Friday, August 09, 2013

130809 - Engraved in the palms of His hands....

S: Isaiah 49-50

O: God is lifting up the head of Israel and giving them hope after their humiliation. We are leading up to some very familiar passages, and the Lord's Word to them is getting them ready for a tremendous destiny. "my Lord has forgotten me," they say, because by this time they know that "I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity" and that God's recompense to them is just. It's not enough that they'll go back out of captivity and proclaim His faithfulness to their own tribes, He will make them (and specifically Christ, Luke 2:32) a light to the nations, to the end of the earth. Though they have been deeply despised and abhorred, in showing God's faithfulness to the nations, they will be honored as well.

A: There's a point at which self-doubt and depression over a humiliation becomes crippling and hinders faith and vision. That makes me complicit against myself. Eleanor Roosavelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Only Christ Himself sees with true objectivity: though having a tongue to teach, He also has an awakened ear, and is not rebellious. Though He suffered disgrace (Isa. 50:6), He is not, ultimately, disgraced. (Isa. 50:7) Though He suffered a shameful death (Heb. 12:2), He is not put to shame. (Isa. 50:7) Instead, He is vindicated and who can content with Him? Although, like Christ, we may suffer humiliation, to believe we are without hope is to believe our Redeemer's arm is too short to save. Though our critics' voices may resonate with the true record of the prosecution, the sentence has already been carried out, and our Judge will not forget that crucial truth. It has been engraved in the palms of His hands. (Isa. 49:18)

P: Father, forgive me of the sin of receiving too uncritically the critical voices and their predictions. Though every charge against me has merit, you still say, "this is a brand plucked out of the fire" and will conform me to the image of your dear Son.

Friday, June 15, 2012

120615 - Luke 15-16 - "Christ Receiveth Sinful Men"

Friday SOAP: When I come across a line of Scripture that has inspired a gospel song, I often spend the rest of the day with the song echoing through my head, even if I last heard it thirty years ago. Today's reading reminds me of a precious one, written to reassure us and inspire us to "make the message clear and plain" that "Christ receiveth sinful men, even me, with all my sin."

S: And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (Luke 15:2)

O: Here's an interesting contrast. Only a few chapters ago, Jesus warned about those who had once been faithful stewards, but decided in their hearts, "my Lord delays His coming" and began to beat their fellow servants and eat and be drunk (the Matthew version says) with the drunken. The implication of the scribes and Pharisees was that Jesus Himself was fellowshipping in this comfortable sort of way with those devoted to sin. (See Matthew 11:16-19)

A: Jesus' three parables were simultaneously moving pictures of the Father's heart in seeking and yearning for that which was lost (Luke 19:10) and an indictment of the murmuring of the religious leaders. It's fitting for true friends to rejoice over the restoration of sinners (Luke 15:6, 9, 32), recognizing the accuracy of this potrayal of God's posture towards them (Ezekiel 33:11) and the hypocrisy and jealousy of those who murmur. (Luke 15:28-30)

P: Lord Jesus, thank you for your perfect example for us to follow. You did not associate with those called believers who were known to be hypocritical, but to the sinners of this world, you made a winsome appeal. You have left us here in the world for the same purpose: to declare that the barrier has been removed and the way to reconciliation is open by the blood of your cross.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

120614 - Luke 13-14 - The Fruit of Repentance

Thursday SOAP: Jesus has every right to chop down a tree that isn't bearing His fruit. Does it happen right away, or does it take a while? Several hints in the Gospels coalesce in the two chapters of my devotional reading for today.

S: I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig-tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:5-9).

So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Lu 14:33).

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Lu 3:8).

O: During this year's study of the book of Luke with my online study group, I came to see this parable, John the Baptist's ministry to prepare Israel, Christ's cursing of the Fig tree before cleansing the Temple the second time, (Matthew 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-19), and His prediction about the Fig Tree Generation in Luke 21:29-32 as all talking about the same thing. This fruit of repentance.

