Archive for February, 2009

“Thank You, Lord, that You are who You are and that You’ve created me in Your likeness. Thank You that nothing touches me without first going through Your hands. Thank you that nothing that comes my way today is more than I can handle, but each circumstances has been allowed by You and foreseen by You. Nothing takes You by surprise. Thank You that You have already prepared me for all that will come my way today. And those things that I think I can’t handle – well, that’s just a lie from Satan, because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And even better than that, thank You that You will use everything that happens to me today to make me more like Jesus, in whom I trust and in whose name I pray. His name is above all names – His name is above every circumstance and situation in which I will find myself in today. And His name has authority that is greater than all those other things. Thank You, Lord, that You are who You are. Imminently worthy of my worship and adoration. Amen.”

Try it. It will change your whole perspective as you begin your day.

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          by guest blogger Phil Hovatter 

Perhaps you’ve gotten the same email that I have – the one about a couple from New York who wanted to retire in Portugal. After much searching, they found a real estate deal that looked pretty good. A nice piece of farmland whose owners had died 15 years earlier without an heir, so the farm was being sold by the government to pay for back taxes that had accumulated.

The reason why no buyers were interested for 15 years was that there was a major eyesore on the property. The original owner had erected an enormous “barn” – more of a warehouse, really, with large steel doors that were welded shut – and the cost to have it removed wasn’t appealing to most. The retired couple from New York considered the price of the farm to be such a bargain that the barn didn’t matter. But their first order of business after taking ownership of the property was to satisfy their curiosity. What could be lurking inside that big building?

What they reportedly found were cars – lots of cars. 180 cars. And not just any old beaters. These were great European cars – sports cars, classic cars, roadsters, and limited-edition cars, all covered in a thick layer of dust. Any one of them (if it were cleaned up a bit) would be gallery-quality. Estimated value: $35,000,000.

Nice story. Is it true? Not according to the Internet myth-busting website Snopes.com, but to tell you the truth, in my humble opinion, I find their “true” version is harder to believe than the email version. You be the judge.

All of this long rambling is just a prelude to a short parable I read today in Matthew 13:44. Jesus said,

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Hmmm. What struck me this morning was, why didn’t he just take the hidden treasure he had found and claim it for his own? Finders keepers, right?

But that’s not what the kingdom of heaven is like. There is one right way to lay claim to it, but there are many wrong ways.

Jesus makes this clear in a couple of other gospel passages. In one of His wedding banquet parables found in Matthew 22, the king came in to see the guests who had assembled for the wedding feast and “noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.” The king had him bound and thrown into outer darkness.

Again, in John 10, Jesus says,

I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.

There is one valid way to enter the sheep pen, but many wrong ways.

So what can we learn from the man who found the treasure in the field? Claiming “finders keepers” isn’t the right way to take possession of the treasure. Buying the whole field is. The easy way is stealing. The costly way is legitimate.

It is a paradox that salvation is a “free gift,” yet costs us all that we have and all that we are. Giving of ourselves is the valid response to Jesus’ gift of eternal life. We offer our selves as living sacrifices as an act of worship. We hold our possessions with an open hand, sharing and giving freely to others who are in need. Once we were slaves to sin, but now we are slaves to righteousness.

These are the marks of a true disciple. Jesus makes it crystal clear in Luke 14:33 –

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

You’ve probably heard it said that when you eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, the chicken contributed something to the meal, but the pig was fully committed.

There is only one way to lay legitimate, legal claim to the treasure in the field. We have to sell all that we have and buy the field. We have to go all-in. We have to make a total commitment of all that we have and all that we are. This is the pathway to eternal life. This is the cost of discipleship.

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But Sarai, Abram’s wife, had no children. So Sarai took her servant, an Egyptian woman named Hagar, and gave her to Abram so she could bear his children. “The LORD has kept me from having any children,” Sarai said to Abram. “Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed.
          Genesis 16:1-2 (NIV)

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
          Exodus 32:1 (NIV)

It was out of impatience that Abram and Sarai pursued having a child in an unnatural way.  It was out of impatience that the children of Israel asked for another God to worship. In both cases, the participants were looking at the situation around them not at the Lord. Had they been looking at the Lord, their hearts would have been renewed, their faith and bodies strengthened.

