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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Blessed, or Cursed?

In my previous post I mentioned that I had something to say about the context around Jeremiah 17:7 - in that post I only talked about the "blessed man", but there are some things about him that we didn't see because we didn't look at the verses about a very different person the chapter tells us about: the "cursed man"!

Jeremiah 17:7 is actually part of a larger snippet of Bible poetry that starts at verse 5 and ends at verse 8. Take a look:

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:5–8 (ESV)
This is what is known as poetic "parallelism". The first stanza and the second stanza contrast with each other: the former is about someone who is "cursed" and the latter is about someone who is "blessed". The reason you want to be able to recognize this is because sometimes one half of the parallel passage will contain useful information the other half does not.

For example:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.

We know a number of things about the "cursed man" from this:
  • He trusts in "man" (mankind) - so his focus is what human beings are able to accomplish.
  • He relies on his own "flesh" - his own ability - to get things done.
  • His heart turns away from the Lord.
We only are told two things about the "blessed man":
  • He trusts in the Lord (he acts in a way that reveals that he trusts the Lord).
  • He puts his trust in the Lord (his trust has a home with the Lord - it stays there).
But because these are contrasting parallel passages, we can infer several other things. The implications for the "blessed man" are that he also:
  • does not put his trust in what mankind can accomplish, but what God can accomplish.
  • does not rely on his own ability to get things done, but knows that God can do things he cannot.
  • His heart turns toward the Lord.
And, of course, the implication for the "cursed man" is that he does not in any way put his trust in the Lord.
Some other contrasts that we can infer using this method (inferred parts in italics):

The Cursed ManThe Blessed Man
Like a shrub in the desertLike a tree by water
Shall see no good comeShall see good come
Shall fear when tough times occurShall not fear when tough times occur ("heat comes")
Is afraid he may run out of what he needsIs always confident that he is well supplied (not fearful in "the year of drought")
Can only do so much before he comes to the end of his own strengthIs always able to do good ("Does not cease to bear fruit")
Lives in a parched, uninhabited "salt land" (nothing can grow in salted soil)Lives in a place of bountiful supply surrounded by friends

For the record, I'm no Bible scholar - I only know what I've picked up over the years from hearing and reading things written by people with a lot more Bible education than I. But I think it's good to be able to "read between the lines" and discover those extra tidbits that God has left for us to pick up on!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Win Logos & an iPad Mini!

Not to mention some great books by John Bevere! Enter now... here's the link! (But if you win and I don't I'll be very very sad so in that case you should definitely share!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blessed is the Man

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord."
This is a picture of something I've seen every business day this year. It's the front of a mug my wife gave me at Epiphany, and every day I look at it and think about what Jeremiah 17:7 says. I started to notice, though, that on different days different parts stood out to me, and eventually I realized that this verse was unfolding into multiple meanings, like a flower opening up into full bloom over the course of many days. I wanted to share some of those thoughts - as you're reading, maybe something will unfold for you today!

There are a bunch of important ideas in this verse: "Blessed." "Trust." "Hope." Let's look at each of them, starting with "blessed." We all want to be "blessed," of course, but to different people that might mean different things. If your car breaks down, you might be "blessed" by a friend who is able and willing to fix it for you for free. If you run out of groceries the day before payday, you might be "blessed" by a friend who buys your lunch. Or, you might be "blessed" by someone giving you a compliment, telling you you did well on a job task or even mentioning that they like the sweater you're wearing.

Those are all excellent blessings, and I certainly think they are included in this verse (especially considering the context, which I want to look at later in another post). But I think the bigger picture, the real "blessing" of God, is much more all-encompassing. I think the blessing of God means that things will go well for you. Your life will be characterized by joy and peace, even when you hit a rough patch. God gave us a picture of what His blessing looks like back in Moses' day:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
(Numbers 6:22-26 ESV)

The words rendered "trust" and "hope" in the translation of Jeremiah 17:7 on my mug (New King James?) are related words in Hebrew - many translations actually translate them both "trust". The first one is a verb. But it's not the kind of verb like "run" or "ride" or "sing" that is something you specifically do - trusting this way can only be detected by other things you do. Your actions are affected because your attitude is one of trust in God.

The second word, "hope", is a noun. This word means confidence. You can act in trust, because you have confidence in God. It also means your security. Like living in a house with locked doors, you know that nothing can get to you without going through your God first.

But "hope" also can mean something else. It also means that your mind believes there is a chance that something good will happen. When a man on a raft in the middle of the ocean sees a ship sailing toward him, it gives him hope. When a worried wife of a soldier hears news that the war is over, it gives her hope. When a student looks at his transcript with a counselor and sees that graduation is only a few credits away, it gives him hope. Hope is something you believe, based on facts that you know. The fact it's talking about in this verse, the one which gives you hope, is God Himself. Based on that fact, you can have hope in every situation.

But the Bible tells us about one more important hope we have:
[We are] waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ...
(Titus 2:13 ESV)
Our greatest hope, the one to which all other hopes pale in comparison, is our hope of eternal life with Jesus when He returns. This is the hope that still stands when all other hopes fall... when the man on the raft is taking his dying breath without that ship ever showing up, when the wife receives visitors that no military wife ever wants to see at her doorstep, when that student unexpectedly has to quit school because of a family need - when those hopes are lost, this hope remains.

Did you notice that it does not say, "...whose hope is in the Lord?" It says that the person who is blessed is the person "...whose hope is the Lord." Jesus doesn't give you hope. Jesus is your hope. Jesus is your hope of a new better life when this one is over. Jesus is your hope of provision and comfort in this life. Jesus is your hope of joy and peace and contentment. He is your hope of all blessing. Choose to take action based on your confidence in Him. Just try it and see what happens!

