Archive for November, 2011

November 30, 2011

Advent – Family: The Messiah Is a Descendant of Jacob

by Bethany

Advent Text: Gen. 35:11-12 (underlined below)

Promise Made | Rebekah was pregnant with twins – Esau and Jacob. Her discomfort, however, was worse than normal. As God said, “Two nations are in your womb … the older shall serve the younger” [1]. As they grew up, it became clear that Jacob was a deceiver. First, he manipulated Esau into handing over his birthright [2]. Then, he deceived his father Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing: “Let peoples serve you and nations bow down to you” [3]. Jacob also had two dream-like encounters with God – the ladder [4] and the wrestling match [5] – where God promised to extend Abraham’s blessing through him and gave him a new name – Israel. Later, God said, “No longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel … be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you” [6]. In the end, Jacob had twelve sons – the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Promise Kept | Hundreds of years later, God prophesied through Malachi about His having chosen Jacob over Esau: “‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the LORD. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated’ … Great is the LORD – even beyond the borders of Israel!” [7]. Yes, God chose Jacob over Esau – although they were brothers, although they were twins, and although Jacob was younger! In doing so, God showed that His love was free (not bought) and sovereign (not coerced) and unconditional (not earned). Then, after 400 years of prophetic silence, a descendant of Jacob was born – Jesus – and he told his twelve disciples to go and “make disciples of all nations” [8] – Israel and beyond.

Promise Meant | Today, we are the result of Jacob’s obedience to God’s command: “Be fruitful and multiply”, and the disciples’ obedience to Jesus’ command, “Make disciples of all nations.” And God loves us as He loved Jacob – freely, sovereignly and unconditionally: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” [9].

Prayer | Lord, You are in heaven, where you love us because you chose to love us. Thus, we humbly and joyfully proclaim, “Great is the LORD – even beyond the borders of Israel!” Teach us, therefore, to take up the commission of Jacob and the disciples – to be fruitful and multiply your kingdom by bringing the unconditional love and gospel of Jesus to our neighbors and the nations. Amen.

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What is the non-advent reading for today? 2 Kings 14 + 2 Chron. 2
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[1] Gen. 25:23 ESV  |  [2] See Gen. 25:29-34  |  [3] Gen. 27:28-29 ESV  |  [4] See Gen. 28:10-22.  |  [5] See Gen. 35:10-12  | [6] Gen. 35:10, 11-12 ESV  |  [7] Mal. 1:1-3 ESV  |  [8] Matt. 28:19 ESV  |  [9] Rom. 5:8 ESV. See also Rom. 9.
November 29, 2011

Advent: Family – The Messiah Would Be a Descendant of Abraham

by Bethany

Advent Reading: Heb. 11:17-19 (underlined below)

Promise Made | Abraham laughed when God said that he would be “the father of a multitude of nations” [1]. After all, he was 99 years old and his wife was 98 and barren. Nevertheless, God insisted, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring” [2]. A year later, Isaac was born and they rejoiced. When he was a child, however, God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering” [3]. How could this be? Hadn’t God promised to make a nation through Isaac? Yet, Abraham obeyed and prepared Isaac for sacrifice. As Abraham raised his knife, however, God stopped him: “Do not lay your hand on the boy … for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” [4]. God then sent a sacrificial lamb and Abraham named the place, “The Lord will provide” [5]. Yet, Isaac remained their only son – hardly “a multitude of nations.”

Promise Kept | God didn’t forget His promise. First, He told Solomon to build the Temple – where all sacrifices, including the Passover Lamb, were to be slaughtered – in the land of Moriah, where Isaac was spared [6]. Then, a thousand years later, one of Abraham’s descendants – Jesus – was born as the only Son of the Father. Then, in his thirties, he was taken to Jerusalem – in Moriah – to be sacrificed as the Passover Lamb.

Promise Meant | In Jesus, God provided. He opened the way for anyone to become Abraham’s child and heir. Today, Abraham’s children are those who trust God – even in confusing circumstances: By faith Abraham … who had received the promises, was offering up his only begotten son … He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead” [7]. Indeed, God raised Jesus from the dead “that the world might be saved through him[8].

Prayer | Lord, In Jesus, we are Abraham’s descendants and heirs of the promise. Therefore, strengthen our faith in him as the fulfillment of your promises. Give us the faith of our father Abraham, who – in the midst of confusing circumstances – trusted in you so much that he reasoned that you could do the impossible – raise his precious son from the dead. Amen.

