Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Altar of Araunah

1 Chronicles 21

Have you completed your taxes yet? Some of us will be able to deduct charitable giving to churches or humanitarian organizations. How wonderful it is to know that you can contribute to something larger than yourself. But, what has your gift cost you?

Jesus famously commented to his disciples that a widow who gave two coins surpassed the man with the bag of money because she gave all while he gave out of his surplus. The same thing goes on today, though checkbooks make it harder to detect. Many wait to give to God till the end of the month when everything else they've had to or wanted to spend is gone. If there's some left over then they will give. This attitude goes something like this, "I'll give, as long as giving doesn't keep me from affording anything I've had my eye on."

I believe giving to God is a gift he has given to us. There is a subtle human understanding that a mere "thank you" is an insufficient response to a generous giver. And who has been more generous than God?  Compounding the problem is the fact that God needs nothing from us. All this makes me grateful to know a God who accepts gifts from those he has saved. When I give it becomes an act of worship insofar as it costs me something. Without giving I would feel like the man who has words to say but cannot say them.

In 1 Chronicles a poignant account is given of a great sin on the part of King David. God told him through the prophet that he must choose between three punishments. All affected more than just him. What a horrible choice! David chose what he thought was the least of the three evils and had to throw himself at the mercy of the death angel. David was ordered to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah (vs18) which was privately owned. When the owner heard David's request to buy his property for a sacrifice to end the plague he begged David to take it for free and to allow him to provide all the supplies to make a sacrifice. David's reply is relevant,
No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Triumphal Entry

Matthew 21 

Of all the events of Jesus' life the "Triumphal Entry" has been one of the most perplexing to me. I wonder how it is that a very large crowd (Jn. 21:8) could hail him with great fanfare as he came into the city and then--we can only assume--it was those same people transformed into rabble, shouting "crucify him!" before the end of that same week. What was the matter with those people?!?

It occurs to me that here is a vivid example of a burning truth. In keeping with the human disease of sin we are quite capable of saying very religious things without having a clue. If these people had known Jesus at all they would not have been surprised at his driving out the money changers and teaching in parables. They would have seen the miracles and believed and not doubted. Despite their warm welcome they ultimately decided that he was only welcome if he fit into their preconceived notions. Are we not like that as well?

How many welcome Jesus with palms and hosannas because they have heard he can save them and make their lives wonderful, yet turn on him when soon thereafter they find him too meek, or too forgiving or too willing to allow suffering. They then "crucify" him out of their lives like the rocky soil in Jesus parable in Luke 8. Our fickleness should give us pause.

Have you cut a palm branch for him? Beware the cry of crucifixion!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Note To Readers

Hello Everyone,
I won't be able to post any DBT's for the next week. I'll be back at it next Thursday (hopefully).
God bless!


Monday, March 15, 2010

Final Justice

Psalm 73
How do you feel when you see the wicked prosper? Does it anger you to see oppression go unpunished, or the evil get away with murder? In Fyodor Dostoevsky's book The Brothers Karamazov there are three brothers. The eldest of the three is Ivan, an intellectual socialist who views God as a monster (if he exists at all). The lines that caught my attention last night were from a dinner conversation he had alone with his younger brother Alyosha. In a passionate monologue he says,
I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth and that I could see myself. I have believed in it. I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair.
In Psalm 73 Asaph contemplated the same thing. In verse two he indicates that it was this very consideration--the idea of unmet justice--that almost ended his faith. He laments his own purity (vs 13) as a waste of time since prosperity seems to have nothing to do with righteousness. But then there is a shift in his understanding.
When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. (vs 16-17)
It takes faith and patience to be satisfied with final justice. There are many people who will pass through this life without receiving the retribution they so rightfully deserve. But we must be cautious. It is easy for us to seek justice with great self-righteousness.When we ask God to dish out justice in this life we sometimes forget that if we want justice for others we must have it for ourselves too.

Ultimately, the perfect justice of a perfect God will be satisfied. Let us remember the final destiny of the wicked and persevere in faith. All wrongs will be made right in the end!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Irony of Holiness

Holiness is one of the most uncomfortable words in the Christian vocabulary. Holiness. Did you get a chill? Hebrews 12:14 says, "without holiness no one will see the Lord." Yikes!