But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
          Isaiah 40:31a (KJV)

but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
          Isaiah 40:31a (NIV)

1 Corinthians 13:4 teaches us that “Love is patient” God is everlastingly patient with us, can we be anything else with Him? Let’s wait upon Him, put our hope in Him. Read what Scripture says about the promises of God:

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 
          2 Corinthians 1:20

God is faithful to His promises – they are “Yes” in Christ – but the “Amen” is spoken by us through Christ to the Glory of God.

Let’s not be tempted to sin during the waiting but instead say “Amen” to the promises of a God who is faithful to fulfill them.

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                                               By guest blogger, Phil Hovatter

If you’ve been reading through the Bible with us this year (a.k.a. “Resting at the River’s Edge”) you might be thinking of the last part of Exodus as “fly-over country.” Can we be honest with each other for a moment? I have lots of favorite portions of Scripture. By extension that means that there are some portions that are – shall we say – not so favorite. I bet you have a bunch of these as well: lengthy, dreary prophecies against Moab or Edom; all those bits in Leviticus about mold and pus and hairs; and of course the dreaded genealogies. (I actually like the genealogies, but that’s a topic for a future blog.) I think it’s a safe bet to lump in the specifications for the building of the Tabernacle found in Exodus 25 through 40.

Consider this for a moment: the record of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth gets boiled down to one verse in Genesis 1:1. The details of that creative effort consume the remainder of that one chapter. In contrast, God spends sixteen chapters in Exodus specifying the plans and execution of the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishing, then goes on for all 27 chapters of Leviticus giving instructions for how it is to be used. Call me crazy, but I think there might be more here than meets our 21st century eyes.

I didn’t want to just gut it out and grind my way through this lengthy passage of Scripture. Not when God has gone to such pains to preserve these details in His eternal Word. So I determined that I would make a little effort to scratch beneath the surface and see what I could learn. And I knew just where to start.

In my personal library I have a little volume about the Tabernacle that was written years ago by one of my favorite Bible teachers, Dr. J. Vernon McGee. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard any of his radio broadcasts of Thru the Bible, but in them he goes through the entire Old and New Testaments in five years. Dr. McGee has been dead for over 20 years, but these broadcasts are replayed on Christian radio around the world and are available online. But I digress. I own an old copy of a booklet he wrote entitled The Tabernacle: God’s Portrait of Christ. This excellent publication is now available for free as a PDF download from Thru the Bible’s website

I was arrested by the very first sentences of the book:

“The problem of establishing a dwelling place with man is of supreme importance with God. In the pages of Scripture it is of chief concern to Him.”

There it is in a nutshell. God created us for fellowship with Him, but through Adam’s sin all of mankind has been separated from Him. Sinful man is totally incapable of restoring that fellowship. If it is to be done at all, it has to be entirely God’s doing to bring restoration.

The whole story of the Bible is the account of how God is progressively bringing mankind back to Him, with the culmination found at the end of the book in Revelation.

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.
                                              Revelation 21:3 (NIV)

But this process is progressive and stretches throughout all of human history. It started in Genesis with God walking and talking with men such as Adam and Enoch. It continues with God revealing Himself to Moses and giving him detailed instructions for how a sinful nation can live with and approach a holy God without being incinerated along the way. It gets fleshed out (literally!) by the coming of the Son of God to pay the total penalty for the sins of all mankind. And it comes to fulfillment at a wedding feast in the New Jerusalem.

The Tabernacle is a critical waypoint along that historic journey.
It speaks of the holiness of God who yearns to be among His people, but who has to keep them safe in His presence. In the details for the construction of the Tabernacle there is no room for human creativity and imagination. Every detail is specified by God. Nowhere will you find the word “or.” God gives no place for human input or suggestion. He has provided a way – one way – for His people to approach Him for worship and fellowship.

In the Old Testament, it was through the offerings and sacrifices at the altar. In the New Testament era, it is through the forgiveness and Lordship freely offered by Jesus Christ. If our creativity or ingenuity or initiative rebels against God’s prescribed procedures and seeks a way to Him of our own devices, that is sin.

There is significance in every detail in the blueprint for the Tabernacle. Every tent peg, every curtain clasp, every seacow hide is part of the portrait of Christ. Here are just some tidbits that rock my world:

  • Notice how in the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place, everything is covered in precious gold. The Holy of Holies is where the presence of God would dwell. As you get further from the presence of God, metal items go to silver, and finally to bronze.
  • The altar of burnt offerings is the starting place for the sinner in his approach to God. A sacrifice is made to satisfy God’s holiness.
  • Then one proceeds to the brass laver to wash himself, a picture of the sanctification that follows forgiveness of sins.
  • From there, only the priests could enter into the Holy Place where they would find the table of bread. The bread got changed every week, with the old bread being eaten by the priests, with wine. (Did I hear you say “communion”?)
  • There was the altar of incense, which is an image of prayer, and the golden lampstand that illustrates the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • And finally the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest could enter and only once a year, where the presence of God rested on the Ark of the Covenant.

