Archive for January, 2012

January 31, 2012

“The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race.”

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Rom. 3:29-30
Full Text: Esth. 8; Rom. 3

Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God,
who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
Romans 3:29-30

I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
Revelation 7:9

Bloodlines by John Piper
(an excerpt)

“God’s concern to include all the ethnic peoples of the world in his saving purposes – in his final, eternal family – is unbreakably linked with the two greatest realities in the universe: God’s very being as one God and the way God has ordained to put sinners in the right with himself through justification in Christ. Ethnic diversity is not connected to God marginally. It’s connected at the center – his infinite being and his single, glorious way of justifying sinners.

“As this sinks into our minds and hearts, the effect it should have is to change the way we think and feel about racial and ethnic diversity of the world and the church. We are constantly in danger of feeling (even when we are not thinking this way) that God is partial to our tribe – that he has a special liking for our ethnicity and cultural norms.

“This danger is especially present and unseen among majority cultures and majority ethnic groups. When we are in a very large majority, we do not even operate with the category of our own ethnicity. We are just human, so we are prone to think. Others have ethnicity. This makes us very vulnerable to the assumption that God is our God in a way that minimizes his being the God of other ethnic groups.

“May the astonishing way that Paul speaks in Romans 3:29-30 of justification by faith alone awaken us from this deadly assumption. And may it fill us with a sense of amazement at God’s passion in the pursuit of all ethnic groups of the world. May we never forget that this pursuit is rooted in God’s being one infinite God and in his justifying sinners in one glorious way through faith alone in the blood and righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ.”

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Special Note

In Bloodlines (PDF – forward by Tim Keller), not only does Piper candidly confess that he was “manifestly” a racist as a teenager, he also repeatedly reminds his readers that he is not a model multiethnic urban pastor today. This is why, he says, he must cherish and cling to the cross – for it has defeated his ethnocentrism and offered manifold forgiveness to his formerly racist heart: “The Lord will be my judge someday. I will give an account to him of how I served him. I expect that as he goes down the list of the choices I have made, none will have a perfectly pure motivation, and many will appear as unwise in the bright light of his holiness. I hope I have been a good steward of my gifts and time. But my confidence in the judgment is not in that. It’s in the perfection of Jesus that God has credited to me through faith and in the punishment Jesus endured for me. And I believe there will be in my overall ministry sufficient, imperfect fruits of love that witness that my union with Jesus by faith was real.”


January 30, 2012

Sin Is a Parasite

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Rom. 2:5
Full Text: Esth. 7; Rom. 2

Worldview | Each of us has a narrative about how the world works. Conscious or subconscious, its effect is pervasive. Leslie Stevenson suggests, “So much depends on our conception of human nature: for individuals, the meaning and purpose of our lives, what we ought to do or strive for, what we may hope to achieve or to become” [1].

Christian | The Christian narrative, argues Albert Wolters, is utterly unique in its perspective: “The great danger is to always single out some aspect of God’s good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of sin, as the villain. Such an error [conceives] the good-evil dichotomy as intrinsic to the creation itself … [as] something in the good creation is identified as [the source] of evil. In the course of history, this ‘something’ has been variously identified as … the body and its passions (Plato and much of Greek philosophy), as culture in distinction from nature (Rousseau and Romanticism), as authority figures in society and family (psychodynamic psychology), as economic forces (Marx) … As far as I can tell, the Bible is unique in its rejection of all attempts to either demonize some part of creation as the root of our problems or idolize some part of creation as the solution” [2].

Effect | The problem with the world is sin and it’s in all of us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “[T]he line separating good and evil passes … right through every human heart” [3]. Its effect is disastrous. Paul wrote, “[B]ecause of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself[4]. Why start the week by thinking about God’s hatred of sin? To the extent we understand it in our minds and hearts, the love of God will not sink to sentimentalism and self-help. It is not this. It is an infinitely precious and powerful treasure, an invaluable redemption, and the ultimate solution to the sin problem of the Christian narrative.

