Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Day 79: Mark 7:24-37 & Psalm 80 - How Does Jesus Treat the Outsider and the Hopeless?

Today's Reading: Mark 7:24-37 & Psalm 80

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How Does Jesus Treat the Outsider and the Hopeless?

And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” - Mark 7:37, ESV

Jesus is known as the "friend of sinners," which was intended as an insult against Him. (see Matthew 11:19 & Luke 7:34) Yesterday, we explored how Jesus ran into conflict with the religious leaders in Jerusalem over the issue of human traditions. Another reason why Jesus was rejected and despised by the leadership in Israel was because He did not chose to bless the "right kind" of people.

In today's passage, we see Jesus with an outsider and with a hopeless man. We see the power, wisdom and compassion of Jesus on full display. First a Gentile woman, a non-Jew outsider, has a demon-possessed daughter who needs deliverance. At first Jesus' response to her seems cold, unfeeling, even harsh. But He was actually drawing out her humility and faith for public display and commendation. He was teaching His disciples that humility and faith are more important than ethnicity.

Then, we see Jesus in the area of the Decapolis, a heavily Gentile--influenced area in the north of Israel. Here He encounters a man who is deaf and mute, a difficult combination that was considered impossible to heal. Whereas Jesus had cast the demon from the Gentile woman's daughter from a distance, here Jesus gets very hands-on with this man. He takes him aside privately, puts His fingers in the man's ears, spits, touches his tongue and says, "Ephphatha! (Be opened!)"  

Jesus could have healed this man from a distance or with a word, but He did not. Jesus almost never healed people in the same way. He was as unpredictable as He was powerful, which made Him dangerous, impossible to either predict or control. But Jesus' power is matched only by His compassion. He healed the deaf and mute man completely, enabling him to hear and speak plainly.

Jesus welcomes the most needy among us, Those who have been hurt, rejected, cast out, left alone, lost hope. Jesus reaches out in different ways, through different means. He calls people to life, to forgiveness, to healing, to restoration and reconciliation with God. And today, He most often does so through His people, who speak His word and pray for the lost, the outcast, the hopeless. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 80:

Heavenly Father,

We are Your people, chosen in love and redeemed in Christ. We are Your church, the place where You dwell. We are Your children, the ones You have adopted and given Your own name. Yet, O Lord, look at Your household! Look upon Your people! In America, we are lukewarm, compromised, cowardly, crooked and divided. In other parts of the world, we are violently persecuted, outlawed, harassed and suffering. Have mercy on us! Be gracious to us! Restore us! 

In Jesus' name, Amen! 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Day 78: Mark 7:1-23 & Psalm 79 - How Does Human Tradition Undermine God's Word?

Today's Reading: Mark 7:1-23 & Psalm 79

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How Does Human Tradition Undermine God's Word? 

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God
in order to establish your tradition! - Mark 7:9, ESV

Jesus had many run-ins with the religious leaders of His day. It is rather troubling to stop and realize that the people who knew the Scriptures the best and who taught others the ways of God were the very people who most opposed Jesus and sought to have Him killed. Many people have taken this as a call to oppose "organized religion" of any kind. But the same Jesus who opposed the religious leaders of the Jewish people also established His church and appointed leaders for it.

So, what was the real problem? The heart of the conflict seems to come out clearly in today's passage: The religious leaders had elevated their traditions to the same status as Scripture, which practically meant that their religious traditions replaced and overruled Scripture. Whenever human traditions - even good and sincere ones - are given the same kind of emphasis and weight as God's word, problems arise and multiply.

Here are some of the consequences of the exaltation of human tradition we can see in today's passage:

1. People begin to judge others on the basis of their adherence to the tradition and not to God's word. Suddenly, people can be condemned because they don't wash their hands properly, according to the ceremonial procedures of the religious community.

2. People begin to shape their lives by traditions instead of by Scripture. The conception of what should and should not be done becomes guided by tradition, even when the tradition conflicts with Scripture. 

3. In cases of conflict, one standard reigns supreme, and that almost always becomes the tradition. Jesus' harshest criticism was over the rejection of the commandment of God in favor of the tradition of men. This is really the test of our traditions: Are we willing to abandon them if they a situation arises where they conflict with Scripture?

