Posts Tagged “Mark”

Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

While fall doesn’t officially start until about three weeks into the month, the beginning of September always feels like the beginning of fall to me. And it’s always a time when routines are adjusted to the change in schedules. Be sure to keep your Bible reading in your schedule! Our Resting at the River’s Edge schedule will help you stay on track, reading four or five chapters each weekday. If you fall behind, don’t worry about it! That’s why we only schedule readings on weekdays – so we can use the weekend to catch up. And if you can’t catch up on weekends, still don’t worry about it! Just keep reading at a pace that allows you to enjoy God’s Word. I’m confident that God will reveal Himself to you as you take time to get to know Him.

Click on one of the following buttons to open a PDF file of the September/October bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The September Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

I look forward to hearing from you about how God is speaking to you through His Word during the coming month. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for September is below.

Resting at the River's Edge Reading Schedule for September 2013

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartEven in our most downhearted moment, we can reach down deep and rejoice at the freedom God has bought for us. There are so many Psalms in which David cries out from the difficult situation he’s in. Yet they always end with a praise to God – with a recognition of the goodness of God and the good things He has done. Psalms 31 and 35 provide two examples of this. Throughout the Psalms, David is not shy about expressing the severity of his situation, crying out to God in verses like this

“Free me from the trap that is set for me” (31:4)

“Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends– those who see me on the street flee from me.” (31:9-11)

“Malicious witnesses rise up; They ask me of things that I do not know. They repay me evil for good, To the bereavement of my soul.” (35:11-12)

David’s life wasn’t always pleasant (yes, that’s probably the understatement of the year). Yet in both of these Psalms, as well as most (all?) others, he returns to a rejoicing in his salvation and his God:

“I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” (31:7)

“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you…Praise be to the LORD, for he showed his wonderful love to me” (31:19, 21a)

“And my soul shall rejoice in the LORD; It shall exult in His salvation.” (35:9)

“I will give You thanks in the great congregation; I will praise You among a mighty throng.” (35:18)

“And my tongue shall declare Your righteousness and Your praise all day long.” (35:28)

Joy comes in part from what we choose to focus on. David faced exceedingly difficult times and he poured his heart out to the Lord during those times. But he kept the difficulties from overwhelming him by consistently praising – even rejoicing – in the One who is greater than the difficulties. The One who is sovereign over all things. The One who is our salvation. The One who loves us beyond our ability to fully grasp.

When Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.” (Luke 19:37) “Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” they cried (Mark 11:9).

The Pharisees took offense at the outrageous, joyful praise being given the Lord – “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” they said. (Luke 19:39)

Jesus’ response is instructive: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

If we do not rejoice, the very rocks we kick down the road will praise Him in our place.

Ron Kenoly released a song in 1995 (yikes, that was a long time ago!) titled “Ain’t Gonna Let No Rock.” “Ain’t gonna let no rock out-praise me. Ain’t gonna let no rock take my place.” You can check it out here. My sentiments exactly. I will rejoice in Him. I will sometimes dig deep for the joy within me, but I will do it because my Savior has bought my freedom!

We in America don’t understand the joy of freedom because we have experienced it all our lives. Here’s a video I found inspiring and instructive. The researchers spend an hour cutting away the netting that threatened to defeat a humpback whale. The whale was close to death when they found him tangled tightly in the nylon. After cutting and cutting and cutting until they were able to fully untangle him, the whale rejoiced over his new-found freedom. He spent the next hour making spectacular jumps out of the water, slapping it with is fins, twirling and totally blessing the people who had freed him. Did you catch that? He spent the next hour rejoicing over his freedom. We were once lost and now we are found. When was the last time you spent an hour simply rejoicing over your new life? Rejoicing is fun! Watch the whale! (The whole video is good, but the whale’s show begins at about the 6:20 into it.) You know he’s having fun! And listen to the joy in the rescuers voices as they enjoy the exuberant display. It blesses God’s heart when we rejoice over all He has done for us. Rejoice friends!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartOur society doesn’t breed compassion. Compassion requires connecting with the pain of others and sacrificing to help alleviate that pain. It requires that we be outwardly-focused – seeing the needs of others more than we see our own needs. Compassion requires margin in our lives – that is, “white space” in which to see, feel and do for others. When we have no margin – when our schedules are overflowing and our stress levels are spiking, the white space in our lives is crowded out and we become focused on only our own needs. When that continues too long, life becomes all about us instead of all about others.

