Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Day 212: Isaiah 13, 14 and 15

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations. (Isaiah 14:12)

A popular though possibly misguided usage of this verse is as evidence that Satan began his career as an angel who, because of his prideful challenge to God’s sovereignty, was thrown out of heaven. Jesus may have alluded to the writings of Isaiah when he said, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18); language which should probably be taken more figuratively than literally. Both the king of Babylon (though Babylon was barely getting started at the time of Isaiah ben Amoz) and Satan ruled powerful empires and were seemingly invincible.

Yet Isaiah says the ruler of Babylon, domineering as he may be, is subject to the power of God. In fact, chapters 13-23 are Isaiah’s oracles against the nations (which have parallels in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Zephaniah and Zechariah), which testify that all nations and powers are subject to Yahweh, as is Satan and his kingdom.

If we don’t see it now, one day we will: Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble? (v. 16) No matter what the threat, one day we will look back and say, I was afraid of that? God really is faithful.

Enemies only look invincible when we look ahead, not when we look back.

As you look ahead to the coming weeks, what threat feels overwhelming?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Day 211: Isaiah 10, 11 and 12

A new branch will grow from the stump of a tree. (Isaiah 11:1 - NCV)

In the 1995 movie A Walk in the Clouds, Keanu Reeves stars as orphan turned WWII hero Paul Sutton. Upon returning stateside, he falls in love with Victoria Aragón whose family owns a Napa Valley vineyard and winery. Though drawn to the strong family ties demonstrated by the Aragóns, Sutton is rejected as not good enough for his daughter by Victoria’s domineering father. During an argument between the two, the older man throws a lantern, igniting the tinder dry grape vines, engulfing the vineyard in flames.

Then Paul realizes the parent vine (brought from Spain), though burned, did not take the brunt of the fire. He cuts into the root to discover there is still life in the heart of the vine. Though it will take time and hard work, the family’s fortunes are restored, and Paul is welcomed into the family.

This messianic prophecy includes the phrase stump of Jesse (NIV), which indicates that Christ will come from the line of King David. But David’s line has been all but destroyed, like the parent vine from the Aragón vineyard. However, no matter how dead things may look, there is life under the surface.

Even when it seems too late, that we’ve been abandoned, that the tree is dead, God may just be up to something.

Have you ever thought your life was over, only to see a new branch sprout from the stump?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Day 210: Isaiah 7, 8 and 9

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. (Isaiah 7:9)

During the reign of Judah’s Jotham (Ahaz’s father), Assyria was a rising power. The kings of Israel and Aram tried to recruit Jotham to conspire with them against Assyria, but he refused. Upon Jotham’s death, the anger of Israel and Aram was poured out against Judah and its new king Ahaz. Seizing the opportunity, Edom also attacked from the southeast and the Philistines from the southwest. Judah was an island in a hostile sea, surrounded by enemies. Ahaz saw no escape other than appealing to Assyria for protection.

Isaiah implored Ahaz to put his faith in Yahweh, not Assyria’s Tiglath-pileser. The prophet made it clear that peaceful conditions don’t require faith: faith isn’t faith until it is tested. But Ahaz buckled, sending a large payment to Assyria. The empire smashed the coalition, all but destroying Israel, and though Judah survived, the southern kingdom became a vassal nation subject to its protector Assyria.

In Proverbs 24:10 (NIV) we read: If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength. Or as the Message puts it: If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn’t much to you in the first place. Remember the lesson from Isaiah: Faith isn’t faith until it’s tested.

You might be surprised what you and God can handle.

Have you ever gone through hard times where you were sustained by faith you didn’t even know you had?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Day 209: Isaiah 4, 5 and 6

Judge between me and my vineyard. (Isaiah 5:3)

In yesterday’s reading Isaiah contrasts Judah, who doesn’t have the sense to know it owes its sustenance to God, with a donkey who at least knows it can trust his master for food and water. In chapter five, the writer describes Judah using the metaphor of a well tended vineyard that nonetheless refuses to produce grapes.

