Day 103: Mysteries of the Kingdom

1 Samuel 10-12; Luke 13:22-35

Key Verses

1 Samuel 12:14-15
If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.

Luke 13:23-25
And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’”

These verses in Luke 13 are difficult for me. I’ve always been uncomfortable that there will be people left out of the Kingdom. Did God not choose them or did they not choose God? It’s one of the great mysteries of the faith…

There is a great tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. How can God be 100% sovereign AND man be 100% responsible for his choices? This is a great mystery.

1 Samuel 10 makes it very clear that God was sovereign over Saul and chose him to be king of Israel. Saul had nothing in himself to qualify him for king except God’s grace and anointing. But Saul failed to live a life worthy of his calling. Later, God removed the kingship from Saul because of his disobedience and failure to repent. Ultimately, Saul was held accountable for his decisions.

Did God make a mistake by choosing Saul? Absolutely not!  Then why did God choose Saul when He knew that Saul would disobey? When I can’t untangle the mysteries of God, I look to God’s character for insight… Who is God? He is Sovereign over all, All-Powerful and the final Judge of all mankind. But what else is God? He is compassionate and kind. He is Good.

Listen to the compassion in Jesus’ words…

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)

He is sovereign AND we are given the freedom to choose. Somehow, God uses our sinful choices to bring about the good of his big plan. God uses Saul’s disobedience and pride to mold David into a godly leader. And God uses Israel’s rejection to open the door for Gentiles to enter His Kingdom.

When all is revealed at the end of the age – I believe we will see that all things were weaved together for GOOD!

Day 60: The Man Who Tried to Outwit God

Numbers 22-24; Mark 8:1-21

Key Verses

Numbers 23:19
God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

Mark 8:17-18
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “[…] Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”

The King of Moab was scared. He watched as his neighbors were destroyed by those people – the Israelites. He knew he couldn’t defeat them in battle because He had heard of the power of their God. Instead of doing physical battle, he chose to do spiritual battle… He called upon the great pagan seer, Balaam. Surely, the seer could curse those people, and he, Balak, King of Moab, would stand victorious….

Ha! This king actually thought he could outwit the living God as he tried to manipulate the circumstances to his favor. The story that follows in Numbers 22-24 mirrors the absurdity of the Moabite king!

What do we learn from reading about God opening the eyes of the donkey and closing the eyes of the seer? Or opening the mouth of the donkey and watching the seer grovel on the ground? What do you think about God using the pagan seer, Balaam, to speak truth and blessings upon Israel?

Now contrast Balaam’s spiritual insight to the disciples in Mark 8. Their eyes had not yet been opened! They failed to see the spiritual truth in Jesus’ words about the leaven. How do we make sense of all this?

I’ll tell you what I learn… God can and will do whatever he wants whenever he wants. God also has ultimate control over spiritual understanding. He opens eyes to see and ears to hear. He does this in His own time and in His own way to accomplish His own purposes.

I’ll be frank… I’m sympathetic to the Moabite king… because just like Balak, I don’t like my circumstances! My days are spent caring for my brain-injured daughter. This is not the life I signed up for – but what can I do about it? Can I outwit the living God? No. The only thing I can do is throw myself at his feet and beg for mercy. I ask him to open my eyes to see his purposes. I ask him to give me ears to hear his Word. I ask for spiritual understanding and grace to serve my daughter with patience and compassion. I am at his mercy. And thankfully, He is a merciful God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones (Proverbs 3:5-8).

Day 3: What Good is the Flood?

Genesis 6-8; Matthew 3

Key Verses:

Genesis 3:5-6
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Matthew 3:16
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Genesis 6-8 is the story of the flood. The idea of God destroying the earth causes me to wrestle… really wrestle with God’s goodness. I’ve struggled to see how God’s goodness is revealed in destroying every living thing on the earth (except those few on the ark). Seriously, what good is the flood?

I believe God has patiently endured my questioning and given me not just one, but several glimpses of his goodness in this passage of Scripture.