(Oh, by the way... if you love the cup that inspired this post, you can get your own right here.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Peace, part 4 - Rest

from via Flickr - CC-BY
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." - Matthew 11:28 ESV
Months ago my pastor said something during a message that really kind of blew my mind. He was talking about this verse, and he mentioned that the language in the Greek implies that Jesus is taking a much more active role in this whole rest thing that "give you rest" implies in English.

In English when we say that we "give" something to someone, usually we mean that we offer it to them and they take it (or sometimes not, but usually). But in the Greek, this word ("anapauo") means: "to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labour in order to recover and collect his strength." It can also be used as an agricultural term, to "rest" the land to be planted at a later date. It seems to me like Jesus is not just saying He is going to give us the opportunity to rest - it sounds like if we come to Him, He will be the cause of our resting. He will positively "rest us"! The land you planted your crops on last year has no say in the matter of whether or not you rest it this year. You rest it, or you don't, and the land can't do a thing about it!

Do you dare walk up to Jesus and say, "Here I am, Jesus. Here are my heavy burdens. Rest me!" It seems like Jesus is calling on us to do just that. The trick to that, as the next couple of verses explain, is to give Him your burden, and then take on His burden, which is very light. Don't take your own burden back. Why would you want to? Leave it with Jesus, and who knows? You just might "find rest for your soul."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Peace, part 3 - Think

brain power from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Allan Ajifo, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Think about this:

The Bible tells us that what we think about affects the amount of peace we have.

I guess that's just logical... if I think about things that worry me all the time, I'll spend all my time being worried. But you know what? I've tried putting things out of my mind, and it's not as easy as just refusing to think about something. You can't "not think." I don't think it's possible.

So if you have to think about something, and you don't want to think about the thing that takes away your peace, what do you think about?
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
-Philippians 4:8-9 ESV
The Word gives a whole list of things to think about... whatever is:
  • true (the reverse of false)
  • honorable (with good character, dignified)
  • just (righteous, without guilt, following God's laws)
  • pure (clean, faultless)
  • lovely (pleasing, acceptable)
  • commendable (like a good omen)
  • with excellence (virtuous, moral goodness)
  • worthy of praise (commendable)
But you know what? We don't really need a list. We know when we're thinking "good" thoughts - the kind that feel like spring breezes and warm sunshine - and "bad" thoughts - the ones that feel like spider webs and graveyards and despair. The point is, you can't simply boot those bad thoughts. You have to replace them with good thoughts. And if you can't think of anything good on your own, you can always go down this handy list and come up with something! We have to learn how to focus our minds in the right direction if we're going to avoid living in fear.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
-Romans 8:3-6 ESV (emphasis mine)
It seems that our minds have a setting we can set. We can set it to thinking about "the things of the flesh" - which means the things around us that reflect our own desires, especially out of control ones - or we can set it to thinking about the things of God. Remember, Philippians up there gives us a list of examples of those things if you need it! Tweak those settings. Think about the things of God, and the Bible says that your mind will be filled with life and peace.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Peace, part 2 - Guard

Royal Guard at Buckingham Palace from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Loren Javier, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4:6-7 ESV
I blogged here about the mind-blowing peace described in verse 7 - but lately I've been thinking about something else in this passage. It describes that mind-blowing peace as a guard. God's peace is there for protection. Protection from what? From anxiety, says verse 6! If you're feeling anxious, if you're feeling fearful, for some reason peace isn't guarding your mind and your heart right.

In that case, you need to make an adjustment. That adjustment is taking your requests to God in prayer. Actually, it can involve two kinds of prayer, or maybe two intensities of prayer. "Supplication" just means that you're still making a request, but there's a little more desperation to it. Maybe your emotions are coming into it a little bit more. Maybe you're asking God for something that means an awful lot to you. It's getting personal; it's getting real. You're laying it on the line: "God, You're my last hope for this. Please help me!"

But you're not praying selfishly. You're bringing your need to God, but you're also bringing a heart filled with thankfulness. Somehow I think that's a key. What if God doesn't give you what you asked for? Even then, your heart is still filled with thankfulness, because you know God has something even better in store for you.

And maybe that's also how the peace of God can guard your heart and mind. You've presented your requests to a God that you know loves you, and you're filled with thankfulness, because you know that God either is going to fill that request, or do something even better. With that kind of certainty, who can stay anxious?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Peace, part 1 - epilogue

Opening of roadside tomb_0654 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 James Emery, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
A few days after I wrote this post, I was listening to John chapter 20 in audiobook form, and I heard this familiar story:
    Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, "They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!"
    Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.
As many times as I've heard this, this part struck me as weird. They did what? A hysterical woman ran to find them and showed them evidence of the most amazing miracle in the history of the world, and they took a look and then just... went home?
    Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. "Dear woman, why are you crying?" the angels asked her.

     "Because they have taken away my Lord," she replied, "and I don't know where they have put him."

     She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. "Dear woman, why are you crying?" Jesus asked her. "Who are you looking for?"

     She thought he was the gardener. "Sir," she said, "if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him."

     "Mary!" Jesus said.
     She turned to him and cried out, "Rabboni!" (which is Hebrew for "Teacher").
     "Don't cling to me," Jesus said, "for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

     Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, "I have seen the Lord!" Then she gave them his message.
Peter and John ("the other disciple" was John) came to the tomb, understood what had happened, satisfied their minds, and went home. Mary, on the other hand, was so emotionally wrapped up in her love for Jesus that she stayed around... and was there long enough to experience Jesus.

Don't be satisfied to approach Jesus intellectually, Theologically, methodically. Take time to reach out to Jesus with your heart. When you do, He will show up.