Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Unfruitful, or fruitful?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 5:1-17


TO CHEW ON: "He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes." - Isaiah 5:2

The disappointment in Isaiah's voice as he tells this parable is impossible to miss. The plea in the voice of the vineyard's owner (God) as He addresses the people directly sounds like someone at wit's end:
"What more could have been done to my vineyard
That I have not done in it?"
Of course we know Isaiah is not talking about a literal vineyard but about the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:7) and her moral failures. The "good grapes" God is hoping for are a people of holiness. Instead, he gets "wild grapes"—a people characterized by injustice and unrighteousness.

Unfruitfulness is a sobering Bible theme.
  • Jesus identifies two of its causes as worldliness (Matthew 13:22) and a failure to invest life's resources (Luke 19:20).
  • It results in the Master's disappointment (Luke 13:6), judgment (Matthew 3:10), and rejection (Hebrews 6:8).
I ask, what kind of vineyard song would God sing over us? Over me? Let's take John 15:1-8 as our vineyard prayer and challenge to fruitfulness:
"Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me .... If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, so you will be My disciples (John 15:4, 7-8).

PRAYER: Dear God, like literal vines, I have only a season—a short lifespan—to bear fruit. I don't want to be a disappointment to You. Help me to abide in You and bear much fruit. Amen.

MORE: What fruit?
"What is fruit-bearing? What is the fruit you are called to bear—indeed must bear? I think fruit in this chapter (John 15:1-16) is a broad term and embraces two things: love for people and the conversion of sinners. If you bear fruit, you love people and win people to Christ" - John Piper (from "I Choose You to Bear Fruit"  © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org).
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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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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Presumptuous sins

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 19:1-14


TO CHEW ON: "Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me." Psalm 19:13


"Presumptuous sins"? What is this category of sin?

[Presume, the verb from which the adjective presumptuous derives, means to take for granted, assume to be true, to take upon oneself without warrant or permission, dare, venture, to act or proceed over-confidently.

The Hebrew word zed here translated "presumptuous" means arrogant, proud, insolent, presumptuous]

Barnes' Notes on the Bible gives one explanation of "presumptuous sins" in Psalm 19:
"...the reference is particularly to sins which proceed from self-confidence; from reliance on one's own strength. The word does not mean open sins, or flagrant sins so much as those which spring from self-reliance or pride. The prayer is substantially that he might have proper distrust of himself and might not be left by an improper reliance on his own power to the commission of sin" (emphasis added).
When might we be guilty of presumptuous sins?

Perhaps when we act like the man in Jesus' story who congratulated himself for his full barns and depended on them for the future, never acknowledging God (Luke 12:16-21)?

In our time it is easy to live life this way. We have our paychecks or our pensions and the government will take care of us if we lose them. We have our doctors and hospitals so going to God when we get sick is hardly our first thought. We have our books, the internet and TV so where do we need's God's input when we don't know what to do?

The fact that David prays such sins will not have dominion him over tells us he knows and fears they easily could become his habitual response.

I have a feeling I am more prone to presumptuous sins than I care to admit, and need a new sensitivity to see where I am depending on myself and not Him.

PRAYER: Dear God, please alert me to presumptuous habits and behaviours in my life. Help me to label them sin and to turn from pride and self-reliance to reliance on You. Amen.

MORE: "Give Me Jesus" - Fernando Ortega



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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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Monday, September 29, 2014

In a time of trouble

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 12:1-13


TO CHEW ON:"...And there shall be a time of trouble,
Such as never was since there was a nation..." Daniel 12:1

"Times of trouble" run through the Bible. They relate often to the Israelite nation and come as the consequence of abandoning Yahweh for idols. Such trouble in the form of the nation being displaced and distressed was Moses' warning way back in Deuteronomy as a consequence of turning from the worship of God to idols (Deuteronomy 4:30-31).

Jesus referred often to trouble-filled days.
  • He told about the trouble that comes to all of us in the course of life and how the foundation we choose will determine whether our life-house will withstand the storms of circumstances or be battered apart by them (Matthew 7:24-28).
  • In His story about the sower and the seed, tribulation and trouble destroyed the faith of the believer who was only shallowly rooted in the God's word (Matthew 13:20-21).
  • He also talked about end-time tribulation, referring specifically to Daniel's prophecy (Matthew 24:15). He described this trouble as a time of emergency, terror, flight, and life-snuffing ferocity (Matthew 24:15-22).
  • Jesus described these end-time troubles as "birth pains" - Matthew 24:8 NLT. We know how a mother's contractions accelerate as the birth of the baby nears, until the little one is finally delivered. That's how Jesus describes the  troubles on earth as they crescendo until "the end" - Matthew 24:14.

It's easy to feel we're in the middle of those birth pains. As I write, Earth is staggering under numerous political, humanitarian, and health crises. There is war in the Middle East as ISIS terrorists overrun Syria and Iraq, while thousands flee. Rocket fights between Hamas and Israel keep erupting. In African whole classrooms of girls are still being held captive by terrorist groups.  Tensions between Russia and Ukraine mount daily. Thousands in West Africa are dying from the ebola virus. There is unrest in Hong Kong as China restricts their democracy.

