Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 19 - A vision of God not Politics

Today's reading is Isaiah 6.1

Isaiah 6 begins with...
"1 In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple."

In the midst of a national shock, where all wonder what will happen next, Isaiah sees the Lord. It is a reminder to him, and to us, that rulers and nations come and go, but the Lord remains forever. Politics by nature is transitory. The debates that happen in state capitols and nationally in Washington seem important, and often are, to us. But, when governments have come and gone, the Lord remains constant. Politics by nature is focused on the temporal, and usually involves the "power" of a group "over" those who don't have the power. Sometimes rebellions occur among minorities, but usually those who have "power over" win the day. The temptation to become frustrated with politics is real. When those who we agree with are in power we defend; and when those who we disagree with rule, we complain and vilify. It is crucial to recognize that, as a Christian, the Lord is constant. He is not swayed from his purposes by politics. He is not cheering, nor writing letters to the editor. The Kingdom of God is a place of his rule and all who enter into it are under his rule...regardless of the earthly citizenship they belong to.

Jesus reminded us, "seek first the Kingdom...", and Paul wrote, "I urge...requests, prayers, intercession...for Kings and all those in authority..."
We do not withdraw from the culture, nor do we put our trust and faith in those who govern. They, like us, are part of a "fallen" people. Their sin, like ours, is more real than we want to admit. They, like us, need the grace and forgiveness that comes from trusting in Christ Jesus. It is "the Lord" that is constant. It is the Lord who will remain when all the rest have gone on into eternity.

Seeing God gave Isaiah eyes to see himself. Unclean. His surroundings revealed how bad things were. Anything but holy. When God touched Isaiah he enjoyed forgiveness and cleansing and a new readiness. God revealed himself to Isaiah and Isaiah responded, "Lord, I'll go! Send me."

That can be our story. In light of God's holiness, we come undone. "Woe is me! I'm an unclean person among unclean people. Now that I really see you, Lord, I see myself. Help!" And God does help, with a grace greater than our sin. His holiness is great, and so also his grace is also great, for it covers every sin of ours that must offend the purity of his holiness. "Come, let us tell of the LORD's greatness; let us exalt his name together" (Psalm 34:3).

Peace

If you're reading along with me in the Bible-in-a-year plan, read today: 1 Samuel 15, 16, 17

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 18 - Testing or Resting

Today's readings come from Exodus 17:1-17, and Psalm 95.

The two readings go together. The Psalmist in Psalm 95:7-9 (NIV), says...
7 ... Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert,
9 where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.

Exodus 17 gives us awareness of what he's talking about. Exodus 17:1 (NIV)
1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.

The children of Israel are in the desert, only recently having left Egypt through a powerful display of God in parting the Red Sea so they could walk through it on dry land, no less. Yet, here, things were not one of "look what God just did for us", but rather...in Exodus 17:3 (NIV)
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?"

What follows is the first of two incidents in the desert where God brought forth water from the rock...Exodus 17:5-7 (NIV)
5 The LORD answered Moses, "Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.
6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink." So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"


Massah means "to test", and Meribah means "to quarrel". The fact was, God was with them, but they did not recognize, nor believe it. The test was in believing that God would truly care for them in the desert...that he did not lead them out of Egypt just to abandon them in the desert.

The psalmist says there's an alternative. Psalm 95:8-11 (NASB)
8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness,
9 "When your fathers tested Me, They tried Me, though they had seen My work.
10 "For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways.
11 "Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest."


So, here's the choice: Test or Rest. To test is the maintain the posture of God owes me. To rest is to trust in God who promises he will never leave us, or forsake us, and who says, "trust in me" and I will give you rest...a place of peace, security, freedom and confidence. It's not always easy to do. We can easily succumb to the culture of whining and complaining...finances, health, politicians, family, church, friends even. Yet when we do, we miss the grace that is ours because God is with us. He knows our needs even before ourselves. He is our peace.

Peace

If you're reading along in the Bible-in-a-year with me, read 1 Samuel 13 & 14.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 17 - Our Faith in Our Holy God

Today's reading is from Psalm 11

Psalm 11:1-7 (NIV)
1 In the LORD I take refuge. How then can you say to me: "Flee like a bird to your mountain.
2 For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.
3 When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"
4 The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them.
5 The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.
6 On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot.
7 For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.

It's not always easy for us to understand God as Holy. We can't see "holy" readily around us. In the Old Testament, the tabernacle first, and then the Temple had the "holy of holies". When Moses met God in the desert in Exodus, he was told to remove his shoes because the ground he was standing on was Holy. Yet, we don't see "holy" in our every day lives in ways that makes us realize, "aah, there is holy".

I believe that Holiness is all around us. First, because God is "near" to us. He is not a distant God who is far removed from his creation, especially his people. The psalmist said "I take refuge in God...not in some distant mountain". What did he mean? One of the temptations of Israel during these days was to erect sacrificial altars on top of a mountain and worship some deity - often Baal - making sacrifices to get that deity's favor for something...crops, children, rain, security...and on and on it went. David says, I don't need to flee to a mountain, I have God right here, right now.

