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Showing posts from January, 2019

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A Breach In The Wall
Nehemiah 4:7-18
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father.(1 John 2:16) The 4,000-mile-long Great Wall of China was built to keep out invaders from the north. The first wall was constructed by Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, who lived between 259 and 210 bc. But in ad 1644 the Manchus broke through the Great Wall and overran China. They did this by bribing a general of the Ming dynasty to open the gates. During the reconstruction of ancient Jerusalem, Nehemiah understood the acute danger posed by those who opposed the rebuilding of the city’s ruined walls. So he commanded constant vigilance. Half of the workers were to stand watch while half rebuilt the walls (Neh. 4:13-18). As Christians, we must be vigilant that nothing breaches our spiritual defenses. Even the most mature believer can never afford to let down his guard. The apostle John warns us of enemies from three quarters. He identifies them as “the lust of t…

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Planting Time
Galatians 6:6-10
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. (Gal 6:7) Somewhere in the world right now a farmer is dropping seeds into the ground. Soon those seeds will begin to change the place where they were planted. The carefully prepared soil that appears barren today will become a field ready for harvest. In the same way, New Year’s resolutions can be seeds to alter the landscape of life for others and ourselves. This prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi is a powerful model of this longing to bring positive change in a hurting world: Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. A farmer who sows wheat is never surprised when wheat grows from the ground where it was planted. That’s the universal law of sowing and reaping. Paul used it to ill…

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The Aging Process
Psalm 71:1-24
Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails.(Psalms 71:9) I was having breakfast with a friend who had recently celebrated his 60th birthday. We discussed the “trauma” of the number 6 being the first digit in his age and all that the age of 60 implies (retirement, social security, etc.). We also pondered the fact that he felt so much younger than such a “large” number would seem to indicate. Then the conversation turned to the lessons, joys, and blessings he’d found in living those 60 years, and he said, “You know, it isn’t really that bad. In fact, it’s pretty exciting.” The lessons of the past had brought a change in how he viewed the present. Such is the aging process. We learn from our past in order to live in our present—a lesson reflected on by the psalmist: “For You are my hope, O Lord God; You are my trust from my youth” (Ps. 71:5). He continued, “By You I have been upheld from birth; You are He who took me out…

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Murphy’s Laws
Exodus 20:1-17
You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:3) Murphy’s Laws are observations about life that seem to have the weight of experience behind them. You’ve probably heard this one: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Here’s another one: “You can’t do just one thing; everything has its consequences.” My own experience seems to confirm many of Murphy’s Laws, but it’s that second one that I would hang on the wall as a motto. Wrong choices have their consequences. For example, if we choose to live for pleasure, that will affect our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (Ex. 20:4-5). If we walk away from God, we may discover that our children have taken that trip with us. Later, even if we return to Him, they may not. But there is also good news. Devotion to the Lord has its consequences too. Men and women who live in faith before God can have a strong influence on their children and their children’s children. If they live a long life, they can witnes…

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Prayer Circles
Luke 18:9-14
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.(Luke 18:14) Around the circle the 6th-grade girls went, taking turns praying for each other in the Bible-study group. “Father in heaven,” Anna prayed, “please help Tonya not to be so boy-crazy.” Tonya added with a giggle, “And help Anna to stop acting so horrible in school and bothering other kids.” Then Talia prayed, “Lord, help Tonya to listen to her mother instead of always talking back.” Although the requests were real, the girls seemed to enjoy teasing their friends by pointing out their flaws in front of the others instead of caring about their need for God’s help. Their group leader reminded them about the seriousness of talking to almighty God and the importance of evaluating their own hearts. If we use prayer to point out the faults of others while ignoring our own, we’re like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. He prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as…

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Jesus’ Difficult Words
John 6:44-58
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.(John 6:66) Recently, a company advertised a “huggable, washable, and talking” Jesus doll that recites “actual Scripture verses to introduce children of all ages to the wisdom of the Bible.” Its sayings include, “I have an exciting plan for your life,” and “Your life matters so much to Me.” Who wouldn’t want to follow a Jesus like this? Jesus does offer a wonderful plan for our lives. But He doesn’t serve as a cosmic genie or cuddly doll to meet our every whim. John 6 gives us a picture of a Jesus who is not so cuddly—in fact, He’s often offensive. Instead of fulfilling the selfish desires of His followers, He disturbed their expectations. He offered Himself as spiritual bread from heaven and said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (v.54). This message was offensive and difficult. The image of eating flesh and drinking blood did not give His hearers “war…

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Valuing Others
Luke 19:1-10
The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10) As a young person, John had many things working against him—poverty, a broken home, a violent neighborhood. He skipped school often and was difficult to handle. But when a friend was killed to death, he considered it a wake-up call. Determined to change his life, John worked hard to bring his grades from failing to top marks. Yet the school counselor did not believe in him and told him that no college would accept him. But John proved him wrong. He graduated from college and pursued a career in education. He chose that career because, as he says, “Teachers saw me as a non-entity”—a person of little value. He didn’t want that to happen to others. Jesus views everyone as significant. Zacchaeus was a dishonest tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus could have ignored him, but He saw him in the tree and called him by name. It’s important that Christians acknowledge others as people with value.…

