Vacation – June 23

Text: Psalm 99 (Read it here)20160623

The King is mighty, he loves justice—
    you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done
    what is just and right.
Exalt the Lord our God
    and worship at his footstool;
    he is holy.

(Psalm 99.4-5, NIV)

Exalt the Lord Our God
Author: Ralph Beistle

In Psalm 99, a call was given to God’s people to “Exalt the Lord our God.”  In other words: reverence, honor, glorify, and regard His power, character, and quality high above anything with which He might be compared.  As such He chose to bless His people – and the Psalmist specifically cites Moses, Aaron, Jacob, and Samuel as persons who glorified and worshiped Him.  They were used to lead others to do God’s will because they had a proper sense of reverence toward the Almighty.

Unfortunately, most people did not grasp the vital need to glorify Him – not in the days of Noah; in the days of the founding of the nation of Israel; nor in New Testament times. The sad thing is that this same disregard for the Lord our God prevails today.

Remember Paul’s discourse to the learned men of Athens in Acts 17.  Paul introduced them to another kind of God – one previously unknown to them.  In those days, the prevailing philosophy was there were many gods, some capricious, some exploitive – all of them conceived in the minds of men, instead of being revealed to them by the words of the Prophets, Priests, or teachers of the Scriptures.  Paul knew and referred to Greek philosophy.  He was not reluctant to criticize their “foreign” religion, so that they could know the REAL GOD, who is deserving of exaltation because:

  • He made everything.
  • He does not require man-made structures.
  • He gives life and breath to anything that lives.
  • He is not distant to anyone.
  • He raised Christ from the dead.

John adds an ultimate description to justify our call to exalt the Lord our God:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  1 John 4:1-2.

Responding to this God, man must:

  • Seek Him
  • Repent of disobedience
  • Exalt Him

Today, let us resolve to continually:  “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.”  Psalm 99:9.

Questions:

If someone told you “the Lord reigns,” what do you think they would be talking about? In what ways does the reign of God present itself to you today?

How important is justice to God? How important is justice to you? When you think about a sovereign Lord who loves justice, what sort of actions do you expect from God? How does God show his justice today?

Why does it make sense to worship a God who is sovereign, that is, who created the heavens and earth and reigns over them today? Why is worship of God such a key element of finding rest in God? How can you better worship God today?

Vacation – June 20

Text: Mark 3.1-6 (Read it here)20160620

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

(Mark 3.4, NIV)

Heal or Kill on the Sabbath?
Author: Ralph Beistle

Isn’t that an odd question? Shouldn’t anyone be able to answer that without difficulty?

Why did Jesus raise that question in Mark 3? No doubt, the man with the disability wanted to be healed, regardless of the day on which the healing would occur.

The reason Jesus asked about the legitimacy of His intentions, was to show those who came to the synagogue meeting with evil intents, that their motives were impure, and their perception of the nature of a merciful God was sadly lacking.

Jesus fully expected reasonable people to have the right conclusion – but this time, Jesus was not dealing only with reasonable people. In the next chapter, He quotes Isaiah and tells His followers “that to those on the outside, everything is said in parables, so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.’”

For those who choose to follow Jesus, He teaches, not always by telling them what to think, but to help them think well. The others in Mark 3 were listening to what he said with a desire to prove His way was wrong. Their legalistic view of religious practice missed the point of the question.

Jesus also said that the Sabbath was made for man – not to minimize the significance of the Sabbath, but to show how much God was doing what was best for His creatures. The man who needed mercy was blessed. The unsympathetic people who came to find grounds to denounce Jesus couldn’t be impressed with the fact that a man who had suffered was now healed. Instead of gratitude for the gift of healing, they indignantly went out to plot about how to kill Jesus.

In our study of Scriptures, may we be those who know to obey what He says, but also to study with a mind trained to think well, ever grateful for the Lord’s mercy. Let’s not forget that those “on the outside” also need to become aware of His word and His way.

Questions:

Why do you think the Pharisees were so intent on making sure the Sabbath was kept pure and holy? Do their actions seem appropriate to the circumstances or do they seem over-the-top? Why do you think this?

In what ways do you find yourself or do we find ourselves at times acting in ways similar to the Pharisees? How can we ensure we are following God rather than putting up barriers to those seeking him?

How would you answer Jesus’ question: Which is lawful to do on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill? How should we react when it seems that doing good (or perhaps what might be defined as the “right” thing) runs in the face of acting in faithful ways toward God and his instructions for us?