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What is the non-advent reading for today? 2 Kings 12-13 and 2 Chron. 24
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[1] Gen. 17:4 ESV  |  [2] Gen. 17:19 ESV  |  [3] Gen. 22:2 ESV  |  [4] Gen. 22:12 ESV  |  [5] Gen. 22:14 ESV  |  [6] See 2 Chron. 3:1  |  [7] Heb. 11:17-19 NIV  |  [8] Jn. 3:17 NIV

November 28, 2011

Advent – Introduction: Is Christmas a Jewish Holiday?

by Bethany

Every year, 843 Acres anticipates the incarnation of Jesus through advent reflections that focus on Old Testament promises and their corresponding New Testament fulfillments. We do this because the Old Testament is precious to Christians – it is the Word of God in preparation for the Messiah and the key to understanding the meaning of Jesus and his work in bringing salvation to all people.

Advent Text: 2 Cor. 1:20 (underlined below)

Jewish Heritage | Christianity does not exist apart from Judaism. As Jesus said, “salvation is from the Jews” [1]. Yet, what did he mean? First, God freely chose them and covenanted with them through Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation” [2]. Second, God gave them the Scriptures: “To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” [3]. Third, Jesus was Jewish: “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God” [4]. Fourth, in his earthly life, Jesus prioritized his ministry to the Jewish people, telling his disciples, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” [5]. Thus, we have no hope apart from the heritage of Israel and no salvation apart from the Jewish Messiah [6].

Christmas Miracle | This is why it was shocking that Jesus came to redeem all people: “For God so loved the world” – Jew and Gentile – “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him” – Jew and Gentile – “should not perish but have eternal life” [7]. Christ opened the way of salvation to welcome all believers as God’s chosen people – by faith, not heritage: “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring” [8]. Therefore, the good news of Christmas is that Jesus came to redeem his people and also that his people included Gentiles – that they could become  “fellow citizens” with Israel [9] and “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” [10]. This means that all those who believe in Christ – regardless of nationality, race, language, moral track record or culture – can claim every single Old Testament promise because Jesus fulfills all of them: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ[11].

Prayer | Lord, We praise you for being our Father by adopting us as your children. In this advent season, we feast on our Old Testament heritage – for there was a time when we were not fellow citizens of Israel or heirs according to the promise [12]. Rather, we were aliens and strangers – without God and without hope in the world [13]. In Christ, however, we are members of your household [14]. Therefore, we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of the Messiah, who expanded the way of salvation so that anyone can receive it by faith. Amen.

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What is the non-advent reading for today? 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chron. 22:10-23:21
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Footnotes: [1] Jn. 4:22 ESV.  |  [2] Gen. 12:2 ESV. See also Gen. 12; Neh. 9:7; Amos 3:2; Rom. 11:28-29; Deut. 7:7-8.  |  [3] Rom. 9:4. See also Rom. 3:1.  |  [4] Rom. 9:5 ESV.  |  [5] Matt. 10:5 ESV. See also Matt. 15:24; Rom. 15:8 (where Paul calls Jesus “a servant to the circumcised”).  |  [6] Indeed, in his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that the Gentiles are like branches on a tree and that the Jews are its roots and then says, “You do not support the root, but the root supports you … Do not be arrogant” (see Rom. 11:11-25). Yet, the Jewish people, however, have no priority over the Gentiles in their righteousness (see Rom. 3:9-10, 22-23) or their way to be saved (see Rom. 3:29-30; 10:12) or their sharing in God’s blessings (see Eph. 2:12-13, 18-19; 3:4-6) – namely, we all alike are under sin and must be saved by faith and will share in immeasurable blessings in Christ.  |  [7] John 3:16 ESV. Note, however, that inclusion of the Gentiles should not have been so shocking to the first-century Jews because all throughout the OT there are hints and shadows that God would redeem all people – both Jews and Gentiles – e.g., (1) In Psalm 87, God says, “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me – Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush – and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion’ – noting that non-Israelites will be reckoned by the Lord as having been born in Jerusalem / Zion; (2) Ruth converts to Judaism even though she is a Moabitess – see Ruth 1:16; (3) The Lord speaks through the prophet Jeremiah to warn the Israelites that “true Israel” (as Paul later calls it in his letter to the church in Rome) are those who are circumcised in heart, see Jer. 9:23-26.  |  [8] Gal. 3:29 ESV. See Eph. 3:4-6; Phil. 3:3; Gal. 3:9; Rom. 2:29; Rom. 11:17.  |  [9] Eph. 2:19 ESV.  |  [10] Eph. 3:6 ESV. See also Rom. 9:4; Eph. 2:15.  |  [11] 2 Cor. 1:20 NIV.  |  [12] See Eph. 2:11-22.  |  [13] Id.  |  [14] Id.

