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Unbelief is Offensive

H – Highlight

Luke 1:18-20 – 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

E – Explain

In this passage, Zechariah asks for the angel to prove that his prediction will come true. Gabriel has promised Zechariah a son, and Zechariah cannot believe it. So the angel pronounces a small curse on the old priest. Zechariah will be unable to speak until the child is born.

A – Apply

What I learn here is a principle. Unbelief is offensive. Gabriel makes that clear. When Zechariah asks his question, asking for proof, the angel identifies himself and seems taken aback that this foolish man would not take his words as they have been delivered.

Of course there will be times when we struggle with doubt and confusion. And we should not pretend otherwise. But we also must not forget that for us to fail to believe the words of God is a big deal. Unbelief matters. The devil, in the garden, used a denial of the truth of God’s words to tempt the woman. A refusal to believe in Christ is a sin that leads to death. And for us to see God’s clear words, have no doubt that they come from God, and then for us not to believe them is a major problem.

R – Response

First I know that I am called to respond to this in humble confession. While I may believe the Lord with my mind, I know that, at times, my heart forgets to believe what the Lord has said. I must own this as a sin, confess it, and repent. Second, I should remember that all that the Lord has said is true and trustworthy, and it should impact how I live and how I think.

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for your faithful word. Your Scripture, your holy word, is totally true and trustworthy. I pray that you will forgive me for any time in which I have failed to believe that you are who you claim to be or that you will do what you claim to do. Help me to believe you deep down and to see that unbelief is deadly.

Loving and not Biting

H – Highlight

Galatians 5:13-15 – 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

E – Explain

Paul has just called on the Galatians to turn away from those who are trying to make them subjects under the law once more. There are those who would demand circumcision and proclaim it as necessary for salvation. But Paul wants to be clear that, in Christ, there are no ceremonies or rituals that are required for our salvation. Neither are we honoring God if we return to ceremonies that only pointed to the coming of Jesus.

But then Paul turns the corner, reminding the people that they are now free. And Paul tells them that they must not use their supposed freedom as a license to be cruel to others in the church. The law, summed up, calls us to love.

A – Apply

If I am to honor the Lord, I must love those in the body of Christ, the church. I cannot bite and devour others. I must not allow myself in word or deed to harm others. Yes, I may have to confront unrighteousness. But even as I confront, I can do so in a way that shows that I still love those who are my brothers and sisters in the faith.

R – Response

First, there is an accountability response here. I must watch my words. I must not let myself think or speak of others in such a way as to do them harm. This must be true in my private heart as well as in my public speech. This is why I am so seldom willing to engage in social media controversies.

I may need to add this to my Scripture memory list.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that you will give me love for all in the body of Christ. Yes, help me protect the body from false teaching and sinful actions. Let me not compromise. But help me to always show the love that you command and which so honors you.

The Torn Veil

H – Highlight

Mark 15:38 –And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

E – Explain

At the moment of Jesus’ death, the Lord, as a glorious sign, tore the veil of the temple in two. Theologically, I believe that this shows us that the sacrificial system is fully ended once and for all.

A – Apply

That Jesus finished the work is evident from his declaration, “It is finished,” from the tearing of the veil, and from his resurrection from the dead. The entire plan and purpose of the Old Testament law is fulfilled in Christ.

One application is that we ought to be wise enough not to attempt to return to a required obedience to Old Testament ceremonial law (cf. Gal. 5:2-4). The feast, Sabbaths, sacrifices, and such things are pointers to the work Christ finished. We dishonor Christ if we attempt to put the temple veil back together and bind ourselves to Old Testament regulations. This is not to say that the law is not a wonderful tool to show us God’s character and his standards for justice and righteousness. But we are not to return to the old temple or its trappings.

Another application is that we cannot do anything, not a single thing, to atone for our own sin. The concept is made plain when God destroyed the veil between the holy of holies and the rest of the world at Jesus’ death. When we sin, sometimes we are tempted to attempt to make up for what we have done through acts of penance. This is not acceptable. In fact, this practice dishonors the Lord and his sacrifice. We obey out of love for the Lord and the joy of his glory. We do not obey to change our position before the Lord, to climb a ladder into his favor.

R – Response

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I thank you that your sacrificial work is fully complete. I pray that you will help me remember that there is no single thing that I can do that would make me climb into your favor. Instead, I pray that you will help me to obey for the sheer joy of knowing you and honoring your holy name. I pray that you will help me love you and love others as you command, not from obligation of law but from joy of grace.

I’m Like the Soldiers, and That’s not Good

H – Highlight

Mark 15:19-20 – 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

E – Explain

This scene is familiar. Soldiers are brutalizing Jesus before he is led out for the crucifixion.

A – Apply

The reason this has my attention this morning is that I find myself asking the question, “Why?” Why would the soldiers do this? And the answer is plain but frightening. The soldiers did this because this is precisely what all of us, left to ourselves, would desire to do. Perhaps not all humanity wants to brutalize other people in general. But all of humanity, left to ourselves, would long to attack, mock, and destroy God. WE do not want to be under his authority in our natural state. We want to be our own masters. So, this passage shows us humanity at our roots. Without grace, we are God-haters who would kill the Lord if we had the chance.

R – Response

This teaches me to love the Lord more. I would have been one of these people did he not change me by his grace and for his glory. It reminds me that my ideas and designs are not those of the Lord. It reminds me that I all too easily turn against the Lord when I want to get my way. So, my proper response is love and obedience to the Lord, submission and worship of my Maker.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I see in this passage my very own sinful nature. I am humbled. I pray that you not let me lose sight of who I would be without you. I also pray that you will help me no longer to fight you but to always worship and obey you.

