Thursday, January 28, 2016

Self-condemnation Through Judging

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Romans 1 Romans 2 Romans 3 Exodus 37 Exodus 38 Psalms 37

In the previous reflection, "Love, More Powerful Than A Sword," I spoke of the misunderstanding of Jesus' disciples when He told them, "whoever doesn't have a sword should sell his robe and buy one." (Luke 24:36) Jesus spoke of the sword metaphorically to highlight the danger that was coming for those who were His followers. He does not want us to use violence or angry words and actions against those who oppose God or His followers. Instead, He has commissioned His followers to be His witnesses to those who oppose Him that they might come to salvation through faith in Jesus.

In today's readings, which include Romans chapters 1-3 and Psalms 37, we are instructed further about our actions toward those who oppose God. What are our thoughts when we read passages such as this one in Romans chapter 1, "From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened." (Romans 1:20-21) Often in reading this we are indignate towards those who oppose God ignoring His "eternal power and divine nature" as revealed through what He has made. Paul says they are without excuse and we what to throw that in their face. I know those thoughts are possible because I have had them.

But we fail to read on into Romans 2:1-4, or at least fail to connect it with chapter 1. In these verses Paul says, "Therefore, anyone of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. Do you really think--anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same--that you will escape God's judgment? Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?" So, having spoken in chapter 1 of the lack of excuse for those who oppose God, Paul then says if we judge those who oppose God we are also without excuse. Why? Because when we judge others we condemn ourselves since we do the same things as those we judge. What does he mean we do the same things? He means that we have all sinned. None of us are innocent.

The psalmist in Psalms 37 approaches it another way saying, "do not be agitated by . . . the man who carries out evil plans. Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated--it can only bring harm." The bottom line for the psalmist was that it is all in God's hands. "For evildoers will be destroyed, but those who put their hope in the LORD will inherit the land." (Psalms 37:7-9)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Love, More Powerful Than A Sword

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Luke 22 Luke 23 Luke 24 Exodus 35 Exodus 36

"Then He said to them, 'But now, whoever has a money-bag should take it, and also a traveling bag. And whoever doesn't have a sword should sell his robe and buy one. For I tell you, what is written must be fulfilled in Me: And He was counted among the outlaws. Yes, what is written about Me is coming to its fulfillment.'" (Luke 22:36-37)

Having spoken the words recorded in verses 36 and 37 of Luke 22 to His disciples, Jesus then rebuked them when they responded saying, "look, here are two swords." He said to them, "Enough of that!" (V. 38)
On the surface this exchange between Jesus and His disciples seems confusing, but upon reflection we come to realize Jesus was not telling them to bear arms but rather was speaking metaphorically. With Jesus' crucifixion things would suddenly be different, and as Jesus' followers they would be in danger. For Jesus pointed out to them, "what is written must be fulfilled in Me: And He was counted among the outlaws. Yes, what is written about Me is coming to its fulfillment." Jesus would be crucified as an outlaw and His disciples would be hunted down as outlaws. They would need a defense against this threat, but not by their own actions with the use of a sword. The mention of the sword merely pointed out the danger they faced.

We find ourselves to be like His disciples upon hearing Jesus say they would need to get swords. We ignore all His other teaching and take this statement literally in contradiction of His teaching. We are ready to do battle on His behalf and on behalf of our faith. One of the reasons Jesus was rejected as the Messiah was that He failed to live up to the expectation that He would be a military leader who would deliver the Jews from the rule of the Romans. In contrast to this idea, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a stallion. He came to them, not as a mighty leader on a horse, but as a gentle savior on a lowly donkey. It was a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

As already mentioned, we find ourselves misunderstanding, as did Jesus' disciple on this occasion in the upper room. Though we don't take up swords, we sometimes do battle with those who oppose Jesus or His teaching using angry words and actions. This is no more Jesus' way than using a sword. Jesus did not call us to defend Him or His teachings, but to be His witnesses, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Evidence of Spending Time With God

