Archive for January, 2009

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It’s January 31st. In my personal reading, following our Resting at the River’s Edge reading plan, I am on January 29th!

I share that with you all to encourage you. Over the past three weeks I’ve been behind or ahead of the plan half a dozen times probably! And that’s OK.

The plan is a guide, but don’t let it become a hindrance to enjoying God’s Word. Don’t let it cause you to read through a passage just to get through it or to give the enemy ammunition to heap guilt on you when you fall behind. This is a guilt-free zone!

For me, this was a crazy week and I fell behind by about three days. I did, however, also read ahead a little because I really wanted to read some Psalms. That’s OK. It’s why I like to follow a plan that has suggested reading only five days each week. It builds in recovery time for those days that we need to recover from.

So be encouraged! God has something to say to you through His Word — don’t let our arbitrary schedule or Satan rob you of being able to hear God. Feel free to read ahead or slow down as you journey through the Bible in 2009.

I hope you’re Resting at the River’s Edge and being blessed by the Lord there.

If you didn’t start with us in January but want to join in, you can find January’s recommended reading plan here. 

If you missed the blog that provided February’s reading plan, click here.

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The Israelites are Moving On & So Are We

Well, as we just read in Genesis, Joseph’s family joined him in Egypt. Seventy of them, it reiterates in Exodus 1:5. But after a time, the current Pharaoh that Joseph had served died. And the Israelites multipled rapidly. And the new Pharaoh believed the Israelites were a threat to them. So he enslaved them.

You’ll read about all that in Exodus 1. Then you’ll read about how God hears the cry of his people and raises up someone to lead them out of slavery. That someone is Moses. The first half of Exodus is dedicated to the Israelites gaining their freedom from the Egyptians. The second half is dedicated to God teaching the Israelites how to be a people led by God. There is much we can learn about being a people led by God as we read the book of Exodus.

 We’ll also read the gospel of Mark. Most scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel to be written. Luke (and the book of Acts) were written shortly after Mark’s gospel was written. Then came the gospel of Matthew.

In January, we read Matthew’s gospel. It was written primarily to Jewish Christians — people who would already have a strong understanding of the Old Testament about A.D. 70. Mark’s gospel, on the other hand, was written primarily to Roman Christians — people who would not have such a strong understanding of our God and how He interacts with people. It was written about A.D. 64. The gosepl of Mark begins to “connect the dots” for the Roman Christians, who would have heard many stories about Jesus, but didn’t understand them in a greater context. You’ll find that it is fast-paced, moving quickly from scene to scene.

We’ll fill out the month by continuing to read in Psalms. The book of Psalms is actually broken into three sections, called books. We will complete the first book by reading through Psalm 41.

 Finally, we’ll finish the month by beginning to read the book of Esther.

Sounds like a lot of reading! We stay true to our schedule of 4-5 chapters five days a week, so it’s not nearly so overwhelming as it might sound. The daily reading plan for February is shown below.

Recommended Reading Plan for February

If you prefer to download a PDF of the plan, click here. 

 Day  Date

 Recommended Reading

 February 2009
 M  Feb 2  Exodus 18  Psalms 7-9  
 Tu  Feb 3  Exodus 19-20  Psalms 10-12  
 W  Feb 4  Exodus 21-22  Psalms 13-15  
 Th  Feb 5  Exodus 23-24  Psalms 16-17  
 F  Feb 6  Exodus 25  Psalms 18-20  
 M  Feb 9  Exodus 26  Psalm 21  Mark 1
 Tu  Feb 10  Exodus 27  Psalm 22  Mark 2
 W  Feb 11  Exodus 28  Psalms 23-24  Mark 3
 Th  Feb 12  Exodus 29  Psalm 25  Mark 4
 F  Feb 13  Exodus 30  Psalms 26-27  Mark 5
 M  Feb 16  Exodus 31  Psalms 28-29  Mark 6
 Tu  Feb 17  Exodus 32  Psalms 30-31  Mark 7
 W  Feb 18  Exodus 33  Psalms 32-33  Mark 8
 Th  Feb 19  Exodus 34  Psalm 34  Mark 9
 F  Feb 20  Exodus 35  Psalms 35-36  Mark 10
 M  Feb 23  Exodus 36  Psalm 37  Mark 11
 Tu  Feb 24  Exodus 37  Psalms 38-39  Mark 12
 W  Feb 25  Exodus 38  Psalms 40-41  Mark 13
 Th  Feb 26  Exodus 39  Esther 1-2  Mark 14
 F  Feb 27  Exodus 40  Esther 3-5  Mark 15-16

