Friday, November 27, 2015

A waiting lifestyle

Church steeple against clouds
Photo courtesy
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "For they themselves declare concerning us, what manner of entry we had to you and how you turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." 1 Thessalonians 1:9,10

In the next week or so, we're going to read all the way through 1 Thessalonians. As we begin today, here are some background facts about the book to help us understand its setting.

1. 1 Thessalonians was the first of Paul's letters that has been saved and the first book in the New Testament to be written. My Bible's introductory notes date it at A.D. 50—written before the Gospels, though they describe earlier events.

2. Paul founded the church in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. It was on the route he took after having the vision of the Macedonian man begging, "Come over to Macedonia and help us" - Acts 16:10.

3. On that trip (about 49 A.D.) Paul went to Philippi (Acts 16:12-40) and then to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). His stay there was brief and controversial but life-altering for that "...great multitude of devout Greeks and not a few leading women" who believed Paul's gospel message.

One of the main themes in 1 Thessalonians is the return of Christ. In fact, a reference to it appears in each chapter. And so that is the theme thread we'll be following as we read through the book.

In today's focus verses, Paul is complimenting the Christians there for their stellar reputation.

(The "...they…" ["For they themselves declare concerning us… etc. - vs. 9] who speak so glowingly of the Thessalonian believers refers back to the other believers in the region: "… all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe…" - 1 Thessalonians 1:7.)

It's interesting to note what these early and quite new Christians were known for:
  • Faith in God - 1 Thessalonians 1:8.
  • A dramatic lifestyle change as they turned from idol worship to worship and serve God - 1 Thessalonians 1:9.
  • An attitude of expectancy. These people had a reputation of waiting for Jesus' return - 1 Thessalonians 1:10.
  • A serenity about the future as they no longer feared the "wrath of God" - 1 Thessalonians 1:10.

I wonder how the expectant lifestyle of these Christians looked. Maybe they had stopped collecting stuff, like property and clothes. Maybe they were making sure all their relationships were tended to. They probably spoke of their expectation to family, friends, and neighbors so that their dear ones would believe too and not be left behind. It's clear that they had a reputation for sounding forth their beliefs (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

A good question to ask ourselves is, what sort of reputation do we have as believers? Are we known for our faith in God? Have we turned from our old pre-Christian ways? Do our lives give any evidence at all that we expect Christ to return? (Or do we really expect that?)

Dear God, I am challenged by the simple yet bold faith of these one-year-old New Testament Christians. Please help me to firm up my expectation inYour return so that it becomes evident in my lifestyle. 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, November 26, 2015

God's promise fulfilled in the Branch

tree reaching upwards
Image from
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 33:14-26

" 'Behold the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:

In those days and at that time
I will cause to grow up to David
A Branch of righteousness;
He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth.' " Jeremiah 33:14,15

Whenever we hear the word "covenant" come from God's mouth, we know that He is referring to a serious promise. In today's reading He reminds the people, through Jeremiah, of His covenant with David. God compared the surety of its fulfillment to the everyday occurrences of sunrise and sunset, saying He would no more break His promise to David than abolish night and day (Jeremiah 33:19,20).

And what was that promise? That "David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel" - Isaiah 33:17, 2 Samuel 7:15,16.

But we know that David's earthly dynasty did end. So how could God say He would never, did never break this promise?

Because this is a new kind of king, with a new kind of kingdom. This descendant of David's line would be called a "A Branch of righteousness." And like the kingdom Jesus described  as His kingdom in other Bible passages we've read recently, this Branch's rule would be in  ..."judgment and righteousness in the earth" - Jeremiah 33:15.

Other prophets referred to this Branch:
  • Isaiah: "In that day the Branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious…" - Isaiah 4:2, and "There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, / And a Branch shall grow out of his roots" - Isaiah 11:2.
  • Jeremiah himself first spoke a prophecy very similar to the one in our reading earlier in Jeremiah: "Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
    “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
    A King shall reign and prosper,
    And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth" - Jeremiah 23:5
  • Zechariah referred to this Branch in his prophecy of a vision of Joshua the High Priest, where an angel said to Joshua: " ' Hear, O Joshua, the high priest. / … For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the Branch' " - Zechariah 3:8.

