Tag Archives: Bible

What Prayer Does

This morning, I read Psalm 13.  Written by David, it reflected a painfully trying time in his life.  Some scholars believe that he wrote while fleeing from Saul. Others put it at the time of his flight from Absalom.  No matter when he wrote, his words probably convey the way many believers have reacted to their circumstance.

“How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day?” (Psalm 13:2 HCSB)

It seems that David was imagining every conceivable worse outcome to his situation. He felt that God had forgotten him and that God was hiding from him.  His prayer request was simple in such circumstances.  “Consider me and answer me, Lord.”

That does not sound life much of a prayer.  One can’t even get half a blog out that. No one, except those most extravagant with words, could write a book about it.  It doesn’t seem like a power prayer, or something that will result in mountains being cast into the sea.  But, it moved David’s heart, and that was what mattered, because when you ask God to think about you and believe that he does, all the reasons you have to fear and to worry seem smaller.

No longer feeling abandoned, David trusted in God to deliver him.  He heart rejoiced because he had hope of deliverance. David sang because God had been generous to him.

What changed between verse one and the end of the short Psalm?  Nothing changed in David’s outward circumstances.  The only change came in his perspective.  He saw God for who God was. Prayer does that.

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When Under Pressure

This year I have been reading the Bible chronologically.  This is the first time that I have done that. It has proven especially enlightening as I have read the Psalms closer to the historical context in which they were written.  In my journal one morning, I wrote, “The Psalms were written in real life situations.  They were not arbitrary poetic thoughts.  They flowed from trials and triumphs, despair and deliverance, doubt and hope.”

David wrote Psalm 141 during a time of intense pressure.  Those who want to do him harm and evil surround him.  For context, you can read 1 Samuel 21-24.  It is interesting that though David wanted justice and deliverance, this Psalm is more about his concern for his own conduct during that time.  He is trusting God with justice, and he is depending on God to help him to do the right thing.

“Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.” (v.3) He was concerned about His words.  He wanted God to control His speech.

“Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing or perform wicked acts with men who commit sin. Do not let me feast on their delicacies.” (v. 4) David’ concern was that his heart might turn to evil and that he might resort to evil.  From 1 Samuel, we know that several rough, disgruntled people who joined with him during these trials. On different occasions, they encouraged him to avenge himself on King Saul. He prayed to be able to stay righteous in wicked company.

“Let the righteous one strike me— it is an act of faithful love; let him rebuke me— it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it. Even now my prayer is against the evil acts of the wicked.” (v. 5) David prayed for accountability. He valued those who would correct him when necessary. One of the glaring differences between Saul and David was how they handled correction. When Samuel corrected Saul, he clung to power and went mad. When Nathan corrected David, he repented and endured the Lord’s discipline. Correction is an act of love, and it should be given and received as such.

What I learn from David’s life is that when the pressure is on, I need to lean on God even more than before.  It is too easy to crack under the pressure and try to excuse it. It is when the pressure is on that I need to be most disciplined in my words and actions and seek out even more accountability to others.

And about that son of hers…

Samson was both a man’s man and the stereotypical dumb male.  He had the strength of Captain America, the libido of Captain Kirk and the brain of Captain Caveman.  Dedicated to God since before birth, he seemed determined to work against God’s will.  He was not content with good Jewish girls.  No, he chased after Philistine women, much to the pain of his parents.  And he did not show common sense.  Delilah could tie him up, put his hair in loom, and do just about anything, and it seemed to never occur to him that she might be out to get him.  In the end, he broke every part of the Nazarite vow, lost his strength and got his eyes put out.

Yet, God used him.  He took all that rebellion, worked it into His plan and accomplished what had been his purpose in setting Samson apart.  He liberated the people of Israel from the Philistines.  The life and death of Samson shows God’s sovereignty despite the best efforts of humans to work against Him.

The story of Samson is found in The Book of Judges, chapters 13-16.

And for your viewing and listening pleasure:

(My writing has been sparse lately. With work and other projects, I will probably be very hit and miss, but when I have the time, I will try to write something.)

