Archives For Devotions

I’ve never been much for memorizing bible verses.  I’m referring to the typical way we go about memorizing the bible – a verse here and verse there – written down on a flashcard and placed on a mirror or fridge.  Why? I think it trains us to think of the Bible as a book of isolated verses rather than a unified whole with a context that defines and gives meaning to each individual verse.

For instance we memorize and quote Matthew 5:13-15, “you are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world“, and in so doing we simply believe Jesus is referring to us.  But the context clearly defines the “you” in those verses and it may or may not be us.  Memorizing individual verses apart from their setting leads us to distort what scripture is actually saying.

Is there a better way to familiarize ourselves with the Bible?  Yes!  And it doesn’t require flash cards.

Think of the first time you took your commute to work. If it wasn’t already a familiar place, you may have arrived at your job and not remembered the whole of your drive. Maybe a certain curve stuck out in your memory, a landmark or a sign. But as the days and months went by that stretch of road became a little less mysterious. The bold sights that once attracted your eye began to fade with repetitiveness and more unassuming details took their place.  Whole sections of the road began to fill in, anchored around those original markers. Eventually even the smooth flat road seeped into your mind. Unconsciously, bit by bit, it was there when you tried to recall it. So one day, without perhaps even realizing it, you knew the road like “the back of your hand.”

Knowing and understanding Scripture comes about in much the same way as our repetitive drives to work. On the first reading we may find a verse here and there resonating in our mind like an eye catching sign.  But they hang isolated and alone, with nothing remembered before or after. Its only through repeated reading that these significant gaps begin to fill in.

So how should we go about acquainting ourselves with scripture.  The answer is just keep reading!

 

Jesus says in Matthew 5:13-16,

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

Who is the “YOU” in that passage?  For those of us who apply the bible directly to our own lives its quite natural to see the “YOU” as referring to us.  For instance, The Personalized Bible renders that verse for me this way

Matthew is the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “Matthew is the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

Since the “YOU” is plural, we also might apply it to a particular Christian group.  “My Church is the salt of the earth” or “those who say a sinners prayer are the salt of the earth…”

But Jesus’ “YOU” is more specific than that.  It has a context which we all too often ignore.  Jesus has already told us to whom that “YOU” refers.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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, because great is YOUR reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before YOU.

YOU are the salt of the earth…

The “YOU” Jesus addresses are those who possess these qualities.  While I hope those qualities are represented in you and me, I recognize that’s not necessarily the case.  Do you and I match the description?  The promise is for those who in weakness demonstrate humble dependency upon God.  It’s not for people who simply claim the promise by inserting their name.

I’m writing this post out by hand.  Hopefully it will stop me from the constant self-editing which leaves most of my posts unfinished.

Writing by hand allows my thoughts to flow without the added pressure of making them immediately comprehensible.  Could I say it better?  Of course I could.  But writing is first and foremost about putting words on page.  And that only happens when I allow my mind to bypass the gatekeeper separating it from the page.  With my keyboards “Backspace” so readily available most of what I write is quickly thrown away.  The pen doesn’t let me do that.

I’m now thinking just how awesome an illustration writing is of the Incarnation (John 1:14).  Just as the invisible Logos/Word became flesh in Jesus to make known the invisible God (John 1:18) so in writing my unseen mind must become one with the pen to make known my thoughts to you.  The same could also be said of speaking but speaking isn’t visible like these letters you see here.

Jesus is God’s perfect and visible self-expression.

Too often I feel the gravity in the gulf separating my thoughts from their adequate articulation and forget just how perfectly God bridged and bridges the comprehension gap for me.  My writing is an incarnation but it’s not the Incarnation.  He and His Spirit has and will make up the gap in whatever my writing lacks.

I need to rest in that.

Can it really be that easy?  Well it all depends.  If you spend hours a day on your knees in some private chamber this post probably isn’t for you.  But if you struggle to find the time to pray and you just can’t make that devotion time regular, then yes!  It is that easy.

Here are five ways you can improve your prayer life almost immediately.

PrayerMedium1. Start Now

One of the biggest barriers to prayer is waiting for the epic spiritual experience to start.

But that’s like waiting for exercise to sound more enjoyable than devouring a Chicago-pan pizza.  Probably not going to happen any time soon.  And if it did it probably wouldn’t be the epic experience you were hoping for.  Heart attack.  Not so fun.

Time with God is enjoyable but like exercise it’s the afterwards kind of pleasure.   Of course many things are immediately more enjoyable than prayer? It’s only later we find them far less fulfilling than time spent with God.

