Christianity 201

December 21, 2018

Before the Child of Promise Comes, A Time of Unfulfilled Longing

A few years ago our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. ]

They had the pedigree.
They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did. How can you be so obviously blessed in so many areas of life but have one thing lacking?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They werecareful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations(NLT) or statutes (ESV) because…

It was the right thing to do.
It was who they were.
It was their response to who God is.


Above we read these words: ‘Everyone has something they live with.’ Maybe you’re not dealing with childlessness like Zachariah and Elizabeth; maybe it’s something more superficial, but it still eats away at you… Ever wished you were taller? Or you could change the oil on your car? Or fix a plumbing problem? If you find yourself constantly reminded of your inadequacies, you might enjoy this post which I wrote back in 2012.

December 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, these two were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” In other words, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

February 25, 2017

Five Aspects of God’s Glory

Today we return to catch up with Tanya Nemley who blogs at God Speaks I Listen. Click the title below to read this at its source, complete with graphics.

The Glory of God

First before I get into my thoughts and God’s word about this incredible topic of the Glory of God I want to say that my words are PITIFUL!!! Yes…really so pitiful that I almost don’t want to write this because of what Gods’ glory means. Compared to where He is and who He is what can I truly say? I’m glad I’m typing this because my lip can do His glorious majesty no justice!

Exodus 33:18,21-22 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” Then God answered Moses:

But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.

God…”show me your glory” should be the prayers of us all! Why? Because when you have experienced the glory of God it will motivate you to want more of God. It will also motivate you to want others to see Gods glory through your life. Why else would God reveal any of His glory with us?

There are different aspects of God’s glory so let’s break it down:

  1. There’s His physical Glory or glory from His presence. Revelation 21:21-23   And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
  2. There is the glory that comes from what has been done as a result of His children’s obedience and living a righteous life. Ephesian 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
  3.  There’s the glory that comes from Gods creativity i.e. the universe, planets, and stars. Isaiah 6:3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  
  4. There is Glory that comes from God blessing His children with victories, miracles and answered prayers. John 11:4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
  5. There is glory that can give you strength when you are going through the absolute worst situation. Stephen is getting ready to be murdered.   Acts 7:55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;

God gets the glory for everything good and holy that emanates from Him and He gets all the glory for all good things on this earth! No one else is responsible for goodness. Only God has that kind of power and is power.

The word glory according to the dictionary means brilliance, radiance, honor, renowned, highly praiseworthy, fame, admiration or someone impressive. All of these terms don’t come anywhere close to describing God’s glory.

God’s glory is His perfection and His holiness. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 We fall short now because we can’t be 100% holy and perfect. This can only happen when we make the transition to heaven. In fact we will be in it!

God’s glory cannot be contained. The more I speak about this the more I feel I falling short.

As we learn more about the attributes of God such as His glory we will grow to know Him more. We always have to work on knowing Him because we can’t see Him. So ponder about the Glory of God.

Today I challenge you to pray the Moses prayer Exodus 33:18,21-22 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” I pray that you experience the “Glory of God”!!!!!


Read more: Here’s another more topical article from the same author: Horoscopes and Mediums – Don’t Do It.

May 20, 2016

Giving With All You Have

ESV Acts 20:34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.

Today it was my intention to introduce the ministry of Mustard Seed Associates and the website Godspace, but at the last minute I discovered we had shared their ministry with you previously, back in June, 2012. Click the title below to read this at source, and then take some time to look around the blog.

Alms….and legs, feet, hands and eyes

Christian generosityBy Rowan Wyatt

Acts 20: 34-36

As you walk through the shopping area in the center of Tunbridge Wells, on any given day, you run the gauntlet of being pounced on and harangued for money, often quite aggressively, by people who are being paid by charities to sign you up for direct debits for their already very rich charities. You can always tell the charities that can’t afford to pay people to hassle you for money, as the volunteers collecting are patiently waiting, greeting each clinking of coins with a grateful smile, whereas the paid collectors hassle and are aggressive, and don’t care about the charity.

When Keren and I were hit by some financial hardship recently we were determined to continue, as much as we could, to give our money to the charities and organizations we support. We had to cut funding to some, and as we sank deeper into hardship we had to cut even more. I have never felt more upset than I did then, to write to people and say “I can’t give anymore”. We have a girl, Mekdes, that we sponsor in Ethiopia through Compassion UK. We have supported her for many years and we decided that no matter what we would always ensure we could pay for her, I am pleased to say we have never once failed to provide our sponsorship money for her.

