Sunday, February 07, 2016

Words that need to sink into our ears

Image: Openicons /
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:37-50

TO CHEW ON: " ' Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.'
But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying." Luke 9:44,45

Three times in Luke 9 we see Jesus speaking of His death. In Luke 9:22, after Peter called Him the Christ (Messiah), Jesus told them, in confidence: "'The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected and be killed and be raised the third day.'"

Then on the mountain, groggy as they were, they overheard Jesus, Elijah and Moses speaking of Jesus' "decease" - Luke 9:31.

And again in our reading today, after healing the demon-possessed boy (to the amazement and marveling of the crowds) Jesus' words to His disciples were urgent and insistent: "'Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men'" Luke 9:44.

They didn't get it (Luke 9:45)!

Some questions that come to me about this story:
- Why was it so important to Jesus that they understand?
- How could they not understand such plain language?
- Are there spiritual things to which I'm similarly deaf?

One reason I can think of for the importance of their understanding was that it would prepare them for what was ahead.

As to why they didn't  understand, I believe their expectation of Messiah and his role played a big part in their inability to hear and absorb what Jesus was saying. They saw the adulation of the crowd and that part of Jesus' ministry fit in with Him being an earthly savior, so that was the belief they clung to. In fact, in the verses after Jesus pleaded with them to hear Him, they were arguing about who was the greatest, no doubt  thinking of position in His "cabinet."

Finally, I ask myself, are there things to which I am (perhaps all of us are) similarly dull? As I examine my beliefs and compare them to what the Bible says, I do see some things that make me squirm. One is Jesus' teaching that He is the only way to God (John 10:9; Acts 4:1,2 etc.). I believe it in my head, but do my actions support what I say I believe?

Then there's the whole teaching about those rejecting Him ending up in the other place—"hell"—a concept that doesn't sit at all well in modern ears. Yet Jesus Himself speaks of it at the end of the chapter in Mark that tells the very incidents we've read about in Luke. He describes a place of utter torment and separation from God: "'Where "Their worm does not die / And the fire is not quenched"'" - Mark 9:42-47.

Like the disciples, it's important that I (we) hear what the Bible is actually saying and not be swayed by human interpretations and the ideas of a culture that seek to explain away what is hard for us to accept and understand. Like the disciples, there is no excuse for us to enter the future (now and eternity) unprepared.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please open my eyes, mind, and heart to Bible truths that clash with the values of humanism or any other belief systems. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

God's glory brought down to earth

 Detail of "Transfiguration" by Raphael (1516-1520)
See the entire painting and read its history on Art and the Bible.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:21-36

TO CHEW ON: "Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray." Luke 9:28

Luke links Jesus' sobering words of Luke 9:23-27 (where He speaks of His death, the need for the disciples to face their own deaths daily, the Father being ashamed of those who are ashamed of Jesus and His words, and some disciples not seeing death till they see the kingdom of God) with Jesus' transfiguration. It's as if Luke is saying, With Jesus' pronouncements ringing in their ears the disciples experienced this (Luke 9:28 - 36).

How might the two be connected?

  • The transfiguration conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah underlined the fact of Jesus' impending death - Luke 9:22,31. (My Bible's Harmony of the Gospels dates the transfiguration somewhere in the beginning to middle of AD 29, about a year before the crucifixion.)
  • The disciples were given a taste of the glory Jesus referred to in Luke 9:26. The glory the disciples experienced was visible. Jesus' clothes became white and glistening. It was a glory of well-being. Peter wanted to stay in it and the disciples only became fearful as the cloud that eventually separated them from it overshadowed them - Luke 9:34. This experience gave them a foretaste of what it was like to be in God's penetrating, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-revealing presence—a place they would not want to enter with the shame of having denied Jesus and His words.
  • God's words from the cloud ("This is My believed Son. Hear Him" - Luke 9:34) supported Jesus' claim of being on the side of His Father and the angels - Luke 9:26.

