Psalm 26:7--That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Our Pilgrimage

Genesis 47:8, 9--And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.

Today's devotional is on diction, or word choice. The words we choose have a powerful impact on others. A single word can change the entire meaning of something. The example my English teacher always likes to use is "Which one sounds better? 'The U. S. army wanted revenge' or 'The U. S. army thirsted for revenge'?" See how much more gruesome and imperative the second one sounds? All because of a single word, a girl can go from looking good to being of divine beauty if she is described as "angelic" instead of "pretty."

So the word I want us to look at in this passage is "pilgrimage." When asked how old he was, Jacob didn't simply report the number of years he'd lived. He said he had gone through a hundred and thirty years of pilgrimage. Not life, but pilgrimage.

When asked how old we are, most of us just reply with a number, but not Jacob. He knew there was more to it than that. He looked beyond the grave to his real home. That's why he called his life a pilgrimage. Pharaoh was asking about the days of Jacob's life, but Jacob went beyond that and told him about the other side, all with one word. He described his life as a journey to a desired destination. And that's what it is, or what it should be.

Our life is not to be focused on the things of this earth, the temporal things. If we are worrying about earthly matters--money, possessions, power--then we are not preparing for our destination. We should be focused on Heaven, our real home, as Jacob was. That is where our minds and hearts should lie.

When our life is over, if we're saved, we've got much better things than this world could ever offer. If this earth--which is filled with sin and war and disease and corruption, where you can hardly trust anyone--is all we've got to look forward to, we haven't got much. But thank God that through Jesus Christ I have a Heavenly home that I'm headed to! This world is not my home; this life is not the end. It is only the journey taking me there; it is only the beginning. I thank the Lord that my life is only a pilgrimage!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Do You Have a Broken Heart?

Joel 2:12, 13--Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

Above is an example of a zeugma (pronounced zoog-muh). This is one of my favorite literary techniques, probably just because it sounds so cool. The technical definition of zeugma is "the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one." Basically, it means using a word to modify several words, but each in a different way. "The cold numbed his body and his emotions" would be a zeugma.

Here, the zeugma applies the word "rend" to "heart" and "garments." You can literally rend your clothes, but if you did that to your heart, you would die, and that's not what God means. In this verse, God is calling for repentance form Israel. Back then, when they knew they had sinned or something was wrong, they would literally tear off their clothes, cover themselves in ashes, and cry out to God with tears, prayer, and fasting. Much more than we do now, I must say. But why would they go to such extreme lengths? Because their heart had been broken by their sin. They knew they had offended the One and only, holy, righteous, perfect God of Heaven who gave them life and love, even when it was undeserved.

However, there are always the people who say they're sorry but don't really mean it. That's the case with the people here. They would sin, put on this dramatic act of repentance, and then go right back to their sin. That is not what God wants; that is exactly the opposite of what God wants. If you do that, you are simply mocking Him and taking Him for a fool. And there will be consequences.

But in this verse, God is telling us, "I don't want a show; I want the real thing. I want it from the heart." It doesn't matter how good it looks out the outside, if you don't mean it in your heart, it's not going to help you, and nothing's going to change. "For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

God does not want an outward showing; that's not what pleases Him. He wants our hearts to truly be broken by our sin. And we should all have a broken heart. Every one of us has sinned against the God of Heaven, the One who died and took our punishment upon Himself. He wants us to humble ourselves, come to Him, ask Him for forgiveness, and turn away from our sins. And we need to do it often. Even if you're saved, you still sin because you're not perfect. That doesn't mean you lose your salvation, but it does hurt your relationship and walk with God.

Thankfully, like the verse says, God is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness". He is patient with us, far beyond what we deserve. His love holds back His wrath and punishment. So take a look at yourself today and the way you've loved and served the One who loves you more than anyone else. Ask yourself this question: Do I have a broken heart?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Say That One More Time?

The Ten Commandments. We all know of them (though most of us don't actually know them--eek!). We all break them. So why are they important? Are some more important than others? One way to find out is to look at how God presents them to us in His Word.

The part of the Commandments that everybody knows is the beginning, "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not". But why do we remember this part? Because it's repeated. All but two of the Ten Commandments begin with this phrasing. This type of repetition and parallelism is called anaphora. Anaphora is when a specific word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of several phrases or clauses, in this case "Thou shalt".

So why would God start them all with the same phrase? Doesn't that seem redundant? Wouldn't it be a waste of time and paper? (Or, in Moses' case, stone tablets.) It's because God wants them to have equal importance. Anaphora, and parallelism in general, is used to give equal weight to several items. If God didn't start each of the Ten Commandments with the same phrase, we would look at some as more important than others--oh wait, we do that, don't we?

And that's the point I'm sharpening the pencil toward.

All of God's commandments are equally important, and any breaking of any of His commandments is equally important. In God's eyes, sin is sin, no matter what sin it is. As James 2:10 says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilty of all." That means that if you only commit one sin, you're guilty of breaking them all.

As humans, we see sins as "big sins" and "little sins." But to God any disobedience, any transgression of His law, is sin. It's like trying to make a copy of a famous painting, say the Mona Lisa. You will never be able to make a perfect copy because you will never be able to exactly recreate the painting. If just one of her hairs is out of place, if her smile doesn't curve just the right way, even if your brush strokes are not exactly the same, the painting will be different. It will not be perfect. It doesn't matter how big or small the blemish is, it's still wrong.

And it's the same way with sin. Taking a paper clip is the same as robbing a bank. Disrespecting your parents is just as bad as murdering someone. Any sin makes you imperfect and thus keeps you from Heaven. So if you're one of those people trying to get to Heaven by being a good person, sorry, but it's not going to work. Faith in the Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection is the only way.

So remember, those Ten Commandments, they're all important, not just the "big" ones. And hey, maybe another reason God started them all the same is to help us remember them.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Jesus Loves Us" and "Stick in the Sand"

Jesus Loves Us

“They are weak, but
He is strong,”
says a lovely
children’s song.
What sacred truth
is found therein!
How Sinless came
and died for sin.
Glory traded
for our hearts,
that we of Him
might be a part.

Stick in the Sand

He wrenched the stick into the sand
and carved the word with aching hand:

His hand by limb of tree was pierced,
and blood ran down in torrents fierce.
It washed away the sand and stain;
all things gone—Love remains.