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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Money Talks

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Matthew 13:22 (ESV) 
This morning when I read this scripture, I was struck by the word "deceitfulness". The verse mentions worrying, for sure, but it's not specifically worrying about money. The money is actually deceiving this person. What is the deception? The scripture passage doesn't really say in Matthew or Mark. The parallel passage in Luke gives a slightly different perspective:
And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. Luke 8:14 (ESV)
This version of the story makes it even clearer that there are "cares" or worries or stresses that can be a problem, but there is another category of "thorns" - riches and pleasures. It's not just bad things that can choke the Word; things that we normally see as "good" things can do so as well.

So how are we "deceived" by our own money? I think the biggest deception may be that we think more money can make us happy. We've all seen the now-famous Jim Carrey quote “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.” And I think everyone who is not as wealthy as Jim Carrey is (most of us!) will tend to have a "sopur grapes" reaction, something like "That's right, Jim! You found out that just because you're a zillionaire famous actor, you're miserable just like us regular folks!" But then we fall into the same trap: "Man, it's four days to payday. If I just had twenty bucks I could get that thing I just saw at the store..." or "...I could order pizza tonight and I wouldn't have to cook..." or "...I could go see a movie and relax..." and we think that whatever thing it is will make use feel happier. And it's true in one way: it might make us feel happier in the moment.

That's why it's so easy for our riches to lie to us.

Because after you eat the pizza, you're going to get heartburn. That thing from the store was actually not that well made, and it fell apart a week later. The movie turned out to be a stinker. Or maybe none of those things happened, but in this world, the luster eventually wears off on everything. There is only one thing that goes against that trend, and that is because it doesn't originate in this world. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that "Man's chief End is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." I've found in my life that there are always high points and low points, but when my focus is centered on the Lord, the high points are higher, and the low points are actually higher too. When you are wrapped up in Jesus, things are better than when you are wrapped up in anything else.

Your money is a liar. Also, the money you don't have is a liar. They both tell you they can make you happy, but they cannot. When you don't let those "thorns" choke out what the Word of God wants to speak into your heart, this is what happens:

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:15 (ESV)

Monday, October 26, 2015

HUGE Bible Sale at!

Christianbook is having a HUMONGOUS Bible sale between now an November 2! If you're in the market for a new Bible, or would like to stock up on Christmas presents or gifts for other occasions (say, for example, Epiphany!), you really owe it to yourself to hop over to the sale and take a look. There are study Bibles, storybook Bibles for kids, daily devotional Bibles, Bibles with cute covers, Bibles for teens and their moms, Bibles in Spanish, Bibles in all of the popular translations like the ESV, the NIV, and the NLT, with prices up to and exceeding 70% off! (Reportedly there is something priced at 94% off... can you find it?)

Click here to check it out for yourself!

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.