July 15, 2014

843 Acres: What Matters Is the Life

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Jer 11 (txt | aud, 4:09 min)
Mt 25 (txt | aud, 5:16 min)

Life: One of the most ironic things about obituaries is how little they mention death. “The cause of death, of course, is always life,” writes Pete Hamill in his forward to The Obits. “We humans die, a fact to 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.”

Righteous: In Matthew 25, Jesus says that, at the end of this age, when all of us have passed from this life to the next, he will separate the righteous and the unrighteous. Who will be the righteous? By illustration, he says that the righteous will be those who have invested, not hoarded, their resources [1] and those who have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and the prisoner. [2] In other words, what matters is the life, and how it was lived.

Actions: Christian faith is more than cognitive belief that the person of Jesus exists. [3] It is a deep and abiding trust that clings to and relies upon Jesus as Lord. Believers are those who treasure God and seek to live out his word. For the point of hearing the word is not simply to know it, but to do it. As James writes, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Or as Martin Luther says, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Saving and justifying faith is accompanied by actions—that is, “a faith working through love.” [4]

Prayer: Lord, Thank you for not just saying that you are love, but for coming in person to show us that you are. We praise you for giving us an understanding that, even though all of us will die (unless you tarry), this life matters. May we be people who incarnate Christ to others by investing our resources, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the prisoner. Make us doers of the word, not hearers only. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Matthew 25:23 ESV | [2] Matthew 25:33-36 | [3] For “even the demons believe—and shudder.” James 2:19 ESV | [4] See Gal. 5:6 ESV

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July 14, 2014

843 Acres: Friends Are a Means of Grace

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Jer 10 (txt | aud, 4:08 min)
Mt 24 (txt | aud, 6:00 min)

Friends: What kind of friends do you have? “When faced with a thyroid biopsy or an exasperatingly interminable divorce,” writes Edward Hoagland in The American Scholar, “it’s essential to have friends to call upon to squawk: Do you know what’s happened? And we triage them or triangulate them accordingly into good-news guys, bad-news guys, and others whose experiences somehow parallel ours. Intimates can be like money in the bank or names to drop, tipsters or bosom buddies of the sort you spout off to as a test audience before making a fool of yourself in front of a less charitable crowd.” [1]

Tested: In the last days, however, Jesus warns us that our friendships will be severely tested. That many will fall away, betray one another, and hate one another. That false prophets will come in his name and lead many astray. That we will hear of wars and rumors of wars. That we will be delivered up to tribulation, put to death, and hated by all nations for the sake of his name. Then he says, “And because lawlessness will increase, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” [2]

Fellowship: How can we fight for a white-hot love for Christ that will endure to the end? The writer of Hebrews tells us to consider how to stir one another to love and good works, to meet together regularly, and to encourage one another “all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [3] The purpose of every group of Christian friends, therefore, is to keep one another’s love for Christ warm.

Prayer: Lord, Too often we ask the question, “What kind of friends do we have?” without ever asking, “What kind of friends can we be?” Forgive us for being bad friends, for approaching our friendships with too much levity and selfishness. In these last days, teach us to stir one another to love and good works, to meet together regularly, and to encourage one another. Give us a passion for helping our friends keep their love for you warm. For you have ordained that community, the church, is the means of grace by which we may endure to the end. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Edward Hoagland. “On Friendship.” The American Scholar. Winter 2013. | [2]Matthew 24:12-14 ESV | [3] Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

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July 11, 2014

843 Acres: If You Want to Win a Campaign

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Jer 7 (txt | aud, 5:12 min)
Mt 21 (txt | aud, 5:51 min)
Highlighted: Mt 21:1-11

Money: If you do not remember Erick Salgado, Sal Albanese, or Adolfo Carrión, Jr., it might be because you only saw their names once—in an NYC voting booth on November 5, 2013. Money might not have been their only campaign problem, but it was a big one. After all, the winner, Bill de Blasio, outraised each of them by more than $4 million dollars and, although money doesn’t always secure victory (Quinn outraised de Blasio by $3 million), the conventional wisdom is that it’s a proxy for support and represents competitive strength. It stands to reason, then, if you want to win a campaign, you want money. Lots of it.

Proclamation: Jesus launched his campaign in Galilee, where he proclaimed, “The kingdom of God is at hand” [1] and healed “every disease and every affliction” [2]. Three years later, he drew near to Jerusalem to secure his campaign by his own death. Riding on a donkey, he entered Jerusalem as crowds were shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” [3] Yes, they knew the ancient prophecy: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” [4] They knew, when he got on that donkey, he was saying, “I am king.”