Let's take to heart Jesus' words of advice for such trouble-filled times:
  • Don't be deceived - Matthew 24:4
  • "Be ready..." Matthew 24:44.
  • "Endure to the end" - Matthew 24:13.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I don't like to contemplate trouble. But when I view it through the lens of Your word, I see that it shouldn't surprise or confuse me. Help me to live alert and prepared through trouble-filled times. Amen.

MORE: Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Michael is the archangel who Daniel describes in our reading as "The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people." Find out more about the archangel Michael here.

The liturgy for the Feast of st. Michael and All Angels begins with this collect:

"Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 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.



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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Complaining about the food

"And thou shalt smite on the rocks..." 
Lithograph by Marc Chagall
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 78:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "He also brought streams out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers. But they sinned even more against Him by rebelling against the Most High in the wilderness" - Psalm 78:16,17

I identify with Carolyn Arends when she writes in Theology in Aisle Seven:

"I was making my way through Exodus, feeling a little jealous of my spiritual ancestors. It seemed they never had to wonder if God was there. They had only to follow pillars of cloud and fire, gathering up the manna served fresh daily from God's kitchen .... I wondered why the present-day actions of the immutable God sometimes seem so muted in contrast to the God of Moses. I wouldn't mind a pillar of cloud or fire when I need direction, or some manna on my front lawn when I pray for provision" - Carolyn Arends, Theology in Aisle Seven, Kindle Location 507.

But Asaph, the writer of today's psalm, reminds us that despite that luminous GPS, six-day-a-week meal service, and all the other tangible evidences of God's presence, the Israelites still struggled with bad attitudes of discontent, grumbling, and rebellion. Why?

Perhaps verse 18 holds a key to their problem: "They tested God in their heart..."

[Testnasah—means to put to the test, try, prove, tempt. It's the thing that God does to us through life, not we to Him. As the Word Wealth writer of my Bible's notes concludes: "In this reference, the wilderness generation insulted and grieved the Lord by tempting and limiting Him as if to test His patience or His power" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 747.]

Note the place those discontented complaints and rebellions originated: "their heart." It was an inner thing first before an outer action. Really as simple as choosing to see life's glass half empty instead of half full.

And so you and I too have a choice to make. Do we focus on what's wrong with life, the things we wish were different, what we would like more of, and so in effect test God, telling Him He's not doing a good enough job in our circumstances? Or do we, in our hearts, focus on gratitude, thankfulness, what's right with life? For it's as easy for us to test God as it was for the Israelites—as easy as complaining about the food!


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live with gratitude every day, choosing to see life in a positive, not negative light, choosing not to test You in my heart. Amen.

MORE: Ingratitude—the catalyst of all my sins?

"From all our beginnings, we keep reliving the Garden story.

Satan, he wanted more. More power, more glory. Ultimately, in his essence Satan is an ingrate. And he sinks his venom into the heart of Eden. Satan's sin becomes the first sin of all humanity: the sin of ingratitude. Adam and Eve are, simply, painfully, ungrateful for what God gave.

Isn't that the catalyst of all my sins?"


- Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p. 15.

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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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Saturday, September 27, 2014

The pastors and the people

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 2:18-30

TO CHEW ON: "Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem." Philippians 2:29

How do you view your pastor and other members of your church's ministry team? If you're a pastor, how do you view your congregation? Are you "buddy-buddy"? Or is there a bit of a gulf between the congregation and the leadership? This gulf could be there for a number of legitimate reasons:

- Pastors are also often our counselors. As such they know things about various ones of us they're not free to divulge. Their role demands discretion.

- If they are obedient to sharing God's word with us, it may not always be what we want to hear and, like the Old Testament prophets, our pastors may experience friendship fallout from the unpopularity of their message.

- The very position of leader needs some distance and objectivity. Leaders need to be fair and not seen to be favoring one group or individual over another.

In our reading today, Paul talks to the Philippians about their relationship with him and the members of his team, and vice versa. Some of the interactions he has experienced and hopes for are:

On the part of the pastor toward the congregation:
  • They genuinely care for the state of the people, as Timothy does - Philippians 2:20.
  • They serve Jesus' concerns and interests, not their own - Philippians 2:21,22.
  • They are willing to travel as both Timothy and Epaphroditus are - Philippians 2:23,25.
  • There is a genuine love of the team members for the congregation - Philippians 2:26.
  • They are willing to extend themselves for the gospel and the church, e.g. Epaphroditus - Philippians 2:30.

On the part of the congregation toward the pastors:
  • Paul hopes for openness between congregation and workers so that he can "know your state." He hopes to be encouraged by them - Philippians 2:19.
  • The Philippian church has been concerned about practical things like Epaphriditus's health - Philippians 2:26.
  • Paul asks them to offer joyous hospitality to visiting team members and to hold them in esteem - Philippians 2:29.