Mother of Samson

Recently, I read through the book of Judges, which a very interesting book of the Bible, depicting when everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  One of the common criticisms of the Bible is its depiction of women.  According to some views, the Bible depicts women in two extremes, Jezebel or the Virgin Mary.  There is not room for the “real woman.” Jezebel and Mary were both real, and there are many other depictions of real women facing life’s challenges as well.

I found one such depiction in the story of Samson.    The story of Samson begins in Judges 13.  Samson’s mother was not named.  She was Manoah’s wife.  They lived in a time when the people of Israel had sinned again and God had handed them over to be ruled by the Philistines.  They had no children.  Scripture says that she was barren.  An angel appears to her, not to her husband, and tells her that she will have a child who will be a Nazirite.

And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
(Judges 13:3-5 ESV)

She tells her husband, Manoah, who asked the “man of the Lord” come back and explain what they are to do again.  Apparently, he has to hear it for himself.  The angel does so, but once again, he appeared to the wife, not the husband.  She went to get him and when he returned, he asked the angel once again, what they are to do?  The angel basically tells Manoah the same thing he said before, but twice, he emphasizes ‘let her.’  The bearing of the child is the wife’s mission, not Manoah’s, and he is to support her in it.  The rest of the story is interesting, and it is where the wife stands our strongly as a woman of faith, and a faith based logically on whom God has revealed Himself to be.

Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.

The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.” And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him.
(Judges 13:15-24 ESV)

Notice Manoah’s reaction compared to her reaction.  He was the one who overreacted.  She was the one who spoke with the calm assurance of faith.  It was because her faith was strong that God could use her for the task.  Being Samson’s mother would be no small task.

Sometimes being the husband means being man enough to admit at any given moment that my faith or understanding of God’s will is weak, and that I need to listen to my wife.  It also means that I should be supportive of her as she seeks to fulfill God’s purposes for her life, just as she is supportive of me in my endeavors.  I don’t see this view as opposed to complementarianism, which I think is the most Biblical understanding of the roles of men and women in the Bible.  I see it as a realistic application of what the Bible demonstrates about those roles in different situations.

What to remember this weekend

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
(Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53-54:1 ESV)
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53 ESV)

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
(Matthew 27:1-61 ESV)

Self-Love and Loving Others

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Recently, I got into an online forum discussion (a dangerous place to be sometimes) about the question of if it is necessary to love ourselves to be able to love others?  Related to that was a discussion of self-esteem.

One position, and one that I once believed strongly, is that, yes, it is.  We must love ourselves and take care of ourselves to be able to love others.  Here is my problem with that.  When Jesus said, “love others as you love yourself,” I believe that he was assuming self-love, not commanding it.  Most of us have some sense of self-preservation and take care of our own needs.  What Jesus was saying was to put the needs of others on that same level.  As Paul, would later say, we are to love others by considering their needs above our own.

Regarding self-esteem, most Scripture is interested that we do not esteem ourselves too highly.  We shouldn’t be bugs pretending to be gods.  I could be wrong, but I do not see much in Scripture that warns us against low self-esteem.  If anything, scripture teaches us to lose ourselves and to sacrifice ourselves.  In a rare moment of online lucidity, here is what I wrote:

Only a person struggling with suicidal thoughts would probably see themselves as completely worthless. Most people have a good sense of self-preservation that flows from some sense of self-worth. Taking care of ourselves physically and mentally is one thing. I have no problem with this or else I wouldn’t be watching my weight and jogging three times a week.

My problem is the order that things are put. “I love myself, then I can love others” does not ring true when put beside Scripture. It is a cultural understanding of where love comes from, not a Biblical one. The type of love that Scripture teaches in not the natural love that our culture describes. It is supernatural. It is unconditional. It begins with the self-sacrificing love of God that fills me and loves through me. Jesus did not say, “Love yourselves and then you can love others.” When He talked about self, He said ‘crucify yourself’, ‘take up your cross’ and ‘deny yourself’. All those things imply that to truly follow Christ and to love as He loved, I have to get self out of the way, and as Paul said, ‘put on the new self, created to be like God’.

