Saturday, June 25, 2016

Four ropes out of a dark place

Image from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 77:1-20

TO CHEW ON:
"And I said, 'This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.'" Psalm 77:10

The writer of this psalm ("A psalm of Asaph") begins in a desperate place:
He "cried to the Lord." He "sought the Lord" in the "day of trouble." He is restless and sleepless: "My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing … You hold my eyelids open." He can't find comfort anywhere: "My soul refused to be comforted…" He feels irritated and overcome: "I complained and my spirit was overwhelmed." He is so anguished "… I cannot speak." He is also full of questions:
- "Will the Lord cast off forever?
- "Will He be favourable no more?
- "Has His mercy ceased forever?
- Has His promise failed forevermore?
- "Has God forgotten to be gracious?
- "Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?"
 (quotes from Psalm 77:1-9).

What happened to make him so troubled?

The Bible doesn't tell us. But if we've ever experienced something like a bad diagnosis, a life-altering natural disaster, the untimely death of a child (and I could go on...) we can probably relate to his feelings.

Aspah comes out of his dark valley, though. Verse 10 is the pivot point where we see him turn around and start to move up. "But" is the hinge word that signals he's changing direction: "This is my anguish. But, I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High."

He goes on to recall details of times when he knew God was for him, to dwell on them, and take action to turn his attitude around. We could compare the four things he does to ropes a rock climber would use to climb out of a valley:

- "I will remember the years of the right hand of the most high … the works of the Lord… Your wonders of old."

- "I will meditate on all your work…"

- "And talk of your deeds."

- Walk (implied) - "Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary…" (quotes from Psalm 77:10-13).

In the remainder of the psalm (Psalm 77:14-20), Asaph alludes to the wonders God has performed for Israel in the past—historic events and stories that remind him that God is real and capable. He takes his own advice as he remembers, meditates, and talks.

I wonder if we could use Asaph's method to similarly rise out of our desperate places? Next time we are in deep trouble—indeed any time we're discouraged and down, let's:
  • Remember - God's goodness to us and His help in the past.
  • Meditate - on all He does and has done. What is the meaning of it? What does it tell us about who God is?
  • Talk - tell our memories and express the fruit of our meditation in words (if not actual conversation, we could journal them).
  • Walk - go to a place where we'll be built up: church, our home group, the company of a supportive believing friend.


PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You that psalm writers were human just like I am, and that they experienced times of trouble and desperation. Help me to follow Asaph's actions next time I feel overwhelmed by circumstances. 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, June 24, 2016

Sometimes God's ways get everyone talking

Zacharias and Elizabeth praying - Artist unknown
Zacharias and Elizabeth praying - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:57-80

TO CHEW ON: "Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these things were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea." Luke 1:65

Little Annabel Bean started having stomach troubles when she was just four. Her parents' quest for a diagnosis finally led to "pseudo obstruction motility disorder," an incurable condition where the stomach muscles don't work properly.

One afternoon when she was nine, weary of the house and bed, she—a tomboy like her older sister whenever she had the energy—joined her sister on the high branch of an old tree. The branch started to creak and then move and the girls scrambled for the safest way down. In that scramble, Anna fell headfirst into a grotto-like hole in the tree's trunk near where they had been sitting.

It turned out the hole wasn't the entrance to a shallow wooden cave but the mouth of the trunk that was hollow to the ground. Anna fell 30 feet that day. She should have been killed.

But instead, she had a heavenly vision. "I sat in Jesus' lap," she told her parents later. When rescuers finally lowered a rope sling to rescue her, she told how an angel provided light so she could find and grab onto it. And that day was the beginning of her healing. Her story caused quite a buzz.*

Another story that got everyone talking was the birth of John the Baptist. His birth to elderly parents, his father Zacharias's inability to speak throughout Elizabeth's entire pregnancy, then his parents' choice of name for him—John instead of Zacharias II, defying all convention—provoked "fear" (phobos - dread, fear, reverence) in all who lived nearby.

Though we may never have experienced God working in our lives in such dramatic ways as did John the Baptist's parents or Anna Bean, He is at work in our lives too. Let's stay alert to His activity. When we do sense His presence in things like little "coincidences" to the miracles we may experience, hear, or read about, let's not rationalize away His working: Anna was just lucky to fall the right way. Her vision was the product of an overactive imagination. The fact she never needed another pain pill after this was just coincidence….

No.

Rather, let's view God activity in our lives and the lives of those around us with the fear, dread, and reverence of Zacharias and Elizabeth's Judean neighbours. Let's let such examples strengthen our faith and reassure us that God is alive and active in our world.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that in my time, though filled with technological savvy where the tendency is to look for a natural explanation for everything, there are evidences that You still break through in miracles. Help me to believe, "The Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear" (Isaiah 59:1). Amen.

MORE: Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

* Annabel's mother has told her story in the book Miracles from Heaven. A movie based on the story (Miracles From Heaven) was released in March, 2016.

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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.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kindness

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 5:11-26

TO CHEW ON: "But the fruit of the Spirit is … kindness…" Galatians 5:22.


