Thursday, May 05, 2016

Forty-day seminar

"Jesus appears to His disciples" - Alexandre Bida
"Jesus appears to His disciples" - Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 1:1-11


TO CHEW ON: "…to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." Acts 1:3

How I would love to have been present in the room with the disciples during Jesus' post-resurrection teaching sessions!

Matthew describes the disciples meeting with Jesus on the mountain in Galilee. He left them with the assignment we call the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

Mark describes Jesus meeting the eleven disciples for a meal when he rebuked them for not believing the word of previous eye-witnesses. Mark ends His gospel with another version of the Jesus' Great Commission - Mark 16:15-18.

Luke's gospel has the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus where Jesus says to the two (after they have told Him their tale of grief over Jesus' death and disappointment over dashed hopes that He would have redeemed Israel): "'O foolish ones … Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?'" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them an all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" - Luke 24:25-27.

When these same two disciples hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the others, Jesus appeared among them and again ended up teaching: "He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures" - Luke 24:45.

And here in Acts, author Luke talks of Jesus "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God."

Even so, some didn't get it. For they ask, "'Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'" Jesus' answer gently turns their attention away from immediate national concerns to the next step. It's not your business to know what God has planned, he tells them, but you will receive Holy Spirit power to witness to Me everywhere (Acts 1:7,8).


Jesus' teaching does eventually sink in. I know of no record in the New Testament or tradition that tells of any of the eleven disciples defecting from faith because the political scene didn't change.Their protegĂ© Paul, who wrote many of the New Testament books, was clear on the place of Jesus in the continuum of God's plan and explained it explicitly. So it's obvious that these disciples came to understand what Jesus was talking about. Still, it  would have been wonderful to hear Jesus explain it firsthand.

The challenge to us is, do we believe the rich body of evidence we have? Do we take advantage of the many resources that help us coordinate the Jesus of history with the Jesus of prophecy? Do we understand our place in history? Or would Jesus' rebuke of some His disciples of having hard, unbelieving hearts, way too often fit us?


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your rich word—the story of Your plan to save humankind from sin. Help me to understand  it, believe it, and myself become part of the story of the kingdom of God. Amen.

MORE: Ascension Day

Today the church celebrates the ascension of Christ into heaven. The Ascension Day liturgy begins with this collect:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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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.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Jesus exalted--what that means to us

Exalted Jesus - church in Montaicino, Italy (Image: pixabay.com)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 1:15-23

TO CHEW ON: "He [God] raised Him [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come." Ephesians 1:20,21

In describing how highly Jesus was exalted, Paul didn't leave any area uncovered.

Jesus' exaltation:
  • Seated Him at God's right hand in heaven.
  • Placed Him not just above but "far above all principality and power and might and dominion."
My Bible's notes explain that the above four (principality, power, might, and dominion) "…are consistently used for ruling authorities in both the visible and invisible realms. See Ephesians 3:10. The NT reveals an invisible hierarchy of evil powers who deceive and manipulate human behavior thereby advancing satanic strategies" - Jack W. Hayford, study notes on Ephesians, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1646.
  • Exalted Him far above every name that is named.
Name (onoma) means name or term by which a person is called and all that the name implies of rank, authority, reputation, and representative.
  • His exalted state applies in every generation, and beyond this life i.e. it never changes ("… not only in this age but also in that which is to come" - Ephesians 1:21).
  • He is the head of the church, currently His body on earth - Ephesians 1:22,23.
In context, this grand statement of Jesus' position is part of Paul's prayer for his readers. He prays that they will understand these truths and the power available to them as a result (Ephesians 1:18,19).

This is a prayer that needs to be answered in each new generation. We in the 21st century need to grasp and claim the extent and benefits of Christ's work and current exalted state for our generation as much as Paul's readers did for theirs.

Do we understand that there are no new governments or military powers, including the demonic entities behind them, that supersede Jesus' power? His power is far above that of ISIS, or any repressive regimes, or our own more benign democracies that have taken a satanically inspired direction in legalizing death (abortion and euthanasia), celebrating sexual deviance, encouraging drug use, etc.

What do we do in the meantime, while it looks like those principalities, powers, and dominions are winning? At least two things:

1. Put on God's armor so we can stand against the spiritual forces behind these developments - Ephesians 6:10-13.

2. By faith encourage ourselves and each other with the facts - Ephesians 1:21,22.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, though Paul's statement of Your exaltation may sometimes seem like wishful thinking, please answer the earlier part of Paul's prayer in me by giving the spirit of wisdom and revelation, and opening the eyes of my understanding about You. Amen.
 