Prayer | Lord, You declared that your creation was “good” and that those created in your image were “very good” [5]. When sin entered the world, however, sin attached itself to every good created thing like a parasite. Our reasoning, emotions, actions and motives alike are all under its influence. Therefore, we praise you with deep humility for Christ’s redeeming love that cost him his life and that solved the sin problem for all who believe. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Leslie Stevenson & David Haberman. Ten Theories of Human Nature: Confucianism, Hinduism, The Bible, Plato, Kant, Marx, Freud, Sartre, Skinner, Lorenz. Oxford University Press, 1998. (Location 175 on Kindle for Mac.)  |  [2] Albert Wolters. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Eerdmans, 2005 (p. 61).  |  [3] Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago.  |  [4] Rom. 2:5 NIV1984  |  [5] See Gen. 1.

January 27, 2012

If I Perish, I Perish

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Est. 4:15-16
Full Text: Est. 4; Acts 27

Cravings | “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering,” said Earnest Hemingway. “The rest are merely games” [1]. Extreme sports enthusiasts, of course, agree. There needs to be some life-threatening element that satisfies our craving for adventure. After all, boredom is the worst. As Victor Hugo said, “One can dream of something more terrible than a hell where one suffers; it’s a hell where one would get bored” [2]. Yet, our craving for adventure has a twin craving that extreme sports don’t satisfy – significance. We don’t just want thrills; we want meaning. We want something that’s worth taking risks for.

Risks | Haman convinced the king to issue a decree to exterminate the Jewish refugees. The king, however, didn’t know that Esther was Jewish. When Mordecai heard about the decree, he asked Esther to plead their case to the king. Although she knew that the lives of her people were at stake, she also knew that the law stated that anyone who approached the king without being summoned would be killed unless mercy was shown. What did she do? She told Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews … and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” [3]. Esther didn’t know what would happen, but she made her decision based on wisdom and love. Then she handed the results over to God.

Obedience | In our culture, we have opportunities to take risks with significance daily. In fact, mere obedience can lead to a meaningful adventure. For example, when working professionals observe the Sabbath by resting from work and focusing on God, they risk being bested by colleagues and competitors. When we give the firstfruits of our income to God by tithing, we risk not being able to afford other things. How do we choose obedience? We release our cravings for comfort, security, control and success, and embrace our cravings for adventure, faith, miracles and deep knowledge of Jesus.

Prayer | Lord, You created us for adventure with significance. Yet, we are oftentimes misdirected and separate these twin cravings. In our lives, give us the courage to take risks for your kingdom, as we constantly choose faith over fear and obedience over sin. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] There is debate about whether Hemingway actually said this.
Some attribute it to writer Barnaby Conrad while others attribute it to Ken Purdy.  |
[2] Victor Hugo. Les Miserables.  |  [3] Esth. 4:15-16 NKJV


January 26, 2012

The Resurrection of Christ: Incredible or Not?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Acts 26:8
Full Text: Est. 3; Acts 26

Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”
– Paul

Resurrection | “Really? How can you seriously ask that question?” That’s what I want to say to Paul. Then again, I wasn’t his target audience. He was talking to a group of people who already believed that God could raise people from the dead – the Pharisees [1]. After all, their Scriptures included several resurrection accounts, e.g., the young boy raised by Elijah, the son of the Shunammite, the bones of the dead man [2]. Even in their own lifetime, they knew of several public resurrection accounts, e.g., the daughter of Jairus, Lazarus, Dorcas, Eutychus [3].

Unexpected | Jesus’ resurrection, however, was different. The others were raised from the dead and maintained their mortality. They had the same bodies and eventually died again. Jesus, on the other hand, was resurrected unto immortality in a new, glorified body. He was no longer susceptible to decay and death. In fact, although he was raised in bodily form, he even appeared sufficiently different that some of his disciples failed to recognize him [4]. This was their problem. For although the Pharisees expected a resurrection unto immortality at the end of the age, they didn’t expect it in the middle of history. Jesus was a surprise and, in their minds, an impossibility.

