Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rich Man, Poor Man

Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is Maker of them all. (Pro 22:2)

If there’s one thing the Bible is clear on it is that we are all equal before God, rich and poor alike. Passages like James 2:1-7 come to mind, but it is not just a New Testament message. The Law makes no distinction between rich and poor, except that the poor can bring a cheaper sacrifice. In Lev 5:7-13, for example, if you cannot afford a lamb for a sin offering you can bring two doves or two young pigeons. Those who cannot even bring two doves can bring a small amount of flour. Even more, the Law requires men to take special care of the poor: to aid the widows and orphans, not to exact usury, to free all slaves in the year of jubilee, etc. The Scriptures, in fact, spend quite a bit of time on this topic, and why? Because we need it! Throughout history, societies have stratified into an upper class and a lower class, the haves and the have-nots. Our pride deceives us into thinking that if we own more we must be worth more. People misunderstand God’s blessing. They think they deserve it. Now it is true that wisdom and righteousness often reap a harvest of prosperity. You don’t have to go far in Proverbs to see that. Just two verses past this one we read, “Humility and fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life.” (v4) But nowhere does the Bible say that rich people are intrinsically better than poor people.

God calls us to love our fellow human beings, whatever their estate. Forgive me, Lord, when I overlook those who have nothing or envy those who have much. Train my heart to see the person behind the tattered clothes or the fancy car. Every one is a sinner for whom Christ died, and I should love them no less than you do. Amen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Nobles of Tekoa

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. (Neh 3:5)

Under the leadership of Nehemiah, the people of Jerusalem repaired the city wall, which had lain in ruins for over a hundred and fifty years. It was a huge undertaking, but they completed it in only 52 days. This entire chapter of Nehemiah is devoted to recording all the people who helped, and what section they rebuilt. Goldsmiths, perfume-makers, merchants and Levites – they all helped build the wall. Well, almost everyone. In the whole chapter, only one group refused to help: the “nobles” of Tekoa. How foolish they must have looked! Tekoa wasn’t much of a town and, at this time, Judah wasn’t much of a country, but the proud “nobles” of Tekoa held themselves aloof. Was it that they considered manual labor to be beneath them, or could they not stand to take orders from someone else? Meanwhile, the men of Tekoa, perhaps embarrassed by the leading citizens of their town, actually repaired two sections of the wall (v27), the only group to do so.

Are there menial tasks that I would be unwilling to do for the sake of God’s Kingdom? Would I empty a bedpan or dig a ditch? I suppose I would try to weasel out by spiritualizing it. “Oh, that’s not my gift.” But Lord, I don’t want to be like the nobles of Tekoa. I am willing to do whatever needs to be done for your Kingdom. Convict me when foolish pride, or sheer laziness, causes me to shrink back from the task you have set before me. Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Satisfaction Guaranteed

The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. (Pro 13:4)

I am basically lazy. I know some diligent people, and I’m not one of them! You can have the best plans and lots of good intentions, but if you don’t put your shoulder to the wheel you will accomplish nothing. So what does it mean to be diligent? Every time I have read this verse I always think of lazy and diligent as polar opposites. But as I reflect on it now, I think the true opposite of “lazy” is “driven.” I know some driven people, too, and I can tell you they are not “fully satisfied.” The lazy person does nothing because he thinks someone else ought to do it. But the driven person thinks he has to do everything himself. He has forgotten the providence of God. Yes, God has given me a calling and I must be diligent to do all he has called me to do. But it is God who provides all my needs. It is God, and him alone, who fully satisfies. Lord, make me diligent to hear your will and obey, to faithfully obey your commands. Then I will trust in you to satisfy all my needs. Only you can fully satisfy. Amen.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Show Him You Love Him

The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 Jn 2:4)

These are hard words. Whenever I read 1 John I always want to rush past this verse because I do not like to think about what it says. It is too convicting. Now I know that no one can truly live a sinless life in this fallen flesh of ours, so it is reasonable to assume that John is talking about whether our lives are characterized by obedience or not. But does that really make me feel any better? Is my life characterized by obedience? And not just my actions, but my words and my thoughts as well? John holds up a standard for loving God that reveals my love for him to be a weak and pitiful thing. I can take this two ways. I can shrink back in despair, knowing I will never lead a sinless life, or I can take up the challenge and rise with a new determination to demonstrate my love for God. I will rise up! Lord, I am committed to obeying you as best as I am able, because I love you. You have shown your love for me in your awesome sacrifice on Calvary. Can I not obey you, even in the little things, even in my thoughts and words, to show my love for you? Lord, remind me when I come to the crossroads of sin and obedience that only one choice will demonstrate the true nature of my love for you. Amen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

God's Amazing Plan for Us

In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. (Gen 15:16)

What an amazing plan God has for us! We often wonder why he lets bad things happen. These things don't take God by surprise. He has planned them for centuries. And not only does he have a good reason for them, he often has two or three good reasons!

