Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 365: Revelation 19, 20, 21 and 22

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 22:13)
John's Revelation ends the same way it began. I am the Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God (Revelation 1:8). For the Christian, oppressed under Rome's thumb, this is yet again a message of hope and an invitation to endure – but not just to endure – to endure with faith and hope.
This beast of yours, this Roman Empire... I was here before this great empire was even a thought, and I will be here long after it turns to dust... even after its dust ceases to be, I will be here.
Some of our problems that cropped up in 2009 lasted a few weeks and were resolved. Some may still be dogging us, and if we were honest we might admit that sometimes we wonder if they're going to get the best of us. The truth is: God was present and faithful before those problems came along, and God will be present and faithful long after they are gone.
Hold on. God is on your side. That's what Revelation is talking about!
When troubles seem overwhelming, tell them, God may not have started this fight, but he sure can finish it. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 364: Revelation 15, 16, 17 and 18

Fallen is Babylon the Great! (Revelation 18:2)

The writer of Revelation delivers the same message with four different groupings of symbols. That message is, according to Marie Strong: God is victorious over all the forces (and faces) of evil and the church will endure. The Alpha and Omega is coming to judge (Revelation 1:7-8 and 22:12-13) . . . we live with the hope that our suffering in the battle between good and evil will be answered by the one who "will wipe every tear from [our] eyes" (21:4). We will then belong with the one who makes all things new! [1]

In Chapter 18, we see the promised destruction of Rome. What seemed like a long time coming, now comes quickly.

Our battles seem to go on forever. Satan shows no mercy and has no qualms about attacking us at our weakest point, or in waiting until we are exhausted or discouraged to give his plans a better chance of success. But there is coming a day when our Babylon the great – that force pitting itself against God's people today – will go up in smoke. God wants Believers to know the outcome of the story – the end of the book. God wins! And so do those who remain faithful!

What's fighting against you? Keep resisting.
[1] Marie Strong, A Common Sense Approach to the Book of Revelation (Anderson: Warner Press, 1996), 69.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 362: Revelation 7, 8, 9 and 10

Who are they? And where did they come from? (Revelation 7:13)

This question is asked by one of the elders regarding the great multitude that no one could count. The writer wants his readers to be aware that the path ahead is difficult, and for many will result in martyrdom. The writer also wants his readers to know that they are not walking this path alone.


Remember Elijah and his despair following the victory over Baal’s prophets? He'd just experienced an incredible display of God's power, but one that reinvigorated Jezebel's murderous hatred for him. He was on the run, beyond burnout, and needed encouragement. He railed against God: I have been zealous for [you] . . . I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too (1 Kings 19:10). In other words, why have you left me all alone? But God informed Elijah that there were 7,000 others who remained faithful. Elijah was by no means alone.

Likewise, God's faithful under siege from Rome need some assurance too. It's tough enough to ask someone to suffer martyrdom, but it's even more difficult if that person thinks he (or she) is the only one making the supreme sacrifice. The writer here encourages Believers: Stay strong. There are more faithful than you can count, and they come from all nations, tribes, peoples and languages. You are not alone.

So the next time someone whispers in your ear, Everyone else is doing it...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day 361: Revelation 4, 5 and 6

There before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (Revelation 4:2)
No doubt about it, under Roman Emperor Domitian, Christianity was under attack. And one of the first things John is shown in his heavenly vision is a throne. This is a throne higher and mightier than the throne of Rome – this is the throne of heaven.
At a time when Christians might have been wondering, Is God still on the throne? Revelation leaves no doubt. Not only is there a throne, encircled with a rainbow (reminiscent of Noah's story in Genesis 6-9); the throne is not empty – a majestic, heavenly figure is sitting on it. The same God who spared his people in the ark would surely spare his people from the onrushing torrent of Rome.
Have you ever felt like the throne is empty? It isn't.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day 360: Revelation 1, 2 and 3

Be faithful, even to the point of death. (Revelation 2:10)

Revelation is a message to 1st century Christians facing dire persecution. Things are bad and are going to get worse before they get better. Nowhere does God tell those who are his that they will avoid suffering. Rather, they are warned that suffering is unavoidable, and may even lead to death.

But in Luke, Jesus tells the crowds, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. (12:4) And in Revelation: I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (1:18)

In other words, death isn't final. Sure, the enemy is a thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy, (John 10:10) but even if things go that wrong, there’s still hope. Christ reminds us that he and not Satan holds the keys to death and hell. And if Jesus was dead, but is now alive for ever and ever, then may we find assurance that even in death, death doesn't get the final word. Death is the worst the devil can do to us, but not even death can separate us from our Savior.

Though being a Christian may not put your life at risk (count your blessings), your faith is still under attack, sometimes in such subtle ways that you may not even recognize it.

Will you be faithful today?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Day 359: 2 John, 3 John and Jude

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. (2 John 9)

There are two kinds of people who forsake leadership and run on ahead: 1) children, whose naïveté causes them to ignore the consequences of getting separated from those with more experience, and 2) adults, whose arrogance convinces them they are more qualified to lead because they know better. Either one will get people lost, and both should be cured by growing up.

The writer of 2 John speaks of those who have determined they know better than the teachings of and about Christ... specifically the teaching of his incarnation. These persons who arrogantly think they know better are the Docetics, who insisted that Jesus was purely spirit and only appeared to be flesh. Even after the Docetics were gone, their teachings were adopted by the Gnostics, another heretical group.