The prophet speaks in the name of God the conseqence for the vineyard’s failure: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled (5:5).

The Book of Isaiah is full of judgment and consequence, but one of the keys to understanding Isaiah is to look beyond the judgment. God certainly does. According to Walter Brueggemann: The harsh judgments announced by the prophet are roughly matched by promises . . . that after the judgment of YHWH upon the city, there will be a renewal and restoration. That renewal and restoration does not in any way soften or diminish the judgment to come, but asserts that judgment is not the ultimate prophetic word to YHWH’s city. [1]

If you’ve ever suffered the consequences of bad decisions and thought, That’s it; life as I know it is over; then you need to hear the message of Isaiah. There are definitely consequences to our bad choices, but there is also hope that transcends those consequences.

What consequences have you suffered and then lived to tell about?

[1] Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 161.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Day 208: Isaiah 1, 2 and 3

The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know. (Isaiah 1:3)

In the Hebrew Bible the book of Isaiah follows right after Kings. Both concern themselves with the final days of Jerusalem. [1] There was a repeating history in Israel and Judah of unfaithfulness to Yahweh – specifically breaking the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).

Isaiah’s first 12 chapters seem to focus on the prophet’s interaction with Ahaz, king from approximately 735 to 715 BC. Read about Ahaz in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28. During the reign of Ahaz, Judah was the whipping boy of Aram, Israel and Edom. Rather than cry out to God for help, Ahaz used the treasures of the temple and bribed the king of Assyria to rescue him. At that time Ahaz began worshiping Assyria’s gods, adding them to his stable of gods from other nations.

Ahaz replicated Assyria’s altar for burnt offerings and placed it in Jerusalem’s temple. The bronze altar built by Solomon many generations earlier was moved aside – out of the way – and used for fortune telling. Isaiah puts it plain: Even dumb farmyard animals are smart enough to know where their food comes from, but not Israel. Ahaz doesn’t even know which side his bread is buttered on.

Have you ever been tempted to throw aside your faith in God? How’d that work out for you?

[1] Thoughts informed by Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day 207: Song of Songs 5, 6, 7 and 8

What shall we do for our sister for the day she is spoken for? (Song of Songs 8:8)

Here the writer explores the role of family in helping the young develop healthy sexual attitudes and boundaries. Keeping in mind Shulamith’s repeating charge: Do not awaken love until the time is right (2:7), we have a foundation from which to interpret 8:8-12.

The speaker has changed. Now we have the older siblings of a young woman asking how they can protect their little sister: If she is a wall, we will build towers of silver on her. If she is a door, we will enclose her with panels of cedar (v. 9). The poetically blunt message here is that walls keep people out and doors let people in. If our sister has good judgment and maintains healthy boundaries with boys, then we will reward her with praise. But if she is promiscuous and acts more like a door than a wall, then we will be her wall. We will protect her until such time as she is able to make better choices.

The message of verses 11 and 12 is clear. Solomon owns many vineyards and they are his; he can buy or sell as he pleases. Shulamith uses poetic language to say she has a vineyard as well. Regardless of Solomon’s wealth and power, she alone is steward over her own sexuality.

How can you help the children and teenagers in your life develop healthy sexual boundaries?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Day 206: Song of Songs 1, 2, 3 and 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 options.

In the 1970s, Joseph Dillow wrote a great book called Solomon on Sex – The Biblical Guide to Married Love. He focuses on this repeating verse as the key to unlocking this work of Old Testament wisdom literature. [1]

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 delightfully expounded as in this biblical text, and nowhere can that relationship be expressed as beautifully as within the freedom of marriage.

How cool is that?