Giving is a gift that God has given us. Some may scratch their heads at that, how can us giving our money away be a gift from God. But it is and it’s not just a simple act of contrition to make you feel better about yourself, it is a real way of blessing people and being blessed in the process. I can’t get to Ethiopia to see Mekdes but I know that thanks to our small act of giving each month, she receives clothing, food and education. It is a way of touching someone’s soul, connecting with love, not because you have to, or it’s the right thing to do but because LOVE has moved you to do it. It is a gift to us to know that thanks to our giving Mekdes has a better chance in life, and with the thousands of others who also sponsor children through Compassion, others get that blessing too.

Giving is not just an offering to help those in need it is also an offering to God. It is pleasing to God, he wants us to give and finds joy and love in that act, He delights in us when we give gladly. Look at Mark 12: 41-44 to see Jesus’ viewpoint. The large sums being offered didn’t interest him, he was only concerned with the heart of the giver, the poor widow who had naught to give but gave anyway, with a willing and joyful heart. Because she loved God, and through that act God blessed her, what a precious gift.

The title of this article may seem a bit flippant, but I really mean it. Give with your all, your whole body and soul. If you don’t have finance to give, then give in kind with your time. Physically serve, use your hands and feet, helping people or working for free doing some part-time admin. All is a gift from your heart which blesses others and yourself.

Who do you give to? Follow your heart, let God speak to you. Ask him where you can direct your help and allow him to guide you in what charities/organizations you should donate your money or time to. There are charities that I wouldn’t give a penny to and others I wish I could give more to. It isn’t possible to help all of them, no matter how hard you try, so follow your heart. Let the Holy Spirit guide you. A few days ago I was out and I saw a homeless girl, huddled with her dog in a doorway. I can’t put her up or give her a home. I can’t give her a job or an income but what I could do was remember that poor widow and give what I had to give. I didn’t look to see what I gave, I just gave all the cash I had, patted the dog and walked on. God used me to bless that girl and blessed me at the same time.

You often hear nowadays of compassion fatigue. I don’t think people are tired of being compassionate or giving money to charity, I do feel they are tired of the aggressive tactics being used in the streets, or seeing the managers of these charities driving around in very expensive company cars and living in big houses on large salaries, all paid for by the donors. Look at who you give to and pray about it. Let God guide you and when he makes it clear, give joyfully and as abundantly as you can, just as God has.

 

For starters please take your time to look at these few wonderful organizations. Thank you.

 

Compassion UK Compassion UK

Compassion USA Compassion International

Compassion Canada Compassion Canada

 

December 21, 2015

Asking for a Double Portion

2 Kings 1 (NLT) When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal…

…8 Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.

13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

Though much more meaningful than a “What do you want for Christmas?” type of question, Elisha is still given a wide open set of possibilities when Elijah asks him what he would like. It’s a question of what Elijah will “do” so some type of blessing is in view here, but Elisha’s response is unique in scripture.

Most translations refer to the request as for a “double portion” but we also have:

  • Let me have twice your spirit (CEB)
  • Please give me twice as much of your power as you give the other prophets (CEV)
  • Please, let me inherit two shares of your spirit. (Holman)
  • Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy man just like you. (Peterson)
  • Leave me a double share of your spirit. (NCV, NRSV, NLT and others)

Double PortionEven with the help of various translations, I still wasn’t clear as to what was meant by the request. Did he want be Elijah-times-two? Actually, the translation by Peterson above (The Message) is closest to what I read at sermonnotebook.org : (I’ve underlined key sentences)

The Content Of His Request – Elisha asked to receive double portion of Elijah’s spirit! The request was not for twice the power that had rested on Elijah. The request was to be recognized as Elijah’s replacement. Of course, he had already been selected by God for that position – 1 Kings 19:16. It was common for firstborn children to receive a double portion of their father’s estate. This was mandated by the Law, Deut. 21:17. (Note: He called Elijah “my father” in verse 12.) Elisha was asking for the right of the firstborn! He was asking that the same Spirit that had empowered the ministry of this great man of God be given to him as well. What kind of spirit was he asking for?