Later he adds, Psalm 11:4 (NIV)
"The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them."

Yet we shouldn't be tempted to think "up there". Later on in this same Psalm - 11:7, "For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face."

It might be hard for us to think Holy, but a simple prayer of "thank you Lord for being here, I trust you" is a reminder that God is here...the ground wherever we are at is holy ground.

Peace

If you are reading through the bible in a year with me, our reading today is from 1 Samuel 9 - 12

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Third Sunday in Lent

There is no devotional readings on Sundays during Lent.

Today we worship the Lord who saw our need and sent his only Son into the world to bring about our redemption, and rule over his Kingdom.

Peace

If you're reading along through the Bible in a Year, read I Samuel 4 - 8.


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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 16: The Miracle of the ordinary

Today's reading is in Mark 6

The flow of this chapter keeps your mind turning over and over. The thing that strikes me is how almost all events are ordinary...and how Jesus' presence takes that ordinariness and turns it upside down.

The ministry in his own area where he grew up highlights the lack of faith among those who saw Jesus as nothing more than what he had been up until age 30 when he began his ministry - a carpenter. They could not see beyond the ordinary of what they've always seen...and so they missed who he really was even when miracles were being performed.

"Then Jesus told them, 'A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.'”

What they had was God among them and they couldn't see it. When Jesus then sends out the disciples a short time later, he keeps them simple in their going - this sense of your work is done in the ordinary.

John the Baptist's martyrdom stands as a contrast between the power, and cowardice, of Herod - with all of his grandiosity, he is unable to do the right thing and succumbs to the will of evil instead of choosing what is right. He lived outside of the ordinary and missed the miracle of life.

The chapter ends with the countryside alive with Jesus' presence even though their is constant demands, difficult conditions, and overwhelming needs...in the midst of these things, something simple occurs, and because Jesus is in the midst of the ordinary, miracles abound.

Let's never lose sight of the ordinary around us, nor be tempted to think that somehow God is not breathing life into the midst of us through it.

Peace

If you're reading along in the Bible through a year with me, read 1st Samuel 1, 2, 3. It's the story of the beginning of Samuel's life and ministry. If ever a passage spoke of God in the ordinary occurrences of life, this does.


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Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 15 - Our Compassionate Savior

Today's reading is from Mark 5.

Try closing your eyes and imagining the scenes that occur here.

There's a man possessed by demons: Mark 5:1-2 (NLT)
1 So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes.
2 When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from a cemetery to meet him.

There was a woman who had been suffering with a bleeding disease: Mark 5:25-28 (NLT)
25 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding.
26 She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.
27 She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe.
28 For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”

And there was a daughter of the leader of the local synagogue who had just died: Mark 5:35-36 (NLT)
35 While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”
36 But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

The first one is screaming insanely, cutting himself, a frightening creature who everyone was both afraid of and stayed away from.

The second one was a woman who has womanly problems - hemorrhaging in a way that must have kept her constantly away from the temple since she would remain ritually unclean all of the time.

The third one seemed too far gone. The girl had died in between her father leaving to find Jesus and before they could arrive.

All three represent great needs...and each, while different outwardly, have the same profound result - the corruption of sin is overcome by the compassion and love of the Savior. This is Jesus, our Savior. He comes not only to die on the cross for our sins, but he comes as one who restores the creation to what God had designed it to be. In him, the Kingdom of God has come. There are no demonic beings, no evil forces free to work; there is no suffering and debilitating disease that keeps one in a state of pain and depression; there is no death and family grief...there is only LIFE.

While we won't see this in it's fullness and beauty until Christ returns, it is encouraging to see the compassion of our Savior...this is who we worship and follow.

Peace

If you're reading along in the bible through a year, the reading today is Judges 19, 20, 21. These are some of the most "sad" and difficult passages to understand. Not because they are not understandable, but because they are sickening aspects of sin that occurs because a people choose to do their own thing instead of choosing the Kingdom of God. Read it, but you won't enjoy it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 14 - A simple Prayer

Today's reading is from Psalm 70. It's short, simple and straightforward.

Psalm 70:1-5 (NLT)
1 Please, God, rescue me! Come quickly, LORD, and help me.
2 May those who try to kill me be humiliated and put to shame. May those who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace.
3 Let them be horrified by their shame, for they said, “Aha! We’ve got him now!”
4 But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “God is great!”
5 But as for me, I am poor and needy; please hurry to my aid, O God. You are my helper and my savior; O LORD, do not delay.

The psalm of David begins with that simple prayer. "Please God, rescue me! Come quickly, Lord, and help me." In our flesh we resist the urge to say the words. We are not dependent upon anyone. We are designed by God to be dependent, not alone, not making it on our own. First our dependence is upon him - "love the Lord your God with all of your heart...." - to love him is to be dependent upon him for life day by day. Secondly, our dependence is upon those around us that God has given us. It is those "gifts" of persons that we often overlook. Jesus did not walk out his ministry, those last 3 years alone. God gave him 12 disciples "to be with him", Mark 3 says.

