Substance over Form

Today’s reading:  Matthew 5:21-26, Psalm 61

Substance over form is an accounting principle used to help ensure that financial statements give a complete, relevant, and accurate picture of an organization’s transactions and events. The root of this principle is in accounting theory, but it applies to so much more than financial statements.  In fact, I challenge my team with this quite often – are we more interested in looking like we “follow the rules”, or are we truly committed making informed decisions that are in the best interest of our customer?  Almost every time, the answer is the latter.  We are responsible for looking below the surface, making sure the substance of our decision is rooted in our company mission and shared values.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he often taught through the use of parables. If his audience didn’t pay attention to the substance over simply the form of his teaching in this method, or had hardened hearts, they couldn’t understand his message.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5, was different. It was much more straightforward, as Jesus categorically outlined key principles for leading a Godly life.  Jesus began our passage for today in Matthew 5:21 by quoting the law of Moses – Do not commit murder.  If we stopped right here, most of us would walk away feeling okay about ourselves.  I have never even come close to taking the life of another person, so I’m good on this principle, right?  Not so fast.  We must stop and reflect – like the Pharisees, are we more interested looking like we “follow the rules”, or are we committed to Jesus and are we passionate about changing our hearts to look like his?  If the latter, we must go beyond the first sentence of this passage to get to the substance of this message.

In the very next verse, Jesus dug deeper and shared context on the true purpose behind God’s law against murder. “But I say to you, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council.  And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).  The substance of Jesus’ message isn’t simply on the physical act of murder, it is about anger.  Hmm…that hits a little closer to home.

Jesus did not say that anger itself is sin. In fact, we can be angry without sinning, as Jesus himself demonstrated (see the story of Jesus and the money changers in John 2).  It is what we choose to do with anger and what we choose to do because of anger that makes it sinful.  Unresolved anger and bitterness eventually lead us to intentionally harm the people who made us angry, which is sin.  Even if we never get to the point of actually taking action, however, harboring anger in our heart is still sin because it draws a wedge in our relationship with others and our relationship with God.  We cannot claim to love God while we hate other people.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).

Do you struggle with unresolved anger? Don’t gloss over the substance of these verses thinking they don’t apply to you.  Will you consider the counsel in verses 23 and 24, and make it a priority to reconcile with the person(s) that caused your anger?  It isn’t easy, but God promises to make a way (Isaiah 43:16).

Bitterness

Today’s reading:  2 Samuel 17, Psalm 49

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Bitterness is defined as anger and disappointment resulting from unfair treatment; resentment. The definition of malice is the intention or desire to do evil; ill will.  Our scripture in 2 Samuel 17 today is a great illustration of the destruction caused when people hang on to bitterness and eventually allow it to turn into malice.

Earlier in the reign of King David, Ahithophel had been one of David’s most trusted advisers. In 2 Samuel chapters 15 and 16 this week, however, we saw him begin to take a lead part in Absalom’s revolt against David. What happened to turn Ahithophel from a trusted advisor in to an enemy?  Bitterness and malice.  In addition to being the King’s counselor, Ahithophel was also Bathsheba’s grandfather.  Because of David’s adulterous behavior with Bathsheba, his arrangement of Uriah’s death, and the family heartache it caused, Ahithophel was bitter with David.

In 2 Samuel 17, Ahithophel turned his bitterness into a plan to kill David.  Instead of just executing the plan, Absalom decided to get a second opinion from Hushai.  While Ahithophel’s plan was clearly more logical and would have resulted in fewer casualties, Absalom didn’t choose it.  Why?  Verse 14 tells us the Lord intervened in order to frustrate Ahithophel’s plan and bring disaster on Absalom.  What Absalom failed to recognize was that King David was still God’s chosen leader, and Hushai was still loyal to him.

When Ahithophel recognized that Hushai had outwitted him by getting Absalom to accept a plan that ultimately gave David the advantage, he foresaw the Absalom’s defeat. Verse 23 tells us that Ahithophel responded by going home, getting his things in order, and then hanging himself.  Ahithophel’s bitterness provoked him to create a plan to kill David, but in the end, Ahithophel was the one who ended up paying the ultimate price.

The moral of the story – God’s plans will always prevail.

