Friday, November 21, 2014

Watch! Be ready

volcanic steam and ash
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:29-51

TO CHEW ON: " 'For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.' " Matthew 24:38-39


Our reading gives us more natural signs to add to the list of things that herald the near return of Christ:
" '…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken' " - Matthew 24:29.

What causes this unnatural darkening? Volcanic matter in earth's atmosphere? What are those falling stars? Meteors and comets plowing into us?

I can just imagine how such natural disasters will be reported in the news. Scientific experts will analyze and prescribe. They will be the fault of fracking, or fossil fuel use, or CO2, or disturbed ecosystems, or weakened magnetism at the poles, or pollution, or… We will be told, if we only do more of this, less of that, the balance will right itself.

Meanwhile wherever it can, life will go on as usual - Matthew 24:37-38, 40-41.

I describe this scenario because even for those of us who have read these Bible passages and have been forewarned, it's easy to get lulled into complacency by the naturalistic explanations of scientists and those who supposedly understand earth's mechanisms (or at least have lots of theories).

Believers expressing their take on events are / will be mocked no less than Noah was. They're even viewed as dangerous because of their convictions that supernatural forces are at work here and thus they don't buy into scientific prescriptions of how to save the earth.

The billboard sign I take from this passage for myself—for all of us who believe these prophecies—is BE ALERT! Be watchful for Jesus' second coming.

" ' … when you see these things, know that it is near' " - Matthew 24:33. 
" 'But watch therefore…' " Matthew 24:42. 
" 'Therefore you also, be ready' " - Matthew 24:44.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to see Your hand at work in earth's natural events and disasters. Help me to live alert to signs of Your return, not dulled by the spirit of my time. 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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Thursday, November 20, 2014

The beginning of the end?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:1-28

TO CHEW ON:
" ' All these are the beginning of sorrows.' " Matthew 24:8

If you had never read today's passage and someone handed you its contents on a scrap of paper, would your impression would be (choose one):
a] This sounds entirely unfamiliar.
b] This sounds a lot like current conditions in the world.
c] This sounds like something that could never happen.

If you're like me, you chose b, because this sounds like the writings of someone in the room with me as I watch the nightly news or scan the latest headlines on the computer.

In early parts of this passage (Matthew 24:5-7) Jesus gives us a list of spookily familiar events that herald the near coming of His return to earth / the End:*
- The appearance of false and deceptive Christs.
- Wars and rumours of wars.
- Famines, pestilences and earthquakes.

But, Jesus says, these things are just the beginning of "sorrows." Some translations calls them "birth pains" (NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV)—an interesting comparison suggesting earth-shaking events will become more frequent and intense as they near a climax. Could this be the time we're living in right now? If so, what do we have to look forward to? Jesus' answer:

" 'Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake' " - Matthew 24:9.

Who is the "you" Jesus refers to here? It was to His band of disciples He delivered this private message (Matthew 24:3). So we can, I think, conclude that His disciples of all eras are on notice. That's us. Jesus warns and advises (Matthew 24:10-14):

- We can expect offenses, betrayals, hatred, and death.
- We must be on guard against false prophets.
- We need to be aware of the potential for spiritual lawlessness and coldness.
- Our endurance will be challenged.
- While the above is happening there will also be a great spread of the Gospel to peoples of every nation.

Let's live alert in these perilous days!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to remain watchful, to be unfazed if I am hated, and persecuted for being a Christ-follower, and to stay the course as I do my little bit in spreading the Gospel. Amen.

* "In His private teaching to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus responded to three questions, concerning 1] the destruction of the temple, 2] His Second Coming, 3] the End. These topics are interwoven and sometimes it is difficult to determine which event is being described. This difficulty is partially resolved with the realization that most prophecy is capable of both a near and remote fulfillment. Jesus uses the tragic events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70 as a picture of conditions preceding His own return" - J. Lyle Story, Study notes on Matthew 24:1-51, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1334.


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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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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Woe to hypocrites!

Pharisees by James Tissot
Pharisees by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:13-39

TO CHEW ON: " 'But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.' " Matthew 23:13

In one of His most impassioned speeches, Jesus denounces seven examples of Pharisaic hypocrisy:

1. They were legalistic. The Pharisees' strict legalism kept them and everyone else out of the kingdom (Matthew 23:13).

2. They were unjust. The Pharisees' long prayers, meant to impress others with their righteousness, were contrary to the way they treated the poorest people, like widows - Matthew 23:14.

3. They were evangelists of evil - Matthew 23:15. One thinks of a missionary or evangelist as one doing a good thing. But these missionaries were converting others to become fanatics of a tarnished religion.