Firstfruits | Should they have been expecting it? Throughout his life, in every decision he made, Jesus always chose obedience over sin. Thus, he became the spotless Passover Lamb, slaughtered to make atonement before the Lord, according to the Law [5]. Yes, although he bore our sins when they were transferred to him by virtue of his righteousness, he was not made a sinner. Instead, under the Law, he became the Scapegoat, sent into the wilderness to bear our iniquities [6]. When God raised Jesus from the dead, therefore, He declared his life and death to be sufficient under the Jewish law. He defeated death itself and the grave had no hold on him. Thus, he was the “firstfruits” of our resurrection. His “resurrection from the dead was the beginning of the resurrection of the dead” [7].

Prayer | Lord, Our objections to the resurrection are different from the Pharisees’, but we struggle with the same thing that they did – unbelief. Therefore, help our unbelief. For we long to follow in Christ’s footsteps at the end of this age – no longer in our sins because he has been raised [8]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Wikipedia, Pharisees (noting their belief in a literal resurrection of the dead, which was one of the main points of contention between their Jewish sect and the opposing Jewish sect, the Sadducees).

[2] See 1 Kings 17:17-24 (the young boy raised by Elijah); 2 Kings 4:32-37 (the son of the Shunammite); 2 Kings 13:21 (the bones of the dead man thrown into the tomb). See also N.T. Wright, The Resurrection and the Son of God, Chapter 3: “Time to Wake Up (1): Death and Beyond in the Old Testament” (citing several texts that point to life beyond the grave in the Jewish Scriptures) (see special footnote below).

[3] See Matt. 9:18-26 and parallel texts: Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56 (the daughter of Jairus); John 11:1-13 (Lazarus); Acts 9:36-43 (Dorcas); Acts 20:7-12 (Eutychus). See also N.T. Wright, The Resurrection and the Son of God, Chapter 4: “Time to Wake Up (2): Hope Beyond Death in Post-Biblical Judaism” (citing several examples of Jewish belief in life after death) (see special footnote below).

[4] Two of his own disciples didn’t recognize him when they walked with him on the road to Ammaus (see Lk. 24:13-32, where Luke specifically mentions that their eyes were closed from and then opened to recognizing him). Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him for a moment (see Jn. 20:14-16). On other occasions, of course, the disciples seemed to have recognized him fairly quickly (see Mt. 28:9, 17; Jn. 20:19-20, 26-28; 21:7, 12). When Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples in Jerusalem, they were initially startled and frightened (Lk. 24:33, 37), but they were convinced he had risen from the dead when they saw his pierced hands and feet and saw him eat a piece of fish. (Information taken from Grudem, Systematic Theology, see Special Footnote below).

[5] See Lev. 16 (Day of Atonement).

[6] Id.

[7] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God. 2003, pp. 453-4, emphasis original.

[8] 1 Cor. 15:17. See 1 Cor. 15 (a full, beautiful discussion by Paul on the resurrection of Jesus and what that means for the Christian).

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Special Footnote

 It seems impossible to cover the topic of the resurrection in 400 words or less. I apologize in advance, therefore, if you’re left wanting more – or, even more likely, confused! Therefore, I am going to highlight a few additional resources for further reading:

(1) Miracles by C.S. Lewis. He notes that, before addressing any question about whether any miracle, in fact, happened, the preliminary question is whether the supernatural can interfere with the natural.

(2) The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright. This is, perhaps, the seminal work on the various aspects of what Easter means. It is very long, but it is also fairly comprehensive in setting out the context in which the resurrection happened. Tim Keller has said that it is the best work on this topic that he has ever read.

(3) Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. If you’re looking for an introduction to some of the major topics of Biblical doctrine, this is a great start. Not only does it lay out some specific doctrines (with Biblical references), it also has semi-devotional endings to each chapter that often include a questions for personal application, Scripture memory passages, and hymns on which to meditate and worship.