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Saving Ourselves
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.(2 Tim 2:11) Inside, music was playing. Outside, leaves were falling. Catching a gust of wind, one of the last leaves of autumn blew briefly upward as I heard the phrase, “He is risen!” By the end of the song, however, the leaf had reached the ground. Gravity had overcome the breeze. Later, I overheard three middle-aged women discussing diets, exercise, face-lifts, and other age-defying efforts. Like the leaf, they were trying to keep gravity from pulling them toward the inevitable. Their conversation reminds me of the good works people do to try to save themselves from spiritual death. But just as leaves cannot keep from falling and people cannot keep from aging, no one can work hard enough to avoid the consequences of sin, which is death (Rom. 6:23). At the crucifixion, mockers challenged Jesus to save Himself. Instead, He put His life into the hands of God, and God gave back to Him not only His own l…

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Supersize It
Isaiah 6:1-10
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.(Isaiah 6:1)
After you placed your food order at a popular fast food restaurant, the cashiers used to ask that famous question: “Would you like to supersize that?” In essence, they were asking the customers if they wanted more of what they were already getting. In a similar way, when we come into God’s presence, I believe He asks us: “Would you like to enlarge your understanding of Me today?” Isaiah had one such experience with God. Through a painful event in his life, Isaiah saw the Lord “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). Through this encounter, God supersized Isaiah’s understanding of His holiness. He saw God’s complete moral excellence that unifies His attributes. God also enlarged Isaiah’s realization of his own sin (v.5). This led to an expansion of his understanding of God’s complete forgiveness and cleansing (vv.6-7). Only whe…

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The God Of Victory
2 Corinthians 2:14-17
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of victory. Nike fought on the side of the Olympian gods, gaining a victory over the mighty Titans. As a result, she became a symbol of winning. But Nike’s alleged powers were not just limited to warfare. She also became a favorite goddess of athletes who wanted to win in competitive sports. The Romans adopted her into their worship and gave her the Latin name Victoria. In the Greco-Roman world where Paul taught, victory was highly valued. So when he expressed Christian truth, he used words his audience could understand. In his letters, he described Christ as the One who leads us in a military procession of triumph (2 Cor. 2:14-17) and compared the Christian life to someone training for the ancient Olympic games (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Paul also used the word for victory in reference to our struggles with those who intentionally hurt us. “Overc…

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The Perfect Sentence
Exodus 3:13-18
Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11)
From young writing in my diary, my secret ambition was to compose the perfect sentence. I wondered what it would look and sound like. Perhaps it would include a strong verb and colorful adjectives. My pursuit of the perfect sentence will never be satisfied, but I have found a statement of perfection in Exodus 3:14. When the Lord God called Moses from the burning bush, He told him that he had been chosen to bring His people out of bondage in Egypt (v.10). Moses, who was anxious about this responsibility, wondered what to say if the Israelites doubted him and asked who he was representing. The Lord replied, “I AM WHO I AM” (v.14). By using His unique name, He offered Moses a glimpse of the nature of His eternal existence in one sentence. You might say it’s a statement of perfection! Bible commentator G. Bush writes this about God…

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Protocol
James 1:1-8
Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.(James 1:6)
If you were invited to a meeting at the White House with the President of the United States, regardless of your opinion of him or her, you would probably go. Upon entering the White House, a protocol officer would meet you and outline the proper procedures for meeting the President. Suffice it to say, it would be unacceptable to let loose with a burst of undignified familiarity or negative criticism as you shook hands. So it should come as no surprise that God’s Word makes it clear that there is a protocol for entering the presence of God. Hebrews 11:6 outlines one aspect of appropriate interaction: “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” God wants us to be fully devoted to Him—and He takes it personally when our hearts are filled with criticism, unbelief, and doubt. James tells …

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Impossible?
Matthew 5:38-42
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to resist an evil person. (Matthew 5:38-39)
When Nobel Chairman Gunnar John delivered his presentation speech for Martin Luther King’s 1964 Peace Prize, he quoted Jesus: “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39). As Mr. John noted: “It was not because he led a racial minority in their struggle for equality that Martin Luther King achieved fame. . . . [His] name will endure for the way in which he has waged his struggle.” In 1955, King had led a year-long, peaceful boycott to protest segregation on buses. He paid a high price. His home was bombed, and he was assaulted and arrested. He never retaliated. Eventually he was murdered. How contrary Dr. King’s peaceful example stands to my fleshly nature! I want justice now. I want retribution. I want others to pay for their wrongdoing, especially when it’s directed at me. What …