4. People lose sight of what sin is and what makes us acceptable or unacceptable before God. In this case, dietary laws replaced righteous speech as the standard for being "clean" or "unclean." In other cases, we can begin to think that the type of clothing we wear, the way we style our hair, the kind of worship service we have, etc. all determine whether we are acceptable to God or not. In this, we lose sight of the definition of sin and the way of salvation.

The problem with human beings is that we are very prone to traditionalism. But how can we avoid it? Simply, we must commit to the Bible as the standard and to holding each other accountable to being Biblical in all that we teach and practice. Together, standing on God's word, we can stand against the encroaching temptation of traditionalism.

Prayer Based on Psalm 79:

O God, the nations have oppressed and persecuted Your people;
    they have defied Your word and mocked Your servants;
    they have burned churches and imprisoned pastors.
They have executed Your people
    or denied them the mist basic human rights,
    seeking to ridicule, suppress, oppress and oppose Your kingdom.
We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
    mocked and derided by those around us.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?
    Will Your jealousy burn like fire?
Pour out Your anger on the deceiver of nations
    that do not know You,
and on the fallen kingdom
    of the evil one, who leads astray those who do not call upon Your name!

Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
    let Your compassion come speedily to meet us,
    for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
    for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
    for your name's sake!
Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”

Let the groans of the prisoners come before You;
    according to Your great power, preserve those doomed to die!
And we Your people, the sheep of Your pasture,
    will give thanks to You forever;

    from generation to generation we will recount Your praise.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Day 77: Mark 6:30-56 & Psalm 78 - Why Do We Need to Get Alone with God and Rest?

Today's Reading: Mark 6:30-56 & Psalm 78

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Why Do We Need to Get Alone with God and Rest?

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. - Mark 6:30-31, 45-46, ESV

Twice in today's passage, we see the importance of withdrawing from public ministry for time alone with God. First, the disciples were called away to spend some time with Jesus and then, later, Jesus sent the disciples away and withdrew by Himself to pray. What was the benefit of these times and what do they tell us about our needs?

First, Jesus called the disciples to "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." This was immediately after they had returned from being sent our by Jesus to preach the Gospel of the kingdom and cast our demons. This first ministry experience had them feeling excited and it also brought them increased popularity. So many people were coming and going to see Jesus and His disciples that they could not even eat a meal in peace.

Here we see several reasons for getting alone with God to rest:

1. When we need time to process and pray about what God has been doing in our lives.
2. When we need some peace and quiet so we can think, reflect and be refreshed.
3. When we need to get away from the voices and the crowds, the busyness and even the acclaim of others, so we can hear what Jesus would say to us through His word.

Second, after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus Himself "went up on the mountain to pray." This is one of many times when we see Jesus seeking to get away from other people so He could spend time alone with His Father. Jesus wanted to do His Father's will and to please His Father in everything. Jesus enjoyed warm and close fellowship with His Father through the Holy Spirit. He often spent time alone with God the Father.

From Jesus' example, we can learn a few things. If even Jesus Himself needed regular time alone with His Father, then we can know:

1. We are never too mature or too seasoned in the Christian life that we no longer need regular time alone with the Lord.
2. We are never too busy, too in-demand or too devoted to ministering to the needs of others to justify neglecting time alone with the Lord.
3. We need wisdom and grace, which come from intimate fellowship with our Heavenly Father.  

Martin Luther was a man used greatly by God to accomplish much good, often in spite of his own personal failings. One of the keys to Luther's effectiveness in ministry was time spent in prayer. He was know to say, "I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." Luther was once asked by his barber for advice on how to pray and he wrote this little book in response.

May the Lord give us the grace to be mindful of our need for time alone with Him. May we never be too busy or be fooled into being too self-sufficient to make time alone with the Lord a regular priority.

Prayer Based on Psalm 78:

Father in Heaven, when we read Your word and consider the history of Your dealings with Your people, I am amazed by Your grace and patience and persistent love and by our repeated stubbornness, selfishness and foolish rebelliousness. Over and over again, we can read in Scripture of Your people worshiping idols, committing injustice, turning their backs on You and choosing death instead of life, disgrace instead of faithfulness, worldliness instead of godliness and sin instead of You. You have repeatedly judged Your people, rebuked them for their wrongs, called them to repentance and dealt them consequences as a way of calling then back to You.

