Good Samaritans

Luke 10:30-37, Psalm 116

I am the good Samaritan.  That’s right, if I were walking down the road and a beaten man was lying there, I would help him.  It is my love for humanity and generosity that allow me to be so kind.  Do you believe that?  For what its wroth, I’m not sure that I believe it.  I want to, but my experience tells me otherwise.   How far, for example, do I go with it.  Just yesterday, I was sitting at a stop light watching a woman pull a suitcase through a busy intersection.  She was headed toward the airport, but still a couple of miles away.  My immediate thought was, “hey, I bet she could use a ride.”  I continued to watch her, eventually from my rearview mirror, as she made it across the street.  I felt relief when a man greeted her as she pulled her suitcase up on the curb.  That’s when I decided that she wasn’t heading to the airport at all.  She was probably headed to a nearby office and chose to walk so that she could get some exercise and enjoy the nice weather.

I’m hoping that you noticed the shift in my thoughts as I passed by the woman with the suitcase.  I had to change the story in my head.  Had I not, I would have been confronted with feelings that I don’t want to deal with.  For all of us, changing the story is one way that we are able to justify our actions.  Ironically, the same was true for the man the parable of the good Samaritan.  We find it in verse 29.  It says,  “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor?”   Sadly, my actions are no different than his.  They are just in a different context.

God doesn’t want us to justify our actions.  He wants us to confront them, head-on with full disclosure.  That is why he tells this parable.  His goal is not for us to wallow in guilt and shame, but to rest instead on his perfect grace.  As we do, He will give us the kindness, goodness and gentleness that we need to serve our neighbor perfectly.  Jesus, in fact, becomes our justification.

Weeds, Wheat and Worship

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

As I reflect on the parable of the weeds, I hear two things.  A strong warning and extraordinary hope.  First, we must remember that we are living among the weeds.  Without diligence, we will be distracted, our growth disrupted, and our destiny destroyed.  The faithful, however, thrive in the confusion.  Their hope is not found in the things of this world.  Instead, life is found in the creator, our living God.  How do they do it?  Can they help us remain faithful?  The answer is surprisingly simple.  Know God.

This is where it gets scary.  For me, at least, because I’m not sure that I really want to know God.  Dallas Willard explains my thoughts in his book, Knowing Christ Today.  He says, “we can fail to know because we do not want to know—because what would be known would require us to believe and act in ways contrary to what we want.”  Do you hear it?  It is the subtle choking of weeds telling us divergent stories.  These stories shift our focus ever so slightly from knowing God to knowing the world.  As you already know, the consequences are catastrophic.  Consider these words from Hosea 4:6,

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.

If you want to know God, Psalm 104 is an amazing place to look.  Today, the Psalmist reminded me that yes, God is our wonderful creator.  And, he is much, much more.  When you spend time getting to know him as he Psalmist did, there is only one response.  Worship.  It’s written right there in verses 33-35.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth;
let the wicked disappear forever.
Let all that I am praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord! Psalms 104:33-35 (NLT)

 

Parables

Matthew 13:10-16, Psalms 92

When I was young, my favorite bedtime stories were from Aesop’s fables.  While I enjoyed the fantastical stories, I was fully enthralled with the lessons of morality encoded into them.  Now, as an adult, I see that this was my fathers clever strategy for teaching life lessons.  In fact, as I reflect on it, it was quite effective.  You see, fables make you think.  If you are willing to look deep into the story, they go to work on your character, stimulating thoughts about your own life, behaviors and responses.  Jesus, had a similar method.  He spoke in parables.  Instead of just teaching morality, however, he wanted us to see “the secrets of heaven” (Matthew 13:11).     But, there is a catch.  Like the fable, we have to be listening.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 13:11 that we are permitted to understand the secrets of his stories.  He goes on to say that some are not permitted.  Which has me wondering, why are some permitted to know and others are not?  The answer lies in the condition of your heart.  I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message.   He refers to a ready heart.  It reads, “whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely.”  Jesus then explains why he speaks in parables.  He says, “That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it” (Matthew 13:13, MSG).