Vacation – June 14

Text: Isaiah 58 (Read it here.)20160614

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

(Isaiah 58.13-14, NIV)

Disappointed with God
Author: Ralph Beistle

Have you thought that things seem to be going from bad to worse?  And wonder why our culture seems to be trying to get rid of religion?  They don’t want religion, and don’t want us to have it either.  Have you wondered why God hasn’t overruled circumstances to right the wrongs that seem to multiply with increasing rapidity?

Isaiah 58 reveals some disturbing questions that God asked people who claimed to be His people, but were disappointed with God.  Isaiah expressed God’s view of their situation, saying:

“For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’”

Those complainers were not trying to eliminate religion, but were people who thought God should be “fixing” things the way they would like them to be.  Notice how they felt so deserving, but God was not impressed.

God made it clear that He had not become distant, but rather they had failed to follow His way:

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

But God’s blessings are still attainable, subject to the willingness of the people to accept the conditions He would require of them:

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if
you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,”

Rather than being disappointed with God, we should remember that God wants to bless.  The question is: are people wanting them enough to change their ways?

Questions:

When we observe the Sabbath or a fast, as is mentioned in Isaiah 58.3-5, we do not do it to gain something or to be rewarded for our diligence to God, but we do it to know God better. How have you found yourself at times fasting, observing Sabbath, or acting on some other discipline is such a way that misses the point? How can you take on such disciplines in a way so as to humble yourself before God?

How do you act to “loose the chains of injustice” or “ set the oppressed free?” How can you do this better? What specific thing can you do to accomplish this today?

How well do you observe Sabbath? Do you find it to be a day of rest and remembrance of God or a day off from work which gives you an opportunity to fill the day with other busy work? How have you found joy in taking Sabbath-rest before God?

 

Vacation – June 6

Text: Psalm 33 (Read it here.)20160606

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.
(Psalm 33.6-9, NIV)

Sing Joyfully to the Lord
Author: Ralph Beistle

That phrase with which Psalm 33 begins is an encouragement for God’s people to praise the Lord.  It also calls on His people to consider some aspects of their relationship to God.

We see that this implies that an ever-present God is always near to hear.  We’re not just singing about the Lord, but to Him.  God is always near to hear.  I’ve known people who so love to sing, and praise songs appeal to their ears, so they sing loudly with good musical skills.  The bigger the group singing, the better they enjoy it.  But their lives make you wonder if they realized their conduct is known to God.  A God who is near to hear praise, is also near and hears the crude or profane speech that comes from His creatures.  He hears and sees when we engage in sinful activities.  Our God is present and it behooves us to speak, sing, and act as humble servants of the Most High.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.
 From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—
 he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.

Also implied is the fact that God is not only an observer of what we think, say, and do, but he also is and has always been an active participant in our life’s activities.  In this Psalm, David praises God for what He has done in the past, what He is doing now, and what he believes God will do for him in the future.

In awe of creation, the Psalmist draws the conclusion:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth…..
For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

David knew that he could entrust his safety and well-being to the God he served daily:

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

So David could just as surely know God will prepare for him in the future:

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”

Questions:

What does it mean for someone’s word to be “right and true?” Describe the kind of person for whom you would say this description fits. Describe someone who is the opposite, who is not “right and true.” Why is it so difficult at times for your word to always be right and true? What does this tell you about God to know he is right and true?

Some cloudless night, go outside (even better, go outside the city) and look up at the stars. What would it take for you to make the heavens and stars? God, we are told, made this with just a word. How do you react knowing that the God who made the heavens also has “unfailing love” for us?

When you think of leaders or rulers who have power, what sort of things would you list that indicate their strength? How do these items compare to the strength of the Lord? In what ways does God’s strength actually make every other act of power seem small and trivial? To whom is your devotion and hope: those who have human strength or the Lord who is our help and shield?

 

Vacation – June 4

Text: Matthew 11.25-30 (Read it here.)20160604

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11.28, NIV)

Everybody Needs Somebody
Author: Ralph Beistle

You’ve likely seen it often. Friends or co-workers are in a restaurant. One might assume they chose to share their time to enjoy one another’s company, but you see all of them looking at their phones, texting or reading the texts from a person not at the table. They didn’t seem to really need their dinner companion’s interest. So I wondered if the psychologists are right when they speak of the effect of our excessive use of modern technology causing us to be more lonely, withdrawn, isolated – even if we are surrounded by people.

Are you worried? Do you feel threatened by health issues, financial difficulties, or in some interpersonal conflict? Are you facing a choice of directions for your life? Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you would really like to talk about your concerns, but you really do not know anyone who could be your advisor or comforter? They used to say that a person rarely develops more than 5 “close” friendships in a lifetime. We were created to be social persons, not “lone rangers.”

The best news to anyone seeking that kind of friend, should remember how Jesus invited his listeners: “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).