In this passage, God is making a covenant with Abram. He has promised to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation. But he also tells Abram his descendants will be slaves in another country for 400 years. That part sounds bad. Who wants to suffer for 400 years? Of course, we know in hindsight that Israel's bondage in Egypt and miraculous deliverance was God’s plan to forge them into a nation. Even more, their experience in Egypt was a type (a foreshadowing) of our deliverance in Christ. But God had yet another reason.

We know that when Israel entered the Promised Land it was the fulfillment of God’s promised blessing for them. But sometimes we forget that it was also his execution of judgment on the Canaanites for their many sins. God tells Abram his descendants will be in bondage for 400 years because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Here we see that Israel’s suffering in Egypt had yet another purpose – to show God's mercy to the Amorites! He is going to give them an extra 400 years to repent of their sins. Even though God knew that ultimately they would not repent, in his mercy he desired to give them every opportunity. He is not hasty in judgment.

God weaves all of these many different purposes into the beautiful tapestry of his plan for our lives. When I wonder why God allows suffering in my life, or in the life of a friend, I can be confident that he has a deep and worthy purpose in it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Our Advocate

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 Jn 2:1)

God hates sin. It is an offense to him. Sin demands punishment. How comforting then to know that when I sin I have an advocate with the Father! I imagine that when I sin Jesus says, “Father, I have paid the debt for this man’s sin. Do not hold it against him.” Now, it would not do to have just anyone for your advocate before the Father. Our advocate is Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, the Son of God who lived a perfect life and then died for our sins (v2). This is the only basis for his plea to the Father on my behalf. Certainly it is not for any merit of my own. I deserve justice but I receive mercy. How great is God’s love for us! (1 Jn 3:1) Thank you, Lord, for the great gift of your mercy.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fighting the Wrong Battle

Jesus commanded Peter “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (Jn 18:11)

For Peter, the night that ended in betrayal began with a brave but foolhardy act. Taking a sword, he tried to defend Jesus from the crowd that came to arrest him. But Peter was fighting the wrong battle. This was the path Jesus had planned to walk from the beginning. It was the path for which he had prepared himself as he agonized in prayer that night. Jesus had come to do battle for the souls of men. Peter thought he had come to restore the kingdom of Israel. (Acts 1:6)

How often am I working against God’s plan because I misunderstand his purposes? Peter thought he needed to save Jesus, but he almost kept Jesus from saving Peter. When our children were little they always wanted to “help” us, which of course meant twice as big a mess and twice as long to clean up. Lord, do I make messes you have to clean up when I’m only trying to help? Give me the wisdom and understanding to see how you are working in each situation and be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Amen.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Know Him and Know Truth

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (Jn 14:16-17)

As the disciples lived with Jesus for three years they were also living with the Holy Spirit and getting to know him. But Jesus gives them a promise of an even more amazing relationship with the Spirit – he “will be in you.” This was fulfilled at Pentecost and now is the marvelous privilege of every believer, to have the Spirit of God living in our hearts. Jesus calls him the Counselor, the Spirit of truth. Through him we can have certain knowledge of things that otherwise we might not know at all. There are a lot of things I think are true based on evidence, there are some things I have concluded based on reasoning and there are many things I accept based on what I hear. But through the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart there are some things I know. Through him I know God is real, I know God loves me, I know I am saved, I know the Bible is true, and I know I will live with him forever.

The world cannot accept these things because the world does not know him. In philosophy, epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. The witness of the Holy Spirit is a new type of epistemology that secular philosophers cannot accept. Oddly, while it is the most suspect to them it is the most certain to me. But because of this, I cannot expect to argue someone into agreeing with the Bible. I must point them to God and trust his Spirit to soften their hearts. I may often be able to offer evidence or reasoning or testimonies that can help my unbelieving friends see the reasonableness of Christianity, but only the Holy Spirit can make them believe it. Then they, too, will know it with the same certainty that I know it.