If you haven’t guessed by now, we are going to take BibleJournal through the parables.  In each of these stories, we get a unique opportunity to see the kingdom of God.  I pray that our authors and readers will be listening closely, with ready hearts.  I trust we will as I rely on Jesus promise in Matthew 13:16, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”

Visual Acuity

Matthew 6:22-23, Psalms 80

I remember a sailing trip with my father.  I was standing in the cockpit with him and his friend looking at the islands a few miles away.  We were picking out landmarks that would help us identify our position.  But, there was a problem.  My dad could not see them.  We kept pointing to them and trying to direct him toward them, but it was no use.  He could not see.  Finally, our friend suggested that he try on his glasses.  The result was shocking.  Not only did my dad see the landmarks we were referring to, he could see everything.  He couldn’t believe it.  Even the leaves on trees were visible.  From that moment on, my dad saw the world differently.  He is not the only one.  According to Google (the ultimate truth for everything under the sun), 61% of the population uses corrective lenses of some type.  Why do they need them?  Simply put, our eyes are not healthy.

Today in Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus talks about the health of our spiritual eyes.  Have you ever considered how well you see spiritually?  When we take a cue from our physical eyes, the answer is not very encouraging.  In fact, our picture of God is really fuzzy and unclear.  When that is true, Godly choices are hard to make.  In fact, as the scripture points out, they may be flat out wrong.  Even worse, just like my dad, we don’t know that we don’t have the whole picture.  We are being led astray and don’t even know it!

Thankfully, just like our physical sight, we are able to improve our spiritual vision.  Consider these two distinct ways to test our spiritual sight.  First, is the Bible.  Psalm 119:105 says that God’s word is “a lamp unto our feet.” Additionally,  2 Peter 1:19 says that the light of scripture will light our path until our hearts can see clearly on their own.  The second significant source of clear spiritual vision is other believers.  Acts 2:42 tells us that through the teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers with other believers many are able to see clearly.

I am grateful for this opportunity with BibleJournal.  Every day, it presents a unique opportunity to see God rightly with a Biblical foundation in the presence of other believers.

The Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:5-15, Psalm 68

Why do you pray?  If you paused long enough to answer that question, take a close look.  Think about the last prayer your offered up.  What was it about?  Commonly, we pray from the worry and anxiety that fills our day.  Often, we pray because of the scarcity that shows up in our lives.  I think that it is time to consider what our prayers really say about us.  More so, what do our prayers reveal about our beliefs in God?

In his book about the Lords prayer, Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. suggests that everything we believe about God is revealed in our prayers.  He says, “When we pray, we convey our entire theological system. Our theology is never so clearly displayed before our own eyes and before the world as in our prayers. Praying forces us to articulate our doctrines, convictions, and theological assumptions. These aspects of our Christian life come to a unique focus in prayer because when we speak to God we are explicitly revealing who we believe he is, who we believe we are, what his disposition toward us is, and why he has that disposition.”  Mohler’s comment is worth considering as we begin a deeper study of the Lord’s prayer. 

For the next several days, we get to assess our theology and see how it is revealed through our prayers.  Jesus tells us how.  As we listen, I pray, dear Holy Spirit, reveal your Truth to us.  Provide us with the courage to take an honest assessment of ourselves and equip us with a true understanding of who you are that we may exult and glorify you, as you deserve.

Mohler, Jr., R. Albert. The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution (p. 10). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Focus Time

Thank you for following BibleJournal.net.  To date, we have 817 journal entries with more than 48,000 views!  Our focus, has been reading entire chapters so that we can experience the Bible in its entirety.  Starting tomorrow, we are going to make a small change.  Our daily scripture reading is going to be drastically reduced.  The goal is intimacy rather than broad understanding.  Our topic for the next 45 days is the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7.  As always, you will continue to receive a link to the day’s reading along with a journal entry from one of our 12 writers.