November 25, 2011

I am thankful for God – who is good but not safe.

by Bethany

This week, as if I were sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table, I’m daily saying, “I am thankful for …”

Relevant Text: 2 Kings 9:7
Full Text: 2 Kings 9-10

Aslan | After the Pevensie children ate dinner with the Beavers, Mr. Beaver told them the prophecy about Aslan – that “wrong will be made right when Aslan comes in sight.” But they were confused about him:

“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not … Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver: “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you” [1].

Judgment | God certainly is not safe or tame: “For if we go on sinning deliberately … there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment … It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [2]. Thus, God called Jehu to execute His judgment against the house of Ahab – a dynasty that ignored His mercies for decades [3]: “You shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge … the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord” [4].

Cleft | No, God is not safe, but He is good. How can these coexist? As John Piper has suggested, being in God’s presence is like hiding in the cleft of a rock on a glacier in the dead of winter in the midst of a terrible storm. Yes, you have found refuge and are safe – yet, you can see the storm and, thus, you tremble at its power and wonder, knowing that you would never want to be its adversary [5].

Prayer | Lord, You are a great storm to those who run from you. Yet, to those who find their refuge in you, you are a great savior. Therefore, we confess that we do not want to be your adversaries. Instead, we want to run to you as the Pevensie children ran to Aslan – full of hope and trust. Amen.

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[1] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Ch. 8: “What Happened After Dinner.”  |  [2] Heb. 10:26-31 ESV  |  [3] His mercies came – and often come – in warnings. Elijah and Elisha and other prophets repeatedly warned the house of Ahab about their willful disobedience.  |  [4] 2 Kings 9:7-8 ESV  |  [5]  John Piper, “The Pleasure of God in Those Who Hope in the Lord.” DesiringGod Ministries. Sermon, 15 March 1987.


November 24, 2011

I am thankful for tears that come with smiles.

by Bethany

This week, as if I were sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table, I’m daily saying, “I am thankful for …”

Relevant Text: 2 Kings 8:12  |  Full Text:  2 Kings 6:24-8:15

Happy | Last week, I suggested that we might show our hope in God by “enjoying Him with great happiness and gladness of heart” [1]. C.S. Lewis even said that we must pursue happiness: “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can” [2]. In fact, the Bible repeatedly commands us to enjoy God [3]. Yet, how are we supposed to be happy in the midst of so much pain and suffering? Even if we genuinely trust God and humbly admit our inability to understand fully, are we really expected to be happy?

Sad | Elisha repeatedly faced sorrowful situations. Here, for example, he prophesied during a seven-year famine that was so severe some women even ate their children [4]. As Joseph Conrad reflected, prolonged hunger is unbearable: “No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as to superstition, beliefs, and what you may call principles, they are less than chaff in a breeze” [5]. After the famine ended, Elisha wept when he confronted the man who would assassinate the king and then brutally harm the people: “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women” [6].

Mix | Yes, we are called to “rejoice always “ [7], but we are not called to ignore the real suffering in this world and in our lives. In fact, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” [8] and Jesus wept on multiple occasions [9]. Yet, although he “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” [10], he also joyfully endured the cross [11] because his sacrificed life “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” [12].

Prayer | Lord, You are in heaven, where you long for us to be infinitely and deeply happy. Yet, in and through our circumstances, we can be “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” [13], as we trust in your promise – “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” [14]. We pray for our faith to grow so that we know that you are good and you are for us and you are using all things for our deep and eternal happiness [15]. Amen.

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[1] See 843 Acres. “How to Live a Questionable Life.” 18 November 2011.  |  [2] C.S. Lewis, in a letter to a friend, Sheldon Vanauken. Quoted in Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), p. 189.  |  [3] See, e.g., Ps. 32:11; 67:4; 37:4.  |  [4] See 2 Kings 6:25-29.  |  [5] Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness.  |  [6] 2 Kings 8:12 NIV1984.  |  [7] Phil. 4:4.  |  [8] Is. 53:3 ESV.  |  [9] John 11:35. See also Luke 19:41-44.  |  [10] Heb. 5:7 ESV.  |  [11] Heb. 12:2 ESV. |  [12] Heb. 5:7-9 ESV.  |  [13] 1 Cor. 6:10 ESV  |  [14] Rom. 8:31-32 ESV  |  [15] Tyler Kennedy / John Piper, “If God Wants Me Happy, Why Do I Suffer So Much?” DesiringGod Ministries. 20 April 2010 (noting that – even though Paul experienced tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness – he was “always crying and always happy. How could he not be crying? He was so beat up. His back must’ve looked like a hunk of jelly most of the time because he had these five-times-thirty-nine lashes beat over his back and then healed in all kinds of gnarly ways … And he had enemies all around him. And he said, ‘Rejoice in the Lord, again I say rejoice!’ So, yes, God wants you happy. But he doesn’t do it with circumstance. He does it in and through circumstances.”)