We believe that Jesus was and is this Branch. Why?

He was an earthly descendant of David, thus a branch of David's line and eligible to be a king (Matthew 1:1-17; Jesse and David are mentioned in Matthew 1:5,6).

Paul referred to Jesus Christ as coming from the "root of Jesse."  And he extended the hope of coming under Jesus' reign to the Gentiles:
"Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promise made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy as it is written … 'There shall be a root of Jesse;
And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles,
In Him the Gentiles shall hope' "  - Romans 15:8,9.12, quoting Isaiah 11:10.

As we celebrate Jesus' incarnation during the Advent season coming up, let's include in our meditation the beautiful teaching of Jesus as the Branch. And let's, in faith, give thanks for the righteous and just nature of His forever kingdom.

Dear Jesus, thank You for being the Branch, the fulfillment of God's covenant promise to David. I look forward to seeing Your righteous and just kingdom in real time. 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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tap into God's mysteries

book against a background of mysterious symbols (castle, dragon, birds)
Image from
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 33:1-13

TO CHEW ON: " 'Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know.' " Jeremiah 33:3

Everywhere around us there is change in the air.
  • In Canada we had an election a month ago which brought about a change of government and leadership.
  • Popular science insists that the recent increase of world temperature and the severity of weather events (storms, droughts, floods) are the result of human activity. As a result we are being pressured to change our ways and lifestyles in order to slow this "man-made global warming."
  • Strange diseases and strains of infection resistant to medicine are appearing and wiping out thousands.
  • Radical warriors are terrorizing whole nations. In the last months we've seen streams of refugees emptying out of countries like Syria and flowing into Europe.

In the middle of this uncertainty and flux, God's words to Jeremiah here come as a welcome invitation to us. Two words in Jeremiah 33:3 stand out:

"Call to Me and I will answer you…"

["Call (qara) means to call out, to cry out, to address, shout or speak to someone. It is often a loud cry meant to get someone's attention. It can also mean to call something by its name (as God named light and darkness - Genesis 1:5) or name places, holidays or children (Genesis 29:35) - from "Word Wealth" by Dick Mills - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1006.]

God invites us to call on Him!

"… and show you great and mighty things which you do not know."

["Mighty (batsar) could also be translated "secrets," "mysteries," or "inaccessible things."] 

God is telling Jeremiah that He will give him privileged information, showing him things that, without God's revelation, would be hidden from him.

The sidebar article in my Bible that introduced me to this thought concludes:  
"Such 'revelational insight' has always been essential for a clear understanding of victorious spiritual warfare. One cannot pray effectively without insight into how to pray as well as into what things God truly longs for us to seek after in prayer" - Dick Eastman, "Divine Revelation and Spiritual Warfare" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1007.

I love these thoughts for myself and all of us during our times of change, upheaval and uncertainty.

  • God invites us to call on Him.
  • He promises to show us things that only He knows, to give understanding about our times so we will know how to pray and live.

Dear God, thank You for the invitation to call on You. Help me to make a habit of doing this first when I encounter things I don't understand. Please give me ears to hear Your "great and mighty things" answers and the faith to live by them. 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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


TODAY'S SPECIAL:  Psalm 99:1-9

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

One thing that surprised me when I first delved into the meaning of the word holy was the aspect of separateness that is its essence. When we say God is holy, one of the things we are saying is that He is separate, unlike us:

["Holiness is separation from everything profane and defiling; and at the same time, it is dedication to everything holy and pure" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth,  New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 155.]

Psalm 99 is a poem exploring God's holiness. In it the writer draws our attention to three aspects of this attribute God displays in His dealings with the earth and humankind:

1. God is holy or separate from the earth and humanity (vs. 1-3).
The psalmist shows God in His awful majesty. He is a God who reigns. He is a God whom we don't approach casually. "He dwells between the cherubim" refers to the place just above the cherubim statues on the ark, where God's presence 'lived' and from where He spoke to Moses and the high priest. The ark was in the Holy of Holies. No common person could go into that place. God is also described as "high above all peoples." They tremble at the sight and sound of Him. The only appropriate response: praise and worship. He is holy.