The point is, while it's easy for us to point fingers at heretics, don't we have the same headstrong tendencies? Once we think we know the way, why listen to directions? Once we think we know how, why read the instructions? The elder admonishes us to never get too big for our britches. If we know everything, what is there to learn?

Blessed are the teachable. What have you learned this week?
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[T-Shirt Quote: Arrogance is the anesthesia that dulls the pain of ignorance.]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 265: Daniel 4 - 6

May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you! (Daniel 6:16)

You know the story. The new king Darius divided up his kingdom under three rulers, one of whom was Daniel. Daniel outperformed his counterparts and was to receive a promotion, which made his opponents very envious of his success and position. Rather than work harder, they determined to bring Daniel down a notch.

Fast forward to a reluctant king caught by his own words. Darius doesn't want to punish Daniel, his chosen second in command, but he also doesn't want to vacillate in front of would-be contenders for the throne looking for any sign of weakness. So Daniel becomes potential Fancy Feast for ferocious felines.

Before the sentence is carried out, Darius whispers a message of regret mixed with a tinge of hope: May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you! The king knew Daniel's life was consistent. Daniel wasn't one who served God just because God had blessed him and who would now deny God to save his own skin. He also wasn't the kind of man with a milk toast faith who would suddenly call out for deliverance to the God whom he had previously ignored when everything was going good.

Are you more likely to cling to God when life is looking sunny or when it's circling the drain? Or, do you – like Daniel – continually and consistently serve the Lord your God?

Day 264: Daniel 1 - 3

Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. (Daniel 2:14)

Most critical biblical scholars affirm that Daniel was written not to the Jews in Babylonian exile, but to their grandchildren living 400 years later being butchered by the Greek tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes. The last six chapters are apocalyptic literature, written to help persecuted peoples get through their dark times.

During this first encounter between Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, the King has asked for something totally preposterous. He has demanded that not only must his wise men interpret his dream, but that they interpret it without being told what it was! When no one could comply, the king ordered the deaths of all his advisors, even though some had not yet been tested. When they came to arrest Daniel, instead of panicking, and instead of flying off the handle at the unjustness of the situation, the writer says Daniel responded with wisdom and tact.

No matter how unreasonable the request or violent the attack, we don't have to respond with panic or anger – even when our assailant is a monstrous tyrant. In faith, we can choose how to respond, and respond with wisdom and tact. If a violent response is deemed necessary, let it be a reasoned response, not a knee jerk reaction. Very few good arguments ever came out of a shouting match. Because he kept his head when others were losing theirs, Daniel emerged as the king's most trusted advisor.

When's the last time panicking or losing your temper successfully resolved anything?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 251: Ezekiel 10 - 12

The days go by and every vision comes to nothing. (Ezekiel 12:22)

Like Isaiah ben Amoz before him, Ezekiel tried to warn the people of Judah of their impending disaster, the penalty for disobedience to the Lord God. But that disaster had not fallen on Judah during the days of Isaiah, and as far as Ezekiel's contemporaries were concerned, it was unlikely to fall in their day either.

Others said that in the event Ezekiel's prophecies did come true, nothing would happen for years, maybe generations (vs 27). God told Ezekiel to let them know that the time was upon them, not years in the future, but very, very soon.

Just because judgment is delayed is no reason to assume judgment has been averted. The payoff – good or bad – for present behaviors may not be realized for years to come, but things have a way of catching up with us.

Think you've pulled a fast one on God? Caught him napping? Probably not. Long term behaviors add up. And so does the reward or the consequence.

What behavior do you need to change before it's too late?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day 237: Jeremiah 22 - 24

Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness. (Jeremiah 22:13)

What condemnation for the rich and powerful of Judah, who had exploited the poor and the weak to build their fortunes. And it wasn't that the exploiters were just scratching out a meager existence, trying to feed their own families. They were driven by a lust for luxurious living and lost no sleep about bleeding the poor to maintain their own comfort.

And it's probably no surprise that the throne did not make one immune to this materialism sickness: Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? The prophet reminded Jehoiakim that better kings before him had been content to have enough to eat and drink, and were not driven by the hunger for excess.

Are we any different? Does it matter to us where the clothes we wear or the toys we play with are manufactured? And under what conditions? Does getting a shirt for a few dollars less make exploiting God's children okay? Is it okay to say, "My kids are warm and well-fed. I'm not responsibile for other people's kids"?

Why is it the more I have the more I want? How much is enough?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 236: Jeremiah 19 - 21

Whoever stays in this city will die. (Jeremiah 21:9)

Have you ever been the bearer of bad news? This was Jeremiah's lot in life. His was the unpopular job of sounding the death knell for Jerusalem. Once, after sharing a warning from God, he was confined in stocks for 24 hours because of it. That ought to shut him up. Upon his release, he started right in again (20:1-6).

Then Jeremiah prayed a prayer of protest to God. I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long (20:8). It cost Jeremiah dearly to preach God's word.

So how did Jeremiah feel when messengers came to him again asking, on behalf of King Zedekiah, for a good word about the impending Babylonian attack? God has delivered us before. What kind of miracle does he have up his sleeve for us this time? I wonder if Jeremiah felt tempted to soften the blow. What he said must have hit the king like a sledgehammer: This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: . . . I myself will fight against you (21:4,5).

