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pointed biblical thoughts for today and tomorrow

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To-Do Lists & Christian Living (B)

One of the main purposes of making a to-do lists is to help set priorities. The list helps us see what is more urgent or important. Watering the plants may be on our list, but it is not as important as feeding the children.

The scribes and Pharisees were great list makers, but Jesus criticized them for neglecting the more important things while focusing on superficials.

Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law: judgment [justice], mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Luke 11:42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment [justice] and the love of God: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Regarding others, they were unfair and unkind because they neglected justice and mercy, and they were disconnected from God himself despite all their religious details because they did not take the basics of faith in God and loving him seriously. Why not? Superficially, it was because they were busy with lesser things, but deep down it was probably because they did not want to face the fact that they were not really living for God.

What about us?
We too are often so busy with details, like Martha in Luke 10:38-42, that we neglect what is truly important. Martha apparently had a rather long to-do list since she was worried and troubled about many things. So she neglected to listen to the Lord like Mary. Martha was not a Pharisee, but she acted like one. We do as well.

Luke 10:41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things: 10:42 But one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Therefore we need to use to-do lists with care, and sometimes we do not need such a list at all. Mary knew that listing to Jesus was what really mattered at that moment and was not distracted by Martha's to-do list.

March 31, 2021

To-Do Lists & Christian Living (A)

Nearly everyone makes to-do lists in order to not forget essential tasks and in order to get more things done. Yet, the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 is a list of nouns rather than verbs. For some reason, Paul did not give the Galatians a list of actions or things to do in place of his list of things NOT to do, "the works of the flesh," given shortly before (Gal. 5:19-21). I wonder why?

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 5:23 Meekness, temperance [self-control]: against such there is no law. 

This was probably because Jewish works-centered teaching was influential among the Christians in Galatia. So for the sake of the true gospel of salvation by faith (Gal. 2:15-16), Paul was careful NOT to make a list of verbs or required actions that would sound like keeping the law. Yet, he spoke of the Christian life in 5:22-23 as being in line with God's law -- "against such there is no law."

This seems paradoxical. We do not have a list of things to do in order to keep the law. Yet, through the inner working of the Holy Spirit, we Christian can bear fruit that is biblical. On the one hand, this fruit bearing is passive, since all the power comes from God. Yet just as fruit is always attached to branches, faithful believers who abide in the Vine bear the fruit (John 15:1-11). It does not grow in thin air!

So what?
Fruit bearing is not totally passive. Each of the various nouns in Gal. 5:22-23, such as love, joy, and peace, involve action. The fruit becomes visible through action, and because the Spirit works (Gal. 5:6) it can not be hidden. Though Paul did not provide us with a legalistic to-do list, he did give us a list of things to think about, look for, and expect as we allow the Spirit, rather than the flesh, to works in us ( Gal. 5:25, Eph. 5:18).

Galatians 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

Though helpful, to-do lists can become a burden because of our human frailty. This is especially so if the to-do list is long. Notice that Paul's Fruit of the Spirit list is quite short, and the emphasis at the end seems to be on one item, self-control. There is a close connection between the ending of 5:23 and the next verse.

Paul could have ended his list with an exhortation to remember ALL these things, but he did not. So perhaps it is best for each of us to focus on one main, personal weakness that most needs attention. Perhaps it is self-control as with the Galatians, but it might be one of the other eight items on the list.

March 31, 2021

Lists Indicate Organization, but . . .

It is good to be organized, IF one is organized for good. The long list of David's mighty men in 2 Sam. 23:8-38 shows that his army was well organized which was a good thing. Yet, the last soldier mentioned in the long list is Uriah the Hittite (23:39) Bathsheba's husband who David had killed.

2 Samuel 23:38 Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, 23:39 and Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all. 

Uriah was killed through the corrupt misuse of organization (2 Sam. 11:15-17), since the army's command structure and Joab were used. Today as well, organizing for good is a good thing, but corrupt leaders misuse the structure. The corrupt leaders often appear to get away with their evil actions, but David's long list shows  that Uriah was not forgotten!


March 30, 2021

Lists: Every Item is Important.

Though we rarely think of them as very important, our lives would be much more difficult without lists of various kinds; shopping lists, to-do lists, membership lists, mailing lists, etc. There are many lists in the Bible as well, and they too are very important. The Fruit of the Spirt in Galatians is a well-known example.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 5:23 Meekness, temperance [self-control]: against such there is no law. 

Perhaps the two most important things about lists are 1.) to not forget them, and 2.) to use them properly. Your detailed shopping list is useless if you forget to take it with you. Likewise, if we overlook half the items on the list, much of the work that went in to preparing it is wasted.

Nevertheless, we often read through lists in the Bible quickly, as if we are in a hurry to get to the next "real sentence." This is a great mistake! What if we did that with our shopping lists? One of the main purposes of any list is help us not overlook anything on it. So we must look through it carefully.

Love is important, and probably especially so since it is first on the Gal. 5:22-23 list. Yet we must not forget temperance or self-control just because it comes last. The final item on a list may be placed at the end for emphasis. For sure, that is the case with "glorified" in Rom. 8:29-30.

Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 

Isn't it wonderful that our future glorification is so sure that it is included in God's great list of past actions? God did not skip and will not skip a single items on the great already-done list in Romans. So neither should we skip lightly over any item on the Fruit of the Spirit list in Galatians, including self-control at the end.


March 29, 2021

choosing a top villain

Who in the life of David do you most dislike? There are three obvious choices, Saul, Goliath, and Absalom. Also, Amnon, David's oldest son who sexually assaulted his own half-sister, Tamar, should not be overlooked, and there are others.