Read these verses about the compassion of Jesus:

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:36 (NIV)

Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 14:14 (NLT)

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
Matthew 15:32 (NIV)

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
Matthew 20:34 (NIV)

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
Mark 1:41 (NIV)

When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.”
Luke 7:13 (NASB)

Do you feel the compassionate, loving heart of Jesus in these verses? As I read them, all together, not separated by circumstances and other stories, I see Jesus’ loving and compassionate heart more clearly. I see Him with His hand reached out to touch, heal, wipe a tear and comfort. I see His extreme care for those who are harassed and helpless, for those who are sick or hungry, and for those who need to be made clean or be comforted. I see His extreme care for people like me.

Jesus’ heart of compassion stepped into the hurting experience of others and did something practical to alleviate their suffering. Joni Eareckson-Tada talked about compassion and suffering in an address at Westmont College. I was moved by these words:

Helping somebody like me [that is, someone suffering with a severe disability] – God asks us to hook our veins up to that person who is hemorrhaging human strength – because we show Christian love when we pour our heart out into another’s life as though giving a spiritual transfusion. Warm and personal, reviving and life giving. That’s what Christian compassion means.

When we reach out in compassion to somebody, we’re reaching out into their suffering.

The world has so much suffering in it today – it is bleeding out of control.

When people are hurting, His church – and who else is there, it’s just you and me – His church is the agent of comfort and mercy and grace and encouragement, showing, not just telling, but showing His love. Not just proclaiming it, but portraying it. Helping them to experience it.

Jesus had crowds and crowds of people pressing in for attention from Him. He knew the pressures of too much to do and too little time. Yet He kept His outward focus. He saw the suffering of others, was moved with compassion and took action. He wasn’t too busy or too poor or too tired, although surely he had too much to do, too little money and too little sleep. He found His margin – that is the white space within the noise – by spending time with His Father.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Mark 1:35 (NIV)

It’s in the Father’s presence where we find our margin for the day. It might seem like adding an appointment with God to our already full schedule would take away even more of our white space, but it doesn’t. Somehow it expands the white space, giving us margin and purpose at the same time. It allows us to hear God’s heart – that heart of love and compassion toward us and others – and enables us to show that heart to others.

The passage in Mark goes on to say that when His disciples found Jesus they said something like “Come on! Everyone’s waiting for you!” Jesus didn’t let them steal the peace and purpose He’d just received from being with the Lord. “Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’” (Mark 1:38, NIV)

Jesus had a full schedule. He had little money. He had others pressing in on Him. But He allowed the Lord to work through Him, showing compassion to people who are harassed and helpless, sick or hungry. He showed His compassion to us so that we might show His heart of compassion to others.

Last summer I met a woman who was widowed at a young age. Undoubtedly she and her young children suffered a great loss. One of the things she told me is that she doesn’t let a day go by without doing something good for someone in need. It might be as small as helping an elderly woman reach an item on an upper shelf at the grocery store or buy a burger for a man living on the street. The key is that she does something. Every day. Developing a habit like my new friend changes the way we think. Little by little, act by act, it builds God’s heart of compassion into us.

What about you? Are you showing God’s heart of compassion to those around you? Do you see the pain, suffering, loneliness and hunger in the eyes, the walk and the behavior of others? If not, perhaps it’s because there is no margin in your life. Perhaps your own needs are crowding out the needs of others. Follow Jesus’ example so you can follow His behavior. Get alone with God so He can pour His heart into you and then you can pour it into others. Pray for a compassionate heart like His – then live it!