Today, Jeremiah is one of the most respected of all God's prophets. In 590 B.C., not so much. A follower of God cannot measure his success by how much he's liked. Might as well accept it; ministry is not a popularity contest.

When's the last time you spoke an unpopular truth and suffered the consequences?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day 232: Jeremiah 7 - 9

The whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart. (Jeremiah 9:26)

The message delivered to Judah is an indictment of its arrogance and stubbornness. Even animals have the sense to know to whom they are accountable for the seasons and for sustenance (8:7). But of Judah it is said the people are too stiffnecked to know when they are beaten (7:26), following the stubborn inclinations of their hearts (7:24).

According to Rabbi Abraham Heschel, God's anger is always measured and for a purpose. There is no divine anger for anger's sake. It's meaning is . . . instrumental: to bring about repentance; its purpose and comsummation is its own disapperance. [1]

The point is that people should have the good sense, when confronted by God's anger or discipline, to change their ways, but Jeremiah says that too often we doggedly march on to our own destruction when a simple change of course would make all the difference. Physical circumcision was only supposed to be a symbol of the inward circumcision of the heart – resulting in submission of the whole person to the sovereignty of God.

[1] Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 286.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Day 229: Isaiah 64 - 66

We are the clay, you are the potter. (Isaiah 64:8)

Submitting to the hands of the Potter is a matter of trust. I don't have the text in front of me, but in The Bait of Satan author John Bevere writes that if we know God will not hurt us, either in what he does or in what he does not, then we will gladly trust him to work out the best in us and for us.

The question is: Do we trust God? Do we believe he has our best interests at heart? If so, then we can give ourselves to our Potter trusting that what he forms in us will be better than what we could come up with left to our own devices.

Jerusalem had been destroyed and Judah had been given over to the Babylonians. All of this was used by the Potter to preserve, shape and renew God's people... his handiwork.

What's God doing in your life this week?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Heat Wave

Friends,

Due to the heat wave our church network including Internet access is down. This has made it difficult for me to post on 365 Forum for several days. I'll get back on it as soon as I can.

Thanks for your patience,

Tim

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 206: Song of Songs 1 - 4

Promise me, O women of Jerusalem . . . not to awaken love until the time is right. (Song of Songs 3:5, New Living Translation)

This is a repeating charge in Song of Songs. Don't awaken love until the time is right. It can be found in chapters 2, 3 and 8. There has been a whole range of opinion regarding the love affair chronicled here. Is it a story of the relationship between God and Israel? Christ and the church? Two young lovers? A king and his bride? Over the years majority opinion has shifted between these choices.

Joseph Dillow has written a great book called Solomon on Sex – The Biblical Guide to Married Love. He focuses on this repeating verse as the key to understanding this work of Old Testament wisdom literature.

God intended sex to be enjoyed within the bonds of marriage. Solomon's bride charges the women of Jerusalem with that very truth. Nowhere is the sexual relationship as beautifully expounded as in this book, and nowhere is it as beautiful except within the marriage relationship.

How cool is that?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 205: Ecclesiastes 10 - 12

Whoever watches the wind will not plant. (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

The preacher of Ecclesiastes teaches that it is better to seize an opportunity, even if it's less than perfect, than to wait for a perfect opportunity that may never come. General George Patton remarked: A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

How many good opportunities have we let slip through our fingers because we were waiting for a perfect opportunity? And did that perfect opportunity come? Probably not.

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 204: Ecclesiastes 7 - 9

Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you. (Ecclesiastes 7:21)

This is a wonderful example of Ancient Near East humor and wisdom rolled into one. First the writer warns that if we listen hard enough to hear people praising us, we're just as likely to hear someone maligning us. If we would have minded our own business, we wouldn't have heard the praise, but then we wouldn't have heard the insult either. And, who are we kidding? Even a dozen accolades can't take the sting out of one insult.

A pastor I know had just finished preaching and was standing at the back door shaking hands. A man walked up and asked, Is that the best you can do?

Reminds me of the time we were getting ready to go out for the evening and my wife asked, Is that what you're going to wear?

Uh... no; are you kidding? Wear this? How could you even ask that?

And part of what makes this all so funny is that we've done exactly the same thing. The writer continues: ...for you know in your heart that you yourself have cursed others. But it sounded so innocent when I said it about him, and so mean when he said it about me.

Listen hard enough, and you're bound to hear something that hurts your feelings.

Who are you listening to? There's only one opinion that really counts.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day 203: Ecclesiastes 4 - 6

All labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. (Ecclesiastes 4:4)

My truck is 10 years old with 160,000+ miles. I love that truck – the best vehicle I've ever owned. I bought it from a woman whose husband was serving 12 years for vehicular manslaughter, and she needed the money. (No, I don't think my truck was involved in the accident.)

There's nothing special about my truck. It's not an extended cab, and doesn't even have power locks or windows. For my younger friends, that means one actually has to turn a crank to raise or lower the windows. I know. Archaic! Unthinkable! Unlocking it requires a key! Look it up in an encyclopedia.

When I bought my truck, Ben and Will were 9 and 6. Now they're 17 and alllllmost 14. The three of us fit a lot easier 8 years ago than we do now. Picture eyes bugged out, and elbows digging into ribs.