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Luke 19 Luke 20 Luke 21 Exodus 33 Exodus 34 Psalms 36

"Whenever Moses went before the LORD to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he came out. After he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, and the Israelites would see that Moses' face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil over his face again until he went to speak with the LORD." (Exodus 34:34-35)

When Moses went up on Mount Sinai and spent 40 days in God's presence receiving the Ten Commandments and other instructions related to God's covenant with the Israelites, his face shown when he came down off the mountain. This phenomenon continued and Moses put a veil over his face when he was in the presence of the people because of the brightness of his face. When he went into the tent of meeting to be in the Lord's presence he removed the veil, and each time he left the tent and the presence of the Lord, his face was radiant anew.

A face radient from being in the presence of God is not restricted only to Moses. Sure, his face literally radiated a brightness like a light that shown, but a face that radiates is something we all experience when we spend time with God. Time and time again I have noticed people whose face was troubled or sad reflecting a burden they carried. But after regularly spending time with God for a while, their face changed. It no longer had the troubled or sad look but a radiance due to the lifting of the burden that weighed them down.
I minister among many who struggle to come out of addictions. On top of the burden of their addictions, many aspects of their lives are a mess. Their eyes are dull and lifeless and their faces downcast when they first come. Our continuous encouragment is to spend time with God through prayer and reading His word. Invariably their countenance begins to change when they do this, and with time begins to take on a radiance as it reflects a newfound joy. There can be no mistaking the result of spending time with God.

Some begin spending time with God and their faces begin to change, reflecting their time with God. Then they get pulled back into their addiction and this, too, is reflected in their faces. The look in a person's eyes and the turn of their mouth tells the story. This phenomena is too prevalent to ignore and causes us to be tireless in our efforts to turn them to spending time with God. We cannot take away their addictions or straighten up the mess of their lives, but God can and He is the One to whom we need to point them.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Investing in the Future

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Luke 16 Luke 17 Luke 16 Exodus 31 Exodus 32 Psalms 35

Luke 16 records a parable told by Jesus of the unjust steward, or in more modern terms, the dishonest manager. The parable is difficult to understand for it appears to applaud the manager's dishonesty, though this is not really the case. Instead, the parable reveals a flaw in our perception of faith and understanding of stewardship. Many of us speak of salvation by faith but function as if it is by our own efforts. We accept, by faith, that our salvation is gained through Jesus Christ and not by anything we can do. Having done so, we expect God to engulf us in a protective bubble so that nothing bad ever happens to us again. Furthermore, we expect that any material blessing we receive is God's reward for our faith and to be used for our own benefit.

As God's stewards, therefore, we are like the dishonest manager in that we misuse what God places in our care and our faith falters when God's blessings are not forthcoming. While we understand that much of the reward and blessing God has for us is in the future, in heaven, we want a good measure of it now and grow impatient in our faith when God does not bless us as we think He should.

What was it about this dishonest manager that Jesus commended? Certainly it wasn't his dishonesty. No, Jesus commended his foresight to invest in the future. Having been given notice that he was to be fired, the manager went to those who owed money to his employer and reduced their debt. While this was a loss for his employer, it was also a loss for the manger of profit he would gain in collecting the debt. He took this loss as an investment in his future. When he was no longer employed as a manager nor able to do physical labor, those for whom he reduced the debt would be his friend and offer him help.

Jesus said, "For the sons of this age are more astute than the sons of light in dealing with their own people." (Luke 16:8) This ungodly manager showed more wisdom in providing for his future than many followers of God do in "laying up treasures in heaven." Rather than foregoing the treasures of earth for the treasures of heaven, they misuse what God places in their care for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of God's kingdom.

