Discern What Pleases the Lord

Wednesday morning, and school is still going very well. If they’ll just get the bus route figured out so they can get the kids to school on time…

Jumping right into the devotion…

Bible readings from Discovering the Bible, by Gordon L. Addington:
Matthew 17:14-27
14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him,
15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.
16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”
17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”
18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
21 [But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.]

Verse 21 is not in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. It’s interesting that the father says the boy is epileptic, but Matthew says that Jesus rebuked “the demon.” That’s curious. I know people who don’t believe in demon-possession, but think the NT accounts were all epilepsy. Is all epilepsy demon possession? Were all demon possessions epilepsy? Are all squares rectangles? Yes, but not all rectangles are squares. I won’t pretend to be wise enough to know the answer, but I believe what the Bible says to be true. Therefore, I choose to believe that what the father thought was epilepsy was really a demon. But I don’t believe that all epilepsy is demon possession.
Anyway…the disciples couldn’t deal with this one. Jesus criticizes their “little faith,” and talks about the mustard seed again. Is he referring to actual, physical mountains?? I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone move a mountain. However, Moses and Joshua parted great bodies of water.

22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men,
23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

Jesus is letting the disciples know what’s coming. This is at least the second time he has spoken of his impending death and resurrection.

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?”
25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?”
26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.
27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Jesus was pretty clear about our responsibility to the government. At another place in Scripture, he says to “render unto Caesar…” He won’t always give us a coin in a fish’s mouth, but we are supposed to pay our taxes. Is it okay to complain about them? Not sure about that…Paul tells us to do everything without complaining. (Philippians 2:14) Does that include paying taxes?

Isaiah 27
This chapter speaks of the redemption of Israel. In verse 1, the Lord slays “the dragon,” “Leviathan the fleeing serpent.” This probably is a metaphor for evil powers in the world, which are backed by Satan. After that, he speaks of a pleasant vineyard that the Lord will keep and water. The end result is depicted in verse 12ff:
12 In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel.
13 And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

Proverbs 6:20-35
He begins with encouragement to keep the commands of the father and the teachings of the mother. They will be light to the path, and protection when you lie down. Then there are more warnings against adultery. Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes… (v. 25) It almost looks like the writer would rather see the reader interact with a prostitute than with a married woman in verse 26: for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life. I’m sure he’s not encourage the former, but the latter is much worse.
27 Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?
28 Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?
29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.
30 People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry,
31 but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house.
32 He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself.
33 He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away.
34 For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge.
35 He will accept no compensation; he will refuse though you multiply gifts.

Solomon basically says that if you commit adultery, you’re stupid. Like a man trying to carry fire or walking barefoot on hot coals.

Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:10)

The “desire to please God is a mark of conversion, and the Bible finds it inconceivable that any regenerate person would lack a desire to please the Lord.” Is this incompatible with the doctrine of justification by faith alone? No, because we are not desiring to please God so that he will save us. We desire to please God because he HAS saved us; our nature is changed. Pleasing the Lord is not our “ticket to heaven.” The desire to please him is “the necessary and inevitable consequence of the new birth.”
How do we “discern what is pleasing to the Lord?” The best way is to study the Bible. There is no better way to learn what pleases God than to study his words. “Soaking ourselves in Scripture reinforces our understanding of the light in which we must walk, transforming our minds that we might do what pleases God (Rom. 12:2).”
(From Tabletalk Magazine)

Father, I pray for my study of Scripture that I might walk in your ways, thereby learning what pleases you the most. I agree that there is no better place to learn what pleases you than in your words. I figure that’s why you’ve given them to us. And that is a major reason that I do this every morning, and I feel like I’ve totally missed out on a very important piece of my life if I miss it in the morning. Help me to learn what pleases you. You would think that, after 53 years, I would have it figured out. Unfortunately, there’s still enough of the old me hanging around, the flesh hanging on, to distract me pretty badly at times. I pray that these distractions will decrease as I, hopefully, mature in you.
Lord, I pray that I will also learn to do things without grumbling…things like paying taxes and doing my civil duties and responsibilities. While it is true that I believe myself to be a citizen of heaven first, I am still a citizen of the USA, and have certain obligations to the country. Help me to fulfill those. I also pray that you help me get back into a habit of praying for our leaders on a daily basis. I used to do that every day. I’ve used the excuse that I don’t have enough time…that’s lame. I do have enough time. So, for starters, today, I pray for our president, Barak Obama. I pray that he will seek your wisdom as he goes about his duties as president. I pray for his cabinet, and for our congress, that they might also seek your will as they make decisions for our nation. We pray for your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. That is always our prayer. Sometimes my will conflicts with your will. So my will needs to change, in that case. I also ask that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ would cease their derogatory comments about the president and support him with prayer. They don’t have to agree with him. I don’t agree with him a lot of times. But I must pray for him. I also commit to carrying that precept down to lesser officials, like governors. I confess that I have been less than kind in my speech about the governor of our state. I will stop that. And I will pray for him and for the rest of our state government, as well.
Lastly, Lord, I pray for the kind of faith that can move a mountain. I have yet to see that in my lifetime, but I have certainly seen some great men and women of faith. I pray that my faith would be strong.