But we can see these same patterns in our own lives! How many times have we chosen sin? How many times have we turned our backs on You? How many times have we listened to the world instead of heeding Your word? Father, have mercy on us! Lord, revive and restore us! Draw us back to Yourself that we may tell the generations to come of the faithful love and covenant mercies of our God!

Bring us faithful shepherds who will lead us in following You. Send us God-centered, Scripture-saturated men who will proclaim Your counsels and show us Your truth. Then, give us undivided hearts to fear Your name and walk in Your ways!

In Jesus' name and for the sake of Your glory we ask, Amen.  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Day 76: Mark 6:1-29 & Psalm 77 - What Kind of King is Jesus?

Today's Reading: Mark 6:1-29 & Psalm 77

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What Kind of King is Jesus?

"And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, 
and gave them authority over the unclean spirits." - Mark 6:7

Today's Gospel reading could be called "A Tale of Two Kings." We see both King Jesus and King Herod exercising their royal authority among their closest followers. The contrast could not be clearer:

King Jesus speaks the truth and demonstrated His power as king so clearly that people are left stunned and puzzled. They ask, "Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?" (v. 2) He then gives authority to His twelve closest followers, whom He sends out to preach the Gospel and cast out demons. His reign thus brings wisdom, power, deliverance from oppression and salvation from sin.

King Herod is precisely the opposite kind of king. He throws a big party for himself on his birthday, full of self-indulgence. He also gives authority to one of his subjects, his step-daughter. Only instead of giving her authority to proclaim forgiveness and deliver people from demons, Herod gives her authority to kill an innocent man and have his head presented on a platter. 

We can judge rulers by what they do and by what they empower their followers to do. President Ulysses S. Grant was generally considered an honorable man himself, but he allowed many in his administration to abuse their authority, and so he is remembered as an effective general but a poor president.

Sadly, we have to acknowledge that much evil has been committed in the name of Jesus by those who claim to be His followers, but the true followers of Jesus have been the greatest force for good the world has ever seen. The followers of Jesus have created the world's first hospitals, universities, public schools, and orphanages and created just war theory and the concept of universal human rights. They have also led the way for the elimination of foot binding in China, widow burning in India, slavery in the UK and the US and a whole host of other evils around the world. In all, the kingdom of Jesus has been the source of more good in the world than anything else in the history of the world, by far.

Prayer Based on Psalm 77:

For times of deep distress . . .

I cry aloud to You, O God,
    aloud to You, and You will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek You, my Lord;
    in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
    my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember You, O God, I moan;
    when I meditate, my spirit faints. 

You hold my eyelids open;
    I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
    the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
    let me meditate in my heart.”
    Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
    and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
    Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” 

Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
    to the years of the Right Hand of the Most High.”

I will remember Your deeds, O Lord;
    yes, I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will ponder all Your work,
    and meditate on Your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
    What god is great like You, our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
    You have made known Your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed Your people,
    the children of Jacob and Joseph.

When the waters saw You, O God,
    when the waters saw You, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
    the skies gave forth thunder;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lighted up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
    your path through the great waters;
    yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
    by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

You redeemed Your people by the hand of Your Son,
   who took our sin upon Himself,
   the wrath that we deserve was placed on Him.
Then, he conquered death in His powerful resurrection,
   the grave was overthrown by His unquenchable life.
Let me never forget.
   Let me always remember.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Day 75: Mark 5:21-43 & Psalm 76 - Where is God in This Horror Show?

Today's Reading: Mark 5:21-43 & Psalm 76

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Where is God in This Horror Show?

"And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 
and who had suffered much under many physicians, 
and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse." - Mark 5:25-26

As I read today's reading, two people's sayings came to mind:

1. A friend of mine, a Christian man, would always respond to the question, "How are you?" with "Better than I deserve." And I would always think, "That's so true!" and would often say, "Aren't we all?"

2. An atheistic woman was asked about God and she responded, "Where is God in this horror show?" I also sympathize with her words. Very often, life in this world is a horror show.

So, where is God? Why is life so often a horror show? And how can we say that we're all doing better than we deserve?  

One of the things I love about the Bible is that it's a brutally realistic book. It doesn't cover up sin or minimize suffering. Some Christians act like it does. Some atheists and skeptics will attack the Bible for condoning rape and slavery and murder, but the Bible doesn't condone those actions; it just shows them for what they are.