Let me call "time out" for a minute and lighten the mood. Can we be real for a moment? I think there's a certain irony to the fact that as Christians we are flawed human beings trying to be like our perfect God. Come on. R U serious? Notice my texting is rubbing off on my prose.  Please allow me to shed some light on a little known fact among the faithful: we CAN'T be holy, at least not in the sense of perfection that we normally (wrongly) think.

It pains me to watch so many of God's children trying to either pay God back for sending Jesus to die for them (impossible), or make him happy in order to get him in their corner. After all, isn't it good to have a little Jesus in your pocket for a rainy day? There are also those who think that after salvation we have to feverishly strive to keep God from thinking he made a mistake when he reached down to us with his grace. All of these things are terrible perspectives that we should fall down and beg forgiveness for. Why?

Let me read a little bit of the context and see if you get the picture. Here again is Hebrews 12:14 (in its entirety) with verse 15 thrown in to increase the fun.

"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

Why would the author feel the need to include the second sentence with the first? Is he talking about saving grace? I think not. The reason, from my flawed perspective, is that too many of us forget that grace not only saves us but sustains us as well. Do you know how profound this is? Let me put this verse in my own words. Ready? Here goes: "If you are a true Christian you'll do everything you can to set yourself apart without being obnoxious. But, beware the bitterness that comes from trying to do so without remembering the day to day grace that sustains you."

Here's a thought. In our efforts to be like God we might mess up. Horrors! I know what you're thinking, I'm being flippant about it. Well maybe I am poking a little fun. But I just can't help myself. One of my favorite things to do when one of my kids is in a sullen mood is to tickle them. First, I'll just poke them in the side cautiously and retreat. Then I come back and do it a bit more and then really go for it. I love this because they try to  keep from smiling at first. They hold onto that frown with all their might (you know, like the people that know happiness and holiness can't possibly be related to each other)! Then it happens, the corner of their mouth turns up and before you know it they can't help but forget their mood and join in the mirth.

So, by all means, let's be holy. But come now, let's give up all of that human effort perfection nonsense. Taste the irony!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When the Novelty Wears Off

Galatians 6:9

I love to write, but something has happened lately that I never thought would happen. I have grown to dread the "new post" button on Blogger. When something wonderful becomes a chore there is a certain sense of loss that occurs and there seems no way around it.

This fact is universal. Everyone experiences that rush of excitement when they try something new. But as with anything that has to be done with some regularity, it can descend  into drudgery before you know it. Why is this so?

One of the things I know separates those of us who persevere from those of us who quit is the ability to recall the original reason(s) we started in the first place. Another characteristic of those who stick with it is a determination to not let feelings rule their lives. Feelings come and go but we have to learn that doing the best thing rarely feels fun or exciting.

Wow, Jason, you're a real bummer today! I don't mean to be. I'm going to hit the "publish" button on this post because I've got an inkling that I'm not the only one that's ever felt this way. You may not have struggled with writing, but what about reading the Bible? What about dragging yourself out of bed on Sunday morning? I've wondered if my writing makes a difference; you wonder if your prayers make a difference.

Here are a couple of things that keep me going:
1. Writing for the Lord and not for Facebookers (Colossians 3:23).
2. Knowing that tomorrow's entry may bring me great joy.
3. Reminding myself that a whole lot of people need more grace in their lives.

So, when the novelty wears off just remember that there's a small town blogger out there who understands. It's worth it, especially if you do it for the Lord.

"Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a 
harvest if we do not give up."

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Matthew 26: 26
Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

We can all tell when someone is genuinely sorry for their actions. Our capacity for truly heartfelt remorse is usually held in inverse proportion to our level of pride.

It's true that there are certain situations and certain people we would rather drop dead in front of than to show a crack in our defenses. That may be due to fear of being trampled on and I don't want to minimize this. I've felt this way before and it can be very legitimate.  But generally speaking, we just plain old don't want to show any kind of softness. Pride makes us tough and tough is cool--especially for men (but increasingly true for women as well). The problem with "toughness" is that sooner or later we wake up with a heart of stone.

Let's think about it. Who was more macho than Peter? He was the outspoken leader of the disciples. He was the sword wielding ear chopper in the garden. He was the brave one who stepped out of the boat. He was the one who refused the foot washing. He stood up before thousands of people and courageously preached the gospel. But, though we could call him a "man's man," Peter's heart remained soft. I have come to believe that remorse is one of the most reliable indicators of two things: 1. humility, and 2. a soft, fleshy heart. A heart of flesh is a heart that can feel empathy, remorse, and compassion. It is also true that hearts of stone cannot really love.