Sixteen hundred years ago, a European Christian named John Cassian published an account of his conversations with monks living in a Middle Eastern desert. One older monk, Isaac, had shared this prayer from Psalm 70 with the young John on his visit to their monastery. John's book - and Isaac's prayer - had such an influence that even today many Christians around the globe begin times of prayer with the Scripture verse Isaac commended to John Cassian.

It is a simple prayer and one worth repeating throughout the day. It's not hard to say, even to memorize, but if we meant it from the depth of our hearts, it would be a way of casting ourselves in dependence upon God every moment of the day... "Lord, please rescue me. Come quickly Lord and help me."

Peace

If you're reading through the Bible in a Year with me, read Joshua 16, 17, 18. The stories here remind me of a time, in Israel, when the people lost sight of God and in making life up for themselves, without his presence, guidance, word, it becomes nothing more than a mess...a very sad one at that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 13: The Temple & the Fig Tree

Today's reading is from Matthew 21:12-22 (NIV)
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.
13 "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"
14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.
15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant.
16 "Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?"
17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
18 Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.
19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked.
21 Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.
22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."

What is so interesting about these two incidents is that they both involve acts of judgement on the part of Jesus. One thing that seemed to mark Jesus' ministry was the lack of judgement on outward or material things. It was said as much in John 3:17 and Matthew 7:1-5. Yet, another look gives us insight into what Jesus was doing.

The first of these was a direct shot at the temple leaders who saw in the temple courts - and therefore in people's desire to come to God - an opportunity for money making. The Pharisees talked about the Messiah coming for ages before; but when the Messiah did come, they saw in Jesus someone who disrupted their lives and took away their sources of wealth. Not only that, but this was a court for the Gentiles - those who were not Jews, but who were coming to the Temple to worship. What had been for Missions had been made material and mercenary.
All too sadly we have had people who have used Christ, the Church, God's grace, for their own personal gain. They don't have the heart of wanting to worship God first, and inviting all who want to come to find him; but instead, have used their position to line their own pockets. This is what scripture says is "wolves in sheep's clothing".

The story of the fig tree seemingly is uncharacteristic of what we know of Jesus. Why could not Jesus have simply "blessed" the tree and given it new life? Why curse it and leave it fruitless forever?
Fruit is the product of life. The two stories follow each other on purpose. The fig tree symbolizes the nation - especially the religious rulers - and is meant to describe the religion they have created. It is devoid of life, outwardly having the form and structure, but devoid of any fruit.

That is the nature of religion. It's focus is on material things, and it's life is without fruit. Our lives as God's temple are meant to be places of worship and prayer, first; and because of that, they bear fruit in the Holy Spirit. We can't bear fruit in and of ourselves. Jesus says, "abide in me and you'll bear fruit". We don't bear fruit because we try harder; but because our efforts consist of staying close to Jesus...abiding in him...allowing his life to be reproduced in our character and lead to real fruit - the transformed life.

Peace

If you're reading along in the Bible through the Year with me, read Judges 13, 14, 15, the beginning of the Samson story. Here's a perfect example of what I've written above - the life of a person who moves from real hope to real disappointment because he selfishly does what he wants instead of obeying God's word.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 12 - Embrace Doubt, Hang on to Faith

Today's reading is Mark 9:14 - 24

The story in Mark's gospel of the boy who was dumb and suffering from seizures of some sort is filled with drama - the disciples who could not drive out the spirit; the Pharisees and teachers of the law hanging around to either make fun of, or to argue about how such a thing should be done; the boy who has a mind, but has not been able to express himself with words and suffers the uncontrollable grip of pain over his body, seemingly at random moments; and the father, who simply wants it all to end, but is not sure if it ever will - even with Jesus around.

When Jesus asks the father, "How long has he been like this?", the father's answer is "since childhood". When we face pain, suffering, disease, moments of disorientation that last for long periods of time...days turn to weeks, weeks to months, months to years...it can lead us to a place of sincere doubt.

Does God know? Why will he not act to change things? What have I done to have to go through this? Where is the faith that leads to healing? etc... The questions go on because there seemingly are no answers. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of which is not seen" says the writer of Hebrews 11. There is hope, and there is the not see anything aspect to faith. But what about the doubt?

In the story, the father says to Jesus, "...If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." It is not just about the boy, it is about "us" sometimes. These kinds of needs for healing affect everyone around the person who has the disease too.

Jesus, seemingly rebukes his doubt - Mark 9:23 (NIV)
23 "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."

I don't think it was a rebuke, but a calm, measured confidence that meant to bring him out of his desperation and lead him back to faith. There are times when we find it ok to embrace doubt. It can be an act of humility that simply says "I don't know what to do, and I don't know how to solve this." None of us knows all that God has in his mind towards us, or anyone else we know. We are seekers of "truth", not seekers of being right all of the time. We are lovers of God, his character, his faithfulness and goodness, and none of our experiences can fully understand how those might still be true even when we're not doing well.