Thank you for the bus getting here earlier today. Perhaps Stephanie will get to school on time today. I pray that she will have a great day at school. I pray for her Government teacher, who has missed the first three days of school because of some personal issues.

I pray for a good day for Christi and me, that it will be stress free.

Finding what pleases the Lord is not as hard as we want to make it. It’s all there, in his word.

Grace and peace, friends.

“He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease”

It’s Friday morning, and I’m the only one up right now. Christi’s taking the day off to take care of a couple of things, and spend the day with Stephanie, because TODAY IS STEPHANIE’S 18TH BIRTHDAY!!! Just in case anyone who knows her didn’t already know that. And speaking of “just in,” today is also our son-in-law Justin’s birthday. I won’t say how old he is today. It’s one of those “milestone” birthdays, you know. So…Happy birthday to both of you!! Later today, C & S are coming to Grapevine to have lunch with me. That should be fun.

Time for the devotional…

Today’s Bible readings from Discovering the Bible, by Gordon L. Addington:
Matthew 15:1-20
1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,
2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’
5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”
6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

Jesus really starts to tear into the religious leaders at this point. He exposes traditions for what they are in this scene. Having grown up Southern Baptist, I’ve seen a lot of traditions. Now, I won’t criticize the Baptist denomination too much. I learned a lot about the Bible, growing up Baptist. I believe that Baptists probably have more respect for the Bible than most other denominations. I mean, we even got points for carrying them to church with us (I still remember my Sunday School envelopes, with the 100% check list…bringing my Bible was worth a part of that percentage…we were all about the numbers)! Bible study was a very important part of being a Baptist. But we also had our traditions. There are a lot of people (and this spans all denominations and “non-denominations”) that believe that just showing up for church gets them some kind of supernatural points with God. The Pharisees in Jesus’s day had similar beliefs. They believed that their position gained them “points.” But Jesus exposed them for what they were…frauds. Verses 8 and 9 point that out quite well. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The point here, just as it is today, is that there are many things being taught as “doctrine” that aren’t in the Bible. Now…remember that all of this started because the religious leaders complained because the disciples weren’t washing their hands before they ate!

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand:
11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.
14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?
17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?
18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Jesus continues on the subject that began the debate. It’s not what goes in that defiles, it’s what comes out. Whatever comes out of the mouth “proceeds from the heart.” Look at the list of things from the heart. “Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” I believe (and I point my finger straight back at myself) that we need to pay a lot more attention to what comes out of our mouths. Because that seems to be a pretty good indication of the condition of our hearts. The pharisees were more concerned with dirty hands than dirty hearts. Outward tradition never outweighs inward condition.

Isaiah 19-20
Chapter 19 is very interesting. First, it begins with an oracle about Egypt. Things look pretty grim.
1 An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
2 And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, each against another and each against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom;
3 and the spirit of the Egyptians within them will be emptied out, and I will confound their counsel; and they will inquire of the idols and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers;
4 and I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a hard master, and a fierce king will rule over them, declares the Lord GOD of hosts.

But then, beginning in verse 16, something very interesting happens. And I have to admit that this has never really caught my attention before.
16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the LORD of hosts shakes over them.
17 And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians. Everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose that the LORD of hosts has purposed against them.
18 In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction.
19 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border.
20 It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them.
21 And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them.
22 And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.
23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth,
25 whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

Some manuscripts call the “City of Destruction” the “City of the Sun.” But verses 24 and 25 are quite amazing, aren’t they? Here are three nations, which had previously fought, that are now finding common ground in worshiping the Lord.