  • Firstly, I believe God gave the world the opportunity to repent and be saved. Think about it… It took Noah and his sons a VERY long time to build that ark. Scholars debate on the specifics, but it was somewhere between 75-100 years of building. Don’t you think news would have spread about this crazy guy building this humongous boat? Don’t you think Noah tried to warn people of the coming flood? They had a chance to repent, believe and be saved… But they didn’t. And they perished.
  • Secondly, (and this is a hard one for me) every living thing deserved to be destroyed. The bible says “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). God showed his grace by preserving a remnant.
  •  Thirdly, (and I love this) I see God’s tender, personal care for Noah and his family in verse 7:16, “And the Lord shut him in.” God, himself, shut the door to the arc and protected them from the deadly flood. He, personally, saved them.
  • And finally, Noah’s story is both a warning and a joyful proclamation to us. Just as those who were in the ark were saved from the flood… If we are found “in Christ” we will be saved from the judgment that is to come. God, in his mercy, warns repetitively throughout Scripture that there will be judgment for those who do not turn to Jesus for help. None of us are good enough to earn entrance into heaven. Jesus offers us a trade: we get his perfect record, and he gets our tarnished one. As a result, he received the punishment we deserve, and we get the reward that only he deserves. This is good news. This is the gospel.

Tags: 

Day 2: The Offspring of the Woman

Genesis 3-5; Matthew 2

Key Verses:

Genesis 3:15
I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Matthew 2:13-14
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.

To me, Genesis 3 is the saddest chapter in the entire bible. Adam and Eve’s disobedience destroyed their relationship with God. Their sinful choice had far-reaching consequences as every human is now separated from God because of sin. But God had a rescue plan…

Immediately after Adam and Eve made their selfish choice, God delivered a shocking promise – that a descendent of the woman would defeat the serpent. This promise acts as a backdrop for the rest of the Old Testament. Imagine the serpent’s response to such a promise! Satan’s goal from that point forward was to destroy the offspring of the woman who was destined to crush his head. In fact, the entire Old Testament can be read as a story of a battle between Satan and God – of Satan trying to destroy the royal family line and God working to preserve the family line from which Jesus would be born.

In Genesis 4, we see this royal line threatened as Cain killed Abel and Cain walked away from God. Who would carry the seed of the woman forward? But God’s plan was always that Jesus would not descend from Cain or Abel. God gave Adam and Eve a third son, Seth, and it was from him that the promised royal offspring would come!

In today’s New Testament reading, we see the promised offspring (Jesus!) in danger of being killed by the evil king, Herod. But God was not thwarted by the plans of an evil king. He warned Joseph in a dream to escape south to Egypt until the threat had passed.

God’s plan of redemption could not – and will not – be overcome by the serpent. Jesus was born! Jesus was crucified. And Jesus will come again!

Day 358: Trust in God’s good plans

Habakkuk 1-3Revelation 15

I love Habakkuk because he is honest before the Lord. He questions God’s justice and goodness. After dialoguing with the God of the universe, the book of Habakkuk ends in praise…not because he receives answers to his questions – but because He comes to a deeper understanding of God’s character. He accepts God’s mercy and goodness even though he doesn’t understand His ways.

As we struggle daily with the fallenness of this world…especially with the world’s violent opposition to the gospel and God’s people, we can look to Revelation for comfort. For God uses Satan’s attacks upon the Church against him. The martyrs enter eternal bliss – and their sacrifice brings God eternal glory. Against all earthly logic, persecution causes the church to grow!

And in the fullness of time, God will bring judgment on the ungodly. Until that day, we are to stand strong.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 338: God is Truth

Psalm 140-141; 1 John 2:18-3:24
(Psalm 142 was read on Day 108)

John begins this section of Scripture by teaching that false teachers were already in their churches. He called these false teachers “antichrists” because they were “against Christ” (2:22).

John reminded the church to do two things when faced with false teaching… “Abide in what they heard from the beginning.” In other words, abide in the Word of God (2:24). And secondly, abide in the Holy Spirit (2:27). The Spirit should affirm what the Word says. It never gives “special revelation” that contradicts the Word of God.