Donkey: Yet there was a problem. A king was already in power—Herod Antipas, the would be “king of the Jews.” [5] He had loads of resources to quash anyone—especially a poor, itinerant carpenter from a country town—who threatened his power. And Jesus knew it. Instead of coming with might and money, however, Jesus came with mercy and kindness. He came on a donkey because this is his essence—a humble king, ready to die for his people so that they might be redeemed, healed, and ushered into the presence of the Father.

Prayer: Lord, You are a great king, abounding in humility and love. When you launched your campaign and secured its victory, you did what no modern-day political figure would ever choose to do—you introduced yourself with humility and laid down your life as an offering. We pray, therefore, that you would shape our hearts to love the gospel message of mercy, meekness, and sacrifice. Help us live out this truth no matter how counterintuitive and difficult it may be. Amen.

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M’Cheyne Weekend Readings

Saturday, July 12: Jer 8 (txt | aud, 3:55 min) & Mt 22 (txt | aud, 4:40 min)
Sunday, July 13: Jer 9 (txt | aud, 4:40 min) & Mt 23 (txt | aud, 4:49 min)

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Footnotes

[1] Matthew 4:17 | [2] Matthew 9:15 | [3] Matthew 21:9 | [4] Matthew 21:5 | [5] Herod Antipas is the same Herod that beheaded John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and dear friend. Herod Antipas’ father was Herod the Great, whose official title (given by the Roman Empire) was “King of the Jews” because he was the Roman ruler in charge of Judea and Samaria (even though he himself was not Jewish, which was understandably problematic). Herod Antipas ruled the region of Galilee, even though Rome did not extend to him the title it had bestowed upon his father. Nonetheless, he was just as brutal as his father.

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July 10, 2014

843 Acres TBT: The Secret to a Happy Christian Life

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Jer 6 (txt | aud, 4:55 min)
Mt 20 (txt | aud, 4:08 min)

Jesus, Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:13, 15)

Friend, I am doing you no wrong … Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?

D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure (1965)

(1) Do not think in terms of bargains and rights in the Kingdom of God. That is absolutely fatal … I do not care what it is, whether prayer or anything else, in no respect must I ever argue that because I do something I am entitled to something—never … The Holy Spirit is Lord, and He is a Sovereign Lord. He sends these things in His own time and in His own way. In other words, we must realize that we have no right to anything at all … To think in terms of bargains and to murmur at results implies a distrust of Him, and we need to watch our own spirits lest we harbor the thought that He is not dealing with us justly and fairly …

(2) Do not keep a record or account of your work. Give up being bookkeepers. In the Christian life, we must desire nothing but His glory, nothing but to please Him. So do not keep your eye on the clock, but keep it on Him and His work. Do not keep on recording your work and labor, keep your eye on Him and His glory, on His love and His honor and the extension of His Kingdom … ‘Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.’ … For this reason: ‘Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’… It is God’s accountancy. He knows us much better than we know ourselves. He is always giving us surprises. You never know what He is going to do. His bookkeeping is the most romantic thing I know of in the whole world …

(3) We should not only recognize that it is all grace, but rejoice that it is so … The secret of the happy Christian life is to realize that it is all grace and to rejoice in that fact … Was not this [Jesus’s] own way? … Nothing else mattered to Him but that the Father should be glorified and that men and women should come to the Father. That is the secret … forgetting everything except the glory of God, the privilege of being called to work for Him at all, the privilege of being a Christian, remembering only the grace that has ever looked upon us and removed us from darkness to light. It is grace at the beginning, grace at the end.

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July 9, 2014

843 Acres: Obedience or Virtue

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Jer 5 (txt | aud, 5:07 min)
Mt 19 (txt | aud, 3:56 min)
Highlighted: Mt 19:16-30

Eternity: What sort of people must we be in the present if we are going to be a part of God’s new kingdom in the future? How does that future reality shape how we live today? What is the way to eternal life?

Obedience: The rich young man ran to Jesus, asking, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” He was thinking that the new kingdom was reserved for loyal, law-abiding Jews. Jesus replied, “Keep the commandments … You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man had kept these, but felt like something was missing.

Character: Jesus continued, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” This was the real challenge: to have a new identity with new affections, not new laws. N.T. Wright comments, “You can divide theories about human behavior into two: either you obey rules imposed from the outside, or you discover the deepest longings of your own heart and try to go with them. Most of us wobble between the two.” [1]

Virtue: Wright continues, “[Jesus] is inviting us to something not so much like rule-keeping on the one hand or following our own dreams on the other, but a way of being human to which philosophers ancient and modern have given a particular name … The New Testament invites its readers to learn how to be human in this particular way, which will both inform our moral judgments and form our characters so that we can live by their guidance. The name for this way of being human, this kind of transformation of character, is virtue.”

