October 17, 2014

843 Acres: Child Sacrifice and Counterfeit Gods

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Dn 2 (txt | aud, 9:13 min)
Ps 106 (txt | aud, 4:30 min)
Highlighted: Ps 106

Finite Gods: “When I interpret some particular possibility as a threat to some value I consider necessary for my existence, I experience anxiety,” writes Thomas Oden. “Anxiety becomes neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values that properly should have been regarded as limited. The more I worship finite gods, the more I make myself vulnerable to intensified anxiety” [1]. Yet our worshipping finite gods does not stop with anxiety. Where else does it go? 

Child Sacrifice: The Psalmist laments that our idol worship can hurt the next generation: “They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood” [2]. In other words, we sacrifice our sons and daughters to our counterfeit gods.

Counterfeit Gods: Tim Keller writes, “Our contemporary society is not fundamentally different from these ancient ones. Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols … We may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women today are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image. We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige” [3].

Prayer: Lord, You are the only God that leads to joy, not anxiety, for you offered yourself as a sacrifice to save us. Yet we confess that we worship finite gods and, as a result, we sacrifice our families and friends at their false altars. Lord, break the bond that they have over our hearts and reveal their lies to us. Cause us to hate our sin—not only for our own sake, but also for the sake of those around us whom we love dearly. Amen.

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M’Cheyne Weekend Readings:

Saturday, October 18: Dn 3 (txt | aud, 6:25 min) & Ps 107 (txt | aud, 3:55 min)
Sunday, October 19: Dn 4 (txt | aud, 7:42 min) & Ps 108-109 (txt | aud, 4:54 min)

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Footnotes

[1] Thomas C. Oden. Two Worlds. | [2] Psalm 106:36-38 ESV | [3] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods.

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October 16, 2014

843 Acres TBT: Greatness and Real Success

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Dan 1 (txt | aud, 3:28 min)
Ps 105 (txt | aud, 3;47 min)
Highlighted: Daniel 1.5, 8-9

Daniel 1.5, 8-9

 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.

Joseph Augustus Seiss, Voices from Babylon, (1879), abridged from, Ch.1, “The Forming Prophet”

You have been indulging many a fond and anxious dream of success, honor, and greatness in the world. You would like to do something good and noble for yourself and for your race. You are often absorbed with thinking over plans, movement, and methods of operation by which to conciliate the favors of fortune, to reach distinguished positions in life, and to leave behind you some good record when your race is run.

I would have you think with all seriousness, make up your plan of life with the deepest fixedness of purpose, and then pursue it unswervingly through thick and thin, never faltering and never surrendering. True and great men and great an honorable successes never come by accident. He who leaves out of his plans and purposes an honest and devout regard for his soul, his God, and eternal judgment, leaves out the very seed-grain from which all true greatness and real successes grow.

You may not like such sentiments. You may consider it manly and independent to throw off restraints and shackles of this character, and despise them as only in your way. But let me tell you that all the proper success and glory of your life is wrapped up in them. There is no right life in merely caring for this dying body and pandering to its appetites, while the soul and its high being are wilted by starvation and neglect. Better fail a thousand times, and fail in everything else, than attempt to shape for yourself a life without God, without hope in Christ, and without an interest in heaven. No one can afford such an experiment. You may think it independent, dignified, and noble, but you can no more succeed in it than you can dwell with devouring fire.

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October 15, 2014

843 Acres: Belief in Heaven Can Make Us Better Citizens of Earth

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 48 (txt | aud, 5:37 min)
Ps 104 (txt | aud, 3:14 min)
Highlighted: Ez 48

Heaven: Perhaps it is inevitable to believe in heaven.  C.S. Lewis said, “Heaven is the remote music that we were born remembering” [1]. Yet is it dangerous to believe in heaven? Does it make us bad citizens of earth? John Lennon thought so: “Imagine there’s no heaven … Imagine all the people living for today” [2]. In other words, he argued, until we realize that this is our only reality, we will not work to make it better.

