Saturday, May 5, 2012

Parable of the Evil Farmers

    Today’s Reading:
  • Mark 11:27 - 12:17
  • Psalm 47:1 - 9
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Mark 11:27 - 12:17
Jesus told the Parable of the Evil Farmers at the beginning of chapter 12.  In this parable, a farmer rented a vineyard to a tenant who refused to pay his share of the crop.  The landlord sent many people to collect this crop, but the tenants treated each person worse than the one before, until finally they killed the last servant he sent. Finally, the landlord sends his son, thinking that the gesture of love of sending his only son would surely get through to the tenants, but instead they killed the son too, thinking they could take over the entire estate with the son out of the way.

It's not hard to see the parallel between this parable and the Lord sending Jesus Christ to us.  In fact, Jesus was telling this parable to the religious leaders, the very ones who trying to figure out a way to get Jesus arrested and killed.

In hindsight we know this had to happen for all of us to obtain salvation.  But the price of that salvation is so steep, it makes my heart hurt just to think about the terrible price that was paid that day.  I thank the Lord for sending Jesus to us, however, and for giving us this opportunity to obtain perfect salvation through him.   So thank you Lord for sending your son, and thank you Jesus for bearing that terrible burden!

Psalm 47:1 - 9 
1  Come, everyone!  Clap your hands!  Shout to God with joyful praise!
2  For the Lord most High is awesome.  He is the great King of all the earth.
This serves as a reminder to me that not all praise to the Lord should be solemn but that it should be joyous too.  The power of the Lord should make you want to just sing His praises and shout with joy.  I sometimes get so caught up in my quiet reflection, in my quiet moments with the Lord, that I forget to truly celebrate Him.  Luckily for me, I attend a church where joyous praise is given to the Lord.  It helps me to feel alive, happy and grateful for His presence.   Amen to that!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Profound Normalcy of Numbers

Today's Reading:
  • Numbers 1:1 - 3:51
  • Proverbs 10:24 - 25
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Numbers 1:1 - 3:51
My first reading in Numbers involved, well, a lot of numbers!  There are counts of males troops, counts per clan, and counts of firstborn sons to name a few.  The Israelites male troops (criteria: 20 years or older, male, and not a Levite) numbered 603, 550!  Those numbers still baffle me, for every single person included in that 603,550 was delivered from Egypt (we know this because it's only been a year since leaving Egypt, and each of these males are at least 20).  And that doesn't even include the women or the children.

After all the people are counted, the Lord gives them instructions from where to camp to what order to march in, all according to the tribe they belonged to.  Each tribe was to camp under its family's banner.  The Levites were reserved to camp around the Tabernacle.  They were not included in the count of the troops for they were to assist the priests and were in charge of disassembling, moving and reassembling the Tabernacle and all its contents. 

It amazes me how the day to day life of the Israelite people was cataloged in the Old Testament.  It truly is an historical count of these people.  God's miracles are preserved right there along with the detailed counts of the clans, just as it happened.  It is written like a history book.  Not speculation, not after the fact analysis, but like a history book.  Like it's the most natural thing in the world to have the Lord part the Red Sea to allow an entire people through, like it's normal for food to fall from the sky, like it's normal for water to appear in the desert at will, like it's normal for the Lord to be living amongst you, His presence hovering above in a cloud by day and fire at night.  Like it's as normal as taking a census of the number of available male troops.

I guess the normalcy of these first few chapters of Numbers is profound to me, simply because it's normalcy.  We aren't being asked to believe in anything, we're just given an historical account of these people.  It just reinforces my belief (not that I ever doubted) about the bible being the actual account of the history of humanity.

Proverbs 10:24 - 25
24  The fears of the wicked will be fulfilled; the hopes of the godly will be granted.
25  When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation.
So the choice here is between having our worst fears come true and having the problems of life completely devastate us, or have our hopes granted and to stay planted firm regardless of what the world throws at us.  I choose option number two, what about you?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

How to Receive What You Pray For

    Today’s Reading:
  • Mark 11:1 - 26
  • Psalm 46 1 - 11
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Mark 11:1 - 26
Jesus tells his disciples that they can move mountains if only they have the faith (11:23).  Jesus says that we will receive what we pray for, as long as three conditions are met:

Condition #1 - Belief Beyond a Doubt (11:23)
Jesus tells us that we must earnestly believe that we pray for will happen, and we can't have a single doubt in our hearts.  This one is a toughie, for sure.  I have absolute faith in the Lord, I have absolute faith the He can do anything.  I have absolute faith in his dominion over Satan.  I have absolute faith in Him.