Do you sometimes feel like you haven’t been treated fairly? I know I do.  Even though I’ve tried to do what was right, it isn’t uncommon for me to feel like I’ve gotten the short end of the stick.  Fortunately I have never found myself being bitter to the point of plotting murder, but overcoming bitterness and resentment after feeling like a victim of dishonesty and manipulation is really hard.  Taking the high road and choosing to forgive over harboring bitterness and seeking some kind of revenge is God’s plan, but often a place I cannot easily get to on my own.

Fortunately we serve an incredibly patient God who loves us and has our best interest in mind.  We can forgive others because he forgave us first.  We can love others because he loved us first.  Hanging on to bitterness and resentment eventually results in self-destruction.  Today, will you let go and trust God to help you make a different choice?  We may not have clarity on what every step of the journey will bring, but the final outcome is definitely certain.  God’s plans will prevail.  Always.

Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall (Psalm 55:22).

Waiting

Today’s reading:  2 Samuel 5, Psalm 37

How good are you at waiting?  Honestly, for me it depends on the situation.  At 7:29 on Thursday morning last week I wasn’t very good at it.  I was trying to drop my kids at school so I could get to an 8am meeting, thus I was only willing to wait about 10 seconds for the Jeep in front of me to pass the semi pulled over on the side of University Street.  After a VERY LONG 10 seconds, I looked behind me, poked my nose around the Jeep to make sure no one was coming, then stepped on the gas.  Ten seconds later, I had passed both the Jeep and the semi, and went on my way without incident.  No harm, no foul, except perhaps that I called the Jeep driver a moron as I sped around her.  Probably not a the best example of patience, safe driving, or using kind words for my 11 and 13 year old children that were sitting in the backseat.

Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off (Psalm 37:34).

David was not a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of guy.  He was exceptionally good at waiting on God.  Consider this – back in 1 Samuel 16:13, Samuel went to the house of Jesse to find David and anoint him King.  From there, it was about fifteen years before David actually became King over Judah in 2 Samuel 2.  It was then another seven years before David became King over the entire nation of Israel in 2 Samuel 5, our text for today.  This is twenty-two years of waiting.  Yikes, I couldn’t wait even ten seconds last week before I took matters into my own hands!

So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.  David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.  At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years (2 Samuel 5:3-5).

If you had to wait more than 20 years for something that was promised to you, what would you do?  I think we can learn a lot from what David did and didn’t do during his time of waiting.

David’s increased his reliance on, and intimacy with, God – David was the author of approximately half of the Psalms (76 of 150).  As we’ve been reading through these, have you noticed how many of them are about David waiting and relying God for deliverance?  His words are incredibly personal.  They show us that waiting helps develop our patience.  It helps us put our faith in the word of God, rather than what we see or experience.

  • But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3).
  • In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).
  • Lord my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me (Psalm 7:1).
  •  I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Psalm16:2).
  • I love you, O Lord, my strength (Psalm18:1).
  • The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want (Psalm 23:1).
  • Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long (Psalm 25:5).

David did not check out and passively wait for God – David defeated Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, he fled from Saul who was trying to kill him in 1 Samuel 19-22, delivered the people of Keilah in 1 Samuel 23, and destroyed the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 30:26-31.  In these stories, we see a consistent pattern.  When presented with a situation, David inquired of the Lord before he acted, he obeyed the Lord’s direction, and he gave Glory to God for the victory.  After becoming King, David followed this same pattern.  (See the story of David defeating the Philistines in today’s reading – 2 Samuel 5:19).

What are you waiting for today?  Will you follow David’s example and use this time to draw near to God?  Do not be discouraged.  God makes all things beautiful in his time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  His promises are always worth waiting for!

Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off (Psalm 37:34).

 

Revenge or Reconciliation

Today’s reading:  1 Samuel 24, Psalm 25

Chapter 24 of 1 Samuel opens with Saul and three thousand troops headed out to search for David. Ever since David killed Goliath in Chapter 17, women began to praise David more than Saul, and Saul was enraged with jealousy.  He was desperately trying to track down and get rid of David.  Hence, David was running for his life.

The plot became more interesting in verse 3 when Saul entered the cave in which David was hiding. He didn’t know David was in there, he was simply answering “the call of nature” and needed a semi-private place to go to the bathroom.  In short, this was David’s perfect opportunity.  God seemingly delivered Saul right into his hands.  Instead of running away, David could have gone on the offensive, taken out Saul, and claimed the throne that was coming to him anyway, right?