False teachers were claiming this “special revelation” when they tried to lure the church away from gospel teachings. The primary false teaching John was refuting in these chapters was an early form of Gnosticism, specifically that Jesus did not come in the flesh.* They argued that if Jesus were separated from the flesh, then the born-again aspect of Christians was also separated from the flesh. This false premise led to the wrong conclusion that Christians could sin in the flesh and it didn’t affect their “born-again” spiritual state. In effect, they were permitting lawlessness by proclaiming that all Christians were sinless – because the deeds done in the flesh were separated from the real “spiritually born-again self.” John refuted this teaching by stating over and over again that your “doing” reflected your “being.”

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as [Jesus] is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning (1 John 3:7-8).

John was reminding the church of the truth…that Jesus came in the flesh (1:1), that all Christians struggle with sin (1:8), and when we sin, we have an advocate, Jesus the Son of God (2:1)!!

John exhorts us to examine our lives…carefully, in the light of the truth. If we are truly God’s children, our lives should reflect his righteousness. But we are not perfect, so if we are becoming complacent and falling into patterns of sin, we must run to our Advocate to find forgiveness (1:9)!

John is writing to the church tenderly. He says, “My little children. I write these things to you so that you may not sin” (2:1). And he reminds us of the incredible truth that we have been adopted into the family of God – and given a new nature so that we might be called His children.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (1 John 3:1).

Friends, this is truth. We are God’s children. Our Father is the King. And our inheritance is vast beyond all measure!

*More information on the false teaching John is refuting can be found in this sermon by John Piper.

Day 337: God is Light

Psalm 138-139; 1 John 1:1-2:17
(Psalm 137 was read on Day 229)

1 John has always made me slightly uncomfortable. I think it’s the apostle’s “all or nothing” style of writing. He says things like:

If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1:10).

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (2:4).

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (2:15).

I know I don’t keep his commandments perfectly…does this mean the truth is not in me? And I know that sometimes I love the things of this world more than Christ…does this mean that the love of the Father is not in me?? What does John mean?

Firstly, John is refuting a specific false teaching (which we will cover in-depth tomorrow!) But also, if you read closely, he is not demanding we have to be perfect – because mixed in with all of John’s “all or nothing” statements is the gospel…John reminds us that we will still struggle with sin, but “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). He also reminds us who rescued us from sin… Jesus, “which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands” (1:1). He is the propitiation for our sins…in other words, He made atonement for our sins to satisfy the wrath of God!

It is in this context, of seeking forgiveness and God’s grace, that John exhorts us to live in the “light” and not in the “darkness.” Living in the light is only possible because of the life of Christ. If we are true believers in Christ, he has regenerated our hearts and empowered us with His Spirit so that we might obey his commands (2:3-6). Without the help of Christ, we are left in the darkness. But because of Christ, we are forgiven; we are able to know him, and we have overcome the evil one (2:12-14).

I’m sure John struggled with sin, so he is not commanding us to be perfect. But he is exhorting us to strive to live in the light – in both knowledge and holiness – to pattern our lives after the light of Christ.

I’m thankful to be reading Psalm 139 on the same day as 1 John! For in this Psalm, David reminds us that – as children of God – we will never be separated from His presence. That even the darkest places are light to God – and we are never hidden from him. He knows us, intimately, and still pursues us. This gives us confidence to draw near and confess our sins as John commands us in 1 John 1:9. He is our loving Father. He is light!

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24).

Day 305: The benefit of Scripture

Psalms 25-272 Timothy 3

How many times have you heard this verse?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).

This verse is used often to confirm that the Bible is God’s word, and validates the divine revelation of all of Scripture, including the Old Testament. But the context for this verse makes it even more powerful.

Remember, Paul is writing his final words to Timothy. These are his final thoughts, his last instructions. In this chapter, he warns Timothy that there will be false teachers in the “last days,” and that he is to continue in what he has learned. In other words, he is to study God’s word… so that he is so familiar with the truth that he will not be lured away from God by a counterfeit gospel.