[1] Joseph C. Dillow, Solomon On Sex (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1977).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 205: Ecclesiastes 10, 11 and 12

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

In the Gospel according to Ian Flemming we are introduced to Apostle Bond… James Bond. Bond has so many qualities that make him uniquely 007, but the one most crucial to his survival is that he never hesitates. He sees an opportunity and he acts. I think of Pierce Brosnan jumping off the hydroelectric dam and skydiving into the cockpit of a freefalling small plane, taking the controls and flying himself to safety (GoldenEye, 1995). Or there was the time Roger Moore had to escape in the everglades from the henchman’s lair surrounded by alligator infested waters. He simply ran across the pond stepping on the backs of each alligator in turn until he was safely across (Live and Let Die, 1973).

If that was me, I’d stand there having a debate with myself. “Should I go now? No. Maybe now? No.” And I’d wind up with a bullet in my back before I even made up my mind!

I had no idea the preacher of Ecclesiastes was a 007 fan, but apparently he was. He taught that it was better to seize and opportunity, even if it’s less than perfect, than to wait for perfect conditions 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 the perfect opportunity? And did that perfect opportunity come? Probably not.

What are you waiting for?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Day 204: Ecclesiastes 7, 8 and 9

Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you   atmay 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 strain our ears listening for someone to praise us, we might just hear someone maligning us instead. 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.

Reminds me of a pastor I know who had just finished preaching and was standing at the back door shaking hands. Several people told him they enjoyed the sermon, and he was rather enjoying it. Then a man walked up and asked, Is that the best you can do?

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 (v. 22).

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 guaranteed to hear something that hurts your feelings. And face it: There’s only one opinion that really counts.

Who are you listening to?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day 203: Ecclesiastes 4, 5 and 6

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

My truck is 13 years old with 180,000+ miles. It probably wasn’t the truck I would have picked out for myself, but the friend I bought it from needed a break. Now I can honestly say I love it – best vehicle I've ever owned.

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

When I bought my truck, my kids Ben and Will were 9 and 6. Now they're 20 and 17. The three of us fit in the cab a lot easier then than we do now. Picture eyes bugged out, and elbows digging into ribs.

Here's my point. I'm content with my pick-up. Until, that is, I see a TV commercial for a flashy new car or truck... or I drive past the dealership... or I see a new vehicle in my neighbor’s driveway. Then my contentment evaporates and I desperately need a NEW CAR!!! One moment I'm not even thinking about a new car; next minute that's all I can think about. What was sufficient is no longer good enough; it's all about keeping up with the Joneses.

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

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Day 202: Ecclesiastes 1, 2 and 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 by some as proof that not only are we God's creation, but also that something glorious waits for us beyond the grave. 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 designed to touch God. We settle for a paycheck when we were intended to transform our culture. We sit on the couch when we should be out storming the gates of hell. We are satisfied with just getting by when we were destined for glory.

This is not to suggest that I should strive to be someone I'm not, but that I have been tasked with being the very best me I can be. There is a well known story told by Rabbi Zusya, and early Hasidic rabbi. He said, "In the world to come God will not ask me, 'Zusya, why were you not Moses?' He will ask, 'Zusya, why were you not Zusya?' "

When we become the person God designed us to be and cooperate with him to accomplish great things, there is nothing which we cannot achieve.

So how are you, the person God designed you to be, going to change the world this week?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Day 201: Proverbs 28, 29, 30 and 31

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8).

Why is it so easy to stand by and do nothing? Is it apathy? …cowardice? …assuming that someone else will step up? The ultimate example of this is Kitty Genovese, the 28-year old New York City woman who was stabbed to death right outside her apartment building in 1964. Her extended attack lasted over 30 minutes, but neighbors (by popular report up to 38 of them knew something bad was going on) huddled indoors and did nothing. Ten years later, a woman was beaten to death in an adjacent building while again neighbors heard screams, but did nothing to help [1].

Those are extreme cases, and it’s easy to read about them and assure ourselves we would behave differently. Yet Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan informs us that this is not just a 20th/21st century phenomenon. It’s part of who we are as human beings. In every city, there are those who have no voice and need someone to speak in their defense.

