Posted in Bible, reflections

When you think you’re alone – Psalm 12:1

In public high school, a believer can get pretty lonely. Sometimes, it’s tempting to think that there’s no one else who wants to follow Christ. But God gave me new eyes to see those around me for who they really were, and sent other believers my way. We started a prayer time, and met every day before homeroom. By the end of the school year, nearly twenty gathered daily to pray for each other. What a difference that made in my attitude! Truth be told, I had never been alone.

David sometimes thought he was all alone, too. He cried out to God:

Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind (Psalm 12:1, NRSV).

God did not scold David for his heartfelt plea. David knew that God was big enough to receive his wrenching complaint. He felt all alone, and longed for the comfort of the LORD’s presence. Though in Psalm 12 David never sees the solution to his problem, we know from his life that God was listening. At various times, God sent people David’s way to encourage him. In Jonathan, he found a friend closer than a brother. In Abigail, he found a caring wife. The LORD blessed him with family, children like Solomon who – while far from perfect – sought after God and His wisdom. To one all alone, God gave faithful community. His heart brimming with joy, David proclaimed:

I rejoiced with those who said to me,  “Let us go to the house of the LORD” (Psalm 122:1, NIV).

Thank God today for the companions that He has given you on your journey of faith.

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Reflection based on Scripture reading for Day 45, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Posted in Bible, reflections

Getting beyond “if only” – Mark 14:8

After a dismal nine holes of golf, my dad and I were lamenting the tough breaks. “If only that stream had been ten yards further away, I wouldn’t have put it in the drink!”  my dad observed. “Yeah,” I joined in,  “and if only I’d used my 7 iron instead of my 5, I wouldn’t have overshot the green on the last hole.” Things got quiet as we sipped our Cokes in the clubhouse. “You know,” my dad reflected, “when if comes to golf, maybe the two words we need to remove from our vocabulary are ‘if’ and ‘only.’ ”

As in golf, so in life. In Mark 14, we find a remedy to the “if only” approach to living. A woman wondered what she had to offer the Lord. She may have been tempted to think: “If only I had been born rich, then I could contribute my wealth to the Master.” Then she remembered the jar of aromatic nard. She heard that Jesus was at the house of Simon the Leper. Timidly, she crossed the threshold and made her way toward the table. Perhaps Jesus smiled at her, giving her just enough courage to carry through with her plan. Opening the jar, she slowly poured the perfumed oil on his head. When others protested the lavish waste, the Lord scolded them. “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her?” (v. 6). Jesus insisted that the poor would always be with them, but the woman had done an incredibly loving and selfless thing:

“She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial” (v. 8, NRSV).

Jesus affirmed: “She has done what she could.”  There are lots of things that we cannot do. We can waste a lot of time pondering the “if onlys,” or we can get busy doing what we can, using what is at our disposal. It’s time to get beyond “if only.” It’s time to do what we can.

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Reflection based on Scripture reading for Day 42, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Posted in Bible, reflections

Is the Cross our ‘Mizpah’? – Gen. 31:49

“Mike,” a friend of mine in the youth group, was head-over-heels in love with “Brenda.” They’d gone out together for several months when Brenda learned that her family was moving out-of-state. Before she left, they went to the mall together and bought his-and-her necklaces. She wore the left side of a jagged heart, and he the right side. Engraved on each of the half-pendants were these words, taken from Gen. 31:49 — “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another” (KJV).

Love will do funny things, but it’s doubtful that verse was exactly what they had in mind. In its context, Gen. 31:49 has nothing to do with romance, and everything to do with mistrust. The employer/employee relationship between Laban and his nephew, Jacob, had been anything but positive — see Gen. 29-31 for the whole debacle. Through a series of shrewd flock breeding techniques, Jacob had prospered at Laban’s expense. Jacob took off  in the middle of the night with his own wives, children and flocks, not even saying goodbye, but Laban eventually caught up with him.  That sets the stage for a final confrontation between uncle and nephew. Laban begins:

The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do about these daughters of mine, or about their children whom they have borne? (v. 43, NRSV).