A: When God's requirement of love (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18) is really understood on some level, we can respond in a number of different ways; but they all boil down to two. One of the most often denied, yet most readily verifiable confirmations of the Bible is that the standard of love described therein is impossible for me as I exist in my natural state. I can either pretend, or I can repent - but I can't hit the required mark. Repentance, it turns out, is the fruit that Jesus is looking for. It was John the Baptist's opening words (Matthew 3:2), it was the message of his preaching (Isaiah 40:3-8), and it was the response illustrated by his baptism. (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24, 19:4)

Real love for God is expressed in worship, in both senses of the New Testament words: homage, as well as service. True worship can only begin with repentance. When Christ came the first time in John 2:13-17 and found no fruit, he purged the Temple, but then left it alone. Three years later, he returned to once again find the appearance of fruit, but still no real fruit. (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46)

As Christ predicted, the stones they were so proud of were all taken apart when General Titus (who himself claimed to be the instrument of God's wrath) sacked Jerusalem.

I think the challenge for me in ministry is not just am I living a repentant life - but does what I am doing result in the repentance of others? Is there that kind of fruit? If not, it's all just pretty leaves, isn't it?

P: Lord thank you for this clarity. Help me have desire, vision, courage and diligence to relentlessly pursue this fruit in my own life and the lives of those whom I serve.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

120613 - Luke 12 - The Devoted Servant

Wednesday SOAP: A faithful servant isn't just (as Dr. J. Vernon McGee used to say) someone who would "vote for" Jesus, but someone who knows His master's will and is attentive - and entirely devoted - to His interests. A well-trained servant knows His master so well that he may be guided without a word - only a simple look, (Psalm 32:8), in contrast to willful animals who must be controlled by leashes, bits and bridles. (Ps. 32:9)

S: Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. (Luke 12:37)

O: Here's a promise that really sounds like too much. Jesus sounds like He is describing John 13:3-5 - but He is describing a future celebration for those followers who have been "awake." Christ was free to make any promise He wanted - or make no promise at all - so rather than adopting Peter's false humility that would have left him with no part in Christ, (John 13:8), I should see that this is His desire, (Luke 22:15), and it should be mine as well, to share what He wants to experience with His beloved servants.

A: So I must know what contitutes wakefulness. Here's a catalog from this chapter:

  1. Beware the leaven of hypocrisy - because nothing is hidden that shall not be revealed. (Luke 12:1-3)
  2. Fear God - and depend on Him - and not men. (Luke 12:4-7)
  3. Proclaim Christ openly and fearlessly. (Luke 12:8-12)
  4. Make your life a strategy to invest your effort, your creativity, your influence and your resources in God's agenda - building His Kingdom through conversion, (Luke 12:8-12, implied: see Acts 5:29-6:1a), as well as development, (Luke 12:42) - and trust Him for what you need for this life. (Luke 12:13-34)
  5. Maintain a sense of urgency about this and don't grow complacent with the delay. You have limited time to make a difference. (Luke 12:35-44)
  6. Count the cost of sincerely following Christ (Luke 12:49-53) and that of failing to truly do so. (Luke 12:45-48, 57-59)
  7. Be sure your strategy takes the indicators of His coming (Luke 12:54-56, c.f., Luke 21:6-36) into account.
P: Father, once again I thank you for Christ's empathy with my infirmities. I can see this whole list as one thing: put you first in everything. And yet I understand that without detail, without explanation, without illustrations and examples both pro and con, I would be far more easily led to believe that I am in fact already doing that. As it is, when I come up against His teaching, I see so much need for growth. Increase my faith, Lord, that I may be found faithful at His coming in all these ways.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

120612 - Luke 11 - Inspector, Inspected

Tuesday SOAP: Jesus was invited to dinner with a Pharisee and the man noted that He did not first perform a ritualistic washing according to the Jews' oral tradition of interpreting the Law. Jesus uses the opportunity to contrast the traditional emphasis on detailed external performance with the internal reality the commandments of God were supposed to reflect.

S: But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
(Luke 11:41)

