurn all who go astray from Your statutes,
    for their cunning is in vain.
 All the wicked of the earth You discard like dross,
    therefore I love Your testimonies.
My flesh trembles for fear of You,
    and I am afraid of Your judgments.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Day 120: Luke 9:49-62 & Psalm 119:41-80 - What Excuses Keep People from Following Jesus?

Today's Reading: Luke 9:49-62 & Psalm 119:41-80

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What Excuses Keep People from Following Jesus?

To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” - Luke 9:59

The call from Jesus is as simple and clear as it is firm and uncompromising: "Follow me." Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, we saw Matthew leave his tax-collecting table and other disciples leave their fishing nets to follow Jesus. They understood the call and they left their livelihoods, their families, their homes and their comfortable lives to follow Jesus. That's the way everyone should respond to Jesus' call, but not everyone does.

Today we see three people make three different excuses for not following Jesus. Each of these people chose something over Jesus, and their choices can help us understand what often competes in our own hearts for the call of Jesus:

1. Comfort. The first person said to Jesus, "I will follow you wherever you go," but when Jesus told him the truth, that "the Son of Man has no place to lay His head," then he didn't follow Jesus. He was willing to follow Jesus wherever, as long as it involved a comfortable place to sleep at night. How often do we choose a comfortable life over truly following Jesus?

2. Not now. The second person was called by Jesus to follow Him, but he responded, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” His father was probably not already dead, and so the man's request was that Jesus give him time, until his father was dead and buried. How often do we delay obedience, putting off real discipleship until a more convenient time? 

3. Family & friends. The third and final person in today's passage responds to Jesus' call by saying, I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” This person wanted to spend more time with family and friends. How often do we turn back from following Jesus for the sake of getting along and spending time with friends and family, especially those who are not following Jesus.

If we allow ourselves to be distracted or delayed, almost anything in life will keep us from fully following Jesus. We will neglect church, time in prayer, obedience or evangelism for the sake of comfort, other priorities and other people. This passage should be sobering for us. Jesus does not agree to a single excuse or other priority. His call is uncompromising. 

Eternal life, The kingdom of God, The abundant life. Knowing God. Living in His will. How valuable are these? How valuable is Jesus to us, really? He is calling. How will we respond?

Prayer from Psalm 119:41-80:

Waw

Let Your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
    Your salvation according to Your promise;
then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
    for I trust in Your word.
And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
    for my hope is in Your rules.
I will keep Your law continually,
    forever and ever,
and I shall walk in a wide place,
    for I have sought Your precepts.
I will also speak of Your testimonies before kings
    and shall not be put to shame,
for I find my delight in Your commandments,
    which I love.
I will lift up my hands toward Your commandments, which I love,
    and I will meditate on Your statutes.

Zayin

Remember Your word to Your servant,
    in which You have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
    that Your promise gives me life.
The insolent utterly deride me,
    but I do not turn away from Your law.
When I think of Your rules from of old,
    I take comfort, O Lord.
Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked,
    who forsake Your law.
Your statutes have been my songs
    in the house of my sojourning.
I remember Your name in the night, O Lord,
    and keep Your law.
This blessing has fallen to me,
    that I have kept Your precepts.

Heth

The Lord is my portion;
    I promise to keep Your words.
I entreat Your favor with all my heart;
    be gracious to me according to Your promise.
When I think on my ways,
    I turn my feet to Your testimonies;
I hasten and do not delay
    to keep Your commandments.
Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
    I do not forget Your law.
At midnight I rise to praise You,
    because of Your righteous rules.
I am a companion of all who fear You,
    of those who keep Your precepts.
The earth, O Lord, is full of Your steadfast love;
    teach me Your statutes!