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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.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Reasons to clap

"Shout to God with the voice of triumph..." (Image Pixabay)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 47:1-9

TO CHEW ON:
"Oh clap your hands all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph!" Psalm 47:1

The word transliterated "clap" (taqa') means to clatter, clang, sound, blow (trumpets), clap, strike. "Its best one-word definition may be 'strike'" says a Word Wealth article in my Bible. It goes on to explain the Israeli usage of the word: "Taqa' describes pitching a tent or fastening a nail, probably due to the striking of the hammer used for both tasks. In other references taqa' describes blowing a trumpet or sounding an alert" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 724.

"Clap" is definitely a noisy word. Why would we respond to God this way? Several facts gleaned from my Bible's notes about how people over the years have viewed this psalm help answer:

God's rule:
This psalm was part of Israel's New Year celebrations. In the words of verse 2: "For the Lord Most High is awesome, / He is a great King over all the earth," they claimed God's rule over the nations in the coming year.

Our inheritance:
While the Son of Korah writer of this psalm may have been thinking of a literal inheritance of land when he wrote: "He will choose our inheritance for us…" (Psalm 47:4), Paul related this inheritance to Jesus and the inheritance He bought for believers through His death and resurrection - Colossians 1:12-14.

Our hope for the future:
Christians have seen in the words "God has gone up with a shout…" (Psalm 47:5) a prophetic picture of Jesus' ascension. After coming down to accomplish salvation (Philippians 2:6-10), He went up in victory (Acts 1:9-10; Hebrews 12:2). But that's not the end of the story. Someday He will return with shouts and trumpets to take us to be with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17).

Do these things—God's rule, our inheritance, our hope—elicit a reaction in us? As we meditate on these grand truths and celebrate them in our churches, let's not squelch the impulse to respond with a little noise. Applause is definitely in order!

PRAYER:
Dear Father, help me to realize anew the magnitude of what You have done in the world and for Me. May these truths never grow old and tired. Amen.

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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.


Monday, May 02, 2016

What we give and what He gives back

"The Blessing" - Image: pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 14:15-31

TO CHEW ON: "'If you love Me, keep My commandments.'" John 14:15

Like all relationships, ours with Jesus is a two-way street. The more we are loyal to Him, the more of Himself He gives to us. Jesus talks about many aspects of what we give and He gives back in John 14.

  • We love Jesus and keep His commandments.
  • He gives the Helper who illuminates truth and lives with us and in us. The Helper also teaches us and helps us remember things - John 14:16-18, 26.

  • We love Jesus and keep His commandments
  • We are loved by the Father and will become aware of Jesus in new ways - "'I will love Him and manifest myself to Him'" - John 14:21 (emphasis added).

  • We love Jesus and Keep His word.
  • The Father loves us and "'We [the Father, Son and Helper—Holy Spirit] will  come to him and make Our home with him'" - John 14:23.

  • Jesus leaves us with peace - John 14:27.

I want that sweet, close, everyday friendship. I want the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as my housemates. I want the Helper as my teacher. I want peace.

You too?

Then let's play our part in this relationship by loving Jesus, by keeping His word, and by staying teachable and loyal to Him above all else.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, I hold close these, Your tender last words to the disciples. I want to do my part in maintaining our relationship. Please help me. Amen.
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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.


Sunday, May 01, 2016

Is Jesus "I Am" to us?

Jesus - the Good Shepherd (Image: pixabay.com)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 14:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" John 14:6

Jesus' words "I am" remind us of the first time God used that expression to identify Himself. It was to Moses at the burning bush when, after getting the assignment to lead Israel out of Egypt, he demurred. One of his objections (my paraphrase) You haven't even told me Your name (Exodus 3:13).

To that God replied: "'I AM WHO I AM' And He said, 'Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, "I Am has sent Me to you" ' " - Exodus 3:14.

"I am" carries a sense of ever-existence and present existence.

["Am"  in Hebrew—hayah, the word used in Exodus—means to be, become, come to pass, exist, be in existence, abide, remain, continue.
"Am" in Greek—eimi, the word used in John—means to be, to exist, to happen, to be present.]


In John Jesus said "I am" seven times to describe Himself. As God incarnate He combined this phrase with tangible earthly things in a way we humans can understand and to which we can relate. We would call them metaphors:

I am the bread of life - John 6:35.
I am the light of the world - John 8:12.
I am the door - John 10:9
I am the good shepherd - John 10:11.
I am the resurrection and the life - John 11:25.
I am the way, the truth and the life
- John 14:6 (our reading)
I am the vine - John 15:5.

I love how these seven "I am"s of Jesus in John dovetail with each other. In the one in our reading today Jesus declared Himself "… the way to the Father (for which we need light to find the way, a shepherd to guide us, and a door to enter in). He is the truth about God (for which we need light, and which is a wholesome substance—bread) and the life of God"* (bread, resurrection and eternal life, vine connection). They all work together to express what is almost inexpressible in human terms. They are all parts of the picture that represent truths about God and our possible relationship with Him.

