Monday, April 24, 2017

Are you a functioining part?

body parts
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Ephesians 4:1-16

TO CHEW ON: From whom the whole body joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:16

Is your body operating with replacement parts? Modern medicine has made amazing progress at fixing faulty body parts and replacing those that no longer work well. I would hazard a guess, though, that no matter how slick your replacement heart valve, or what a great match your transplanted kidney is, it’s not as good as a healthy original.

Each of our body parts has its own function. Toes, fingernails, eyelashes, the ability to smell, taste, feel (yes, pain too) are important and missed when absent. Even a small discrepancy in, say, the length of one’s legs can have repercussions to posture, neck, back, and foot health. Most of the time we have no clue about how interconnected our body parts are—until one of them gets ill or stops working and our whole body feels the impact.

In today’s passage, where Paul underlines the importance of Christian unity (Ephesians 4:1-4), and identifies spiritual gifts available to believers (Ephesians 4:7-12), he ends with a sort of argument for the function and cooperation of each member in the body of believers by comparing this spiritual body to a physical body (Ephesians 4:13-16).

I love these segments:
"...Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint suppliesworking by which every part does its share...” Ephesians 4:16.

This reminds us that each individual is not only important but essential for the smooth functioning of the body of believers. Of course only God in His ultimate wisdom and omnipotence would have the smarts and power to also place us in physical churches on physical earth in our place and time where we also have a unique purpose and function.

Why?

For body growth and edification (Ephesians 4:16).

[Edify: to instruct or benefit, especially morally or spiritually; to uplift.]

So, don’t absent yourself from the Christian community just because you appear (to yourself at least) insignificant or useless. You are needed and essential as one of the "every joint” and “every part” of the body of believers.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be a healthy part, in tune and cooperating with You, my Head. 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, April 23, 2017

Breath of new life

Resurrected Jesus and His disciples - Artist Unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:19-31

TO CHEW ON: "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" John 20:22

Jesus breathing on the disciples brings to mind another time God breathed on a man: "And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" - Genesis 2:7.

God as the source and sustainer of our human breath (life) is a theme that flows through the Bible (e.g. Job 33:4; Ecclesiastes 3:19; Acts 17:25). But even in the Old Testament there are inklings of a new quality of life ahead.

Isaiah 42 is a Servant Song (a prophetic reference to Jesus) where God, the giver of physical life (Isaiah 42:5) speaks of the Servant doing a "new thing." He will be a "… light to the Gentiles / To open blind eyes / To bring out prisoners from the prison…" - Isaiah 42:7.

God speaking to Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones vision says, "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live" - Ezekiel 37:5.

Them comes Jesus. He tells Nicodemus it is necessary to receive Him and being reborn (John 1:12-13), and that that rebirth is necessary to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

And here we see Him performing the very act—breathing on the disciples—that God had performed when He created the first man to give him physical life. My Bible's footnote to his verse explain it simply: "The old creation began with the breath of God; now the new creation begins with the breath of God the Son" Siegfried Schatzmann (notes on John), New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1480.

Has Jesus breathed on you? Have you been reborn of the Spirit in this way? Here's how Jesus explained it to Nicodemus:
"Jesus said, 'You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit'"  - John 3:5-6 - The Message.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this life that You breathed into me when I accepted to You. Help me to let the life of Your Spirit have access to all of me. Amen.

MORE: More about the new life:
  • It makes us a new creation - 2 Corinthians 5:17.
  • It is not achieved through our works but by God's mercy - Titus 3:5.
  • Our hope is a living hope because of Jesus' resurrection - 1 Peter 1:3.
  • This life is visible and obvious to others by the way we love people - 1 John 4:7; 5:1.

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The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson - Used with permission.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Spiritual benefits of insomnia

wide awake
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 16:1-11

TO CHEW ON:
"I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons." Psalm 16:7



What do you do when you can't sleep at night? Fret? Toss and turn? Count sheep? Take a pill?

Night wakefulness is referred to quite a few times in the Bible.

  • For Job's friend Elihu it was a time of hearing God's songs (Job 35:10).
  • For the psalmist Korah it was also a time of lingering songs as well as prayer (Psalm 42:8).
  • For Psalm-writer Asaph night songs evoked meditation and spirit searching (Psalm 77:6).
  • When Israel faced the Assyrians, Isaiah prophesied, not nighttime thoughts of dread and foreboding but "a song as in the night when a holy festival is kept" (Isaiah 30:29).
  • Who can forget Paul and Silas, locked in stocks in a jail in Philippi, praying and singing hymns at midnight? We remember the miraculous jail break that followed (Acts 16:25, 26)!
  • And in our psalm today, David testifies of God instructing him in the night seasons.

