October 2, 2014

843 Acres TBT: Retaining the punishment, forgiving the fault

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 35 (txt | aud, 2:20 min)
Ps 85 (txt | aud, 1:11 min)
Highlighted: Psalm 85:2

Psalm 85.2

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah

John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (1557)

It was very natural for the faithful to feel alarmed and perplexed on account of their sins, and therefore the prophet removes all ground for overwhelming apprehension, by showing them, that God, in delivering his people, had given an irrefragable proof of free forgiveness. He had before traced this deliverance to the mere good pleasure and free grace of God as its source; but after it was wrought, the iniquities of the people having separated between them and their God, and estranged them from him, it was necessary that the remedy of pardon should be brought to their aid.

In saying that their iniquities were taken away, he does not refer to the faithful being reformed and purged from their sins, in other words, to that work by which God, sanctifying them by the Spirit of regeneration, actually removes sin from them. What he intended to say he explains immediately after. The amount, in short, is, that God was reconciled to the Jews by not imputing their sins to them.

When God is said to cover sins, the meaning is, that he buries them, so that they come not into judgment, as we have shown more at large on the 32d psalm, at the beginning. When, therefore, he had punished the sins of his people by captivity, it being his will to restore them again to their own country, he removed the great impediment to this, by blotting out their transgressions; for deliverance from punishment depends upon the remission of sin. Thus we are furnished with an argument in confutation of that foolish conceit of the Sophists, which they set forth as some great mystery, That God retains the punishment although he forgive the fault; whereas God announces in every part of his word, that his object in pardoning is, that being pacified, he may at the same time mitigate the punishment.

The sequence of the pardon of sin is, that God by his blessing testifies that he is no longer displeased.

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October 1, 2014

843 Acres: Disallusionment with Institutions and Leaders

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 34 (txt | aud, 5:14 min)
Ps 83-84 (txt | aud, 3:03 min)
Highlighted: Eze 34

Institutions: In 20 and Something, David Kim, Executive Director of the Center for Faith and Work, writes about how Millennials have witnessed the decline of institutional trust. “Many of the institutions previous generations respected as the pillars of a healthy society,” he says, “became disgraced by scandals during the Millennials’ formative years. Corruption was exposed within trusted institutions like government, big corporations, national sports teams, and organized religion.” Is their disillusionment with institutions justified, or do they need to buck up and realize that leaders are fallen people, too?

Abdication: Here, in Ezekiel 34, the Lord chastises the civil and religious leaders of Israel for not feeding the people (and instead feeding themselves), for not strengthening the weak, for not healing the sick, for not pursuing the lost, and for not ruling with grace and kindness. Why is he so angry? Because they are his people. He has entrusted them with these leaders and, instead of serving the people and stewarding their authority in love, they have been self-centered and corrupt: “They were scattered because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill.”

Shepherd: Because of the failure of human leadership, God says, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out … I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered … I will feed them with good pasture … I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down.” Then Jesus came in the line of David, as Ezekiel prophesied, saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep … No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”

Prayer: Lord, We are like sheep—defenseless, helpless, and vulnerable. Like wolves lie in wait to attack sheep, sin is crouching at our door and its desire is to master us. Therefore, we pray that our earthly leaders will steward us well with the authority you have given them—even as we offer you thanks for Jesus, the good shepherd, who laid down his life for us. We are utterly dependent on him. No one else can rescue us. Amen.

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September 30, 2014

843 Acres: The Suffering We Bring on Ourselves

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 33 (txt | aud, 5:56 min)
Ps 81-82 (txt | aud, 2:21 min)
Highlighted: Ez 33

Types: Suffering comes in different types and, in Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller highlights four of them, saying, “We will not be able to face our suffering well—or help others face it—unless we recognize the varieties of it.” Here, in Ezekiel, we see an example of one type of suffering: the suffering we bring on ourselves.

Ignoring: Ezekiel warned about the destruction of Jerusalem for seven years, repeatedly calling the people to repent and turn to God. But they ignored him and went their own way. Finally, as prophesied, the city and the temple were destroyed. In the wake of destruction, though, the Lord changes his message. Instead of talking about doom, he speaks of hope. Through Ezekiel, God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” In other words, they are choosing death when he offers them life and, if they turn to him, he says, “none of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.”