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? I’ll be honest, I can’t identify exactly.  I’ve never been in such a desperate situation where I had to run and/or hide from someone who was literally trying to kill me.  I have, however, been in situations where people were jealous.  Where others didn’t like me or what I stood for and, as a result, tried to harm me.  In most of these cases, I’ve had to make a choice between getting revenge and pursuing reconciliation.  My heart often wanted revenge while my head always knew reconciliation was the right choice.

Let’s take a closer look at how David worked through this this situation. We know he went on to be the greatest King God’s people ever had.  The Bible refers to him as “a man after God’s own heart”.  Because he sought reconciliation instead of revenge, he produced a completely unexpected outcome in this situation.

  • David made every effort to show mercy to his enemy (1 Samuel 24: 7-11) – In this case, David respected Saul’s position of power. Although Saul was trying to kill him, David knew it wasn’t right to take the life of another, especially God’s anointed King. He didn’t harm Saul, nor would he let any of his men harm Saul even though the opportunity was right in front of them.
  • David made every effort to communicate and build understanding with his enemy (1 Samuel 24:12-15) – By revealing the piece of robe he cut off, David helped Saul understand the opportunity he had to kill him. He went on to clearly profess his commitment to God’s authority, and allowed God to judge the situation.
  • David made every effort to be reconciled with his enemy (1 Samuel 24:16-22) – When Saul realized David’s genuine intent to make good from Saul’s evil actions, he asked David to have mercy on his family and descendants. David promised to honor Saul’s request, even after what Saul had done to him. In 2 Samuel 9, we will see David’s follow through on this promise when he invited Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, to live in his palace.

Will you take a few minutes to reflect on David’s approach and his commitment to honor his promises? He humbled himself, returned good for evil, turned hate into honor, and glorified God through a hopeless situation.  This is an example worth following.

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).

Fear the Lord and Obey His Commands

Today’s reading:  1 Samuel 12, Psalm 13

Samuel faithfully served God’s people as their spiritual leader for many years. Our text today covers the farewell address Samuel delivered as he prepared to pass the torch of leadership on to Saul.  Saul was the first earthly king to be appointed over God’s people.

Samuel’s opening remark (verse 1-2) reminds God’s people that appointing an earthly king to reign over them was their idea, not his. Why would he begin with this statement?  God knew an earthly king was not in the best interest of his people.  Nevertheless, he gave them what they wanted anyway.  Although it wasn’t the direction he would have chosen, Samuel also obeyed God and anointed Saul as their king.  Samuel continued to be their spiritual leader, offering guidance on how to keep their hearts right with God – fear the Lord and obey his commands.

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good!  But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors (1 Samuel 12:14-15).

Have you ever read the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Kings? If you have, you know God’s people did not heed Samuel’s counsel.  For almost 500 years, they were ruled by 42 different kings and one queen.  By my count, only 8 of these 43 rulers (>20%) followed the ways of the Lord.  The rest were anywhere from kind of bad to downright evil.  Ouch, those are some pretty severe consequences!

Can you think of a time in your life you’ve had a similar experience? A time when you asked God to give you something that wasn’t in your best interest, but he gave it to you anyway?  How did it turn out for you?  If you’re like me, you probably suffered through some consequences you wish you’d have avoided.  Perhaps you live with a little regret.  May I offer these word so of encouragement today?  Stop agonizing over your poor choices.  It isn’t too late to confess and get your heart right with God.  Fear the Lord, obey his commands, and he can bring good out of your poor choices.