Teth

You have dealt well with Your servant,
    O Lord, according to Your word.
Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
    for I believe in Your commandments.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep Your word.
You are good and do good;
    teach me Your statutes.
The insolent smear me with lies,
    but with my whole heart I keep Your precepts;
their heart is unfeeling like fat,
    but I delight in Your law.
It is good for me that I was afflicted,
    that I might learn Your statutes.
The law of Your mouth is better to me
    than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Yodh

Your hands have made and fashioned me;
    give me understanding that I may learn Your commandments.
Those who fear You shall see me and rejoice,
    because I have hoped in Your word.
I know, O Lord, that Your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
Let Your steadfast love comfort me
    according to Your promise to Your servant.
Let Your mercy come to me, that I may live;
    for Your law is my delight.
Let the insolent be put to shame,
    because they have wronged me with falsehood;
    as for me, I will meditate on Your precepts.
Let those who fear You turn to me,
    that they may know Your testimonies.
May my heart be blameless in Your statutes,
    that I may not be put to shame!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Day 119: Luke 9:28-48 & Psalm 119:1-40 - Why Are We So Blind to the Truth Sometimes?

Today's Reading: Luke 9:28-48 & Psalm 119:1-40

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Why Are We So Blind to the Truth Sometimes? 

But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. - Luke 9:43-45, ESV

Do you ever just shake your head at the disciples when you read the Gospels? They just don't seem to get it, do they? But before we're too hard on the thick-headed disciples, we need to think about our own lives. How many times have we just not seen the truth of what we now see as obvious? And remember that these same disciples who are so clueless here would go on to spread the Gospel farther in a single generation than any other group of disciples in church history, from Spain to India to Ethiopia. 

So, what makes the difference? Why is it that we didn't understand spiritual truths that we now do? How is it that the disciples could be so blind to the truth here and so insightful as to write the New Testament years later? 

Well, we don't need to guess, because the Bible tells us. In verse 44, Luke tells us that the disciples "did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it." We can take this verse and add to it some other Scripture:

"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." - 1 Cor. 2:14, ESV

"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." - 2 Cor. 4:3-4, ESV  

And here are the conclusions we can draw . . .

1. When we don't see or understand spiritual things, it's because we're being kept from understanding them. Satan actively blinds the minds of unbelievers. God sovereignly chooses to keep us from seeing the truth until he chooses to reveal it to us. 

2. We need the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds to understand spiritual truths. 

Knowing these two truths is vital because it keeps us humble and helps us have compassion on others. What we understand of God's truth has been revealed to us by God. Unbelievers are in rebellion against God, as we were, but they are also being kept in the dark. They need our sympathy and our prayers and not our arrogant anger and judgment. And we should also be sure to give all glory to God and take absolutely no credit for ourselves for anything we do understand of the Lord and His ways. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 119:1-40:

Psalm 119 is an extended prayer for deeper understanding of God's word. We'll be praying it for the next several days . . . 

Aleph

Lord, You greatly bless those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the path of Your law!
You bless those who keep Your testimonies,
    who seek You with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in Your ways!
You have commanded Your precepts
    to be kept diligently.
Oh that my ways may be steadfast
    in keeping Your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
    having my eyes fixed on all Your commandments.
I will praise You with an upright heart,
    when I learn Your righteous rules.
I will keep Your statutes;
    do not utterly forsake me!

Beth

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to Your word.
With my whole heart I seek You;
    let me not wander from Your commandments!
I have stored up Your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against You.
Blessed are You, O Lord;
    teach me Your statutes!
With my lips I declare
    all the rules of Your mouth.
In the way of Your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts
    and fix my eyes on Your ways.
I will delight in Your statutes;
    I will not forget Your word.

Gimel

Deal bountifully with Your servant,
    that I may live and keep Your word.
Open my eyes, that I may behold
    wondrous things out of Your law.
I am a sojourner on the earth;
    hide not Your commandments from me!
My soul is consumed with longing
    for Your rules at all times.
You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
    who wander from Your commandments.
Take away from me scorn and contempt,
    for I have kept Your testimonies.
Even though princes sit plotting against me,
    Your servant will meditate on your statutes.
Your testimonies are my delight;
    they are my counselors.