To download a PDF of January’s reading schedule, click here. 

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I love many of the Psalms. Psalm 3 is such a simple, short Psalm, but it speaks volumes about the faith of the writer, David. I want to be like David.

The Psalm was written when David fled from his son Absalom, who was intent on killing his father so that he could become king. David looks around and sees the reality of the situation – that there are many people against him and that many people are saying God won’t save him. Then he turns from what the people are saying to what he knows as truth “But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” Notice that both verbs are present tense. God is David’s shield, God bestows glory on David and God lifts up David’s head. Can there be a better shield? Do you hear David’s confidence in God – God is David’s glory and God lifts David’s head. God answers when David calls. David wakes up each morning because God sustains him. And because of all that, David says “I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.”

It is clear that this Psalm is written in the middle of difficult times for David because David continues “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me…” That makes it clear that the preceding verses are words spoken in faith. From all appearances, God has not done any of the things David is confident of, but David is confident of them, nonetheless. David finishes “From the Lord comes deliverance.”

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Lord, I want to be like David in this…that when there seems to be no reason for faith, let me look away from the circumstances and toward the One who is my shield and my deliverer.

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Well, folks, if you’re reading along in our “Resting at the River’s Edge” plan, you just finished Genesis yesterday (or today if you’re running a day late like I am this week). I’m wondering what you thought.

I so appreciate seeing the whole story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph, four key men in God’s plan of salvation for the world. That plan was made clear in Genesis 12 when God first called Abraham (whose name was Abram at the time):

Then the Lord told Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. I will cause you to become the father of a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and I will make you a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed him…
                  Genesis 12:1-4a

God reiterated his promise to Isaac & Jacob, but more importantly, He has fulfilled His promise. We also read in Matthew that:

Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
…..
Jesse was the father of King David. [We’ll read about him soon.]
…..
Matthew was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah.
            Matthew 1:2-16

While there are many lessons throughout the book of Genesis, more than anything I see God’s faithfulness to a people who continually messed up. He remains faithful to the promise to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham. That promise is kept through the faithfulness of God’s Son Jesus. And it gives me confidence when I mess up (and of course I do, way more than I’d like to admit), that God will be faithful to me, too.

What are your impressions as you look back on the book of Genesis? What is the overriding lesson for you from this “book of beginings?”

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About a week ago, I wrote a blog titled We Don’t Have a Clue…

Yesterday a friend sent me an e-mail with a paragraph that just blew me away. It relates so well to my earlier blog (expressing some of what I was trying to say so much better than I had) that I asked his permission to share it with all of you. He graciously agreed.

“Job discovers, in the end, how vast the mystery of God is as God asks him questions that he cannot fathom the answers to. 

     Knowing God is like having the responsibility of drinking the Atlantic Ocean dry.  We can drink until we are full and find that we have only tasted the depths of God and that there is so much more to drink. 

     And what a difference it is between tasting the water and describing the taste to someone else.  And, if we are so successful in describing the taste that they want to drink it for themselves, helping them not be overwhelmed at the vastness of the ocean is our ongoing opportunity.”
                               Peter Scott

Our ongoing opportunity — to not only drink fully of God daily but to describe it to others and help them not be overwhelmed in the process.