2. God is holy or separate in His justice (vs. 4-5).
Who of us hasn't at some time flung up our hands in frustration at some seeming unjust, even foolish verdict delivered by our legal system? So many aspects of our flawed humanity come into play in our judgments: incomplete knowledge of the situation, slavish adherence to the letter (versus the spirit) of the law, the life experiences and philosophies of lawyers, judges, and juries, faulty memories, the possibility of lying....

God, on the other hand, isn't hampered by any of those things. J. I. Packer says of God the judge:
"...God's work as Judge is part of its witness to His character. It confirms what is said elsewhere of His moral perfection. His righteousness and justice, His wisdom, omniscience, and omnipotence. It shows us also that the heart of the justice which expresses God's nature is retribution, the rendering to men what they have deserved; for this is the essence of the judges task. To reward good with good, and evil with evil, is natural to God" - Knowing God, p. 157-158.

3. God is holy or separate in His dealings with individuals.
The writer names Moses, Aaron and Samuel as examples. Though these were revered and respected leaders, the psalmist points out that they too had done wrong and needed forgiveness:
"You were to them God-Who-Forgives
Though You took vengeance on their deeds" - Psalm 99:8.
"Though God forgives, there are consequences of sin, lest man forget how offensive it is to God and how harmful it is to mankind" - footnote to Psalm 99:8 - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 762.

And so as we sit, or kneel, or lie prostrate, contemplating God's holiness, we know instinctively that we can never measure up. We are separate from Him, doomed if we too do not get His forgiveness — the forgiveness we claim along with Moses, Aaron and Samuel, on the basis of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin.

Then we burst into praise and worship again — because our God is holy and separate and unlike any other in that way too. He has made a way for us to approach Him, despite His holiness.

PRAYER: Holy God, I can only come to You on the grounds of Jesus paying the penalty for my sin. Thank You! 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.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Love and hate

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 97:1-12

TO CHEW ON:  "You who love the Lord, hate evil." Psalm 97:10

Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God course is  challenging and inspiring. While going through the study some years ago, I marked up my workbook by underlining statements like:

"Obedience is the outward expression of your love for God" p. 74.

"If you have an obedience problem, you have a love problem" p. 75.

Though our focus verse from Psalm 97  doesn't contain the word "obey" or "obedience" isn't that what hating evil is all about? It's obedience in reverse. It's our negative response to evil which helps bring about our positive obedient response to God. And it's the litmus test of our love for God. (A footnote in my Bible says about this verse: "This is an extremely simple but an extremely accurate means of evaluating our regard for God" - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 761),

What, then, is this evil we are to hate?

The Hebrew word for evil is Ra and is loaded with badness. In English the word evil is defined: "morally bad, wicked deeds causing injury, damage or any other undesirable result, wrongdoing, wickedness."

It is interesting that sin in relation to evil is a cousin word, a once-removed synonym. One of the definitions of sin in Hebrew  is to "miss the mark." This implies there is a mark or an objective standard to miss. I'm sure the psalmist had that at the back of his mind as he spoke of evil. For him evil included the sin of worshiping idols instead of God, neglecting to keep the ten commandments, and ignoring the rules of feasts and sacrifices.

The evil we are to hate isn't all that different. Our obedience in keeping the ten commencements is a good start. But when we truly love God, we will go deeper, following the example of Jesus as we examine even the motives from which our actions spring (Matthew 5:21-32). We will begin to recognize sin's subtlety as it tempts us to wrest controls of our lives from the Holy Spirit, back into our own hands.

Blackaby has an interesting definition of sin:
"The essence of sin is a shift from God-centredness to self-centredness. The essence of salvation is denying self instead of affirming self. We must deny ourselves and return to God-centredness in our lives" Experiencing God, p. 32.

