"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." ~ Deuteronomy14:2

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Raising the Standard: Kindness Is Bringing Joy Out Of Sorrow

"I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation." ~ Psalm 40:10
Living Lessons on Kindness:
The loss of a loved one or the depletion of financial resources can produce bitterness. These same circumstances can also open up a life to the amazing potential of daily dependence upon our heavenly Father. One believer who had suffered the loss of a partner and financial provisions responded correctly and experienced unusual freedom and security. The outward evidence of trust in God's lovingkindness was so unusual that it brought public acclaim and inspired untold numbers of other believers to depend upon God's faithfulness. Who demonstrated the principle that kindness in giving is not measured by how much is given? The poor widow.
How Is Bringing Joy Out of Sorrow Illustrated in Scripture?
A spirit of celebration filled the city as thousands of men and their sons converged upon the temple area from all parts of the land. They were there to take part in the week long feast of unleavened bread. Happy reunions took place among friends who had not seen each other for several months. Music echoed over the hillsides as worshipers ascended to the city. the baaing of sheep and lowing of cattle being led to the temple added to the special sounds of the day. While all this was taking place, one person stood alone, watching as the people passed. She noticed the items which men and their sons had brought for the presentation of sacrificial gifts. This was one of the highlights of the feast. As she observed the jubilant crowds, she realized that she had neither father, son, husband, nor gift. Since the death of her husband, times had been difficult for her. She barely had enough money for food. The sum total of all her money could buy only an eighth of a loaf of bread! She followed the crowds at the temple, giving a warm smile to all who met her eyes. As she walked, there was much to think about. The God whom she worshiped was the same God whom Elisha served. God worked through Elisha to take care of a widow and her son for many months when she gave her last bit of food to him. Then there was the example of Anna, who had gone throughout the city thirty-three years earlier proclaiming that the Messiah had been born and that she had seen him with her own eyes. Anna was also a widow. For eighty-five years she had trusted the Lord for her provisions through fasting and prayer. What a beautiful example she was! Suddenly this woman knew what she would do. She increased her step and headed for the east side of the temple area. As the entered the court of the women, the crowds were especially large3. She walked over and stood in one of the lines. The line slowly moved toward a box with a trumpet shaped mouth. Those in front of her contributed valuable silver and bronze coins. Some gave bags of money. As she neared the box, she reached out her hand and threw in the money that was in it --- two little coins. They were all she had. As she turned to walk away, she noticed a man who had been watching those giving. He seemed encouraged by her gift. He called together his disciples and in a rich, clear voice she heard Him say. "Truly I say to you, this poor widow has given more than all who have given to the treasury. For they gave out of their abundance, but she out of her want gave all that she had!" Out of her sorrow and poverty this poor widow brought joy to the heart of Jesus by illustrating the true meaning of sacrificial giving [From Mark 12:41-44; and Luke 2:36-38]
How Did the Scribes "Devour Widows' Houses"?
The scribes, responsible for the teaching of God's Word, were themselves living contrary to the Law's demands. When Jesus accused them of devouring the houses of widows, He referred to their destructive teaching and possibly to their actions as well. The Law of God was sensitive to the greater needs of widows. As God's representatives, the leaders of Israel were to protect the legal rights of widows and to make sure that they were fed and clothed. (See Deuteronomy 10:17-18.) Grapes, grain, and olives were to be available for them to glean. (See Deuteronomy 24:19-21.) Widows were also to be included in the third year tithe. (See Deuteronomy 14:28-29.) But the teaching of the scribes provided ways for hard hearted people to evade these merciful commands. For instance, the scribes taught that a son could vow to devote to God everything he would otherwise have used to support his mother. The son gained the praise of men while his mother lived in poverty. (See Matthew 15:3-9.) The famous rabbi, Hillel, devised a "legal" way to evade the Law's command to cancel debts during the Sabbatical year. One tragic result of this scheme was to deprive widows who were in debt of the ownership of their houses. The Lord may also have been referring to the scribe's habit of taking advantage of the hospitality of people of limited means. Since it was technically forbidden to accept remuneration for their teaching, the scribes themselves were often poor. Yet they were not reluctant to accept contributions from those who were least able to give.
What Was the Value of the Poor Widow's Offering?
In the eyes of men, her offering was practically worthless. We know that "...she threw in two mites, which made a farthing" (Mark 12:42). Jerusalem's fund of food for transients set the daily ration at no less than the equivalent of one loaf of bread. At that time a loaf was worth a twelfth of a denarius, or about sixteen mites. Thus, the entire wealth of the poor widow was one-eighth of a loaf of bread, one-eighth he daily ration of a beggar. But her offering was of inestimable worth in the eyes of God. The Lord saw in her heart genuine love and total trust in her faithful Provider. He measured her offering not by what she gave, but by what she kept for herself.