City: Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon in 597 BC. Speaking to both exiles and those who stayed in Judah, he predicted judgment and the fall of Jerusalem. After Jerusalem fell in 586 BC, however, he prophesied hope and restoration. The last words of his prophecy end with a picture of heaven and hope: “The name of the city from that time on shall be, THE LORD IS THERE” [3].

Response: Believing in heaven makes us better citizens of earth. In the years after the resurrection of Jesus, the gospel spread precisely because his followers believed in heaven. Two plagues swept through the Roman Empire—the Antonine Plague (165-180 AD) and the Plague of Cyprian (251-270 AD). In the course of about a hundred years, about 25-35% of its population was wiped out. Although no one knew how to stop these plagues, everyone knew that they spread by contact. As a result, people left the cities in droves. Even family members abandoned sick relatives. But the Christians stayed. They cared for their own and others. Many of them died. Why did they stay? Because they believed in heaven. Contrasting the flight of the famous physician Galen, historian Ronald Stark writes, “Galen lacked belief in life beyond death. The Christians were certain that this life was but a prelude. For Galen to have remained in Rome to treat the afflicted would have required bravery far beyond that needed by Christians to do likewise” [4]. To flee was the rational response of the pagans. To stay was the rational response of the Christians.

Prayer: Lord, We confess we often keep people with bed bugs at a distance; how much less the plague! Forgive us and lift our eyes to see the empty cross and the glorified Christ, who is the first fruits of our resurrection [5]. Remind us that this life is a prelude so that we joyfully risk our lives for the sake of glorifying your name and loving others. Amen. [6]

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Footnotes

[1] C.S. Lewis. See also Ecclesiastes 3:11 (“[The Lord] has set eternity in the hearts of men.” NIV1984).  |  [2] John Lennon. Imagine.  |  [3] Ezekiel 48:35 ESV  |  [4] (If you enjoy history, I highly recommend this short article.) Rodney Stark. Epidemics, Networks and the Rise of Christianity. January 2011. In this article, Stark quotes Cyprian’s beautiful statement: “… the just are dying with the unjust … Although this mortality has contributed nothing else, it has especially accomplished this for Christians and servants of God, that we have begun gladly to seek martyrdom while we are learning not to fear death. These are trying exercises for us, not deaths; they give to the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown … our brethren who have been freed from the world by the summons of the Lord should not be mourned, since we know that they are not lost but sent before; that in departing they lead the way; that as travellers, as voyagers are wont to be, they should be longed for, not lamented … and that no occasion should be given to pagans to censure us deservedly and justly, on the ground that we grieve for those who we say are living with God.”  |  [5] See 1 Corinthians 15:23.  |  [6] For additional reflection on heaven and how belief in heaven makes us better citizens of earth, see Tim Keller. “Heaven.” 8 June 1997. Sermon on Revelation 21:21-22:5.

 

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October 14, 2014

843 Acres: A Loving Father

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Eze 47 (txt | aud, 3:53 min)
Ps 103 (txt | aud, 2:04 min)
Highlighted: Psalm 103.13

Breakdown: There are few ways to understate the brokenness of fatherhood in our culture. Princeton historian Lawrence Tone says, “The scale of marital breakdowns in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent that I know of. There has been nothing like it for the last 2,000 years, and probably longer.” According to the Washington Times [1], in 1960, 11% of kids grew up without a father, in 2012, the number was 33%. Paternal absence is so high — near pandemic — that we have barely began a public conversation on quality or character of fathers. Yet for many, it wasn’t a father’s absence, but the character and quality of his presence that left the deepest wounds.

Fatherhood: While Scripture uses many images for God, few of them create the mixed emotions of talking about God as Father. Yet it’s God’s fatherhood that gives the depth, intimacy, and love we desire most in our relationship with him. If God is only a teacher, we miss the relational depth we need. If he is only creator we lack intimacy with him (he is like a watchmaker). If he’s only a judge he can love the law, but isn’t required to love the one in his courtroom. The Christian view of God as Father does not simply take the characteristics of earthly fathers and polish them up a bit. God as our Father creates a new image of a good, true, and perfect Father.

