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Genesis 11:1-13:4 ~ Matthew 5:1-26 ~ Psalm 5:1-12 ~ Proverbs 1:24-28
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Old Testament - Today in Genesis chapter 11 we read about the tower of Babel! You can view the location of the tower at a high level below:
I probably should not confess this, but I will - verse 4 made me smile and laugh at myself a bit, which really shouldn't be funny. This verse reminded me of myself at times: "Let's build a great city with a tower that reaches to the skies--a monument to our greatness!" This verse is obviously not one that made God happy, as we see in subsequent verses. And I guess I have to ask myself - are there times my life or areas of my life where I am attempting to build something that will be a "monument to my greatness"? And I'm afraid that the answer is too often yes. Or it surely has been in the past. I pray that I'm turning over the desire to "be great" over to God more and more these days. I pray that I am not seeking glory for myself - but seeking glory for God. But, I am afraid that sometimes I revert back to wanting to build a "monument to my greatness" in my work or volunteer activities or maybe even personal relationships. And this is pride. It was this pride that brought about the building of the tower of Babel - and it was because of pride that God stopped the building of the tower by giving the human race different languages. In your life today - are you seeking to build monuments of greatness for yourself? Or are you instead seeking to only glorify God? Below is an oil on panel painting of the "Tower of Babel" by Pieter Bruegel, circa 1563:
Today is a big day in our readings! We are introduced to Abram & Sarai! Genesis chapter 12 is significant in that it transitions our Old Testament readings from being about the world at large to being primarily about a specific man, Abram, his family, and his descendants. Verses 2 and 3 are an amazing promise from God to Abraham: "I will cause you to become the father of a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and I will make you a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you." This is a powerful promise that we will see played out throughout the rest of our Old Testament readings - and into the New Testament this promise continues and is fulfilled in Jesus - and continues in us as spiritual descendants of Abram today. I heard somewhere once that one way to paraphrase this promise is "I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing to others." And I think about that today for our own lives. If we have been blessed by God, is it possible that we have been blessed in part so that we will be a blessing to others? Do you believe that you been blessed by God? Are you passing along that blessing to others in your life?
The brief story of Abram and Sarai in Egypt is a foreshadowing of what we will see later in Genesis and into Exodus - the descendents of Abram going into Egypt to escape a severe famine - and then ultimately leaving Egypt to the north "with all their household and belongings" (verse 20). I also was intrigued in our Matthew readings a couple of days ago that Jesus as a child went into Egypt, when Mary & Joseph fled Herod's decree to kill all boys 2 & under around Bethlehem. Egypt plays quite a supporting role in the Bible! Below is a map of Abram's journey that we read about today:
New Testament - Okay... as I said above, today is a big day my friends! We are starting the Sermon on the Mount! Whoo-hoo! (are you cheering here with me?? :) And as we do, let me encourage you in a few ways on what we'll be reading here. First of all, personally, these 3 chapters of Matthew (5, 6, 7) have been transformative for me over the years. Before I had faith in Jesus, I would continually read these chapters and I kept thinking to myself - "This guy has got some wisdom! I like what he's saying!" And I do believe that the Spirit was no doubt working on me as I read these chapters. So, I do ask that you would be sensitive to the Spirit as you read The Sermon on the Mount. What is the Spirit speaking to you as you read? Which verses are really jumping out at you - maybe making you think about some areas of your life that might need some tidying up... I know that this happens to me every time I read the Sermon on the Mount. It's probably because of reading chapter 5 today, and the Beatitudes, that I went into my pride / Tower of Babel thing above... :)
Here's my other big request for you as you read through the Sermon on the Mount - and really all of the gospels. Try to experience what you are reading as something more than just "historical" teachings or "historical" readings. Try to envision yourself maybe down at your local park and maybe imagine that Jesus was actually at that park surrounded by a bunch of your neighbors and imagine that you heard Jesus actually saying these words to you and your neighbors - today. Would this change your perception of what you are reading? Or, maybe imagine that indeed Jesus is not just at your local park - but in your very home saying these words to you. And truly - He is - as you are reading the Bible you are hearing directly from Jesus. I just want to encourage you that the words you read here in the Sermon on the Mount are incredible spiritual food. And I don't think we can come back to these 3 chapters of Matthew often enough. I pray that you will let the Spirit of Jesus speak directly into your mind and your heart as you read and meditate on the meanings of these 3 chapters of the gospel of Matthew...
We read the Beatitudes today! I would love to share with you the Beatitudes from Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. I really like the way he looks at the Beatitudes -
""You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are--no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being "carefull,' you find yourselves cared for.