November 23, 2011

I’m thankful for common means that accomplish uncommon ends.

by Bethany

This week, as if I were sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table, I’m daily saying, “I am thankful for …”

Relevant Text: 2 Kings 5:13  |  Full Text: 2 Kings 5:1-6:23

Mighty | When was the last time you walked through a sea that parted before your very eyes? [1] Have you witnessed a man who was dead for four days be resurrected by a mere word? [2] Have you seen soaked wood be consumed in flames? [3] I’m guessing that none of us have experienced these things. Yet, although we want God to work miraculously and powerfully for us as He did for our ancestors, I’m thankful that He works through ordinary and common means as well.

Healing | Elisha heard that Naaman was desperate to cure his leprosy. So he sent a message to Naaman: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed” [4]. But Naaman wanted something spectacular: “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy” [5]. So he “went off in a rage” [6]. Yet, his servants spoke wisely: “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed!’” [7]. So he washed himself in the river and he was made clean. Then, he proclaimed, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel” [8].

Common | God doesn’t always use great and mighty means to accomplish His purposes – sometimes He speaks in whispers [9] or heals in rivers. Sometimes He even works in slow and gradual steps. For example, when a blind man was brought to Jesus to be healed, Jesus laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?” But the blind man replied, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” So Jesus once again laid hands on his eyes and fully restored the man’s sight [10]. When we think that prayer has to be “all or nothing,” our persistence in prayer can be stifled and our faith in God can waver. Yet, He might be whispering, not shouting [11].

Prayer | Our Father, You are in heaven, where you work on behalf of your people – sometimes in shouts and sometimes in whispers. Thank you for using non-spectacular means to accomplish spectacular ends. Show us how to persevere in prayer, as we trust that you are working in our lives every day. Amen.

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Footnotes: [1] When the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and were rescued from the hand of Pharaoh and his mighty army. See Ex. 14:1-29.  |  [2] When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. See John 11:1-44.  |  [3] When Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. See 1 Kings 18:20-40.  |  [4] 2 Kings 5:10 NIV1984.  |  [5] 2 Kings 5:11 NIV1984.  |  [6] 2 Kings 5:12 NIV1984.  |  [7] 2 Kings 5:13 NIV1984).  |  [8] 2 Kings 5:15 NIV1984.  |  [9] When God spoke to Elijah in a whisper. See 1 Kings 19:9-18.  |  [10] See Mark 8:22-25.  |  [11] See John Piper, “The ‘All of Nothing’ Impediment to Prayer.” DesiringGod Ministries. 10 January 1983. (noting that his own personal prayer life was “revolutionized” when he realized that – even though he is free to pray for the “all” in his prayers – he can also pray for the “something” and the “something more” in those things that he longs for).


November 22, 2011

I am thankful for bad leadership.

by Bethany

This week, as if I were sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table, I’m daily saying, “I am thankful for …”

Relevant Text: 2 Chron. 22:3-4  |  Full Text: 2 Kings 8:25-29 + 2 Chron. 22:1-9

Frustrated | Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or an Occupier, you’re probably disillusioned with our national leadership. A recent Rasmussen poll found that only 20% of likely voters believe that “the government has the consent of the governed” [1]. Congressional approval ratings remain at an all-time low – now, 13% [2]. Nearly 90% of Americans say that they are “frustrated” with U.S. politics and more than half are downright “furious” [3]. Republicans are having a frustrating primary season and President Obama’s approval rating has hit its lowest point since he took office – 41% [4].

Pattern | Overall, the kings of the divided kingdoms – Israel and Judah – were terrible. In Israel, Ahab was the worst – he “did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him” [5]. He ignored the word of God – referring to Elijah as the “troubler of Israel” [6], and saying of another prophet, “I hate him for he never prophesies good concerning me” [7]. He unjustly oppressed his people – murdering and stealing from a farmer who refused to sell his land [8]. In the end, Ahab was killed in battle and buried in Samaria, where “dogs licked up his blood” [9]. In Judah, although Ahaziah was king for only a year, “he too followed the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him to act wickedly” [10]. Although there were bright spots during those years, the overall outlook was bleak.