What can we learn and apply from the relationship of Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus with the church members at Philippi?

If we're pastors or part of a ministry team, we can ask ourselves, do we genuinely love and care about our congregation? Are we willing to do what it takes of travel and other self-denying acts for their benefit? Or do we whine about their immaturity and other faults when we're with fellow ministers at, say, the local ministerial meeting?

As members of the congregation, are we hospitable toward our pastors? Are we aware that they are vulnerable to health problems like the rest of us? Do we hold them in esteem? Or are we standoffish toward them, with a type of "class" mentality?  Do we respect and honor them when they're not around, or gossip about and criticize them behind their backs?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to relate to my pastor and the ministry team at church in a way that pleases You, encourages then, and helps build up the body of Christ. 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.


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Friday, September 26, 2014

Players in the drama of light

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 2:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world." Philippians 2: 14-15 (ESV)

The story of light is woven through the Bible.
  • God created light (Isaiah 45:7).
  • He lives in light (1 Timothy 6:16).
  • He is clothed in light (Psalm 104:2).
  • His sight penetrates darkness (Psalm 139:11-12).
  • His light is our life (John 1:4).
  • His word gives light (Psalm 119:130).
  • The Gospel is called light (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
  • God's people are called children of light (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5).
  • A person's way of seeing and interpreting life (the eye) demonstrates whether one is a child of light or darkness (Luke 11:34-35).
  • We are blessed when we walk (live) in the light of His face (Psalm 89:15).
  • Crafty Satan, knowing the power of light, disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14)
  • We battle him wearing the armour of light (Romans 13:12)
  • And we are to be a light to those around us by our good works (Matthew 5:16, Luke 8:15, Ephesians 5:8-9) and by refraining from grumbling and complaining (Philippians 2:14-15).
That last—"refraining from grumbling and complaining"—seems like a paltry item on the grand list of light sightings in the Bible. Who of us hasn't done it—perhaps even today, in our minds if not out loud.

However, going against our natural instincts/tendencies to grumble and complain is the outworking of an attitude that is deep-rooted and affects all of life. It proves that we accept God's sovereignty in little and big circumstances. It demonstrates our trust in Him and His ability to deal well with us. And it is one more bit of evidence that we are players in the eternal story of light.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me make the connections between my behaviour and living as a child of light. May my thoughts, words and actions today be thoughts, words, and actions of light. Amen.

MORE: A thought

"...we either add to the darkness of indifference...or we light a candle to see by..." Madeline L'Engle (quoted in Patches of Godlight - Jan Karon)

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Scriptures marked ESV are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.




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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Let your reasoning lead to faith

Religious leaders - Artist unknown
Religious leaders - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 21:18-32

TO CHEW ON:
"And they reasoned among themselves saying, 'If we  say, "From heaven," He will say to us "Why then did you not believe him?" But if we say, "From men," we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.' " Matthew 21:25,26


These chief priests, scribes and elders had the mindset of the conniving politician down pat. Their reasoning showed that they were more concerned with the impression they were making on observers than about searching their own hearts.

Jesus' claims often pulled out of His hearers such a reasoning response. That's what happens when what you see doesn't line up with what you have always thought possible. For example, after He said to the paralytic (whose friends lowered him to Jesus through a roof), "Your sins are forgiven," the scribes "reasoned" in their hearts that He had made a blasphemous statement (Mark 2:6-12).

When He talked about being the bread of life, the Jews "quarreled" with His claim (John 6:52).

Though such back-and-forth conversations in a reasoning, what-might-appear-to-us-as-argumentative style was the manner of Jewish teachers, Jesus never left the discussion on the theoretical plane. He inevitably pushed for a decision and a commitment.

In our reading today, Jesus refused to answer the leaders' insincere question about His authority to do miracles (Matthew 21:23-27). What was the point? It would just have produced more 'reasoning.'

In the story about the paralytic, from Mark, after forgiving the paralytic's sins, Jesus healed him physically, challenging the onlookers' assumptions that He was an ordinary man.

In the John account, after hearing the objections to His claims of being the bread of life, Jesus challenged the Jews to eat His flesh and drink His blood (a metaphorical allusion to the Last Supper and His death) - John 6:53-58.

Another time, when Jesus heard the wise answer of a scribe to His question, "Which is the greatest commandment?" He concluded, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God"  Mark 12:34) (the implication being, 'Why don't you just take that next step and enter it?').

Paul does a good job of summing up the tension between reasoning and going farther.
"Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" - 1 Corinthians 1:20,21 (emphasis added).

It's fine for us to discuss and reason. But at the end of the day we need to take that step of admitting who He really is and, in the perfect reasonableness of believing faith, surrender to Him the lordship of our lives.

PRAYER: Dear God, there is in our age more than ever the tendency to reason away Your claims. Help me to go beyond playing with words and ideas, and to commit myself to You in action-changing belief. 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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