Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Busy, Busy!

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I am keeping up with the reading. This week, however, is extremely busy. I have to complete writing a six week course on basic apologetics, a Sunday School lesson in Daniel, a couple of sermons, homework for seminary, and attend to other duties...such as going to the Alabama/LSU basketball game Wednesday. If any of you write a devotional/exegetical thought on one of the current readings, let me know and I'll link it!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lord, I Don't Understand

A woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet...But Jesus said to her, "Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Mark 7:25, 27).

Did Jesus really just call that woman a dog? A close examination of the text will reveal that the answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, he did just call her a dog, but not only her, he implied that anyone outside of Israel was a dog. The word is "dogs," not "dog."

Some commentators have tried to soften the blow by pointing out that the word traslated dog is dimunitive, which means that it refers to small dogs or puppies. Gee, thanks Mr. Scholar. That makes is far easier to take. The fact is that Jesus called this woman a dog and indicated that Israel had a privelged place amongst the nations.

So why did the gentle Jesus, Savior of All-Mankind, the non-Respector of Persons, call this woman a dog? Dear Sunday School Teacher, dear Pastor, how will you present this text to your people? Will you soften the blow by dismissing the insult? How will you portray Jesus who makes such a comment?

I have long wondered about this passage, and I do not have a definite answer as to why Jesus spoke this way to this woman. But I have made a few observations about this that have proven helpful in the endeavor to kill the sin of pride.

This woman's daughter has an "unclean spirit." Demons torment people in various ways throughout the New Testament. This doesn't necessarily mean that the woman's daughter's head spun around and that she spewed forth obscenities like the girl on the exorcist. Remember that Jesus once healed a woman who had "a spirit of infirmity" which made her a severe hunchback (Luke13:11-12). This could have manifested itself as a physical problem or a psychological one. The point is that this woman was desperate and feared for the life of her daughter. Jesus Christ was the only one who could help her.

When a person is at the end of their rope, when they are desperate for cure or help, pride takes a backseat to need. The proudest man who goes without bread may beg for it with humility. In the hour of desperation, the proud will overlook insult from one who can provide for the need. If my son were desperately ill, and there were only one person who could save him, that person could call me far worse than "dog" and I would take it with a smile. I would grovel at their feet for help. Whatever it took to arouse their compassion, I would be willing to debase myself to that extent.

Secondly, I know that Jesus spoke no falsehood to this woman. She was far worse than a dog, and so am I. Since when is truth and insult? Should my pride say, "Am I a dog that the Lord should treat me this way?" and thereby refuse the grace that flows from Christ? I am a dog, and I am not worthy to be counted amongst the people of God, and I should be contented even with the crumbs that roll off of Abraham's table.

So I take this passage as an example to remind me to whom I pray and how I ought to ask for the Sovereign King's mercy. I come as one unworthy of attention. I come as one who is desperate and pitiful. I can make no demands from Christ Jesus; I can only trust to His compassion towards sinners. I pray to Him as if my son's life depends upon it, for it does. I pray to Him as if my world would stop, my wife would leave, my church would fail, my friends would perish, and my life might depart if He forgot this dog for even a moment.

I do not know why the Lord spoke to this woman in this way. It could be the exact words she needed to her to bring her to faith. It could have been as an example to His disciples of the faith and humility of those outside Israel. I am not privy to the Lord's motivation and secret will. I only know that when I, the sinful dog that I am, entreat my Master for crumbs He gives me a whole loaf; that this sojourner and illegitimate son has been given a name and a home; that instead of watching the feast as an outsider, I sit in the heavenly places at the right hand of God as a son and co-heir of glory.

If only I were a dog and not a sinful man, my guilt before the Lord would not have been so great and the Christ would not have had to give His back to the scoffers for my sake. Yet He chose to bear the iniquity of one worse than any mongrel when He suffered for me. I say with Isaac Watts (In his original words):

Alas! And did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?