Daleth

My soul clings to the dust;
    give me life according to Your word!
When I told of my ways, You answered me;
    teach me Your statutes!
Make me understand the way of Your precepts,
    and I will meditate on Your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
    strengthen me according to Your word!
Put false ways far from me
    and graciously teach me Your law!
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I set Your rules before me.
I cling to Your testimonies, O Lord;
    let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of Your commandments
    when You enlarge my heart!

He

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes;
    and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep Your law
    and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of Your commandments,
    for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
    and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
    and give me life in Your ways.
Confirm to your servant Your promise,
    that You may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread,
    for Your rules are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts;
    in Your righteousness give me life!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Day 118: Luke 9:1-27 & Psalm 118 - How Does God Advance His Kingdom?

Today's Reading: Luke 9:1-27 & Psalm 118

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How Does God Advance His Kingdom?

"And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal." - Luke 9:1-2, ESV 

How does God's kingdom advance in the world? How does God use His people to bring His kingdom, His will and His glory more and more into the lives and cultures of this fallen, sin-marred world? Every follower of Jesus Christ should be intensely concerned with these questions for they get at the heart of the mission of God's people. Today's passage in Luke 9 shows us a clear and compelling picture of kingdom missions.

According to Luke 9:1-6, kingdom missions involves four key elements:

1. Authority. Jesus gave His disciples real authority. This same authority from Christ is given to His church today and is found in the ministry of the word, which is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). The church of Jesus Christ stands in His world as His kingdom outpost, His mission station, His embassy to a hostile world. We serve with all of His authority, communicated through the word and the Spirit.

2. Gospel proclamation. Jesus sent out the twelve "to proclaim the kingdom of God." The Gospel - the good news of Jesus Christ - is the proclamation of the kingdom of God, that God rules through Jesus for the saving of all who believe in Him. The gospel of the kingdom, which is a royal proclamation, must be central to the church's kingdom mission. It is not a sales pitch or a plea for a decision, but it is the announcement of what God has done in Christ Jesus and what He requires as a response to His work of salvation. 

3. Healing the sick and releasing the oppressed. The disciples were sent to preach and to heal. For them, the demonstration of their authority as ambassadors of Jesus involved miraculous acts of healing. For us today, we demonstrate the miracle of transformed lives and the the power of the love of Jesus as we heal the sick and serve the oppressed, seeking to set them free. 

4. Total dependence on God. Jesus told His disciples not to take anything with them - no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money - but to trust in God to provide everything. Now, God does not command Christians to give up all earthly possessions, but we are to be just as totally dependent on Him. He is our only source of provision, protection, blessing and fruitfulness in kingdom mission. 

With these four key elements at the heart of the disciples' mission, what was the result?

1. Word spread, vv. 7-9. As the disciples went out in faith, word about their work and about Jesus spread quickly. People noticed that something different was happening, even up to Herod the King. 

2. Crowds gathered, vv. 10-11. In response to the spreading word, huge crowds gathered around Jesus to hear Him speak and to see what He would do. 

3. God provided, vv. 12-17. As people gathered and listened to the good news of the kingdom, God provided for their needs, miraculously feeding thousands. 

4. The disciples came to know Jesus better, vv. 18-20. The disciples themselves grew in their understanding of who Jesus really was. 

We can see the same fruit today, if our mission and ministry in the world is committed to the same four core elements: the authority of Jesus, the proclamation of the Gospel, the healing of the sick and total dependence on God. May the Lord be pleased to grant us a strong commitment to His authority, His gospel, His loving compassion and His provision of our every need! 

Prayer Based on Psalm 118:  

We give thanks to You, Lord, for You are good;
    for Your steadfast love endures forever!

Let Your people say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear You, Lord, say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

When Jesus was in distress in the garden and on the cross, Lord,
    You answered and set Him free.
Like Jesus, I can say, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me."
Just as surely as Jesus saw victory over the grave,
   so I shall see the salvation of my God.

It is better to take refuge in You, O Lord,
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in You, O Lord,
    than to trust in princes.

All nations surrounded Jesus on the cross;
    in the name of the Lord, He triumphantly cut them off!
They surrounded Him, surrounded Him on every side;
    in the name of the Lord, He cut them off!
They surrounded Him like bees;
    they went out like a fire among thorns;
    in the name of the Lord, He cut them off!
Jesus Your Son was pushed hard, so that His life and strength were falling,
    but You, Lord, helped Him,
    and so You also help me. 