And then, kathunk! The voice was silent. The cloud lifted. They were alone with Jesus. I can imagine their thoughts: What just happened? Did it really happen? What does it mean? To their credit the puzzled disciples kept this experience to themselves for the time being.

Some takeaways from this story for me, for us...

1. God's  revelations, when He pulls back the curtain to show us glimpses of the divine, will line up with what He has said in other places, e.g. the teachings of the Bible.

2. We don't want to enter His presence ashamed because of our short-sighted fear of man.

3. It's okay to keep divine encounters to ourselves until we gain insight into what they mean.

Dear Jesus, help me to live in such a way that I can someday stand unashamed before You in all Your glory. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 05, 2016

More than just words

Detail of "Moses and the Tables of the Law" (1481-1482) 
by Cosimo Rosselli.
View entire painting and information at Art and the Bible.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 34:19-35

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words, I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Exodus 34:27

In the first part of Exodus 34, God warns the people about compromising with and adopting the religious practices of the idol-worshiping tribes of Canaan. In today's reading God gives specific things His people can do to guard against such syncretism and assimilation.

1. Keep the feasts and in this way remember what God has done for them in the past - Exodus 34:19,20.

2. Give God a portion of their possessions and in this way acknowledge that their stuff is really all His - Exodus 34:19,20.

3. Take off one day in seven from work as a day of rest to give life a healthy balance and remind them of their ultimate dependence on God - Exodus 34:21.

4. Obey God's instructions down to the detail. God's instructions about not offering a blood sacrifice with leaven had to do with the spiritual symbolism of blood (life) and leaven (sin). Whether they understood the connection or not, they were to follow these details that illustrated spiritual truths - Exodus 34:25

Though we don't observe the same rituals today, I would submit that doing some of these things could also be faith-building practices that might serve as preventative medicine against backsliding for us.  We too could:
  • Remember our history with God, commemorating not only the Bible events (like Christmas and Easter) but remembering and retelling the stories of God at work in our lives.
  • Give regularly to kingdom projects—our church, missions, the poor. Where we put our money is, after all, a good indication of what we truly value - Matthew 6:21.
  • Rest one day in seven from our work. Besides giving us the needed physical break, this practice reminds us that our ultimate trust is in God for the success of our work.
  • Obey God's instructions about how to live and conduct ourselves. No, we don't struggle with whether there is leaven in the house or how to handle the blood of a sacrifice.  But every day we do make choices that have spiritual implications. One area  we do this is in our family relationships, where our lifestyle is a testimony to the spiritual realm - Ephesians 5:22-6:12.

As it was for the Israelites so it is for us. Belief isn't just assent and words. We need to affirm, solidify, and protect what we say we believe with our actions.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to give You not only lip service but demonstrate my loyalty to You with my life. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Corruption's comet trail

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 34:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "'Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going lest it be a snare in your midst.'" Exodus 34:12

A comet, when it enters earth's atmosphere from outer space, is pulled toward the surface by gravity. As it descends, the friction of our atmosphere increases its heat so that it soon burns, leaving a visible trail of gas and vapor to mark its passage. In much the same way sin seems to exert a gravitational pull on our spirits, and in today's reading Moses describes the comet trail of nation's descent into it.

In Exodus 34 God sets before Moses two choices for the Israelites. One is a choice to be loyal to God — thus staying well away from sin's gravitational pull in the first place. The other involves covenanting with the nations of Canaan. When the Israelites do this, Moses warns them of how they will eventually descend into outright idolatry. A covenant with the pagan nations of Canaan will involve these steps:

1. A softening toward idol worship - Exodus 34:12-14.
2. Polite (or curious?) participation (" of his sacrifice...") - Exodus 34:15.
3. Intermarriage - Exodus 34:16.
4. Idolatrous practices entering the family's culture and legacy - Exodus 34:16.
5. Absorption into the mainstream culture as individuals make idols for themselves - Exodus 34:17.

This portrayal of Israel's possible descent into spiritual corruption can serve as  caution for us. Some things that we as Christians can beware of and avoid as we seek to be wholly loyal to God in our culture are:

  • Intermarrying with non-Christians.
Of course if we're not married, we can place limits on whom we would consider as a possible spouse. As for our kids, in our time and culture where we have little say in who our children marry, we can pray.

