Monthly Archives: January 2013

Gen. 33, Mark 4, Esther 9, 10, Rom. 4

One of the primary themes that ran through each of the readings for today was that of heart preparation for the glory of God. And after careful reflection, I began to wonder, what are the best conditions or circumstances to learn and benefit the most from God’s word? Just yesterday, I heard from a dear friend whose son was held at knife point in Africa while working as a missionary and was almost killed because he was a Christian and refused to renounce his faith. In the first hour after hearing that news, I remember emotionally praying hard for this young man, for his safety and the safety of the entire team, and for the people he was working with. But did it need to take that event to get me praying like I did? Was it the situation or the condition of my heart that moved me to that praying place?

Is it really a sermon that makes the difference? On the surface, it would appear the answer is yes… after all, isn’t that the responsibility of the church? To make the message so easy to understand that we couldn’t possibility miss the point of the God’s word? I would argue that this approach has the potential of rendering God’s word less meaningful… more ‘Google-like’, by attempting to reduce the substance of God’s word to a collection of simple phrases that lack the depth that is necessary to truly understand God’s heart for His children. So, what are the best conditions to learn from God’s word? I believe the answer lies within ourselves and how we first prepare ourselves to receive God’s word, then work to maintain a heart of gratitude. This is exactly what James shared in James 4:8… “Come near to God, and He will come near to you.” A grateful heart keeps us in connection with God with our heart focused what it should be through faith. As a teacher, my best lessons are useless, unless my students are open and ready to hear the message I have to offer… in so doing, my students get more out of my lecture with a much higher retention than if they are completely closed to what I have to say.

Jesus articulates the preparation of the heart beautifully in parables found in Mark 4. Specifically, Jesus explains four types of heart soils; the soil that is hard, soil that is shallow and rocky, and the soil that is kind to weeds. These soils are wild and untamed and are hostile to plant life. When a gardener works the ground to plant a garden he must first work hard to prepare the ground in preparation of planting. He breaks up the hard ground with instruments, removes the weeds, rocks, and anything else that would inhibit the growth of his seeds. Only after the soil is prepared will the farmer plant in order to maximize his harvest, and not a moment before. And if the gardener would desire for the ground to return to its natural condition, he would simply do nothing. By ceasing to tend the ground, the effect would be that weeds would overtake the soil the farmer worked hard to prepare.

This process is a key component often overlooked in this parable… that a gardener must first tame the wild ground. He must work a patch of ground that couldn’t naturally tolerate fruit and flowers that are desirable by transforming it into a fertile bed that’s ready to receive whatever he wants to plant within the new soil. The Holy Spirit can be seen as the Master Gardner who waters hard, dry ground and softens our hearts with the Word of God. He meticulously works and tills the stony ground of stubborn and closed hearts and prepares them to receive the Gospel. And when the Master Gardner plants the Gospel, a well-prepared soil is better able to receive the Lord Jesus in the fullness of love and happily obeys His commands. He is also busy removing weeds, pulling those weed-like idols from our hearts that would otherwise make the Gospel boring and unlovely to us. He does this so that the Gospel will grow unimpeded by the weeds of this world that normally thrive in the soil of our hearts.

Even with the best of intentions, if left to themselves, our hearts would experience weeds growing stronger, choking out the Gospel. But when the Spirit of God plants the Gospel in a good and well prepared heart which we have worked to prepare, it becomes useful to God and produces a harvest of righteousness for the sake of spreading the Word of Jesus Christ. Additionally, growth takes time, and I know for myself, I must work constantly at being patient. Yes, I am responsible for doing the work that is needed to prepare and guard my heart, but I must also allow God to work in His time, not mine! This is exactly what Paul describes for us in that passage in 1 Corinthians 3:9a: “For we are God’s fellow workers.” One of the most destructive forces at work in the church and our lives today is our unrelenting demand for instant results. We want to have immediate conversions and immediate responses every time we speak. We tend not to allow time for the Word to take root and grow, and come to harvest. Our Lord is teaching us the fantastic truth that He is at work always; that it doesn’t all depend on us getting it right to have Him love us.