1. A Spirit Of Faith – Elijah learned to trust in the presence and power of God in this world. He knew that God was in absolute control of every situation. He walked by faith!

2. A Spirit Of Obedience – Elijah instantly and without question, even when the commands of God made no sense at all!

3. A Spirit Of Courage – His faith in God and his obedience to God combined to give him the courage to stand for God, even when others ran away.

He merely wanted to take over where Elijah had left off. He wanted to be the next prophet to Israel!

But scripture, ever rich in meaning, can offer us multiple perspectives, insights and applications. At biblestudytools.com the double portion is said to be: (again, I’ve done some underlining; read slowly)

The two parts of the gifts of the spirit he had, that of prophecy, and that of doing miracles, as some think; or two parts out of three of what Elijah was possessed of; or rather double as much, and which he might desire, not from a spirit of vanity and ambition to be greater than his master, but from an eagerness to promote the glory of God, and the interest of religion, to reclaim the Israelites from their idolatry, and establish the true religion, which he might observe Elijah was not able to do with that measure of grace and gifts he had; or however this phrase denotes an abundance, a large portion or measure, as it everywhere does.

Many… have thought it refers to the double portion of the firstborn, and that Elisha does not mean a double portion with respect to Elijah, but with respect to the junior prophets, with whom he might be considered as a firstborn, and so desired a double or greater portion than they, and which may be most correct; and when he asked this, he did not suppose it was in Elijah’s power to give him it, only that he would pray to God, at parting with him, that he would bestow it on him.

So when you’re asked what you want for Christmas, you can give the person who asked you something to think about when you say, “A double portion of God’s Spirit.” Seriously, what better thing could Elisha, or any of us, ask for?


We’ve covered the meaning of “double portion” before here in May of 2012 in an excellent devotional study by K.W. Leslie.


Do you have a verse or passage you’d like to see studied here? Send us the reference using the contact/submissions page.

March 15, 2014

Was Jesus the Recipient of Grace?

A conversation joined in progress…

“…she never brings anything to a potluck dinner, they just show up. He never comes to a church work day. They don’t attend Bible studies or prayer meetings.”

“But what’s that to you?”

“I think we’d all like to know if they’re all in.”

“Why do you need to know that?”

“Because it would be nice to have a conversation with them that wasn’t superficial; that wasn’t just all about the weather and the school their kids go to. It would be nice to know where they stand.”

“Why don’t you just ask them? Say, ‘So what’s God been doing in your life lately?’ Or, ‘What’s God been teaching you lately?”

“You can’t just start a conversation cold like that.”

“Maybe not at the grocery store, or with a relative stranger, but this is church, you sit in the row behind them every single week.”

“It would be awkward.”

“So here’s a question for you: Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“Wait. What?”

“Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“That’s just wrong.”

“Did Jesus ever experience grace?”

“Grace is for sinners. Jesus was without sin.”

“Are you a sinner?”

“I was a sinner; but now I’ve passed from death into life.”

“Have you ever sinned since? Maybe even this week?”

“Yes. Absolutely. So have you.”

“Does the grace of God meet you in that place?”

“Yes. But that’s different; second Corinthians 5:21 says, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’  He had no sin, or some translations say he knew no sin.”

“You just happen to know that verse?”

“It was on a Christian radio on Friday while I was driving to work.”

“And you memorized the reference?”

“My sister’s birthday is 5/21 so that helped.  So when did Jesus experience the grace of God?”

“What is grace?”

“Grace is unmerited favor with God.”

“So the answer is, ‘At his baptism.’  A voice from heaven, the voice of God, says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'”1

“And…”

“He experienced the favor of God even though he hadn’t done anything yet. This was the outset2 of his public ministry.  He hadn’t taught anything, he hadn’t called disciples, he hadn’t healed anyone. It was unmerited in the sense that he hadn’t commenced his spiritual work.”

“But he had been alive for 30 years at that point. He always had the favor of God. Luke 2:52 says, ‘Jesus grew…in favor with God and man,’ so this was something he had earned over time.”

“But the people at the Jordan River didn’t know all that. To them, he was simply one of many being baptized for the forgiveness of sin and then God says he is ‘well pleased’ with him. We tend to think of that as more of an end-of-life pronouncement from God, as in ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ 3 In other words, he has already been made a recipient of the favor of God.”