Here's my point. I'm content with my truck. Until, that is, I see a TV commercial for a flashy new car or truck... or I drive past the dealership... or one of my friends gives me a lift in his new ride. Then my contentment evaporates and I desperately need a NEW CAR!!! What was good enough is no longer sufficient. And what was not even a remote desire morphs into a raging lust. It's all about keeping up with the Joneses.


What new thing, bright and shiny, are you coveting?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day 202: Ecclesiastes 1 - 3

He has also set eternity in the hearts of men. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

The very fact that we aspire to something greater than this mortal life is seen as proof by some that we are God's creation. As the writer here has so eloquently said, we have been given the capacity to reach beyond what we can see and touch, and to encounter the living God. How could we be satisfied with anything less?

It's no wonder we get bored. We set our hearts on temporary things when we were meant to strive for things eternal. We fill our days with spirit-numbing activity when we were meant to encounter God. We settle for a paycheck when we were meant to transform our culture. We are satisfied with getting by when we were meant for glory.

So how are you going to change the world this week?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Day 201: Proverbs 28 - 31

He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Over and over the Scriptures make the point that in our efforts to save face, we instead set ourselves up for catastrophe. Damage will be done and people will be hurt when secrets blow up in our faces, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Psalm 32:5 - Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord" – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Then why is it our default setting to cover up our sin and failure? Do we think we can pull a fast one on the Creator of the universe? Do we expect God to turn a deaf ear to our cry? If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness . . . if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 1:9; 2:1)

Do you need to defuse the "secret bomb"?

Day 198: Proverbs 19 - 21

He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. (Proverbs 21:23)

Like the old carpenter’s adage: Measure twice; cut once, the writer of James puts it this way: Be quick to listen, slow to speak. (1:19). With two ears and one tongue, the wise person listens more than he/she talks. Personally, I have more often regretted speaking, than holding my tongue. Mark Twain is credited with saying: Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.

That’s why God gave us a filter. The idea is that, rather than speak every thought that comes into one’s mind, we engage the filter and it catches things we shouldn’t say. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But every once in awhile we forget to engage that filter, and before we know it, someone gets hurt. Sometimes it’s just us, but on those especially unfortunate occasions, we hurt someone else.

James understands: No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (3:8)

We need help. This is not a battle we’re going to win on our own. God knows. God sees. And God comes to our assistance. He will help us guard our mouths to speak only words that are honoring to him, honoring to ourselves, and honoring to others.

How’s your filter working?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Day 197: Proverbs 16 - 18

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Most Christians believe God has a plan for their lives. At the same time, many Christians also believe in the concept of free will. So which is true? Or could both be true? And if so, how does that work? What's the balance between God's plan for our lives and our freedom to choose?

Have you ever walked one path only to arrive somewhere completely unexpected? It can take years for the reality of God's plan to unfold, but as we look back through the interplay of free choice and random coincidence, we can see the hand of God that has taken us to this time and place to fulfill his purpose in our lives.

Some would say, "Okay, then God's pretermined plan trumps our free will." But which God is greater? The God who pulls people's strings like a puppeteer, giving them only the illusion of choice? Or the God who allows his children real freedom directing their steps only through the persuasive power of his amazing love?
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How has God brought you here?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day 196: Proverbs 13 - 15

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker. (Proverbs 14:31)

One of the main complaints lodged by the prophets against Israel/Judah was the oppression of the poor. Woe to those who make unjust laws . . . to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed. (Isaiah 10:1,2) On your clothes men find the lifeblood of the innocent poor. (Jeremiah 2:34) They oppress the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 22:29) You trample on the poor. (Amos 5:11)

A Proverb that really puts things in perspective is 19:17 - He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done. What a strange thought – to loan something to God. Surely we need not fear God defaulting on his obligations.

And lest we dismiss this as an Old Testament technicality that doesn't really apply in a world top-heavy with governmental social programs: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)

This is true whether the you addressed is an individual, a church, or a nation.

What have you done this week to be a friend to the poor?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 195: Proverbs 10 - 12

He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)

The writers of Proverbs assert that what goes around comes around. Whether it's generosity or greed, kindness or malice, the things we do have a way of coming back, either to bless us, or to haunt us.

Jesus said, With the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:2) Wow! It's my choice.

It can be an enlightening exercise to write one's own obituary. What do we want others to say about us after we're gone? The trick is to not stop with writing those kind words, but then to live the life that would make that obituary fitting and true.

With the measure I use, it will be measured to me. My choice! Just a few verses earlier, Proverb 11:17 reads: A kind man benefits himself.

Every life writes its own obituary. What's your life writing?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 194: Proverbs 7 - 9

She seduced him with her smooth talk. (Proverbs 7:21)

Yesterday the theme was weighing the consequences. That's easier said than done. It's not like there's an even playing field. Our tendency is toward evil. It's our path of least resistance. Add to that tempation's powers of persuasion... it can be so seductive.

The question is not: How could anyone be so stupid as to fall for that? But: How could anyone resist? And yet the Apostle Paul makes it clear we should not live like sin is inevitable: You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit. (Romans 8:9)

To have any hope of living morally in an ungodly world, we'd better have a plan. Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God. (Romans 6:11-13)

Sin is a smooth talker. What's your plan?