Embrace doubt, hang on to faith!

Peace

If you're reading through the bible in a year with me, read Judges 10, 11, 12.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 11 - Faith is...

Today's reading is Romans 4.

Scripture defines faith itself: Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

In Romans 4 Paul highlights this principle and makes it clear, God did not "invent" the idea of faith with the coming of the church. Abraham, long before the incarnational coming of Jesus, the Church, the Apostle Paul, exercised "faith" in believing...trusting in the promise of God and scripture. That trusting is believing and it is the substance of faith.

The end of Romans 4 summarizes the principle so beautifully: Romans 4:16-25 (NIV)
"16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
17 As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead.
20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,
21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
22 This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness."
23 The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone,
24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."


It is a simple prayer, but one that is rich in substance: "Lord I trust you". No matter what the situation, whether crisis or success; whether victory or loss; we need to come back to this simple position of "trust". We don't trust in faith...no faith is simply the vehicle that leads us to God. It is he that is our life, our hope, our provider, and our future.

Peace

If you're reading through the Bible in a year, today's reading is Judges 5-6

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Second Sunday in Lent

During Lent there are no readings. We use this day to worship our risen Savior.

Peace


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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 10: Listening to Understand

This is the second Saturday in the 40 days of Lent. We're reading Mark 4.

When Jesus taught he often used Parables. They were stories that related to everyday life - seed of grain, fields, landowners, debtors, etc. - and he used the stories to teach Kingdom truths.

In chapter 4 of Mark he teaches the parable of a sower. The seed falls on four types of ground, but only one type of ground bears fruit. On the other three types of ground the seed is lost - it fell, but it didn't bear root. We don't have to wonder about the interpretation because Jesus himself interprets the 4 types. One falls on a hardened heart, one on a heart that gives access to Satan, one is so consumed by the world around - it's riches, it's concerns, etc...that the seed simply has no place in that tangle of weeds. Only does it fall and bear root when it lands on a welcoming open heart.

In the parable of the lamp that follows I think Jesus makes the point of what the teachings he gave are all about:

"Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”

The one thing missing from most communication between anyone - government officials, husbands and wives, employer and employee, parent and child - is the ability to get to the place of "understanding". It is one thing to hear the words, it is quite another to understand the heart.

Above all else, we as Christ's followers, ought to be people who seek understanding. The writer of Proverbs said at one point: "Seek wisdom with all of your heart, and with all of your wisdom, seek understanding."

Peace

If you're reading through the Bible in a year todays reading is Joshua 4, 5, 6


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Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 9: Not Understand Who He Was

Today's reading is Mark 3. It's the second Friday in Lent and on Fridays and Saturdays during Lent we'll read through the gospel of Mark.

Reading Mark 3 is a lesson in understanding who Jesus was, and what he was about. It starts off with Jesus' healing of a man with a deformed hand on the Sabbath day. When Jesus asked them whether or not it was right to do good, to restore, to heal, on the Sabbath...no one would respond. You can sense the crowd of Pharisees knew the answer was "yes", but wouldn't say anything taking the posture of "I dare you" to Jesus' questions. The response of Jesus is telling:

"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!"

The crowds following Jesus, along with his healings and deliverances set the stage for the two main things to follow.

First, Jesus selects the 12 disciples who will serve as "Apostles", "Designated Sent Ones" of Jesus...his ambassadors, the ones who would serve his purposes and be his intimate circle...and most importantly, apart from Judas, they would end up as his friends. It is one thing to "serve", and important also; but to do so as a friend, willingly, lovingly, with care and concern that bends towards the need of the others without wanting to be paid back - that is the goal of serving Christ.

Secondly, there are two encounters with people who seek to control Jesus. First the Pharisees who are determined to discredit Jesus and secondly his own family who questions his sanity.

People misunderstood and in some cases outright opposed Jesus. They did not understand who he really was, and consequently they didn't know why he was doing what he did. Those who battled him were unwittingly cooperating with the enemy; but they probably thought they were doing God's will.

The division between Jesus and the Pharisees was never much less than a canyon. He spoke the truth and defined God's law the way it was meant to be understood, stripping it of anything that did not truly set people free.

The truth had one goal - the heart. Those who were offended bled resentment. The religious spirit is always lurking and we must not give in to that which would removed love, mercy and grace...Jesus didn't.

Peace

If you're reading through the Bible in a year, today we read Judges 1 & 2.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 8: The Temptation of the Temporary

Today's reading is in John 6:26-34

In John's gospel the people who had witnessed miracles and been fed bread miraculously come looking for Jesus. Simply put: they want more. Jesus speaks truth to them:

John 6:26-29 (NIV)
26 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."
28 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"
29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."


The truth is that the temporary needs of their lives became the sole object of seeking Jesus. But it was not those temporary needs that Jesus wanted them to see as the object of their pursuit. To believe on him was to trust him...to place their lives, their futures, their needs, wants and desires into his hands.