When we finish Exodus at the end of February, we’ll move on to Leviticus, where we’ll learn the roll of offerings, festivals and laws about how to live together as a people of God. Let me encourage you not to fly over this precious territory.

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1Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”4Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.5He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
         Mark 3:1-6 (NIV)

It occurs to me that if we’re looking for a reason to accuse someone, even the best of actions will give us a reason. Jesus was being compassionate. The Pharisees were “looking for a reason to accuse” Him. He healed the man’s shriveled hand and they “began to plot…how they might kill” Him.

How very sad. But I recognize that within me, when I have anything against someone (which I ought not to have, but that’s another story), in my heart there is a stubbornness that causes me to look for reasons to accuse them. And then actions born out of their very best intentions become reasons to accuse. Even actions with the most positive outcomes become reasons to accuse.

Lord, open my eyes to the darkness of my heart. I want to be a person who chooses to love, not look for reasons to accuse. Help me to always protect, always trust and always hope (1 Corinthians 13:7). Help me to grow in love.

3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
               1 Corinthians 13:3-13 (NIV)

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The LORD confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
          Psalm 25:14 (NIV)

How cool is that? The Lord confides in those who fear (honor, revere) Him. God has been whispering to my husband and I lately. Many of you know that my husband, Phil, had a heart attack last week. It was a very serious one, but it appears that he will fully recover from it. I’m not ready to blog a lot about the experience, but in today’s reading I read Psalm 25:14. And I want to express to all of you my incredible thankfulness to a wonderful God of mercy, grace and power, who confides in those who fear Him.

During and since the heart attack God has spoken to us  – through other people, through His Word, through strong impressions in our heart, and through dreams. All have been consistent messages – Phil will be fine. Coupled with that was often a reminder of God’s promise of salvation  – the covenant He has with us  – that He will be with us always and that when this life is over, we will be with Him forever.

For today’s blog, let me just be one of those people who reminds you of the Covenant God has with you. If you have made Jesus the leader and Lord of your life, He promises that He will be with you through the most difficult times, that He will be there at the end of those times when you walk back into the sunlight of “normal” living, and that He will be with you when those times are ultimately over and your true life begins in heaven. In the midst of those difficult times you can experience peace. In the midst of those difficult times, and in between the difficult times of life, you can experience joy.

God will confide in you. What a wonderful promise. There’s another verse like it that often amazes me…

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets.
       Amos 3:7 (NIV)

God wants to speak to us. What a wonderful, personal God we serve! Stay close to Him and listen.

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Psalm 21 (NIV)
For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1    O LORD, the king rejoices in your strength.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!

2    You have granted him the desire of his heart
and have not withheld the request of his lips.

This morning as I began to read Psalm 21, I realized that David, the writer of the psalm, is the King. So I went back to the beginning of the psalm and read it through speaking in first person instead of third person. In other words, where it says “the king” I read “I,” and where it says “his” or “him” referring to King David, I substituted “my” or “me.” So the first two verses read like this:

1    O LORD, I rejoice in your strength.
How great is my joy in the victories you give!

2    You have granted me the desire of my heart
and have not withheld the request of my lips.

 What a blessing! Try it! It (1) caused me to read the Psalm more slowly and (2) gave it tremendously more personal impact. Sure, there were some verses that couldn’t be taken literally (“you placed a crown of pure gold on my head” v. 3b), but when they were not true in the literal sense, they were surely true in the spiritual sense (our “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8), “crown of life” (James 1:12), and “crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4) – crowns which we shall lay at the feet of Jesus (Revelation 4:9)). As I read Psalm 21, I briefly thought of these crowns, and reflected on the crown of gold that rests on the head of Jesus (Revelation 14:14). As you personalize Psalm 21, God may bring other things to your mind. That’s the wonderful personalization work of the Holy Spirit.

So personalize it! You’ll be glad you did!