Prayer: Lord, The way of salvation unto eternal life is not through rule-keeping or dream-following. [2] Rather it is through becoming new people of virtue in Christ through the Spirit, who works in us both to will and work for his good pleasure. Make us people who possess a Christian character that is both “radically different from ‘the way of the world’ and claims to make sense of all human life in a way that nothing else does.” Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Wright, N. T. (2010-02-14). After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition. | [2] “Dream” is used in the sense of personal, self-seeking dreams, not dreams that God may use to speak to His people, e.g., Joseph.

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July 8, 2014

843 Acres: Besides Capitalizing on Our Deep Insecurities and Fears

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Jer 4 (txt | aud, 5:05 min)
Mt 18 (txt | aud, 4:30 min)
Highlighted: Mt 18:21-35

Hearts: Morally virtuous behavior doesn’t necessarily arise out of a loving heart. Even when our actions seem good, our motives can be self-centered. In traditional moral training, for example, how do we encourage people to be honest? We often capitalize on their deep insecurities and fears of being rejected, caught, or judged—“Don’t lie or God will punish you, you’ll get caught, people will think you’re a terrible person.” But this type of training only restrains the heart; it doesn’t change it. Is there another way?

Parable: In a parable about forgiveness, Jesus talks about a servant who owes a massive debt—10,000 talents—to a king. [1] Since the average worker at this time earned about 1-2 talents per year, this servant is probably a regional political leader who has squandered an enormous sum—in modern terms, about $300 billion—through gross mismanagement or corruption. What does the king do? Initially, he orders the servant to be sold. But the servant begs, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” The king cancels the debt, pities the servant, and lets him go. Later, however, the servant sees another who owes him a few bucks. He seizes him, chokes him, and demands repayment. When he begs, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you,” the servant refuses, tossing him in jail. The king hears about this and summons the servant: “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” Then he imprisons him.

King: Jesus is showing us that we are like this ungenerous, miserly servant when we do not forgive others in light of how much we have been forgiven. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue justice or redress—after all, both vengeance and resignation are selfish. It does mean, however, that forgiving spirits arise from hearts that see how much they themselves have been forgiven.

Prayer: Lord, Although we’ve received your forgiveness through Jesus, we often do not forgive others. We insult them, withdraw our friendship, gossip, and slander. This makes us feel better in the short run, but it ruins us in the long term because it turns us into people who do not know your love. Open our eyes to love the cross so that our actions are rooted in changed, not restrained, hearts. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Matthew 18:21-35 ESV

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July 7, 2014

843 Acres: On Earth as It Is in Heaven

by Bethany

M’CheyneJer 3 (txt | aud, 4:31 min)
Matt 17 (txt | aud, 3:39 min)
Highlighted: Matt 17

Sparks: In Jesus, God’s space and our space came together, his time and our time merged, and his new creation and our present creation somehow knocked “unexpected sparks off one another.” [1] We see this especially at the transfiguration. As NT Wright reflects, “[It is] when the glory of God comes down, not on the Temple in Jerusalem, not to the top of Mount Sinai, but onto and into Jesus himself, shining in splendor, talking with Moses and Elijah, drawing the Law and the Prophets into the time of fulfillment. The transfiguration, as we call it, is the central moment.” [2]

Transfiguration: Matthew recorded, “Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him … [A] bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” [3] 

Kingdom: What does the transfiguration mean? Wright continues, “What the story of Jesus on the mountain demonstrates, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, is that, just as Jesus seems to be the place where God’s world and ours meet, where God’s time and ours meet, so he is also the place where, so to speak, God’s matter — God’s new creation — intersects with ours. As with everything else in the gospel narrative, the moment is extraordinary, but soon over. It forms part of a new set of signposts, Jesus-shaped signposts, indicating what is to come: a whole new creation, starting with Jesus himself as the seed that is sown in the earth and then rises to become the beginning of that new world.” [4] In other words, in the transfiguration of Jesus, God is showing us that he is taking charge — right here on earth — and that we should pray for that to happen, recognize it in our midst and long for its completion.

Prayer: Lord, The gospels are not about how Jesus turned out to be God. They are about how God became king on earth as it is in heaven. [5] Show us your glory in our midst and let us be kingdom-seekers and kingdom-builders right here and right now. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] NT Wright. Simply Jesus. Kindle version at page 142 | [2]Id. | [3] Matthew 17:1-3, 5 ESV | [4]Supra [1] at page 143. | [5]Supra [1] at page 148.