It's a simple prayer, but I pray it everyday: "Lord I trust you". I don't say it out of obligation, or because I am required to; but rather I say it because it is a profound expression of my need - to turn my life over to him every moment of every day. It does not relieve me from action where called for, but gives to me the hope that whatever I do he will be with me.

John 6:31-34 (NIV)
31 "Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"
32 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.
33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
34 "Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."


There will always be those two realities - the temporary and the eternal. God is timeless and our lives are finite. It is our soul (and eventually) our bodies that will live on to eternity. God is the source of life...that's it.

Peace

If you're reading the Bible in a Year were finishing Joshua in 22, 23, 24.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 7: God's delight

Today's reading is from John 15: 5-8

"Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.
But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!
When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father." (New Living Translation)

Jesus' teaching to his disciples the night of his arrest reminds me of the delight he must have had with his disciples. Here they were, three years of being with him, listening to his teachings, watching him as he ministered in the realm of the Kingdom.

Jesus came to do what neither Israel, nor any human system could do. He is the vineyard, and he promises "much fruit" in his followers. The invitation is to "attach" to the vine, stay - abide - in him, because in that great fruit bearing will occur.

This is not about salvation, but rather, it is about abundance of living, the fruit bearing that brings freedom and confidence in Christ. That is the question - how do we choose to stay attached to Christ. It is God's delight to create Christ-likeness in us. It is God's delight to show us off to the world - even the unseen world. As Jesus' followers we are invited to "stay" and "bear fruit". Wow.

One practice that I engage in during Lent - more than during other times of the year - is fasting. Fasting is abstaining from anything that I regularly make a part of my life, for the sake of turning that time over to God. Fasting can be in any number of things. Most people know that fasting from food is the main one. If medically you can do that, it is a great way to take the time of food preparing and eating and using it for a God time. Some people can't medically do fasting from food easily, so don't think you have to. Many people choose something in food to fast from (like desserts, sweets in general, coffee - ouch)
Fasting from technology, from entertainment (including TV), from shopping, etc...are also good, if the goal is to take the time and give it to God.

The point isn't that I become holier than others; no, rather it is to awaken my soul, my spirit, and body to abiding in Christ.

Peace

If you're reading through the Bible in a year with me, read: Joshua 19, 20, 21 today.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Can We Help in Japan?

I know many of you have seen the devastation that has taken place in Northern Japan. I've had a few people ask me where we might be able to help.
I am forwarding to you a couple of places that I have some awareness of, and have supported in the past, and trust that most of what is given to them ends up in relief, not in Administrative costs. (There's always some Admin costs).

1. World Relief is a Christian agency rooted in the Midwest...solid people. Check out their website about Japan at: http://worldrelief.org/Page.aspx?pid=2897

2. CRASH stands for Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope (CRASH). It's a network supporting Christians to do relief work in Japan and around the world. Check out their site: http://crashjapan.com/

3. Salvation Army is well known, and large...they have always been involved in disaster relief. Their international page is: http://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/www_sa.nsf

I personally will send some money...consider doing it more than once, unless you just want to donate a large chunk and have it be done. Personally, I like giving some money on a monthly basis for a while. I'm still supporting a Christian Relief work in Haiti and that's well over a year old now.

This is a way we can help, when the burdens are so great and it seems so hard to figure out what to do.

If you can't give...please don't be concerned. Our prayers count a lot, and not everyone can afford to give extra money. Still a little from us means a lot.
OH YEAH, since this is going out broadly, please don't take this as anything more than a suggestion. If you have other places you give to, by all means go for it.

Peace to you,

--
Elliott

Day 6: The fruit of Repentance

Today, read Psalm 51, and then back to John 15: 1-4 again.

In John 15, Jesus talked to his disciples about "abiding"...staying attached.

"I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me."

I'm struck by the words, "he cuts off every branch of mine that doesn't bear fruit, and he prunes the branches." I remember 30 years ago we bought our first house. It was a little cape cod in Randolph, and it had a huge backyard with a number of fruit trees and a long trellised grape vine. I knew nothing about what to do with them, but in the church was a master gardener - Herb Scott. Herb came over one day to look at my trees and garden, and he told me that I would have to "prune" these branches if I hoped to get fruit. So, I pruned...so I thought. When he came back he told me that all I had done was snip a few inches off, but they needed to be "pruned" - seriously cut back. When it was done it made the trees and vines look like a hippie with a butch haircut. He told me, "Now, they're pruned".

I learned a serious lesson that year about John 15. Fruit comes from "pruning", and pruning is in cutting off, so that fruit can grow.

This is where Psalm 51 comes in. David's song is a confession of sin - a necessary part of our relationship with God. Repentance comes from the Greek word, "metanoia", which means to "turn". David doesn't repent because he has to, but because he realizes he has turned away from the very source of life in his selfishness, and that turning back towards God is the remedy.
"Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;"
That's his confidence. Not in the act, but in God. Our God is merciful...full of mercy. He is the Prodigal father waiting for our simple act of saying, "I was wrong". His love is deep and our heart, when soft to see we've not obeyed him, is his concern.