You can watch Joni’s entire message at Westmont College here:

 

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Jesus, Mark 1:15b (NLT)

Last week we looked at John the Baptist’s message to the Israelites:

“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
John the Baptist, Matthew 3:2 (NLT)

John was only the forerunner with the message. The Messiah was to follow bringing the same message:

“The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Mark 1:15 (NLT)

Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah didn’t come as the conquering king the Israelites expected, He came as one following in the footsteps of a man who lived in the wilderness, dressed in camel hair and ate locusts and honey. He came as one following in the footsteps of a man who called the Israelites to repentance and who was jailed and beheaded. The Messiah didn’t come with a message to those who had conquered the Israelites; rather, He came with a message to the Israelites: Get your house in order! Live the way you are supposed to live. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

It’s the same message He has for us today. You see, the message of repentance isn’t for the worst sinners, it is for all sinners.

1About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. 2“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? 3Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. 4And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? 5No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
Luke 13:1-5 (NLT)

His promise is the same as the promise made by John the Baptist – the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is available to those who repent. It is the same call and promise that God has been making throughout time:

12That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.
Joel 2:12-13 (NLT)

God remains the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He calls us to repentance. Not because He wants to watch us grovel, but because He wants to forgive us and give us the Kingdom of heaven.

In her blog The Prayer of Confession Requires a Repentant Heart, Kim Butts quotes Dick Eastman:

“Confession is a heartfelt recognition of what we are. It is important to God because it indicates that we take seriously our mistakes and failures. Of course, God does not ask us to confess our sins because He needs to know we have sinned, but because He knows that we need to know we have sinned.”
Dick Eastman, The Hour That Changes the World

Check out Kim’s blog here.

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By guest blogger Pastor Dan Caudill

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.
(Philippians 4:12)

We live in a world of “more.” Pick any topic you want and the general consensus is bigger, faster, higher, just….more.” From TV shows to sports to our looks to our jobs to how much money we make to our possessions, we have this sense that somehow we have to out-do what we did yesterday, last month, last year – that if we have more, get more do more, see more , say more, are more, life would be better somehow. As a whole, we are in a state of discontent, dangling the proverbial carrot in front of ourselves with the thought, “I would be happier if… (Fill in the blank).” And because we often try to fill the voids in our lives with the wrong “filler” (that’s where the godliness needs to come in), when the newness of what we acquired or accomplished wears off we find ourselves wanting….well, “more.”

The Bible says “contentment with Godliness is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6). The Apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” (Philippians 4:12)

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we shouldn’t want to be happy. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t want to have a better world or a better life, or that we shouldn’t work toward improving ourselves and the situations around us. And I’m not saying that it is wrong to have possessions. As I once heard someone say, “It’s not wrong to have things as long as things don’t have us.” I also read somewhere “if you aren’t happy with what you have, you won’t be happy with what you get.”

What I am saying is that I believe it is possible in God’s economy to be seeking, hoping, wanting and working toward that “better tomorrow” and yet be perfectly content with today. In other words, we can be content with where we are and where we are headed at the same time. Each day is a gift. The Psalmist writes, “This is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)  Also, as the saying goes, sometimes “The joy is in the journey.” I am sure we have all set out for a specific destination (both literally and figuratively), only to find upon arrival that it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as we had imagined. But oh the things that happened along the way, the lives we touched and the ones that touched ours. The “getting there” far outweighed the importance and impact of the arrival.

I guess if we insist on wanting “more”, why not go for more contentment and go for it today (kind of defeats the idea if we put it off until tomorrow or next week). I would like to offer some “helps” that aid us in our quest for contentment.