“But that has nothing to do with works, he was well-pleasing to God because of who he was, not according to anything he did. It’s the same with us, like that verse that says, ‘Not by works of righteousness that we have done…but because of his mercy.’4 There’s nothing that we do that ultimately earns us the grace of God. It’s who we are not what we do.”

“Exactly. So maybe it wasn’t grace in the sense of being freed from punishment because Jesus was, as you said, without sin. But it was a favor with God that preceded everything he was about to do over the next three years.”

“Okay. You could think of that way I suppose, but how did we get on this topic again?”

“The family that sits the row in front of you at church…”

“…Oh…yeah…”

“Could it be the grace of God is working and operative in their lives in ways you just don’t realize?”

“…Hmm…Maybe we need to get to know them a little better…”


1 Matthew 3:17

2Harmonization of the Life of Jesus

3Matthew 25:23

4 Titus 3:5

October 1, 2013

The Broken are Better Off

For two weeks now, my wife and I have been part of a small group.  It’s been a long time since circumstances allowed us to join a home study group, and because we’re studying the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, I’ll probably write about it several times over the next few weeks.

Blessed arrrr the meek - Beatitudes for PiratesLast night I had an insight as we read the Beatitudes, the “Blessed are…” passages — or as seen at right, the “Blessed arrrrr…” passages — that being blessed is often in relationship or by comparison to others.  So I wondered about the passage being modified to “Better off are…”   Here’s how it would read: (to avoid potential copyright issues, the text I’ll modify is the King James Version)

Matthew 5: 3 Better off are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Better off are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Better off are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Better off are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Better off are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Better off are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Better off are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Better off are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Better off are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Of course, there is much more to experiencing blessing than simply for person “A” to receive some benefit from God that person “B” has not. But what do we mean by “Blesssing”?  Easton’s Bible Dictionary states:

(1.) God blesses his people when he bestows on them some gift temporal or spiritual (Gen. 1:22; 24:35; Job 42:12; Ps. 45:2; 104:24, 35).

(2.) We bless God when we thank him for his mercies (Ps. 103:1, 2; 145:1, 2).

(3.) A man blesses himself when he invokes God’s blessing (Isa. 65:16), or rejoices in God’s goodness to him (Deut. 29:19; Ps. 49:18).

(4.) One blesses another when he expresses good wishes or offers prayer to God for his welfare (Gen. 24:60; 31:55; 1 Sam. 2:20). Sometimes blessings were uttered under divine inspiration, as in the case of Noah, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses (Gen. 9:26, 27; 27:28, 29, 40; 48:15-20; 49:1-28; Deut. 33). The priests were divinely authorized to bless the people (Deut. 10:8; Num. 6:22-27). We have many examples of apostolic benediction (2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 6:23, 24; 2 Thess. 3:16, 18; Heb. 13:20, 21; 1 Pet. 5:10, 11).

(5.) Among the Jews in their thank-offerings the master of the feast took a cup of wine in his hand, and after having blessed God for it and for other mercies then enjoyed, handed it to his guests, who all partook of it. Ps. 116:13 refers to this custom. It is also alluded to in 1 Cor. 10:16, where the apostle speaks of the “cup of blessing.”

In introducing his commentary on the Beatitudes, Matthew Henry first sets up the reader with an examination of what is meant by “Blessed.”

Christ begins his sermon with blessings, for he came into the world to bless us (Acts 3:26), as the great High Priest of our profession; as the blessed Melchizedec; as He in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, Gen. 12:3. He came not only to purchase blessings for us, but to pour out and pronounce blessings on us; and here he does it as one having authority, as one that can command the blessing, even life for evermore, and that is the blessing here again and again promised to the good; his pronouncing them happy makes them so; for those whom he blesses, are blessed indeed. The Old Testament ended with a curse (Mal. 4:6), the gospel begins with a blessing; for hereunto are we called, that we should inherit the blessing. Each of the blessings Christ here pronounces has a double intention: 1. To show who they are that are to be accounted truly happy, and what their characters are. 2. What that is wherein true happiness consists, in the promises made to persons of certain characters, the performance of which will make them happy. Now,