O: This is one of those rare cases in which the KJV, NIV, (1984), along with GNT, CEV, NCV and several others, obscure the full meaning by interpreting the passage rather than conveying the literal meaning. The KJV renders it, "give alms of such things as ye have," while the NLT goes too far by saying, "clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over." In context, Jesus is talking about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, focusing exclusively on those acts which men can see, yet privately harboring depravity and larceny. He made the cup and platter with the clean outside and filthy inside a metaphor for their lives. God made the outside as well as the inside. They can wash the outside, but only He can wash the inside, something that is only done when one helplessly gives oneself to God. Paul described the Macedonian Christians this way in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.
A: As in yesterday's devotion, Jesus makes it plain that it is the love we cannot produce of our own accord that He desires. This love results in works, to be sure, as Jesus goes on to make plain,
“…you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Luke 11:42)
The details matter, but only insofar as they reveal the heart's loyalty. While the heart of one truly devoted will at least follow the minimum requirements, the overall picture will also reflect the heart of God.
At a recent doctor visit, my blood pressure was 124/77. That's not, in and of itself, proof of good health. But it's a detail that is in harmony with health. All it really means is that the pressure of the blood in my arm is equivalent to the pressure of 124mm of Mercury when my heart contracts, 77 when it relaxes. I could have any number of terminal diseases, including cancer, yet have a perfectly normal blood pressure. But a blood pressure that is too high or too low is itself an indicator of poor health, though not necessarily an indicator of the cause of it. Legal observance is the same type of analog. While I can't point to a specific commandment that I habitually fulfill as proof of my love for God, someone else may well point to my habitual violation of it as evidence of my lack of love.
The Law is like comprehensive medical testing: blood work, imaging, internal testing and long-term observation. Taken comprehensively, it revealed Jesus when He came by His perfect fulfillment of it. (Matt. 5:17) Yet as James says, when I offend in one point, I am guilty of all of it. (James 2:10) Like Jesus Himself, love is the fulfilling of the Law. (Rom. 13:8-10; Ga. 5:14) If we love Him, we will keep His commandments. (John 14:15) If we keep His commandments, He will make Himself known to us. (John 14:21) The question is, if you have the reputation but not the very reality of this love, is it worth it to trade the reputation for the reality? Even if you gain the whole world, is it worth the risk of your soul?
P: Father, I want you more than a reputation - and I want my life to simultaneously reflect love for you and the acknowledgement that I offend in various ways, I am a sheep that has gone astray and do not say that I have no sin. Thank you that Christ came into this world to save sinners, and that in my own eyes I am foremost among those whom He came to save.

(Why "SOAP?" See )

Monday, June 11, 2012

120611 - Luke 10 - the Lawyer Cross-Examined

Monday SOAP: How easy it is to "justify myself," as the legal expert did in Luke 10. The gospel call is to repent, to believe and to love. At their core, none of these things is a work. But James challenges, "SHOW me your faith... (James 2:18) Because faith shows in good works, or, as it has often been abbreviated, "faith works." If, instead of obedience to Christ's example and teaching, I have long lists of qualifications, rationalizations and excuses, it is time to "examine myself, to see whether I am in the faith." (2 Corinthians 13:5) Let's see how the lawyer fared under cross-examination.

S: But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)

O: In context, this parable is given to illustrate the question, "Who is my neighbor?" A teacher of the Law had apparently witnessed Jesus' authoritative pronouncement after the return of the 70 from their evangelistic mission, and intended to test His understanding. In v. 29, it is revealed that his test was insincere, for he "desired to justify himself" when his conscience convicted him.

A: Contrasting this story with a very similar one brings to light the other side of the coin again:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)

This time a scribe asks Jesus what is most important, and He responds with the same scriptures the teacher of the Law quoted, Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18. The scribe agrees, and Christ tells him he is not far from the Kingdom of God.

While works of righteousness which we have done can't justify us before God, (Titus 3:5), they do reveal our allegiances. It's very easy for me to congratulate myself that I "love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind" and that "I love my neighbor as myself," apart from evidence to the contrary, for I have a tendency to equate pleasant emotions and good intentions with genuine love. Jesus' example describes a situation in which the "wise and prudent" (Luke 10:21) passed by, and the man who would have been unskilled in the Word and the proper religious practices was moved with real compassion toward a stranger. This reminds me that Christlike love is costly and difficult. The recipients are unable to repay it in kind, and they require help again and again. Such actions are the fruit of justification and not the root cause of it. Likewise, impatience towards others who stand in need of costly grace and mercy may well reveal, just as Christ Himself said, that ultimate truth has been hidden from us, or at the very least, that we are among those whose love has grown cold. (Matthew 24:12)

P: Lord, how easy it would be for me to preserve myself by being emotionally detached, keep my family and resources "safe" by not being involved with those in trouble. This is mercilessly and pitilessly expecting others to find help another way or pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Something I'm certainly unable to do. Thank you for the mirror of your Word, which continually shows me where my heart is in relation to you. I want it to be tender and not "preserved" - and I want this for my family as well. Let no one among my family and friends preserve their "world" and comfort zone and lose their own soul.