Remembering the Power of God – A HEAR Journal Entry

H – Highlight

Psalm 114:7

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,

E – Explain

Psalm 114 is an 8-verse song of the glorious power of god. The poet cites the miracles of God as he led Israel up out of Egypt. We see in this song, in personification, the Red Sea and the Jordan drawing back and the mountains running and hiding.

In the verse I highlighted above, we see the point. The earth trembles at the presence of the Lord. God is so awesome that the earth, that all of creation, quakes in his presence.

A – Apply

I should be quick to celebrate the great miracles of God. He truly, physically parted the Red Sea, held back the waters of the Jordan, made the mountains smoke and quake, and brought water from the rocks in the desert. God is Almighty. In our modern age, we have a tendency not to think about the miracles of the Lord. We can, if we are not careful, relegate those accounts to the past and assume that the Lord is no longer involved in our affairs. But this is far from the truth.

R – Respond

Prayer: Lord, I remember your mighty acts in drawing Israel up out of Egypt, and I rejoice. I praise you for your glorious power. I remember that you move mountains, part waters, and do things that only you can do. And you are just as active in changing the world today as you were then. I pray that you will help me to truly, actively trust in your might and your world-changing power. Help me to remember that, even if I do not see you shake mountains as the people did in the exodus, you are still changing hearts, healing diseases, and shaping the world to accomplish your ultimate purposes.

Faith Alone – A HEAR Journal Entry

Today, I want to continue to experiment with a form of journaling that I learned a few years ago and was recently reminded of.

H – Highlight

Galatians 3:10-11 – 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

E – Explain

Paul, in Galatians, is building a strong argument against those who would pervert the gospel by requiring obedience to Old Testament regulations for salvation. There were many who could not accept the notion of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. So Paul argues strongly to show that there is only one way of salvation.

The argument Paul builds here is interesting. If a person looks to law for salvation, in even the smallest part, that person is accountable to keep the entire law, perfectly, forever for salvation. This of course is beyond our abilities. Even were God willing to grant salvation to a person who fully obeyed the law, there is no such person who has ever lived other than Jesus who could keep such a holy requirement.

A – Application

This passage is not arguing for lawlessness. We can learn much about God’s standards for righteousness and God’s holy character in the law. What we must never do is think that any behavior of ours, any ceremony, any keeping of any ritual can add even an ounce of grace or righteousness to our lives. The just live by faith. Our righteousness comes through Christ alone, and we receive that righteousness from God as a gift through faith and faith alone.

R – Response

Worship is a right response here. Only God is so holy as to be able to stand in the face of his own law. It is a call to humility, as I know that I have often failed to keep the whole law. It is a call for faith in Christ, as I must understand that I cannot bring anything to my own salvation other than my sin. It calls me to be aware of the call to faith, and to even thank God for his grace. My choice to believe is not in itself a righteous act that earns me anything. My faith is a gift from God, a gracious saving move of the Creator. So I respond with gratitude, awe, thanksgiving. And I would hope that it leads me to hunger to honor the Lord who saves by grace alone.

Prayer: Lord, I am grateful to you, grateful beyond my ability to express, for salvation by grace alone through faith alone. I acknowledge here and now that I know that I could never add anything to my righteousness to earn salvation, regardless of how strongly I were to try to keep your law. Your law is perfect. Your ways are holy. I am a sinner. My only hope is the kindness you have shown in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. Jesus died and rose again. Jesus is my only salvation. My trust is in Christ and Christ alone.

Worship in Pain – A HEAR Journal Entry

Today, I want to continue to experiment with a form of journaling that I learned a few years ago and was recently reminded of.

H – Highlight

2 Samuel 12:19-20 – 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 20 Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.

E – Explain

In 2 Samuel 12, David had been praying and fasting, begging the Lord to spare the life of the son born to Bathsheba and him. Sadly, the child died. The Bible records for us that David, after the child’s death, returned to life. He washed, anointed himself, and put on different clothing. David went into the house of God and worshipped. Later, he would eat, breaking his fast.

A – Apply

In verse 20, the phrase that got my attention is, “And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” David, in the middle of his return to life, took time to go before the Lord in worship. This tells me that worship is about something that is not commonly understood in our culture. Worship is not about a rich feeling of joy or bubbly happiness. Worship has to be about something else, or David would not have been able to worship in this setting. Yes, often worship is accompanied by feeling of great joy and soul satisfaction. But happiness is not at the core of what worship is. Emotional movement is not the point of worship.

What is worship about? Worship is about humility and truth. Worship is about subject of God bowing before their Sovereign as King. Worship is about us confessing the glorious attributes of God as truth. It is about us making sure that we see our place as servants of the Lord.

I am sure God comforted David. And I am sure that David felt joy at some point in his worship of God. But it is vital that we understand that worship is first and foremost about
God, about truth, and about our submission to his lordship. I cannot imagine a clearer passage to help us to see that. If worship were about stirring up an emotion as is commonly the strategy of modern worship leaders, then David could not have worshipped in his grief. But if worship is about truth and God’s glory, then David most certainly could do so.

R – Response

God wants us to know from this passage that worship is about something far greater than emotion. A right response includes changing my thinking about worship. It includes me remembering that biblical worship is about my humbling myself before the Lord.

A right response is also to worship, declaring God to be King and me to be his subject, regardless of how I feel on a given day.

Prayer: Lord, I worship you. You, O Lord, are my King and Master. I bow before you in submission. God, the universe and all it contains belongs to you. My life fully belongs to you. I declare that I have nothing that is mine. All that I have is yours, and I am but the steward of your possessions. I pray that you will help me to truly honor you as King.