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July 4, 2014

843 Acres: We are busy. Crazy busy.

by Bethany

M’CheyneIs 66 (txt | aud, 5:28 min)
Matt 14 (txt | aud, 4:04 min)
Highlighted: Matt 14

Busy: Two years ago, Tim Kreider critiqued the modern busyness trend, where people’s default response to, “How are you?” is either, “Busy,” or “So busy,” or “Crazy busy.” He noticed that it is usually the self-imposed busy people, not the people pulling double shifts, who boast complain about their busyness. Why are they so busy? He writes, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy … I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”

Important: Jesus was the most important person that ever walked the earth. It’s impossible to understate his significance. His life is our substitute, his death is our atonement, and his resurrection is our hope. Indeed, he’s the center of history. As H.G. Wells said, “I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”

Unhurried: Given that he came to announce and secure the kingdom of God, Jesus could have told people, “I’m crazy busy,” but he never did. When he heard that Herod beheaded John the Baptist, for example, he wanted to be alone, but the crowds followed him. [1] Yet he didn’t rush them away, saying, “Now isn’t a good time.” Instead, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” [2] Then he hosted a dinner party for them, feeding more than five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish. Although his calling was the ultimate calling of history, he was never too busy to love.

Prayer: Lord, We confess that sometimes our schedules are full because we want to hedge against emptiness, wondering whether our lives really matter. Yet we stand in awe of Jesus, who lived a meaningful—yet unhurried—life. Let us bear his image, stopping to serve others even when we have our own plans. For we know that our lives do matter because our patient living testifies that your kingdom, which is full of compassion for all who seek you, is coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

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M’Cheyne Weekend Readings

Saturday, July 5: Jer 1 (txt | aud, 3:07 min) & Matt 15 (txt | aud, 4:28 min)
Sunday, July 6: Jer 2 (txt | aud, 5:51 min) & Matt 16 (txt | aud, 3:53 min)

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Footnotes

[1] Matthew 14:13 ESV | [2] Matthew 14:14 ESV

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July 3, 2014

843 Acres: The Deceitfulness of Riches

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Is 65 (txt | aud, 4:54 min)
Matt 13 (txt | aud, 8:13 min)

Jesus, The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:22)

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

Charles Spurgeon, Sown Among Thorns (an excerpt), 1888

Our Lord does not say “riches”, but “the deceitfulness of riches”. The two things grow together: riches are evermore deceitful. They deceive people in the getting of them, for people judge matters very unfairly when a prospect of gain is before them. The jingle of the charming guinea or of “the almighty dollar” makes a world of difference to the ear when it is hearing a case … Our line of conduct ought never to be ruled by gain or loss …

Riches are very deceitful when they are gained, for they breed in men and women vices which they do not themselves suspect. One man is purse-proud, but he thinks he is humble. He is a self-made man and worships him that made him. Is it not natural that a person should worship his maker? In his heart, he thinks: “I am somebody. I came up to London with half-a-crown in my pocket and now I could buy a whole street!” People ought to respect someone of that kind, ought they not, even though he may have made his money by very queer practices? It little matters how you make money nowadays; only get it, and you will have plenty of admirers and the deceitfulness of riches will enable you to admire yourself.

With pride comes a desire for wealthy society and vain company and, thus, again religion receives severe injury. There is apt to grow up in the mind an idolatry of this world and its treasures. “I don’t love money,” says one. “You know, it is not money that is the root of all evil, but the love of it.” Just so; but are you sure that you do not love it? Your thoughts run a good deal after it. You hug it rather closely and you find it hard to part with it. I will not accuse you, but I would have you awake to the fact that riches worm themselves into a person’s heart before he is well aware of it.

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July 2, 2014

843 Acres: The Problem with Forgiveness

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Is 64 (txt | aud, 2:02 min)
Matt 12 (txt | aud, 6:35 min)
Highlighted: Matt 12 

Beyond: Although the Lord is King, there is not even a hint of arrogance in him. There is no sense of indignation when he is spoken against. He does not retort, “How dare you speak to me like that! Do you know who you’re talking to?” On the cross, people mocked and spit on Jesus. But he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” In Christ, therefore, there is an enormous willingness to forgive. But can we put ourselves beyond his forgiveness?

Unforgiveable: Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” [1] What is this “unforgiveable sin” that gets beyond even his infinite willingness to forgive? And how can we avoid it?

Resistance: Tim Keller explains, “There is no external sin that is too big to be forgiven. But if you resist the Holy Spirit, whose job it is to get you to say—without anger, without hopelessness, and without blame shifting—“I was wrong”, then that internal sin cannot be forgiven. There is a remedy for everything if you repent, but there is a remedy for nothing if you do not. With repentance, anything can be healed; without it, nothing can be.”

Prayer: Lord, Forgiveness is a huge problem—so huge that Jesus had to die on the cross. Your grace is costly, not cheap. Yet we have “a cosmic authority problem” that infects our hearts and desires. All sin is dangerous, but pride is particularly insidious because it keeps us from acknowledging all other sin. It keeps us from recognizing our brokenness before you and our need of you. It keeps us from receiving your mercy. It evidences that we do not have the Spirit, who convicts us of sin. [2] Therefore, we long for more of the Spirit so that we may repent of our pride and experience the fullness of your forgiveness. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Matthew 12:31-32 ESV | [2] See 1 John 1:8.

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