(Modern hymnbooks exchanged "worm" for "sinner," ironically, it is worse to be sinner than worm. It will be more tolerable for worms in the judgment than for wicked, unrepentant sinners.) I am not, in the end, insulted as Jesus' words to this woman. I rejoice. I rejoice that His words brought about this response, and I rejoice in the truth that He cared for the dogs of this world enough to make them Sons and Daughters of God.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Which is Easier?

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven you," or to say, "Arise, take up your bed and walk?" (Mark 2:9)

I long for the miraculous as much as any charismaniac at a Benny Hinn crusade. Truly, I do. The thought of the miraculous work of God in the lives of people consumes my thoughts and fuels my dreams. When I consider the words of Isaiah, "Oh, that You would rend the heavens!That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence," I find a heart that shares my longing (Isaiah 64:1).

I am the personal recipient of a bona fide miracle, and it is this experience which began my hope of seeing it manifest in others. The miracle I have experienced is the forgiveness of sin through the power of Christ, and I have it on good authority that this is more astounding than if I had been restored from being paralyzed.

In our day of spiritual hucksters, hirelings, deceivers, displayed crutches, empty wheelchairs, and forehead slappers, one might get the idea that the greatest miracle is good health. And while I do pray for God to work wonders in the bodies of the sick, I pray far more fervently for Him to work wonders in their souls.

Jesus offended a group of men in Mark 2 by declaring the sins of the paralytic man to be forgiven. Sensing their dismay at such a pronouncement, he asked them which is easier, to forgive sins or to heal the lame? The answer is it is far, far more difficult to forgive sins. So why are we so intent to persue the lesser miracle of health for our family and friends? Why are our prayer request lists at church filled with prayers for physical healing and not with cries for God's mercy? Give me a hundred lame men with new hearts over two hundred strong legs with dead spirits any day!

So if you feel today like a "lesser" Christian because you have been duped into believing that the miraculous consists of salvation from near death experience, tongue-talking, or personal revelation from internal whisperings, think again. If you have been born-again, you are the recipient of a miracle of the highest proportion. The angels celebrate your miraculous recovery from death and your unbelievable avoidance of God's wrath...a wrath that swept away one-third of their kin without mercy. Yet you have been spared.

I hope that today you long for the miraculous. I pray that you may have the assurance that, by faith, these words have been spoken over you, "Son/daughter, your sins are forgiven you." Father, show us your glory!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Life of Brad

This is not a devotional post, and it has no Biblical commentary. I've decided to occassionally post on the weird thoughts and experiences I have between devotional writings. So, here' the latest.

My son is potty training, and I'm afraid that it isn't going as well as I'd hoped. For some reason, he prefers poop in his pants more than poop in the potty. But that's not really a dilemma. We'll get past that.

The problem I have now is that he mostly pee-pees in the potty. That means that there are often small quantities of pee in the diaper I have to take off of him to sit him on the potty. And, by the way, the kid goes to pee on the potty around 15 times a day because every time he squeezes a drop I give him a Smartie for his trouble. So here's the deal: What am I supposed to do with this semi-wet diaper?

Instead of getting cheaper, this potty training is actually costing me more money in diapers because I feel bad about putting a semi-wet diaper on my kid. Most parents know that the average Huggie will hold about 2 lbs of water before you have to change it. Once it's sagging to the knees, its time for another one. But once I've actually seen the wetness and have taken the trouble of removing the diaper, I feel obligated to put a clean one back on even though the one I removed is still good for another 1 and 3/4 pounds.

So now, instead of going through 6 diapers a day, we're using 20. Am I being a cheap-skate by wanting to put the old diaper back on? There's only a teaspoon of tee-tee in there, after all, and the thing is good for nearly a quart. Has anyone else had this dilemma?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Cry of the Foolish Heart

The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, No, not one (Psalm 14:1-3).

I have too often seen Psalm 14:1 applied only to the atheist. If I'm not mistaken, one snide bumper sticker calls April 1st "National Atheist Day" in reference to Psalm 14:1. Such an understanding does violence to the meaning of this Scripture in two ways: (1) It gives the impression that this verse was written to atheists exclusively, (2) It puffs up pride to believe that this verse does not speak about the "Christian" person flaunting the bumper sticker.