Consider this – if God’s people had followed his ways throughout the Old Testament, would they have needed salvation through Jesus Christ? Aren’t you glad God had a plan to use their poor choices for good?  Aren’t you glad he still has a plan to use our poor choices for good?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

The choice is yours

Today’s reading:  Joshua 16, Proverbs 16

Remember in April of 2016 when I told you I am an “accounting dork”, love using numbers to tell a story, and often can’t resist the urge to count and/or reconcile most everything?  As we started to read about how the Promised Land was divided among the tribes in Joshua 13 this week, I found myself with a familiar urge to reconcile.  In the book of Genesis we read about Jacob’s 12 sons, who became the 12 tribes amongst whom the Promised Land was divided in Joshua 13-19, who are the same 12 tribes cited in Revelation 7 where we read about the preservation of God’s people during the end times.  In theory these tribes should be the same in all three books, but they don’t reconcile exactly:

Genesis 29-30 Joshua 13-19 Revelation 7
Rueben Rueben Rueben
Simeon Simeon Simeon
Judah Judah Judah
Levi Manasseh Levi
Dan Dan Manasseh
Naphtali Naphtali Naphtali
Gad Gad Gad
Asher Asher Asher
Issachar Issachar Issachar
Zebulun Zebulun Zebulun
Joseph Ephraim Joseph
Benjamin Benjamin Benjamin

Hmm… We see inconsistencies with Levi, Joseph, Manasseh, Ephraim and Dan.  Are you curious as to why?  I certainly was, and went digging to see what I could figure out.  The three factors I think account for the inconsistency between Genesis and Joshua are:

  • In Genesis 49, Rueben, Jacob’s firstborn son, lost his birthright when he slept with his father’s concubine. Jacob gave the birthright to Joseph, firstborn of his second wife Rachel. Remember, a birthright is essentially a double portion of inheritance.
  • Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim as his own sons in Genesis 48.
  • In Joshua 13:33, we also learned that no land was given to Levi, the tribe of priests. Here is how I reconciled the tribes in Genesis to Joshua:
12 Sons of Jacob in Genesis 29-30
+2 Add Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were adopted by Jacob (Genesis 48)
-1 Take away Joseph, as his double inheritance was accounted for by his sons
-1 Take away Levi, as this priestly tribe did not receive land (Joshua 13:33)
12

Reconciling the tribes in Joshua to the tribes named in Revelation was a little harder. Why were the tribes of Levi and Joseph added back?  Perhaps because land is no longer the “inheritance” of Christfollowers under the new covenant?  Perhaps just to reconcile back to 12?  I’m not totally sure.  I do, however, understand why the tribes of Dan and Ephraim were removed from the list of God’s people in Revelation 7.  It is because these tribes were worshipping idols (See Judges 18:30-31 and Hosea 4:17).  The Bible is clear, those who worship idols are not God’s people and should expect nothing but judgment from God. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5).

Here is how I reconciled Joshua 13-19 to Revelation 7:

12 Tribes who were allocated land (Joshua 13-19)
+2 Add back Levi and Joseph
-2 Take away Dan and Ephraim (Judges 18:30-31, Hosea 4:17)
12

Now we know where everyone went, and we mostly understand why. So what?  What is the benefit of this exercise?  I believe it illustrates God’s incredible patience, and willingness to use imperfect people to accomplish his purposes.   It gets messy sometimes, but don’t be deceived. God will accomplish his purposes with or without us.  We can either choose to be part of his plan, or he’ll leave us behind and move on.

The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster (Proverbs 16:4).

Strategic Planning

Today’s reading: Joshua 4, Proverbs 4

Today as I was preparing for my first staff meeting of the year, I pulled out our 2018 Annual Operating Plan to review.  This plan sets out the goals and objectives my department intends to achieve over the next twelve months.  While important, and intended to guide our actions in the near-term, this plan doesn’t tell the whole story.  In fact, without a view to our organization’s vision, mission and strategic plan, it could seem fairly trivial.  When looked at as part of the bigger picture, however, my department’s Annual Operating Plan with its specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound objectives helps keep us on the right path.  While we can’t achieve our aspirational state in just twelve months, we can certainly derail it if we don’t make progress on our Operating Plan this year.

As I opened Proverbs 4 to prepare for today’s post, Solomon’s words took me back to strategic planning. In 1 Kings, Solomon articulated his aspirational state when he asked God for wisdom. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people (1 Kings 3:9).

Do you have a strategic plan? Not one for your team at work, but one for you personally?  Have you articulated your aspirational state?  If not, what guides your daily choices?  May I challenge you to consider following Christ as the vision and mission of your life?  The words of Proverbs 4:18-19 describe an aspirational state I believe is worth pursuing.

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble (Proverbs 4:18-19).

Likewise, the words of Proverbs 4:25-27 describe tactics to guide your daily choices.

Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.  Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.  Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil (Proverbs 4:25-27).

My refuge

Today’s reading:  Psalm 142

Psalm 142 was written by David in a cave where he was hiding from Saul.  Scared, confined and alone, David was nearing rock bottom.

Have you ever felt no one really cared what happened to you?  I have felt this way more times in my life than I’d like to admit.  As I’ve grown older, I’d also like to say that turning to God has become instinctual in these types of situations.  But alas, my natural, sinful reaction begins with self-reliance nearly every time – I withdraw from others, get inside my own head and begin to churn the issue.  I evaluate the factors I can control versus the factors I can’t control, then come out with a game plan.  It isn’t uncommon that my plan, at least initially, is built on my own views and opinions, as I have kept to myself and failed to seek God’s guidance or even the wise counsel of others.  This self-reliant attitude is not from God.  While it may give me temporary hope by helping me define what I’m going to do next, it seldom results in a God-honoring, happy ending.

Today’s text in Psalm 142 gives us insight into David’s reaction to this type of a situation. Rather than relying on himself, David declares God as his refuge, his safety and shelter.  Let’s take a look.

I cry aloud to the Lord;
I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble
(Psalm 142:1-2).

David began by seeking God’s help – he didn’t withdraw or silently churn the issue inside his own head.  Hebrews 4 tells us that this is right where God wants us. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life
(Psalm 142:3-4).

David was honest with God – he confessed that he was overwhelmed and helpless.  Again, this is right where God wants us.  My body and my heart fail, but God is my heart’s rock and my share forever (Psalm 73:26). He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness” (1 Corinthians 1:9).

I cry to you, Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry,
for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me
(Psalm 142:5-6).

David declared God as his refuge – his only hope. Did you notice his words at the end of verse 5 – “my portion in the land of the living”?  Following Jesus is not just to secure our place in eternity.  Rather, he is our source of help and hope every day.  Like a shepherd, he is constantly watching over and caring for us.  Jesus said, I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11 Common English Bible translation).

Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
because of your goodness to me
(Psalm 142:7).

David anticipated God’s answer to prayer and turned his focus from himself to God – he knew God’s deliverance wasn’t just to make his life easier, it was for God’s glory.  David affirmed God’s goodness and prepared to praise his name.

I’ll be honest, when I started this post, I began by approaching it somewhat academically.  But as you know, God has a way of speaking to us when we least expect it.  The more I worked on the message of Psalm 142, the more personal it became.  Over the last few years of my life, I’ll admit I have felt more useless, helpless and unfulfilled than I can remember feeling at any other time in my life.  David’s model in the seven verses of Psalm 142 is just the reminder I needed – Get out of my own head.  Turn my focus from myself to God.  Patiently rely on him for direction and deliverance.  Praise his name.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).

The Parable of the Sower, Soils

Today’s reading:  Mark 4, Psalm 128

As I studied Mark 4 this week, I found myself in familiar territory.  I’ve read these parables and stories about Jesus and his followers many times.  Even so, I was still struggling with what the message of this post should be.  I went to my Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House), as I often do, for help.  There I found a few good reminders about Jesus’ use of parables.

  • Using familiar subjects to teach spiritual truths required Jesus’ listeners to engage their hearts and minds to understand the story. This engagement made the message meaningful to those who were open to learning. To those whose hearts and minds were closed, the message remained hidden.
  • Jesus’ parables generally had one main point. When reading them today, we must be careful NOT to go beyond what message Jesus intended to teach with the story.

So there I sat with Mark 4. Were my heart and mind engaged?  Was I open to learning?  I worked on…  The chapter begins with the Parable of the Sower, or the Parable of the Soils, as it is identified in my Bible.  Verses 3-8 tell the story, then verses 15-20 provide the interpretation.  Jesus said, the farmer is the one who brings God’s message to others, while the seed represents those who hear the message.  He went on to explain the four different types of soil on which the seeds may fall:

  • Hard soil – those who hear God’s message, but Satan lures them away before they accept it.
  • Rocky soil – those who joyfully receive God’s message, but don’t grow deep roots. When they run into persecution, they fall away.
  • Thorny soil – those who hear and accept God’s message, but the pull of earthly desires keeps them from maturing and producing fruit.
  • Good soil – those who hear and accept God’s message, then multiply and yield a great harvest for God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ message here was all about the soil, and how it represented the condition of our hearts, right? Our hearts clearly need to be like the good soil in order to be pleasing to God.  Seems pretty straight forward, but therein was my struggle.  Do the four types of soil represent four different types of people, some are pleasing to God and others are not?  Does this mean some receive salvation and some do not?  Perhaps our hearts may have represented a different type of soil at different times of our life.  If this is the case, is it possible to lose our salvation?   I wonder if different types of soil may even be present in our hearts at the same time.  Do you find yourself more open to apply God’s calling in some parts of your life than others?  For example, do you easily respond to God’s call to worship him and fellowship with other believers, but at the same time you struggle to sacrificially give of your time and money in service for his kingdom?  Hmmm… If the only type of soil pleasing to God is the good soil, how will any of us ever measure up?  Does salvation require a heart of 100% pure, good soil all of the time?  Maybe this parable isn’t as straightforward as I originally thought.

As I continued to study, the light bulb finally came on…  Jesus’ message in the Parable of the Soils isn’t really about the soil at all.  Rather, the Parable of the Sower is truly about the Sower!  See, left to our own devices, our hearts will never be 100% pure, good soil.  Even so, God continues to lavishly scatter the seeds of his gospel message on our unworthy souls.  Our only hope is Jesus Christ, our Savior.  His sacrifice on the cross paid the price for our sins.  It is only through him we can ever measure up to God’s standards.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9).

 

Peace

Today’s reading:  Psalm 122, John 20

I spent this week in Columbus, OH on business. Because it really doesn’t save time to fly, and since it is a lot less expensive, I just picked up a company car and drove the 5.5 hours.  For some reason this week, I found the drive to and from Columbus very nostalgic.  It was either the Christmas music to which I was listening or simply the power of suggestion (as I smiled when I saw the I75 sign for Toledo, OH), but it brought back memories of driving to my Grandpa and Grandma York’s house in Toledo for Christmas when I was a little girl.

Back in the mid-1970’s I don’t remember having anything but a radio in the car. We probably listened to it quite a bit, but I mostly remembering singing on long car rides.  As preacher’s kids, my sister and I grew up in church.  Hymns, Christmas carols and praise & worship songs were about the only songs to which we knew all the words (we also knew the words to The Gambler by Kenny Rogers, but that is a story of stern motherly discipline for another time).  We sang our hearts out on those rides.

As I read Psalm 122 this week, it made me think of singing songs on the way to Grandpa and Grandma York’s house at Christmas. Psalms 120-134 are referred to as Songs of Ascent.  These were songs of praise and worship to God sung by Jews who were walking to Jerusalem for annual Jewish festivals.  The city of Jerusalem sits on a high hill.  No matter where you’re coming from, you have to travel uphill to get there, thus the name Songs of Ascent.

Psalm 122:6-9 talks about peace. Very fitting for a time of year when it is common to hear the word peace or phase peace on earth.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity
(Psalm 122:6-9).

Vocabulary.com defines peace as a stress-free state that comes when there’s no fighting or war; everything co-existing in perfect harmony and freedom.  I’d say this is a pretty common understanding of the word “peace” in the 21st century. The peace about which the Jews were singing in Psalm 122, however, was much more than just the absence of conflict.  According to the Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House), the Jews were singing about a peace that brought completeness, health, justice, prosperity and protection.  This isn’t a peace this world can provide, but one that can only come from faith in God.  This peace is the confident assurance that God works all things together according to his divine plan; a comfort that he has every situation under control.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week we read through John 14- 17. These three chapters are often referred to as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse – his guidance to the eleven disciples (sans Judas) after the last supper, before his crucifixion.  Jesus was trying to prepare them for life without him.  The disciples still didn’t completely understand his plan, and it was causing them anxiety.  Think about it.  These eleven men left everything to follow Jesus, and now he was talking about leaving.  How could they be at peace?  Can you identify with their fear and unrest?  Jesus comforted the disciples with these words:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Rise, let us go from here (John 14:27-31).

Do you see Jesus’ words of peace? – “…for the prince of this world is coming…he has no hold over me…”  Knowing that Jesus has all power over Satan is the source of our confident assurance.  Jesus is our peace.