Thursday, May 24, 2018

Limited days

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 16-19; Psalm 139

TO CHEW ON: "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them." Psalm 139:16

There is nothing like being in the presence of impending death to give one a sense of how much of life is out of one's control. About two years before he died, my brother's diagnosis of untreatable cancer had us all wondering how his life would play out. Would the doctor's diagnosis prove as fatal as it sounded, or would God give a miracle of healing? When, in July of 2010 he took a turn for the worse, we hurried to be by his side. Would this be the end? He soldiered on for six more months after that. None of us, not even his wife and children who were with him every day, could predict exactly when or how he would die.

Though such a limitation may make us feel frustrated, it is also a source of comfort when viewed within the context of God's knowledge and power. David refers to God's knowledge of our lifespan several times in this psalm:


"You know my sitting down and my rising up" (vs. 2).
"You... are acquainted with all my ways" (vs. 3).
"...in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them" (vs. 16).

But God doesn't only know the number of our days — He has determined it:

"You have hedged me behind and before
And laid Your hand in me" (vs. 16).

And so we know that every day of our lives is meant to be. If we are still here, God is allowing it, indeed ordaining it, to accomplish our part in His plan on earth.

The challenge for me, and you, is to use up these years, days, hours, and minutes wisely and well. To find the "way everlasting" and walk in it.

PRAYER: "Search me O God and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me
And lead me in the way everlasting" (vs. 23-24).

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 139

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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 23, 2018

God is committed to our perfection

roped tent peg
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Job 12-15; Psalm 138

TO CHEW ON: “The LORD will perfect that which concerns me.” Psalm 138:8

David drives a big stake of faith to anchor the tent of his life here when he declares: “God will perfect that which concerns me.”

The word perfect here is the Hebrew word gamar which has two meanings: 1] to come to an end, be no more, cease; and 2] to bring to an end, finish, accomplish, perfect, perform, fulfill. Twice (in the Old Testament) it takes that second meaning, referring to the completing, finishing and perfecting of God’s work in one’s life (Psalm 57:2 and Psalm 138:8)

The author of the word studies in my Bible explains:
“The idea is that God begins to work out His purposes in the life of His servant and continues His work until it is absolutely and completely done” - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 792.

At least two New Testament writers echo that promise.
Paul writes:
“Being confident of this very thing; that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” - Philippians 1:6.

Peter writes:
“But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” - 1 Peter 5:10.

I don’t like the idea of suffering, of having myself hammered into shape (Romans 8:29), of going through tests and exercises meant to strengthen and perfect me any more than the next person. But knowing that God is in these things, that He knows just the amount of stress, tension, stretching, discomfort, pain, inconvenience needed to “perfect that which concerns me” is a huge comfort to me—and I hope to you too.
 
PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for Your commitment to me. Help me to cooperate with you, learning and growing and becoming more like Jesus at every stage of this perfecting process. Amen.
 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 138

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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.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Singing in a pagan land

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Job 8-11; Psalm 137

TO CHEW ON:
“But how can we sing the songs of the LORD
While in a pagan land?” Psalm 137:4 NLT


This psalm is heavy with homesickness. What a poignant picture it paints of captives, urged by their captors to provide entertainment with their joyous songs of religious celebration, refusing to sing. Instead they hung their harps on the trees that lined the rivers and irrigation canals of Babylon.

The songs the Babylonians asked them to sing were for religious purposes, not entertainment. These reminders of Yahweh’s greatness and goodness were meant to be the the accompaniment on their happy journeys to the Jerusalem and part of the feasts. 

There might also have been undertones of of mockery and gloating in the Babylonian requests. Many of these songs praised Zion (Jerusalem) as an exalted, beautiful, glorious place. Jerusalem had, at this point, been conquered and no longer existed in its former beauty and glory.

And so this psalm asks the rhetorical question:
“How can we sing the songs of the LORD
While in a pagan land
?”

The implied answer: we can’t!

This psalm resonates with me not only because I can relate to its feelings of homesickness, but also its spiritual alienation.

We modern disciples of Jesus also live in a pagan land where the dominant culture is against much of what we stand for (and drifting farther from its Judeo-Christian roots all the time). We too might ask: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land?”

I would submit, though, that that doesn’t need to silence us. For we can also live in the reality of who we are in Christ and embrace right now, the life of the Kingdom of Heaven (where pagan values are turned on their heads: the first are last, the last first, the poor are rich, we give to get, forgive seventy times seven, and deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus, but know that this is not the end - John 14:1-3).

 And so we take down those harps, dust off those keyboards and guitars, and tune our voices because by faith we are exiles no more but pilgrims, passing through this life to our real home (1 Peter 2:11-12).