Grace: Was God “punishing” them for their sins? Not exactly. Concerning the suffering that Jonah and David brought on themselves, Keller writes, “Romans 8:1 says that there is ‘no condemnation’ for a believer. That means, simply, that if Jesus has received our punishment and made payment for our sins, God cannot then receive a second payment out of us as well. God does not exact ‘retribution’ from a believer because of Jesus and because, if he really punished us for our sins, we’d all have been dead long ago. But God often appoints some aspect of the brokenness in this world (caused by sin in general: Gen. 3; Rom. 8:18ff) to come into our lives to wake us up and turn us to him. The severity of this depends on our heart’s need.”

Prayer: Lord, We confess that we do, indeed, bring some suffering on ourselves through our disobedience and idol worship. Forgive us, Lord, and do not turn away from us. Instead, let us choose life and turn to you today that, in Christ, our sins will not be remembered. Amen.

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September 29, 2014

843 Acres: No Simple Answers

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 32 (txt | aud, 5:51 min)
Ps 80 (txt | aud, 1:49 min)
Highlighted: Ps 80

Persecution: What religious people group is the most persecuted in the world? According to the International Society for Human Rights, 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that 100,000 Christians die every year—that is, 11 every hour—targeted because of their faith. Paul Vallely reports, “The Pew Research Center says that hostility to religion reached a new high in 2012, when Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries, almost three-quarters of the world’s nations.” Why is the world not adamantly decrying the persecution of Christians? In The Global War on Christians, published earlier this year, journalist John L. Allen, Jr., argues that it’s because Christians “fall through the cracks of the left-right divide—they are too religious for liberals and too foreign for conservatives.”

Restoration: Here, in Psalm 80, we find a communal lament written at a time when the people of God—or at least some of them—were receiving harsh treatment from outsiders. Its thrice-repeated refrain is, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!” What would it mean for God to restore them and let his face shine? The Psalmist explains, “Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.”

Hope: As we saw last week, when Elisabeth Elliot reflected on the massacre in Ecuador that took the life of her husband, Jim, she said, “I believe with all my heart that God’s Story has a happy ending … But not yet, not necessarily yet.” Even forty years after his death, she didn’t oversimplify God’s will or paint a rosy picture. Instead, she clung to Christ, who suffered and died for his people. In the empty tomb, we see that God did look down from heaven on “the son whom you made strong for yourself.” In him, all his people have hope even in the face of persecution.

Prayer: Lord, We do not pretend to know the answers, but we join with the Psalmist in his communal lament: Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we might be saved! Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.

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September 26, 2014

843 Acres: Remembering How to Use Our Memories

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 29 (txt | aud, 3:46 min)
Ps 78:1-39 (txt | aud, 3:45 min)
Highlighted: Ps 78

Memories: “Once upon a time,” says science writer Joshua Foer, “this idea of having a trained, disciplined, cultivated memory was not nearly as alien as it would seem to us to be today.” He laments, “Over the last few millennia, we have invented a series of technologies—the alphabet, the scroll, the codex, the printing press, photography, the computer, the smart phone—that have made it easier and easier for us to externalize our memories, for us to essentially outsource this fundamental human capacity … Having little need to remember anymore, it sometimes seems that we’ve forgotten how.”

Futures: Remembering, however, is essential to our faith. In Psalm 78, for example, Asaph says our memory is the key to our future ability to hope in God: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”

Spatiality: The question, then, is how to increase our memory today so that we can hope in God tomorrow. Foer says that the difference between memory experts and the rest of us is that they exercise their spatial memory and navigation more than we do. In other words, they take “information that is lacking in context, significance or meaning, and transform it so that it becomes meaningful in light of all the other things they have in their minds.” In our relationship with God, then, we internalize his Word so it becomes meaningful to us. We place it in our spatial memories. We ‘attach’ it to things and events in our lives that we already know.

Prayer: Lord, Our lives are the sums of our memories. Therefore, make us people who do not keep your Word and your promises outside of our hearts. Instead, may we be people who read and meditate on your Word, commune with your Church, and wait on your Spirit, that we may process your promises deeply and be people who hope in you for the rest of our days. Amen.

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M’Cheyne Weekend Readings:

Saturday, September 27: Eze 30 (txt | aud, 4:11 min) & Ps 78:40-72 (txt | aud, 3:42 min)
Sunday, September 28: Eze 31 (txt | aud, 3:38 min) & Ps 79 (txt | aud, 1:44 min)

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September 25, 2014

843 Acres TBT: Through Gates of Splendor

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 28 (txt | aud, 4:25 min)
Ps 77 (txt | aud, 2:08 min)

Asaph, Psalm 77:9-10

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion? Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor (1957), Epilogue II (1996)

There is always the urge to oversimplify, to weigh in at once with interpretations that cannot possibly cover all the data or stand up to close inspection. We know, for example, that time and again in the history of the Christian church, the blood of martyrs has been its seed. So we are tempted to assume a simple equation here. Five men died. This will mean x-number of Waorani Christians.