  1. Take God at His Word. Scripture says He knows our needs even before we ask. (Matthew 6:8)
  2. God promises that He has “given us everything we need for life and for godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3)
  3. Scripture says that the blameless will “lack no good thing.” (Psalm  84:11)
  4. If God is for us, who or what can be against us.
  5. With God, all things are possible (Mark 10:27)
  6. We, like Paul, can do all things through Christ who gives us Strength. (Philippians 4:13)
  7. A man plans his course, but God orders his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
  8. God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. (Joshua 1:5)
  9. Jesus himself said the Father holds his children in the palm of His hand and nothing can snatch us out. (John 10:28)

Well, if you are like me, you have tasted slices of contentment here and there, but haven’t enjoyed that sweet taste on a regular basis. I think I’m ready to go for the whole “pie.” Holy Spirit teach me as I head back to school to “learn the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Let it come to pass Lord.

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Resting at the River’s Edge provides an opportunity to participate in reading through the Bible in a systematic way. Here’s more details about the plan and our schedules.

The holiday season will quickly be upon us, friends. Let me encourage you to make a new commitment to continuing your time reading through the Bible. Track your reading along with us using the table below, the half-page PDF you can download here or the November/December Bookmark you can download here.

Share with us what God is speaking you as you read this month! E-mail me, leave a message on the Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Word of God, speak to us again this month!
Sandy

Download all 2012 bookmarks here Download only the November/December 2012 bookmark here

Download a half-page PDF of the November Reading Plan here

Here’s the November reading plan:

RARE November 2012 Reading Plan JPG

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Firm Foundation Brick wallby guest blogger Pastor Dan Caudill

Yesterday’s blog looked at some of the things we might be tempted to build our lives on…things that we soon find don’t stand up to the storms of life.

Now let’s look at some pillars we can use to build a firm foundation. Let’s travel in the Scriptures to Ephesians chapter 6 and what is commonly called “the armor of God”. Verses 10-13 say this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:10-13 (NIV)

Let’s look more closely at our armor:

Belt of Truth
It’s been said if you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said. Since “the devil is the father of lies” and “there is no truth in him” (John 8:44), if our lives are filled with anything less than the truth, essentially they are built on him (the devil). However, if we are bound by God’s truth, John’s gospel says that will set us free (vs. 32). I don’t know about you, but when I don’t physically wear a belt with my jeans, they tend to want to fall down. I would say the same about our lives and the “belt of God’s truth”. It truly will help to hold us together!

Breastplate of Righteousness
If we were to imagine a real suit of armor we would see that, along with other body parts, the breastplate covers the heart. Proverbs instructs us: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (4:23). A life of righteousness, or “rightness,” according to God and his will, protects our heart from the ravages and disappointments of sin. Just as weeds choke out the good plants in the garden, sinfulness chokes the life out of the goodness God wants us to have in our hearts. As David prayed may we too “hide his Word in our hearts, so that we would not sin against him” (Psalm 119:11).

Shield of Faith
Our cars are equipped with windshields, an umbrella shields us from the rain, and our deodorant shields us (and others) from odor. In other words, a shield is a protector. Scripture affirms that with a shield of faith, we can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. When we live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), we disarm two of Satan’s greatest weapons; doubt and discouragement. In Genesis, God saw Abraham’s faith (belief) “and credited it to him as righteousness” (15:6). He will do the same for us.

Helmet of Salvation
The helmet, obviously, is a covering for the head. Far too often, we allow Satan to trick our minds into questioning or doubting our salvation, resulting in the loss of the joy that should be present in all those who are the redeemed of the Lord. The Scripture says that if we “believe in the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31), “believe and are baptized” (Mark 16:16), “confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9), we will be saved. If we truly know and believe we are saved, it will change how we live.

Sword of the Spirit (Word of God)
Satan has no defense against the power of God’s Word. When Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted, every time Satan opened his mouth with a temptation, Jesus quoted Scripture. He didn’t yell or threaten or call down fire from heaven. He simply said, “It is written” and quoted God’s truth from the Scripture. If it worked for Jesus, it will work for us. Satan doesn’t have to obey us no matter how loud or sincere or threatening we try to be. But he does have to obey God.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
James 4:7, NIV

Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Matthew 4:4 (NIV)

God provides all we need to develop a strong, firm foundation – one that doesn’t crack, crumble or fall. But unless we cling to those pillars, unless we build upon them, there is nothing that can make our foundation firm.