In my early days as a Christian, I would look to Scripture to help guide me in life’s major decisions. What should my college major be? Should I go to graduate school? Should I take this job? When will I get married? And as I searched the Scriptures for “God’s will” in these decisions, I would come away frustrated. Scripture didn’t give me any direct answers. Nevertheless, I prayed the words of Psalm 25 & 27 often.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long (Psalm 25:4-5).

Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path (Psalm 27:11).

I found myself coming back to these Psalms over and over again, praying for direction. And as time passed, other parts of these Psalms began to be more meaningful to me…

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8).

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust (Psalm 25:1).

I never heard directly from God on what job I should take or what my college degree should be, but I learned something more precious. As I spent consistent time in His word, praying His word and meditating on His word, God changed me. I became more concerned about seeking Him than seeking answers. And as I sought to stay faithful in the small daily decisions, the major decisions seemed to fall into place – in ways that were obviously from God.

Later in life, when tragedy struck, the years of studying God’s word prepared me to face hardship with a deep assurance of God’s goodness and care.

The world offers a cornucopia of distractions to entice us away from the consistent study of God’s word. But in the pages of the Bible, we find God. What could be more enticing than that?

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13-14).

Day 300: Uncomfortable teachings

Psalms 10-121 Timothy 2

This is my 300th post and I’m dealt 1 Timothy 2?? Ugh. It is offensive to so many !

It is problematic for the Calvinists who believe that God chose some “before the creation of the world” to be saved. If God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 TIm. 2:4), then why didn’t he choose everyone?

The last half of this chapter presents major problems for Egalitarians (and most of our modern culture) in its teaching about the roles of men and women in the church – specifically that women should not be preachers or elders in the church (1 Tim. 2:12).

Great. Just great. Who do I want to offend first?!!

Well. This is what I have to say. It is Scripture. I didn’t write it, so I don’t have to apologize for it.

Calvinists will just have to deal with the fact that God desires ALL people to be saved and all of the implications of this wonderful statement. But Calvin is with the Lord, so I’m sure he understands :)

And Egalitarians can’t discount Paul’s words about gender roles in the church by calling them “cultural” because Paul makes a point that man’s authority over a woman was instituted in creation…. before the fall (1 Tim. 2:13). That’s significant, and can not be ignored.

So what do we do with these uncomfortable texts? We look inside our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal why they make us uncomfortable!

Do you bristle when Paul writes that women are not to have authority over a man in the church? Well, ask God to reveal how the culture has distorted your thinking.

Do you stumble over Paul’s teaching (that God wants everyone to be saved) because it seems to contradict Paul’s previous teaching of predestination? Well, maybe God is bigger than human logic!

There, I said it. You can throw virtual tomatoes at me through your computer screens… I think I’ll just stand behind the words of Psalm 12 ;)

The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
You, O Lord, will keep them;
you will guard us from this generation forever (Psalm 12:6-7).

Day 292: The final days of Job

Job 40:6-42:17

And Job died, an old man, and full of days (Job 42:17).

I think Job 42 has to be one of the most satisfying chapters in all of Scripture. It begins with repentance and ends with restoration. And not just a small restoration, but an overflowing, abounding with grace and mercy restoration!

What is most encouraging to me is not how God vindicates Job before his friends or how God doubles Job’s possessions or even how God gives him a new family. All of these things are wonderful, but… what most encourages me is that God does not rebuke Job. God rebukes his friends, but not Job, himself.

Job’s anger against God never tipped the scales to “sinning against God.” That’s encouraging to me. I guess through all of Job’s questions and tantrums, he continued to seek and pursue God relentlessly. And we can see Job’s great love for God in the anguish he experienced when he (wrongly) concluded that God had abandoned him. Through Job, I learn that God can handle my anger. He will not leave me or forsake me. This is a great comfort!

I’ll conclude our study of Job with one last question…

Did Job ever learn the why behind his suffering? No. In the end, knowing the who was enough. Like Job, we typically will never fully understand the why’s of our suffering. We must be content with knowing the Who!