Day 193: Proverbs 4 - 6

Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? (Proverbs 6:28)

One of the recurring themes of Proverbs is the way things can backfire when we least expect it. In fact, the writers warn us we should expect trouble to backfire on us if we indulge in certain behaviors. In this particular proverb, the lesson is about giving in to lust, but it also applies to every situation where the consequences can get the better of us.

If I play with fire, shouldn't I expect to get burned? (Proverbs 6:28 - Pastor's Paraphrase)


Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 191: Psalms 146 - 150

The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. (Psalm 147:11)

How do we measure success? With the recent deaths of several celebrities, it seems clear that our society has adapted the old adage, He who dies with the most toys wins.

Prior to death, it sure seems like success is measured by looks, prestige, bank balances, sex appeal, credit scores, possessions, position, power, influence, fame, academic degrees, accomplishments, etc.

Who would have guessed God's simple formula for measuring success: He delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Elie Wiesel, holocaust survivor, author and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, writes: God created man because he loves stories. [1] It's becoming clear to me that those stories have nothing to do with the typical shallow definition of success, and are being written in the lives of people who honor God, and who put their faith and hope in him.
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What story do you want to write with your life?
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[1] Wiesel, Elie. Souls on Fire: Portraits of Hasidic Masters. New York: Vintage Books, 1972.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Day 187: Psalms 128 - 131

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3)

Who would want to live under condemnation for every bad choice we've ever made? The psalmist is only saying what we've heard from many other biblical sources: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Thankfully neither Paul, in his letter to the Romans, nor our psalm writer let it stop there.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23,24)

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness. (Psalm 130:3,4)

Is there anyone you need to let off the hook?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 183: Psalms 113 - 117

Our God is in heaven and he does whatever he wants. (Pastor's Paraphrase - Psalm 115:3)

This is another one of my favorite psalms. Our God is in heaven and he does whatever he wants. How cool is that? I'm so thankful that what God wants is to prosper me and not to harm me, to give me a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

What is there that God won't do? What is there that God can't do to fulfill his purpose in your life?

What are you believing God for?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day 182: Psalms 109 - 112

Oh God, whom I praise, do not remain silent. (Psalm 109:1)

This is the story (technically a lament) of a man betrayed. Lies, hatred, attacks, accusations, and doublecrosses. And a desperate cry to God, "Don't you turn away from me, too!"

But when God seems silent, even distant, we can know that "he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him." (vs 31)
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When's the last time you thought God had forgotten you?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 181: Psalms 105 - 108

They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. (Psalm 106:28)

Notice in Psalms 105 and 106 how the exodus story is retold... once again. This was the defining moment in the life of Israel. 105 tells the story of the exodus itself. 106 tells of Israel's disobedience in the wilderness and the Promised Land.

Why?

Could this have been written to a nation in exile? Israel in Babylon? It is likely that the story of the exodus was a favorite of those Jews relocated to the land of Persia. It would have been a natural way for a disenfranchised people to remind themselves that their God had delivered them before, and could deliver them again.

On the other hand, Psalm 106 recounts the nation's unfaithfulness to God who had delivered them from Egypt. Could this perhaps be a warning to not make the same mistake once they were delivered from the Persians? The lesson: God freed our fathers from Egypt, but they soon forgot to be thankful. When God frees us from Babylon, let's not make the same mistake.

Have you ever said, only to be sorry later, "Oh, that could never happen to me?"

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 163: Psalms 33 - 36

Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:3)

This has got to be every worship musician's favorite psalm. And this is one of the few times the King James Version really rocks: Play skillfully with a loud noise.

What's your favorite?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day 144: Job 7 - 9

If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both. (Job 9:33)

Some critical scholars see the book of Job as an amalgam of writings. There is the original account of a good man beset by horrible misfortune, which is one of the oldest stories in the Bible; and then, there is the long poetic conversation between Job and his friends, which is of more recent vintage. (Wisdom literature – Job is classified among the wisdom writings – was the last part of the Old Testament to arrive at its present form and become canon, whereas the setting of Job is more congruent with the time of Abraham.)

Regardless of when it was written, this passage has always caught me off guard. It is a poignant cry for a bridge between a man and his God. And while I in no way want to imply that the writer of Job had any Messianic thoughts going here; from this side of the cross I cannot help but see this cry fulfilled by Jesus as our High Priest, our bridge between God and man.

Job, there is someone. Jesus Christ is our bridge – our connection to God. One hand on God – one hand on humanity.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1)

Day 143: Job 4 - 6

Post your comments and questions about Job 4-6 here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day 142: Job 1 - 3

No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (Job 2:12)

Why do bad things happen to good people? That's the basic question in Job. Theodicy is a defense of God's justice in spite of the onslaught of overwhelming evil. This question has plagued mankind since... well, since the time of Job.

Retribution theology can be summed up in the phrase: What goes around comes around. We read this thinking in the book of Deuteronomy: Love the Lord your God . . . then you will live and increase... But if your heart turns away . . . you will certainly be destroyed. (Deuteronomy 30:16-18) We get the same kind of thinking in the book of Proverbs: Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm. (Proverbs 1:32)

When Job lost everything he had, he must have thought: Wait! This isn't supposed to happen to me - I read Proverbs. My life comes with the extended warranty!

But we all know bad things do happen to good people, don't we?

That's why, even though Job can at times get tedious, there's something about these writings that keep bringing us back, as if we can identify with Job, unlike some of those Bible characters who are a little too good to be true.