In verse 13, Jesus came to His central point, "No household slave can be the slave of two masters . . . You can't be slaves to both God and money." We will be richly blessed eventually, but need now to be faithful stewards of what God entrusts to us.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Placing the Good ahead of the Best

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Luke 13 Luke 14 Luke 15 Exodus 29 Exodus 30 Psalms 34 Proverbs 11

Luke 14 records one of Jesus' parables followed by His instructions about what it means to be His disciple. The parable depicts our invitation to salvation while the instructions that follow are about the call that follows salvation to be a disciple of Christ.

Those initially invited to the banquet, in Jesus' parable, represented the Jewish religious community who were self-righteous and thought they had no need of the salvation Jesus offered. The excuses they gave are obviously excuses, and petty ones at that. Though Jesus addressed this parable to his audience of Jewish religious people, our application should be more general, including all who reject Jesus' invitation to salvation. His parable here suggests that it is those who are aware of their neediness and who may be looked down on by the self-righteous who most readily accept Jesus' invitation. The self-righteous are not found only among those who are religious. Many who disavow God and any form of religion are self-righteous, claiming to have no need of a religious "crutch." But their need of Jesus' salvation is no less than that of anyone else. In light of the offer of salvation Jesus makes to us, any excuse to reject it is petty.

In the verses that follow the parable in Luke 14:16-24, Jesus gives three major areas of our lives, in verses 25-35, that are barriers to truly following Him as His disciples. In reading these verses our first inclination might be to think Jesus is belittling these areas of our lives and saying they are unimportant. Instead, He is simply pointing out what our first priority must be. When this priority is placed in its proper perspective, everything else takes on a healthy perspective.

What are the three major areas of our lives that we put up as barriers to being true followers of Christ? Our relationships, including family, our own desires for our lives, and our possessions. When we allow any of these, our relationships, our own desires, and our possessions to keep us from truly following Christ, we take an unhealthy perspective with them while also missing out on the best Christ has to offer us. As a result, neither do we bring our best to our relationships, or any other parts of our lives. We have exchanged what might be good for what is the best.

A significant reason our choice between fully following Christ and giving first place to these other areas of our lives can be so difficult is that what we are asked to relegate to second place in our lives are not necesarily bad things. In many cases they are good things. But unless we put Christ first in our lives, we have not placed the best thing in first place.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Heart of Any Problem

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Luke 10 Luke 11 Luke 12 Exodus 27 Exodus 28 Psalms 33

In Luke 12:22-24, Jesus said, "Therefore I tell you, don't worry about your life, what you will eat; or about the body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they don't sow or reap; they don't have a storeroom or a barn; yet God feeds them. Aren't you worth much more than the birds?" He follows this thought in verse 31 by saying, "But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you." What is Jesus saying here? Are we not to work or make effort to provide food and clothing for ourselves and our families? How, then, will God provide us these things?

Jesus said these things following a conversation with a man who asked him to be an arbiter between him and his brother concerning the division of their inheritance. Such issues can be all-consuming as one gets caught up in the unfairness of what the other is doing to them and the money that could be theirs but is unjustly being withheld from them. Following the conversation with the man about his inheritance Jesus told a parable of a rich man who was consumed with building up his wealth. He wasn't interested in helping anyone else with it. His only concern was to amass wealth.

It was following the conversation about inheritance and the parable of the rich amassing wealth that Jesus told His disciples not to worry about material things. He wasn't teaching them not to labor for their necessities but to be careful that this pursuit not consume them. Their first concern, He told them, was to seek His kingdom. If they did this God would bless their efforts to provide the necessities of life.

The question Jesus leaves with us is, "What do I treasure?" It should not be a difficult question to answer, though it may be difficult to admit. It doesn't require too much thought to recognize what we devote the majority of our thoughts and time and money toward. Whatever that is will be the answer to the question, "What do I treasure?" If we do not treasure God's kingdom the things we do treasure will always be a worry to us in our efforts to obtain them. But Jesus tells us that if we will seek first His kingdom all else will be unimportant enough to merit our worry. For “the heart of every problem is the problem in the heart.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Spectator to Follower of Jesus

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Luke 7 Luke 8 Luke 9 Exodus 25 Exodus 26 Psalms 32 Proverbs 10

When it comes to following Jesus, too many of us are "Monday morning quarterbacks" (MMQB) who have the "answers" but never play the game. We are spectators who want to pretend to know how best to play the game. To mix metaphors, as MMQB types we want to stick our toes in the water to test the temperature but never really get in the water.