(4) J.I. Packer, “Introduction” to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen. Since Owen is so hard for people to read, many people skip the actual book and recommend Packer’s introduction. It’s an unpacking of the atoning sacrifice of the death of Christ and what it means for the Christian and the world.

(5) New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. If you’re curious about the historicity of the resurrection, you might want to check this out. As a side note, when I was drafting this devotional, I thought about addressing this topic, but I opted against it because I was convinced by Lewis’ argument in Miracles that, in our naturalistic era, I would have to cover the preliminary question before attempting to address the resurrection question. In Miracles, he wrote, “Seeing is not believing. For this reason, the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience … Our senses are not infallible … If immediate experience cannot prove or disprove the miraculous, still less can history do so. Many people think one can decide whether a miracle occurred in the past by examining the evidence ‘according to the ordinary rules of historical inquiry.’ But the ordinary rules cannot be worked until we have decided whether miracles are possible, and if so, how probable they are.” Not having the room to do both, I opted to address the objections of the Pharisees and focus on the intention of Paul’s comment itself. Thankfully, this is not – Lord-willing – the last devotional I’ll write, so I’ll try and cover those at a later time (or one of you can write in the comments about it!).

(6) Although I do not necessarily “recommend” reading it, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, has a lot to say – all negative – about miracles and the resurrection. I have found it helpful to read this book because it reminds me (in a very abrasive way) how our Christian belief in miracles and the resurrection appear to non-Christians. Yet, he fails where Lewis addresses – namely, in faulting at the preliminary question (he does not believe there is anything beyond the natural).

 

January 25, 2012

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Est. 2:22-23
Full Text: Est. 2; Acts 25

Wife | How should a man choose a wife? In their latest book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller argue that spiritual friendship should be the basis for marriage because, “It is easier to turn a friend into a romantic partner than to turn a romantic partner into a friend” [1]. With the same ring of friendship, philosopher Giuseppe Mazzini said, “Look to her not only for comfort, but for strength and inspiration and the doubling of your intellectual and moral powers” [2].

Cinderella | Esther is the Cinderella story of the Bible. An unknown and beautiful Jewish orphan girl rises to become the Queen of Persia. In the first chapter, King Xerxes divorces and deposes Queen Vashti because she refuses his invitation to dinner. In the second chapter, he selects Esther as queen in a beauty contest – hardly the method suggested by the Kellers. Yet, his courtship is not the point [3]; God’s sovereign salvation through her courageous strength is. After all, Esther is not just another pretty face; she is smart and bold and disciplined.

Audience | Shortly after Xerxes and Esther were married, Mordecai – her guardian and adoptive father – overheard two guards conspiring to assassinate the king. So Mordecai told Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on the gallows [4]. Esther was bold in going to Xerxes. After all, anyone who requested a meeting with the king could have been killed. Moreover, she knew what had happened to Vashti when she disrespected Xerxes. Yet, she went. Boldly and loyally, she went. And her husband was saved by her wisdom. Indeed, in marrying Esther, he doubled his intellectual and moral powers.

Prayer | Lord, The purpose of true womanhood is “to display the glory of Christ in its highest expression, namely, in his dying to make a rebellious people his everlasting and supremely happy bride” [5]. In Esther, we see a foreshadowing of Christ – for both put their lives on the line to save your people. Yet, although Esther was beautiful in appearance, Christ was not [6]. Therefore, let us be women who pursue and men who love the true picture of godly femininity – not mere external adornment, but rather “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” [7]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Tim and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage. If you’re interested in watching the book launch event, where Bethany Jenkins (founder of The Park Forum) co-interviewed the Kellers, click here.

[2] Quoted in Bill Bennett, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood. Chapter: “Man with Woman and Children.” Paragraph 7. Kindle edition, Location 7787. Review on Washington Times: here.

[3] Just because something is mentioned as having happened in the Bible does not mean that the Lord condones it. Very often Bible teachers will distinguish between readings in the Bible that are “descriptive” (that is, part of the history that contributes to the understanding of the story) and readings that are “normative” (that is, teachings that we should follow and do). So, for example, the fact that Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines is descriptive but not normative (after all, the law required that a king should only take one wife – see Deut. 17:14-17). In the same way, Xerxes’ courtship is not mentioned for its normative factor because it’s narrative.