Who will speak up for the poor? Who will speak up for the victim of crime? Who will speak up for the abused? Who will speak up for the indebted? Who will speak up for the hungry? Who will speak up for the addicted? Who will speak up for the enslaved?

The only thing needed for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing. – Edmund Burke

For whom should you be speaking up?

[1] Rorschach of Watchmen (both a 1985 graphic novel and 2009 film), is a regular guy, motivated to don a costume and fight crime by Ms. Genovese's murder.

NOTE: Does anyone besides me wonder when comic books became graphic novels?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 200: Proverbs 25, 26 and 27

He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit (Proverbs 27:18).

A newly planted fig tree takes a few years to produce. Jesus told a parable about a farmer who had invested three years in a fig tree without harvesting any figs. He was fed up and decided to dig up the tree and plant something else. His caretaker convinced him to leave the tree one more year, during which time he would fertilize it and try to salvage the tree. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down (Luke 13:9).

Good things are worth waiting for. I’ve seen microwave ovens, but as of yet I have never seen a microwave farm. The farmer cultivates the ground, plants the seed, and provides the plants with just the right amount of fertilizer and water. Then he waits. In time, the farmer will enjoy the fruits of his labor… literally.

Reminds me of the old man who told his grandson he was going to plant an oak tree after lunch. The grandson scoffed, saying such a tree would take decades to reach maturity. The grandfather responded, "Then I'd better plant it this morning."

What good thing would you like to enjoy at the end of the growing season? A succulent apple? A better marriage? A college degree? A financially comfortable retirement? An intimate walk with God? Better plant now.

What would you like to enjoy a few months (or years) down the road?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 199: Proverbs 22, 23 and 24

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13)

This proverb illustrates one character flaw common to many of us. We’re good at making excuses for playing it safe. I golfed with a friend in Washington who made an excuse for every bad shot… and he hit a lot of bad shots. I hit bad shots too. Know why? Because I’m not a very good golfer! My friend was making excuses for trying and failing. Notice the subject of this proverb is making excuses for not even trying! If I go out in the streets I may get mauled by a lion! Maybe I’d better just stay in bed with the covers pulled up over my head. Better safe than sorry.

That’s just sad! But I’ve done it, and I bet you have too. If I make the wrong choice, things won’t work out the way I want. If I try out for the team, I might not make it. If I make this change, even though it’s necessary, I might offend someone. Better safe than sorry.

In Jesus’ words, this is tantamount to wrapping our talent in a cloth and burying it in the back yard (Matthew 25:14-30). When I was a teenager there was a popular inspirational poster picturing a sailing ship on the ocean. The caption read: A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

What were you made for?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 198; Proverbs 19, 20 and 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 mouth, the wise person listens more than he/she talks. Personally, I have more often regretted speaking than holding my tongue. Proverbs 13:36 reads: Opening your mouth can ruin everything (NLT). 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 us, but on 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. God knows this is not a battle we’re going to win on our own. Thankfully he 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?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Day 197: Proverbs 16, 17 and 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. Are the ideas of God’s plan and man’s free will compatible? If so, how does that work? What's the balance between God's sovereignty and our freedom to choose?

Have you ever started down one path only to end up somewhere completely different? How could I have known when I started taking piano lessons at age nine in Erie, Pennsylvania that it would one day result in me being a pastor in the Pacific Northwest? And I know God isn’t finished with me yet. 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 directed us to this time and place to fulfill his purpose in our lives.

Some would say, Okay, then God's predetermined 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?

How has God brought you here?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Day 196: Proverbs 13, 14 and 15

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

Among the prophets' repeated complaints against Israel/Judah was their 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 is found the lifeblood of the innocent poor (Jeremiah 2:34). They oppress the poor and needy (Ezekiel 22:29). You trample on the poor (NIV 1984, Amos 5:11).

A proverb that really puts things in perspective is 19:17 - Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and they will reward them for what they have done. What a strange thought - to loan something to God. Surely we need not fear God defaulting on his obligations.