As I consider again who Jesus is in all His fullness, I ask myself, I ask you, have we, are we experiencing His richness? Are we letting Him enter our lives in all the ways He is the essence of what we need? Are we finding in Him the destination of our deepest longings?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, these metaphors of who You are help me understand You and who you can be to me. Help me to experience their reality in my life today. Amen.

*quote from  Siegfried Schatzmann, study notes in John, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1469.
 
MORE: Feast of St. Philip and St. James
Today the church celebrates the Feast of Saint Philip and Saint James. Philip's request in our reading "Lord, show us the Father…" (John 14:8) elicited a gentle rebuke from Jesus: "'Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known Me, Philip?'" (John 14:9). Then Jesus went on to explain His oneness with Father (John 14:10-11).

Here is the collect that begins the liturgy of the day:

"Almighty God, who gave to your apostles Philip and James grace and strength to bear witness to the truth: Grant that we, being mindful of their victory of faith, may glorify in life and death the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

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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, April 30, 2016

God brings us, not over but through

"Peter Released from Prison by an Ange" from Treasures of the Bible - Early Church
"Peter Released from Prison by an Angel" - from Treasures of the Bible

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 12:6-25

TO CHEW ON:
"… he (Peter) declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. … And he departed and went to another place." Acts 12:17

I have sometimes wondered, as I read this story and others in Acts, why God didn't do the entire job—here get the angel to deliver Peter out of danger completely. Instead, he just brought Peter through the prison gates, down the first street and poof! he was gone (Acts 12:10).

After telling his story to his friends at Mary's house, Peter had to use his common sense and decide what to do next. It was obviously not safe to stick around so, though it was the middle of the night, he "departed and went to another place" - Acts 12:17.

Perhaps this is how we should expect God to work in our lives too. He can, and sometimes does intervene miraculously when the situation is beyond us. But He doesn't do for us what we can do for ourselves, or take us permanently out of trouble and persecution. It is commonly thought that Peter died by crucifixion.

However, no doubt because of his own experience with it, Peter left us with some powerful benefits of suffering in his first letter:

  • It proves the authenticity of our faith - 1 Peter 1:6,7.
  • Suffering for righteousness brings a blessing - 1 Peter 3:14.
  • It purifies us - 1 Peter 4:1.
  • Through suffering we identify with Christ in a unique way - 1 Peter 4:12,13.
  • In suffering we experience the Holy Spirit and God's glory - 1 Peter 4:14, Acts 7:55.

So, it's not that God can't do the whole job, but that He knows we'll get a greater benefit from going through the tough stuff than floating over it.

PRAYER: Dear God, when I'm in the middle of a hard patch, please help me to remember that You allow suffering for my good—even though it doesn't feel good at the time. Amen.

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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, April 29, 2016

Barnabas—extraordinarily ordinary

Paul and Barnabas sent - Artist unknown
Paul and Barnabas sent - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 11:19-12:5

TO CHEW ON:
"For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." Acts 11:24

In the New Testament we have many major characters like Peter, John, and Paul on whom we often focus. But there are also minor ones like Barnabas—a man Luke describes as "a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith." What qualities of character and action did he have to merit such a description? In our reading today Barnabas lives out five.

Barnabas was:

Perceptive.
We can conclude this because the disciples chose him to check out what was happening in Antioch with the new Greek converts. And when he got to Antioch, he recognized that God was at work there (Acts 11:22,23).

Positive and encouraging.
What he saw when he arrived in Antioch made him glad and he encouraged them all (Acts 11:23).

A worker who served the crowd.
He rolled up his sleeves and pitched in, working beside the original evangelists. His faith and Holy Spirit-empowered life accounted for many more conversions (Acts 11:24).

A worker who focused on one.
He remembered that new convert Saul, the one everyone had earlier feared because of his reputation for persecuting believers. But Barnabas had trusted him and introduced Saul to the fellowship in Jerusalem sometime back (Acts 9:26-30). Now he went to Tarsus to fetch Saul and add him to the Antioch ministry team (Acts 11:25,26).

Honest with money.
When Agabus prophesied a famine for Judea the believers (now called Christians) took up an offering and sent Barnabas and Saul to Judea with it.

I don't know what you picture when you hear that someone is full of the Holy Spirit and faith. A person who performs miracles? A powerful orator? Someone who lives a notch above us everyday plodders?

I love this picture of Barnabas whose life is a demonstration of how ordinary are the qualities the Spirit uses: discernment, a positive encouraging attitude, a work ethic, an awareness of others' strengths and where they could be of use in the church, and reliability and honesty.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Barnabas. Help me not to spurn the lowly character qualities that, when empowered by Your Spirit and faith, can enable us to accomplish much in Your kingdom. Amen.

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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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