So you had a bad day...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Day 134: Ezra 4 - 6

Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews. (Ezra 5:1)

When the returning exiles set about their work to rebuild the temple (as was ordered by King Cyrus), they encountered opposition from their neighbors. Those neighbors sent complaints to the king (Cyrus was dead by now), who ordered work on the temple to stop because of Judah's history as a trouble maker.

Then Haggai and Zechariah (two prophets we'll be hearing from in a about five months) encouraged the people of Jerusalem to get back to work. Another complaint was made to the king (still another king by this time) and further investigation uncovered the documents signed by Cyrus that ordered the people to rebuild the temple, and even guaranteed that the government would pay the construction costs!

At this point, construction continued with the full support of the king, the project was completed, and the people celebrated as their enemies looked on in disbelief.

Doesn't it make a difference to have the support of the King?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day 133: Ezra 1 - 3

And the sound was heard far away. (Ezra 3:13)

Here we have the account of an exiled people returning home. One of the first things they did was work on rebuilding their spiritual center. There was a lot of crying going on when they laid the foundation for the temple. Those who could remember Solomon's Temple were crying tears of sadness over the fact that Solomon's Temple had been destroyed, not to mention that their new temple just wasn't as big and glorious as the old one. The young people were crying too - tears of joy. They had heard stories of Jerusalem, and now they had returned and were setting about the rebuilding of their heritage.
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Have you ever returned home after being away a really long time?

Day 132: 2 Chronicles 34 - 36

And this would be a good place for your comments and questions regarding 2 Chronicles 34-36.

Day 131: 2 Chronicles 31 - 33

Put your comments and questions for 2 Chronicles 31-33 here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Day 130: 2 Chronicles 28 - 30

May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of his fathers—even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary. (2 Chronicles 30:18,19)

Because of King Ahaz's disobedience Judah was defeated by both Aram and Israel. Then Ahaz started worshiping the gods of Damascus, thinking he had been defeated because Aram's gods were more powerful than the God of Judah. Even when he paid the king of Assyria to help him, the Assyrians just took his treasures and added their abuse to that of all of Judah's enemies. The prophet Isaiah chastized Ahaz for his lack of faith, but to no avail.

Ahaz was not honored by the people of Judah. When he died he was not buried in the tomb of the kings.

When Ahaz's son Hezekiah took the throne, things were different. He walked in the ways of King David and got rid of the idol worship in Judah. Under Hezekiah's leadership, Judah became strong and regained a place of honor among the nations.

Passover had not been celebrated in Judah for many years. Hezekiah changed all that, however, some of the people were not ritually clean, and therefore technically should have been barred from participating in the celebration. Hezekiah called out to the Lord and asked him to make an exception, and God who cares more about hearts than about rules, accepted everyone into the feast.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Day 129: 2 Chronicles 25 - 27

Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 27:6)

Uzziah (Jotham's father) was a great king of Judah. Because of an act of disobedience he was afflicted with leprosy and ruled from seclusion, with his son Jotham co-reigning with him. What do you think Uzziah (called Azariah in 2 Kings) taught his son about obedience? One way or the other Jotham apparently learned the lesson that he must follow God wholeheartedly.

NOTE: Just a quick piece of information that might clear up some confusion regarding the kings of Israel and Judah. 2 Kings 15:30 says Hoshea became king of Israel in the 20th year of Jotham king of Judah. 2 Chronicles 27:1 says Jotham reigned 16 years (as it does in another 2 Kings reference).

If he only reigned 16 years, how could a king of Israel's reign be dated as beginning in Jotham's 20th year?

First off, that's the way Ancient Near East dates were recorded. This happened in the 3rd year of Ben-Hadad king of Aram. Next point: One of the challenges in accurately dating the rule of kings is that a king often brought his son to the throne to co-reign, sometimes years before the father's death. So we have to do some serious comparisons to determine if the years of a king's reign overlapped with his father or his son. This obviously makes it very difficult to be precise.

Okay... that was just a little biblical trivia. No extra charge!

Day 128: 2 Chronicles 22 - 24

This is the place for your comments and questions regarding 2 Chronicles 22-24.

Day 127: 2 Chronicles 19 - 21

This is the place for your comments and questions regarding 2 Chronicles 19-21.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Day 126: 2 Chronicles 16 - 18

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor once wrote that, "God created man because he loves stories." I think that's what this verse is all about.

Remember the account from yesterday? Judah was being attacked by the bigger and tougher army from Israel. Abijah, Judah's godly king, stood up against Israel because he knew he was in the right and that God was on his side. To sum up the story, Judah sent Israel packing.

Fast forward 35 years to the reign of Abijah's son Asa. Asa is usually remembered as a good king... at least as far as his early years go. In fact, Judah experienced a revival during that time called Asa's reform. Then Israel once again oppressed Judah, and Asa buckled. Instead of manning up and trusting God for victory, he sent a large gift of gold (much of it from the temple treasury) to the king of Aram as protection money. In return Ben-Hadad came to Judah's rescue, and the end result was that Judah was safe, but subject to Aram.

The prophet Hanani got right in Asa's face and told him he was wrong. How did Asa respond? He pouted. For five years he pouted, his feet hurt, and then he died.