My worth comes not from me, but from Christ in me. My ability to love does not come from loving me but from loving God supremely. It comes from an absolute surrender of self to God and walking in His spirit. God calls on us to love others with His love, not our self-love. Jesus said, “No man has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” In other words, even self-preservation is laid aside for the sake of loving others. That is how Jesus loved, and that is how we are recognized as His disciples. I don’t give love because I have worth. I give love because He is supremely worthy and made me His own. Love does not spring from within us. If it did, it would be tainted by sin and selfishness. It begins with God and as we grown in likeness to Christ, it flows out from us to others.

God’s Word in the New Year

Yesterday, the most momentous news in the South was the release of the Southeastern Conference football schedules for 2012, which proved beyond any shadow of the doubt that the powers that be like Georgia better than South Carolina.  And that’s just fine with me.

It was also the day that I tried to figure out how to approach my reading of the Bible for 2012.  Each year, I like to change things up  a bit, and sometimes it takes me a while to figure it out.  Last year, I focused on reading the Gospels and learning about Jesus.  That has been very helpful and I plan to continue to do it through at least the first nine months of last year.

I also hope to read the Bible through the year chronologically in the order that the events related in it happened.  I’ve never done that before, and I want to try something different this year.  I am an odd person who both needs routine and gets easily bored with routine, so I have to change the way I do the routine to keep up the routine.  (That last sentence should convey just how weird it is to be such a person.)  Anyhow, I plan to incorporate lectio divina as I do this.

Lectio divina is really just a fancy way to say something that is really simple so that I can feel smarter.  It describes an approach to reading Scripture that keeps it from becoming, well, too routine. (You probably wish I would use a thesaurus by now.)   There are four parts to lectio divina.

1. Read.  Read a portion of Scripture. To read the Bible through in a year, I will need to read 3-5 chapters a day.  It is important to read an extended portion to understand things within their context.

2. Think.  Pick out a certain part of that and think about it.  Ask questions about it.  Try to really understand it and what it is saying about you.

3. Pray.  Pray the Scripture back to God.

4. Live.  Decide a specific way to obey what God has said.

I will usually write out these things in a journal that I keep.  Keeping a journal is a practice that I hope to do better in the coming year.  Many of these blog post come from my journal.

I hope that all of you will make a practice of reading the Bible in the coming year.  If you need a good plan to do so, you can find several suggestions where this hopefully links. If you are a new Christian or have never read the Bible through before, I suggests that you choose a plan that combines reading from the Old Testament and New Testament each day.  One reason I plan to continue reading a chapter from the Gospels each day is that with the chronological plan, I will not begin readings in the New Testament until October.

I hope that you have a blessed New Year.

Key to Christian Success

Many believers struggle with particular issues in their lives, or it could be that they excel in certain areas.  Lots of men pray for become better fathers or husbands.  Some people pray to become better at sharing their faith.  However, Jesus did not divide up the Christian life into areas that we are to get right one by one.  Rather, He said that the successful Christian life is one of abiding in Him.  Jesus described it this way in John 15.

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
2 Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. [i]

The Christian life is not a compartmentalized step-by-step progression.  We should take the Christian life as a whole and not subdivide it.  Christ, Himself, is the whole.  He is the center.  By abiding in Him, all else comes into place.  Prayer takes it rightful place.  Obedience takes it rightful place. Love takes it rightful place.  If we read further in John 15, we see that if we abide in Christ, we can expect to become fruitful as believers.  However, we also can expect to suffer.  As we abide in Christ and experience suffering, we must depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength.

To abide in Christ, we must submit to the Father pruning out those things that prevent our becoming fruitful such as sin or misplace priorities.  We must be in the Word of God.  As we learn the Word, we must shape our lives and our thinking to His standards.  And, we must be people of prayer.   Abiding in Christ is not complicated.

 

 


[i] English Standard Version