I hope you enjoy the new format.  Either way, we would love to hear from you.  Leave a comment, or email me directly at bj@bjarmstrong.com.

Blessings,
BJA

Valuable Consideration

2 Samuel 24, Psalms 56

Contracts often include language like “valuable consideration.”  It identifies the price, or the cost (not necessarily in monetary terms) that is required for the exchange of goods.  The amount of consideration provided is dependent upon the item changing hands.  To complete the contract, both parties must agree that the compensation offered will result in full payment for whatever is received. 

Today, in 2 Samuel 24, David receives something incredibly valuable from God.  Forgiveness.  In return, God asks for consideration.  He sends his servant Gad to ask David for the payment.  In this case, David’s payment takes the form of a burnt offering.  Gad instructs him to, “Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  Araunah the farmer, attempts to give David the parts for the altar, the wood, even the oxen from his own stock.  But, David knew better.  He knew that any offering without personal cost, would not be an offering at all.  It is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it, “cheap grace.”  Without payment, David knows that his agreement with God would be null and void.  

So, how is it that we receive forgiveness without a costly sacrifice? the answer is that we don’t.  Thankfully, the full price was paid, for us, in advance.  According to Hebrews 10:14, Jesus is our “single offering” and  “he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”  What does that mean?  It means that our agreement with God is paid in full.  There is no more consideration due.  It is worth pausing here.  Think about how valuable Jesus’ consideration was.  He effectively paid for all sins, for every person for all time.  It is promised in 1 John 2:1-2.  It says, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

If the valuable consideration for our sin has already been given, then the only thing remaining is our agreement.  How does that work?  Romans 10:9-10 says that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Trusted Advisors

2 Samuel 12, Psalms 44

Who were you created to be?  That’s a big question.  For me, that question stirs up all kinds of thoughts and fantasies about what is possible.  If I am not careful, those thoughts and fantasies will turn into selfish musings about power and greatness.  Before I know it, I’ll convince myself that God also wants these very things for me.  Why wouldn’t he?  After-all, he created me in his image, he even sent his son for my redemption.  I have everything going for me, right?  Clearly, there is a fault in my thinking.  Without help, that thinking will settle into my heart, affecting my soul.  Thankfully, God knows this about me (and you).  Thankfully, God works strategically in our lives to protect our souls from serious damage.  One way that God does this is through other people.

God strategically placed Nathan in David’s life.  We don’t get the details of how their relationship was built, but David fully trusted in Nathan.  He relied on him for advice.  All the time.  Why?  How did Nathan earn this place of trust and honor for King David?  God.  David put his faith and trust in Nathan because Nathan knew God.  Intimately. David knew that whatever answer Nathan gave, it would be the will of God.  This is how he became the most trusted friend and advisor.

Of course, being a most trusted friend and advisor is tough business.  Sure, there are fun times that come with happiness and laughter.  There are also sad times that bring tears and mourning.  A real friend, however, does more.  They take the tough step of reminding us who we are created to be.  They are willing to get messy with us.  They challenge our thinking and expose our flaws.  Nathan exposes David in a big way.  Read again 1 Samuel 12:7-12.  He doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t sugar coat anything.  Nathan did this for one purpose, with one goal.  To point David back to God.  The God who created him.  The God who has a bigger purpose for him.

Thankfully, I have a Nathan in my life.  In fact, there are several people that continuously point me to God.  Some, know me well enough to poke at specific flaws in my thinking.  I would love to say that my response is always like David’s in verse 13, but its not.  The Nathan in my life has to push through my walls and overcome my defenses with determination and persistence.  I am convinced that, like David, God has put Nathan’s in all of our lives.  If we let them, if we listen to them, if they are Godly, they will help us become everything that God created us to be.