In today's passage, we see two heart-breaking "horror show" incidents: A woman who has had a discharge if blood for twelve years and a young girl who dies at twelve years old. Twelve years is an awfully long time to bleed but a terribly short time to live. Sadly, we live in a world where these things happen all the time. So, where is God?

First, the very fact that Jesus came into the world and healed the sick and raised the dead tells us what God thinks about these horrible realities. Remember that, according to the Bible, such suffering comes into the world as a result of sin. God hates sin and all of the consequences it has brought into His creation, which is why He sent His Son into the world: out of love for His people and hatred for sin and its curse.

Secondly, Jesus victory over sin and death on the cross and in His resurrection secures victory and final deliverance for His people. Those who trust in Jesus and hold fast to Him in faith have assurance that the "horror show" is temporary but God's love and salvation for them are eternal. Jesus showed that He has the power to defeat all horrible enemies: sin, sickness, demons, blindness, paralysis, death. His promise is that each of these realities is only temporary.

Third, we can learn to trust God that the horror show is not without purpose. The world may seem to be spinning out of control, but it's not. God has all things in His hands and works all things for His purpose. That doesn't mean that He is in favor of everything that happens or that He delights in evil. But evil can have purpose and can be used for good, if God is in control of it all. Otherwise, it truly is senseless. This is hard, because at time everything within us screams out "Senseless!" But we need not give in to despair. God is working, even when we can't see His hands.

Where is God in this horror show? He is hating the evil, which he sent His Son to defeat, even as He is working redemption for those who trust in Him. And so, in the midst of the horror - which our sinful rebellion against God has brought into the world -  we are all doing better than we deserve.

Prayer Based on Psalm 76:

In the church, You are known, O God;
    Your name is great among Your people.
Your dwelling has been established in our hearts and our midst by the Holy Spirit,
Here You have broken the curses of sin and death,
    and You frustrate the warfare of our enemy against us.

Glorious are You, more majestic
    than the mountains full of prey.
The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;
    they sank into sleep;
all the men of war
    were unable to use their hands.
At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
    both rider and horse lay stunned.

But You, You are to be feared!
    Who can stand before You
    when once Your anger is roused?
From the heavens You uttered judgment;
    the earth feared and was still,
when You, O God, arose to establish judgment,
    to save all the humble of the earth.

Surely even the wrath of man shall praise You;
    the remnant of wrath You will put on like a belt.
May we fulfill our vows to You, O Lord your God, and perform them;
    let all Your people bring gifts
    to You, who are to be feared,
You who cut off the spirit of princes,
    who are to be feared by the kings of the earth.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Day 74: Mark 5:1-20 & Psalm 75 - How Should We Respond to the Work of Jesus in Our Lives?

Today's Reading: Mark 5:1-20 & Psalm 75

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How Should We Respond to the Work of Jesus in Our Lives?

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
- Mark 5:18-20

Imagine being possessed by a legion of demons! A Roman legion was made up of ten cohorts of about 480 soldiers each, so a legion was 4,800 - 5,000 troops. We don't know exactly how many demons possessed this man, but we do know they were cast out into a herd of around 2,000 pigs. Being possessed by just one demon is a terrifying thought, but being possessed by thousands of them is truly unthinkable. 

The fact that Jesus was able to cast out these thousands of demons and set this man free is amazing! And yet, the work of God in delivering you and I from our sin and condemnation and from the power of death is also amazing. Jesus was able to cast out these demons with His authoritative words. The miracle of our deliverance and salvation required the death and resurrection of Jesus to accomplish.

The world's reaction to this man's great deliverance is perhaps unexpected, though it shouldn't be. Instead of having crowds of sick and demon-possessed people live up for healing, as happened elsewhere in Israel, the people of the Gerasenes wanted Jesus to leave. We were given a clue as to their spiritual state by the very fact that this Jewish community had a herd of 2,000 pigs. 