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God while I also live in my life as a pilgrim and stranger here on earth. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 137

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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.

Scriptures marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Calamities and spiritual warfare

Job and his three friends
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 4-7; Psalm 136

TO CHEW ON: "'Oh that I might have my request,
That God would grant me the thing that I long for!
That it would please God to crush me,
that He would loose His hand and cut me off!'" Job 6:8,9


Does Job sound depressed or what?

You will recall the beginning of the story, how in one day Job's life falls apart when calamity strikes from all directions. And then he gets sick (Job 1-2:10). His friends come to comfort him. Here he responds to the speech of his friend Eliphaz.

Job sounds like he feels betrayed, double-crossed, and attacked by the God he has been trying to please: "'For the arrows of the Almighty are within me; My spirit drinks their poison; The terrors of God are arrayed against me'" - Job 6:4.

He feels physically unable to bear the agony: "'Is my strength the strength of stones? Or is my flesh bronze?'" - Job 6:12.

He begs to die: "'Oh that I would have my request … That it would please God to crush me, That He would loose HIs hand and cut me off.'" - Job 6:8,9.

Is there a reply to what Job has said that isn't shallow and trite? Job's friends certainly don't have it for they keep insisting Job is responsible for the horrible scenario. We, however, have information that Job and his friends didn't have about what was happening behind the scenes. Charles E. Blair, my Bible's commenter on Job says:

"Job's criticisms of God that appear in chapters 6 and 7 as well as in his other responses to his friends can best be understood as a man's feeble attempts to make sense of a scenario for which he is missing an essential piece of information, namely that there is something happening between God and Satan—that there are spiritual purposes overriding earthly circumstances. Because he is unaware of this dimension of the spiritual realm, his understanding is severely impaired" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 652.

Could unseen spiritual battles also be a part of the troubles, illnesses, calamities, and disasters that come to us? I believe they could. When we feel puzzled, let down, even betrayed by God, let's remember this aspect of Job's story. Let's pray over and into the activities in the spiritual realm, of which we're unaware, and let's keep despair and bitterness toward God from creeping into our hearts.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see troubles that come to me and those around me with insight into spiritual warfare. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 136

The Bible Project - VIDEO: Job (Wisdom Series)




 

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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 20, 2018

Accuser

"Inter filios die affuit etiam Satan 
Job 2 6 1967 " by Salvidor Dali

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job1-3; Psalm 135

TO CHEW ON: "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.
And the Lord said to Satan, 'From where do you come?' So Satan answered the Lord and said, 'From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.'" Job 1:6-7


Here we get a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of cosmic persons—God and Satan—in conversation. God draws attention to Job and what a unique, upright man he is.

We recognize the sly, cynical tone in Satan's response. It's the same voice we heard in the Garden:
* Satan to Eve in Eden: "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'" - Genesis 3:1
* Satan to God about Job: "Does Job fear God for nothing?" - Job 1:9.

Who is this Satan? A Word Wealth article in my Bible explains him in terms of the meaning of his name:

[Satan - satan - means an Opponent or the Accuser; the hater, adversary, enemy; one who resists, obstructs and hinders whatever is good. Satan comes from the verb which means to 'be an opponent,' or 'to withstand.' - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth - Satan" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 648.]

Where did Satan come from? Wayne Grudem says of the origins of Satan and demons:
"When God created the world, he 'saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). This means that even the angelic world that God had created did not have evil angels or demons in it at that time. But by the time of Genesis 3, we find that Satan, in the form of a serpent, was tempting Eve to sin (Genesis 3:1-5). Therefore sometime between the events of Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 3:1, there must have been a rebellion in the angelic world with many angels turning against God and becoming evil" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 412.

Though no human witnessed Satan's fall, God gave Bible authors insight into it: 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6, and Isaiah 14:12-15.

Satan, as the hater, is the polar opposite of God who is love (1 John 4:7,8). And we align ourselves with one or the other. John says that we prove we are either children of God or children of the devil by the way we live and love - 1 John 3:10-15.

When I read this beginning of Job passage, I often wonder, what would God say about me? Would He recognize me as one of His own, demonstrated by my family trait of love? And how would Satan reply?

Finally, my response to pressure and temptation can change if I realize I am in the fire of a test that God allows because of His confidence that I'll pass that test—as my Bible's commenter on Job explains:
 "God does not allow trials to see if we will fail; He allows trials to strengthen our faith. The trial is, in fact, a statement of God's faith in our faithfulness and integrity" - Charles E. Blair, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 648 (emphasis added).

PRAYER:
Dear God, when I am tested, help me to remember that there are bigger issues at play than my comfort and well-being. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 135

The Bible Project VIDEO: Job (Read Scripture Series)




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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, May 19, 2018

He sings over you

"Sing O Daughter of Zion"
by Charles Joseph Staniland (1838-1916).