In short, Laban knows he’s been beat, but he doesn’t trust Jacob any further than he can throw a stone. So he resorts to stones. They cobble together a pile of boulders as a “witness” between them, then share a meal. This pile of rocks is a Mizpah, a “watchpost.” Laban explains:

If you ill-treat my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters, though no one else is with us, remember that God is witness between you and me (v. 50).

Every time Jacob passed by that pile of stones in the future, it would remind him of his promise to be faithful and kind to Leah, Rachel and Laban’s grandchildren.

What Laban and Jacob did on that day was an attempt – however unsuccessful – at reconciliation. In the New Testament, that’s an important theme. If Jesus had died on a pile of stones, like Aslan at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then perhaps we’d have a Mizpah at the front of our churches. But Jesus died on a cross, and so we find pieces of wood hanging there.

Yet the Cross goes far beyond what Laban and Jacob were able to hammer out that day. The Genesis 31 account gives no hint of true reconciliation. They left each other with a cloud of suspicion still hanging over their heads. But at the Cross, we are reconciled to God. When we look at its beams, we are reminded that heaven and earth embraced on a hillside overlooking Jerusalem. The Mizpah of mistrust yields to a different kind of Mizpah, a “watching” motivated not by suspicion but by love.  Jesus promises:  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NIV).

Now that’s the kind of Mizpah we can all celebrate.

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Reflection based on Scripture reading for Day 33, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Posted in Bible, reflections

‘dikaiosyne’ – to translate is to betray

David Bosch’s Transforming Mission (Orbis Books, 1991) continues to stretch my thinking. In a section entitled “God’s Reign and Justice-Righteousness” (pp. 70-73), he studies the Greek word, dikaiosyne. Bosch (p. 71) observes that this noun can be translated three ways:

1) justification, which is “God’s merciful act of declaring us just” – N.B. – John Wesley rarely spoke of justification, i.e. forgiveness, without pointing beyond it to sanctification, but that is another discussion;

2) righteousness, which is “an attribute of God or a spiritual quality that we receive from God,” and –

3) justice, or “people’s right conduct in relation to their fellow human beings”.

What Bosch rightly points out is that English translations of the Bible uniformly translate dikaiosyne as “righteousness.” A  quick look at five or six English translations on Biblegateway.com validates Bosch’s observation.

Why is this translation point important? Bosch (Ibid.) explains:

If, on the other hand, we translate “set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well” (NEB), it may mean that Jesus asks us not to be concerned with our own desires and interests but with the practice of justice in respect to those who are the victims of circumstances and society, that this is what God’s reign is all about.

And so Bosch invents a term that doesn’t exist in English, a homely, hyphenated expression, i.e. justice-righteousness. In doing so, his logic is clear. You simply cannot say that you are “righteous” on the one hand, then turn around and practice injustice toward your neighbor. The two go hand-in-hand.

As a speaker of French, I find it fascinating that all three French translations that I own (Bible de Jérusalem, la Bible Semeur, and La Colombe) for dikaiosyne in both Matthew 5:6 and Matthew 6:33 translate with the French noun, « justice. » According to the  exhaustive English/French Harrap’s Unabridged Dictionary (2001), the word “righteousness” in English translates into French as « vertue » or « rectitude. » Yet no French translation that I’ve seen uses these words! They keep the broader « justice, » which can encompass the personal realm, but doesn’t rule out the social aspect of dikaiosyne. So, my hat’s off to French Bible translators. They’ve done far better than almost every English Bible translator, with the except of the New English Bible (1961), as cited by Bosch above.

And so, the French proverb proves true: « Traduire, c’est trahir. » To translate is to betray.

For students of biblical Greek, wondering if it’s worth it, David Bosch proves the worth of studying the original. Let’s all keep at it.

