Bible Reading Blog
BIBLE READING: Psalm 145.14-20
God’s dominant desire is mercy (Matthew 9.13; James 2.13). He is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34.18). He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (Psalm 147.6; Proverbs 3.34; 1 Peter 5.5; James 4.6). This characteristic of God is a promise and a calling for us to be humble as we seek him. But the scriptures don’t call us to simply fabricate humility but rather to understand our helplessness and reject our foolish pride. What God offers is a way of life that we cannot muster on our own.
And yet we try sometimes… We try to have meaningful relationships, careers and lives chasing what we desire. We invest ourselves in things and people looking for peace and purpose. We want peace with our circumstances, our decisions and our failings. We want our lives to have purpose and meaning. But we all are met with disappointment doing our own thing. God offers those to us perfectly in Christ, but in our selfishness and limited understanding we sometimes get off track.
Like we said last week, we must not miss what God is offering. Every good thing comes from God (James 1.17). His goodness in the present is his prompting to see his grace throughout history, culminating in redemption through Christ. He is so merciful he allows good things to come to both the just and unjust, hoping all will see their need and turn to him (Matthew 5.45; 2 Peter 3.9). God is merciful for our good and his glory; but that mercy is limited by our response.
Recall the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18.23-35). A man owed a king so much he could never pay him back. The king order both he and his family to be sold to pay the debt. His life was practically over. He begged the king for mercy, and it was granted. Everything was forgiven. As the man went back about his life, however, he did not demonstrate the same mercy to others. He mercilessly demanded a fellow servant pay him back a meager debt. He choked him and had him thrown into prison. When the king heard of it, he was furious with the man and revoked his mercy, saying, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 19.33-35).
We must understand the nature of God but also the calling of his mercy. We must fear him and reflect his mercy to others (Psalm 145.19). We must never presume upon his mercy and grace but rather submit and differ to his judgment. He will do what it right and it is his place to do so. As it is written, “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12.19-21)
God has offered us peace, purpose and hope through his mercy, and we must do the same. “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5.7)
This blog is an excerpt from Sunday's sermon, "Seek What God Offers"
“A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16.9). This verse reminds us that although we have things we want, God knows what we need. Even the best made plans get altered along the way. Situations change, people change their minds, and we find ourselves somewhere other than where we intended to be.
This can be frustrating, especially for the believer. In fact, I have observed this is where many Christians wrestle with faith. It is easy to accept that God has done something of great value for us, but the outcome of circumstances can vary dramatically from what we are expecting. This can lead to doubting, depression, or despair. This can cause anxiety to stir up in our hearts and make us question the very foundations of our faith. But we must understand the problem is not God’s faithfulness, but our own expectations.
For faith to benefit our lives, we must alter our wants to align with what God offers. While God sometimes gives the desires of our hearts, we must not be confused into thinking that is his job. As we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, we should experience a shift in our thinking that settles us in the reality of what God offers.
He offers security, not prosperity (1 Peter 1.3-7); peace, not resolution (Philippians 4.10-13; 1 Peter 5.6-10); fulfillment not temporary pleasure (2 Thessalonians 1.11). As Jesus would say, when we seek first the kingdom of God all the things we need will be added to us. But to realize this fulfillment we must not let our wants dictate how they are fulfilled.
As believers, our expectations are often rooted in the right things, but they fail to account for God’s eternal nature and forethought. For instance, we want wrong to be punished and bad people dealt with immediately. We know that God is both right and just, so we expect him to act now. But we neglect that God’s prevailing nature is mercy. We forget that he desires that none should perish but all to come to repentance. God’s slowness is not from ambivalence but hope for the guilty to repent (see 2 Peter 3.9). He will be right and just, but also patient and merciful until the time of judgment. As we mature, we must adjust our thinking to align with God’s nature and desires for others.
What are you expecting from God? Perhaps your walk of faith has not produced the life you thought it would, and that can create negative feelings. We must combat those with what God tells us about himself and what he offers us; because he knows what we need; and he knows what others need; and he will work all things together for good according to his purposes (Romans 8.28). As believers we must settle our hope in God who will one day make all things as they should be.
“…according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3.13)
BIBLE READING: Luke 9.57-62
“Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 9.62)
A farmer who looks behind only sees what they’ve already done. They see their success and failures. Maybe there are changes that need to be made, but the problem is they are not headed that direction anymore. They have pressing work right in front of them. They need to look at where they are going and take care of that. So, it is for the kingdom citizen. By investing ourselves in the past, we can become proud of successes or discouraged by failures and fail to see the opportunity in front of us.
According to Jesus, this is not appropriate for a kingdom citizen. We are called to “[forget] what lies behind and press forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3.13). This is not telling us to ignore life experience and wisdom we have gained but to grow. By God’s grace we are not who we used to be. God has and will continue to expose our sins and failures so we can make changes and move forward to better things. In fact, he expects it. He would not offer forgiveness so freely if it were not possible (1 John 1.8-10). Better things are ahead. To look back is to reject the grace God offers and to prove unfit for the kingdom.