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And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” Exodus 19:10-11 (NIV)

Imagine if you knew the Lord was coming to visit you the day after tomorrow. How would you prepare? What would you do for the rest of the day today and all day tomorrow? When I read this passage, I was caught up in such excitement that God was going to come down from heaven to visit with the people of Israel.

Moments later I was a bit convicted. God wants to come down and visit with me regularly, but I don’t always spend the time and effort necessary to prepare myself to receive Him. Perhaps even worse than that, I don’t anticipate God’s visit. I want to always be excited that TODAY is the day I will meet with God and He with me. What a way to live! In anticipation of hearing from the Creator of the universe.

God told the Israelites to “consecrate” themselves, to wash their clothes and to “be ready.” The word translated “consecrate” (or “sanctify” in the King James Version) is qadash and means “to make clean” or “keep holy” or “purify.” Before the Israelites were to meet with God, they were to clean themselves up and remain holy or set apart for Him. If I want to meet with God, I need to do all I can to make myself clean and keep myself holy. That means avoiding those conscious sins and asking God to reveal things in my life that are impure. It means going to God regularly and asking for His forgiveness and sanctification.

God also told the Israelites to “be ready.” As I read the passage, I was reminded of the night before a family vacation – we were to “be ready” to leave when we woke up (which was always at 4am because my dad was a truck drive and he wanted to do as much driving in the dark before the rest of the world woke up). That means we had our bags packed and our clothes laid out, but more than that, it meant that we were emotionally ready to jump out of bed and hit the road. And we were excited about it.

Being ready to meet with God is very similar – it means that we have an anticipation, a physical and emotional willingness to “move” when God says to move, and a spiritual openness to hear what He says. Perhaps most of all, it means that we are excited to hear from Him. God wants us to want Him. He responds to our openness to Him. The oft-quoted verse from Revelations is “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Revelations 3:20) Jesus is speaking to believers. He is saying that He won’t knock the door down, but he will knock. If we open the door, He comes in. He waits to be invited.

I want to live my life in the mode of making myself ready and anticipating God’s visit. Then when He knocks, I want to be there to say “Lord, I’m so glad you’re here. Welcome. Let’s share the day together. Make my heart your home today, Lord.”

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Every time I read Exodus 16, I am struck by verse 8.

The Israelites have been traveling for about two and a half months. They had seen God give them favor with the Egyptians causing the Egyptians to give them their gold and silver as they left. They participated at the Red Sea miracle by crossing on dry land and then watched as God resumed the flow of water to rush over the Egyptian horses and riders and kill them. They sang and danced about the great victory. They saw God make bitter water pure in Marah. They must have rejoiced when God lead them to a place in the desert with “twelve springs and seventy palm trees” (Exodus 15:27).

But now they were facing hunger again. So they “grumbled against Moses and Aaron…‘If only we had died by the LORD’S hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'” (Exodus 16:2b3).

How quickly we forget how bad slavery really was when we begin to experience the responsibilities and trials of freedom. Our poor memories cause us to want to return to slavery! Make it not so, Lord!

The Israelites were saying that they would rather be a slave to their former Egyptian masters who had been abusive to them, than to learn to trust the invisible God. Not that He was really invisible. I have reiterated the dramatic miracles that the Israelites had experienced in less than two and a half months. It wasn’t just one or two miracles – I count five in my list above. And my list doesn’t include the most precious miracle of all – that the Lord led them every day with His visible presence – He led them with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). The Lord was there among them day in and day out.

Yet Scripture records that the “whole community” grumbled against Moses and Aaron. There wasn’t a single person to be found (other than Moses and Aaron) who remembered God’s faithfulness and encouraged the community to remain faithful.

And then we come to verse 8 – Moses points out the reality of the situation when he says to the people “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” (Ex 16:8b)

…And I am reminded that my grumbling is never against the situation or the people that I’m in the situation with, but against God.

Do you see that without the situation being what it was, God would not have had the opportunity to show His power and faithfulness to the Israelites. God’s ability to do the miraculous and His mercy to reach down and rescue us cannot be demonstrated until we’re in the position of needing a miracle. If I want to see God work a miracle in my life, I must need a miracle.

How foolish of me to grumble about the very circumstances that (1) God allowed in my life (2) so that He could demonstrate His power and faithfulness to me! It’s like grumbling at God’s miracle in the making. I don’t want to grumble at God while he’s making a miracle just for me.

Will you join me in that? Let’s make our lives a wonderful no-grumble zone, and instead practice trusting God for our own miracle in the making.

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