Wednesday June 2, 2021 – The importance of context

John 8:31, 32  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The context in which a scripture is set is frequently very important to both the understanding of the verse and its application.  Unfortunately Christians and people in general have a tendency at times to over look this fact.   A good illustration of this point is Ps 14:1, which contains the statement, “There is no God.”  But the context makes a world of difference.  The entire verse reads, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

This importance of context really applies to today’s verses.  The portion that is so frequently quoted is the 32nd verse, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  It’s usually presented as a Biblical promise that one is set free simply by hearing or recognizing the truth.   But a closer examination reveals that the context has a very important qualifier in verse 31.

This promise is part of an “If… Then…” situation.  If the first condition is true, then the benefit or desired result will follow.  If the first condition is NOT true, then it typically won’t.  The full context presents the two components of what Jesus is saying: 1) IF you hold to my teaching…2) THEN you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

The context provides a lot of clarity.  Jesus is also defining what is required to be a disciple, who then can be the recipient of the promise.  It’s not just a matter of acknowledging Him as Lord.  A disciple is one who holds fast to His teachings and lives in accordance with them.  The promise specifically applies to that individual who is a disciple.

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Tuesday June 1, 2021 – Enabled to go on the heights

Habakkuk 3:19  The Sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.

Have you ever watched videos of deer or mountain goats up in the mountains on rocky terrain?  How these animals move is amazing.  I saw one involving snow leopards.  The leopard went after a ram and it was unbelievable how that ram kept its footing and moved at high speed where I couldn’t even imagine walking!

They have the ability to walk and run in very precarious places.  Such places are part of their lives.  Walking and running on the heights is normal for them.  I never thought that much about the running aspect of it until I saw the video of the leopard chasing the ram.  Given that such precarious places aren’t my thing, I could only imagine moving slowly and deliberately.

But, when we recognize that the Lord is our strength, He does things to us.  He gives us abilities that we wouldn’t otherwise have.  The more we trust Him and walk in His ways, the more we are able to handle whatever comes, whether good or bad, with grace and confidence. This includes anything that life can confront us with even if it be a tsunami, earthquake or terrorism.  There are times when decisions need to be made rapidly.  He will make our “feet” like the feet of a deer to handle them, even if things are moving faster than we would like.

No matter what happens, our desire is to always respond in a manner that glorifies our Lord.  Whether we receive great recognition, or great loss, He is our strength.  He is the One we rejoice in.  He is the source of our joy.  The Lord wants others to see Him in our responses.  He wants to use our example to create within them a thirst and hunger for Him.

Isn’t it wonderful that we have so many opportunities to bring pleasure to Him, by responding faithfully in every situation we face!

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Monday May 31, 2021 – The true story: No turning back. No turning back.

Luke 5:11  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

This morning I was thinking of the decision made to follow Jesus and I thought of this well-known hymn. I didn’t know that it came from India.  The story behind it is truly moving.  Think of missionaries in a region of India risking their lives among violent people groups to share the story of Jesus.  This song describes what happens to one family when they decide to follow Jesus.

Here is a 5 minute YouTube that includes both the story and the song:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALP9f4QVIoA&feature=related

I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

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Sunday May 30, 2021 – When are two sons not two sons?

Ishmael and Isaac  – Which one is the child of promise?

When are two sons, not two sons? Answer: God’s view of Abraham’s offspring – Ishmael and Isaac.  While both boys had Abraham as their father, only one was the child of promise.

Genesis 17:3-6 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

Genesis 17:18-21 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”  Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.  And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.  But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”

Genesis 22:2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Genesis 22:16-18  and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Hebrews 11:17-18 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.

Galatians 3:8-9 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”  So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Galatians 3:26-29 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 4:28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.

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Saturday May 29, 2021 – Being unable to recognize reality

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Have you thought about the power inherent in humility? It enables us to see and respond to truth and wisdom.  Humility prevents the bulwark of pride from being built into a wall of unteachableness that prevents us from recognizing truth when we see it.

A frightening thing about the blindness of pride is that we can be completely unaware at how faulty our judgment is when it comes to recognizing wisdom and truth.  There’s an example in Scripture of a type of blindness that is useful.

In 2 Kings 6:8-23 we have the story of the king of Aram becoming enraged because whenever he planned an attack on Israel, the prophet Elisha warned the king of Israel exactly where the attack would take place.  Time and again the planned attacks failed.  So the king Aram sent his army to Dothan to capture Elisha.

Elisha prayed that the Lord would strike them with blindness and He did.  But when we read the account it’s apparent that this blindness is really unique.  The army can all still see but they are unable to recognize the reality of what they are seeing.