[4] Esther 2:22-23 ESV

[5] John Piper, The Ultimate Meaning of True Womanhood.” 9 October 2008. Sermon. (with several mini-portraits of strong and courageous women who glorified God with their lives).

[6] See Isaiah 53.

[7] See 1 Peter 3:1-6 (although this is directed to believing women who are married to unbelieving men, its truth is equally applicable to believing women who are married to believing men).

[FN] The title of this devotional is roughly taken from Prov. 31:10.


January 24, 2012

So I’m a Christian. Now What?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Acts 24:25
Full Text: Est. 1; Acts 24

Self-Control | After his arrest and rescue, Paul had one chance to make his defense to Felix the governor [1]. What did he choose to say? He reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment[2]. In other words, he spoke about the three tenses of salvation – “how to be justified or pronounced righteous by God [justification], how to overcome temptation and gain self-mastery [sanctification], and how to escape the awful final judgment of God [glorification]” [3]. It makes sense that he would talk about justification and glorification; they’re integral to the gospel [4]. But sanctification? Why spend time talking about self-control?

Character-Training | Most of our lives are spent in the long, arduous process of sanctification. We’re justified in a moment [5] and glorified in the twinkling of an eye [6], but we spend years working out our salvation [7]. Last year, N.T. Wright came to New York to talk about his book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [8]. He said that we are called to be a royal priesthood [9] – “to reflect His wise order into the world and reflect the praises of the rest of creation back to Him.” How does that work? We grow in the fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” [10].

Public-Living | This is not private. Wright continued, “Some people who write about virtue write about it as though it is a private thing, as though Christians do this in order to be a pure community … But it cannot be like that. If this is genuine humaneness we are talking about and if we are acquiring those habits of heart and mind and soul and strength, then this must flow out … We are part of that great thing called the human race and God loves it to bits and we are to reflect that love … [We are] to be rulers and priests and we are to do that through the character training, the faith, the hope, the love, the following of Jesus, which is our calling as Christians.”

Prayer | Lord, Paul spoke of sanctification because it is one of the essential parts of our lives as believers. We long to reflect your love in our lives through obedience according to the fruit of the Spirit. In our culture, therefore, help us “to collaborate without compromise and to critique without dualism” [11]. Make us a royal priesthood, as we pursue you through self-control. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Paul ended up having many more chances to speak with Felix, but – at the time of their initial conversation – he didn’t know that the governor would want to talk again.

[2] Acts 24:25 ESV

[3] John Stott, The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today (Commentary Series). InterVarsity Press (1990), p 364.

[4] e.g., John 3:16 (Many consider this verse to be the quintessential gospel passage. Yet, note that, even though it covers justification – “whoever believes in him” – and glorification – “will not perish but have eternal life”, it does not mention sanctification).

[5] Yes, it may takes years for God to draw us to Him, but there is a single moment that we are justified and declared judicially righteous in His sight. See FN7.

[6] Yes, we may suffer for an extended period before we die, but we will be glorified “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (see 1 Cor. 15:51-52 ESV).

[7] See, e.g., Phil. 2:12-13. Personally, my favorite verse that highlights the tension between justification and glorification is Hebrews 10:14, “For by a single offering, he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (ESV, emphasis mine). We have been made perfect already, but we are still being sanctified.

[8] N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. HarperOne (2010). Video of lecture: here. If you’re like me, it’s been hard to develop a good theology for why we’re here. Wouldn’t it be better to go straight to glorification right after justification, to enjoy the fullness of the presence of the Lord right after we come to love and cherish Him? In this wonderful work by Wright, he offers a beautiful picture of the excellencies of sanctification in the Christian life. By way of my own analogy, I have come to see that preferring justification and glorification over sanctification is like rejoicing over a ballerina’s registering for classes and then seeing her world-class performance while forgetting all the hard work and tireless hours and broken bones and bloody toes that went into that performance. Our Lord is training us and sanctifying us through the beautiful process of training so that the dance we enjoy in heaven is all the more beautiful. For a review of this book by Publishers Weekly, see here.