When it comes to praying, however, I do tend to have doubts.  The biggest part of that is the knowledge that my will and His will do not always converge.  I think I know what I want but the Lord knows better, He knows what I need.  Or perhaps I'm setting my sights too short, and he has something even bigger in mind for me.  Or perhaps the Lord has a lesson He wants me to learn.

So how do I know when to ask for something with the utter belief that it will happen?  Meeting a basic need comes to mind.  An example of that would be feeding, clothing or shelter for me or my family, or money to pay a bill.  Necessities -- because the Lord will provide, plain and simple.

I'm also hard at work at believing in healing, and that it is not the Lord's will that the lives of those who follow them by shortened by sickness and diseases.  The Lord wants us to be healthy, He wants us to be doing His works everyday.  We can't do that if Satan gets in the way.

Another area for me to believe in is protection.  I have to learn to believe that it's the Lord's will to keep my family intact, to protect us from Satan's harm.  This belief, like healing, is fairly new to me also.  So long in my life I've been accustomed to attributing everything that happens as His Will.  And if His Will is harm to my family, then I have to deal with it.  But what I'm realizing now is just because He doesn't stop something, that doesn't mean it's His Will that it happens.  Look at our free will -- there are so many things that humans do that are not the Lord's Will, yet He doesn't stop us from doing those things.

So we have to have belief beyond a doubt that our prayer will be answered.  We certainly can't have that belief beyond a doubt if we are afraid that the Lord doesn't want to help us, doesn't want us to succeed in His works, doesn't want us to be healthy, or doesn't want us to be whole.  Belief beyond a doubt that our prayer will be answered is no easy thing to achieve in my opinion.

Condition #2 - Believe that You Have Received the Thing you Asked For (11:24)
This goes hand in hand with believing beyond a doubt, but it is different.  We have to both believe that the Lord WILL give us what we pray for and that He DID -- in advance of receiving it.

Here we are being told that our prayer will be answered, but that doesn't mean it will be answered right away.  I thought of David when I read this.  All throughout the book of Psalm he is praying for the Lord to deliver him.  He was often dismayed and impatient, but he always had no doubt that the Lord would save him.  But from what I've read, he hit rock bottom before being delivered.  He was at death's door, his enemies almost won.  But the didn't -- the Lord delivered in the end.

Can you imagine keeping absolute faith in deliverance throughout all that David went through?  He was a remarkable man, and an example that just because the Lord said He would give us what we pray for, that doesn't mean it will happen now.  It doesn't mean that things won't get worse before the prayer is answered.  It doesn't mean that you won't hit rock bottom.

It does mean you need to have faith that you have received the thing you have asked for; be it immediately, tomorrow, next month or ten years from now.

Condition #3 -- Forgive Anyone You are Holding a Grudge Against (11:25)
This one kind of comes out of the blue, eh?  The first two conditions have to do with having utter faith, but the third has to do with forgiving others.  And notice it says anyone you are holding a grudge against.  It doesn't say, "forgive those you are holding a grudge against except for those who have severely done you wrong."  No -- we are told to forgive anyone whom we are holding a grudge against.

I think this order is equally as hard as the other two.  I try really hard to forgive people, but I am still holding grudges against others in my heart.  I can't help but think, however, that if I let go of all the little grudges I've held against people, how different a person I would become.  I could be a completely nice and loving person, and the love of Christ would just shine through me.

I think of people that I meet that are impossible not to like, because you can just tell they radiate love and acceptance.  I want to be that person, and these verses give me even more reason to strive to become that person that I know is inside me, because Jesus is inside me.  I just have to channel him instead of suppress him. 

It's a lot of work to be able to receive anything we pray for.  But Jesus says it is there for us to achieve.  It gives me many things to strive for, with a powerful promise at the end.  I want to work on these things, I want to do it so I can keep me and my family protected and healthy so that we might long serve the Lord on this earth.  I want to do it because I know in the process it will change my core being and help to draw others to the Lord.  It's a LOT to work towards, but the reward is immeasurable. 

Psalm 46:1 - 11
This is a glorious Psalm that talks about the protection of the Lord. The descendants of Korah say that they are unafraid of the things of this world. Even though the Earth quakes and the mountains crumble into the sea, they have the Lord on their side, and He will keep them safe.  Ultimate belief that the Lord will protect the well being of His people.  It goes along quite nicely with the reading in Mark today, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fun for Fools

Today's Reading:
  • Leviticus 27:14 - 27:34
  • Proverbs 10:23
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Leviticus 27:14 - 27:34
Today I finished my reading of Leviticus.  I have now officially read further than I ever have before in the Old Testament! 