 Can you hear the joy in that? What a God we serve!

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Most of the sermons I’ve heard on the parable of The Sower & The Seeds (Matthew 13:1-23) has been about understanding why some of the seeds we sow take root and grow while others do not.

But it’s about so much more than that. It’s also an instruction to us to tend the soil of our own hearts so that the seeds planted by others and by God can take root and grow.

I’m not much of a farmer…when I plant things I tend to let nature handle it from there. But what results is usually a very nice patch of weeds. I get frustrated at the constant need to weed, water, loosen soil, fertilize, etc. The truth is that I just don’t enjoy the process of gardening, although I love the results of good gardening.

Unfortunately, things are much the same in our heart. We can’t just whip it into shape by weeding out the bad stuff and planting good stuff, then letting it grow unattended. Because the bad stuff happens to us every day and much of that stuff wants to take root in the soil of our heart. Each day we must do the hard work of weeding out bitterness, hatred, lust, bad attitudes, and so much more (see Galatians 5:19-21) – that’s tending the soil well. And the result will be the beatiful fruit of the spirit – you know what those are – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22).

 Seeds will be planted in our lives – by us, by others, and by God Himself. They can only grow if the soil is well prepared and well maintained.

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He does not need to transplant us into a different field, but right where we are, with just the circumstances that surround us, He makes His sun to shine and His dew to fall upon us, and transforms the very things that were before our greatest hindrances into the chiefest and most blessed means of our growth. No difficulties in our case can baffle him. No dwarfing of your growth in years that are past, no apparent dryness of your inward springs of life, no crookedness or deformity in any of your past development, can in the least mar the perfect work that He will accomplish, if you will only put yourselves absolutely into His hands and let Him have His own way with you.
                                         Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911)

Quoted from page 45 of The NIV Worship Study Bible; published by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; copyright 2000 by The Corinthian Group, Inc., Dana Point, CA.

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Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, had a life defined by many things, but as I read through Genesis 37-40 this week, what struck me was the frequency and depth of betrayal that he experienced. Before his death, Joseph became an incredibly blessed man – he experienced reconciliation with his family, extreme professional success, and had great riches. But before any of those things occurred, he endured betrayal after betrayal after betrayal.

As I pondered this a bit, I was reminded that betrayal was a significant factor in Jesus’ life. It was as a result of betrayal that Jesus was arrested, accused and then sentenced to the cross. But it wasn’t just the betrayals of Judas, those at Jesus’ trial, and Pilate that sent Jesus to the cross. It goes way beyond that. The cross was only necessary because we had sinned and needed someone to save us from our sin. We had betrayed the Lord, and our betrayal sentenced Jesus to the cross. I had betrayed the Lord, and my betrayal sentenced Jesus to the cross.

Joseph is Betrayed…Again and Again
But I started out talking about Joseph’s experience with betrayal. Let’s return there. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers. OK, while what they did wasn’t right at all, maybe you can understand it. After all, Joseph was the bratty little brother who tattled on them (Genesis 37:2), was spoiled by his father (37:3), and thought he was better than his brothers (37:5-11). So they sold him into slavery.

But Joseph’s other betrayals were fully unprovoked.

  • Potiphar’s wife accused him of raping her. He had not.
  • Potiphar sent him to prison without giving him a chance to speak the truth.
  • The Pharaoh’s cupbearer immediately forgot about Joseph once he was restored to his position of cupbearer.

And yet in each setback, God blessed Joseph. And, in fact, each betrayal led Joseph one step closer to the purpose God had for Joseph’s life. If his brothers had not betrayed him, Joseph would not have been in a position to be accused by Potiphar’s wife. If he had not been accused by Potiphar’s wife, Potiphar would hot have had the opportunity to have him thrown into prison. If Potiphar had not betrayed Joseph, the Cupbearer would not have had the opportunity to forget him until Pharaoh had his dream.