You, Lord, are my strength and my song;
    You have become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous:
"Jesus, the right hand of the Lord, does valiantly,
    the right hand of the Lord exalts,
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”
He has defeated all of my enemies - sin, shame, condemnation, hell, judgment, Satan. 

I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount Your deeds, O Lord.
O Lord, You have disciplined me severely,
    but You have not given me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    even my access to You in the Lord Jesus Himself,
    that I may enter through Him
    and give thanks to You, Lord.
Jesus is the Gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through Him.
I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Save us, we pray, O Lord!
    O Lord, we pray, give us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
You, O Lord, are God,
    and You have made Your light to shine upon us.
Jesus is our redeeming sacrifice, 
    offered freely on the altar of the cross.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to You;
    You are my God; I will extol You.
We give thanks to You, Lord, for You are good;
    for Your steadfast love endures forever!

Day 117: Luke 8:26-56 & Psalm 117 - Why Does God Repeatedly Tell Us Not to Fear?

Today's Bible Reading: Luke 8:26-56 & Psalm 117

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Why Does God Repeatedly Tell Us Not to Fear?

While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler's house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” - Luke 8:49-50, ESV

A popular Christian teaching claims that the Bible tells us to "fear not" 365 times, one for every day of the year. Well, that's not quite accurate. The Bible uses the phrase "fear not" or "do not fear" ~80 times, depending on which translation you use. It uses other similar phrases like "do not be afraid" or "do not be anxious" or "do not worry" dozens of additional times, too. So, while it may not all add up to 365, the Bible certainly repeatedly tells us not to fear. In fact, "fear not" is the most common command given in the Bible, by far. 

So, why does God tell us not to fear so often? Well, Jesus' words to Jairus help us understand the fuller meaning of "fear not." Jesus tells Jairus, "Do not fear; only believe." The opposite of fear is faith. God doesn't just desire to see an absence of fear in our lives, but the presence of a vital and life-changing faith.
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The command "fear not" is usually given at two different times: In response to the appearance of an angel or the Lord to one of His people and in the face of great difficulty or problems. When an angel or the Lord appears to someone, the most common response from the person is trembling and the most common words spoken by the angel or the Lord is "fear not." God wants His people to have a holy fear, a deep and abiding reverence, but not a paralyzing terror or fearful anxiety about Him. He wants us to know that we are loved. While we tremble before Him, we do not need to be afraid.

Yet life is filled with challenges and difficulties. Life is hard and the fall has broken God's good creation in many ways: cancer, heart attacks, violent crime, terrorism, political unrest and sin can all paralyze us with fear. In these times, God speaks "fear not" because He wants to re-orient our hearts toward Him. He wants us to know that nothing in this world can stand against those who belong to the Lord. We have no reason to fear.


In response to the paralyzing anxiety and distress that can be caused in our minds and souls by both God Himself and by the world around us, we need to trust the Lord. We need to know and believe that God is for us. When we are terrified of the wrath of God, we need to remember that because of Jesus Christ, God is indeed for us. When circumstances overwhelm or some challenge terrifies us, we need to remember that it is Almighty God who is indeed for us. 

God demonstrated His love and power in so many ways in today's passage: casting out a Legion of demons, freeing a man from life-long torment, healing a long-term chronic disease, and raising a little girl from death to life, The same Jesus who did these things sits at God's right hand praying for you forever! The same power that rose Jesus from he grave now lives in you, if you believe in and belong to Him! 

   

Prayer Based on Psalm 117:

The shortest psalm calls for a very short, direct prayer:

Oh Lord, may all the nations praise You and all the peoples extol You, for Your steadfast love is great and Your faithfulness endures forever! May the name of Jesus be praised in every tongue by every people! Amen.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Day 116: Luke 8:1-25 & Psalm 116 - What Did Jesus Do for Women?