So next time we're troubled by insomnia, perhaps we should pause our fretting, turn our attention to God, and ask:
~ Do you have a song for me?
 

~ What Bible verses could I meditate on?
 

~ Who or what situation needs prayer?
~ Is there a battle somewhere that could be impacted by my praise and prayer?

PRAYER: Dear God, You know I don't usually think of sleeplessness as a good thing. Please help me to remember that it can be a time of prayer, song, counsel, meditation and spiritual warfare. 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 21, 2017

Duelling hostesses

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 9:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Wisdom ... cries out from the highest places of the city, 'Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!'
A foolish woman ... sits ... on a seat by the highest places of the city, to call to those who pass by, ... 'Whoever is simple let him turn in here.'" Proverbs 9:1, 3-4, 13-14, 16.



In Proverbs 9 we have two hostesses competing for guests.

Wisdom has prepared a banquet with meat and wine. She advertises a delicious and wholesome experience:
"'Come and eat of my bread
And drink of the wine I have mixed
Forsake foolishness and live,
And go in the way of understanding'"
- Proverbs 9:5-6.

Foolish Woman's commercial has an intriguing undertone to it—an air of mystery mixed with naughtiness:
"'Stolen water is sweet,
And bread eaten in secret is pleasant'"
- Proverbs 9:17.

Of course, this isn't really a story about two women and their banquets, but about choices we're faced with in life. Other places in the Bible express a similar idea:
  • Jesus talked about people having a choice between two different roads—a wide one and a narrow one (Matthew 7:13-14).

  • He also talked about building our house on two different foundations—sand or rock (Matthew 7:24-27).

How do we know which is the right banquet, the right road, the right foundation? Proverbs 9:10 gives us the answer:

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" -
Proverbs 9:10.

That choice may not have the sensual attractiveness of the other. We may need to ignore the clamoring of our human nature which finds stolen water, secret bread, the wide path, the easy foundation compelling. But such self-denial is a small price to pay for the final end: Wisdom's understanding and multiplied days, vs. Foolish Woman's scoffing, death, and hell.

PRAYER: Dear God, I recognize the voices that call out to me in these metaphors. Please help me to make the "fear of the Lord" choice in every situation. Amen.

MORE: Where to find the "fear of the Lord" choice
  • Romans 8 from the Message Bible:
"'Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life' Romans 8:6 - Message.
  • Rick Warren, from  The Purpose Driven Life:
I have read many books that suggest ways to discover the purpose of my life. All of them could be classified as 'self-help' books because they approach the subject from a self-centered viewpoint. Self-help books, even Christian ones, usually offer the same predictable steps to finding your life's purpose: Consider your dreams. Clarify your values. Set some goals. Figure out what you are good at. Aim high. Go for it! Be disciplined. Believe you can achieve your goals. Involve others. Never give up.

Of course these recommendations often lead to great success. You can usually succeed in reaching a goal if you put your mind to it. But being successful and fulfilling your life's purpose are not at all the same issue ....

How, then, do you discover the purpose you were created for? You have only two options. Your first option is speculation. This is what most people choose. They conjecture, they guess, they theorize....

Fortunately there is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It's revelation. We can turn to what God has revealed about life in his Word" - Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life, pp. 19,20.
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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.

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wisdom for creativity

Man creating street art
Image: Pixabay

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Proverbs 8:22-36

TO CHEW ON:
“The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old …
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men.” Proverbs 8:22,31


Today in our continuation of the Lady Wisdom poem we began yesterday, my attention is snagged by one of her strengths or functions—to inspire and facilitate creativity.

- Wisdom speaks here as an eye-witness of creation - Proverbs 8:22, 27-30.
- She especially delights in God’s created humanity (“… and my delight was with the sons of men” - Proverbs 8:31).

The video about the book of Proverbs that was on yesterday’s devo emphasized that the wisdom Proverbs speaks of is not only head knowledge but help in developing practical skills for living well in God’s world.

One of those practical skills is the wisdom of creativity and skill to make things. It’s the wisdom that God bestowed on the craftsman Bezalel and his colleagues to make the worship accessories for the Tabernacle (God to Moses: “‘See, I have called by name Bezalel … And I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship to designto work… and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans that they may make all that I have commanded you…’” - Exodus 31:2-6, emphasis added).

Do you like to make things? No matter what your preferred medium—wood, paints, crayons, pens, fabric, metal, glass, precious stones, clay, words, etc.—wisdom to create is a divine gift to you. Use it. Develop it. Embrace it. Joy in it. Put it to work for its highest purpose—to reflect glory back to God.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for the wisdom of creativity. As I seek to develop my interests in this area, help me to use any talents you’ve given me toward their highest purpose—glorifying You. Amen.