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Wonderfully Made
Psalms 139:7-16
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.(Psalms 139:14) A quote in George MacDonald’s book David Elginbrod speaks to those who wonder, at times, why God has made them the way they are—and who wish they were someone else. Lady Emily muses: “I wish I were you, Margaret.” Margaret answers: “If I were you, my lady, I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of. For to have been thought about—born in God’s thoughts—and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest, most precious thing in all thinking.” MacDonald may have had Psalm 139:17 in mind: “How precious . . . are Your thoughts to me, O God!” In this psalm, David is thinking about his conception, and vividly describes God’s thoughts as He wove him together in his mother’s womb, creating a unique and special individual to be the object of His love. It’s a comforting thought to know that we’re not a terrible mistake, but a very special creatio…

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Brotherhood Of The Sea
Ephesians 2:14-22
Now, therefore, you are . . . fellow citizens with the saints. (Eph 2:19) On August 8, 2005, the world learned of the dramatic rescue of seven Russian sailors trapped in a small sub entangled in a fishing net. The men had survived 3 cold, dark days on the bottom of the ocean and had less than 6 hours of oxygen left. Meanwhile, up above, a frantic, unified rescue effort by Russian, Japanese, British, and American personnel was underway. Finally, the sub was freed. The Russian Defense Minister praised the operation, saying, “We have seen in deeds, not in words, what the brotherhood of the sea means.” The book of Ephesians talks about the unity of believers in Jesus by referring to the oneness of “the household of God” (2:19). The Gentiles, who were once “aliens” and “strangers” (v.12), had now been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (v.13), uniting them with their Jewish brothers and sisters. This unity is to permeate the efforts of the Christian …

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A Sin By Any Other Name Genesis 39:1-9 How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9) Joseph found himself in a difficult position one day when his master’s wife attempted to seduce him. How tantalizing this woman must have been to a healthy young man! And it must have occurred to Joseph how fearsome her wrath would be when he spurned her advances. Yet Joseph flatly resisted her. His moral convictions stemmed from his clear view of sin and his reverence for God. He said to her, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Today, it is popular to call sin by more acceptable names. But using euphemisms for offenses against God will only weaken our resistance and trivialize sin’s harmfulness to us. To Joseph, sin was not just “an error of judgment.” Nor was it a mere “slip of the tongue” or an “indiscretion” in a “moment of weakness.” Joseph saw sin for what it was—a serious offense against the Lord—and he did not play down the grav…

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It’s In God’s Word
Psalms 119:25-32
I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart. (Psalms 119:32) As optimistic as I am (I can find a bright side to just about everything), I also know that life can be a dark and lonely place. I’ve talked to teenagers who have a parent whose anger makes just going home after school a dreaded trip. I’ve known people who can’t escape the curtain of depression. I’ve spent considerable time with others who, like my wife and me, are enduring life with the sudden death of a child. I’ve seen what relentless poverty can do to people all over the world. Despite knowing that these scenarios exist, I don’t despair. I know that hope is available in Jesus, that guidance comes through the Spirit, and that knowledge and power are found in God’s Word. The words of Psalm 119 give us encouragement. When our soul “clings to the dust,” we can be revived according to God’s Word (v.25). When our soul is full of sorrow, we can be strengthened by His Wor…

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On The Wing
Matthew 10:27-31
Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.(Matthew 10:31) In his book On the Wing, Alan Tennant chronicles his efforts to track the migration of the peregrine falcon. Valued for their beauty, swiftness, and power, these amazing birds of prey were favorite hunting companions of emperors and nobility. Sadly, the wide use of the pesticide DDT in the 1950s interfered with their reproductive cycle and placed them on the endangered species list. Interested in the recovery of this species, Tennant attached transmitters to a select number of falcons to track their migration patterns. But when he and his pilot flew their Cessna behind the birds, they repeatedly lost signal from the transmitters. Despite their advanced technology, they were not always able to track the birds they wanted to help. It’s good to know that the God who cares for us never loses track of us. In fact, Jesus said that not even one sparrow “falls to the ground apart from [God’…

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The Bible’s School Of Prayer
Habakkuk 1:1-4
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit.(Job 7:11) To call God and us unequal partners is a laughable understatement. And yet by inviting us to do kingdom work on earth, God has indeed set up a kind of odd-couple alliance. God delegates work to human beings so that we do history together, so to speak. Clearly, the partnership has one dominant partner—something like an alliance between Microsoft and a high school programmer. We know well what happens when human beings form unequal alliances: the dominant partner tends to throw his weight around and the subordinate mostly keeps quiet. But God, who has no reason to be threatened by us, invites a steady and honest flow of communication. I sometimes wonder why God places such a high value on honesty in our prayers, even to the extent of enduring unjust outbursts. I am startled to see how many biblical prayers seem ill-tempered. Jeremiah griped about unfairness (20:7-10); Habakkuk accused God of deafn…