Saul would probably get more votes than anyone else, because he seemed to cause more trouble for a longer period of time than the various other villains. For instance, notice what Abigail said about Saul in 1 Samuel 25:29. She did not even refer to him as a king.

1 Samuel 25:28 Please forgive the trespass of your maidservant. For the LORD will certainly make for my lord [David] an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the LORD, and evil is not found in you throughout your days. 25:29 Yet a man [Saul] has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God; and the lives of your enemies [Saul and those with him] He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling. 

More than Saul, however, the betrayal and death of Absalom seems to have pained David most (2 Sam. 18:33). Yet, King David would not speak of Absalom as a villain like Joab did (19:5-6).

2 Samuel 19:5 Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have disgraced all your servants who today have saved your life, the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives and the lives of your concubines, 19:6 in that you love your enemies and hate your friends. For you have declared today that you regard neither princes nor servants; for today I perceive that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died today, then it would have pleased you well. 

What if we asked David himself? The author of Psalms 32 and 51 would probably honestly and humbly say something like this, "The chief source of trouble in my life was I, myself." Specifically he would probably speak of committing adultery with Bathsheba and his polygamy before that, as well as of counting Israel in Second Samuel chapter 24. Of course, there were various other mistakes and sins, as well, but he was forgiven.

Psalms 32:1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 32:2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 32:3 When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. 32:4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

So what? Well, we should be like David in various ways, such as when he bravely faced Goliath and when he did not kill Saul when he had opportunities to do so, but above all we should be like David in repentance and confession of sin. David did not think highly of himself, and neither should we!


March 22, 2021

Prayer is double-stressed in Acts.

Prayer in the sense of making petitions is mentioned more in Acts than in any other book in the Bible other than in Psalms which is much longer. It is mentioned twice in the first chapter, for instance, and is the bottom-line item in 2:42 which summarizes what the early church did.

Acts 1:14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. --- 1:24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, --- 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Luke is well known for stressing prayer more than the other Gospel writers, but he stressed it even more in Acts by mentioning it about twice as often as in his Gospel. The Lord returned to heaven (1:11), and the disciples and those with them turned to prayer (1:14). Later, in chapter six, we see that the busy Apostles viewed praying and ministering God's word as their top responsibilities.

Acts 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 6:4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 

BONUS QUESTIONS: Prayer is also stressed in Philippians but NOT in Galatians. Of course, Paul prayed for the Galatians (Gal. 1:3, 6:18), but the usual prayer terms are missing. Why do you think these two Letters are so different regarding prayer? How were the situations different (Gal. 1:6-7, Phil. 1:4)?

Philippians 1:4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, --- 1:19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, --- 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 

March 5, 2021

The Big Picture

Can you find our location on this satellite photo? It's marked with a white star and is in a valley near a river, dam, pond, and route 157 in the mountains. Can you also find our local airport in Komatsu and two golf courses. How would you describe this landscape? What are the key features? The Japan Sea? The Tedori River? The Mountains? Komatsu City? How do these main features relate to one another? Note how the ocean is "cloudy" near the river mouth and that the airport is on flat ground near the ocean rather than up in the mountains. What time of year was this photo taken? If it were taken in January or February the mountains would be white rather than green, but the coastal areas would look much the same.

It is fun to search out the details on a map and in the Bible, but we also need to see the big picture. That is why some of our Devotional QuickStops are like satellite photos. Some of the details are still visible, but the stress often is not on details as much as in other devotionals you will find elsewhere.

Surprisingly perhaps, Paul used future tense verbs far less than Jesus did. One reason for this is probably because Paul often focused on how believers live in the present, as he did in Titus. (His Gentile readers especially needed this because most of them lacked an Old Testament background.) Another reason is because the Lord taught the disciples at length about coming events regarding Jerusalem and Israel in passages like Matthew chapter 24. Paul's focus, however, was usually on the church more than Israel. John also used the future tense more than Paul, especially in parts of Revelation. Finally, Acts, like the historical books of the Old Testament (Samuel, Kings, etc.) has very few future tense verbs aside from in chapter two, since it was written as sacred history.

The graph below shows that Paul used the future tense more in Romans than elsewhere, in part because of his teaching about the future salvation of the Jewish people, in Romans chapters nine and eleven. Otherwise there are few usage spikes in Paul's letters, far fewer than in the Gospels. The graph also shows that usage in Acts is especially low. In contrast to this, there is a clear spike in the final chapters of Revelation.

March 4, 2021

Titus & Time

Titus 1:2 In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; 1:3 But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour

In Titus 1:1-3, Paul wrote about God's plan of salvation which in a way is timeless yet became much more clear in due time through the Lord's first coming. Moreover in 2:11-14, Paul taught that God's saving grace and the blessed hope of the Lord's return changes lives. Thus Paul brought together the past, present, and future aspects of salvation.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 2:12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 2:13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 2:14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. 

Nevertheless, Paul never used a future tense verb in Titus, not even once! (The closest he came to doing so was in 3:12.) Why not? The probable reason is because the church on the island of Crete and the Cretans in general desperately needed to be exhort to change their lazy and sinful behavior in the present (1:12-13, 2:1-10). Even the blessed hope of the Lord's return was held up in 2:13 as a present reality that should impact believers as they live in the here and now. If we are presently expecting Him, we will live differently in the present.

March 4, 2021

© 2021 by Jon F. Mahar, Hakusan City, Japan