In truth, this verse and chapter speaks to anyone who says in their heart that their is no Elohim. In other words, they are denying the God of Israel, not that there is/are no God/gods period. In recognizing this, and by looking closely at the Psalmists application, we find, to our shame, that each and every one of us fit into this category.

Notice the words of the Psalmist: "There is none who does good...They have all turned aside...There is none who does good, No, not one." Will our pride allow us to see ourselves in the category of those who deny the God of Israel? Paul says that this is our condition, and he uses this Psalm to demonstrate our depravity before God in Romans 2:10-18.

Friend of God, don't you see that every time you sin you functionally profess that there is no God of Israel who takes note of every deed done in the flesh? Isn't it important to understand that when we linger over an underwear advertisement to lust, or dishonor someone with our lips, or covet possessions with our eyes that our heart is pretending that there is no God to whom we must give an account?

In a terrible irony, this very pride is the same pride that moves us to gloat over the atheist when we paste such rubbish on our bumpers. Can't you see the smugness of thinking that calling April 1st National Atheist Day puts the atheist in his place? Can't we see the self-righteousness of believing that God's rebuke to us is really a rebuke to someone else? How miserable we are in our folly.

So what can we say to such an indictment? We say what the Psalmist said. "Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!" Oh, that God would continue to deliver a prideful worm like me from the clutches of my own delusions of granduer. And don't forget to look at the words of Paul again, and to feel their power deeply. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith" (Romans 3:23-25). Salvation has come from God in Jesus Christ. May our foolish hearts cry to Him for rescue from sin.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Destiny is Not an Ugly Word

Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, "Please let down your pitcher that I may drink," and she says, "Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink"--let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac...And it happened, before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her pitcher on her shoulder..." (Genesis 24:14-15).

You, dear reader, have a destiny. You will either become an abomination so hideous that you will only be fit for hell's fury, or you will become an object of such beauty that if we could see you in such splendor now, the rest of us would be tempted to fall down and worship you. Such was the assessment of C.S. Lewis, and I agree with him. And though your destiny is firmer than concrete, all of your eternity hinges on your response to the good news of the resurrection of the sin-bearer, Jesus Christ.

I have no doubt that God ordained the very moment that Rebekah would leave her home carrying that pitcher to the well. I have no doubt that God gave Abraham's servant a willing and obedient heart to faithfully fulfill his task; he knew the servant's prayer and thoughts before he uttered them. I have no doubt that God knew that Rebekah would return to Canaan with Abraham's servant, and thereby become the grandmother of all Israel. Does your knowing that God orchestrated these events ruin the romance and surprise of the story? It certainly doesn't for me. I rejoiced again as I read it this morning, and I have known the ending for years.

The reason is because the characters do not know the end, and they have real decisions to make. The servant doubts that the woman will return with him to Canaan (Gen. 24:5). He wonders if God will make his mission succesful (24:14). Rebekah has to choose for herself whether or not she will immediately return with the servant (24:57-58). She was certainly anxious, as was the servant, as was Abraham, and probably Isaac as well. But the servant and Rebekah obeyed and went in faith, and God granted the success that He had ordained from the foundation of the world.

The Master of All Lives is a compelling story teller, and He moves the drama forward with such faithless characters. He leads them in mysterious and inscrutable ways so that they are a real part of the drama. I try to imagine what joy must have been felt by Isaac, the servant, and Rebekah when they first met there in that field. I wonder how much it rejoiced the heart of God for this day to come to pass.

The story of the righteous did not end in Genesis; it continues to this day. God is crafting us into something of beauty, if only we will believe and follow. The story of God's faithfulness in your life is, I am certain, filled with drama, romance, and failure, all upheld by a powerful and loving God. We can be certain that there is always such a happy ending for the faithful, and that even though your life may seem dull and uneventful to you, for the heavenly perspective it is filled with grace and glory. I look forward to meeting you at the end of this journey and hearing the path through which the Savior brought you. There is a seat at the Master's banquet for you, beloved. It is our destiny to be there, to know each other, and to adore the King of Kings.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Abram the Fearful

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." But Abram said, "Lord GOD, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (Gen. 15:1-2)

I am so very thankful for the Bible's honest portrayal of our forefathers in the faith. I am encouraged to know that I am not the only one who has ever doubted or been depressed because of my weak faith.