1. This is designed to rectify the ruinous mistakes of a blind and carnal world. Blessedness is the thing which men pretend to pursue; Who will make us to see good? Ps. 4:6. But most mistake the end, and form a wrong notion of happiness; and then no wonder that they miss the way; they choose their own delusions, and court a shadow. The general opinion is, Blessed are they that are rich, and great, and honourable in the world; they spend their days in mirth, and their years in pleasure; they eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and carry all before them with a high hand, and have every sheaf bowing to their sheaf; happy the people that is in such a case; and their designs, aims, and purposes are accordingly; they bless the covetous (Ps. 10:3); they will be rich. Now our Lord Jesus comes to correct this fundamental error, to advance a new hypothesis, and to give us quite another notion of blessedness and blessed people, which, however paradoxical it may appear to those who are prejudiced, yet is in itself, and appears to be to all who are savingly enlightened, a rule and doctrine of eternal truth and certainty, by which we must shortly be judged. If this, therefore, be the beginning of Christ’s doctrine, the beginning of a Christian’s practice must be to take his measures of happiness from those maxims, and to direct his pursuits accordingly.

2. It is designed to remove the discouragements of the weak and poor who receive the gospel, by assuring them that his gospel did not make those only happy that were eminent in gifts, graces, comforts, and usefulness; but that even the least in the kingdom of heaven, whose heart was upright with God, was happy in the honours and privileges of that kingdom.

3. It is designed to invite souls to Christ, and to make way for his law into their hearts. Christ’s pronouncing these blessings, not at the end of his sermon, to dismiss the people, but at the beginning of it, to prepare them for what he had further to say to them, may remind us of mount Gerizim and mount Ebal, on which the blessings and cursings of the law were read, Deut. 27:12 There the curses are expressed, and the blessings only implied; here the blessings are expressed, and the curses implied: in both, life and death are set before us; but the law appeared more as a ministration of death, to deter us from sin; the gospel as a dispensation of life, to allure us to Christ, in whom alone all good is to be had. And those who had seen the gracious cures wrought by his hand (Matt. 4:23, 24), and now heard the gracious words proceeding out of his mouth, would say that he was all of a piece, made up of love and sweetness.

4. It is designed to settle and sum up the articles of agreement between God and man. The scope of the divine revelation is to let us know what God expects from us, and what we may then expect from him; and no where is this more fully set forth in a few words than here, nor with a more exact reference to each other; and this is that gospel which we are required to believe; for what is faith but a conformity to these characters, and a dependence upon these promises? The way to happiness is here opened, and made a highway (Isa. 35:8); and this coming from the mouth of Jesus Christ, it is intimated that from him, and by him, we are to receive both the seed and the fruit, both the grace required, and the glory promised. Nothing passes between God and fallen man, but through his hand. Some of the wiser heathen had notions of blessedness different from the rest of mankind, and looking toward this of our Saviour. Seneca, undertaking to describe a blessed man, makes it out, that it is only an honest, good man that is to be so called: Deut. vita beata. cap. 4. Cui nullum bonum malumque sit, nisi bonus malusque animus—Quem nec extollant fortuita, nec frangant—Cui vera voluptas erit voluptatum comtemplio—Cui unum bonum honestas, unum malum turpitudo.—In whose estimation nothing is good or evil, but a good or evil heart—Whom no occurrences elate or deject—Whose true pleasure consists in a contempt of pleasure—To whom the only good is virtue, and the only evil vice.

Our Saviour here gives us eight characters of blessed people; which represent to us the principal graces of a Christian. On each of them a present blessing is pronounced; Blessed are they; and to each a future blessing is promised, which is variously expressed, so as to suit the nature of the grace or duty recommended.

January 6, 2013

The Prayer of Agur

Tony Pearsall at the blog FireSpeaks, is beginning a series on prayer. Here’s the first installment. Click the title for the link, and then bookmark the page if you wish to continue in the series.

The Prayer of Agur

( I dare you to pray this prayer)

I would say 95% of all Christians have heard of the prayer of Jabez, but only about 5% of the those Christians would tell you where it’s located in the Bible. This is just the opposite with The Prayer of Agur, of the very few Christians that have heard I would guest that nearly 100 % of those Christians knows where it can be located in the Bible. Why this is so, we will address later, right now lets look at the prayer.