This is the type of so-called followers Jesus was addressing in Luke 9:57-62. People were continually following Him around anxious to witness the next miracle or listen to His refreshing teachings which were so unlike what they had been raised on at the synogogue. But when Jesus invited them to move from spectator to follower, they all offered excuses. Their excuses sounded reasonable and legitimate, but excuses nevertheless. We would have bought their excuses because we use them ourselves.

One person proclaimed to follower Jesus wherever He went, but decided otherwise when Jesus told the man He didn't even have a home to call His own where He could lay His head. The man was not willing to face hardship on Jesus' behalf. The next considered His family more important than Jesus, saying he first had to bury his father. Though we assume from this his father was near death, that was not necessarily the case. The point is that he was using his father as an excuse not to follow Jesus. The third man's excuse was similar to the second in that he used his family as the excuse. Again, we assume from his words he merely wanted to quickly tell them of his plans to follow Jesus and tell them good-bye before heading off with Jesus. But Jesus' response leads us to believe this to be an excuse. He wanted to sound willing to do anything for Jesus while not really doing anything for Him.

This account in Luke begs the question for us, "Am I a spectator or a follower of Jesus?" Does my "following" comprise doing Jesus the favor of showing up to worship service on Sunday to watch what goes on and then returning to life as usual? Or maybe I go the extra mile and show up for a Bible study or small group in addition to worship. Does this make me a follower? Really?

Jesus told what it means to be His follower in Luke 9:23: "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me." Can we really call ourselves a follower of Jesus as long as our "following" is on our terms rather than His?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Our Need For Solitude In Prayer

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Luke 4 Luke 5 Luke 6 Exodus 23 Exodus 24 Psalms 31

"During those days He went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God." (Luke 6:12) Jesus found it necessary to withdraw frequently from the crowds that thronged Him and even from the disciples in whom He poured his life. He needed time for solitude and prayer. For Him it was needed more than a night's sleep. If this were true for Jesus, how much more is our need for solitude and prayer? Yes, prayer at anytime is good. Being in continual prayer and conversation with the Father is important, but there is no substitute for prayer combined with solitude.

We need this time alone with God not only to hear from God without interruption, but we also need it for introspection. Our personal and spiritual development will not meet its potential without time alone in solitude. Richard Foster has said that through solitude inner fulfillment can be found. This solitude includes silence. We live in a time when we are continually being bombarded with stimuli, whether it is visual or auditory. People are continually plugged into music. And while music can serve to help us relax and reflect, there comes a time in which we need to be left alone without even the stimulus of music to interrupt God's voice in our inner being and our thoughts that are prompted by His message to us.

It is in these times that our lives are truly examined and needed change wells up from our soul. It is the commitments and change that emerge from these times of solitude and prayer that are transformational and lasting. I have often been challenged and encouraged to make change through someone's testimony or the word's of a speaker. But the impetus for change has occurred when I was alone and determined between just myself and God to make that change.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Encountering the Living God

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Luke 1 Luke 2 Luke 3 Exodus 21 Exodus 22

Hebrews 10:31 states that, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" Conversely, I think it could be said that "It is an awesome thing to encounter the living God!" The first chapter of Luke is filled with God's interaction with people who were a part of His plan of salvation for all people.

Verses 11-13 record Zechariah's encounter with an angel while he was fulfilling his priestly duties in the temple. The angel announced to him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son who would be named John. Next, in verses 26-31 is Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. And then, in verse 41 is the account of Elizabeth's baby leaping inside her as Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to her and greeted her. Finally, in the last portion of the chapter, we have the account of Zechariah being filled with the Holy Spirit at the birth of John the Baptist and prophesying.