"The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God."

Hebrews reminds us to come boldly to the throne of grace. In Christ all that is necessary has already occurred. He is the vine, we are the branches...get rid of those things that don't produce fruit.

Here's an exercise to practice daily during lent. Take a few minutes at the end of the day - perhaps in bed before going to sleep - and mentally rehearse your past day. Is there something you know was wrong before God? Thoughts, actions, words spoken or unspoken??? Speak them to the Lord and tell him you're sorry for the sin in those things, and ask him, in Christ, to remove them from you. God loves the fruit of repentance.

Peace


If you're also reading through the Bible in a year with me, read Joshua 16, 17, 18

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 5: Jesus, The True Vine

Today's reading is from John 15:1-4

Each year the Israelites celebrated the Passover season as a week-long festival. The day of Passover was surrounded by the Feast of Unleavened Bread - all of it a picture of God's deliverance of them from Egypt. When they came to the land that God gave them, God described it as a land of "milk and honey". It was fruitful with vineyards that they did not plant and they began to reap the fruit of the vines immediately. They were "in" Israel because of God's redemption, and they were "blessed" because they were "in".

The night Jesus met with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, he opened his heart to them in the John 13 - 17.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me."

We are "in Christ" because of his redemption. We have been grafted in by faith. Our life is attached to Christ's life. It's his righteousness we receive.

Paul later writes in Romans 8, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death."

"In Christ" is more than a neat thought. It is the declaration that we are "attached" to Christ, even as the branches are "attached" to the vine. He is the source of our life, our strength, our hope. In him, we find everything we need for grace, mercy, goodness, peace. In the midst of a life filled with the corruption of the Fall, we stay "in him" and see the fruit that makes life be more about the joy of the harvest than the difficulties of life.

Peace

If you're also reading the Bible through in a Year, read Joshua 12, 13, 14, & 15.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

1st Sunday of Lent

In Lent, Sunday's are always Worship Days and there are no readings.

"This is the day that the Lord has made,
let us rejoice and be glad in it."

If you're reading along in the Bible in a Year with me, read Joshua 9, 10, 11.



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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 4: New Wineskins

Today's reading for Lent comes from Mark 2.

There are four main events in this chapter that capture the heart of what Jesus came to do. He heals a paralytic on the Sabbath, and then calls Levi, (who we know as Matthew) to become one of his disciples - a man that the religious Jews look down on as disreputable. Then he gets involved with the Pharisees about fasting and finally about the Sabbath.

Among the many things this chapter says about Jesus and his purpose, one verse especially sums it up:
"“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.”

All of the things Jesus does here is meant to demonstrate the difference between the Kingdom of God - which is a place of healing, inclusion, forgiveness, grace and freedom - from the religious spirit that was so dominant in the Pharisee's rule.

Religion is a false god. It is not simply that people are conservative, or more pious; rather, it is taking the very heart of God for his creation and making it about rules, outward conformity to behavior, and the ego or pride of the one who does them.

Jesus calls us to a different spirit. He calls us to follow him, and not be afraid to admit to our weaknesses, our sin. He said in vs 17,
"When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Knowing I am a sinner doesn't make me embrace sinful behavior, it simply stops from believing that I am a righteous one by what I do.

Peace

If you are reading through the Bible with me on the one year plan, read Joshua 5,6,7,8 today
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Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 3: A King & The Kingdom

Today's reading is from Mark 1. During this Lenten period we will read through the Gospel of Mark on Fridays and Saturdays. We'll finish the whole book during Lent.

In today's reading, we see upfront what Jesus was all about. He didn't come to just to die - although dying for our sins would have been wonderful enough. He came to claim God's authority over all of the Fallen creation. He came to announce the Kingdom of God - the ruling authority of God over all of the earth, which is his creation.

In verses 14 & 15 we read: "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!"

Everything that happened before these verses demonstrated his authenticity to proclaim the Kingdom's reality and presence. Everything in the chapter after this demonstrated that authority over the Fall and the rule of sin by the enemy. Jesus' healing shows he has authority over the effects of the Fall, and his authority to deal with demons demonstrated that he was King over all things seen and unseen.

We do not simply have a Savior for our sins, we have a King, and a Kingdom that we are part of. We live under the loving rule of a King and our citizenship, while even on the earth, is with Christ.

Peace


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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 2: Lent, Hail King Jesus

Within a day of the events of Bethany, Jesus heads toward Jerusalem. The week is a Passover week, and his decision to celebrate Passover with his disciples in Jerusalem begins this week. Imagine the scene as Jesus mounts a donkey and rides into the city. The prophetic picture was captured by Zechariah (9:9-10) several centuries before:

"Rejoice, Opeople of Zion!
Shout in triumph, Opeople of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.
I will remove the battle chariots from Israel
and the warhorses from Jerusalem.
I will destroy all the weapons used in battle,
and your king will bring peace to the nations.
His realm will stretch from sea to sea
and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.