And less 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 and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).

In reading the prophets we could almost get the idea we are innocent as long as we have not intentionally oppressed the poor. In reading the whole of Scripture, however, it becomes plain that it is not enough to not hurt others; we must actively work for their benefit, to advocate for our brothers and sisters.

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

What can you do this week to be a friend to the poor?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Day 195: Proverbs 10, 11 and 12

He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed (NIV 1984, Proverbs 11:25).

As a pastor I've preached many funeral services. Thankfully, most of those I've spoken for lived their lives in such a way that it was easy to say good things about them. Unfortunately, a few - by their actions - gave the impression they didn't care what anyone thought or said. What do we want others to say about us after we've gone?

It can be an enlightening exercise to write one's own obituary. My imagined write-up goes something like this: Tim was a fully devoted follower of Christ; a loving husband and the best father a man could be; and a committed and effective pastor. What about yours? But don't stop with your pen or word processor? The trick is to then live a life that makes that self-written obituary fitting and true.

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 benefit us or to haunt us.

Although Jesus was talking about being judgmental when he said, With the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:2), it certainly seems like there are plenty of behaviors to which that would also apply. Wow! It's my choice!

With the measure I use, it will be measured to me. I get to choose. Just a few verses earlier, Proverbs  11:17 reads: Those who are kind benefit themselves.

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

Day 194: Proverbs 7, 8 and 9

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

Yesterday our 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 temptation'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, as Believers, 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 a hostile and ungodly world, we'd better have a plan. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, offers us this: 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).

No, it's not an even playing field, but that doesn't mean we're done for. For sin shall no longer be your master (Romans 6:14).

She seduced him with her smooth talk. One place to start might be, Don't listen! Give the enemy and inch and you'll wake up filled with remorse and wondering, "What happened?"

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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Day 193: Proverbs 4, 5 and 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 subject of consequences… the way things can come back to haunt us when we’re not looking. In fact, the writers warn that if we indulge in certain behaviors, we should expect them to backfire on us. Biblical scholars call it retribution theology. Do right and be blessed; do wrong and be cursed (if that sounds like Deuteronomy, that’s because Deuteronomy is where it got its start). This will come up repeatedly in our study of Proverbs because Proverbs is built on the foundation of retribution theology. 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.

And while we’ve learned that being an honorable person is no guarantee that trouble won’t find us (bad things do happen to good people), if we indulge in certain behaviors, aren’t we just asking for it?

If I dig a pit, doesn’t it serve me right if I fall in? If I tease a barking dog, should it come as any surprise when I get bitten? If I walk on hot coals, shouldn’t I expect to get burned?

And if I open the door to sexual temptation, why would I play the victim card when I get caught? A man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself (v. 32).

Are you playing with fire in any part of your life?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Day 192: Proverbs 1, 2 and 3

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. (Proverbs 3:27)

Jesus said: Do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12). There were lots of similar teachings from Jewish rabbis and even from other religions, but they were always posed in the negative. Rabbi Hillel said: What is hateful to yourself, do to no other. Confucius put it like this: What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others. In Greece, Epictetus stated: What you avoid suffering yourselves, seek not to inflict upon others. [1]

William Barclay points out that there is a big difference between withholding harm and doing good. The priest and the Levite did no harm to the mugging victim on the Jericho road, but they didn’t help him either. Only the Samaritan offered first aid, transported him to the hospital and paid his bill (Luke 10:25-37).

Anyone can refrain from doing wrong to others, but to go out of our way to help someone? That’s the difference that Christ brings to our lives and our world.

Who needs your help this week?

[1] William Barclay, Matthew, “The Daily Study Bible,” rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 273f.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day 191: Psalms 146, 147, 148, 149 and 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? In recent days, we have mourned the passing of several highly regarded celebrities. News of their accomplishments, awards and opulent Iifestyles fill checkout aisle weeklies and TV gossip magazines. It seems clear that our society has embraced the philosophy, He who dies with the most toys wins.