Proverbs 30:7-9
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.(KJV)

In this prayer a man named Agur ( identified in proverbs 30:1) ask God for two things,

  •   That God’s sustaining Grace will keep him from falling into sin because of his vanity and lies
  •   That God would meet his needs
    • but not so abundant, that he will forget that God is the source of all good things in his life.
    • and not so sparingly that he has to steal to meet his own needs.

This is a difficult prayer to pray it deals with or vanity and pride, the lies that we tell and that others may tell us, and our lust for money and fear of poverty. However Agur does not ask God to help him stop lying, but to keep him out of the situations and circumstance that may tempt him to lie, or that may cause him to act in vanity or pride; to keep him out of circumstances where others are likely to have him as a subject of their lies.

We are cursed with the false belief that we can handle riches in our life , but this is far from the truth. When the options for large amount of money becomes a subject of our interest we almost universally see it as an opportunity to to get more things. I heard Christians who would never play the lottery, say things like “if I won the lottery I would buy…” you fill in the blank. The fact is, the natural man desires the gifts, and blessing of God greater than he desire God. It is for this very reason that God will not answer a prayer from us that would take us from his presence.

James 4:3 (AMP) says “ [Or] you do ask [God for them] and yet fail to receive, because you ask with wrong purpose and evil, selfish motives. Your intention is [when you get what you desire] to spend it in sensual pleasures.”

Agur was a man of wisdom, he knew his own fear of want, and the temptation that being impoverished has on mankind. So he prayed God don’t hold your substance from me so much that I am out of my lack will steal and defile your name.

The question we must ask ourselves are we willing to admit that we are unable to subdue our vanities, and pride ? Are we willing strip ourselves bare of the curse of plenty, so that we may live upright in the presence of Christ?

December 23, 2012

Unfulfilled Longings of the Heart

This morning our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think?  People back then did.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s).  Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is.

 


Above we read these words: ‘Everyone has something they live with.’ Maybe you’re not dealing with childlessness like Zachariah and Elizabeth; maybe it’s something more superficial, but it still eats away at you… Ever wished you were taller? Or you could change the oil on your car? Or fix a plumbing problem? If you find yourself constantly reminded of your inadequacies, you might enjoy this post.

 

July 14, 2012

C201 in Review

Christianity 101:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. II Peter 3:18 NIV.

Two growth areas:

  • Grow in grace
  • Grow in knowledge

Christianity 201

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Col 1 9-12 NIV

Nine growth areas:

  • Grow in knowledge of God’s will
  • Grow in spiritual wisdom and understanding
  • Live a worthy life
  • Please God in every way
  • Bear fruit
  • Grow in knowledge of God
  • Be strengthened with power
  • Reflect great endurance and patience and joy
  • Be thankful

The above, and what follows are from the archives here two years ago. This one was titled Conditional Promises, a reminder that some of the great promises in scripture have conditions attached to them; things we must do first in order to see God’s blessing.


If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.


Apparently the early months of C201 didn’t always include scripture text and commentary, there were often just short quotations, like this one from April 2010.

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout.  It is usually the result of a slow leak.


Finally this one from Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor of The Meeting House.

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant.

June 22, 2012

The Importance of Staying Hungry

Stumbled on a most interesting website the other day, Blessed Economist.  In this recent post Hungry in Christchurch, he summarizes a sermon preached by Bill Johnson in Christchurch, NZ. 

In his sermon of the week, Bill Johnson spoke about hunger. He suggested that we get hungry by eating.

He also spoke of remaining hungry while coming into abundance of blessing. Our challenge is remain hungry while being full of the Spirit.

  • Hunger illustrates humility.
  • Hunger releases a capacity to dream.
  • Hunger cause people to move outside the place of safety.

The Lord is releasing a gift of hunger.

  • The gift of hunger is essential for the next season.
  • The gift of hunger is a gift for people on whom he will pour out a blessing that is bigger than anything has been know before.
  • The gift of hunger allows us to receive the blessing of the Lord, while remaining in the right place.

Bill quoted Ps 107:33-37.

33 He turns rivers into a wilderness,
And the springs of water into dry ground;
34 A fruitful land into barrenness,
For the wickedness of those who dwell in it.

Wickedness causes rivers to run dry and fruitful land becomes a wilderness. The key to understanding this is Luke 1:53.