Yesterday’s questions bear repeating: How is my foundation? On what or who have I built? Is my life staked upon The Rock, who is Jesus, or am I trusting in one or more false pillars?

Build your foundation on Jesus and practice putting on and using the full Armor of God every day. It will make the difference between losing and winning the battles you face.

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Therefore I [Paul], a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.
Ephesians 4:1 (NLT)

God is worthy. He called us. Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of that calling. Yesterday’s blog dissected this verse in greater detail. If you don’t have it strongly in your mind and spirit that you are of great value to God, re-read yesterday’s post.

Paul continues his letter to the Ephesians by explaining what that worthy lifestyle looks like:

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)

There’s an interesting phrase in that verse – “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Have you ever noticed that your children or your spouse or your best friend can “get away with” things that might cause you offense when done by others? That’s called idiosyncratic credit. Your children or spouse or best friend have built up credit with you so their offenses don’t offend. You forgive immediately and easily. When someone else does the same thing, you get annoyed. Maybe it’s not an issue of offense, maybe it’s just a frustration.

Here’s a pet peeve of mine – people who open a can of pop but drink only a little of it. Yes, I know that’s a stupid little thing to have as a pet peeve. But it makes for a good illustration. If Phil opens a can of pop and then doesn’t finish it, I might feel a small irritation, but very quickly my mind and emotions “cover” the offense – “poor Phil, he set his can down and forgot about it – I wonder what’s on his mind today.” Or “that’s my sweetheart, always setting things down and forgetting them – I love him so much!” Or even “what’s with this half empty can of pop? Oh well, I guess he needed a little taste of something but then couldn’t finish it.”

Now if I have a gathering of people at my house and during cleaning up afterwards there are four half empty cans of pop it will annoy me. I have to work at extending grace to the four people who didn’t drink the whole can. I don’t have to work at extending grace to Phil, but others…well, it’s just not as automatic.

So don’t get hung up on my pet peeve (I’m getting over it), but take my point – I’m sure you can identify that you more easily extend grace and forgiveness to loved ones than others. Paul is telling us to treat others as we treat our loved ones. “Make allowance for their faults because of your love.” That’s extravagant love. That’s Christ-like love. It doesn’t come naturally. It takes effort – a lot of effort sometimes. Paul urges us to do just that:

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
Ephesians 4:3 (NLT)

Make every effort Paul says. Don’t make a half-hearted effort toward unity, but make every effort. That means making the first move…even if it wasn’t your fault. Because God who is most worthy has considered you – and whoever you might need to make an effort with – worthy.

What follows a few verses later is Paul’s discussion of gifts that God has given to the body – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Interestingly enough, often it can be the gifts God has put in others that frustrates us – because each gift brings some inherent characteristics along with it that are sometimes at odds with the characteristics of other gifts. An evangelist, for example, wants to see the bulk of your church’s effort go toward evangelism. The teacher, on the other hand, wants to see the bulk of your church’s effort go toward building up the body. Without making every effort, differences like that can become issues that keep us from living in unity. And without unity we cannot fulfill God’s greatest commandment:

29Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. 30And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
Mark 12:29-31 (NLT)

And lacking in that commandment, we will not fulfill the great commission God has given us:

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

Make every effort to live worthy of God’s calling. Live on purpose and with purpose.

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Set Apart for Holiness

7So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I, the LORD, am your God. 8Keep all my laws and obey them, for I am the LORD, who makes you holy….