Today's Reading: Luke 8:1-25 & Psalm 116

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What Did Jesus Do for Women?

And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. - Luke 8:1-3, ESV

Contemporary feminists often blame Christianity for being anti-women. Some neo-pagan-minded feminists put "goddess" bumper stickers on their cars, imagining that a return to the days of goddess-worship would liberate them from the male-dominated oppression of the church. A close reading of the New Testament against the cultural background of the first-century Roman Empire tells a different story: Jesus elevated the status of women from property to persons, from objects to possess to vital members of His church and partners in His ministry. 


From the opening lines of Matthew's Gospel, which record four women in Jesus' genealogy to the naming of women as His prominent supporters here in Luke 8 to the repeated mention of key women in the early church in Paul's letters, the New Testament shows us repeatedly how Jesus respected women, elevating them and granting them the dignity of intelligent, spiritual persons. Consider . . .

1. Women were the first eye-witnesses of the resurrection, even though their testimony would be ridiculed and dismissed in court in the Roman Empire. 

2. Jesus commended Mary for sitting at His feet and learning, something women were forbidden from doing in Jewish synagogues and in almost all religious groups. Any other rabbi would have sent her to the kitchen to help Martha, which is exactly what Martha expected Jesus to do.

3. The Gospels make it clear that the women were the ones who stuck close to Jesus during His crucifixion and afterward. John was the only male disciple at the cross, but the women stayed close to their Lord through His suffering, death and burial.

4. The Gospels highlight the remarkable faith of several women, including the Syro-Phoenician woman and the woman who suffered from the issue of blood. Their faith has inspired millions of people for thousands of years. 

5. Several early churches met in the homes of wealthy or prominent women (Nympha in Col. 4:15 and Apphia in Philemon 2). Several of the key converts in strategic cities in the Book of Acts were women, including Lydia in Philippi. 

6. Paul saw women and their relationships as key to the peace and harmony of the church, which is why he pleaded with Euodia and Sythyche to agree in the Lord. (Philippians 4:2) 

7. Men in the church are commanded to love their wives sacrificially and to live with their wives in an understanding manner. They are told that their love is to reflect Jesus' love and that a lack of love for their wives would hinder their prayer life. (Ephesians 5:26-30; 1 Peter 3:7)   

In a world where women had little or no legal rights and got little or no respect as intellectuals or spiritual people, Jesus came along and turned the world's view of women upside-down. 

I chuckle when I see women who think we'd be better off with goddesses and priestesses. I want to go up to them and ask them if they realize what they're desiring: Temples to goddesses in the ancient world were just houses of prostitution and the priestesses were just the prostitutes. They were used by men to serve their pleasure and left to deal with the consequences, which were often ugly when they got pregnant. 

It is not an overstatement to say that Christianity is the best thing that has ever happened for women in the history of the world. It brought real liberation and true humanization to millions, spreading women's rights as it advanced the Gospel. Two key examples can be seen in India and China, where missionaries led the fight to bring an end to widow-burning and foot-binding. 

Have some Christian men abused women and mis-understood concepts like male leadership in the home and church? Absolutely! People have always distorted the truth and manipulated it to serve their sinful self-interests. But that does not negate the incredible good that Jesus did for women during His life or that His church has done for women ever since.

[NOTE: For more on the parable of the four soils, see this post from Matthew 13.]

Prayer Based on Psalm 116:

I love You, Lord, because You have heard
    my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because You inclined Your ear to me,
    therefore I will call on You as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on Your name, O Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

Gracious are You, Lord, and righteous;
    You are our God and You are merciful.
You, Lord, preserve the simple;
    when I was brought low, You saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For You have delivered my soul from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before You, Lord,
    in the land of the living.

I believed, even when I spoke:
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm,
    “All mankind are liars.”
What shall I render to You, Lord,
    for all Your benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on Your name, Lord,
I will pay my vows to You, O Lord
    in the presence of all Your people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am Your servant;
    I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant.
    You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving
    and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to You, Lord,
    in the presence of all Your people,
in Your church, O Lord.

Praise the Lord!