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 92:3-4

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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October 3, 2014

843 Acres: Spiritual But Not Religious

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Eze 36 (txt | aud, 6:28 min)
Ps 86 (txt | aud, 1:59 min)
Highlighted: Ps 86

Spiritual: “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” is a cop-out, according to Alan Miller, Director of The New York Salon and Co-Founder of London’s Old Truman Brewery. The increasingly common refrain, he says, “represents some of the most retrogressive aspects of contemporary society … [and] highlights the implosion of belief that has struck at the heart of Western society.” He continues, “The spiritual but not religious reflect the ‘me’ generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking … At the heart of the spiritual but not religious attitude is an unwillingness to take a real position.”

Public: The Scriptures reveal the gospel as a public truth—that is, a truth that is true for all, not just those who believe it. As the Psalmist sings, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”

Gospel: In Creation Regained, Albert Wolters writes, “The story of the Bible tells us the way the world really is. It is not to be understood simply as a local tale about a certain ethnic group or religion. It makes a factual claim about the world as a whole: it is a public truth.” Our response to the gospel (e.g., obedience, joy, rebirth) – while important – is not the gospel itself. The gospel is the life, death, resurrection and glory of Jesus Christ, who made atonement for our sins by his death to bring us into the presence of God, where there are pleasures forevermore. To keep the gospel as separate from our response to it is important. As Lesslie Newbigin writes, “It is to affirm the gospel not only as an invitation to a private and personal decision, but as a public truth which ought to be acknowledged as true for the whole of the life of society.”

Prayer: Lord, We live in a postmodern society that celebrates being spiritual but not religious. Any claim to a public truth is mocked as arrogant or retrogressive. Yet your word shows us that there is no other God but you and that all the nations will worship you. Make us oaks of righteousness that do not blow in the wind, as we cling in great humility to the public truth of the gospel. Amen.

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M’Cheyne Weekend Readings:

Saturday, October 4: Eze 37 (txt | aud, 4:50 min) & Ps 87-88 (txt | aud, 2:36 min)
Sunday, October 5: Eze 38 (txt | aud, 4:08 min) & Ps 89 (txt | aud, 5:01 min)

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October 2, 2014

843 Acres TBT: Retaining the punishment, forgiving the fault

by Steven Dilla

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

Psalm 85.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 1, 2014

843 Acres: Disallusionment with Institutions and Leaders

by Bethany

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

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

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

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

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

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September 30, 2014

843 Acres: The Suffering We Bring on Ourselves

by Bethany

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

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

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

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

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

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September 29, 2014

843 Acres: No Simple Answers

by Bethany

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

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

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

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

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

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