23Do not live by the customs of the people whom I will expel before you. It is because they do these terrible things that I detest them so much. 24But I have promised that you will inherit their land, a land flowing with milk and honey. I, the LORD, am your God, who has set you apart from all other people.
Leviticus 20:7-8, 23-24 (NLT)

While these chapters may seem tedious, there are several things that I really like about them:

  • These chapters are all about God teaching the Israelites how to live a life worthy of being God’s chosen people. The repeated theme is “Be holy.” I love that God teaches us what we need to know. We aren’t expected to always know what is right and what is wrong. When we don’t know, we simply go to God who gives wisdom generously.
  • God tells the Israelites, and us by extension, to “set yourselves apart to be holy.” We are to live differently. We are to be proactive about it – we’re not to go with the flow, join the crowd or do our own thing. We’re to follow God’s approach to living. Sure, many of the verses in these chapters don’t apply to us today…but their underlying principles do. We’re to live more circumspectly, always aware that our God lives among us and He is a holy God.
  • Not only are we to set ourselves apart, God also makes it clear that He has set us apart. God is always the one who moves toward us first. He sent His Son so that we might have life…long before we were ever thinking of turning to Him. He set us apart to be His very own people…so we’re to set ourselves apart.

God is so good! He didn’t have to set us apart – He didn’t have to choose us. He doesn’t have to help me to become holy, but He does.

Loving Your Neighbor
These are the major principles of the chapters that I like, but there are also some individual verses that jump out at me. Did these verses wake you up as you read them?

“Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
Leviticus 19:18 (NLT)

A few words catch my attention…Neverbear a grudgeagainst anyone…OK, Lord. You’ll have to help me with that sometimes. I’ll agree with you, but…please help!

Notice the second half of this verse – This verse didn’t originate with Jesus in the Gospels. He is quoting this verse. You won’t find the phrase “love your neighbor” anywhere else in the Old Testament. Pretty cool, huh? That buried in the midst of all these laws in Leviticus is the law Jesus said was the second most important one (Mark 12:31).

It’s a Life-Giving Law

If you obey my laws and regulations, you will find life through them. I am the LORD.
Leviticus 18:5 (NLT)

Obeying God’s laws brings life. The stereotype, of course, is that God’s laws are restrictive and lead to a life that lacks joy. Not so. They bring life – LIFE! I’m reminded of this verse in the book of James:

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
James 1:25 (NIV)

When are we going to get it through our heads (and hearts and wills) that making God-choices leads to blessing? I want the blessing. Lord, help me to make Your choices. Today we studied the book of 1 John with a group of friends. One of the promises this book carries is that if we pray anything according to God’s will, we can have confidence that He hears us and answers the prayer. (1 John 5:14-15) Asking God to help me make His choices is undoubtedly a prayer that is within His will. Praise God! I can have confidence that He is answering that prayer!

Living a set-apart life, pursuing holiness and seeking to make God-choices – three different ways of saying the same thing, actually – requires diligence and reliance on the Holy Spirit who is alive in us. He will teach us and enable us to live such a life. I want LIFE – how about you?

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One of Jesus’ primary teaching tools was asking questions. In Mark chapter 8, he asks the disciples this question:

5“How many loaves of bread do you have?” [Jesus] asked.
Mark 8:5

It’s a simple question, and with that question, Jesus is redirecting the disciples’ attention away from the enormity of the need. He’s saying “don’t look at the need, look at me!”

It’s the story of Jesus feeding the four thousand men, along with unnumbered women and children, with only seven loaves and two fish. Jesus first brings the need to the attention of his disciples by calling them together and saying:

2“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. 3If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”
Mark 8:2-3 (NIV)

Their response isn’t their finest moment:

“How are we supposed to find enough food for them here in the wilderness?”
Mark 8:5 (NLT)

I hear it as “Are you crazy? How in the world are we…?” And since I know the end of the story, it occurs to me that any time I have that reaction, there ought to be a check in my spirit…because God is setting me up for a miracle! Instead of “I can’t possibly…” or “Are you crazy? How can I…?” I want to be the person that shouts “Yeehaw! A miracle’s about to happen!” OK, not so cowboy, but you get the idea.