[10] Gal. 5:22-23. In his book (and his talk), Wright also spends an extensive amount of time discussing how “the fruit of the Spirit” is a singular, not plural – arguing that these varieties of fruit grow together. In other words, you must be growing – to an extent – in all of them to be growing in any of them. Interestingly, he emphasizes that we must purpose to gain fruit and “self-control” is the hardest one to counterfeit: “If the ‘fruit’ were automatic, why would self-control be needed? Answer: it isn’t, so it is: it isn’t automatic, so it is needed. All the varieties of fruit Paul mentions here are comparatively easy to counterfeit, especially in young, healthy, happy people – except for self-control. If that isn’t there, it’s always worth asking whether the appearance of the other sorts of fruit is just that, an appearance, rather than a real sign of the Spirit’s work.” Chapter 6: “Three Virtues, Nine Varieties of Fruit, and One Body,” part three, paragraph 23 (Kindle, location 3341 of 5612).

[11] See FN8 (N.T. Wright’s talk).


January 23, 2012

No Plot Can Stand Against His Promises

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Acts 23:11
Full Text: Neh. 13; Acts 23

Obituaries | “The cause of death, of course, is always life,” writes Pete Hamill in his forward to The Obits: The New York Times Annual 2010. “We humans all die, a fact so unremarkable that in these tightly rendered portraits of the recently dead, the technical reason for death is almost always covered in a single sentence. What matters is the life, and how it was lived” [1].

Prophecy | Paul met a prophet named Agabus at the end of his last missionary journey. Agabus bound his own feet and hands with Paul’s belt and prophesied, “This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles” [2]. In response, Paul’s co-travelers were distraught, but Paul told them, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” [3]. Indeed, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders arrested him and conspired to kill him. But they failed. Several improbable events foiled their plan – Paul’s nephew overheard their plot, he had the courage to go to Paul’s Roman cell, Paul had the courage to tell his Roman guard, his Roman guard took his nephew’s intel seriously, the Tribune believed them and got “two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night” [4] to take Paul to safety.

Promise | What did the conspirators miss? They didn’t know that the Lord appeared to Paul in prison on the night before their ambush was supposed to take place and told him, Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome[5]. It was not time to write Paul’s obituary; God had plans for his life in Rome. Until he got there, Paul was untouchable. No plot can stand against the promises of God.

Prayer | Lord, When you said that Paul was going to Rome, that was that. Your will cannot be thwarted and your word does not return empty without accomplishing its purposes [6]. Therefore, although death is inevitable, we rejoice that Jesus conquered death in fulfillment of your promises. Thus, as we live today, root us in your sovereign ability to full all your promises. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Pete Hamill, Forward – The Obits: The New York Times Annual 2010 (11/1/11, Workman Publishing), p. xiii.  |  [2] Acts 21:11 ESV  |  [3] Acts 21:13 ESV  |  [4] Acts 23:23 ESV  |  [5] Acts 23:11 ESV  |  [6] See Job 42:2 and Isaiah 55:11.


January 20, 2012

The Collision of the Primary and Secondary Worlds

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Acts 20:22-24
Full Text: Neh. 10; Acts 20

Worlds | According to Tolkien, the “Primary World” is the world that we live in and the “Secondary World” is the world that we enter into when we read great stories [1]. In the Primary World, we want to be rational. When we’re inside the Secondary World, however, rationality flies out the window. The fantastic can become true.

Collision | In Jesus, however, the Primary and Secondary Worlds collided. The most fantastic story became true when the Lord Jesus willingly died on the cross for all humanity and then conquered death itself by rising from the grave. And Paul never got over it. Prompted by the Spirit, he preached the supernatural grace of God poured out on natural sinners. As he told the Ephesian elders, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God[2].