Betrayal – A Part of Life on This Earth
It seems to me that Joseph’s life is not too different from yours and mine. Betrayal is part of the package. It’s part of the package because we live in a sinful world and because we are sinners. All of us. Your best friend is a sinner. Your spouse is a sinner. Your children are sinners. The person you esteem most is a sinner. You are a sinner. I am a sinner. And sin is a betrayal. And if betrayal is in our very nature, we should not be surprised when we are betrayed. It’s part of the package.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting you develop or nurse a pessimistic attitude. “No good deed goes unpunished” is a common sentiment, and one that I hate. I cringe every time I hear it because it reveals a root of pessimism that I believe does not honor God. Because truth, God’s Word, says that good deeds will be rewarded. Yes, we might experience betrayal in this life and our good deed might yield negative consequences for a short time, but our focus isn’t on this world. In the world we ought to be living for (i.e., the Kingdom of heaven), good deeds are blessed.

So Let’s Live for the Kingdom of God
What I am suggesting is that we focus on truth instead of lies. And since betrayal is not truth, since it is perpetrated by the father of lies, perhaps it ought not be our focus. I know that’s not an easy thing to do when you’ve been betrayed. I’ve been betrayed. Badly. It sent me into a tailspin. I understand the emotional damage that betrayal can cause. I admire Joseph for his apparent ability to shake it off quickly and continue to be faithful to do his best in each place he was put. I can’t help but wonder if his earlier dreams of what God had for him sustained him as he was continually pushed down. Scripture doesn’t say that, so we don’t know.

One instruction that Scripture does give us is to think about those things that are true and noble and right, those things that are pure and lovely and admirable, those things that are excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Let’s recognize betrayal for what it is – at the very root of our nature and from the hand of the Enemy. Then let’s turn our focus away from it and toward the One who faced our betrayal by stretching out His arms in love.

A Step Further
In each situation, Joseph continued to be faithful to God. Dr. Shane Johnson’s definition of success is this: “Doing the right thing over an extended period of time.” Notice that the definition doesn’t include anything about income or fame. He leaves the issues of income and fame to God and instead teaches that success is an issue of character. Success for Joseph wasn’t becoming governor of Egypt. His success was in not letting each betrayal keep him from being faithful in whatever position God placed him.

Betrayal is most devastating when it is a violation of trust from the hand of someone whom you have allowed to become close to you. The betrayal from a stranger affects your circumstances but doesn’t pierce your heart. The betrayal of a friend, a family member, or an authority figure has the power to debilitate you unlike that of other betrayals. These betrayals will come into your life, though. Remember, we are all sinful; betrayal is part of our sinful nature. We all have the capability to betray one another. The Enemy wants to use these inevitable betrayals to cause you to build a wall around yourself so that you let no one, not even God Himself, get close enough to hurt you like that again. But Joseph didn’t let the repeated betrayals of these significant people in his life shake his trust in God. He continued to do the right thing over an extended period of time, and that was the secret of his success. 

Think Kingdom living and keep at it. That’s what we are called to.

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As I read through the book of Matthew, particularly chapters 5 through 9, I am struck by how easy it is to fall into establishing expectations about God and about how others should act if they know God. The Pharisees get a bad rap among Christians, and perhaps rightly so…somewhat. You see, if I were there, when Jesus was here on earth, I’m not altogether sure that I wouldn’t have sided with the Pharisees a fair amount of the time!

Jesus was doing and saying things that were totally blowing their minds. Yes, they had it all wrong in many ways but their wrongness came out of a desire to be obedient to scripture as they understood it (and had been taught it). To avoid sin, they had developed a very involved set of rules. Their desire was to not offend God. That’s a good desire. Yet they became slaves to their rules and lost the wonder of relationship with God.