Lord, I pray I will trust that as I do the work of preparing my heart and sowing the seed of Your Word wherever I can, that You will do the rest in Your time, as you see all things and know what is best for me to grow closer to You and with those people I have in my life now, and who I will come in contact with in the future.

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Filed under 1 Corinthians, 66 Books, Bible in a year reading plan, Esther, Genesis, Mark, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans

Gen. 32; Mark 3; Esther 8; Rom. 3

He makes things new.

These brothers at odds, and understandably so–one tricked his way into an inheritance. Their family divided. This is the start of a nation and people–though threaded thick with sin-theme (all of us). But God would make something new from it–something better. Jacob wrestles alone with God at night …

28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” Genesis 32:28 NLT.

Made new.

A people on the verge of destruction–Haman’s plot sealed with a king’s signet ring. God uses Esther to bring about a different ending–and Mordecai writes words that empower and protect the Jews. There was great joy. A fate reversed, and hope–

made new.

Jesus on the Sabbath …

Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.

He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! Mark 3:1-5 NLT.

Restored. (Restored!)

Made new.

21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. Romans 3:21-25 NLT.

Sinners, fallen short of the standard–declared righteous.

Made new.

Father God, when I wrestle with you, and you make me new. I hold out my hand to you, and you restore what is broken–even if others say you can’t (or shouldn’t). You make me new. Kindness undeserved, your mercy–thankfully received. My life in your hands, new joy (my fate reversed–from death to life!) and hope. Declared righteous, and yours.

Courtney (66books365)

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Filed under 66 Books, Bible in a year reading plan, Esther, Genesis, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Mark, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans

Gen. 31; Mark 2; Esther 7; Rom. 2;

The faith of so many of the individuals contained in the bible amazes me at times.  You think about Jacob and how he continued to trust God through everything that he was put through by Laban.  He endured years of being swindled and misled by his own father in law.  God walked with him through it and gave him guidance, but I wonder if in the middle of it he ever wondered why God would allow it.

Esther had such courage to risk her life and follow God into what could have been her own death.  She faithfully served God and ultimately saw her people saved and justice served.  Again though I wonder how she felt during the darker times.

In Mark we see the faith of friends who do whatever it takes to make sure their friend would have the chance to be healed by Jesus.  Climbing on a roof, lowering him down, bypassing hundreds of others who had gathered, basically cutting in line, they didn’t care about appearances.  Their faith drove them.

In all of these cases, faith was more than just heartfelt, but was life lived.  Their faith was showed through action and choices in their lives.  Regardless of the fear or doubt that they probably felt, they moved.

Then I look at my own faith.  Now, I believe with all my heart the bible is true and Jesus is who He said He was.  In church I worship with all my heart.  Facing adversity, I trust God through it all.  When it comes to many things, I know my head and heart are in the right place, but sometimes, many times, my actions do not live up to my believe.  I stand silent so many times when I should speak up.  I fail to move to action when God’s love needs to be tangible to someone.

So am I being too hard on myself when comparing my life to theirs?  Probably, but I believe God calls us to analyze ourselves and see how we can do better.  To ask “So how am I doing?  Where can God stretch and use me more?”  And it doesn’t have to be giant leaps at a time, maybe just baby steps.  The main thing is to not give up, but instead move day by day towards living that Christ-centered life that we are all called to.

Most times the best prayer is the simplest.  God help me.

Allen (allen4myfamily)

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Filed under 2 Corinthians, 66 Books, Bible in a year reading plan, Esther, Genesis, Mark, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans, Uncategorized

Genesis 30; Mark 1; Esther 6; Romans 1

People did not think it was important to have a true knowledge of God. So God left them and allowed them to have their own worthless thinking and to do things they should not do. They are filled with every kind of sin, evil, selfishness, and hatred. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, lying, and thinking the worst about each other. They gossip and say evil things about each other. They hate God. They are rude and conceited and brag about themselves. They invent ways of doing evil. They do not obey their parents. They are foolish, they do not keep their promises, and they show no kindness or mercy to others. They know God’s law says that those who live like this should die. But they themselves not only continue to do these evil things, they applaud others who do them. Romans 1:28-32 (NCV)

It is true now. It was true then. Evil behavior has run rampant since the fruit was plucked from the tree. Over and over we can see illustrations of sin – jealousy, murder, fighting, lying, and so on – in the Bible, in the news, and even in our own lives.