MORE: Bible Journaling
I recently reviewed the book The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling and got hooked on a new-to-me area of creativity—meditating on Bible passages through art. If you enjoy activities like doodling, lettering, sketching, drawing, scrapbooking, etc., this might be an avenue of creativity you’d like to explore.

Check out #biblejournaling on Twitter, Instragram, and Pinterest to see some of the amazing art people are creating in Bibles formatted especially for that purpose


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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, April 19, 2017

Thought and speech along the grain of the universe

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Proverbs 8:1-21

TO CHEW ON: “Listen, for I will speak of excellent things,
And from the opening of my lips will come right things;
For my mouth will speak truth;
Wickedness is an abomination to my lips,
All the words of my mouth are with righteousness,
Nothing crooked or perverse is in them.” Proverbs 8:6-8



During he last few months we’ve been studying Proverbs in our life group. As a result I’ve been on the lookout for information and study helps about this Bible book. The “Bible Books Simply Explained: Proverbs” video (embedded below) is most helpful.

From it I learned that Proverbs—the book with its many wise sayings—is not law or prophecy, but the accumulated insight of God’s people through generations. It is insight about how to live in a way that honours God and others.

Chapters 1-9 of Proverbs are a series of father-to-son speeches that include four poems by Lady Wisdom. These poems are, in the words of the video, a “… poetic way of exploring that we live in God’s moral universe. Goodness and justice are objective realities that we ignore to our peril.” When we follow Lady Wisdom’s advice we will be “living along the grain of the universe.”

Today’s focus verses are just a snippet from one of these Lady Wisdom poems. They contain advice about wise speech. What is to come from our mouths? Words that are ...

EXCELLENT,   RIGHT,   TRUE,   RIGHTEOUSNESS

What is not to come from our mouths? Speech that is...

WICKED,   CROOKEDPERVERSE

[Perverse means willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired; contrary, wayward or cantankerous; persistent or obstinate in what is wrong; turned away from or neglecting what is right, good, or proper.]

Of course we know that speech has its beginnings in thought. And so another list comes to mind:
“Finally brethren, whatever things are TRUE, whatever things are NOBLE, whatever things are JUST, whatever things are PURE, whatever things are LOVELY, whatever things are of GOOD REPORT, if there is any VIRTUE and if there is anything PRAISEWORTHY—meditate on these things - Philippians 4:8.

My challenge to myself today (and maybe it's a challenge to you too) is to think and speak wisely—along, not against, the grain of God’s moral universe.

PRAYER: Dear Father thank You for these lofty ideals about thought and speech. Please poke me when my thoughts drift to what is wicked, crooked, and perverse. I want to live along the grain of your moral universe. Amen.

 MORE: Bible Books Simply Explained: Proverbs






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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, April 18, 2017

Grooves or Gravity?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 1:1-16

TO CHEW ON: “So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing … As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, ‘I am holy; you be holy.’” 1 Peter 13-16 MSG

I see two actions in this Message rendering of these verses from 1 Peter:

1. Slipping back into “old grooves of evil.”
The images that come to mind are a record player needle bobbing along in the groove of a record or car wheels caught in hardened mud or snow ruts. It’s an object caught and following the path of least resistance.

What are some of those “grooves of evil” we might be caught in?
  • Wayward, undisciplined thoughts that take us to bad places.
  • Rote actions (habits) that we need to break.
  • Giving in to triggers that cause us to become irritated or angry (e.g. people consistently late, inconsiderate drivers).

2. Being “pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life.”

The image I see here is an object (satellite, moon, asteroid) attracted and pulled toward a star or planet by gravity. How can we cooperate with the pull of God’s gravity?
  •  Arresting those negative thoughts and changing their direction.
  • Substituting bad habits with good. (E.g. instead of checking email or text messages first thing in the morning, check in with God’s word and prayer. My confession: When I do the former first, my whole morning can get derailed by silly little details that suddenly feel way more important than they are.)
  • Intentionally living with a grateful outlook.
  • Cultivating a “yes” attitude toward God (obedience).

An excellent book on holiness is The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. Here is a quote from that book that I was reminded of by today’s 1 Peter reading:

“… 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’ … But then the Holy Spirit said to me, ‘And you can put away the sinful habits that plague you if you will accept your personal responsibility for them. Acknowledging that I did have this responsibility turned out to be a milestone for me in my pursuit of holiness” - Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, Kindle Location 101, 109 (emphasis added).
PRAYER: Dear Father, please help me to be realistic and honest about those old “grooves of evil” I’m still caught in. May I, more and more, respond to Your Spirit’s gravitational pull toward You and a life of obedience to Your revealed will in attitude and action. 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.

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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