Posted in Bible, reflections

A sectarian spirit – Mark 9:38-41

It’s one of the biggest rivalries in college football. Every year, Army officers-in-training from Westpoint square-off against their Navy counterparts from Annapolis. The competition is intense, as feelings ride high. For those few hours on the gridiron, the opponent is clear. But when the last touchdown is scored, and the contest moves to the theatre of war, old rivalries melt into unity. Army and Naval officers join forces to battle a common enemy.

A rivalry gone-too-far threatened unity in Jesus’ day. John, one of the “sons of thunder,” complained that someone else was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. “We tried to stop him,” said John, “because he was not following us” (Mark 9:38, NRSV). The Lord gives a long response, but the take-away line comes in v. 40 – “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

One of the saddest phenomena of our time is division of the Body of Christ. The Army would never fight the Navy, yet many are the casualties of “friendly fire” between churches. Denominational rivalries risk morphing into something ugly. Sometimes, we even turn our “guns” on other believers, simply because they are not “with us.” We forget that – whatever our theological differences – we have a common enemy, the devil.

John Wesley held out hope for church unity. In his sermon, Catholic Spirit, he urged: “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.” At the signing of the “Declaration of Independence,” Benjamin Franklin cautioned: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Let’s rid ourselves of a sectarian spirit.

Prayer

“God, your word teaches us that the hand needs the foot, and the eyes need the ears. Forgive us when we have sown seeds of division, then denied that the bitter harvest was of our making. Show us today how we can be instruments of harmony and cooperation in your Church. Through Christ our Lord we pray, AMEN.”

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Reflections from Scripture for Day 26, in Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Posted in Bible, reflections

I believe; help my unbelief! -Mark 9:24

His son was a hopeless case, or so it seemed. Mark’s Gospel reports that the boy had a spirit that not only prevented him from speaking, but threw him to the ground, causing him to foam at the mouth and grind his teeth. Jesus’ disciples could do nothing. Why should this desperate father hope for a better outcome with Jesus? He told the master:

If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us (Mark 9:22, NRSV).

Jesus took pity on them, gently chiding the father for his shaky confidence, reminding him that belief was essential for deliverance. Then, in some of the most memorable words of the Gospel, the man replied:

I believe; help my unbelief!

It might have been the son convulsing on the ground, but in a real sense the father’s faith was also “on the ground.” Life had knocked it flat on its face.

Then Jesus intervened. That day, son and father left as changed individuals, both able to stand (v. 27).

Most of us at one time or another find ourselves in the role of that dad. We want to believe that God cares so much that He knows the number of hairs on our head. (For some, that’s not such a feat!) We want to trust, to believe that – in the words of the old “Imperials” song –

       “He didn’t bring us this far, to leave us;

       He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown.

       He didn’t build his  home in us to move away.

       He didn’t lift us up to let us down.”

We believe, but unbelief is knocking at the door. At those times, it helps me if I review the blessings of God. What has God done in the past that gives me confidence He’ll come through in the present?

Father and son left differently than they came. Jesus intervened. Let’s trust in His loving intervention in our lives today.

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Reflections based on Scripture for Day 25, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Posted in Bible, From soup to nuts, reflections

Despising our birthright – Genesis 25:34

Call it temporary insanity. I never should have traded.

For weeks, I’d eaten boxes of a breakfast cereal that wasn’t even my favorite, and for what? All so I could cut off the required number of box tops and send them away for a toy red Ferrari. Every day, I watched as the Post Office Jeep slowly made its way down the street. Every day, I ran out to the mailbox when he’d gone, only to be disappointed. But one day, there it was. at long last. My Ferrari had come!

None of the other ten year-old-boys on the block had anything like it. I showed off my Ferrari with pride. Only one boy didn’t seem so impressed. Ray barely paid it any attention. Using psychology worthy of Tom Sawyer at the white-board fence, he got out his little, beat-up green Corvette, then planted himself on the floor of the garage. He made an obstacle course, and “vroomed!” his way around. Slowly, the enthusiasm convinced me. I had to have that green Corvette! You’ve probably guessed the rest of the story. Ray reluctantly agreed to trade me his “cool” green Corvette for my “lousy” red Ferrari, as a favor to me. If it wasn’t for mom-to-mom intervention, I never would have gotten back the sports car I’d worked for so long.