I can hardly imagine the exhilaration experienced by Mary, Elizabeth, and Zechariah when they realized God's presence with them and communication with them through these encounters. I recall an experience of my own in which I felt a strong presence of the Lord while reading my Bible. Through this experience I felt God's call on my life to serve Him. It was a very real and awesome experience - one I was inclined to take seriously and to respond favorably to the Lord. I can only imagine the feelings of these three, recorded in Luke, who were not only approached by an angel who they could see and realize that they had been called upon by God to fulfill the prophesy of the promised Messiah.

Mary's response, "I am the Lord's slave. May it be done to me according to your word." (V. 38) seems the only reasonable response.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Can We Really Take Control Of Our Own Destinies?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
James 4 James 5 Exodus 19 Exodus 20 Psalms 30

Life is precious and not to be wasted or misused, but is it possible that we sometimes take it too seriously? For those who might take life or themselves too seriously, James' statement in James 4:14 provides a reality check as he says, "For you are a bit of smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes." This statement is addressed to those who make plans as if they are in control of their own destiny. James was pointing out to them, and to us, that we are not in control of our destinies for we "don't even know what tomorrow will bring." (V. 14)

So if we are not in control what are we to do? Eat, drink, and be merry, not taking anything seriously? James says what we are to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." We are to turn over each day to the One who is in control, submitting our plans to Him. So what if our plans fail or circumstances keep them from happening? We accept, as from the Lord, the circumstances for which we did not plan. While some plans we make are not terribly significant to us and bring only irritation when they were subverted by circumstances, other plans are very important to us and our lives are turned upside down when life cancels them. In some instances we may even wonder if life is worth living. Some, in fact, have ended their lives when certain plans were denied them.

James' advise places our plans in their proper perspective. They are just our plans, after all, and subject to the Lord's approval. Besides, life is a gift from God that is fully appreciated only when we accept His plans for them. Along with this gift of life God offers us a choice. Accept this life as His gift to us and give it back to Him to direct our plans, and in turn He offers us life beyond our time on earth. Or, we take this life God has given us and hold selfishly to it as if it is ours and ours alone, not even recognizing the One who made us and gave us life. With this choice, this life is all we get. Only death awaits beyond this life which is only "a bit of smoke that appears for a little while."

So how do we choose?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Producing Olives from Fig Trees

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
James 1 James 2 James 3 Exodus 17 Exodus 18 Psalms 29

The fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control) are never exercised inappropriately. For there is never an occasion in which they are not appropriate. Furthermore, with any attempt to exercise them in an inappropriate manner, they are no longer fruit of the Spirit.

James, in the third chapter of his epistle, addresses this issue of false fruit. Fruit of the Spirit cannot come from one who does not have the Spirit in them just as a fig tree cannot produce olives. Neither can one who truly has the Spirit in them produce bitter envy and selfish ambition. James says we fool ourselves in defiance of the truth to think otherwise. That is, to think we are being led by the Spirit while harboring these thoughts. Such thoughts lead only to "disorder and every kind of evil" while the wisdom that comes from above "is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy." (James 3:17)

Some mistakenly think righteousness must at times be promoted by attacking unrighteousness or those who are not righteous. Strife becomes their method of overcoming evil. But James disagrees saying, "the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:18) Romans 12:21 also disagrees saying we should "overcome evil with good."

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Discipline or Punishment?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Hebrews 12 Hebrews 13 Exodus 15 Exodus 16 Psalms 28 Proverbs 9

We are admonished in scripture to endure trials as in James 1:2ff, "Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." James speaks of them as a testing of our faith. The writer of Hebrews refers to trials or suffering as discipline from the Lord. Quoting from Proverbs 3:11-12 he says, "My son, do not take the Lord's discipline lightly, or faint when you are reproved by Him; for the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives." Discipline, says the writer of Hebrews, is an indication that we are children of God, for if "you are without discipline--which all receive," he says, "then you are illegitimate children and not sons."