4. They were blind guides
- Matthew 23:16-22. If anyone should be able to see, it's a guide! Yet Jesus showed how blind these men were by poking holes in the reasoning by which they came to rules about which oaths were binding and which weren't. The IVP Commentary explains the custom:
"An oath involved invoking a deity as a witness to the veracity of one's claim. On the popular level people had begun using many surrogate phrases for God's name hoping to avoid judgment if they broke the oath. Pharisees endeavoured to distinguish which oath phrases were actually binding" - IVP Commentary, accessed via biblegateway.com.
Jesus' attack was not just against these oath standards, though, but also against the Pharisees' inconsistent standards of holiness and the profanity of using God's name in such frivolous ways.

5. Their standards were inconsistent and out of proportion - Matthew 23:23-24. The Pharisees emphasized tithing the tiniest of spices while ignoring big issues like practicing justice, mercy, and faith.

6. Their lives were superficial - Matthew 23:25-28. Their fine exteriors masked a polluted inner condition.

7. They were self-deceived - Matthew 23:29-36. They claimed that if they'd lived in the time of the prophets, they would never have treated God's servants the way their countrymen did. Jesus' response: " 'Serpents, brood of vipers!' " You will prove how deceived you are by the way you kill, crucify and scourge the prophets, wise men, and scribes that come to your generation (my paraphrase).

Before we look with too much disdain on this lot, we do well to examine our own lives for similar hypocritical behavior:

  • Have we developed legalistic standards of our own that are barriers to people entering God's kingdom?
  • Do we give lip service to a holiness we don't practice?
  • Do we have self-made, inconsistent-with-God's-word standards that, for example, rail against body sins like smoking and overeating, but are indulgent toward TV and movies that pollute the mind?
  • Do our priorities line up with Scripture's? Do our lives reflect the things that matter to God? Or do we break fellowship over sidebar matters like which version of the Bible to read and the order of prophesied end-time events?
  • Are our lives authentic—the same in private as public? Or do we practice secret sin?
  • Are we realistic about who we are? Or does our lifestyle contradict what comes out of our mouths?

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, Your denunciation of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees shows me that my nature is not all that different. Please help me to detect hypocrisy in my life and to deal with it. 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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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Your life—a finished story

books
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 1:1-23

TO CHEW ON:
"… He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." Ephesians 1:4

Do you realize that your life's course is old news, a finished story, a foreordained destiny to God? One word the Bible uses to describe this is predestine (predestined/predestination).

[Predestine, from pre - before, and destiny. It means to destine or decree beforehand. Predestined: to foreordain by divine decree or purpose - Funk and Wagnall's Dictionary]

Here are some things the Bible says about His predestination (some other words used to express this concept are election, foreknowledge and foreordained):

1. God has something in mind for each person He created - Proverbs 16:4. For example, Paul explains the fate of Jacob and Esau on the basis of each having a foreordained place in God's plan - Romans 9:11.
2. God's plan of salvation as it unfolded in history with all its characters playing their parts was predestined - Acts 4:27-28.

3. Jesus was "foreordained before the foundation of the world" to be our sacrificial "lamb without blemish and without spot" - 1 Peter 1:18-20.
 

4. We—Paul's first century readers, down to us Christ followers all these millennia later are chosen, were chosen "before the foundation of the world for holiness" - Ephesians 1:4 (our focus verse).

5. We're called to be changed people, known and predestined to "… be conformed to the image of His Son" - Romans 8:28,29.

6. We're predestined to adoption as Sons by Jesus Christ to Himself - Ephesians 1:5.

7. God has good works planned beforehand for us to accomplish - Ephesians 2:10.

8. Our inheritance is predestined according to His purpose - Ephesians 1:11.
10. The church is part of God's predestined plan and the means, Paul says, to make God's plan known to demons and angels - Ephesians 3:10.

When we try to completely understand the idea of God's predestining of events and lives, we run smack into a wall of human thought limitation. We ask, how can a just God predestine some lives for wicked evil purposes that will take them to a bad end? Isn't that unjust? On the other hand, we ask, how can an omniscient God not know the path that every person will  take, the choices they will make?

The way I harmonize the Bible's teaching on God's predestination / foreknowledge / election with His justice is to reflect that as far as I'm concerned I have choices. I am not aware of a Divine Puppet-master, pulling my strings.  You too have choices. Everyone on this planet has choices. The choices we make in this life reveal and prove what God knew/knows about us all along—our pre-destiny.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being bigger than my mind can comprehend. May my life today, the way I live and the choices I make, demonstrate that I am Yours. 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.





Monday, November 17, 2014

Authentic living

gold bars
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 100:1 - 101:6

TO CHEW ON: "I will behave wisely in a perfect (blameless) way …
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart." - Psalm 101:2


The word that comes to mind when I read David's resolve to live well in private ("within my house") as well as in public is authentic.

[Authentic: 1. Entitled to belief, trustworthy, reliable. 2. Of undisputed origin, genuine -  Funk and Wagnall's Dictionary.]

It 's all too easy and common for us, however, to live one way outwardly, doing things that will impress or not offend onlookers. But when we get home and kick off our shoes, how readily those niceties come off with them and we're unkind, rude, ornery, critical, careless about what we say and how we say it.