The world does not praise the work of Jesus in bringing deliverance for two main reasons:

1. The world does not understand and cannot control the power of Jesus, and so He is a threat. The world understand coercion but not transformation. It's a power greater than their own, so they fear and hate Jesus for it.
2. Jesus threatens the world's standard of living. In this case, 2,000 pigs died. (This was an act of judgment, as this community was disobeying God's law at the time by having pigs.) In the book of Acts, we see a fortune-telling slave girl set free from demons and lose her fortune-telling ability. We also see Demetrius the silversmith leading the mob in Ephesus against Paul because the Gospel threatened his idol-making business. The bottom line: Because sin is a profitable business, the world hates when people are saved from it.

But how should we respond to God's miraculous work of deliverance in our lives? This demon-possessed man is an example for all of us. He wanted to follow Jesus and get away from the place where he had suffered and where people would be bothering him. But Jesus sent him into that difficult place and asked him to testify to the truth of what Jesus had done for him. He obeyed and went.

Jesus sends us into our homes, our places of work, our neighborhoods and our relationships with the good news of what He has done for us. He calls us not to be ashamed but to testify to the truth of our deliverance. Are we amazed at what Jesus has done for us? Will we obey and testify? 

Prayer Based on Psalm 75:

We give thanks to You, O God;
    we give thanks, for Your name is near.
Jesus dwells in our hearts by faith
    by the indwelling of Your Holy Spirit.
We recount your wondrous deeds,
   the great salvation You have worked for us
   and applied to our needy souls.

Lord, You speak and say to us:
“At the set time that I appoint
    I will judge with equity.
When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants,
    it is I who keep steady its pillars. 
I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
    and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn;
do not lift up your horn on high,
    or speak with haughty neck.’”

For not from the east or from the west
    and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is You, O God, who executes judgment,
    putting down one and lifting up another.
For in Your hand, O Lord, there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed,
    the wine of judgment and wrath
and he pours out from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs.

But I will declare it forever;
    I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
Jesus has drunk the cup of wrath for Your people, O God.
All the horns of the wicked You will cut off,
    but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.
And we give thanks to You, O God,
   for it is only by Your grace and by the righteousness of Jesus
   that we are the righteous who are saved and not the wicked who are condemned.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Day 73: Mark 4:21-41 & Psalm 74 - What Makes Us Afraid?

Today's Reading: Mark 4:21-41 & Psalm 74

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What Makes Us Afraid?

"He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another,
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” - Mark 4:40-41, ESV

We all understand that certain fears are more normal and rational than others. If you decide to go bungee jumping, it's normal to be afraid right before you jump off the bridge. But if you walk around your daily life terrified of the prospect of a Sharknado, that's a little bizarre. 

Jesus challenges our accepted categories. He shows us in today's passage that even our normal and rational fears have no place in our hearts if we have real faith in Him. Experienced sailors and fishermen, the disciples would not be terrified on the Sea of Galilee without real cause. They knew their lives were in imminent danger. But they were wrong.

Now God does not encourage us to be foolishly unwise in our decision-making. We shouldn't be recklessly disobedient to the wisdom of Proverbs and assume that nothing bad will happen to us. But if we're following the Lord and trusting in Him as our Lord, we don't need to be paralyzed by fear. In fact, we must not be paralyzed by fear.

But how can we escape the grip of fear on our hearts? The disciples' experience in the storm shows us the key: We are delivered from paralyzing earthly fears by a genuine fear of the Lord. We don't take the fear of the Lord very seriously anymore, which is a shame because it is centrally important in the Bible's teaching on faith. 

We are accustomed to a tamed version of the fear of the Lord that means a holy reverence or a solemn respect. But that's not the picture of the disciples, who were "filled with a great fear." Nor does it fit what Jesus said when He taught us, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) Sometimes fear actually means fear. 

Why fear the Lord? Because He is terrifyingly holy. He is intensely, perfectly, unapproachably holy, holy, holy. He destroys sin and sinners by His intensely holy presence. Isaiah was terrified in His presence, as was Peter in the presence of Christ. He is also absolutely sovereign, having full rights as our Creator and King to do with us whatever He pleases. He is also the light that penetrates everything and sees all. In today's passage, Jesus tells us, "nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light." (v. 22) 

But because of the great love of the Lord, the fear of the Lord is liberating and not enslaving. 

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;

Great is Your faithfulness. - Lamentation 3:22-23, NKJV 

It is dangerous to fear anything other than the Lord, because only the Lord is as absolutely wise, compassionate and merciful toward us in Christ as He is absolutely powerful, holy, sovereign and all-knowing. The greatness of God means that we must fear Him and no one else. The goodness of God means that we may fear Him with confidence and even with joy. In fact, we'll never find true freedom, confidence and joy anywhere else but in the soul-gripping fear of the Lord.