Warren Wiersbe contrasts discipline to punishment saying, "Punishment is the work of a judge; chastening is the work of a father. Punishment is handed out to uphold the law; chastening is given out as a proof of love, for the bettering of the child." Furthermore, Wiersbe says, "Too often we rebel at God’s loving hand of chastening; instead, we ought to submit and grow. Satan tells us that our trials are proof that God does not love us; but God’s Word says that sufferings are the best proof that He does love us!"

This distinction between punishment to uphold the law and discipline to better the child is important. If we understand salvation to be an act of grace and not of works and that our salvation is not a result of our own efforts, then it is discipline and not punishment that is the outcome of our failures and misdeeds. What is the difference, then, between punishment and discipline? The aim of punishment is retribution while the aim of discipline is betterment. One is negative while the other is positive.

How can we tell if a trial or suffering we are experiencing is punishment or discipline. We don't based on the experience itself. Our understanding of our experiences comes from God's perspective through the Holy Spirit and God's word. The Holy Spirit nudges us about an experience and helps give us a Godly perspective while God's word clearly tells us that if we are God's child we will be disciplined and our faith tested. One who is not a child of God does not even have these thoughts or is aware of this perspective.

As a child of God who understands trials and suffering to be learning experiences from God, our concern is not to figure out why we are suffering for we already know that. It is that we might be strengthened and might learn. Focus on the "why" of our experiences detracts us from their purpose. Since we know that as a child of God suffering is to teach us and test us, then our focus when we suffer should be on the lesson God has for us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Basis of Faith

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Hebrews 10 Hebrews 11 Exodus 13 Exodus 14 Psalms 27

What is required to cause us to trust fully in the Lord? If we witnessed a great miracle at the Lord's hand would that be enough for us to trust Him fully? Luke chapter 16 gives an account of Jesus instructing those who gathered to listen to Him. The Scribes and Pharisees were also in the crowd scoffing and ridiculing Jesus in what He was saying. Knowing that the Pharisees were "lovers of money," Jesus told a parable of a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man who hoarded his riches, offering no aid to the poor man who sat daily at his gate. Eventually the two died and Lazarus was in heaven because of his faith and the rich was in hell due to his lack of faith.

From hell, the rich man could see into heaven, and seeing Abraham with Lazarus at his side he called out to Abraham to have mercy and send Lazarus to "dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!" Abraham explained that this was impossible and so the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers who were still living to warn them of this place of torment. Abraham told him, "They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them. 'No, father Abraham,' he said. 'But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "But he told him, 'If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.'"

Jesus told this parable in part to make the point that the rich are not guaranteed heaven while the poor are doomed to hell. But Jesus also was making the point that miracles, while they might aid belief, do not guarantee belief. A great example of this is found in Exodus chapter 14. After ten devastating plagues brought on Egypt by the Lord to convince Pharoah to let the Israelites leave the country, the Israelites were finally on their way to the land God had promised them. As they traveled, the Lord was with them, going before them in a "pillar of cloud" by day and a "pillar of fire" by night. This pillar of fire actually giving them light by which to see at night.

If miracles are an assurance of faith, the Israelites' faith should have been unwavering. But what happened when the people realized Pharoah was in pursuit of them with his army? They were terrified and complained to Moses that he had merely led them to the desert to die. They were ready to capitulate and go back to serving the Egyptians. But in the midst of this complaining and crying out to the Lord for help, the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the Israelites to break camp. As for you, lift up your staff, stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground."