Perhaps so. Perhaps not. Cause and effect are in God’s hands … God is God. I dethrone him in my heart if I demand that he act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice … There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude that says, ‘God has no right to do this to five men unless …’

Those men had long since given themselves without reservation to do the will of God … For us widows, the question as to why the men who had trusted God to be both shield and defender could be allowed to be speared to death was not one that could be smoothly or finally answered in 1956, not yet silenced in 1996 …

I believe with all my heart that God’s Story has a happy ending … But not yet, not necessarily yet. It takes faith to hold on to that in the face of the great burden of experience, which seems to prove otherwise. What God means by happiness and goodness is a far higher thing than we can conceive …

The massacre was a hard fact, widely reported at the time, surprisingly well remembered by many even today. It was interpreted according to the measure of one’s faith or faithfulness—full of meaning or empty. A triumph or a tragedy. An example of brave obedience or a case of fathomless foolishness … But the danger lies in seizing upon the immediate and hoped-for, as though God’s justice is thereby verified …

A healthier faith seeks a reference point outside of all human experience, the Polestar which marks the course of all human events, not forgetting that impenetrable mystery of the interplay of God’s will and man’s … We are sinners. And we are buffoons … It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on. It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God’s and the call is God’s and everything is summoned by him and to his purposes …

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September 24, 2014

843 Acres: Fear AND Hope in God

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 27 (txt | aud, 4:56 min)
Ps 75-76 (txt | aud, 2:07 min)
Highlighted: Ps 76

Culture: On Family Guy, God appears as a recurring character that impresses young female admirers with magic tricks. In Dogma, God is played by Alanis Morissette. Joan Osborne sings, “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?” Where is reverence for the Lord in our culture?

Storm: The Psalmist sings, “You are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?” But aren’t we supposed to hope in God, not fear him? Isn’t it good to think of him low and informal, not high and lifted up? John Piper explains, “Suppose you were exploring an unknown glacier in the north of Greenland in the dead of winter. Just as you reach a sheer cliff with a spectacular view of miles and miles of jagged ice and snow mountains, a terrible storm breaks in. The wind is so strong that the fear rises that it might blow you and your party right over the cliff. But in the midst of it, you discover a cleft in the ice where you can hide. Here you feel secure, but the awesome might of the storm rages on and you watch it with a kind of trembling pleasure as it surges out across the distant glaciers.”

Cleft: “At first,” he continues, “there was the fear that this terrible storm and awesome terrain might claim your life. But then you found a refuge and gained the hope that you would be safe. But not everything in the feeling called ‘fear’ vanished. Only the life-threatening part. There remained the trembling, the awe, the wonder, the feeling that you would never want to tangle with such a storm or be the adversary of such a power. And so it is with God … Hope turns fear into a happy trembling and peaceful wonder; and fear takes everything trivial out of hope and makes it serious. The terrors of God make the pleasures of his people intense.”

Prayer: Lord, Through the sacrifice of Christ, which cleanses us from sin, we find boldness to run to you, not from you. We hide from your anger within the safety of your embrace. In Christ, our worst storm has become our greatest comfort. Yet make us fear you in awe and wonder so that we cling to you, our refuge. Amen.

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September 23, 2014

843 Acres: A Timeless Riddle

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 26 (txt | aud, 3:47 min)
Ps 74 (txt | aud, 2:29 min)
Highlighted: Ps 74

Riddle: Epicureanism denied the existence of an omnipotent and loving God based on the existence of evil in the world. The Riddle of Epicurus was this: “God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. If he wants to and cannot, then he is weak—and this does not apply to god. If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful—which is equally foreign to god’s nature. If he neither wants to nor can, he is both weak and spiteful, and so not a god. If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?” [1]

Confusion: When Asaph looked upon the ruins of Jerusalem, he had similar questions. He knew the character of God and his covenant promises, but he could not understand how God could abandon his people and allow Jerusalem and its temple to be destroyed: “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet … Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?” [2].

