February 24, 2020

Falling short . . . again

Exodus 7; Job 24; Luke 10; 1 Corinthians 11

Luke strings together several stories about Jesus’ activities. In looking for a common thread, several things caught my attention:

First, Jesus sent out workers with instructions: take only the essentials, what to do if people received them, and how to respond to those who rejected their message about the kingdom of God. For the last two, He said:

“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)

Second, Jesus told His workers not to be too excited about their ability to do what they had been doing. Their challenge to the enemy and their authority over his demons was wonderful but He said to them:

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19–20)

Third, Jesus also spoke to the Holy Spirit about His revelation to His followers. He knew that some knowledge comes by experience, but the knowledge of God and His Son is revealed, and that revelation is not given to everyone:

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Luke 10:21–24)

After that, Jesus then told the familiar story of the good Samaritan to a lawyer who tested him with how to inherit eternal life. Jesus gave this man the two greatest commandments, but this expert in law hedged by asking who the neighbor is that he must love. Jesus made it clear that the love He was talking about was unconditional regardless of the person who receives it. Those who love like this pay no attention to customs, rules, the other person’s status, or any other excuses that would keep them from offering love to everyone, even enemies.

Finally He went to the home of Martha and Mary and Luke tells another familiar story of Martha’s distraction over serving and Mary choosing the “best thing” — to sit at His feet and listen to His teaching.

Reading these raises questions about my own life. Does having people reject or accept me mean that they will do the same with Jesus? Or am I more concerned about being accepted than how they respond to Him?

Do I reject (this word means to separate myself from) those who reject the message God gives me? Or do I get cold toward them because they have not listened to me, making this an issue about me instead of their eternal well-being and their attitude toward Jesus?

Is rejoicing over my salvation far more important than God giving me power over my spiritual enemies? Do I let God-given victories become a reason to boast rather than rejoicing in a salvation that gives me nothing I can boast about? Is my identity in my accomplishments rather than who I am in Christ?

Am I delighted to know Him by revelation — such an amazing gift? Or am I more interested in knowing Him by my experiences, walking by sight rather than by faith?

Can I love my enemies? This is challenging. I know another Christian who is so repulsive physically that I don’t even want to stand near him. I am not loving toward at least one neighbor. Are there others?

Do I choose the best thing? Or does my to-do list keep me from listening and learning from Jesus, from putting myself in a place where His truth is more easily revealed, understood and obeyed?

Application for all this is painfully obvious . . .  

February 23, 2020

We have met the enemy . . .

Exodus 6; Job 23; Luke 9; 1 Corinthians 10

My daughter once said, “I finally figured out what is wrong with the world; everyone is selfish!” I had to agree. Even babies want what they want right now and we know this attitude is hard to outgrow!

My seminary professors took a ‘big picture’ view of the Bible too. They helped me see another universal truth from all four readings in today’s devotional.

Exodus tells of God’s people who were promised deliverance in chapter 4 and worshiped God at this good news, but soon their situation overwhelmed that promise God gave them.

Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (Exodus 6:9)

Moses was told to lead them out, but when they would not listen, he thought the problem was his inability to speak well. God told Him He would do it, but Moses was sidetracked thinking it required more talent than he had:

So the Lord said to Moses, “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” (Exodus 6:10–12)

In Job, this suffering man feels helpless and unable to connect with God. However, he responds a bit better to his situation, at least for a little while. He expresses his frustration with his own inability to connect with God or understand why he was in this trial yet he realized that God knew:

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food. But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. (Job 23:10–14)

In Luke, several incidents show the disciples tended to depend on their own resources. For that, Jesus sends them out without the extras they may have taken, perhaps forcing them to rely on Him. They complained that they didn’t have what it takes to feed 5000 people, as if it was all about their resources, but Jesus took the little food they had and fed the people anyway. He also told them to lose their lives for His sake and never be ashamed of Him, hinting again at their self-focus.