In America, success is measured by looks, prestige, bank accounts, sex appeal, credit scores, possessions, position, power, influence, fame, academic degrees, accomplishments and the like.

Who would have guessed God's formula for measuring the same could be so simple? He delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

God’s definition of success has nothing to do with our typically shallow way of looking at life. Rather, real success is being written in the lives of people who honor God, and who put their faith and hope in him.

How does your life tell the story of success?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Day 190: Psalms 141, 142, 143, 144 and 145

Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil. (Psalm 141:4)

In The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), Jesus instructs his disciples to pray, Lead us not into temptation (v. 13). This is a confusing thing for us to be asked because we know God does not tempt us. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed (James 1:13,14). Also, it is unrealistic to ask that we never be tempted, for everyone faces temptation.

New Testament scholars Douglas Hare and John Stott help us understand what this prayer is asking. Hare asserts that what we really mean is this: Give us strength to resist temptation. [1] And Stott says verse 13 might better be interpreted: Do not allow us to be so led into temptation that it overwhelms us, but rescue us from the evil one. [2]

David knew we don’t need anyone to tempt us. As the title of Tyler Perry’s 2009 film states: I Can Do Bad All by Myself. We don’t need anyone’s help to get into trouble, but we sure need God’s help to avoid it. It seems like David would agree.

What temptation is enticing you this week?

[1] Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, “Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox, 1993), 70.

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon On the Mount (Downers Grove: IVP, 1978), 150.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Day 189: Psalms 137, 138, 139 and 140

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23,24)

The writer of Psalm 139 affirms his devotion to God and his enmity with those who scheme against God. It may be that he himself has been wrongfully accused, the focus of gossip and innuendo or even an illegitimate investigation.

First he explores God’s all encompassing presence. Where can I go that you cannot find me? Where can I run that you can’t get there first? Then he reflects on the creative act and how well-known he is to his Maker. You know me better than I know myself.

Perhaps the gist of his prayer is this: God, you formed me; you’ve known me from the start. You’ve seen my actions and the motives behind them. You know the accusations against me. I need to know if I have any culpability in this situation. Search me, try me; see if there be any wicked way in me, so I can confess my sin to you and find the path to life everlasting.

When’s the last time you asked God to shine his spotlight on the hidden places of your life?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 188: Psalms 133, 134, 135 and 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1)

The 136th Psalm is a beautiful testimony to God’s provision and protection. He is Creator, Deliverer and Redeemer. He alone can and will save his people; and we need never fear being forgotten. To the one who remembers us in our low estate (v. 23).

When Judah marched out against the combined armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mt. Seir during the reign of Jehoshaphat, the battle plan included singing praises to God. The choir, walking point, sang: Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever (2 Chronicles 20:21).

It was in facing a seemingly invincible enemy that the people of Judah needed to be reminded of God’s salvation. Psalm 136 may be the full text of their worship hymn.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.

Are you facing a battle this week?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Day 187: Psalms 129, 130, 131 and 132

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

It's no fun living under constant scrutiny, someone keeping score of all our missteps and every time we break the rules. And yet many have the impression that the Christian life is exactly like that, walking a tightrope between acceptance and rejection - with no net.

Who would want to live under condemnation for every bad choice 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).

And anyone who has experienced the reality of grace cannot possibly withhold grace from others.

Is there anyone you need to let off the hook?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day 186: Psalms 125, 126, 127 and 128

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. (Psalm 125:2)

This was one of the Songs of Ascent – Psalms 120 through 134 – fifteen psalms sung by worshipers making their way to the temple in Jerusalem. They may have been sung along the road during their pilgrimage, or as they were actually climbing the temple steps.

Portland, Oregon is in the Willamette Valley, one of the most fertile farming areas in the country. To the west I can see the Coast Range that separates us from the Pacific, and to the east rises Mt. Hood in the Cascades. While the ocean moderates our temperatures, the mountains protect our valley, giving it a long growing season and warmer climate than one might expect. And it doesn't hurt that our glacial and volcanic soil is a half mile thick in places. From berries to hazelnuts to hops to grass seed to wines to nursery stock; it all thrives here.