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 1-3; Psalm 134

TO CHEW ON: "The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17

Zephaniah ends his mostly doom-filled message on a note of hope. Though the "day of the LORD" has been pictured as a terrible time of judgement, there is another aspect to it as well. The Day of the Lord also means.
- There will be singing, shouting and rejoicing - Zephaniah 3:14.
- There will be deliverance from enemies - Zephaniah 3:15.
- God's people will be exalted - Zephaniah 3:20.
- And God shows His love for His beloved people - Zephaniah 3:17.

Let's take a minute to dig into this promise:

"The Lord your God in your midst..."
He is not far off, but right among us.


"The Mighty One will save..."
He is a great hero who has and will come to our rescue.

"He will rejoice over you with gladness..."
[Rejoice here (sus) means to rejoice, be glad, be greatly happy.] It is a rejoicing that is the complete opposite of mourning—a pervasive, irresistible joy.

"He will quiet you with His love..."
I see the picture of God as a parent, calming a fretful child, hugging, comforting, saying things like "It's okay. Everything will be alright."

"He will rejoice over you with singing."
[Rejoice here is gil. It contains the suggestion of "dancing for joy" since the verb originally meant 'to spin around with intense motion.'] A word study article in my Bible says: "This lays to rest the notion that the biblical concept of joy is only a 'quiet inner sense of well-being.' God dances for joy over Jerusalem and because of His people - Isaiah 65:9, Zephaniah 3:17." New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1228.

I can only imagine the songs accompanying that kind of rejoicing as songs of celebration, joy, and victory.

Here's a great sum-up of this verse for us to take into our day:
"Did you know that God sings, shouts for joy and dances over you because He loves you so much? Take time to think about that; let the Holy Spirit imbed this truth in your spirit. Allow this understanding to bring new joy, fresh freedom and tender love for God into your devotional life" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action Through Zephaniah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1239 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this beautiful picture of Your love, Help me to be quieted by the knowledge that you are tenderly watching over me. Help me to "hear" your songs. How can I not love you back? Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 134

The Bible Project VIDEO: Zephaniah (Read Scripture Series)





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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, May 18, 2018

Trust - no matter what!


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 1-3; Psalm 133

TO CHEW ON: "Though the fig tree may not blossom
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail
And the fields yield no food
And there be no herd in the stalls —
Yet will I rejoice in the Lord
I will joy in the God of my salvation." Habakkuk 3:17-18

What has brought Habakkuk from despair to faith? We see, at the beginning of the book, how he was obsessed with the negatives around him. He saw only lack of justice (Habakkuk 1:2-4), evil flourishing (Habakkuk 1:12-13), and the surrounding heathen nations ravishing their neighbours (including Israel) and getting away with it (Habakkuk 1:14-17). How did he get to this declaration of trust in God?

By focusing on the right things.

If we look at what precedes his flag-plant of faith we see that it's a song / prayer of praise which looks at God's strength and lists the ways He has come to Israel's rescue in the past (Habakkuk 3:1-16).

It reminds us of other great prayers of faith. For example, compare Habakkuk 3:3-4 with Moses' blessing in Deuteronomy 33:2.

Habakkuk alludes to God's judgment of Egypt and the Israelites (in the desert) with sickness in Habakkuk 3:5.

When he says, "The overflowing of the water passed by" (Habakkuk 3:10), we are reminded of the way the Israelites passed through the Red Sea between walls of water as described in Exodus 14:22.

All this remembering, this seeing God in the big brush strokes of history buoys Habakkuk's faith till finally he can say with confidence, No matter what it looks like today and tomorrow, this season or next, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

My Bible's commentary on this verse sums it up well:
"Habakkuk asked genuine questions, waited for God's answers, and accepted them. He put his hope in God and experienced His presence. In faith, he looked beyond his present circumstances to God, placing his hope in God's saving grace and absolute faithfulness. He set his heart and his eyes on God"
We can do that too. We can:
  • Understand that it is acceptable to acknowledge the difficulty of our situation.
  • Focus our attention on God rather than circumstances.
  • Remember our circumstances will change but God remains the same.
  • Put hope in God's ability to save us; He is present with us in even the most difficult of times.
  • Choose to rejoice in the Lord regardless of the way we feel
  • Trust that He will enable us to overcome.
(Leslyn Musch, "Truth In Action Through Habakkuk," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1230.)
PRAYER: Dear God, Habakkuk moved from doubt and fear to faith and confidence in You, even though his circumstances didn't change. Help me to have that reaction to the puzzling things in my life, as I choose to trust You no matter how things look. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 133

The Bible Project VIDEO: Habakkuk (Read Scripture Series)






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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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