Elisha goes out and tells them that “this is not the road and this is not the city.  Follow me and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.”  He then leads them to Samaria and when they enter city the Lord opens their eyes.  Fortunately for them, Elisha tells the king of Israel to have mercy on them.

I’ve found this story to be a very helpful one because it describes a blindness that simply prevents them from recognizing reality.  Although this one was supernaturally induced, a similar type of blindness is apparent repeatedly in Scripture.  Just think of the inability of the religious leaders to recognize the reality of Jesus!

An attribute of those who are perishing is that wisdom is deemed to be foolishness.  This is blindness that fails to recognize reality.  The message of the cross is the power of God.  Hopefully our lives will always be a wonderful demonstration of the wonder of His salvation – and help the ‘blind’ to see.

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Friday May 28, 2021 – The ‘opportunities’ testing brings

James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

In the Lord’s prayer there is the passage, “and lead us not into temptation”.  I heard a Bible teacher many years ago paraphrase this in a very helpful way, “Lord, let there not be anything in my heart that would cause you to put me to the test.”  God does not tempt anyone with evil but He does provide testing situations that will bring things into the light that need to be exposed and dealt with.

In the story of the prodigal son the return of the younger brother afforded the older brother just such an ‘opportunity’.  The older brother reacted to his father’s positive response to the return of his younger brother.  His negative reaction revealed much that was going on in his heart that both he and his father might not have been aware of.  Even though he was apparently doing things ‘right’ on the outside, his heart contained much that was not ‘right’.

We might not realize it but this is a primary way that God deals with us.  He allows circumstances to come into our lives that reveal what is going on within us.  Frequently these circumstances involve unpleasant or difficult things.  We might respond rightly – or in the event we don’t He makes us aware of what is within us and gives us the gift of an opportunity to repent!

Sometimes this happens where only He and we are aware of what needs to be repented of.  Other times it happens with more people involved.  In either situation, we have a choice to make.  Are we going to recognize our need for repentance or are we going to ignore what the Holy Spirit is showing us about ourselves?  This process plays such an important role in His transforming us into the image of Jesus.

Hopefully, when such things happen in our lives and we respond wrongly, we will recognize our sin and repent.  Further it is important to cultivate a heart of gratitude for such workings of the Holy Spirit.  If He didn’t allow us to see our sin, we would never change.  Think of it this way.  He allows us to see where the ‘termites’ are in our dwelling.  And who wouldn’t want to get rid of the termites?

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Thursday May 27, 2021 – Jesus will make a way for you

John 16:33  I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world.  (Amplified)

“God will make a way where there seems to be no way.  He works in ways I cannot see.  He will make a way for me.”  These are the words of a wonderful song that speak to the heart of the issue for us.  We are surrounded by tribulation, trials, distress and frustration – just like Jesus said.  But in the midst of it all, we have reason for good cheer.  Jesus has overcome the world.

The ‘world’ would have us believe that our only reality is to be dominated by anxiety and fear.  Since so much of the negative stuff going on is beyond our control, we are tempted to succumb to the world’s view that we are – or about to be – victims.  The question, “What if…?” becomes a dominant theme in our thinking.  The anxiety and fear provide a fertile ground for anger and resentment that will have a profound negative impact in our lives
and relationships.  We struggle with feeling trapped with no way out.  If life was a Monopoly game, we feel like we’re stuck in Jail.

Fortunately, Jesus has “Get out of Jail” cards for us!  We don’t have to remain mired in the world’s emotional/mental responses to tribulation, trials, distress and frustration.  Better still, the Lord let’s us know that it’s not just having those negative feeling go away, He
enables us to have good cheer in the midst of it all.

We, as Jesus followers, are equipped to walk through everything with courage and confidence!  We are not victims!  Think of the ‘refreshing breeze’ we can be to those around us.  Think of being asked, “How can you be so calm and cheerful with all this junk going on?”  No matter what happens to us – the courage, confidence and joy are to be constant.  We are not victims.  Jesus has overcome the world and we are in Him.

Here is a link to the wonderful song by Don Moen:

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Wednesday May 26, 2021 – You’ve got a friend…

2 Corinthians 5:7  We live by faith, not by sight.

Do you remember a song by James Taylor titled ‘You’ve Got A Friend’?  The words fit the times many of us are going through and I’ve got some of the words below.  Who is the friend you think of when you read them?

When you’re down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, whoa nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights.

You just call out my name,
And you know where ever I am
I’ll come running, oh yeah baby
To see you again.  Winter, spring, summer, or fall,
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.
You’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you
Should turn dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind should begin to blow
Keep your head together and call my name out loud
And soon I will be knocking upon your door.

When I think of this song I think of Jesus.  When I’m down and troubled, I think of Jesus.  When nothing is going right or if the sky above turns dark and full of clouds, I think of Jesus.  The friend who is there when I call out His name is Jesus.