Love: But where is this fatherhood rooted? The Bible says God is love. Not just that he has love or shows love, but that his very nature is love. 1 Corinthians 6 could be paraphrased like this:

Dad is patient. Dad is kind. Dad does not envy or boast. Dad is not arrogant. Dad is not rude. Dad does not insist on its own way. Dad is not irritable. Dad is not resentful. Dad does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Dad bears all things for his kids. Dad believes all things about his kids. Dad hopes all things for his kids. Dad endures all things for his kids. Dad’s love never ends.

Prayer: Father, thank you for your love. We approach your throne in prayer, not on or own merit, but because we are your children. Heal our wounds from the brokenness of fatherhood in our lives. Restore our hope in you as our perfect Father. Embrace us in your family and empower us to live by your grace this day.

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Footnotes

[1] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/dec/25/fathers-disappear-from-households-across-america/?page=all

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October 13, 2014

843 Acres: The ‘So What’ of Immutability

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 46 (txt | aud, 4:49 min)
Ps 102 (txt | aud, 2:31 min)
Highlighted: Ps 102

The What: The Psalmist praises God for his immutability—that is, his unchanging nature: “Even they will perish, but you endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing you will change them and they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will not come to an end.” Why does this matter? 

Trust His Promises: First, God’s immutability matters because it is the foundation of our ability to trust his promises. Although God has made promises, they have little or no relevance to us today if he has changed—that is, it doesn’t matter that he once promised to work out everything for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose if he has changed. Yet he does not change and, therefore, we can trust that his promises are valid today—even though they were spoken to a different people living in different circumstances at different times.

Trust His Goodness: Second, God’s immutability matters because it is the foundation of our ability to trust his goodness. Not only does he make promises, his promises are good. As we experience our difficult and trying circumstances, we need hope that he will keep his promises and that they will be good. Since God has been good in the past and has not changed, then we know he will be good in the future—even if we question his idea of “good.”

Trust His Future: Finally, God’s immutability matters because it is the foundation of our ability to embrace courage. When we know that God will work for our good and that he has promised us a heavenly home, then there is nothing in the future through which he will not sustain us. Thus, we are not anxious because we know that he has not changed in his willingness and ability to provide for us. Let us, therefore, be fearless in the face of opposition and peaceful in the face of trials.

Prayer: Lord, You are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yet, we often think that you are like us, whimsical in your promises, judgments, and desires. Forgive us for our flippant treatment of your immutability. Cause us to trust in your changelessness so that we can rest in your promises, your character, and your future for us. Amen.

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October 10, 2014

843 Acres: Weight of the World

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Eze 43 (txt | aud, 4:43 min)
Ps 95-96 (txt | aud, 2:33 min)
Highlighted: Psalm 95:3

Atlas: It may be partially as survival mechanism, but urbanites find near-perverse delight in the idiosyncrasies of city life. Pastor Taylor Field of Graffiti Church in Manhattan recently shared one of his favorite urban contrasts, found in a 7 ton bronze statue of the god Atlas. Although immense, and depicted with defined muscle, the figure of Atlas strains under the weight of the world, which rests on his shoulders. Because it is placed outside one of the entrances to Rockefeller Center, the 45 foot tall statue seems dwarfed by the scale of the buildings which surround it. Writing for The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik observes, “The tall building is the symbol of all that we hope for — height, reach, power, and a revolving restaurant with a long wine list — and all that we cower beneath.”

Rockefeller: Gopnik explains the ornate design of Rockefeller Center and its impressive artwork: “It was not that Rockefeller, in a burst of civic generosity, decided to go all out. It was that everyone then was expected to go all out… All the things that make Rockefeller Center immediately winning—the statues of Prometheus and Atlas, the molded glass bas-reliefs—were just part of what you were expected to do.” Expectations can be immensely heavy. We often find ourselves, like Atlas, crushed by the weight of the world.