The symbolism was easy for the Pharisees and Scribes to read. Jesus is coming in as the Messiah, the King. He is not merely a religious rabbi, he is the King of the Jews. He is not just King of the Jews, he is the King of the nations, and his realm is universal.
That day, thousands lined the path into the city with palm branches and cried out "Hosanna", which means "Lord Save Us". This prophetic picture is a confession of who Jesus is to everyone.

Jesus is this - Savior and King. Let's worship him with our hearts and minds, with soul and spirit, for he is worthy of all praise. Let us determine to live under his rule, his authority for our lives. He is our King.

Peace

If your reading through the Bible also, today's reading is Deuteronomy 32, 33, and 34. It finishes up the book of Deuteronomy.


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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 1: Lent, Determined to Go

If you're reading through the bible in a year, go to the end of the devotional. For day 1 of Lent, read Luke 11:47-50.

In John 11, Jesus goes to Bethany, a village just two miles from Jerusalem, because his friend Lazarus has died, and he is going to raise him from the dead. To the disciples, the journey represented danger:

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”
In spite of that, Jesus is determined to go. He knows exactly what he is doing, and going to Bethany, no matter how close to Jerusalem is his way of saying, "I lay down my life, no one takes it from me."

After the resurrection miracle, the Pharisees hatch their plot because they see in Jesus a rival to their rule. John 11:47-50 records it:

"Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation." Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”

Jesus' journey to Bethany begins this period of time that will lead towards his own death. Caiphas was prophesying even though he was only hungry for power. Jesus' death would be for the whole nation, even the whole world. AND, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He was determined to go.

Through the Bible in a year, read Deuteronomy 30 & 31.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blessings, Curses & Being Aware

Today's reading is from Deuteronomy 27, 28, 29.

The readings towards the end of Deut. become sweepingly broad. The writer is describing the overall nature of the covenant with God.

In obedience the covenant is filled with blessings.

In disobedience the covenant is full of curses.

I can't help but read this and sense the national dimension to our relation to God. Granted, the US is not Israel. God's covenant with Israel was a special one, and not to be confused with anything related to the United States. People do that at times and it isn't a fair exegesis of scripture.

But, what is fair is that its obvious God sees the nations of the earth and there are ways in which the nations express faith in GOd, and there are ways in which they do not...and that is worth thinking about.

Peace


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Monday, March 7, 2011

The Art of Worship

Today's readings are in Deuteronomy 24, 25, 26

The first of these readings give law regulations for cases of divorce. Jesus would state 1400 years later that is was "because of the hardness of the heart" that God made allowance for divorce to occur. Other laws followed relating to miscellaneous social items...all important in their own way.

Two interesting (they are all interesting in their own way) principles that surface in the passage is God's welfare system and ways in which the poor are treated, and the last chapter of our reading in relation to worship. First the poor. Many of the laws that relate to the poor seem to want to do one main thing: preserve their dignity as human beings. Reading the passages makes us aware that to be poor doesn't mean God looks at them as lacking in character or respect. The way in which we respond to the poor has much to do with our own blessing.

"When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands."

Charity is an old world that meant "love" long before it meant to give to the poor.

The last part in chapter 26 is a beautiful example of worship. Worship is not limited to extemporaneous acts of praise. It can be methodical, liturgical, and still beautiful. I love this chapter as an expression of worship and the formula is reminiscent of thanksgiving as the first and greatest act of real worship.

"A thankful heart prepares the way for the Lord."

Peace


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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Laws & Consequences

Today's reading is in Deuteronomy 21, 22

Much of what is in these passages still has a lot of relevance, in principle form, to today. It's easy to read this and dismiss the value, or relevance of what it's saying. DO we really need to not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together? And, what about those "tassels on the four corners of the cloak"? Yet, pay attention, not to the specifics, but to the principles and values that the laws are based on. For example, the tassels aren't well defined here, but in Numbers 15:37-41 they are explained:

Numbers 15:37-41 (NIV)
37 The LORD said to Moses,
38 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel.
39 You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.
40 Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.
41 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.'"


We call this "Mnemonic" device for remembering. Good teachers use things like this as tools for remembering all of the time.

The positive principles that are found in this passage are balanced by warnings, usually related to actions that would be destructive to social order. God knew that a nation of people who act out of selfishness and use others for their advantage would implant within the nation something akin to "cancer", that would slowly, but surely, if untreated, lead to the destruction of the nation. That's why the phrase "...you must purge the evil from Israel" appears several times.

It might appear strange to us, but it's well worth the time to meditate on it.

Peace

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cities of Refuge and Concerns of War

Today's readings are from Deuteronomy 19 and 20.

The first part of this restates the creation of "Cities of refuge" in the new land. Remember, Deuteronomy means second law and is a re-statement of the principles of the first law. So why do it? The main thing is to reemphasize that capital offenses, such as pre-meditated murder are not to be tolerated; but justice demands fairness in terms of dealing with those offenses. In this way, Israel as a nation was far ahead of the nations of its day.

The second part has some interesting rules connected to who goes to war and what happens when warfare occurs, even down to the trees they could cut to use for part of the warfare.