So start now!  Don’t wait.  James  4:8 reminds, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

2. Make it Brief

If we aren’t waiting for the epic spiritual experience to kickstart our prayer life we’re probably trying to engineer one.  Haven’t prayed for a month; why not seclude yourself in that prayer closet over the next 24 hours?  I hear sweat lodges are nice.  Just kidding.

If you start with this kind of shock commitment you’re bound to crash and burn.   You’ve heard of crash dieting?  These unhealthy changes never produce the intended results.

Sure marathon running is an awesome goal and a great achievement but no one runs that far on their first day.  Or their fiftieth.  Or their hundredth.   The same goes for prayer.  Lengthy periods take practice and discipline.

You’ve heard it declared, “With God, it’s all or nothing.”  And Yes!  God requires some pretty extraordinary things.  But remember this is the same God who takes the least and makes it great (e.g. the loaves and fishes).  So start small.

3. Don’t Put it on a list

What about that gargantuan list?  You feel like you got to catch up.  They’re so many needs.  And it just keeps getting longer.

Enough with the list already!  Don’t put it on the list.  Pray right now!

There will always be things to pray for.  When someone asks you to pray or you offer to pray for someone, don’t put it on a list to weigh you down later on.  Pray then!  Pray now!

You don’t have to wait until the right time.  Now is the right time!  And by doing so you won’t find yourself the hypocrite, promising to pray and never quite finding the time.

4. Use Mindless Routine.  

Of course having a “prayer life” means you’re not just going to pray once.  So where are you going to find that regular time when life is so busy?

How many times a day do you find yourself doing something so routine that your mind just wanders?  Fill that time with prayer.  It may be a few seconds.  Perhaps a few minutes.  But don’t think it’s nothing.  Make it something. Spend it in prayer.

 5. Pray the “Canned” Prayer

Ok!  You don’t have the words to say.   You don’t sound as eloquent as Sister Sarah and you’re pretty sure you don’t know how to speak King James English.  That’s alright.  Silence is good.  But you could also recite a short prayer.

I know.  I know.  Quoted lines don’t seem authentic today.  Like canned laughter or applause.  But chances are you’re wedding vows were recited and that didn’t make them any less authentic.

Jesus taught his disciples to recite a prayer.  He said, “when you pray, pray this…”  And if it’s good enough for Jesus it’s good enough for me.

 

Our Father, who is in heaven

Your name be set apart

Your Kingdom Come

Your will be done

on Earth as it is in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

And lead us not into temptation

but delivers us from the evil one.

Start praying.  Keep praying.  And little by little you’ll see your life grow in God.

There’s a well known problem with Luke’s nativity. Luke states that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem because of a census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria (2:1-5).

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

Now Josephus, the first century historian, says Quirinius conducted a census in A.D. 6. And here in lies the problem.  Because Luke, like Matthew, also places Jesus birth before the death of King Herod in 4 B.C (Matt. 2:1, Luke 1:5). Which adds up to unmistakable difference of 9 years.

Whatever the solution to this problem, and there are good solutions, It appears to me that Luke did indeed want his readers to at least connect Jesus’ birth with the memory of the census of A.D. 6. Here’s why.

The census that year sparked a major Jewish revolt. Luke knows of this event because he refers to it in his second volume (Acts 5:37).

After this Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.

It’s quite natural to connect this census with the one already mentioned at the beginning of Luke.

Concerning Judas, Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews provides a little more.

Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt, who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty; as if they could procure them happiness and security for what they possessed, and an assured enjoyment of a still greater good, which was that of the honor and glory they would thereby acquire for magnanimity.

The result, however, was vastly different than Judas intended. Rome quickly crushed the rebellion. But the repercussions, Josephus finds, extended long after.

the sedition at last increased so high, that the very temple of God was burnt down by their enemies’ fire. (A.D. 70)

It appears to me that Luke implicitly compare and contrast the well-known actions of the Rebel Judas with the actions of Mary and Joseph.  Like Judas, Mary and Joseph are from Galilee. And yet unlike the revolutionary they don’t rebel when commanded to register. They humbly obey.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

If anyone had a reason to rebel, they did. Mary with child, a long distance to travel and no room for them when they arrive. But suffering the insults, they conducted themselves as Rome, the oppressor state, required.

Luke in both his Gospel and Acts is insistent on the peaceful behavior of Jesus and his followers.  Despite Jesus being executed as an enemy of Rome, and His followers being the source of numerous riots, Luke stresses over and over again that the seditious overthrow of the government is not the way of those who follow Christ.

Instead Jesus comes, as Zachariah says,

to guide our feet in the way of peace (Luke 1:79).

And it is because of His birth the angels sing,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke 2:14)

By implicitly comparing and contrasting Mary and Joseph’s behavior with the infamous actions of Judas the Galilean, Luke offers them as examples of peace for all Christians to follow.