I read today’s passages and I hear the discontentedness of Rachel in her desire for another son soon after Joseph’s birth. I feel the jealousy of Leah toward her sister the beloved wife. I experience the competition between the two as they shamelessly throw their maids at Jacob in order to produce more children and one-up the other and as they literally barter their way into their husband’s bed.

I see the double-edged deceit between Laban and Jacob. Laban hiding away the streaked and speckled sheep in his flock, promised to Jacob, conniving to squeeze every last blessing out of him before he leaves with his family. And, Jacob manipulating the mating of the pure sheep that were left to strengthen his own flock and weaken Laban’s.

I witness the pride of Haman believing that he would be the only man the King would want to honor and being humiliated by having to honor Mordecai, the man who he planned on hanging on the gallows. He runs home with his head covered to hide from the embarrassment, only serving to fuel his hatred more.

I’d like to say that I have been innocent of these sins. But if I did, I would be lying. I struggle daily with sin. I grapple with the battlefield in my mind. My desire is to always take every thought captive, but often jealousy, frustration, worthless thinking, bitterness, resentment ooze their way out. I believe lies that the enemy whispers in my ear and temporarily forget true knowledge of God in the midst of my circumstances.

Each moment, I have a choice. I can give myself over to my sin, my ‘stinking thinking,’ or I can baptize myself in His love and hear His truths wash over me, changing my heart and forgiving my sin. I can listen to the lies or to the Voice from heaven saying, “You are my [daughter], whom I love, and I am very pleased with you.” (Mark 1:9-11)

My prayer is that I use each moment wisely. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Blessings – Julie, Vadipatti, India (written in the U.S.A.)

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Filed under 66 Books, Bible in a year reading plan, Esther, Genesis, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Mark, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans

Genesis 29, Matthew 28, Esther 5, Acts 28

“On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. ” Esther 5:1-2

Esther. Would she have chosen to be taken away from her uncle, marry the king, and be put in life or death situation on which the survival of her entire nation depended? I don’t know.

But I know that she didn’t.

She may not have chosen her circumstances, but she was chosen. Chosen by God for the time in which she lived, and by her acceptance of that, and her choice to obey, her people were saved.

*

“She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah.” ~Genesis 29:35

Jacob. He wanted Rachel, but he got Leah. He would not have chosen Leah, but because of circumstances outside of his control, she became his wife, and bore him six sons, and a daughter. Half of the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.  And Judah, her fourth, would be the lineage through which the Messiah would come.

Out of trickery and deceit, and out of more broken sinful people all the way down the line, He brought the Savior. My Redeemer.

*

“When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured.” Acts 28:9

Paul. Perhaps he would not have chosen to be shipwrecked on an island, or bitten by a viper. But God chose this, and all of the sick on the island were healed. God was glorified, and many heard the truth.

*

I gladly admit I do not understand all the mysteries regarding the will of God and the will of man.

But I do know that while I would like to think I have control over my life, the truth is that

many of my circumstances, I do not get to choose.

But I do choose what how I respond to them. I do choose what I believe in the midst of them.

Will I receive and obey like Esther did? Will I glorify God as Paul did?

Will I choose to believe that God works all things together for good for those who are in Christ Jesus, even in spite of my weakness, failure, and brokenness?

I know I am chosen by Almighty God, and I can trust Him with the choosing.

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Genesis 28; Matthew 27; Esther 4; Acts 27

Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.  Genesis 28:16

Christian or not, there are times in life when it would appear that God is nowhere to be found.  For me, one of those times was during my acute care internship at a large university hospital.  Fresh out of the suburbs,  having just finished the academic portion of my education and newly married,  I found myself working in  various intensive care units of this teaching hospital.  To say it was intimidating is an understatement. Never before had I seen how far a human body could be punished and broken and still maintain a tenuous grip on life. Sometimes it was the result of disease or accident;  other times, the result of violence.  The pain and suffering of patients and their loved ones (if they had someone holding vigil for them) were excruciating.