  • Dabbling in the occult.
We can avoid things like getting fortunes told, reading horoscopes, involving ourselves with occultic medical practitioners etc

  • Participating in practices that have their origins in other religions.
One popular type of physical exercise, yoga, originates in Hinduism. Though many argue that they do yoga exercises without any acknowledgement of the spiritual aspects of it, others warn that any involvement with it is not spiritually wise. Another trap might be decorating our homes with the paraphernalia of other religions - e.g. Buddha statues or shamanistic masks.

  • Allowing our culture's ideal of syncretism to infiltrate our churches and our personal lives.
No matter what our culture's wise ones say, the Bible makes it clear that not all faith journeys lead to God (John 14:6).

The warnings, above, are not politically correct — but when did God ever concern Himself with our political correctness, except to warn against it? I would much rather err on the side of caution and inherit God's blessing (Exodus 34:6,7a) than allow my life to enter sin's atmosphere and be pulled down by its gravitational force.

PRAYER: Dear God, since You don't change, I need to take Your warnings to stay away from sin and idolatry very seriously. Please help me, by Your Spirit, to become aware of and root out any idolatrous thing in my life. Amen.

MORE: Christians and yoga.

Is it permissible for Christians to participate in yoga exercises? Here are some articles to read and consider from the writings of Albert Mohler:

Yahoo, Yoga and Yours Truly

The Subtle Body: Should Christians Practice Yoga?

Help from Hindu Quarters — The New York Times on "Take Back Yoga"

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Relating to a holy God

Ark of the Covenant - by Phillip Martin
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 99:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "He is holy.... He is holy.... For the Lord our God is holy." - Psalm 99: 3b, 5b, 9b.

This short hymn-Psalm has three stanzas, each declaring at its end, "He (God) is holy."

It might be a good idea, here, to remind ourselves what "holy" means. Jerry Bridges in his book The Pursuit of Holiness says:

"To be holy is to be morally blameless. It is to be separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God. The word signifies 'separation to God and a conduct befitting those so separated' "- Kindle Location 84.

Stanza 1 (Psalm 99:1-3) starts with God, the other, the inaccessible. Though He is "high above all peoples," for Israel He lived "between the cherubim"—the two gold angels that topped the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:22, 1 Samuel 4:4). Access to the Ark was limited. Its place in the Tabernacle was the Holy of Holies, guarded from all but the ministering priest by a heavy curtain.

The power and the mystery that surrounded the Ark was no fantasy. When the Philistines captured it, weird things happened to their idol (1 Samuel 5:1-4). When David tried to move it on an ox cart instead of the right way (carried with poles on the priests' shoulders), and Uzzah reached over to steady it, the touch killed him (2 Samuel 6:3-10).

The psalmist concludes this first stanza with "Let them (all the peoples) praise Your great and awesome name—He is holy."

In Stanza 2 (Psalm 99:4-5) the song moves to a celebration of how holy God is in justice. Addressing God directly the psalmist praises: "You have established equity;/ You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob." He admonishes the people, "Exalt the Lord our God / And worship at His footstool."

In the final stanza (Psalm 99:6-9) the psalm gets human. The writer reminds the people, this God who is so holy we can't touch the place He lives, who is utterly just and righteous, also interacted with people. When Moses, Aaron and Samuel called on His name, He answered them. More than that, He was to them "God-Who-Forgives." Wow! This holy, completely just, completely righteous God not only relates to but forgives puny, flawed, sinful humans.

In our time, we tend to de-emphasize the fact of God's holiness, stressing instead, His grace, mercy and love. He is those things, of course. But those qualities stand out even more sharply when viewed against the background of His holiness and our unworthiness. We need His forgiveness. That He is completely righteous and at the same time chooses to forgive sin is grace we will contemplate and praise Him for through eternity.