Being a witness to the Lord performing miraculous events does not prevent us from shriveling up in fear when danger comes. This is possible only with a close walk with the Lord in which we bask in His presence and experience His peace and are filled with His Spirit and His courage. And with this God-given courage comes the time not only to seek the Lord's help but to move out in action based on faith. As the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to Me?" It was time for them to break camp, for Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, and for them to walk through the sea.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Jesus, The Living Picture

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Hebrews 7 Hebrews 8 Hebrews 9 Exodus 11 Exodus 11 Psalms 26

The Old Testament throughout is a picture of what Jesus came to fulfill. My reflection for yesterday, "Entering God's Rest," illustrated this, pointing out how God's deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage, their journey through the wilderness, and entry into the promised land was a picture of God's deliverance of all people from the bondage of sin through Jesus' death, making possible for us to rest from our own efforts to attain deliverance from sin's bondage and also to enter God's eternal rest.

In this reflection, though, I did not go into detail about God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. The 10th plague God brought on Egypt to gain release of the Israelites was the death of the first-born of every family and every animal. Although each of the previous plagues had differentiated between the Egyptians and the Israelites, there would be no difference with this 10th plague unless the Israelites did as the Lord instructed them. This was the time of deliverance and it was only for those who chose to worship the Lord. This choice was made by obeying His instructions, and His instructions were to kill an unblemished year-old male lamb and spread the blood from the lamb on the doorposts of their houses. The bones of the lamb were not to be broken. When the death angel passed over Egypt killing the firstborn of each family, he would passover those houses that had the blood on the doorposts.

All of this was fulfilled in Jesus who was the lamb, unblemished by sin and whose bones were unbroken, who was slain for our deliverance from the bondage of sin. Death as a result of sin's bondage is universal unless we are delivered from this bondage by looking to Jesus and by faith accepting His sacrifice as our deliverance.

Once we have accepted Jesus' deliverance He takes on a different role which fulfills another picture portrayed in the Old Testament - that of the high priest who mediated between God and man. Hebrews 7-9 describes Jesus' role as our high priest and how He is a much better high priest than those of the Old Testament who merely pictured the real thing.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Entering God's Rest

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Hebrews 4 Hebrews 5 Hebrews 6 Exodus 9 Exodus 10 Psalms 25

Hebrews chapter 4 has an interesting discussion about entering God's rest which is described in verse 4 as the rest God entered into on the seventh day of creation when His creative activities were completed.  It might be said that we are now living during the seventh day of creation in which God's rest from His labor is ongoing. But God extends an invitation to those He created to join Him in His rest, a rest that has a two-fold meaning.

The first part of this meaning is a cessation of labor in attempting to work for our salvation. We need simply to accept what God has already done for us and take rest in it for our salvation. The second part to the meaning of God's rest is His eternal rest which we enter after our labor on earth is finished. A rest we enter based on our acceptance of God's work of salvation through Jesus. So we enter the first rest to gain entry to the second rest.

A picture of this is provided us in God's dealings with the Israelites through the exodus and entry into the promised land. God provided them deliverance from Egyptian bondage, a picture of the deliverance He provides all of us from the bondage of sin. But it was more than a deliverance from bondage. It was also a deliverance that made possible their entry into God's rest, which is pictured for us in the life God had planned for them in their land of promise. Their journey through the wilderness, then, might be likened to our journey through life on earth.

The Israelite's journey through the wilderness was to be a journey of faith in which they depended on God for all their needs, including protection from their enemies. Might this also picture for us God's protection for us against our enemy the devil?  Those God brought out of Egypt did not make this journey in faith, however, and were not allowed to enter God's rest - the promised land. They did not rest from their labor of trying to do everything themselves instead of depending on God's provisions for them, and therefore did not enjoy the final rest He had prepared for them. They died in the wilderness never seeing the land of promise.

The question presented to us in Hebrews 4 is the question of whether we will cease from our labor of working to gain our own deliverance or rest in the deliverance God has prepared for us through Jesus Christ? It is only by resting in His deliverance that we will obtain the final rest God has prepared for us.