This passage comes on the heels of Abram's insult to the King of Sodom and his war-making with his neighbors. Perhaps this caused Abram to be doubtful and to fear reprisal. Maybe not. But for some reason, the Lord God visited His servant to encourage him, and to remind him that He protected Abram as a shield. God's reassurance of His kindness towards Abram provokes a very human, and somewhat startling response. Abram questions God.

I also love the mercy that God has for us frail and doubting creatures. The Lord doesn't scold Abram here; He patiently repeats Himself. Abram cries, "Lord! You've given me no heir!" The Lord replies, "Count the stars if you are able to number them...So shall your descendants be" (15:5). This isn't new revelation. God doesn't have to conjure new promises to satisfy a doubting heart. He can gently remind us of the atounding promises that He has already made. Only three short chapters ago, the Lord promised "I will make you a great nation" and "To your seed I will give this land" (12:2,7). There's nothing new in chapter 15, only a reminder that our God never forgets a promise made.

But what good is a promise if the one who promises is not able to deliver the goods? God promises to provide; does He have the resources to do so? God promises to be with us to the end; can He see us all the time? He promises to answer our prayers; can He hear us when we call?

In His compassion, God does not forget that we are slow to believe and easily discouraged. Here in this text, He not only reminds Abram of the promises He has made; He reminds Him of who made them. "I am your Shield...I am your reward...I am the LORD...I brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to inherit it."

So the LORD has promised, the Great I AM. Yet Abram still doubts.

"Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?" (15:8).

Abram wants assurance that is soul-deep. He wants to be able to see the light in the valley of shadow. He believes, but he wants help for his unbelief! Still, God is patient with His servant. He gives Him a sign. He appears to Abram as a smoking over and a burning torch. The Lord promises, again, that He will give to Abram all that He has promised.

Are you down and depressed? I believe that you may find a cure in God's promises. What has the Lord promised to those who believe like Abram? Here are a few for you to delight in:

"To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7).

"Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).

"He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels" (Rev. 3:5).

You and I both know that these hardly scratch the surface. As I reflect upon these promises, I rejoice over who it is that has made such promises. He is the LORD, and nothing is too hard for Him. Who does the Lord say that He is? How has He been faithful to you in the past?

Finally, I find that we have an assurance greater than Abram. We have the wonderful privilege of the the indwelling Holy Spirit. As we read the Word of God and the promises contained therein, the gentle Comforter whispers to us that all the promises of God are "Yes and Amen" through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). He reminds us that this isn't a wonderful dream from which we will wake disappointed, but that we are truly and wholly sons and daughters of the Living God (Romans 8:16).

Thank God that He is so kind to us that He patiently reiterates His promises and character to us as often as we need it. Thank God that for every doubt and worry we have, He has a promise and a hope that can lift us from despair to exceeding joy if we will only linger over them and meditate upon His greatness.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Not One Sandal Strap

I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, "I have made Abram rich."

The temptation to curry favor with the powerful can ruin us. For those who have youngsters, it is a constant source of concern that your children will "fall in with" the wrong crowd. We pray that our children will not compromise the principles which we have taught them in order to impress their peers and thereby, gain reputation.

How often we fall short in this area. Instead of refusing favor and riches as Abram did, we compromise for the sake of "peace" and ease. We treat people differently according to their status and their ability to reward us with their favor. As a pastor, this temptation is particularly evident. Do we treat the poor church member the same as the one who has money? Do we treat those with little influence the same as we do those who hold sway? Would we come down more quickly and more harshly on the lesser brother for a sin we might overlook in others? Sadly, I believe that we do.