In Genesis 25:34, a similar scene unfolded. Esau came in from the fields, his stomach churning in ravenous hunger. Jacob had cooked up a tasty dish, but the price would be steep. “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished” demanded Esau (v. 30). Living up to his name, “the deceiver,” Jacob replied: “First, sell me your birthright.” The “birthright” belonged to the eldest son, and included a double-portion of the inheritance, plus the chieftanship (or rule) over the entire extended family. In this case, it also included the future possession of Canaan and the covenant promises that Yahweh had made with Abraham. Foolishly, Esau replied: “I am about to die. Of what use is a birthright to me?” (v. 32). Jacob made Esau take an oath, then served him bread and lentil stew. The trade was done, and the trade was irrevocable.

I got back my red Ferrari, but life isn’t always so forgiving, as Esau learned the hard way. Moments of temporary insanity haunt each of us. God brings incredible blessings our way, yet in a weak moment, we trade them for things that are far inferior.  The apostle Paul observes: “We are not unaware of (Satan’s) schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11b, NIV). Be on the look-out today. Don’t foolishly trade away your birthright.

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Reflections based on Scripture for Day 24, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Posted in Bible, reflections

Get behind me, Satan! – Mark 8:33

Suffice it to say, it was not one of Peter’s best moments. Jesus had just explained that the race God asked them to run would be grueling:

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31, NRSV).

What was Jesus saying? Hadn’t Peter just confessed that Jesus was the “Messiah”? Didn’t he know that the mashiach, the Anointed One of God, would re-establish David’s throne? Why this sudden talk of doom and gloom? Surely, he had the story all wrong! So Peter did what he had to do. He “rebuked” Jesus (v. 32).

Peter was not expecting to be rebuked in return. Jesus thundered: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (v. 33).

Jesus insisted that when he speaks, his sheep recognize his voice, and they follow (John 10:27).  Likewise, Jesus knew the voice of his Father, and one thing was for sure: This was not his Father’s message coming from Peter’s lips.

We, too, must learn to discern, first by becoming accustomed to the Lord’s voice. Once we know the voice of the Good Shepherd, we won’t be easily fooled when the wolf tries to imitate it. There may even come a time when – like Jesus -we say out loud: “Satan, get lost!” When we resist the devil and his warped plan for us, he must flee (James 4:7).

Prayer

“Heavenly Father, teach me to know the voice of your Son. No matter the difficulty of the race you ask me to run, give me the power of your Holy Spirit, and I shall run it. Help me to discern the voice of the enemy, who is determined to detour me from your path, and give me the courage to always rebuke him. Through Christ I pray, AMEN.”

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Reflection based on Scripture for Day 23, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Posted in Bible, reflections

The LORD will provide – Genesis 22:14

Stan Toler’s book title resonates with believers: God has never failed me, but He’s sure scared me to death a few times. Abraham surely thought as much when God ordered him:

“Take your son, your only son whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you” (Gen. 22:2, NRSV).

When Isaac asked his father where the sacrifice was, Abraham answered: “The LORD will provide” (v. 14). Traditionally, this is rendered as Jehovah Jireh. Before Abraham could bring down the knife upon his trusting son, the angel of the LORD called to him: “Do not lay your hand on the boy” (v. 12).  Caught in the thicket was a ram. Jehovah Jireh — the LORD provided.

Jesus, growing up as a boy in Nazareth, no doubt had many times heard the story of Abraham, Isaac and the ram.  The LORD who provides figures prominently in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  God clothes the lilies of the field. Will God not clothe us? Jehovah Jireh – the LORD will provide.

This faith in our provider God must not result in laziness. We are still to be as industrious as ants (Proverbs 6:6). Yet at the end of the day, when we have done all that we can, we rest in the deep, abiding, providing love of God.

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Reflection is based on Scripture for Day 22, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995

Question:

How has God proven to be your provider? Share a story by replying to this post.