Chapter 20 depicts some of the outlandish things that God’s prophets had to endure sometimes. God told Isaiah to “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. (v. 2) Isaiah walked this way for three years! (To see other weird things that prophets had to do, go read Ezekiel!) But this activity was designed to show what would happen to Egypt at the hands of Assyria. I’ll admit…I’m confused on the timeline. These prophecies don’t always necessarily happen in order. Was this before what was prophesied in chapter 19? It is entirely possible that the prophecy in chapter 19 has yet to be fulfilled.

Proberbs 5:1-14
This passage of Proverbs warns against adultery or getting involved with a “forbidden woman” (v. 3). Look at the description.
3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil,
4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol;
6 she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.

Her lips “drip honey” but in the end she is “bitter as wormwood.” Anyone remember “Fatal Attraction?” Yeah. “Keep your way far from her,” verse 8 warns. It’s about honor, too. If you allow yourself to be drawn into wrong relationships, honor is at stake. The end result is tragic:
12 “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof!
13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors.
14 I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation.”

One thing to note. In verse 8, the word “far” is important. Don’t even get close!! We should be careful to avoid even the proximity of potential temptation.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

The Phillips translation renders part of that verse, “Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance.” I bet we all know some people in this world who could use that instruction, eh? A lot of them live in Hollywood or play professional sports. But what about you and me? Are we ever guilty of having exaggerated ideas of our importance? Let’s look at some Biblical examples.
Moses…he was a prince in Egypt; he was the “emancipator of the slaves.” Yet Scripture says this of him: Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. Numbers 12:3
Paul the apostle…got a personal visit from Jesus when he was “saved;” he was carried into heaven at one point; he had the ability to raise the dead. However, when he introduced his letters, he said, Paul, a servant of God. Titus 1:1
John the Baptist…a blood relative of Jesus; the first evangelist in history. Scripture states that he said, speaking about Jesus, ” He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30.
Who am I? I certainly don’t have the ability to raise the dead. I never freed any slaves, nor am I a prince. I’ve never been the first anything in history. I am but a servant. Sure, I have talent. Yes I have skill. There are many, many people, though, who have more talent and more skill. I am nothing. But wait. I do have Christ. I have the Holy Spirit indwelling within me. That makes me more than nothing. But without Jesus, I am nothing. He makes me what I am. It is the gift of God that makes me what I am. I must never take credit for anything that God has given me, which is everything. The word here, is humility. One of the most difficult words in our language. Because we all want to be something; we all want to matter. The problem is…we tend to manufacture our own significance. I must be humble. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
(Inspired by today’s reading in Grace For the Moment, by Max Lucado)

Father, dare I pray to be more humble? Am I brave enough to pray for humility? That’s a dangerous prayer, isn’t it? But I recognize the need for humility, and I truly believe that the past few months have instilled that a little better in my heart. You are doing something in my life right now that is thrilling. Let nothing go to my head, Lord. Let me not have an exaggerated opinion about my own importance. I am but your servant, and I desire to be used however you see fit. If the “giants” in Scripture had the humility that they had, how much more humble should I be, since I am no “giant” at all. Just let me be your servant, Father. That’s all I want.
Father, keep me away from sin, especially as I face the prospect of being involved in a wonderful worship ministry. Let my life be beyond reproach. Don’t even let me get near sin or potential temptation. Help me to guard my heart so that what comes out of my mouth is pure. Let there be no slander, gossip, or false witness coming out of my mouth. Let there be no murder or hatred spewing forth from my lips. Cleanse my heart with your Holy Spirit. Place the burning coal of Isaiah on my lips!
I pray that I will never again allow the traditions and commandments of men to supersede your truth. Let your Scriptures and the Holy Spirit be my guide into truth and doctrine, Lord. Give me wisdom as I read your word and meditate on your truths. Give me humility as I work these truths into my life and spread them into the world. Give me grace as I talk to other people. Most of all, give me love for all people.

I pray for this day, Father. It is a very special day for Stephanie. I pray that she has the best day ever today. Give me a good day at work today, and I pray that things that need to be worked out will get worked out so that the changes that we are making can finally be fully in place.

I also pray for Justin today, that he will have a very good birthday. Show your love to him on this day.

I ask again for some relief from the heat wave. We got a little bit last week, and a small amount of rain, for which we are very grateful. We pray, though for more rain, and less heat. Drive these 100+ temperatures far away from us, please.

Try on some humility today. It looks better on you than you think.

Grace and peace, friends.