The next time you're faced with the choice of trusting God or selling out, remember Asa's sad end.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Day 125: 2 Chronicles 13-15

Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams may become a priest. (2 Chronicles 13:9)

I love David and Goliath stories where right living results in confidence on the battlefield. Remember David's words on the day he fought the giant? First to the men standing nearby as Goliath taunted the Israelites: Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God? (1 Samuel 17:26) Then to the big palooka on the field of battle: Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. (17:46)

And here, many years later one of David's descendants is faced with another kind of Goliath - a vast army superior in numbers, training and weaponry. It's brother against brother, or more correctly cousin against cousin as 10 tribes of Israel come against two tribes of Judah. And then Abijah speaks out: Your golden calves are no match for the God of the universe. And by the way, didn't you drive out all the priests of Yahweh? How are your replacement priests working out for you? You know, the ones who got their ordinations on the Internet?

Nothing like a little good natured trash talk between opponents.

And then the battle is joined. All the bookies had odds in favor of Israel, and yet Judah came out victorious, leaving Israel to limp home, shell shocked from the beating they'd received.

Now, what was that enemy you were afraid was too tough for you and God to handle?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Day 119: 1 Chronicles 26 - 29

We have given you only what comes from your hand. (1 Chronicles 29:14b)

Listen to David's heart as he splendors in God's blessing: Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? (29:14a)

Most people try not to give at all, or find loopholes to give as little as possible. Not so with David and the people of Israel. They were truly grateful for all that God had done for them, and they gave with joyful, cheerful hearts.

May we be as eager to give.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day 118: 1 Chronicles 22 - 25

They numbered 288. (1 Chronicles 25:7)

David set aside 288 men to serve as singers in the new temple. 288 vocalists divided into 24 groups of 12.

What else can be evenly divided into 24 units? Hmmm... a day? Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Congratulations. Johnny, tell him what he's won. You bet, Bob. You've won a BRAND NEW CAR!!! [1]

Many biblical scholars, as well as experts who teach about worship have conjectured that these 24 12-member worship teams each served 1-hour shifts every day lifting up their voices in praise to God, so that worship was offered up continuously in Solomon's temple.

Wouldn't it be awesome to have 24-hour worship going on in our church building?
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[1] Just to be clear – no one is getting a new car.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day 117: 1 Chronicles 19 - 21

Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. (1 Chronicles 21:2)

This is one of those times when the writer neglects to share with us the details that must have been obvious to him. Why was it a problem for David to count his fighting men?

When we read the account of David, we can only be amazed at his win-loss record. I haven't counted up his wins, but I can tell you how many fights he lost. None.

Why did he always win? Was it because his vast army outnumbered his foes? No. There are plenty of occasions when David led the smaller fighting force, but he still managed to pull out a victory every time. Was it because he was better equipped? No. Many of his enemies had chariots. David didn't see their value. For the most part, his men were foot soldiers.

David always won. Why? It wasn't because of numbers; it wasn't because of weaponry; it was because God was on his side.

So what was the problem?

David counted his fighting men because he wanted to know if he had enough men to defeat any enemy that might rear its head. For the first time in his life, David was putting his faith in his own strength, and his own resources, rather than in the presence of God.

Think about David the next time you pay your bills before seeing if there's enough left over to tithe.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Day 116: 1 Chronicles 16 - 18

The Lord will build a house for you. (1 Chronicles 17:10)

Chapter 17 tells the tale of David's desire to build a temple for the Lord. He couldn't understand why it was okay for him to live in a palace, when God was still living in a tent.

God had a different idea. David wanted to build a house for God, but God purposed to build a house for David. David already had a palace, so what was God talking about? Didn't God know David had some nice digs?

The house God had in mind had nothing to do with beams of cedar or blocks of cut stone. The house God referred to was a dynasty.

What a God! David's heart was to honor God, and God's heart was to honor David.

Day 115: 1 Chronicles 13 - 15

Comment on 1 Chronicles 13-15 here.

Day 114: 1 Chronicles 10 - 12

Comment on 1 Chronicles 10-12 here.

Day 113: 1 Chronicles 7 - 9

Comment on 1 Chronicles 7-9 here.

Day 112: 1 Chronicles 4 - 6

Comment on 1 Chronicles 4-6 here.

Day 111: 1 Chronicles 1 - 3

Comment on 1 Chronicles 1 - 3 here.

Day 110: 2 Kings 22 - 25

Comment on 2 Kings 22-25 here.

Day 109: 2 Kings 19 - 21

Comment on 2 Kings 19-21 here.

Day 108: 2 Kings 16 - 18

Comment on 2 Kings 16-18 here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Day 107: 2 Kings 13 - 15

Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria. (2 Kings 14:23)

Jeroboam II was named for the first sovereign of the Northern Kingdom Jeroboam son of Nebat. This was a last hurrah for Israel, but it was a pretty good hurrah.

Israel had been beat up by its enemies and was suffering an economic slump. Politically, militarily and economically Jeroboam proved to be a good king, and under his leadership Israel experienced a renaissance of sorts and a time of prosperity. But Jeroboam was no prize spiritually, and upon his death, Israel started a downhill spiral that would lead to its demise at the hands of Assyria.

Day 106: 2 Kings 10 - 12

This is the place for your comments and questions about 2 Kings 10-12.

Day 105: 2 Kings 7 - 9

Use the Comments link below to post your questions and comments about 2 Kings 7-9.