PRAYER: Holy God, please grow in me the comprehension and respect Your holiness deserves. Thank You for being the God-Who-Forgives. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.

MORE: Some practical thoughts on holy living

Bridges, in his book, makes a case for Christian holiness using 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, 1 Peter 1:14-16, Revelation 22:11, and Ephesians 4:22-24. He asks, "If holiness, then, is so basic to the Christian life, why do we not experience it more in daily living." He gives a three-part answer:

1. "Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centred than God-centered. We are more concerned with our own 'victory' over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God....

2. Our second problem is that we have misunderstood 'living by faith' (Galatians 2:20) to mean that no effort at holiness is required on our part. In fact sometimes we have even suggested that any effort on our part is 'of the flesh.'...

3 Our third problem is that we do not take some sin seriously. We have mentally categorized sins into that which is unacceptable and that which may be tolerated a bit" - Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, Kindle Locations 92-10.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Spirit-led Simeon

Simeon - Luke 2:25-35
Simeon - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 2:22-40

TO CHEW ON: "And behold there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him." Luke 2:25

The characters in this short incident fascinate. Two years ago on this day we took a look at Anna. Today let's look closely at Simeon to learn what kind of a man God tells His secrets to.

1. He was a spiritually attuned man, focusing on the spiritual solution to the political and natural situation as he lived in expectation "...waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel" - Luke 2:24 NLT (compare to Isaiah 40:1,2).

2. The Holy Spirit was active in his life. Luke refers to the Holy Spirit in relation to Simeon three times in this short segment. The Spirit's presence seems to have been visible or obvious in some way. Luke wasn't there, so some eye-witness must have told him about these things. Who? Mary perhaps? What did she see that told her the Spirit was on Simeon? Or maybe the Holy Spirit within her gave witness in some way that here was a Spirit-filled and -controlled man.

3. Simeon's relationship with God the Holy Spirit was one of unquestioning obedience. Simeon went to the temple that day, even though he didn't know what was in store for him there. E. M. Bounds says of obedience:

"Unquestionably obedience is a high virtue, a soldier quality. To obey belongs eminently to the soldier. It is his first and last lesson, and he must learn how to practice it all the time without question, uncomplainingly.... The gift of the Holy Spirit in full measure and in richer experience depends upon loving obedience." E. M. Bounds, Complete Works of E. M. Bounds, Kindle Edition, p. 52.

4. He was bold in his blessing.
Upon meeting Joseph, Mary and Jesus, he took the infant in his arms and prayed a blessing of thanks to God and prophecy Jesus, saying things that were outrageous if they weren't true (Luke 2:29-32).

5. He held nothing back, even the uncomfortable bad news. After blessing Joseph and Mary, Simeon said some things to Mary ("yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also" - Luke 2:35) that must have puzzled her and made her heart sink.

Let's determine to be like Simeon in these ways, looking to God for solutions to our problems and situations, allowing the Spirit access to our lives, responding to His promptings with obedience, even to the extent of uttering His words of blessing—and warning.

PRAYER: Dear God, may Your Spirit have full access to me today. Help me to grow in "loving obedience." Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Presentation
Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation. The liturgy for today begin with this collect:

"Almighty and ever living God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Monday, February 01, 2016

The power of praise

Photo - Microsoft clipart
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 71:12-24

TO CHEW ON: “Let my mouth be filled with Your praise
And with Your glory all the day…
My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness
And Your salvation all the day…
My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to you… (Psalm 71:8, 15, 23)

The tongue is a pesky body part for bad and a powerful one for good (James 3:5-6). What we say can bog our hearers in a swamp of contradictions (James 3:9-12)  or lift their attention Godward. There certainly seems to be a power in uttering things aloud, as in nailing down our thoughts in the physical act of speech.

That’s why Psalm 71 is so potent. It acknowledges the impact of out-loud utterance – by speech or singing – in the act of praising God. Eight times in this psalm the writer refers to speaking or singing our praise.