He has filled the hungry with good things.
but has sent the rich away empty handed.

It is not that God dislikes the rich. He cannot bless those who have become satisfied with what they have and do not remain humble. He takes those who have been blessed and returns them to a place of need, so they can re-discover the source of their blessing, which is hunger. If blessing has caused us to wander he, out of mercy, removes the blessing, so that we will return to the source of our strength.

God blesses those who become hungry. In Psalm 107:35-37 this had happened.

35 He turns a wilderness into pools of water,
And dry land into watersprings.
36 There He makes the hungry dwell,
That they may establish a city for a dwelling place,
37 And sow fields and plant vineyards,
That they may yield a fruitful harvest.
Bill said that Psalm 107:36 is a prophetic decree for this generation.
36 There He makes the hungry dwell,
That they may establish a city for a dwelling place.

The hungry are given the unique privilege of establishing a city.
God is raising up companies of people who cry our constantly, “God, save my city!”

  • The don’t just want individuals saved, they want the systems of the city saved.
  • The want the way people do life to change.
  • They want kingdom values to permeate every aspect of life.
  • They want all interactions, including relationships, business, education impacted by the Spirit.
  • They want everything to be impacted by his divine order.

God will entrust the destiny of the city to the hungry.

  • He wants the hungry to define the DNA of the city.
  • The foundational values will be defined by those who have remained humble, kept connected with the Spirit and the purposes of God.
  • He wants the heart of the city to be shaped by those who have not become complacent and satisfied with what they obtained.
  • He wants the nature of cities defined by hungry people.
  • God will release favour and increase to the hungry.
  • Their voice will impact the destiny of cities.
  • Hungry people change the environment they live in.

The Lord is releasing a grace for remaining hungry while being blessed.

When I heard Bill Johnson’s message, I was stunned, because I remembered a description of the first communion service held when the first English settlers arrived in Christchurch in December 1850. The first ships had arrived at the Port of Lyttleton, but the settlers had not travelled over the hills to the site of the new city. On the Sunday, the settlers met in the second storey of a warehouse on Norwich Quay. The passengers, who had climbed upstairs on a ladder, sat on planks on packing cases. Here is the description of the event recorded in “Canterbury Sketches: Life from Early Days”.

The Psalm for the day, the 22nd, was wonderfully applicable to us. These are the verses I refer to, “And there he setteth the hungry that they may find them a city to dwell in; that they may plant their fruits and increase. He blesseth them so that they multiply exceedingly and suffereth not their cattle to decrease.” It seemed as if the Almighty had given us His blessing on our new life and may we not say on looking back through the long vista of years, that He has blessed many of us abundantly, and made us a prosperous and happy people?

The lectionary reading for that Sunday was Psalm 107 and the reader at the service read the same verses about the hungry establishing the city. So verse 36 is not just a prophecy for our generation, but a prophecy for the city of Christchurch.

The city has been devastated by the earthquake and left empty and barren. God is promising that the future of the city will not be shaped by powerful people who have forgotten him.

The future of the city will be shaped by the hungry. Their voice will have impact on the destiny of the city.

God is promising that the hungry will establish the city. He will bless them and their number will be greatly increased.

He makes the hungry dwell there,
that they may establish a city for a dwelling place.
They sowed.. and planted…
that yielded a fruitful harvest;
he blessed them,
and their numbers greatly increased.

The kingdom of God will be established in Christchurch through people who are hungry for the Spirit and a revelation of the glory of God.

 

December 8, 2011

The Gift of Coveting, or rather, Coveting Others’ Gifts

When they … compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.  (2 Cor. 10:12)

We constantly see believers around us who seem more blessed by God than we are.  Some are more gifted in spiritual abilities; others always succeed with little effort; others seem to have few problems or concerns.  Probably none of us is exempt from the temptation to envy someone else’s blessings and secretly grumble at God, or even charge him with rank injustice, for giving another person more in some way than he has given us.

Yet God in his sovereignty has the right to bless each of us as he chooses.  Consider these words from the apostle Paul: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?  Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:20-21).