Prayer Based on Psalm 74:

O God, why do we sometimes feel like You have cast us off forever?
    Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?
You church seems so lacking in power and influence, in purity and peace.
Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old,
    which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your heritage!
    Remember You church, Your living temple, where You dwell by Your Holy Spirit.

Direct Your steps to the perpetual ruins, the seemingly empty and abandoned church;
    the enemy seems to have destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
Your people no longer hold fast to the truth of Your word,
    but prefer the lies of the enemy and ways of the world.
Your foes have roared in the midst of Your meeting place;
    they set up their own standards as the standard for the church.
They profaned the dwelling place of Your name,
    deceiving it down to the ground.
They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”;
    they filled the meeting places of God in the land with lies and darkness.

How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
    Is the enemy to revile Your name forever?
Why do you hold back Your hand, Your right hand?
    Take it from the fold of Your garment and destroy them!

Yet You, O God my King, are from of old,
    working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by your might;
    you broke the power of sin and death at the cross.
You crushed the curse of hell for Your people in the glory of the resurrection;
    You gave Your word and Your Spirit to Your people.

Yours is the day, Yours also the night;
    You have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
    You have made summer and winter.
You rule over all absolutely.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
    and a foolish people reviles your name.
Do not deliver the soul of Your dove to the wild beasts;
    do not forget the life of Your poor forever.

Have regard for the covenant,
    for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
    let the poor and needy praise Your name.

Arise, O God, defend your cause;
    remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!
Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
    the uproar of those who rise against You, which goes up continually!  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Day 72: Mark 4:1-20 & Psalm 73 - What Does Real Salvation Look Like?

Today's Reading: Mark 4:1-20 & Psalm 73

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What Does Real Salvation Look Like?

"And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?
How then will you understand all the parables?" - Mark 4:13, ESV

Today's passage features Jesus' most important parable, the parable of the four soils. We can tell this is His most important parable because He asks His disciples, “Do you not understand this parable? 
How then will you understand all the parables?" (v. 13) So, what makes this parable so important? It's because it reveals to us the essence of what a saving response to the Gospel looks like. 

This is also one of the few parables that Jesus explicitly explains to His disciples. All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) include this parable and its full explanation. Mark places it here as the first parable in His Gospel, making it the key for understanding all other parables. So, what does it tell us?

Whenever anyone hears the Gospel, they can respond in one of four different ways:

1. They can just completely ignore or miss the message. Jesus says that these people have the word stolen from them by Satan before it can find any soil and take any root. These people can be the most puzzling to understand, because they sit and hear the life-changing message of salvation in Christ and don't really hear it at all.

2. They can respond with enthusiasm to the free offer of forgiveness and eternal life and profess faith in Jesus as their Savior, only to quickly fall away as soon as it becomes difficult. Some of these may be people who respond to an invitation at an evangelistic meeting but never join a church or pursue discipleship. 

3. They can respond with a profession of faith and begin on a path of discipleship only to get distracted by cares, concerns or worldliness. They might be caught up in any one of a number of things that take them away from Christ, but they end up abandoning the Gospel, the church and their faith for worldly matters. 

4. Finally, there are those who, by God's grace, hear the Gospel and respond in saving faith. They truly trust in Christ alone for their salvation, for forgiveness and righteousness and eternal life. They profess Jesus as their Lord and King and they join the church, grow in their faith and bear fruit in their lives for the glory of God. This fourth group, and only this fourth group, has found real salvation in Christ.

So, how can you know if you're in the fourth group and not the second or third? Many Christians struggle with identifying with the third group, as they feel like the word is being choked out of their lives by worldly cares. But every garden needs weeding and every good crop has struggles on its way to fruitfulness. 

If you're trusting in Jesus and still seeking to grow in Him, and if the word is bearing fruit in your life in changed attitudes and actions, this is evidence that you have found salvation. Keep trusting in Christ and run to Him when you feel doubts and fears and shame rising in your heart. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 73:

Psalm 73 goes well with today's Gospel lesson, because it is written by a believer who experienced the choking power of worldiness, as he envied the wealthy wicked. But he finds hope in worship, which is where we must turn at those times, too. 