As we read, it's easy to dismiss the value of this all. We don't have these cities of refuge, and we have a military that fights with technological means, but the principles of justice, mercy, even concern for the environment all stand out and remind us that every generation has to learn how to do these things no matter what they have or don't have.

Peace


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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kings and Prophets

Today's readings are in Deuteronomy 17 & 18

As this young nation gets ready to enter into the land, two new offices of leadership are recognized for the first time - Kings and Prophets.
They are completely different offices, but both exert leadership and influence on the lives of the people.
The section we're in continues to be an expansion on the theme of the first three commandments that refer to God. Moses will not be going into the land and as leader of the nation he has already given leadership over to Joshua. The law gives rights to humans charged with serious crimes; but individual responsibility is established, nonetheless.

The fact that Moses outlines the responsibilities of a King suggest that God made allowance for that kind of leadership "down the road". It would be several hundred years - after the period of the Judges - before Israel would seek a King. Perhaps the major hesitations have to do with their tribal distinctions as 12 tribes, and the desire to keep those distinctions as a part of their identity. Or perhaps as Moses' instructions made clear, they are very familiar with the dangers of leadership: the amassing of possessions and power that can then be used "over" people to dominate, instead of "under" them to serve. It would be wise for leaders to heed the advice that daily they should read the "book of the law" and heed it's commands and warnings.

The role of the Prophet is also introduced. The Israelites had dealings with prophecy in a negative way back in Numbers 22-25 with Balaam. But, God did not deem the deceptive prophesies to justify getting rid of prophets. In fact, he embraced the idea that after they entered the land a fresh word from God was still needed - even though the law was complete. Prophets in a simple way are charged to and warned, that their prophecies are legitimate but they must be of God.

"If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed."

Much of modern Christendom has decided to do away with prophets and prophecy - I'm afraid that it is the effects of a rational system that no longer believes in spirituality and mystery. Then again, in places where prophecy is embraced, Paul's advice from I Thess. 5, also has to be added to this:

"Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all; hold on to what is good,"

Why is it so hard to practice that? We must recognize God wants to still share with us - "I will be with you always", Jesus says. So, actively listening for the voice of God through others seems the only thing to do.

Peace

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Loving Obedience

Today's readings are from Deuteronomy 11, 12, 13

Reading through the Bible in one year is best done in daily steps. I remember the first time I tried reading through the entire scriptures; I would find the need to sit down and read several days at a time just to catch up, and it felt like the whole year was just trying to keep up to get through it all. It's a bit like fasting followed by overeating...not recommended. I say all of that for those who find themselves at times struggling to "catch up"...the key might be in leaving what you didn't read behind and just start anew...AND, that is the lesson out of the reading today.

Anything we do for God needs to be done out of loving obedience. The problem, as Moses so aptly describes in this reading, is that we lose focus and we are tempted to substitute faithfulness and loving obedience for expediency and cultural accommodation. His warning was to the Israelites to live with a sense of loving obedience to God, and not sucked up in the cultural morass that would be tempting when they entered the land.

We're not conquering in a physical sense; but in the spiritual sense we are still in spiritual warfare. The apostle Paul's reminder is needed:
Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Steadfastness is a character quality of loving obedience, and humility is how that is walked out.

Peace

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Need for Remembering

Today's readings are from Deuteronomy 8, 9, 10

Alzheimer's Disease is a terrible disease. I saw it firsthand when my mother contracted it in her 60's. She lived ten more years with it, but it was a steady downhill slope of forgetting. The problem is that it's bad enough to forget where you are, what you're suppose to be doing, why you went one place or another; but it's worse to forget relationally. To forget who your friends are, to not recognize your grandchildren, or even your children.

We all have times of forgetfulness...most of the time it's harmless. It usually is no big deal, although at times it can lead to stress in relationships...as in forgetting a lunch meeting, or to return a phone call. Most forgetfulness is unintentional - we simply get busy with other things and forget! Yet sometimes forgetting is part of a bigger issue - we don't want to remember. We tell ourselves a lie, that the person is not that important, or they can wait, or they won't mind...the kind of things that a husband can do to his wife when he "presumes" upon the relationship and begins to take advantage of it, instead of nurturing, valuing, or caring for what it means.

As the Israelites get ready to enter a land, God calls them to remember.

"Remember how the lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the lord."

Remembering was a way of recalling God's faithfulness. He had been faithful all of these years, there was no reason to believe he would not continue to be faithful to them in the land they were about to possess. He had used times of humbling to remind them that we don't live out of our own ingenuity, or life skills, but out of the word that sustains and gives life, direction, and wisdom to live. It was important to "remember" this - why?

"Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery...But remember the lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today."

It's an odd thing - the very thing that leads to prosperity, success, making it is that God is the one who makes our living possible. He is the one who supplies "all good things"... as the book of James says in chpt 1, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."

We must not forget...give thanks frequently, be generous, think Kingdomly and not materialistically...it's about working against Spiritual Alzheimers.

Peace

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