This passage represents, amongst other things, Abram's unwillingness to have others take credit for what God has promised to do. God promised to make Abram great, and at the end of the day, Abram wanted God and God alone to be able to take credit for it. His faith informed him that he did not need the King of Sodom's approval or money to help God fulfill the promise which He made to him.

It should not be our desire as Christians to be "self-made men." Nor should we credit only the benevolence of others for who we become. Rather, we should be able to say with Paul, "By the grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). Certainly, Paul became who he was with the help of Barnabas, but Barnabas helped Paul for the glory of God. A sincere brother reaching out a helping hand in the Name of the Lord is different than one who helps in order to puff up his own pride or to hold us as debtors. May we all trust God to make a name for us, and may we never seek to help Him out through a means that would compromise our witness or His fame.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Making a Name for Ourselves

Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scatterd abroad over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4).

You may remember this story from your early days in Sunday School. I still remember thinking that the point of this story was that these people were trying to build a tower that went into heaven, and that God had to hurry and stop them to keep them from invading. (Just to let you know, the word translated "heavens" is also the word for "sky." They were just building a tower whose top was in the sky.)

Instead of an invasion, these people simply wanted to make a name for themselves. They wanted to be "somebodies." They wanted others to marvel at what they had accomplished and to heap glory and honor on them for it. Isn't this the natural tendency of our heart? Isn't this partly why we blog?

The problem with attempting to build a name for ourselves is that it is a malfunction. We were not made to make a name for ourselves. We were made to make much of God. Instead of wishing to have our own egos exalted, we are to labor to exalt the name of Christ. I wonder if we ever do anything completely selflessly for the glory of Christ. I wonder if in every work we do there isn't embedded a seed of sinful pride and vainglory. The root of pride is deep, often subtle, and quite difficult to eradicate.

I used the example of blogging because I find this desire to build a name for myself in my efforts here. I cannot honestly say that I blog for the pure motive of exalting Jesus Christ and for the encouragement of others. Part of me wishes to display my literary genius. (Doesn't everyone with a blog think that they are a genius on any topic that they tackle?) I know that this is true because I feel envy when my work does not match the work of others. And I demonstrate my vanity by ceaselessly checking my site meter for visits. I am not so different from those people at Babel. Are you?

The irony of the story is that God did build a name for one of those early people. He did not honor them for their efforts, but rather for the sake of His promise. That man was Shem. Did you know that Shem's name in Hebrew literally means "Name"? The people of Babel said, "Let us make a "shem" for ourselves." But they failed. God confounded their efforts. Verse ten says, "This is the genealogy of 'Name'." Then it lists Shem's genealogy. Shem was the forefather of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was the father of Judah, the forefather of David, and ultimately, the forefather of the Lord Jesus Christ. Shem inherited the promise of the Messiah, and so he inherited glory based on God's kindness and mercy.

If we wish to be great, the Lord Jesus have given us the formula. We must love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We must love our neighbor as ourselves. We must love one another as Christ loved us. We must humble ourselves like little children, and we must be the slaves of all men. May God build for us a name like He did for Shem and his house, and may we cease our vain and selfish efforts at self-promotion. "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Change in Format

As those who are left may have noticed, I have not been blogging much of late. Life has gotten progressively more busy, and I don't have the energy for the sort of output I used to have.

So, I have decided to change what I do here. Instead of being completely random, I'm going to try and blog with purpose and with a plan. You probably pop in here to read when you can catch a break, or when you should be doing something else. I understand that. My goal is to provide something for you in those moments that may help you during the day.

So, starting tomorrow, this blog will be dedicated to short devotional thoughts on Scripture. I will share things that occur to me during my quiet time of reading the Bible and meditating on its words. I will share the Scripture (or at least a portion of it if its too lengthy) and some of my thoughts, and I will try to keep them short enough for you to read in under 7 minutes. I will be moving through the Bible with the Discpleship Journal Book-at-a-Time Bible Reading Plan. You can download it by clicking the link. Tomorrow I will read Genesis 10-11 and Psalm 4. I will share thoughts on one or both. I hope that you will be encouraged through this, and I hope that some of you will join with me in reading through the Bible this year!