Plan | Yet, like the judges and the prophets, the kings were never intended to save the people. Instead, they were meant to leave God’s people frustrated with imperfect human leadership. Although God longed for His people to rely on Him alone, they persistently relied on every other possible means. Once they were morally and emotionally exhausted, they would despair of trusting in another king and finally turn to the only king who could save – the Lord Himself.

Prayer | Our Father, You are in heaven, where you sit as king forever. We thank you for imperfect leaders because, in our frustration, we turn to you. Thus, although we pray that you make your name holy in the lives of our leaders, as they seek your guidance and model your servant leadership, we know that our hope and salvation is in you, not them. Give us our daily bread today, as we feast on the gospel – that Jesus died to secure our place by your side in your kingdom. Amen.

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Footnotes: [1]20% Say U.S. Government Has Consent of the Governed.” Rasmussen Reports. 3 November 2011.  |  [2] Lydia Saad. “At 13%, Congress’ Approval Ties All-Time Low.” Gallup. 12 October 1011.  |  [3] Laurie Kellman. “AP-GfK Poll: 37 percent support ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protestors; politics angers most people.” AP-GfK. 21 October 2011.  |  [4] Jeffrey Jones. “Obama Job Approval Average Slides to New Low in 11th Quarter.” Gallup. 21 October 2011.  |  [5] 1 Kings 16:30 ESV  |  [6] 1 Kings 18:17 ESV  | [7] 1 Kings 22:8 ESV  |  [8] See 1 Kings 21  |  [9] 1 Kings 22:38 ESV. See also 1 Kings 21:19.).  |  [10] 2 Chronicles 22:3-4 NIV1984. See also 2 Kings 8:27 NIV1984.


November 21, 2011

I am thankful for times when I feel outnumbered.

by Bethany

This week, as if I were sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table, I’m daily saying, “I am thankful for …”

Relevant Text: 2 Chron. 20:15  |  Full Text: 2 Chron. 18:28-21:3

Outnumbered | Being outnumbered usually only matters in sporting events or military campaigns. But there are actually things in our everyday lives that make us feel outnumbered and discouraged all the time. We feel outnumbered by our aging bodies that increasingly get wrinkles and grey hair [1]. Single Christian women in New York feel discouraged to learn that single women outnumber single men by 149,219 – a margin that is larger and sadder when faith and sexual orientation are considered [2]. Middle class individuals and families are outnumbered by the growing economic disparity and income segregation [3]. Pancreatic cancer patients are outnumbered by the 4% five-year relative survival rate [4]. Middle-aged men and women are outnumbered by the years that pass without their having accomplished what they had once hoped [5]. Unemployed workers are outnumbered to learn that the U-6 rate is 16.2% and the mean duration of unemployment is 39.4 weeks [6].

Outdone | Jehoshaphat was outnumbered. His southern and eastern neighbors were against him because they were sick of giving him taxes and labor. They were wanted to crush Judah and continue north to conquer Israel. Jehoshaphat was discouraged. His army was “like a sandcastle” and their united front was like “a large wave about to break right on it” [7]. His people were facing death and looking to him for salvation. So he gathered everyone together in Jerusalem and declared a fast. They stood before the temple and he himself pleaded their case before the Lord: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” [8]. Then God answered his humble and faith-filled prayer in a spectacular way – He confused their enemies and they killed one another. Jehoshaphat and his army never even lifted a finger.

Prayer | Our Father, You are in heaven, where statistics and numbers are not limitations to you. Yet, we thank you for the times where we feel outnumbered – for it is then that you make your name holy in our lives, as we look to you and believe your message: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s” [9]. Today, although you may not heal us or employ us or give us success us in our endeavors, we fear nothing because you give us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” [10]. Amen.