Regardless of how we understand the particular application of Paul’s teaching, we cannot escape its basic principle: God is sovereign.  And he’s sovereign in every are of life.  Our Creator has the right to endow each of us at birth with different physical and mental abilities, different temperament characteristics and different natural talents.  He also has the right to give each of us different spiritual gifts.  And it’s obvious God exercises those rights.  We’re not created equal nor given equal opportunities throughout life.  Each of us has his or her own unique set of circumstances, some appearing much more favorable than others.  Since God is under no obligation to any of us, he’s free to bless some more than others as he chooses.  He has the right to do what he wants with his blessings.

 

~Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace
as cited in Holiness Day By Day (Navpress)

July 23, 2011

Spiritual Drought and Spiritual Famine

Earlier in the week while reading The Peoples Bible (a new edition NIV which highlights frequently searched verses at BibleGateway.com) I was again confronted with Amos 8: 11-12

11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD,
   “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
   but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
   and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the LORD,
   but they will not find it.

We’ve been hearing much in the last few days about drought in the United States and famine in east Africa.  Perhaps that why the topic has been on my mind.  This passage is discussing a spiritual drought and a spiritual famine.  I decided to see what was available on this passage online, and a search brought me to my own blog, Thinking out Loud, and a post that was written just a few months ago in April…

A few years back, Wood (Woodrow) Kroll wrote a book which bears the same name as the organization he heads, Back to the Bible (Multnomah Publishing). The following is taken from pages 67-68:

Two Old Testament prophets from Israel would feel very much at home at the dawn of the twenty-first century. I think they have much to say to us as the did to those who heard them in person…

Amos was a lowly shepherd from Tekoa (Amos 1:1) a village not far from Bethlehem. He made no special claims for himself, in fact, when his authority to speak for God was challenged because he was not what people expected of a prophet, Amos said, “I was no prophet nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheep breeder and a tender of sycamore fruit”(7:14). Amos was a pretty humble guy, but when God appeared to him and said, “Go prophesy to My people Israel” (7:15) he could do nothing else.

Amos prophesied during the days of King Uzziah, when Israel’s economy was flourishing. He looked at a society in which the people of God had become complacent and noticed that the Jews had no intimacy with the heavenly Father and paid no attention to those charged with teaching them the Word. When he spoke these words to his countrymen, Amos actually predicted our day: “‘Behold the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord'” (8:11).

That famine has arrived. In our physical and financial prosperity, the church has become spiritual anemic and biblically illiterate.

The prophet Hosea echoed the cry of Amos. He ministered to Israel during the chaotic period just before the fall of the nation in 722 B.C. In that respect he was ominously familiar with what happens to a nation who forgets God and His Word. Unlike Amos, Hosea was a member of the upper class. He was one of the most unusual prophets of the Old Testament.

Strangely, God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2-9). His wife, Gomer, eventually returned to her life of sin, but Hosea bought her back from the slave market and restored her as his wife (3:1-5). Hosea’s unhappy family life served as an illustration of Israel’s sin. The people of God had fallen out of love with God, grown cold toward Him and no longer heeded His Word. They rejected the one true God and served pagan Gods.

In that context, Hosea prophesied with words that have a chilling ring for the church of the twenty-first century. He spoke for God when he said, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me, because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (4:6). The Israelites forgot God’s law. They failed to read his word and showed no respect for it. Therefore God promised that he would forget His people as they had forgotten His Word. That simply meant that He would withhold His blessing and all the good things that would have been theirs had they spent more time loving God by reading His Word.

~Wood Kroll

April 17, 2010

Digging a Well

We continue our weekend theme:  Looking at the early posts on other devotional blogs.   This is the very first post from The Well.

“So he built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.”

In a time of famine, Isaac didn’t run, didn’t seek for greener pastures, didn’t do the natural thing — he stood firm and trusted God.

He worshipped — he built an altar

He prayed — he called on the name of the Lord

He found a well — he unstopped it, dug it up

He drew from the well — he prospered in that place!

The springing up from below, in contrast to the outpouring from above, is associated with private encounters with God where you alone are the sole recipient of His attention. This “inner baptism” involves the digging out of plugged up wells and the breaking down of emotional dams that block the flow of the underground springs of the Spirit that every believer has been granted .

As we may go anywhere with comfort when God’s blessing goes with us, so we may stay anywhere contentedly if that blessing rests upon us

(Genesis 26:25) (unknown) (Matthew Henry)