When I started to read Leviticus, I prepared to be bored.  What I remembered from my previous, uninspired readings was nothing but long lists of instructions for atonement of sins and the sacrifice of animals.

This time I got so much more out of it.  I learned a lot more about sin and how it affects our relationship with the Lord.  Here is a list of a few key items I learned about that stick out in mind:

Proverbs 10:23
Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible.
Ouch!  This little proverb here carries quite the stinging bite!  Looks like I need to evaluate what I think of as "fun".  What things bring us pleasure today?  Here we are told that we should get our pleasure from living good, sensible lives.  Most importantly, we are told that doing wrong might be fun -- if we are fools.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to be what the bible calls a fool.  I have seen too many references to the result of foolishness.  So now I need to take a look and evaluate all the things that I find fun.  Is it a fool's fun, or is it fun the way that the Lord intended?

I am so thankful that the Lord put the idea for this project into my mind, and that I followed His instructions and went for it.  I am thankful that I no longer have to sit back and take everyone's word as to what my religion should mean to me.  Not that I don't have many inspirational, inspired and anointed people in my life today --  but each day I continue with this project I get to hear what the Lord wants to say to ME.  Me personally.  It's a wonderful feeling.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How Will Our Lives be Different when Jesus Reigns?

    Today’s Reading:
  • Mark 10:32 - 52
  • Psalm 45 1 - 17
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Mark 10:32 - 52 
Today's passage is really short.  Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed and then resurrected after three days.  Two of his disciples, James and John, asked for places of honor on the left and right side of Jesus when he took to the throne (10:37).  This led to anger between all the disciples.  Jesus then replied to them in verses 10:42 - 45:
"You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.  But among you it will be different.  Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."
It can be hard for us to imagine -- as we sit here in our world full of sin, discord and despair -- how radically different life will be when Jesus reigns.  Even the disciples of Jesus immediately wanted to assert themselves into power in the Kingdom of God, yet they failed to realize that their perceptions of power under the Kingdom of God was completely different from the only way they had ever known.

I try to imagine the glory that awaits us after this world, but I really have a hard time doing so.  How can I completely remove myself from the only situation I have ever known?  The entire universe will be so radically different.  I cannot begin to ascertain the extremity how profound those changes are going to be. 

All I know is that complete and utter happiness will ensue.  And I can't even really imagine what perfect happiness feels like.  There are many happy moments throughout my life, truly great moments, where I am completely happy.  But it fades so quickly, doesn't it?  Soon the happiness is overwrought with the next problem you have to deal with, and the previous happiness is but a memory that you smile upon occasionally. 

I am more content in my life with Jesus living inside my heart.  I am a happier, more satisfied person all around.  But I can't begin to imagine the glory, the complete and utter peace, that will surround us when we live within the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom that the Lord meant for us live in all along.  It's going to be spectacular. 

Psalm 45 1 - 17
This psalm was a story of the wedding of the princess of Tyre to the king.  This psalm is credited to the descendents of Korah, and since I do not even know who Korah was, I really have no placement for this story.  The princess was named -- princess Tyre -- but the king was not.

I look forward to rereading the book of Psalm after I have finished the Old Testament.  While many psalms are glorious and spectacular without any context, I really feel that I would benefit from having that context for a good portion of these psalms.

At least I have more reason to pay close attention to the stories of David and the descendents of Korah.  It's kind of like taking a reverse quiz, where the answers are given and you have to go back and figure out the questions.  Regardless, I am still fully engaged in my reading of the book of Psalm.  I just wish for some more context at times like these.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Beware the Lord's Wrath Against Believers who Refuse to Submit

Today's Reading:
  • Leviticus 25:47 - 27:13
  • Proverbs 10:22
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Leviticus 25:47 - 27:13
Chapter 26 of Leviticus was an interesting, yet terrifying, chapter to read.  The chapter starts with the Lord telling the people that He will bring peace upon the lands, the people will prosper and want for nothing.  The properties will be free of wild animals and enemies, and few will chase away many enemies.  The Lord really promised fantastic prosperity and peace for the people.

Then the material of the chapter darkens as the Lord warns what will happen if the people reject the Lord.  We are warned that the lands will dry up and become hardened, the people will starve and eat their own children for lack of food, and wild animals will carry off the people's children.  We are told there will be plagues and sickness and the full range of the Lord's hostility will be shown against the people.