For What Purpose Was the Widow's Offering Used?
Her offering provided for the physical functioning of the temple. Four of the thirteen collection boxes were freewill offerings. The others were for tribute money. The widow's two mites fell far short of the required half-shekel tribute amount. Thus, you can assume she was presenting the customary freewill offering given in association with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The proceeds from the four freewill boxes were designated for wood, incense, temple decorations, and burnt offerings. These represented the major expenses of the temple. It is significant that even though the chief priests and temple leaders were corrupt at that time, the Lord still praised the widow for contributing to the temple's support. Although some had turned the temple into a den of thieves, it was still considered by the Lord to be the house of prayer. (See Luke 19:46.)
Illustrated in the World of Nature:
The life cycle of the monarch butterfly has four distinct stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa, and adult. Each stage is a separate and distinct living creature. But it is during the pupa stage that the caterpillar undergoes a radical metamorphosis, which changes it into a butterfly. Although scientists understood much about this complex metamorphosis, for many years they did not know what happened to the monarch during the winter months. It was not until the mid-1970's that the monarchs were tracked to their wintering grounds in central Mexico. They had flown distances in excess of 2,5000 miles during their short lifetimes.
How Is the Benefit of Bitter Experiences Illustrated in the World of Nature?
A beautifully colored monarch butterfly felt itself being jerked from the sky by a hungry predator which seemed to come out of nowhere. Its blue crested captor flew up to its nest. The stunned monarch was then released a few inches from three hungry mouths that were open wide, demanding to be fed. Just then the mate of the blue jay arrived and dropped a large juicy grasshopper at the feet of its feeding young. Immediately, the blue jay tore apart the grasshopper and poked the bits and pieces into each hungry mouth. Then it looked around for additional food. The jay that brought in the monarch watched in total surprise as its more mature mate stepped over to the monarch, picked him up and dropped him out of the nest. The uninjured monarch flew away to the fragrant flowers of the field below. This unexpected freedom was the result of what the monarch experienced when he was young. During his caterpillar stage, the bitter leaves of a poisonous plant was the only food available to him. Amazingly, he was not damaged by the toxins in the plant. However, they would remain in his system for the rest of his life. It was this very diet that now saved him from the hungry mouths of the blue jays. When the blue jay saw the monarch, the jay was immediately reminded of the first and last monarch that it had ever caught. Hoping to satisfy its hunger, the blue jay had swallowed a monarch in midair. Within a few minutes the blue jay became sick; its stomach seemed to be twisting and turning inside out. The pain and discomfort became worse and worse until the jay was finally gripped with convulsions. It vomited out the remains of the butterfly along with the rest of the day's catch. Once the butterfly was out of its stomach, the blue jay had instant relief. It had never experienced anything like this before and would never choose to do so again. Thereafter, in its search for food, the blue jay avoided anything that looked like a monarch. Not only could monarchs fly by this blue jay without harm, but viceroy butterflies could also carry on in their work in safety. The viceroy butterflies had never eaten the poisonous leaves of the milkweed plant. However, they had orange and black markings similar to a monarch butterfly. Thus, the bitter diet of the monarch's early days not only saved its own life but kindly benefited the lives of other butterflies.
The Characteristics of the Monarch Butterfly in Scripture:
The unique ability of the monarch butterfly to tolerate the toxins of the milkweed plant provides a picture of the need for Christians to endure the bitterness of discipline, trial, and persecution. The monarch butterfly absorbs bitter toxins during its early development, which protects its life when it matures. Similarly, God allows harsh experiences in our youth. "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth...He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him...For the Lord will not cast off for ever" (Lamentations 3:27; 30-31).
"But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you" ~ 1 Peter 5:10
More importantly, bitter experiences help to conform us to the image of Christ.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he did also predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son..." ~ Romans 8:28-29
Perhaps the most spectacular characteristic of the butterfly is that it illustrates conformity to Christ as its transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. In going through its metamorphosis, it not only illustrates the truth of Christ's resurrection, but also the principle of the birth, death, and fulfillment of a vision. "It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory..." (1 Corinthians 15:43).

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