When they could not heal a boy with an unclean spirit, Jesus rebuked them for lack of faith. In another passage He said they neglected to pray for that power. Had they forgotten that without Jesus, they could do nothing?

The inability of self-reliance also showed up in their lack of understanding that Jesus would die. They were so wrapped up in themselves that after He said it, they argued about which of them was the greatest. Jesus had to tell them to be like children, helpless and dependent.

Their focus on the value of “me and mine” again appears in a couple of incidents where they wanted to get rid of those that were doing good but not part of their group and those who rejected Jesus. Luke also tells how Jesus set straight those who wanted to follow Him but gave no thought to what it would cost them. Their ‘me’ focus came out in thinking they had all it takes to do God’s will but Jesus reminded them that serving Him meant giving up what they considered important.

In the Old Testament, God’s people struggled with idol worship. In the NT, the focus on self is our idolatry problem. As 1 Corinthians 10 says,  God’s people experienced His blessing but they indulged themselves in immoral behavior, tested God continually, grumbled about everything, and did not take the way of escape from temptation He provides. These problems still haunt those who follow Jesus. This chapter rebukes those who offer food to idols without realizing the demons behind such activity and giving to them what belongs to God. He warns not to be always seeking my own good instead of the good of others, my own glory instead of the glory of God.

Apply: The comic strip character Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” This not quite what Bible says, but my selfishness is an enemy Satan certainly tries to use for his purposes. If he can get me to make life all about me instead of all about Jesus, then I am worshiping the idol of self. I need to remember that the focus Moses had on himself angered the Lord to the point He gave a large portion of the task to someone else. I also need to remember how He shook Job from his self-focus, and eventually His disciples from their self-dependence — and instead rely on and glorify the Lord.

February 22, 2020

Behind those accusations and trials . . .

Exodus 5; Job 22; Luke 8; 1 Corinthians 9

Satan does not like it when Christians pray in faith and in the will of God. He is sneaky in his attempts to stop those prayers and is often successful by sending trials to sidetrack those who pray. He also uses accusations:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:10)

The enemy’s accusations can come through other people. This morning’s reading in Job shows how strong were the words of accusation thrown at this righteous man:

Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities. For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing and stripped the naked of their clothing. You have given no water to the weary to drink, and you have withheld bread from the hungry. The man with power possessed the land, and the favored man lived in it. You have sent widows away empty, and the arms of the fatherless were crushed. Therefore snares are all around you, and sudden terror overwhelms you, or darkness, so that you cannot see, and a flood of water covers you. (Job 22:5–11)

None of this was true, but coupled with the trial of losing everything, including his health, Job was devastated. On top of that, God did not reveal to him what was behind his losses or those accusations. At this point, he had no idea that his faith was being tested.

Yet faith overcomes accusations. God can even use them to build our faith as we learn to fight the enemy’s lies with what God reveals to be true.

The enemy’s other tactic is to throw trials at God’s people. As I trust Him, a painful or difficult event can challenge my trust. As with accusations, trials may also come to us through other people. When God’s people tried to escape bondage in Egypt, Pharaoh determined to make their lives miserable and keep them from doing what God had planned for them.

Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” (Exodus 5:3–9)

God is wise. He uses trials to build our faith as well:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)

When trials are over, I am a stronger person in my ability to trust God — no matter what is going on. When my sister died and I began praying about the funeral she wanted, a virus left me with a constant cough but I kept praying. Other things happened but the worst was a nosebleed that would not stop. I kept praying, even witnessing to medical people. As soon as the funeral was over (and exceeded above and beyond all my requests) the trials stopped. At least for a little while.

God tells me to not be anxious about trials or accusations, just press on. Let them be part of what forms the life of Christ in me . . .

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)

Apply: Press on. Today, I press on. I nearly caved yesterday, but in the end kept praying. Whatever is in store, God is faithful and will carry me through.