Christ: Tucked humbly behind the alter inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral — just a few hundred feet from Rockefeller’s statue of Atlas on Fifth Avenue — is a significantly smaller statue of Jesus. The Christ stands, but a child, effortlessly holding the world in the palm of his hand. The Psalmist writes, “In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. …Oh come, let us worship and bow down.” The best reason to find ourselves kneeling is not because we’re buckling under the weight of the world, but because we’re falling in worship and submission to the one who holds it effortlessly in his hands.

Prayer: Father, we confess the pride that leads us try and live with burdens for which we were not designed to carry. Truly our lives, and everything in them, are yours. We are stunned, Father, by the gentle embrace of your grace. Our lives are restored by your kindness that leads us to repentance. May we grow in trust as we respond to your love for us.

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M’Cheyne Weekend Readings:

Saturday, October 11: Eze 44 (txt | aud, 5:21 min) &  Ps 97-98 (txt | aud, 2:11 min)
Sunday, October 12: Eze 45 (txt | aud, 4:52 min) & Ps 99-101 (txt | aud, 2:29 min)

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October 9, 2014

843 Acres TBT: Woe to Him at Whose Sin God Winks

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 42 (txt | aud, 2:54 min)
Ps 94 (txt | aud, 2:00 min) 

Psalm 94:12-15

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked. For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (1652)

It is the greatest judgment in the world to be left to sin, upon any pretense whatever. O unhappy man! when God leaves you to yourself, and does not resist you in your sins. Woe, woe to him at whose sins God does wink. When God lets the way to hell be a smooth and pleasant way, that is hell on this side of hell, and a dreadful sign of God’s indignation against a man; a token of his rejection, and that God does not intend good unto him. That is a sad word, ‘Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone’ (Hosea 4:17); he will be unteachable and incorrigible; he has made a match with mischief, he shall have his bellyful of it; he falls with open eyes; let him fall at his own peril. And that is a terrible saying, ‘So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lusts, and they walked in their own counsels’ (Psalm 81:12). A soul given up to sin is a soul ripe for hell, a soul hastening to destruction!

Ah Lord! this mercy! I humbly beg, that whatever you give me up to, you will not give me up to the ways of my own heart; if you will give me up to be afflicted, or tempted, or reproached, I will patiently sit down, and say, It is the Lord; let him do with me what seems good in his own eyes. Do anything with me, lay what burden you will upon me, so you do not give me up to the ways of my own heart.

Augustine says, ‘It is a human thing to fall into sin, devilish to persevere therein, and divine to rise from it. Deliver me, O Lord, from that evil man—myself!’

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October 8, 2014

843 Acres: Hope of Glory

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Eze 41 (txt | aud, 3:55 min)
Ps 92-93 (txt | aud, 2:05 min)
Highlighted: Psalm 93:3-4

Waves: It can be difficult to understand the level of fear the Ancients felt when they talked about the sea. When the Psalmist cried, “The floods lift up their roaring,” he described one of the greatest threats his people faced. The NET Bible translates his cry as, “The waves roar, the waves roar and crash.” Without reliable maps, weather prediction technology, or modern marine science, most people in ancient cultures knew someone who went out to sea and never came back. The sea was a place of great unknown, near-certain danger, and possible destruction.

Majesty: The Psalmist continues, “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!” The Hebrew word used for, “might” is the same word for, majesty, glory, or excellent. We might say, “Though there is immense uncertainty and danger, God transcends all and is wonderful in his beauty.” The Psalmist rests in the understanding that God transcends what we perceive as unconquerable. Even the most crushing of our fears does not diminish God’s power or excellence in the least.

Longing: There is great security of the majesty of God, both in the darkest moments of human history, as well as in the intimate moments of our individual trials and pain. Yet we join with Christians throughout time in our longing for more. In describing the new heaven and new earth the Scriptures promise that we will find, “the sea is no more.” (Rev. 21.1). The Biblical writers’ symbol for all that is unknown, dangerous, destructive, fearful, and evil will be defeated. Though we place our hope in God as we toil now, we long for the day we see him and his glory brings full restoration to all that is broken, returns what is lost, and heals our suffering.