A footnote in my Bible puts it this way:
“His repetitious use of words such as mouth, praise, mention, declare, sing, lips, tongue, emphasizes the fact that praise is to be expressed openly in the congregation and not only as quiet thoughts in a secluded garden of meditation.” –Dick Iverson,  New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 739
This week as we meet with fellow Christians in church, or host them in our homes, or share a meal with family or friends in a restaurant, or spend time with neighbors in recreation, let's add to our conversation a little praise of God – for who He is and what He has done for us!

PRAYER: Dear God, may praise of You and my mouth be close acquaintances, today and always. Amen.

MORE: When praise doesn’t come naturally
Sometimes the circumstances in our lives are so far from ideal, praise for and in them seems like a contradiction. But those are just the times we need to dial up the praise even more.

Harold Hill (author of How To Live Like A King’s Kid) in the introduction to his book How to Live in High Victory lists ten steps to a victorious lifestyle. Praise figures in three of them:

1. Wrap everything in PRAISE and turn it over to Jesus as joint heirs with Him of the results.

2. Refuse to be impressed by appearances.

3. Do the next thing, and trust Jesus for guiding your paths: Proverbs 3:5-6.

4. Form the habit of PRAISE in the midst of, in spite of, or on account of whatever is going on: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Ephesians 5:18-20; Hebrews 13:15.

5. Learn to listen to God.

6. Don’t ask anyone else’s opinion about the guidance God gives you.

7. Stop doubting that God really did speak to you.

8. When God’s guidance comes, act immediately, PRAISING Him for results.

9. When doubt enters pray: “I’m going into action Lord. If I’m on a second-best course of action, it’s up to You to block me. But if I’m on the right road, open all doors and benefit everyone concerned.”

10. Pray: “Lord, make me as holy as You can make a sinner saved by grace.”

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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From youth to old age

Old telephone
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 71:12-24

TO CHEW ON: "O God, You have taught me from my youth;
And to this day I declare Your wondrous works.
Now also when I am old and grayheaded
O God, do not forsake me,
Until I declare Your strength to this generation,
Your power to everyone who is to come." Psalm 71:17,18

No matter what age you are, you can probably name many things that have changed noticeably over your lifetime. Take the telephone, for example. The first phone I remember was a big brown box attached to the wall. It looked like a face with two ringer bells as eyes, the horn-shaped microphone as nose, the crank and receiver on each side as ears. We rang up the telephone operator with our requested phone number, she contacted the other party with their signal ring (combination of short and long rings) and when they answered everyone else on that particular party line could listen in on the conversation.

Contrast that to the smart phones we use today. With them we can not only phone people (many of us hardly use that function at all) but send text messages, take photos and post them online, read books, play games, find information, get driving directions, etc.

Changes in technology aren't the only types of changes. Social and moral changes abound. For example, in my lifetime, the culture I'm a part of has gone from eschewing divorce and living together before marriage to divorce and common-law marriages now commonplace and, in the last few years, the recognition and celebration of gay marriage.

We find these changes in almost every department of life—except one: the spiritual. If we hold to the Bible and its teachings, not that much has changed. The God we worship is the God of the Old and New Testaments and we can still say with the psalmist: "O God, You have taught me from my youth…Now also, when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me…"

God's teaching curriculum still involves:
  • Instruction in speech and what to say - Exodus 4:12; Matthew 10:19.
  • Respect for and obedience of God instead of fearing the society around us - Isaiah 8:11-13.
  • Discipline and faithfulness in coming to class - Isaiah 50:4.
  • Learning the difference between the right and wrong; the holy and the profane - Ezekiel 44:23.
  • Learning to love - 1 Thessalonians 4:9.
  • Staying in tune with our teacher, the Holy Spirit - 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 John 2:27.

In a world that is constantly changing, I find God's unchangeableness a great comfort and security. Living by what He teaches may put us out of step with the culture around us, but how much better to be in sync with the God who is a strong, powerful, and faithful Redeemer across the generations  (Psalm 71:18,22,23) than to build our lives on the shifting trends and changing standards of modern society!

Dear God, thank You for being a God I can worship through a lifetime. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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