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Footnotes:  [1] Not to mention our thinning skin and nails, our loss of firmness in our hands and neck, our hair loss, our weaker cognitive abilities, our worsened hearing and sight. For more of the physical effects of our aging, see “Effects of Aging on Your Body.” CNNHealth. 14 August 2007.  |  [2] This statistic is based on the U.S. Census numbers, which does not take into account faith or sexual orientation or even men already in relationships. In 2008, when the number was over 210,000, a female commentator for the Observer wrote, “Savvy, well-educated women hoping to find a mate and settle down are out of luck.” Jen Doll. “Dear Single Women of NYC: It’s Not Them, It’s You.” The Village Voice. 9 February 2011. Imagine if she had the additional criteria of faith?  |  [3] Sabrina Tavernise. “Middle-Class Areas Shrink as Income Gap Grows, New Report Finds.” The New York Times. 15 November 2011.  |  [4] “Prognosis of Pancreatic Cancer.” Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.  |  [5] Lots of people – especially professionally-minded people – wonder at what age do you ask, “If I’m not successful by this age, will I ever be?” Many people have regrets for goals not accomplished or remorse for past behavior that affects current circumstances. There is also self-doubt as a result of the passing of our youth and the imminence of old age. In my search, I even found a young man in his 20s who was already asking, “Why haven’t I accomplished more?” See Brett. “Man to Man Episode #6: Why Haven’t I Accomplished More?” The Art of Manliness. 23 February 2011.  |  [6] “The ‘glimmer of hope’ October jobs report: 5 takeaways.” The Week. 4 November 2011. Even though the numbers seem to be improving on a national level, that doesn’t lessen an individual’s personal struggle with unemployment – especially sustained unemployment. It pushes us to reputationally and financially and spiritually and in so many other ways.  |  [7] Jon Bloom. “Do Not Be Afraid.” DesiringGod Ministries. Blog. 12 November 2008.  |  [8] 2 Chron. 20:12 NIV1984

November 18, 2011

How to Live a Questionable Life

by Bethany

This is a special 843 Acres. It is a devotional that Bethany wrote for Redeemer Presbyterian Church as a part of its Catalyst initiative. The reflection itself is 398 words, but the text and the prayer are an additional 159 words. Enjoy!

Text | 1 Peter 3:14-16

14 Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (ESV)

Reflection | Living Questionably

Peter assumes that his Christian readers are living in such hope that their neighbors would see them and ask them about the reason for their hope. Today, how can we live in our City so that our neighbors ask us about the reason for our hope? Here are some ideas.

Beauty/Materialism. Our yearning for beauty is good because it points us to the most beautiful person in the universe – Jesus. Everything about him is beautiful – his creation, power, wisdom, justice, love. Yet, physically, he had “no beauty that we should desire him” [1]. In our culture that is obsessed with mere external adornment, we can show that our hope is in God by pursuing the deep and comprehensive beauty of Christ in ourselves and in others [2].

Generosity/Consumerism. Our desire for needs and goods is wonderful because it leads us to the greatest need and good in the universe – the forgiveness and grace of God. In our culture that promotes purchases and consumption, we can show that our hope is in God by loosening our grip on the “treasures of earth” and laying up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” [3], as we give generously and spend modestly.

Purpose/Success. Our longing for purpose is great because God invites us to join Him in the greatest calling in the universe – the timeless and boundless work of glorifying His name through the flourishing of humanity. In our culture that promotes self-promotion and personal gain, we can show that our hope is in God by serving and loving others [4].

Freedom/Independence. Our yearning for freedom is good because it points us to the One who died to make us unconquerably and unyieldingly free – Jesus [5]. In our culture that fears oppression and praises individualism, we can show that our hope is in God by enjoying the ultimate freedom that comes from being bound to Christ. As Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own … because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” [6].

Joy/Fun. Our quest for joy is wonderful because it propels us to search for the greatest joy in the universe and the delight of our souls – God. As David sang, “In your presence there is fullness of joy” [7]. In our culture that craves entertainment and fun, we can show that our hope is in God by enjoying Him with great happiness and gladness of heart  [8].

Prayer

Lord, We long for you to make your name holy in our midst. May your kingdom come in our city, as our lives become lights of your truth. We pray that your will would be done – that our hearts would be so full of hope that our neighbors would ask us for the reason for our true beauty, generous giving, modest spending, confident purpose, ultimate freedom and deep joy. And as we daily meditate on your word, give us increasing joy and faith in your glorious grace. Amen.

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[1] Is. 53:2  |  [2] See 2 Cor. 3:7-11  |  [3] Matt. 6:19-20  |  [4] See Jn. 13:1-17  |  [5] Gal. 5:1-5  |  [6] Jn 5:30  |  [7] Ps. 16:11  |  [8] As C.S. Lewis once wrote to a friend, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.”  |  [FN] For the scheduled reading, see 2 Kings 2 + 2 Kings 4.