"You're blessed when you get your inside world--your mind and heart--put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom." - Matthew 5:3-10 The Message
I know verses 17 & 18 probably are interpreted in different ways - but a friend of mine has encouraged me when in doubt, just stick to the text, which is wise. So, let's look at the Jesus' words here in this text - "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them. I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God's law will remain until its purpose is achieved." What does the reading of this text say to you?
And now that we've looked at the text... I need to dive into a commentary on these verses... :) I'm quoting this from Tyndale's One Year Bible Companion book - which I have found to be a very helpful commentary to our daily readings: "In the Old Testament, there were 3 categories of law: ceremonial, civil, and moral. 1. The ceremonial law was related specifically to Israel's worship. Its primary purpose was to point forward to Jesus Christ; these laws are therefore no longer necessary after Jesus' death and resurrection. However, the principles behind these laws - to worship and love a holy God - still apply. 2. The civil law applied to daily living in Israel and these laws cannot be followed specifically today in our modern society and culture. But the principles behind theses laws are timeless and should guide our conduct. 3. The moral law (such as the Ten Commandments) is the direct command of God, and requires obedience. The moral law reveals the nature and will of God, and it still applies today." So, there you have it from one evangelical commentary. I know probably different people reading this blog are going to interpret these verses a bit differently. This framework of these 3 categories of laws above and their fulfillment in Jesus I personally have found helpful and agree with. One other commentary I found related to these verses says this: "Christ does not terminate the law. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; we establish the law. (Romans 3:31) The law will always be there to point out what sin is, but the law is not the focus, Christ is the focus. Only He can cleanse, and sanctify and change the heart and mind." Again, I know this can be a hot topic to say the least. I recommend everyone please spend a few minutes reading this wonderful article on this topic from Bible.org titled, "The Mosaic Law: Its Function and Purpose in the New Testament," at this link.
Psalms - I love Psalm 5 verse 3: "Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly." This is a great reminder to pray in the mornings - before we start the hustle and bustle of the day. I know that many of you are reading the One Year Bible readings in the morning, which I think is a great way to start your day! I do see a huge positive difference in my day if I do pray to God in the morning and pray specifically about the upcoming day - and pray for others that I will interact with that day as well. Praise God for the morning!
Actually, while I'm talking about the morning here, let me go off on a tangent if you don't mind... :) I honestly have lived much of my life as a "night owl." I went to bed late and woke up late. And I had all kinds of good "reasons" of why I was a night owl. But, I will be honest here - I don't think being a night owl was good for me. I honestly believe there is so much wisdom in the old adage of "early to bed, early to rise, helps make a person healthy, wealthy and wise." I personally think that being a night owl was a lack of discipline on my part. I don't mean to say all this to make you other night owls out there feel guilty... :) But, I do want to encourage you, in that if you think you are stuck being a night owl the rest of your life, I don't think it is true. I believe you can make the transition to being a morning person. I am an example of someone who has transitioned from being a late-night person to an early-to-bed person. (well, yes, I'm still a bit in the transition phase sometimes it seems...) And I am here to tell you, mornings rock! Early mornings are so beautiful and peaceful! They really are an amazing time of the day to connect with God... Praise God for the morning!
Proverbs - Our readings in Proverbs 1:24-28 today is a great reminder to not ignore an opportunity to gain wisdom when the opportunity comes, or we may regret it later. Is wisdom knocking on your door today? Will you let Wisdom enter in?
Worship God: Psalm 5:3 in today's readings reminded me of the wonderful worship song "A New Hallelujah" by Michael W. Smith. Here's a great live version of the song featuring the African Children's Choir from Uganda!
Have you ever sung "A New Hallelujah" to God? Click here and sing!
Please join me in memorizing and meditating on two verses of Scripture today: "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:14,16 NIV
Prayer Point: Based on Matthew 5:14,16 above, pray to God that you will let your light shine before others in this new year. Pray that God would show you how we wants you to truly be the light of the world this year. And pray that you will give all of the glory to God for your good deeds.
Comments from You and Questions of the Day: Based on our Psalm 5 reading today, what do you do in the morning to set your mind and heart on God? Is it prayer, reading the Bible, reading other devotions? If you wouldn't mind posting up in the Comments section below, I'd love to hear what others are doing? It always encourages me - and oftentimes gives me other ideas of things I might want to be doing as well. Thanks! Also, what verses or insights stand out to you in today's readings? Please post up by clicking on the "Comments" link below!