It’s an old song by Joseph Scriven, but still promises a basis for hope to the ones who come to Jesus to get comfort:

“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!”

Questions:

What do you think Jesus meant when he said God revealed “these things” to children, rather than to the wise? Are you surprised it was revealed to children? Why or why not? In what ways does our dependence on the “wise” actually get us in trouble, rather than providing safety and security?

How does knowing the Son—and therefore the Father—help in giving “rest” to you? In what ways has your knowledge of God actually served to ease your burdens or prevented what might have been an extremely stressful, unbearable situation from being completely overwhelming? Can you think of specific examples in your life when this has been the case?

Jesus says that those who come to him have rest and that his yoke is easy. Do you find this to be an accurate description of what happens in your life or at times do you find following Jesus to be burdensome? If so, why do you think this is the case? How can you understand better Jesus as the one who gives you rest? In what ways do you seek rest for your soul from your relationship with Jesus versus simply using Jesus and your faith as a way to make your life “better?”

 

Proverbs 23 – August 23

CC Image courtesy of http://401kcalculator.org on Flickr.

CC Image courtesy of http://401kcalculator.org on Flickr.

Proverbs 23
Author: Ralph Beistle

I recently was reminded of my appreciation for those in the medical profession. At my periodic check-up appointment, my doctor ordered an x-ray. I do not know when he received the radiology report, but he called me just before 10:00 p.m. to tell me to go to the ER that night for a CT scan for a more definitive study. After the scan, the ER doctor reported to me at 3:10 a.m. that the potential problem had been ruled out and released me.

At my next appointment, I asked my doctor what the report revealed. He said that he had not requested a report, but a phone call from the ER doctor. I don’t know whether he received that call in the middle of the night or the next day, but the timing of the call isn’t the reason I thought of this story. While reading Proverbs 23, I came across these verses:

Do not wear yourself our to get rich;
do not trust in your own cleverness.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. (23.4-5, NIV)

Many people think that individuals become doctors to get rich. I beg to differ. I don’t think many would expend the effort, or the thousands and thousands of dollars, solely for the reason that they want to be compensated for the sacrifices made to prepare themselves to practice medicine. I personally would not want to exchange professions with someone who works such long hours that they make 10:00 p.m. calls to patients about whom they are concerned. Add to that the burden of making life or death decisions about some trusting patient’s life. I’m sure glad that some people have that kind of a heart for helping those who cannot help themselves. God bless good doctors!

The principle applies also to others not in the medical professions as well. The point being made in Proverbs 23 has to do with the purpose for which we undertake the roles we have chosen for ourselves. The worst choice for a purpose in life is to get rich and yet the fascination for things money can buy and the allure of riches has ruined many lives through the centuries. Please understand me. I know that having wealth is not bad for us; just having the quest for wealth can be disappointing if that is the sole purpose for our daily lives.

How blessed we are to be able to glorify God by serving others among whom we live daily. And may God bless all those who seek to worship and serve the One who provides us all things.

Proverbs 4 – August 4

CC Image courtesy of World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr.

CC Image courtesy of World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr.

Proverbs 4
Author: Ralph Beistle

My grandson’s kindergarten teacher was exceptional. I don’t know of any other man who taught that age group in public schools. He had an unusual philosophy for his teaching. I learned this when I heard my grandson refer to a person as “loquacious.” Not only did he know the word, but he was able to use it properly in a sentence. I don’t remember in my 24 years at South Plains ever having that word enter into any of our conversations.

The teacher rejected the idea that some words are useful only to adults. The reason children did not use such words was because they had not been taught. He introduced “big” words to his class, one at a time—defined them, told their meanings and showed how they were used in a sentence. If his class became too noisy, he would be able to use that word, loquacious, and they knew it was time to be quiet. Young minds are like sponges.

I was reminded of a song from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” The plot centers on an American nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II who falls in love with a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner but struggles to accept his mixed-race children. A native woman, Bloody Mary, sings such lines as these:

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear… You’ve got to be taught to be afraid…
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.”

What are out kids learning? Probably not “big” words that even we might not understand. Other words that should not be in our vocabulary? Are we unintentionally teaching them to be fearful of things? Are we teaching them to love or hate; to serve or be served; to be uncaring or compassionate; to be selfish or generous? Are we teaching them to be prejudiced?

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
pay attention and gain understanding.
I give you sound learning,
so do not forsake my teaching.
For I too was a son to my father,
still tender, and cherished by my mother.
Then he taught me, and he said to me,
“Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom, get understanding;
do not forget my words or turn away from them.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will watch over you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding. (Proverbs 4.1-7, NIV)

We love our children so much! Wise parents will find that the book of Proverbs has a lot of wisdom we all need in our lives.