November 17, 2011

The Forgiveness of God Depends on … What?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 2 Kings 8:19
Full Text: 2 Kings 8:16-24 + 2 Chronicles 21:4-20

Predicament | All of us – at some level – know that there’s something fundamentally wrong with us. Buried deep within us, there’s a sense of inward “caughtness” or “imprisonment” [1]. Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Oh, would that there were a place of refuge to which I could flee – far away from myself!” [2] He attributed his longing for escape to his awareness of sin: “It is guilt and the consciousness of guilt, or even heavier, sin and the consciousness of sin. [For] the one who bears this burden … there is concern, a deep, an eternal concern; it pertains not to externals, not to your fortunes, past or future; it pertains to your actions and, alas, it pertains to those very ones that a person would prefer to have forgotten, because it pertains to the actions, secret or open, by which you offended against God or against other persons” [3] Thus, he wanted to hide: “Would that there were a hiding place where I am so hidden that not even the consciousness of my sin can find me! … Would that there were a forgiveness, a forgiveness that does not increase my sense of guilt but truly takes the guilt from me” [4].

Promise | Our greatest need is to be forgiven because, apart from forgiveness, we cannot enjoy the greatest good in the universe and the delight of our souls – namely, the presence of God [5]. Yet, on what basis are we forgiven? Not on the basis of our good excuses [6] or on our worthiness – but on God Himself. Thousands of years ago, He promised to establish David’s throne forever [7]. Even during Israel’s bleakest years, when kings did evil in God’s sight [8], He kept His promise: The Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David” [9]. Today, Jesus sits on David’s throne and, in him, we are heirs of the covenant. Through him, we draw near to God with sincere hearts in full assurance of faith, “having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” [10]. Christ was made guilty so that we could be forgiven [11].

Prayer | Lord, We long for your like laborers and travelers long for rest. We praise you for your forgiveness in Christ, as we trust in the covenant of David. Forgive us our sins and purify our hearts. Show us how to walk in full assurance of faith and with clean consciences [12]. Amen.

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[1] Philosophers have called this our existential predicament or malaise or dilemma.  |  [2] Soren Kierkegaard. Christian Discourses: Two Discourses at Friday Communion. Princeton Univ. Press, 1997. p. 184.  |  [3] Soren Kierkegaard. Christian Discourses: The Crisis and a Crisis in the Life of an Actress. Princeton Univ. Press, 1997. p. 264.  |  [4] Supra at 2.  |  [5] Apart from Christ: Eph. 2:12. In the presence of Christ: Ps. 16:11.

[6] See C.S. Lewis. The Weight of Glory. New York: Harper Collins, 2001. p. 181-183 (noting that excuses, in fact, have nothing to do with forgiveness: “To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian character; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says”.)

[7] See 2 Sam. 7:12-17.  |  [8] See 2 Kings 8:18 ESV  |  [9] 2 Kings 8:19 ESV  |  [10] Heb. 10:22 NIV1984  |  [11] See 2 Cor. 5:21

[12] I had an interesting email conversation with a friend yesterday about what this forgiveness and rest that the Lord offers to combat our existential predicament looks like in a practice. I’ve adapted my response to his question – “What is Kierkegaard’s prescription for this sad state?” – below (and, yes, I apologized in advance for the length):

“Yeah, you’re right. Kierkegaard’s answer is basically an invitation for rest for the soul provided by the gospel and secured by Jesus – in very flowery 19th century prose. Yet, he actually meditates on portions of the gospel. Piper actually does it really well, too, in one of his sermons that I read for an 843 a few months ago. Here’s what he did:

Do we mean what the psalmist does by “remembering” and “meditating” and “musing”? I wonder. Take an example. Suppose you are feeling unworthy and unacceptable to God and generally a failure and having little motivation to rise above the sense of despondency. Now, you have lots of knowledge in your head of Christ’s great deeds of old. And if someone says to you, “But don’t you know that you are justified by faith and God looks on you in Christ as you cast yourself on him for mercy?” you might say, “Yes, I know that in my head, but it isn’t having any effect on my feelings.” 

But is that passive knowing about – or that awareness of – justification what the psalmist means by “remember, meditate, muse”? Could it be that he means something like this? I will call to mind that my Lord Jesus – the kindest, most loving, and utterly sinless man – on a day in history hung on a Roman cross of torture and execution in horrible pain next to a man who had lived a life of sin all his life and was on the brink of eternal damnation. I will remember the sufferings of what he experienced that day and let them brew in my mind. I will remember that the thief next to him said, for some wonderful and inexplicable reason (for he was cursing at first), “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). I will meditate on the grace of God that brought that change of heart. I will muse on how unlikely that was and how hopeless that request was. I will talk to myself about how this man had no time to become good and deserving before he died. I will think about what kind of grace he thought might be available from this dying Christ.