Type A me was struggling at my internship and my clinical instructor told me that I should have chosen a different field of work.  I was full of selfdoubt and ashamed that perhaps I had just wasted my parents money and the last four years of my life pursuing a path with a dead end.  The peace of God alluded me and in stepped my Esther in the place least expected.

She was a new bride and her husband was a patient of mine in the ICU.  He had sustained a massive head injury and high level spinal cord injury in a motor vehicle accident.  He had been on life support for a month, was unresponsive and the prognosis was poor. He looked nothing like the beautiful young man she had fallen in love with.  I came in twice a day to treat him and when I did, she and I talked.  This went on for a couple of weeks.

At the end of the long day in which my clinical instructor had  suggested I find a new line of work,  I took a few moments to have a good cry in the privacy of a garden outside the hospital. I felt alone and forgotten by God amongst forsaken, suffering people.  Who should find me, but my patient’s wife. God showed up in the new bride of a dying man to speak words of vision and encouragement. The irony of her consoling me! The internship didn’t become easier, but knowing that God heard my prayers and answered them through this woman dramatically changed my understanding of who He is. It gave me the strength to stay the course.

We are no different from Jacob.  God is always present, but when our eyes are finally open to it, we are changed.  We need to be like the people of Israel and sit around the fire (or computer) and tell one another stories of  how God has opened our eyes to his presence. We can share how He has provided Esthers in our lives. We will be strengthened for the days to come.

Kathy

Addendum:  It’s thirty years later and I have saved a letter from my garden friend.  Here’s her closing line, “And don’t get too busy to remember to live and enjoy that husband, ok!”  I take take that advice to heart.

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Filed under 66 Books, Acts, Esther, Genesis, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Matthew

Genesis 27, Matthew 26, Esther 3, & Acts 26

“They are bold-faced liars!”  “What a cheat!”  “He’s just being manipulative.” “He’s just showing off in public.” “All of them are betrayers.”  That is what I first thought about the main characters in these Biblical stories.  If I had not read the whole story, I would have trembled to think how God’s justice would fall on them; like Evelyn says to Beni in an old Indiana Jones movie, “You know, nasty little fellows such as yourself always get their comeuppance.”

The funny thing is; these characters are the heroes in the stories we read!  The lies and cheating of Rebecca and her son, Jacob, results in Jacob receiving his father’s blessing and inheritance.  Though Peter denies Jesus three times, Jesus makes him a mighty rock in the kingdom of God.  Mordecai’s resistance to government and public display of nonconformity leads to honors and a parade.  Paul schmoozes the king with flattery, and he gets to speak the gospel at the highest level of authority.

To a person like me who has mostly seen life in black and white terms, the behaviors of these characters are somewhat confusing.  I like people who are honest, say what they mean, and mean what they say.  I am sensitive to manipulation, and I can often detect the signs of dishonesty: averting the eyes, hesitating in speech, nervousness, fidgety body language. Also,  I really take it hard when those whom I love betray me or leave me in a difficult situation.

As is usually true, however, what one hates the most in others is most likely one’s own character flaw.

How many times have I told little white lies?  How oft have I used my femininity to get what I want? What about those loud outbursts in meetings to sound my disapproval? And to my shame, what about the times that I have gossiped or abandoned another for my own benefit?  So it is in my best interest to learn God’s intention for me through these stories.

To make a long story short (no pun intended), I learned that we sometimes forget that God is in control and He will give us what He ordains.  We do not have to push and manipulate to receive what He has reserved for us.  Also, quiet, peaceful disagreement may be needed to affect change, but we better have fasted and prayed to know if God is on our side. Another ‘moral to the story’ is that you can ‘catch more flies with honey.’  Most importantly, what I will take from these instructive Biblical stories about men and women of God is that even betrayal can be forgiven; not just theirs’ – MINE.

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Filed under 66 Books, Acts, Esther, Genesis, M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, Matthew, New Testament, Old Testament, Uncategorized