Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gentled by love

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philemon 1-25

TO CHEW ON:
"It's as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains." Philemon 9,10.

There is something in Paul's voice that is sweet and appealing. Perhaps it's his reference to himself as old. Or maybe it's the helplessness he implies with the use of the words "prisoner" and "chains."

The tone with which he requests mercy for Onesimus could have been far bolder, he reminds Philemon: "... although in Christ I could ... order you to do what you ought to do..." Paul softens his request. It's tempered with love: "Yet I appeal to you on the basis of love" - Philemon 1:9.

I'm thinking that our relationships, within our human families and the church family would run more smoothly, and that there would be a greater will to comply with each others wishes if we communicated with the same gentleness. May God fill our hearts with the oil of love to lubricate our relationships and our speech.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, I need Your love to pervade and gentle my interactions with others. Amen.

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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted in this meditation are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Spiritual stumblung

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 7:18-35

TO CHEW ON:
"'Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me.'" Luke 7:23

When John asked his disciples to get reassurances from Jesus that He was indeed "the One who is to come," it seems like he was really asking, 'Have I given my life to the right cause or person?'

Jesus' answer back, that His questioners tell John of all the miracles He was doing—was, I imagine, both reassuring to John and not. I wonder if, when John was reminded of Jesus' power, he didn't ask, at least inwardly, Couldn't you then do a miracle for me—get me out of Herod's prison?

Perhaps that's what Jesus was referring to—His inscrutable ways—when He concluded, " 'Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me.'"

We too try to understand Jesus' continuing works on earth through the Holy Spirit. But there's still no predicting or controlling Him. We fast and pray for situations, the sick, the unsaved. Sometimes we see results, sometimes not. I believe Jesus' words are as relevant to us as they were to John: "'Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me.'"

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, help me to continue to trust You even when I don't understand what You are or are not doing. Amen.

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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted in this meditation are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Humility

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 14:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 14:11

Humility — why do we find it so hard to live this most attractive of character traits? Perhaps because it is so counter-intuitive? How unnatural does it feel to keep quiet about a triumph, a win or achievement, a raise, a compliment? Yet even people who don't acknowledge any spiritual motivation for their actions realize the value of humility and feel disappointment at their own lack of it. Poet and teacher Mary Kinzie, speaking of the trend in the literary world to promote oneself writes:
“This was a world in which there was a constant encouragement to promote oneself, to mention every little mention of oneself. To be your own entrepreneur. Deadly to art. I tried not to play, but did just a little – enough so that I neither made a good showing among them nor kept my heart pure.” (Mary Kinzie, quoted in an article that is no longer on line)

Jesus, on the other hand, was a great fan of humility. He implied that humility would eventually be the lot of everyone by one means or another, and the person who sought to avoid humility by exalting himself would be forcibly humbled.

I can think of several reasons why living a life of humility is the better option:

1. It ensures that we do things with the right motives — not for self-glory but for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

2. It ensures that jobs or roles that have no glory attached to them get done or filled (1 Corinthians 12:20-25).

3. Living by the humble ideal helps us set our sites on long-range and lasting heavenly rewards versus immediate and fleeting praise (Matthew 6:1-4).

But I find that knowing these things doesn't make it any easier to be humble.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to cultivate true humility. Amen.

MORE: Traits of the self-life

I have taped in one of my Bibles a small but very convicting tract called "Traits of the Self-Life." It consists of a list of those things that characterize our carnal selves. As I read through the items, I am struck by how many involve pride (the opposite of humility). I will quote the first few paragraphs:

"The following are some of the features and manifestations of the self-life. The Spirit alone can interpret and apply this to your individual case. As you read, examine yourself as if in the immediate presence of God.

Are you ever conscious of:

A secret spirit of pride — an exalted feeling, in view of your success or position; because of your good training and appearance; because of your natural gifts and abilities. An important independent spirit. Stiffness and preciseness?

Love of human praise; a secret fondness to be noticed; love of supremacy, drawing attention to self in conversation; a swelling out of self when you have had a free time in speaking or praying?

The stirrings of anger or impatience, which worst of all, you call nervousness or holy indignation; a touchy, sensitive spirit; a disposition to resent and retaliate when disapproved of or contradicted; a desire to throw sharp, heated flings at another?

Self-will; a stubborn unteachable spirit; an arguing, talkative spirit; harsh, sarcastic expressions; an unyielding, headstrong disposition; a driving commanding spirit; a disposition to criticize and pick flaws when set aside and unnoticed; a peevish, fretful spirit; a disposition that loves to be coaxed and humored?...
[...]These are some of the traits which generally indicate a carnal heart. By prayer, hold your heart open to the searchlight of God, until you see the groundwork thereof. The Holy Ghost will enable you, by confession and faith, to bring your "self-life" to the death. Do not patch over but go to the bottom. It will pay." (Published by Western Tract Mission.


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

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cisterns or fountains?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 2:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "For my people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters and hewn themselves cisterns — broken cisterns that can hold no water." Jeremiah 2:13

This passage speaks of where we find our satisfaction. Actually it's more than satisfaction because it speaks of finding water. That's something we not only like to drink but we must have for life. While a human body can survive up to five weeks without food, it can only survive days (three to four) without water.

Given a choice, wouldn't we rather drink water from a sparkling fountain that flows fresh and in an endless supply than from a cistern? Such man-made water storage systems contain water that is stagnant. Over time the water is used up and needs to be replenished.

Here Jeremiah contrasts the two water sources as a way to describe where the people are getting their spiritual needs met. His word picture prompts me to ask, where do I go to get my spiritual needs met? To cisterns of my own making?