After all the back-and-forth about law-keeping and circumcision, Paul gets practical. His lists of the flesh qualities we need to weed out and the Spirit qualities to nurture are practical and convicting. One of the simplest items on the cultivate list is one of the hardest to live consistently: KINDNESS.

["Kindness (chrestotes) is goodness in action, sweetness of disposition, gentleness in dealing with others, benevolence, kindness, affability. The word describes the ability to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience. The Holy Spirit removes abrasive qualities form the character under His control" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1638.]

  • The upright person is kind - Psalm 112:4.
  • The wise woman speaks kindly.
"She opens her mouth in wisdom
And the teaching
(or law) of kindness is on her tongue"  Proverbs 31:26 NASB.
  • Christians are (or should be) kind to each other: Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12.
  • The highest, selfless, agapĂ© love "suffers long and is kind" - 1Corinthians 13:4.
  • Kindness is the outworking of a chain of attitudes or qualities: faith—> virtue—> knowledge—> self-control—> perseverance—> godliness—> brotherly kindness—> love - 1 Peter 1:5-7.

The sentence in our definition that sheds light on why practicing kindness consistently is so challenging (at least for me) is "The word describes the ability to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience."
- That speaks of everyday living and the small things that so easily tax patience.
- That speaks of how the kind person takes the focus off him- or herself and puts it on the welfare of others, in this case the irritating person.

The last sentence of the definition draws our attention to where we go for help in being kind: "The Holy Spirit removes abrasive qualities from the character of one under His control." As we put ourselves under His control, He makes us aware of our unkindness, its roots in our attitudes and thoughts, and gives us the desire and ability to replace them with kindness.


PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please be active in me in the tongue control department (and before that, in thought control). May my thoughts and my tongue truly be governed by the "law of kindness." 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 NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible®,Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The force in us

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 5:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love." Galatians 5:6

Paul states his position about the need for circumcision. He says it doesn't "avail" anything.

Different Bible translations use different words for "avail": "… neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything" (AMP); "… means anything" (NASB); "… has any value" (NIV);  "…amounts to anything" (MSG); "… there is no benefit" (NLT).

[Ischyo is the Greek word translated "avail."  It means to be strong in body, robust, in sound health; to have power, be a force, avail, be serviceable, able.]

What does avail? It's "… faith working through love." That sounds wonderful and simple, though also somewhat ethereal. What does "faith working through love" look like in real life? Other places in the Bible help fill in the picture.

  • This love is a fruit of the Spirit - Galatians 5:22.
  • It grows in us as we make a home for Christ in our hearts and He reveals to us the extent of His love for us - Ephesians 3:17-19.
  • It is demonstrated through the body-like workings of the church - Ephesians 4:16.
  • As individuals "faith working through love" looks like:
    • Obedience: "But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfect in him. But this we know that we are in Him" - 1 John 2:5.
    • Love for our brothers and sisters: "He who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him" - 1 John 2:10.
    • Avoiding the things that are against what the Father stands for: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" - 1 John 2:15. "World" is defined in the next verse as the "lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life" - 1 John 2:16.
The Message translation of this passage is so clear: "Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father" - 1 John 2:15,16 MSG (emphasis added). (See also 1Timothy 6:9-11.)

Wow! We might second what I can just hear the Galatians say when they understand the extent of what "faith working through love" means—Circumcision was a lot easier! But thank God they weren't, and we aren't, alone in this. For it's all Him working both the faith and the love in us and through us.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I need this force of faith working through love strengthened in my life. Thank You for living in my heart through Your Spirit and broadening my practical understanding of that what truly avails (counts, means something, has value, amounts to something, benefits). 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 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 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 NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible®,Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

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

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.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Faith that remembers

Miracle of the Loaves - Alexandre Bida
Miracle of the Loaves - by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere …. So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover  fragments were taken up by them." Luke 9:6,17

Put yourself in the place of Jesus' disciples in this passage. The things they experienced over the course of the events we read about must have rocked their view of life.
  • Jesus sent them out without provisions and supplies, yet their needs were met.
  • They were successful at preaching and healing.
  • They were part of the miraculous multiplication of five loaves and two fish so that 5,000 ate and twelve baskets of fragments were left over.

And yet Judas later betrayed Jesus, they all fled when the soldiers came to arrest Him, Peter denied Him, and Thomas demanded proof that He was risen. Their humanity, that so readily forgot the signs of God's reality and power in the past, reminds me of my own.

It seems we people quickly forget God's history with us and sink, like the exodus Israelites and these disciples did, into unbelief and panic.

I don't want to be like that. I want to have a faith that remembers.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to remember that You are the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). May the way I live my life reflect that I believe that. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotes are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Choose to believe

Jesus raises Jairus' daughter - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 8:40-56

TO CHEW ON:
"And He said to her, 'Daughter, be of good cheer, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.' … But when Jesus heard it, He answered him saying, 'Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.'" Luke 8:48, 50


The powerful common denominator of faith links these two miracles.

The woman with a twelve-year bleeding problem had a faith that drew God's healing virtue at her touch of Jesus' robe  (Luke 8:48).