Death

Today, in 1 Samuel 31, we see the death of Saul.  His death wasn’t just any death, either.  Saul suffered the greatest defeat.  Quick and painless, it was not.  To start, Saul watched as his army was overcome by the Philistines.  Their press forward caused many of the Israelite warriors to simply give up the cause.  They fled, abandoning Saul, their leader.  The few loyal warriors were Saul’s own family.  But, instead of comfort, they brought pain as he witnesses their slaying at the hand of the Philistines.  As the pain becomes too much to bear, Saul  concedes that the end is near.  The emotional defeat is complete and the physical is not far behind.  With the piercing pain of arrows, Saul is badly wounded.  His last effort to save a shred of dignity is to have his trusted aid kill him.  When the man refuses, Saul has no other choice.  The only way to escape more torment is to fall on his own sword.  Death is the only option.

I’ve wrestled with this story for several days.  The despair is overwhelming.  The complete absence of hope crushes my spirit.  I read and re-read it searching desperately for something redeeming.  It’s not there.  It doesn’t exist.  I am forced to accept Saul’s complete destruction.  Thankfully, today I discovered something new.  It appeared for me as I read the Chet Bandy’s post, “Leadership Lessons From David.”  He presented a picture of David’s life that stands in such stark contrast to Saul’s.  

Saul took action following his own direction.  In 1 Samuel 13, Saul decided to offer the sacrifice on his own, and not follow Gods plan for it.  Compare this with David who took action by after the Lord’s direction.

Saul used his own wisdom and made a ridiculous vow in 1 Samuel 14.  It caused needless suffering and turmoil within his own family.  David, however asked for the Lord’s wisdom and direction.

Saul made excuses for not following God’s direction, attempting to twist the failure into an offering in 1 Samuel 15.  David, on the other hand, makes no excuses and quickly seeks correction in 1 Samuel 24.

Saul solicits answers from a medium and not going to the Lord in prayer in 1 Samuel 28.  Contrast this with Davids effort.  In 1 Samuel 30:6 he seeks and finds strength in the Lord. 

Perhaps the most striking part of Saul’s story is the ease at which it happened.  It reminds me of the phrase first slowly, then suddenly.  You see, God didn’t yank him from the throne immediately.  In fact, our gracious God stuck with him, desperately wanting to atone for him.  Alas, Saul did not respond.  His continual denial, betrayal and last rejection of God became his undoing.

Ironically, my final analysis of 1 Samuel 31 revealed hope.  This hope, however, is only found within the context of Saul’s entire life.  It’s revealed in God’s grace upon grace.  God presented grace as patience toward Saul, waiting for his acknowledgement.  The same is true for you and me.  We have grace today for our failures.  God still loves us, despite our failure to follow and honor him.  Only one thing is required to stave off death.  Acknowledge Him.

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33 (ESV)

Expectations

1 Samuel 19, Psalms 20

What do you believe about prayers?  Does God answer them?  Does he answer them the way that we want?  Your beliefs about prayer also reveal what you believe about God.  For example, do you believe that he for you, or against you?   Consider your position as you read Psalm 20. 

v1a – How do you expect the Lord to answer you in your day of trouble?  

v1b – God protected Jacob, how would you like for him to protect you?  

v2 – Do you ask for his consecrated, most holy and perfect help?

v3 – We dare not remind him of our meager offerings…

v4 – Does he know your plans and heart’s desire?

v5a – Are you thankful for the life that he provides?

v5b – Are you waiving his flag, remembering and celebrating his name?

As I considered these questions for myself, I made an interesting and scary observation.  I discovered that I am want to leave them undefined and unanswered.  I think we all are.  We think that doing so will keep us safe.  It wont.  Instead, it holds us back, preventing us from reaching our potential.  The very potential that God, our creator, endowed us with.  Even worse, when we believe that God cannot or will not help us, it robs him of glory.