Truly You, O God, are good to Your people,
    to those who by grace are pure in heart,
    trusting in Christ and not in themselves for salvation.

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
I thought that it was all in vain that I had sought
    to keep my heart trusting in Christ
    and had washed my soul in the blood of Christ.
For all the day long I was stricken with envy and persecution
    and rebuked every morning by my doubts and fears.

If I had allowed myself to give voice to my envy and doubt,
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    and when I sought You in worship,
    in Your house and among Your people,
    then I discerned the true end of the wicked.
Truly You set them in slippery places;
    You make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse Yourself, You despise them as phantoms.

When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward You.
Nevertheless, I am continually with You;
    You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
    and afterward You will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from You shall perish;
    You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.

But for me it is good to be near You, my God;
    I have made You, Lord God, my refuge,
    that I may tell of all Your works.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Day 71: Mark 3:21-35 & Psalm 72 - How Does the World Oppose Jesus?

Today's Reading: Mark 3:21-35 & Psalm 72

How Does the World Oppose Jesus?

 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying,
“He is out of his mind.”
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying,
“He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and
“by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”
 - Mark 3:21-22

Yesterday, we were focused on the fact that the various factions and forces in the world are united by something: opposition to Jesus. This is what Psalm 2 says:

The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.” - Psalm 2:2-3, ESV

But how does the world oppose Jesus? Well, we see two good examples today in Jesus' earthly family and in the scribes. Jesus' earthly family opposed him because they thought He was crazy. They wanted to take Him home and talk some sense into Him. Still today, the world opposes Jesus by calling Christians crazy and accusing us of being extremist, out-of-touch with reality, etc. 

The scribes attacked Jesus by accusing Him of being evil, of using the power of Satan to cast out demons. They called His good work the work of the devil, committing the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in the process. Even today, another common tactic for the world to use in opposition to Christ is to label Christians and the work of the church as evil. By calling Christians hateful bigots and comparing us to Nazis, the world opposes Jesus by calling His kingdom an evil kingdom.

How should we respond to these accusations from the world? What do we do when the world calls us crazy or evil? Well, Jesus responded to these kinds of accusations by speaking the truth with wisdom and demonstrating the power of His kingdom in love. Jesus didn't just call the scribes liars, but He wisely exposed the ridiculousness of their accusation. He also didn't just shut down their claim, He countered it with His demonstrations of His power and love.

This is our calling, too: Speak the truth in wisdom, countering the accusations of the world with wise words to disarm their accusations. Then, show the nature of Christ's kingdom in powerful acts of love.

But here's the catch: Doing this will not make the world change their minds and start liking us. Remember, they killed Jesus, and He said that if the world hated Him, it would hate us, too. But we're not seeking approval from the world. We serve our King and He is always faithful to us. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 72:

Endow King Jesus with your justice, O God,
            your royal Son with your righteousness.
   Let Jesus judge your people in righteousness,
            your afflicted ones with justice.
   May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
            the hills the fruit of righteousness.
   May he defend the afflicted among the people
            and save the children of the needy;
            let him crush the oppressor.

O Father, let Jesus rule from sea to sea
            and from the River to the ends of the earth.
   Let the desert tribes bow before him
            and his spiritual enemies lick the dust.
   May the royalty, prime ministers and presidents
            of distant shores
            bring tribute to him;
   May the governments of Europe, Africa
            and Asia,
   the governments of North and South America
            present Jesus with gifts.
   May every government on earth bow down to him
            and all nations serve Jesus.
   For Jesus will deliver the needy who cry out,
            the afflicted who have no one to help.
   He takes pity on the weak and the needy
            and saves the needy from death.
    Let him rescue them from oppression and
            for precious is their blood in his sight.

   Long may Jesus live!

   May the name of Jesus endure forever;
            may it continue as long as the sun.
   All nations will be blessed through him,
            and they will call him blessed.
   Who will not fear him, O Lord,
            and bring glory to his name?
            For he alone is holy.
   All nations will come and worship before him,
            for his righteous acts have been revealed.

   Praise be to the Lord God, the God of the Church,
            who alone does marvelous deeds.
    Praise be to his glorious name forever;
            may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
             Amen and Amen.