Longing | Our life in the Primary World is meaningful because the Secondary World is true [3]. On the surface, our culture worships naturalism – the belief that reality is confined to the material and observable. Yet, our hearts long for something more. This is why we love stories like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings – for although our spiritual powers seem atrophied in the Primary World, we long for the Spirit’s supernatural powers of the Secondary World. And like Paul, we have Him in our hearts and in our midst, giving us the freedom and the discipline to testify to the gospel of the grace of God poured out on all the inhabitants of the Primary World who believe in Christ.

Prayer | Lord, Like children who read fairy-stories and ask with fullness of heart, “Is it true?”, we read the story of Jesus and ask, “Is it true?” The reality of the gospel seems almost too wonderful to believe because it reaches beyond our rational thinking. Therefore, open our imaginations and our eyes of faith to believe it so that we may have your Spirit within us. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] JRR Tolkien, On Fairy Stories.  |  [2] Acts 20:22-24 ESV  |  [3] See 1 Cor. 15:19

January 19, 2012

What is the great tragedy of the Christian life?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Neh. 9:17
Full Text: Neh. 9; Acts 19

Tragedy | The great tragedy of the Christian life is not our sin – for no matter what we have done, Jesus has dealt with it: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” [1]. The great tragedy is that the Evil One uses our guilt to make us feel small and insignificant. Rather than recognizing the awesome call upon our lives – to know God and enjoy Him forever [2] – we have a persistent sense of unworthiness. In other words, our biggest problem is not that we sin (that is to be expected!). Our biggest problem is that we don’t know how to deal with our sin so that we’re not coasting into spiritual mediocrity.

Hope | When Ezra read the Law, the people mourned because they had failed to obey God for a long time. Yet, Ezra said: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” [3]. Then they fasted and worshiped, as Ezra prayed for them. Yes, he confessed their sin: “Our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments … and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed” [4]. But he also acknowledged that their sin was not the final word; God’s grace was: You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf … and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them” [5]. They were great sinners; but the Lord their God was a great Savior.

Prayer | Lord, Your boundless grace is the basis of your covenantal love for us. Not only will you never forsake us because of our sin, you will forgive us with kindness and mercy again and again. Therefore, when the Evil One tries to exploit our sin through guilt, we can say to him: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise … I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication” [6]. Jesus is your vindication and, in him, we rejoice! Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] 1 Peter 3:18 ESV. See also 2 Cor. 5:21.  |  [2] Wikipedia, Westminster Shorter Catechism.  |  [3] Neh. 8:10 ESV  |  [4] Neh. 9:16-17 ESV  |  [5] Neh. 9:17-19 ESV  |  [6] Mic. 7:8-9 ESV


January 18, 2012

The Joy of Understanding

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Neh. 8:12
Full Text: Neh. 8; Acts 18

Suspense | On Sunday night, my two preschool-age nephews and I gathered at the kitchen table to read The Magician’s Nephew. At first, they weren’t interested at all. I tried engaging them by having them say the characters’ names with me or by using my best British accent, but nothing seemed to work. Halfway through the first chapter, however, I realized what I needed to do – make the story more accessible. For example, instead of saying that Polly and Digory walked on “rafters” in an attic, I said that they stepped on “small pieces of wood through which they could fall at any moment.” After I changed a few more references like this, they got it. By the end of chapter one, they were hooked – so hooked, in fact, that neither one wanted to sleep alone that night because they were in suspense about what was going to happen to Polly!

Joy | Mere words on a page – spoken in an understandable and accessible way – can change how we feel about reality. After Ezra read from the Book of the Law, the Levites explained it, the people understood it, and everyone rejoiced: “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ … And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them[1].

Prayer | Lord, Your truth – followed by clear explanation – leads to great joy, which is our strength. Therefore, we praise you for your Word and for teachers of your Word. Thank you for making understanding and joy the path to salvation in you. Make us hope-filled saints who rejoice that we belong to you! Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Neh. 8:8-10, 12 ESV

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