It’s pretty easy for me to be like that. I am a much more disciplined person when I establish “rules” for myself. Having established those rules, sometimes I’m not able to live by them – I fall short of even my own rules. If I am not actively pursuing God in the midst of it all, I can fall into condemnation of myself. The enemy loves that. The point is, it’s not about living by the rules, it’s about pursuing a relationship with God. Sure, it’s OK to set up rules if they help you live the life God wants you to live, but don’t be a slave to the rules and don’t forget God’s grace.

God is all about grace. I ought to be all about grace. He is also exceedingly patient. I ought to be exceedingly patient. But it is so easy to fall into the trap of the Pharisees and establish a rigid set of rules that I believe I “ought” to live by. Sets of rules make it easy to know when I’ve done well and when I’ve failed. But sets of rules also lead to legalism and ultimately make me very much like the Pharisees.

Stage two of this process is when I extend the rules that I’ve established for myself to others. Oops! I’m become more pharisaical by the minute!

A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about changes that occur in the life of a believer and being careful not to place expectations on new believers, but rather extending grace to them as they learn to walk with Christ – allowing the Holy Spirit to do the convicting and changing instead of acting as if our nagging will help the situation. After a few minutes of talking, she said “but we do expect them to change, don’t we? And shouldn’t we?” I didn’t know how to answer her. Because yes, we do expect them to change, to become more like Christ as they grow in relationship with Him, and we should expect it because we know our God is wonderfully able to change even the most hardened person who chooses to follow Him. Yet, her tone and words conveyed a condemnation for those who didn’t change quickly enough to meet her expectations. And I found myself silenced because I know that deep within me, there is a tendency to establish expectations and then be disappointed when those expectations are not met. That’s a polite way of saying deep within me there is a tendency to judge others against my standards. Ouch! It sounded so much better the polite way.

Let me repeat myself: God is all about grace. I ought to be all about grace. He is also exceedingly patient. I ought to be exceedingly patient.

The Ten Commandments not withstanding, God is not about sets of rules. He is about relationship. And relationships develop at different speeds and in different ways. I must be careful to let God lead in each relationship He has, and not try to do the job of the Holy Spirit.

So let me encourage you in two ways: If establishing rules helps you live a godly life, establish rules. Then be willing to sacrifice those rules daily as you continue in relationship with God, because the relationship is always more important than the rules.

God’s love for you lives outside your rules – in other words, when you don’t live by your rules, God isn’t looking down at you and shaking His head wondering if you’ll ever get it right. Don’t let a slip keep you from pursuing God Himself. His love for you is deep and wide and long and high (Eph 3:18), and He has MORE grace to give to you every hour of every day. So you can keep up with those rules you’ve set!

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The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
                 Matthew 8:27

The disciples had been with Jesus. They had seen Him heal the man with leprosy, the Centurian’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law.

Then they followed Jesus into a boat to go to the other side of the lake. Jesus fell asleep. A storm came up. The disciples were afraid and woke Jesus. Jesus replies with the well-known rebuke “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Scripture records what happens next: “Then [Jesus] got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” (v26)

And the disciples were so amazed, they asked “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

We can study Scripture and receive great understanding and revelation. We can worship and pray and experience the intimate presence of God. We can receive miraculous healings from the Lord. Yet no matter to what heights of glory we’re taken, I think we will continually be awed again, causing us to ask “What kind of man is this?” Because we just don’t have a clue. We catch tiny glimpses of His power and majesty -miniscule peaks into His glory really – and we begin to think we know Him. Then He calms the waters or tames the winds around us and we can’t do anything but sit back and say “What kind of man is this?”

I am tremendously awed, humbled and wowed by this. I am so glad, so blessed, to serve a God who is so over-the-top that I will never, ever, throughout all eternity really understand the power He has. I know…that’s poor writing…too many “so’s.” But there’s no superlative that is large enough. I am so glad and so blessed, and God is so over-the-top. And yet, He chooses to desire to have a relationship with me. And you, of course, too. He doesn’t need me or you. He just wants a relationship with us.

“What kind of man is this?”

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