So what type of things would anger the Lord into taking this stance against the people?  Verses 14-16 gives us some insight.  These verses warn that if the people disobey God, if they break the covenant, if they treat the Lord's regulations with contempt, then the Lord will punish them.  Then, the more the people refuse to obey, the more harshly the Lord will punish them.

In this world we often see people whom seem to get away with practically anything, yet no troubles befall them.  Why is this so, doesn't the Lord say that He will punish those who disobey Him?

In this case as it pertains to the Hebrews, we are looking at an entirely different set of circumstances.  These people had God's literal presence living in a cloud above them.  Moses regularly conversed with the Lord Himself.  The Lord led these people on an Exodus from Egypt and literally parted the Red Sea to set them free.

So can chapter 26 of Leviticus be used to warn us of judgement against disbelievers?  I don't believe so.  I think this is a stern warning for those who know the Lord, yet they still refuse to submit to Him.  There is eternal judgement for the wicked and the unbelievers of this world, no doubt, but beware the judgement of the Lord onto those who believe in Him, yet refuse to submit.

Proverbs 10:22
The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.
Blessing without sorrow.  That's the promise of those faithful to the Lord -- just like the first half of Leviticus 26 that we just talked about above.  Many times when people think of blessing, they think of money.  And there is the cliche that money comes with a price to be paid.  Well the blessings of the Lord may or may not be monetary, but no matter which way the Lord chooses to bless you, those blessings do NOT come with a price to be paid -- they are given freely and without sorrow.  And that is truly amazing.  Thank you, Lord!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

How Does One Receive the Kingdom of God as a Child Would?

    Today’s Reading:
  • Mark 10:13 - 31
  • Psalm 44:9 - 26
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Mark 10:13 - 31
The disciples of Jesus stopped some parents from bringing their children to see Jesus.  In verses 10:4-15 Jesus rebukes his disciples:
"Let the children come to me.  Don't stop them!  For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.  I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it."

 As I read this passage, I have to wonder -- how does one receive the Kingdom of God like a child would?

Children believe so easily.  They believe without proof, they believe on faith alone.  A child feels with his heart and lets those feelings guide his beliefs.  A child will accept change and new concepts and rearrange her entire perspective of the world accordingly.

Adults.  Adults are full of skepticism, adults question all that is before them, adults want proof, adults are often set in their ways.  Adults have a hard time adapting and changing their lives and often resist a change, even when there is perfectly logical reasoning for doing so directly in front of them.

So what might a child-like belief in the Kingdom of God entail?  I think it starts with complete faith in the Lord, something children seem to grasp so easily.  And then one must change their fundamental being to align to the Lord's teaching and plan for their lives.  I also think it would be a lot easier for a child to drop everything and follow Jesus than it would be for an adult to do so.

Here we are being told that we need to receive the Kingdom of God the way that a child would.  To do that we must question ourselves -- how would a child perceive and act upon the Kingdom of God differently than I do?  Do I have child-like utter faith in the Lord?  Am I listening and obeying all the Lord is teaching me?  Am I drinking in the knowledge He is offering me the way a child would eagerly learn all he could from his teacher?

Please Lord, strip away the hardness that is inside of me to reveal the inner softness that I had before this hard world was imposed upon my heart.  Help me to become child-like in you, Lord, so that I might receive the full glory of the Kingdom of God into my heart.  Amen.

Psalm 44:9 - 26 
This Psalm is a dark one.  The descendents of Korah talk of their utter desperation and horrors that are befalling them.  They say they have been "covered [in] darkness and death" (44:19) and are "being slaughtered like sheep" (44:22).  They also say that they have not done anything wrong -- they have not deserted the Lord (44:18) and they are not worshiping foreign idols (44:20).  So why is the Lord ignoring them? (44:24).

This is one of these tough things to explain, and it's a question that we don't have the power to answer.  The question of WHY -- why does it seem like the Lord has abandoned us?  Unfortunately I have no answer to this one, all I can say is that the Lord is always aware of us, and we are not forgotten.  We are just blinded from seeing His plan at times and we don't understand how hard times, tragedies and tribulations fit into our lives.

I believe that often times these things are a result of Satan's destruction and not some unknown punishment doled out from the Lord.  Other times it is of our doing as we let Satan overcome our actions, or when we sabotage ourselves.  But in the end, regardless of what we see now, I know one thing -- the Lord will always turn a situation so that something good comes from it.  And while the times are tough, we just need to call on the Lord to be carried through it.  And He will.