I ask myself, do I love God to the extent that I see loving and serving myself — with my seemingly legitimate plans, ambitions and desires — above loving and obeying Christ, as sin. It's sobering to realize that not my words  but the quickness with which I obey when He interrupts my day with a phone call or an emergency is the real demonstration of my love for Him.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize selfishness/self-centredness as evil, and to hate it. Help me to prove my love for You with quick and enthusiastic obedience. 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.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Anticipate your Judge

Gavel and scales of justice
Photo from

TO CHEW ON: "For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth." Psalm 96:13

I enjoy watching real life crime mysteries, the kind one sees on shows like Dateline. A frequent complication of these stories is the person convicted of the crime insisting on his or her innocence.

The dramatization (or replay of film footage of actual events) usually shows both the prosecution and defense sides of the story. So we watchers become a sort of jury, left to make up our own minds about the guilt or innocence of the accused.

More than once I've found myself disagreeing with the verdict that actually came down. I've left the program feeling that justice was not served, that truth did not win.

The psalmist in today's reading is overjoyed about an aspect of God's someday coming that we might expect him to dread—God's judgment. Why would someone look forward to God coming in judgment? Perhaps our focus verse explains it:

"He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth."

As we saw yesterday, Jesus' kingdom is the kingdom of truth. So when He judges, He also judges rightly, knowing the truth. Just as we would look forward, if we were a Dateline character falsely accused, to the coming of a judge who knew the truth and would judge righteously, so we can anticipate the coming of God, the just judge of the Earth, who is knows all the facts.

Of course, not one of us could stand before Him on our own, free of the guilt of sin. For we were born sinful. But if we have come to Jesus on His terms ("I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" - Jesus in John 14:6), God sees us as forgiven and pure. Then on the day we stand before our righteous judge who knows the truth, we can look forward to His exposé and be assured that He will deal righteously with all earth's people and events.

Dear God, thank You for sending Jesus, who has taken the punishment for my sin, so I can anticipate instead of dread Your coming as judge. 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, November 21, 2015

What is truth?

Jesus brought before Pilate - by Alexandre Bida
Jesus brought before Pilate - A. Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 18:28-38a

TO CHEW ON: "Pilate therefore said to Him  'Are you a king then?'
Jesus answered, 'You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.'
Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?' " John 18:37-38.

Jesus gave an odd answer to Pilate's question "'Are you a king then?'" We would expect Him to say that He was born to establish a power base and to conquer and rule over a land. Instead He says He was born and came "' bear witness to the truth.'" He appears to be saying, I came to be the king, not of earthly power, but of truth.

Of course this description of His kingdom agrees with what He said to Pilate just a little earlier: "'My kingdom is not of this world … My kingdom is not from here'" - John 18: 36.

His next sentence reveals more of His thinking along this line: "'Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.'" It's like He's claiming to be some sort of Pied Piper of the Kingdom of truth. He explains, describes, talks, and lives truth. Some ("'...everyone who is of the truth...'") observe His life, hear and recognize His truth words. By that very act of hearing (and if their hearing is real, it will also involve actions like faith, acknowledging His claims, repentance etc.) they show themselves to be His subjects, the citizens of His kingdom.

I think we can safely say that, at this point at least, Pilate is not one of them. His question: "'What is truth?'" still hangs in the air today.

People who analyze world views have separated ways of seeing and interpreting truth into three eras. An article on the site describes it well:

"Pre-modern era was one in which religion was the source of truth and reality. God’s existence and revelation were givens in the culture.

In the modern era, science became the source for truth and reality. During this period, religion and morality were arbitrarily demoted to the subjective realm.

In the present, postmodern era, there is no single defining source for truth and reality beyond the individual. Postmodernism simply radicalized relativism and individualism and then applied them to all spheres of knowledge — even science" - Steve Cornell, "What Does Postmodern Mean?",  emphasis added.

However, across the years, even as the definition of truth has shifted from religion to science to self, Jesus' Kingdom of Truth claims continue to exert their magnetic pull. If we have heard His voice and become His disciples, we're part of that kingdom, no matter how our society currently defines truth. However, the acknowledgement of Jesus as truth puts us out of step with our culture—something that I'm sure is not news to you and me.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Your claims of being truth challenge me to dig deeper into their meaning and discover more fully how they should work themselves out in my life.

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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