One of the promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament is found in the book of Ezekiel. He tells them there will come a day when, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Have you a heart of flesh? Your ability to show remorse is a telltale sign.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Possibilities are Endless

Matthew 19:26
Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Easter isn't too far off so why not start thinking about it? Bunnies and other silly nonsense aside, there's an interesting tidbit to chew on if we take a moment. The resurrection is, of course, the main focus for Christians and what a wonderful thing it is! But, not everyone believes in the resurrection. Some don't believe such a thing is possible because they don't believe God exists. Now, if I didn't believe in God I wouldn't believe in things like resurrections or prayer either. But there are such convincing clues pointing to the existence of God that only willful blindness could drive me down the path of unbelief. 

The resurrection, to me, is a small step once belief in God is established. Incredible? Yes--and wonderful too. I believe in the resurrection, in part, because all things are possible with God. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Peter's Eggs

Psalm 119:97-100

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for the are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your [word]. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. 

I made eggs for Peter this morning and what a time we had. I crafted them with the greatest of care and presented them to him on our finest pea green plastic saucer. To my chagrin he turned his nose up at them when I tried to fork them into his mouth. Monster! I determined to remain calm and tried again. My persistence paid of to the extent I got them into his mouth for approximately "2 Mississippi." Out they came again!

Then he smiled at me with sparkling eyes and clapped. He enthusiastically yelled, "DA DA!" And then proceeded to pick them up off his tray and eat them all by himself. I sighed, shrugged and started forking the eggs onto his tray instead. He devoured them by the fistful. It seems Peter loves to feed himself, thank you very much.

How about you? Are you a self-feeder when it comes to the Word of God? Howard Hendricks wrote Living by the Book, a very good guide to learning how to study the Bible for yourself. In it he says that the first hurdle anyone has to overcome in self feeding is learning how to read. Really. He asserts we don't read well enough and we should practice as much as we can. Reading, like so many things may come more naturally to some than to others, but nowhere do we read in Scripture that only the "readers" are to read. So how's your self-feeding going?

Note: Those of you with keen eyes will notice that eggs aren't blue. Yes, this pic is of blueberry pancakes, but I think you get the idea.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Impossible Sermon

Have you ever read Jesus "Sermon on the Mount" and finished with a sense of despair? I challenge you to read Matthew 5-7 now if you have the time and then finish reading this entry. But, if you don't have time here are a few impossible morsels:

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad..." vs 5:11-12a
"Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven," vs19
"Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." vs 20
"Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement." vs22
"Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery..." vs28
"If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away..." vs30
"If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." vs39

This is just a sampling. Yikes!

The question is, "Why would Jesus preach this way?" Did he not know he was asking the impossible? The people already held the pharisees in high regard for their extreme dedication to following every conceivable law and religious regulation. Now they are being told that the pharisees have missed the mark too? Who then can be saved? Despair!

In Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic novel The Brothers Karamazov the description is given of a reclusive ascetic monk named Father Farapont. All the monks at the monastery and all in the town lived in awe of him. He ate nothing but crusty bread and drank nothing but water. He fasted for days and always wore a belt of extremely heavy weights to keep himself "humble" through self-mortification. None was more perfect in holiness, yet he harbored a secret hatred for Father Zosima who lived joyfully by the simple principles of grace from God and mercy to others. The contrast between these two friars is striking and we must not miss the point: We are saved only by grace.

Jesus did know he was preaching the impossible and he did it on purpose. The reason is that he knew that unless people sense their utter lostness and inability to meet God's standards they will not really understand grace. The point of the Sermon on the Mount, in my mind, and Dostoevsky's point as well, is to knock out of us any ridiculous pharisaical notion that we can somehow earn God's favor by being good or righteous. If we miss this point we are likely to turn into holy monsters.

Jesus came to die on a cross so I might come and die there too. He died physically so that my death might be of a different kind. All who seek salvation and the favor of God must die to the lie that Father Farapont believed, namely, that God will love me most if I suffer most. The crushing weight of the law, works, good deeds and holiness cannot save any soul. Remember, Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

So, the next time you read the "Sermon on the Mount" remember grace and be glad! Amen.