I’m not that person yet, but the Holy Spirit & I are working on it. We’re getting closer.

The apostles looked at the crowd and said “we can’t possibly feed these people.” Jesus didn’t look at the crowd, He looked at the resources, knowing that when the resources were fully given to God, God would multiply them to meet the need.

Picture it, 32AD: Four thousand men, in addition to the women and children, were in need of food. The apostles had seven loaves of bread and a few fish. Looks to me like recipe for a personal meltdown!

But God…He gently took the disciples by the hand (metaphorically), turned them from the crowed to look into His face, and redirected their thinking from “How are we supposed to…” to “take a deep breath and look at me. Now tell me, what do you have?” No meltdown. Instead a miracle!

I’m going to go back to that, but first I want to ask my own questions. Update the picture: Think about what you’d like to do for God. Go ahead. Pause here for a minute or two here and answer the question: What would you like to do for God? OK, now answer this question: what are your four thousand people? In other words, what is keeping you from accomplishing it. Is it lack of money? Lack of time? Lack of energy?

Jesus wants to uncomplicated things. He simply asks “what do you have?” Quit looking at all the reasons you can’t do what you’d like to do for God. Start telling God what have and ask what you should do with it. He’ll give instructions, and you’ll be on your way to being part of a miracle.

When we give it to Him, God takes what we have in our hands and He uses it to bless others.

That’s the original covenant of the Old Testament – that Abraham would be a blessing to many nations,
and the awesome privilege and responsibility of the New Testament
“go ye into all the world…”

So God wants to take my resources and your resources and use them not to meet the needs of just our families, but to reach out to others. But if we look at the opportunities, at the enormity of the needs, we become paralyzed because our resources seem so puny. That’s when Jesus asks the simple question “what’s that in your hand?” “What do you have?”

Let’s look at that question a bit more: “What do you have?” We don’t know how Jesus actually asked the question, but one method of studying a verse or phrase in the Bible is to work our way through it by emphasizing each word individually. I found that approach to be instructive in this case:

WHAT do you have? – Tell the Lord. Answer the question. In Resting at the River’s Edge we’ve just started the book of Jeremiah. In this book God is regularly asking Jeremiah “what do you see?” And then a prophetic message comes to him after describing to God what he sees. I’ve found that often God doesn’t begin to give me ideas for serving Him until I’ve started describing the situation to Him.

What DO you have? – This encourages us to look at our resources, not just the need. The apostles were stuck looking at the need and it was so great it paralyzed them. Jesus redirected them by saying, “OK, so you can’t go buy food for everyone, what DO you have.” If we look at the need we become discouraged. If we look at the need, it crushes our faith and we don’t take the first step.

What do YOU have? – Jesus asks us to use our resources. We have to give them before he can multiply them. When we hold on to our resources, there is no miracle of multiplication of those resources.

What do you HAVE? – This is an interesting emphasis. At first glance, I wanted to answer that it’s very much like “DO” – what DO you have? OK, I have this, this and this. Then God asks again “what do you HAVE?” In other words, take another look – what do those things put together make. Perhaps bread and fish make a meal. It’s the synergy part of the sentence. It’s the whole thing being greater than the sum of its individual parts.

It’s also the point where we step back, perhaps acknowledge – Lord, we got nothing…so we stare a little longer (hopefully praying while we stare at what we have) and God’s miracle begins to become apparent. OK, I get it! It’s not just bread and fish, it’s a meal. And perhaps it’s not just bread but it becomes the bread of Life as we give it in Jesus’ name. This could be good… Let’s have the people sit down and start feeding them and see what happens!

And what happens is God’s miracle because we’ve looked away from despair, given our resources to the awesome ministry He’s given us and voila! it’s time for His miracle!

Jesus is a master at asking simple questions. We tend to complicate life by moving to the complex when the simple will suffice. Jesus asks “what do you have?” When life crowds in and your need seems to overshadow your resources, Jesus asks: “what do you have?” We would do well to learn from the Master.

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