Jerusalem was itself built on a raised elevation (Zion sits at about 2,500 feet above sea level) and is surrounded by low mountains, which afforded a great measure of protection should an enemy attack. The climb from Jericho to Jerusalem (about 23 miles) was over 3,000 feet. As pilgrims traveled by foot, ascending the incline to the spiritual and political capital of Judah, they would no doubt look around at the sheltering mountains, and this psalm would remind them, Just as these mountains surround and protect Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds and protects his people.

Have you acknowledged God’s care and protection this week?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Day 185: Psalms 120, 121, 122, 123 and 124

What if the Lord had not been on our side? (GNT, Psalm 124:1)

What a powerful thought! How many times have I asked God (at least in my subconscious), Where were you when I needed you? It's easy to assume that if things don't go the way we want, then God must have abandoned us, or at least taken the afternoon off.

The truth is we only see what happened, not what could have happened. There's no telling how often when things seemed bad, that we were only seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as how bad things could have been. What would we have suffered if God had not been on our side?

And to take it a step further, we don't even see everything that did happen – we just see what we can see with our physical eyes. We have no idea what transpired behind the scenes in the spiritual realm on our behalf.

The next time you wonder why God didn't show up, ask instead: What if the Lord had not been on my side?

Have you thanked God lately for the blessings you don’t know about?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Day 184: Psalms 117, 118 and 119

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71)

Here we are graced with a profound and unexpected admission. In his suffering, the writer reaches out to his Maker and, in the process, learns God’s commands. The remarkable thing is that after everything is said and done, the writer acknowledges that suffering has actually turned out to be beneficial in his life. If I hadn’t suffered, I may not have learned your ways.

This is not in any way saying God causes our suffering. Though some would disagree, I do not believe God intentionally brings us harm for the purpose of making us better. I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you (Jeremiah 29:11). The Scriptures make it clear that life holds enough hurts without God adding any to the mix. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34). In this world you will have trouble (John 16:33).

What is true though is that if we bring those hurts to God, and submit to his Lordship, from even the worst days he will bring us good. In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

The next time suffering rears its ugly head, thank God that it doesn’t have to be for nothing.

What is God teaching you this week?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Day 183: Psalms 113, 114, 115 and 116

Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. (Psalm 115:3)

This is one of my favorite psalms. My paraphrase: Our God is in heaven and he does whatever he wants. How cool is that!?

I’m so thankful that what God wants to do is look on me with favor (Luke 2:14). I’m thankful that what God wants is to give me an abundant life (John 10:10). I’m thankful that God wants to have my back when I take a risk for him. (2 Chronicles 16:9). I’m thankful that God wants to make me whole in spirit, soul and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23) 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 cannot do to fulfill his purpose in your life?

What are you believing God for?

[1] Alister McGrath. Christian Theology - An Introduction. 4th ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007, p. 216.

[2] Ibid., p. 217.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day 182: Psalms 109, 110, 111 and 112

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

This is the lament of a man betrayed. Lies, hatred, attacks, accusations, and double-crosses. And a desperate cry to God: Don't you turn away from me too!

He has been wronged; now he cries out for justice. Let an accuser [satan] stand at his right hand (v. 6). This man who is suffering wants his attacker to suffer too. He has never had the opportunity to hear the teaching of Jesus: You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43,44). As George Knight writes: We can understand [his thirst for retribution], but we dare not approve. [1]

In contrast to his plea for a satan to stand at his enemy’s right hand (the place of accusation) [2], we can know, even when God seems silent or distant, that he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him (v. 31). God stands by us not to speak words of accusation, but of love and support.

When was the last time you thought God had forgotten you?

[1] George A. F. Knight. “Psalms – Volume 2.” The Daily Study Bible Series. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 176.

[2] 178.