Prayer: God, you sit enthroned above all. You are powerful, mighty, wonderful, and glorious. We have your promise of restoration because you loved us enough to pay for our brokenness at such great cost. Renew our strength today as we feel the burden of this world. Let us place our hope in you. May your Kingdom come, both now and forever. Amen.

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October 7, 2014

843 Acres: The Danger of Thinking God Is Made Up of All Mercy

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 40 (txt | aud, 7:40 min)
Ps 91 (txt | aud, 1:33 min)
Highlighted: Ps 91

Device: One “device” that Satan uses to get us to sin, Thomas Brooks says, is to present God to us as one made up of all mercy. How does he do this? Brooks explains, “Oh! says Satan, you need not make such a matter of sin, you need not be so fearful of sin, not so unwilling to sin; for God is a God of mercy, a God full of mercy, a God that delights in mercy, a God that is ready to show mercy, a God that is never weary of showing mercy, a God more prone to pardon his people than to punish his people; and therefore he will not take advantage against the soul; and why then, says Satan, should you make such a matter of sin?”

Temptation: He uses this device, for example, when he tempts Jesus to throw himself down from the temple. Satan quotes Psalm 91:11, saying, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you.” He paints God as made up of all mercy—even if Jesus throws himself down to test God. What are our remedies against this device?

Remedies: Brooks offers five “precious remedies” against this device of Satan. To consider that (1) it is the worst of judgments to be left to sin upon any pretense, (2) God is as just as he is merciful, (3) sins against mercy will bring the greatest and sorest judgments on men, (4) though God’s general mercy is over all his works, yet his special mercy is confined to those that are divinely qualified, and (5) the saints now glorified regarded God’s mercy as a most powerful argument against, and not for, sin. This last remedy is the one that Jesus uses against Satan. He sees God’s mercy as an argument against, not for, sin. He replies, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Prayer: Lord, We confess that we often use your mercy as an excuse to sin because we see you as one made up of all mercy. But you are just as you are merciful. On the cross, we see your wrath at our sin poured out even on your only Son. In him, we are cleansed—not for sin, but for righteousness. Therefore, make us wise to Satan’s devices so that we may fight sin in our hearts. Amen.

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October 6, 2014

843 Acres: Morning Routine

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Eze 39 (txt | aud, 5:03 min)
Ps 90 (txt | aud, 1:53 min)
Highlighted: Psalm 90:14

Routine: [1] It takes 90 minutes for the average Londoner to transition from bed to walking out the door each morning. The average resident of Shanghai invests just 9 minutes grooming for the day, while two thirds of Parisian women apply makeup and perfume each day. Fifty six percent of New Yorkers shower each day (rush hour subway, anyone?), and for those who do, showering and grooming averages 30 minutes each morning.

Disconnect: Few people have an ideal morning routine. Looking at New Yorkers alone, 59% say it’s important to exercise in the morning, just 16% do. For those with children, 77% say morning playtime is important, only 21% do it. The number one place for New Yorkers to self-reflect is the shower (let’s face it, it’s the only place we’re consistently alone), but stress, problem solving, and scheduling too easily consume reflection time. If we’re honest it’s far too easy to invest a disproportionate amount of time in the morning focusing only on ourselves.

Focus: Psalm 90.14 records a simple and beautiful prayer, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” The Psalmist longed for a joy that would be present in the good and bad of life. He knew this kind of transcendent joy could be found in one source alone: satisfaction in the love of God — every morning. Scripture reading, prayer, and reflection on the character and nature of God each morning is time well invested. A morning routine rooted in Christ moves us beyond ourselves, it opens up time to pray for people who may have no one else praying for them, and centers our lives on the only source that delivers what we need most.

Prayer: God, satisfy us with your love — let us long for nothing else, as you are what we need most each day; may everything in our life be what you want. Provide what we truly need today, give us your wonderful grace and allow us to extend that grace to those who hurt us. Lead us in your ways, God, and remove evil from our heart, mind, and life. In Jesus name, Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] All stats from http://lifeathome.ikea.com/press/IKEA_Life_at_Home_report_1_72dpi.pdf

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