What exactly does it mean for us to look back? It is fixating on situations you cannot control. It is focusing on irrelevant activities that feed your ego. It is wallowing in self-pity. It is defining your identity in Christ by your past successes. None of these are productive for the present or the future; and yet, these dilute the faith of many believers. Many are like the man who was willing to follow Jesus but wanted a little more time getting closure his way (Luke 9.61). The problem is closure our way is usually an effort to maintain control. These efforts will not only disappoint but will fail to cultivate deeper trust in Jesus. The fact is, we all have succeeded and failed in the past. But that is not what defines the believer. We look at ahead trusting Jesus, working at what is in front of us to get us closer to the kingdom.
Kingdom citizens must set their sight on Jesus’ calling, trusting the way he leads. If we begin thinking of where we came from, there will be opportunity to return. But if we seek better things – a home prepared by God – we will set our sights, our hearts and our efforts ahead (see Hebrews 11.13-16). Most importantly, kingdom citizens realize the grace and opportunity of Jesus’ calling in the present. They focus on the mercy and forgiveness shown to them and are thankful they are not who they used to be. You may feel weak and incapable, but God’s grace is sufficient so that you can have boldness and confidence to do the work God has called you to do. If you are a citizen of the kingdom, get your eyes ahead and don’t look back.
“…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2.10)
BIBLE READING: Matthew 13.44-46
Every year, millions of people immigrate to the United States looking for a better life. For some it may take years as they order their lives to find a way here. To do so, many sell everything they own because they are convinced that being here is better than anything they had before.
In some ways they are right. Having lived in the US my whole life, I didn’t understand this until I visited Ethiopia several years ago. Seeing 3rd world conditions first-hand is shocking, but what made it worse is the lack of opportunity. Even if someone wanted a better lifestyle, social constructs and government regulations often do not allow them the chance to pursue them freely. Ethiopians often look at Americans as though we have it all; one even commented to me that he imagines America is what heaven is like.
From this side of the world, we know the US is far from the perfection of heaven; but we do have many more comforts than the rest of the world. This often numbs us to the desire for something better because we are just comfortable enough where we are. Like the brethren in Laodicea, many would say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing…” but what does Jesus say to them? “[You do not realize] that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3.17). The comforts of American living will fail everyone, but the riches of heaven will not. Do we believe that?
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13.44-46)
God’s word reveals the value of God’s kingdom, but many will not see it. There are too many things that demand their attention… how could something intangible be more valuable than my paycheck... my possessions... my securities?
Does that describe you, or are you buying what God has revealed to us about his kingdom? It is a place of peace, security and comfort. All things are provided for because God is there. If we believe in the value of his kingdom, shouldn’t we order our lives to get there? Shouldn’t we be willing to give up anything and everything? Perhaps our apathy is the result of ignorance. Perhaps it is our failure to grasp the great disparity between the now and the not yet. Either way, belief in the greatness of our king and his kingdom should be central to our everyday walk of faith. We must be seekers who deny temporary comforts (Matthew 16.24), abstain from the desires of the flesh (1 Peter 2.11) and give up anything (Luke 15.24-33) with the hope of experiencing God’s eternal kingdom. It is worth it.
BIBLE READING: Psalm 46
How would you feel if the ground beneath your feet started giving way? What if you looked out the window and things were crashing down around you because of the quakes? What if even a giant mountain in the distance was starting to crumble from its very foundations? This is definitely not a picture of peace.
When natural disasters occur, we see chaos and instability. These are forces beyond our control. And yet Psalm 46.1 states, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The juxtaposition of God’s presence with earthly chaos takes us back to the scene of Genesis 1 where God brought order to the chaos with just a word (Genesis 1.2-3). With power and simplicity, God made things “good”. In similar fashion, Jesus spoke a word and calmed the storm his disciples thought would kill them (Matthew 8.23-27; Mark 4.36-41; Luke 8.22-25). They rightly asked, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8.25).
We fear what we cannot control, and yet God is consistently revealed as One who both controls and commands the natural world. “He utters his voice, the earth melts” (Psalm 46.6). No human kingdom or force can compare to God’s sovereignty. Even the greatest kingdoms, as stable as they may seem, totter and come to an end; But God is not moved (46.5-6). In fact, he is often the source of their failing (46.9). As citizens of God’s eternal kingdom, we are called to “behold the works of the LORD” (48.8). Our God is both stable and sure, bringing order to the most intense chaos.
Not only that but both natural and national forces will be harnessed in exaltation of God (Psalm 46.10). He will bring order to the chaos. So we must learn to shift our focus from present distress to God’s presence by being still (46.1, 7, 11). To know that God is God is to know his Lordship of nature and history. He is Sovereign over all things both globally and personally. He knows the number of our days and the hairs of our head. But more importantly, he does not wield this knowledge against those who seek his kingdom. Instead, he is a refuge and strength (Psalm 46.1); a presence of safety to secure our hearts with peace. But we must be warned and be wise (Psalm 2.10-12). We must learn about our king and seek his kingdom first. We must “serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2.11). “The Lord is good to those who seek him (Lamentations 3.25), and “blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2.12).
“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90.2)
“So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”” (Hebrews 13.6, cf. Deuteronomy 31.8)