The eyes of faith see Him because He is with us.  The eyes of sight won’t because they’re focused on other things.  I think of Lucy in the Narnia tales.  She was able to see Aslan at times when the others couldn’t because of her faith.  Walking by faith is a skill to be learned and life is filled with so many things to distract us from it.

The reality of His presence with us is a whole lot more than just a warm feeling or a sense we’re not alone.  He changes us!  He changes how we relate and respond to everything going on around us.  He speaks, ‘Peace’ to the storm raging within us just as He did with the disciples in the boat.  And we find ourselves filled with awe at His power just as they did.

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Tuesday May 25, 2021 – Lucy and the Magician’s book

Matthew 7:1  Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

Judging others can be a bit like having termites in the house – the problem can be there for a lengthy time before we become aware of it.  Then we have to discover how extensive the problem is and deal with it.  A powerful example of judging wrongly comes from CS Lewis’ book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In a house on an island, Lucy discovers a Magician’s book that offers her all kinds of opportunities – not all of which are appropriate.  She speaks the words of a spell that will enable her to know what her friends thought of her.  As she’s looking at the pictures in the book, she is aware that she is seeing and hearing two classmates, Anne and Marjorie,
speaking about her on a train back in England.  The conversation does not go as she expects.

Anne asks Marjorie if she is going to continue spending so much time with Lucy; she asserts that the last term (at school) Marjorie was crazy about Lucy.  Marjorie replies that
she wasn’t crazy about Lucy, saying, “I’ve got more sense than that.  Not a bad little kid in her way.  But I was getting pretty tired of her before the end of the term.”

Lucy explodes with indignation calling Marjorie a “Two-faced little beast.”  She then realizes that she’s talking to a picture in the Magician’s book, but still is distressed by
this perceived betrayal by her friends, particularly Marjorie.  Lucy had really befriended Marjorie, but she now wonders if her other friends are the same.

A few minutes later, Lucy sees Aslan in the room with her – He had been there all the time.  He speaks to her about eavesdropping on her two friends and how she had misjudged Marjorie.  Aslan tells her, “(Marjorie) is weak, but she loves you.  She was afraid of the older girl and said what she does not mean.”

We are too prone to snap-judgments, and thinking we know why someone did something.  Doing so is sin and has such significant consequences – spiritual and otherwise.  Instead of judging, we must release things to the Lord and look to Him. I thank God for how He has used this scene to warn and keep me from making the mistake of judging others.  Pray that He will do likewise for you.

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Monday May 24, 2021 – The problem with ‘Why?’

Psalm 139:23, 24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Scripture plays a critical role in our lives in helping us respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  It forms the framework upon which we can evaluate whether something within us is right or wrong – whether a behavior is offensive or wicked (KJV).

A major problem that we have with the more subtle sins is that we don’t see or recognize them.  We can be blind to them and their deadly work.  It’s like our grasp of the obvious has been turned off.  We’re clueless to the red warning light flashing on the dashboard before us.

We might be blind due to the hardness of our hearts, or the blindness may stem from certain behaviors being well established habits.  Praise God when He opens our eyes to see
behaviors and attitudes in our lives that are negative and hurtful, both to us and to others.

There is a 3 letter word that can be a source of much pain and even sin.  It is the source of a most negative life habit that afflicts us all.  It is the word ‘why’.  Our response to this word profoundly affects our communications, thoughts, attitudes, behavior and relationships.  Unfortunately, once we start contemplating it, our response almost
always leads us to sin and we’re not even aware of it.

Consider the following situations:

  • A friend walks by you and doesn’t speak to you.
  • Your spouse forgets something important.
  • Someone doesn’t return your smile.
  • Someone is curt with you.

In each of these and a myriad of other circumstances our natural (fleshly) tendency is to immediately think of the question, “Why did they do/say that?”  “Why” wants to know
the motivation that precipitated the action we question.  “Why” wants to know what the reason is so we can judge whether or not we think it’s valid.  Should we be offended or hurt?  Maybe they aren’t a true friend after all, and so on…

The problem is that judging motives is forbidden by scripture.  It is something we are to
avoid like the plague.  Romans 14:10a raises the question, “You, then, why do you judge your brother?”  Instead of looking to judge, a more redemptive practice would be to use such behaviors as triggers for prayer.  Instead of indulging our own insecurities, we
need to focus our trust upon the Lord.  Allow perceived negative behaviors to roll off us like water off a duck’s back.

Instead of “Why did they do that to me?” perhaps our response could be, “O Lord Jesus, they must be struggling today.  Please show them your grace and mercy.”  Instead of taking affront, we should respond with grace.

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