To distraught Jairus,  father of the little girl who has just died, Jesus says, "'Do not be afraid; only believe.'"  Jairus must have, for his little girl came back to life (Luke 8:50).

Under the heading "Faith Prescribed" my Thompson Chain Bible walks us down a Bible pathway lit by faith.

Faith assures success:

~In the wonderful OT story of Jehoshaphat defeating the armies of Ammon and Moab with troops led by worshippers, Jehoshaphat begins the day's instructions by telling his people, "Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper" - 2 Chronicles 20:20.

Faith is our duty:

~How do we work the works of God, Jesus' disciples ask? Jesus replies: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent"" - John 6:28,29.

Faith is a weapon and a war:
~It is called a "shield" (Ephesians 6:16) and a "breastplate" (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
~Paul tells Timothy to "Fight the good fight of faith" - 1 Timothy 6:12.

Faith is essential to a relationship with God:

~ "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" - Hebrews 11:6.

Faith is necessary for answered prayer:
~ "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God … But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…" James 1:5,6.

Faith must be united with love:
~ "And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of HIs Son Jesus Christ and love one another…" 1 John 3:23.

For what do you and I need faith today? We can choose to believe!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Your words and the Bible's entire tone show me that faith (or unbelief) are a choice. Help me to be a woman of faith. Amen.

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

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Demonized

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 8:19-39

TO CHEW ON: "When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him and with a loud voice said, 'What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.'" Luke 8:28

The Yanomamo are a fierce tribe of Indians who live in the jungles of Venezuela. The story that Mark Andrew Ritchie tells in The Spirit of the Rainforest - A Yanomamo Shaman's Story is through Jungleman, one of the most powerful shamans of the tribe.

Though the Yanomamo had met white men (nabas) of various kinds—rubber traders, anthropologists and missionaries from various denominations— it was when they met Pepe (Joe Dawson who worked with New Tribes Missions) that the spiritual conflict really began. Pepe and his family came to live at Honey Village (at the Yanomamo's invitation) where Shoefoot (Jungleman's protegĂ© and relative) was the shaman. Over time Shoefoot gave up his spirits. Here's what happened the next time Jungleman came to visit his brother-in-law and friend:

When I pulled my canoe up to the shore at the mouth of the Metaconi I felt the usual excitement that comes with meeting old friends. But something was very different. What was it, I wondered.
"Don't go in here," Jaguar Spirit told me. "There's too much danger here. We are afraid." It was the first time I had ever heard fear coming from Jaguar Spirit and it made me feel poor inside. My hands began to flutter and I held my bow tight to make them stop.


There can't be any danger here, I thought. These people are my friends. They have always been my friends. But it wasn't just Jaguar. All my spirits were crowding the shabono in my chest and making a terrible noise about how afraid they were.


When I saw Shoefoot I was stunned. "What has happened to your spirits?" I asked him, looking at his chest. I could see they were gone.


[...] It was a horrible visit for me. There was a spirit in Shoefoot's village that I couldn't understand. But it was powerful. That's why my spirits were so upset when I came. I hung my hammock next to Shoefoot and as soon as I lay down they were all there, every spirit I have, crowding my shabono.
"Please Father!" they all begged together. "Please leave here. It's not safe here. We are terrified." And they were. The new spirit in Shoefoot's chest had them all frightened like I had never seen them before.
When I first read the account quoted above, I thought immediately of the reaction of the demons that lived in the tomb-dweller of today's Bible reading.

Our society is fascinated with the paranormal (which would include what we see happening in this story). Fiction, movies and TV shows that highlight spooky, unexplainable (by natural, scientific means) activities are viewed as nothing more than a scary romp. However, if we believe the Bible, demons and evil spirits are real, and probably way more active in the 21st century than we'd ever imagine.

My Lectures in Systematic Theology book provides the following list under the heading "The Work of Demons":

1. They inflict disease (Luke 9:37-42).

2. They cause mental disorders (Mark 5:4-5).
"Although no doubt many so-called psychopathic cases come under this head, we must not forget that the Scriptures do not refer all mental disorders directly to the work of demons." Thiessen p. 208.
 3. They lead people into moral impurity (Luke 4:33-36).

4. They spread false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1).

5. They oppose God's children in their spiritual progress (Ephesians 6:12).

6. They sometimes possess human beings and even animals (Acts 8:7; Mark 5:12-13).

7. They are sometimes used by God in the carrying out of His purposes and designs (Revelation 16:13-16).

My reaction to any study of Satan and his henchmen is the same as it was to reading the Spirit of the Rainforest book. It makes me want to crowd close to Jesus and not have anything to do with any other spirit.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for defeating Satan and all his hosts. Help me to recognize his activity and to stay away from anything that would involve or ensnare me in it. Amen. 

MORE: The Bushman and the Spirits

Several years ago, I found The Bushman and the Spirits on my father-in-law's bookshelf. It is the fascinating story of a Canadian trapper and shaman, who himself dealt with the spirit world but was set free by the power of Jesus. It's an excellent read—if you can find it!


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


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