Then I will remember – I will consciously pursue the memory, I will call it up from my memory or I will track it down in the Gospel of Luke – that Jesus said to the thief, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). And I will pause here and muse on this answer a long time. I will not hurry off somewhere to say that such knowledge has no effect on my emotions. I will pause. I will linger and muse and meditate on this. This is a wonder. Here is a dying man declaring a life-long thief accepted and loved and heaven-bound. Here is a grace that sweeps a lifetime of guilt away in an instant. Here is a power that says death can hold neither you nor me. Here is an authority that decides who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. Here is an immediacy that says it will happen this very day. No purgatory, no testing, no penance. Just absolute forgiveness and acquittal and cleansing and acceptance. “Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders” (Psalm 77:13). [Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/i-will-meditate-on-all-your-work-and-muse-on-your-deeds]

Yet, even though it’s an encouragement to know that Piper is speaking to believers and so implicitly saying that believers can go through the repetitive cycle of feelings of guilt and forgiveness, a question remains: “That’s all fine and good for the thief, Piper. I mean, he died immediately and had no further opportunity to sin. But what about me? I can plead for forgiveness and it can seem so sincere and then I can turn around once again do that very same thing two seconds later. What about that? Am I licensed to enjoy the gracious forgiveness of the Lord when I’m a continuing and hopeless sinner?” And the best place, in my mind, to turn to is John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin – which is a long meditation on Romans 8:13:

13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

This book is all about indwelling sin – that sin that we “longer-than-the-thief Christians” do over and over again – ones that even may be rooted in our nature. In the first 8 chapters, he basically takes the verse word-by-word – what is “the sinful nature,” what is “by the Spirit,” what is “put to death,” what are “the misdeeds of the body,” etc. So, chapter 2 addresses the necessity of mortification and it starts:

I. That the choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin. 

Where he has his famous statement:

Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work. 

And he offers 6 specific reasons for us to participate in the mortification of sin. In particular, related to our discussion, his 5th reason is about the despairing effect that negligence of mortification has on our souls:

5. Negligence in this duty casts the soul into a perfect contrary condition to that which the apostle affirms was his, 2 Cor. 4:16, “Though our outward man perish, yet the inwardman is renewed day by day.” In these the inward man perisheth, and the outward man is renewed day by day. Sin is as the house of David, and grace as the house of Saul. Exercise and success are the two main cherishers of grace in the heart; when it is suffered to lie still, it withers and decays: the things of it are ready to die, Rev. 3:2; and sin gets ground towards the hardening of the heart, Heb. 3:13. This is that which I intend: by the omission of this duty grace withers, lust flourisheth, and the frame of the heart grows worse and worse; and the Lord knows what desperate and fearful issues it hath had with many. Where sin, through the neglect of mortification, gets a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul, Ps. 31:10, and makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die, Ps. 38:3-5, so that he cannot look up, Ps. 60:12, Isa. 33:24; and when poor creatures will take blow by blow, wound after wound, foil after foil, and never rouse up themselves to a vigorous opposition, can they expect any thing but to be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and that their souls should bleed to death? 2 John 8. Indeed, it is a sad thing to consider the fearful issues of this neglect, which lie under our eyes every day. See we not those, whom we knew humble, melting, broken-hearted Christians, tender and fearful to offend, zealous for God and all his ways, his Sabbaths and ordinances, grown, through neglect of watching unto this duty, earthly, carnal, cold, wrathful, complying with the men of the world and things of the world, to the scandal of religion and the fearful temptation of them that know them? The truth is, what between placing mortification in a rigid, stubborn frame of spirit, which is for the most part earthly, legal, censorious, partial, consistent with wrath, envy, malice, pride, on the one hand, and pretences of liberty, grace, and I know not what, on the other, true evangelical mortification is almost lost amongst us: of which afterward.

Thus, by implication, the “prescription” that Owen would suggest – which goes beyond the typical true but somewhat confusing prescription of “Go to Jesus on the cross” – is to mortify the deeds of the body by the Spirit. In order to know what all that is, though, you’ll have to read the book. It’s too long to put in an email. :) [See entire book here (or get on Kindle / books): http://www.jesus.org.uk/vault/library/owen_mortification.pdf].


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