Day 104: 2 Kings 4 - 6

I didn't realize how far behind I was with posting. Sorry about that. This is the place for your questions and comments regarding 2 Kings 4-6.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Day 103: 2 Kings 1 - 3

Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? (2 Kings 1:3)

There was a history of antagonism between Elijah and Ahab, and that history continued with Ahab's son Ahaziah. When Ahaziah was injured, he probably expected a less than favorable answer from Elijah, so he preempted that diagnosis and went straight for a second opinion. He sent his envoys to the Philistine city of Ekron, to inquire of the god Baal – not the best way to get on God's good side.

How often do we sidestep God for an answer more to our liking?

Day 102: 1 Kings 19 - 22

One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off. (1 Kings 20:11)

Yesterday I told you what a despicable person King Ahab was. Today I confess that one of my favorite quotes in the Bible must be attributed to Ahab himself.

In this passage, the King of Aram, along with 32 of his vassal kings and their forces, came out to attack Ahab's Israel. It wasn't looking good for Ahab, and Ben-Hadad of Aram was boasting of how he was about to destroy Samaria (the capital city of Israel). When I get done with you there won't even be enough dust remaining in Israel to give each of my men a handful! (20:10) And then Ahab's priceless response: One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.

Henry Ford said, You can't build a reputation on what you intend to do. Ben-Hadad's taunts were brave talk for a man who hadn't yet drawn the first blood from his enemy. Somehow, Ahab's axiom sounds tougher than Ben Franklin's Don't count your chickens before they're hatched, but it's the same sentiment.

Are you putting your armor on? ...or taking it off?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Day 101: 1 Kings 16 - 18

Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. (1 Kings 16:30)

The Omrides (Omri and his descendants) were the most evil royal family in the history of Israel. They put the nasty in dynasty. Omri had been the commander of Israel's army, when the previous king was assassinated by Zimri. A week later Omri and his army attacked Zimri's stronghold. When Zimri saw he was surrounded, he set his palace on fire forfeiting his own life.

The changing of the guard was not uncontested, but Omri's supporters were stronger than those of his opponent. His opponent was executed and Omri was crowned king. Thus begins the dynasty.

After Omri's death, his son Ahab became king in his place. Ahab's wife Jezebel was the Baal-worshiping princess of Sidon. The couple set out on a literal reign of terror, during which time prophets of the Lord feared for their lives. There were no more feared Old Testament names than Ahab and Jezebel. Even after their deaths, their evil would infect Israel's sister nation of Judah for generations to come, but that's a story for another time.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day 100: 1 Kings 13 - 15

King Rehoboam made bronze shields. (1 Kings 14:27)

Shishak of Egypt invaded Judah and carried off the treasures of the palace and temple. This was most likely when the Ark of the Covenant was lost, yet the writer of 1 Kings doesn't even mention it – instead the account focuses on the loss of Solomon's gold shields. It would seem, then, that the shields are a very important part of this story.

We just read (1 Kings 10:16,17) about Solomon having the shields made from hammered gold. Once they were stolen by Egypt, the once wealthy nation of Judah couldn't afford the gold to replace them, so Rehoboam had copies made from bronze.

Every Sabbath, as Rehoboam made his way to the Temple, he would be surrounded with Secret Service agents equipped with those bronze shields. I imagine as the sun shone down on that bronze it must have dazzled the eyes of anyone looking, maybe even giving the appearance of real gold – but it was not.

After church the guards would put the shields away, locked in a cabinet where they would stay until the next Sabbath for their weekly parade to Temple.

You probably know where I'm going with this. It's easy to play dress up on the weekend. Some people head for church wearing their shiny best. They look the part, but there's no authentic relationship with God. Others fear what might happen if they were to be transparent.

Are you authentic gold? …or wannabe bronze?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Day 99: 1 Kings 10 - 12

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women. (1 Kings 11:1)

The smartest man in the world lost his head over foreign women. Oftentimes a king would give his daughter in marriage to another king to seal an alliance. That's probably where a lot of Solomon's wives came from. But no matter where they came from, the result was that these foreign wives enticed Solomon to worship their gods.

These dalliances affected not only Solomon, but brought great hardship on the kingdom. 1 Kings 1:11 cites Solomon's disobedience as the root cause of Israel's dissolution, which would be realized during the reign of his son Rehoboam.

One can choose obedience or disobedience, but not the consequences.

Day 98: 1 Kings 7 - 9

This is the place for your comments and questions about 1 Kings 7-9.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Day 97: 1 Kings 4 - 6

Solomon also had twelve district governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year. (1 Kings 4:7)

The nation of Israel was growing up. During the reign of Saul, Israel was at war, subject to, or at the very least tormented by the Philistines. During the reign of David, Israel conquered its enemies and its borders were expanded. During the reign of Solomon, Israel enjoyed a season of peace and prosperity - temporary prosperity.

As enemies were conquered, they were required to pay tribute to Israel. That partially accounted for its prosperity. Under Solomon, however, the kingdom quit expanding even though its bureaucracies did not. In today's reading, we get the first glimpse of Solomon organizing Israel into 12 administrative districts (read: tax districts), organized roughly along tribal lines. Each district was responsible to provide the funding for one month's national budget.

No longer were the costs of doing business garnered through tribute from other nations (there was still tribute, but it was not enough), but the nation itself was being taxed to help pay for the many levels of bureaucracy.


This was the golden age of Israel.

And you thought fiscal mismanagement was a new thing?