Is my work a cistern? Is my family? Are my friendships?

Perhaps one way to find out is by taking all the stuff that fills us up—the ability to work and find pleasure in it, our enjoyment of relationships, the pleasures of the sensory world—and imagining them absent. Would we still have something?

And how do we keep the good, legitimate things in life from becoming cisterns?  Perhaps one way is to drink long and deep from the living water at the beginning of each day. Then with our bellies full we won't be craving the other kind.

PRAYER: Dear God, I think of all the things I enjoy -- potential cisterns. Help me to make them secondary to finding my most vital satisfaction in You. May my satisfaction from the living fountain make the enjoyment of everyday things keener. 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.

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

A harvest of words

Image: pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 13:15-25

TO CHEW ON: "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name." Hebrews 13:15


Fruit is not the first step of the growing cycle. It's closer to the last. We need seeds, germination, nurturing, growth, ripening before we get fruit.

If what comes out of our mouths is "fruit," it is the result of what's gone on before. That happens mostly in our minds.

What seeds are we planting—or allowing to be planted? Are they thought seeds that will lead to the fruit of praise? What thoughts are we allowing to germinate, watering with our attention and concentration, ripening as self-talk until they spill out as the "fruit of lips"?

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it's "Through Jesus..." that whatever our situation, it is or can be reworked into something praiseworthy. This "praise" is not a false optimism, though it may not always be what comes naturally but rather a "sacrifice."

Let's listen to the fruit of our lips. If we discover a harvest of fear, complaining, negativity, criticism, discontent etc., let's look into the earlier part, the thought part, of the "fruit of lips" process.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, help me to keep the soil of my mind full of Your truth. Amen. 


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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Practice contentment

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 13:1-14
TO CHEW ON: "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." Hebrews 13:5-6

Covetousness, it seems to me, is one of the big engines that drives our capitalist system. For example, new versions of electronics come out several times a year. So why would we want to hang onto our old smartphone, computer, or tablet when there's a new one that does more things faster? New styles in clothes and house decorating have us refreshing our wardrobes every season, redecorating the house every few years.

The system needs us to spend money in this way to keep going and growing. Manufacturers, investors and advertisers are masters at exploiting our natural tendency to want what the next person has, or the newest and best. Their goal: make sure we're never content.

These verses in Hebrews tell us to act, indeed to be, the exact opposite. The various translations add shades of meaning to the simple words of the NKJV.

"Let your conduct..." is rendered "Let your character and moral disposition..." (AMP), "Don't love..." (NLT), "Keep your lives free..." NIV, "Don't be obsessed with..." (MSG).

"Covetousness" is called "...love of money [including greed, avarice, lust, craving for earthly possessions] and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]" AMP (I'd say that covers about everything!). "Don't be obsessed with getting more material things" says the Message.

Instead we are to be content. This because God has promised to be with us always. Even if we lose everything, no one can take away our relationship with Him and our hope of a future with Him.

I ask myself, is that enough for me not to need that new car, updated dining room furniture, Caribbean cruise that my friends rave about?
PRAYER: Dear God, please press home to me the importance of contentment. Help me to make choices that foster it. Amen.

MORE: Angles on contentment

- Our relationship with God enhances it (Proverbs 15:16).
- It can be nourished in any circumstance (Philippians 4:11).
- It makes possible the novel state of being content with one's wages (Luke 3:14).
- With it we can learn to enjoy and appreciate the simplest things in life (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

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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 AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
 

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



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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Steward

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 4:1-15

TO CHEW ON:"Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." 1 Corinthians 4:2

In Paul's day a steward was an important part of wealthy households. It was the steward's job to oversee particularly the feeding of the household. He was in full charge and accountable only to the owner.

A steward in our time has no less responsibilities. He is, by my dictionary:
1) One entrusted with the management of property, finances, or other affairs not his own — an administrator.

2) One in charge of buying provisions, managing servants etc.

3) One with a unique role in various settings:
  • on a ship, in charge of food and the guests' comforts.
  • on an airplane or bus, one who waits on the passengers.
  • in a union, a shop steward is the intermediary between the workers and the union leadership.

When Paul was calling himself a steward he was identifying himself as a person who dedicated himself to the spiritual nourishment needs of others. Whatever his role (and he had many: explainer of God's word, teacher, preacher, church planter, mentor) he lived it under the overarching principles of being a "servant of Christ" which included being "a steward of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1).

Though we may not have an official position of leadership, all of us have those in our lives to whom we can be spiritual stewards. Whether those who look to us are our children, or friends, or members of our Bible study class, or whole churches, let's take personally Paul's challenge to be faithful stewards of the things God has entrusted to us:
  • God's word - the Bible, in our country freely available in multi-translations with an accompanying embarrassment of riches in the Bible helps and commentaries department.
  • Time, talents and opportunities (from internet access to an opening in conversation with our local barista).

We could make the faithful steward in the story Jesus told, our model (Luke 12:42-43).

PRAYER: Dear God, what a privilege to be a steward of the eternal truths of the Bible. Help me to be faithful. Amen.

MORE: "Servants think like stewards, not owners

"Servants remember that God owns it all. In the Bible, a steward was a servant entrusted to manage an estate. Joseph was this kind of servant as a prisoner in Egypt. Potiphar entrusted Joseph with his home. Then the jailor entrusted Joseph with his jail. Eventually Pharaoh entrusted the entire nation to him. Servanthood and stewardship go together, since God expects us to be trustworthy in both. The Bible says, 'the one thing required of such servants is that they be faithful to their master.' How are you handling the resources God has entrusted to you?" - Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life, p. 266-267.

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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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