(Why "SOAP?" See

Friday, June 08, 2012

Skinner Family Prayer Letter

"Let the weak say, 'I am strong'" (Joel 3:10)

I like movie previews. The best ones give us a tantalizing look at the film they summarize. The funny parts. The drama. Just an impression of intense emotional struggle or sudden relief. An expertly-crafted preview can even make a mediocre movie look entertaining. But for the best films, a tiny glimpse of the highlights could never oversell what's in store.

Movie previews are like testimonies. A committed Christian's testimony can only represent a few of the highlights—glimpses of God's intervening grace in their lives that they've been privileged to perceive and interpret for us.

One of the best parts of helping with the approval and training process for new Online Missionaries is getting to review the testimonies of the applicants. Often the story starts out like a tragedy. For instance, one applicant was molested by her biological father. She felt immense pain and self-loathing. Then, to her surprise, she found that no less an authority than the Word of God had better things to say about her. God said she was “fearfully and wonderfully made.” When she walked toward the altar following the invitation, she says it felt like something was pushing her back and something else was pulling her forward.

Another had been on the FBI's most wanted list and even spent 11 years in Federal Prison - seeing and experiencing terrible things before turning to Christ. One man even fled a war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and walked with his family to Zimbabwe. (Over 300 miles) God miraculously provided them protection, food and water, as people died all around them. Both men testified that they sensed God saying He had plans for them.

As a child, one man spent years walking with crutches because of a bone disease. He asked his mother “why God picked me to be crippled.” She replied that God had a special plan for him and wanted to make sure he was strong enough to do it.

These wounded people are now part of our ministry. They are the weak, made strong for Christ's sake. As the Apostle Paul said, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) The beginning of the same letter explains a little more of this:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

These applicants have experience with trauma, with temptations and abuse. And they know from experience that Christ came to save sinners. (1 Tim. 1:15) None of it goes to waste, as they likewise encounter visitors who say:

“I desperately need Jesus in my life. Right now I am so confused,I thought I knew God who would really take care of me I call upon him for answers to my problems but somehow there seems to be no reply I feel so alone.”
“I have always heard of Salvation but Can you please enlighten me more about it?”
“Could God can forgive all my sins?”
“Just need your help, most importantly spiritual..I want to really get close to God the creator of the world.”
“i want 2 know how 2 pray?”
“why of me still alive this world? If every i feel lonely sad and hurt and no hope”

From such weak, tortured and tangled voices come the next generation of storytellers. Like movie previews, testimonies also precede the full revelation of the story. If you take time to read Hebrews 11 carefully, you’ll glimpse a few amazing revelations that aren’t explicitly part of the stories from which they're drawn. That’s because Hebrews 11 gives us a little more flavor of how God will tell the stories of His children. Like one of my favorite verses, Ephesians 2:7, I think it’s there to whet our appetites for what we’re destined to one day experience:

“...that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7)

I will close with one final story - one that I just heard today. Dorothy was in her 80’s when she became an Online Missionary. She had recently lost her husband, and, in her thinking, really had nothing left to live for. But she saw a presentation about GMO in her Sunday School class, and was reminded that she had a computer. She could use e-mail. So for the next 3½ years, she shared Christ with seekers all over the world on the Internet, excitedly checking to see who had written her back all during the day and night. Yesterday, her own failing health forced her to retire, but what could have been a sad and lonely conclusion to her story took a dramatic turn upward because of how she spent the last few years of her life. I’m warmed by just anticipating what she will soon experience. God changed her life and gave her a fruitful worldwide ministry just before she meets Him face to face.

Can’t you sometimes see glimpses of the “feature presentation” that lies just beyond this preview? Don’t you yearn for the rest of the story? When this corruptible has put on incorruption and this mortal has put on immortality... when the country it seems you've been homesick for all of your life becomes your experience, and the invisible is revealed as the true reality; that’s when we will see what God was really doing!

We know and experience some of what God is doing through you as you manage your life in such a way as to be able to invest in our work. You help make all of this possible - and we will one day share His joy over the whole story. We are always thanking Him for the strength He shows through you.

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