Person: It is not necessarily sinful to ask such questions. The heart can trust God and still be confused when it looks at the world. Yet we understand what Asaph could not—that the center of worship is not in a place, but in a person. Ultimately, his prayer was not answered by philosophical reasoning, but by Jesus Christ. The cross says to the Riddle of Epicurus, “The greatest ‘bad thing’ in history was the brutal crucifixion of my innocent Son. Yet I allowed it to happen—not because I am spiteful, but because I am love. You may not always know the reasons behind all I do or allow, but I promise this:  ‘For those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.’” [3]

Prayer: Lord, When we look at the world around us, we often question how your promises can be true. Yet we stake our lives on them for you are more constant than our circumstances. We confess that, like Asaph, we have incomplete information. Let us not judge you with feeble sense, but instead trust you at your word with eyes of faith. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Lactantius, De Ira Deorum, 13.19 (Frag. 374, Usener). | [2] Psalm 74:9-11 ESV | [3] Romans 8:28 ESV

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September 22, 2014

843 Acres: When Obedience Seems Foolish

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 25 (txt | aud, 2:51 min)
Ps 73 (txt | aud, 2:27 min)
Highlighted: Ps 73

Success: In California, the state university system has ‘de-recognized’ InterVarsity on its 23 campuses. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is beheading journalists and religious minorities and spreading terror throughout the region and the world. Why do the wicked seem to succeed while the faithful are oppressed? Why does obedience seem foolish?

Vain: When Asaph saw the success of the wicked“they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek … violence covers them as a garment … they scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression”—he questioned whether continuing to trust God was worth it: “In vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” In other words, “Why am I the fool who seeks God, obeys his commands, and sings his praises, when he rewards the wicked, not the righteous?”

Perspective: Then, however, he entered God’s presence, where his perspective was changed. He realized that his definition of ‘success’ was limited by time and circumstance, but that God was not limited by anything. He understood that, even if the wicked seem to success in the short run, they do not succeed in the long run. Then he sung, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Prayer: Lord, Sometimes it seems foolish to trust you at your Word. When your opponents seem to succeed as your people struggle, it seems vain to give sacrificially, to not recant our faith, to reserve sex for marriage, to withhold our tongue from slander, or to do anything countercultural in obedience to you. In these times, though, when we are tempted to forsake you and desire to live apart from you, draw us into your presence to remember that there is nothing—not money, power, sex, or even physical freedom—that we desire more than we desire you. You are the strength of our hearts and our portion forever. Amen.

*****

To hear an interview with “Brother Victor” (pseudonymn for security purposes), who is on the ground in the Middle East and trusting in Christ in the midst of uncertain peril, listen here.

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September 19, 2014

843 Acres: Cursing Those Who Do Evil

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 22 (txt | aud, 4:47 min)
Ps 69 (txt | aud, 3:46 min)
Highlighted: Ps 69

Justice: When we read news of people committing great evils, how do we feel? Are we angry when they seem to get away with abuse, discrimination, or murder? If they are brought to justice, do we feel satisfaction?

Psalms: Imprecatory psalms are those that include curses against God’s enemies. Here, in Psalm 69, we read, “Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.” [1] We often have problems with such sentiments because they’re hard to reconcile with Jesus’s teaching on loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. Yet the New Testament writers aren’t bashful about such imprecatory psalms. In fact, several of them even reference Psalm 69.

Fulfillment: In his letter to the church in Rome, for example, Paul quotes verse 22: “Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.” [2] Paul doesn’t condemn David’s words as being driven by personal vengeance. Instead, he sees them as reliable prophetic words of judgment that God brings on his enemies. Likewise, Luke references verse 21 when he writes about the death of Jesus: “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” [3]

Prayer: Lord, You don’t call us to refrain from judging others because there is no judgment, but because we are not judges. You alone are Judge. Yes, you have empowered judges in the land to be your viceroys of justice in your creation, and we pray for them to be full of discernment, wisdom, and courage. Yet we also recognize that you alone have the power to bring ultimate, complete, and perfect justice. For your justice is not only full of righteousness, it is also full of love. On the cross, where we see Jesus citing imprecatory psalms, we also see him saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Our only hope is in your loving justice. Amen.

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For a reflection on faith and work from a former Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, seeSitting on the Bench as a Steward of Justice.”

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M’Cheyne Weekend Readings:

Saturday, September 20: Eze 23 (txt | aud, 7:25 min) & Ps 70-71 (txt | aud, 3:17 min)
Sunday, September 21: Eze 24 (txt | aud, 4:13 min) & Ps 72 (txt | aud, 2:14 min)

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Footnotes

[1] Psalm 69:24 ESV | [2] Romans 11:9-10 | [3] John 19:28-30 ESV

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