My Thompson Chain Bible lists the characteristics of the Christian's walk:
  • It is a new life, a spiritual walk that is not "according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" - Romans 8:1,4; Galatians 5:16.
  • It is a faith walk - 2 Corinthians 5:7.
  • It is a walk of love - Ephesians 5:2.
  • It is a circumspect walk - Ephesians 5:15. The Amplified Bible enlarges on circumspect: "Live purposefully and worthily and accurately…"
  • It is a walk that is lived with an awareness of life's brevity - Ephesians 5:16.
  • It is a joyful, thankful, singing walk expressed in songs, hymns and spiritual songs - Ephesians 5:19.
  • It is a walk in the light, as opposed to being sneaky and underhanded- Ephesians 5:8; 1 John 1:7.
  • It is a Christ-like walk - 1 John 2:6.

Let's make it the walk of our entire lives—at home and away, in church and in the car, shopping and watching the game, eating out and relaxing at Grandma's…

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where I live one way to impress or not to offend others, and another way at home. Help me to "walk within my house with a perfect (blameless) heart." 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 AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)





Sunday, November 16, 2014

Should we "fear" God?

Child looking up, holding parent's hand
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 128:1-6

TO CHEW ON:
"Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the Lord." Psalm 128:5


What a picture of domestic bliss Psalm 128 paints;
- A man whose honest work supports his life.
- A good marriage, the husband like a gardener nourishing and doting on the beautiful and fruitful vine—his wife—who lives in the "heart" of his home.
- A family of children—"olive plants"—that staple tree of Israel that provided oil, olives shade, the very symbol of blessing and plenty.
- A family that carries on into generations with their patriarch living long enough to see his grandchildren.

All this on one condition: "Blessed is every one who fears the Lord …. Behold thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord" Psalm 128:1,5.

What does it mean to "fear" the Lord?

[Fears - yare  means to fear, be afraid of, stand in awe of, reverence, honour, respect.]

What does this fear/reverence/respect for God look like?

In a way it looks a lot like a child's good relationship with parents. When I was little, I knew I could only push it so far before the "rod" would come out. I respected my parent's orders because I knew that they would be enforced and that was an occasion to fear!

But the relationship was different than master / slave because my parents loved me and I loved them. Thus I wanted to please them too. I yearned for their "You did a great job," and hated to hear, "I'm disappointed in you." One sure way to evoke the latter was to ignore or violate the life principles by which they had raised me.

Our fear of God is similar.

  • We obey, knowing there will be consequences if we don't.
  • But we also love Him and yearn to hear his "Well done." To achieve that we value the same things God values and translate our mental assent into living out those things in what we allow ourselves to think about, love, say, how we relate to our family, church family, neighbours, enemies, what we do with our possessions etc.

But how do we know the things that God values?

They're scattered throughout the Bible and distilled in passages like 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Galatians 5:16-20; Philippians 4:6-8.

This living in the fear of God—it's a project that takes a lifetime!

PRAYER:
Dear God please help me to relate to You in a realistic way that includes fear, respect, and awe. Help me to study and understand what pleases You so I will live it out and someday hear your "Well done." 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.





Saturday, November 15, 2014

Looking for mercy

TODAY' SPECIAL: Psalm 122:1-123:4

TO CHEW ON: "Behold as the eyes of servants look to the hands of their masters,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God,
Until He has mercy on us." Psalm 123:2


I've always liked this picturesque little verse, reading it as servants keeping an eye on the master for the next command. But on a close look today, I see that that's not what the servant is waiting for at all. Rather, he or she is waiting, looking up, hoping for mercy

[Mercy (chanan) means to be gracious, show pity, favour.
In English mercy is defined as kind or compassionate treatment of an offender, adversary, prisoner etc. in one's power; compassion where severity is expected or deserved.]

This request for mercy from the lips of man to God—from our own lips—reminds us of who God is and who we are. Eugene Peterson comments on this psalm and the stance of the person praying:

"The person of faith looks up to God, not at him or down on him. The servant assumes a certain posture, a stance. If he or she fails to take that posture, attentive responsiveness to the master's commands will be hard" - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 61.

The definition of mercy reminds us of why it is only realistic to take that low, looking-up posture: because we are people who deserve and, except for Jesus and His substitutionary death for us, expect severity.

It's easy to get in the 'ordering God around' mode in our prayers. This little psalm reminds us of who we are and what our realistic posture before God is. And yet, because He is good, this grovelling for mercy is not fear-filled but optimistic. Peterson again:

"In obedience we pray 'Mercy!' instead of 'Give us what we want. We prayer 'Mercy!' and not 'Reward us for our goodness so our neighbors will acknowledge our superiority." We pray "Mercy!" and not "Punish us for our badness so we will feel better.' We pray 'Mercy!' and not 'Be nice to us because we have been such good people.'


We live under the mercy. God does not treat us as alien others, lining us up so that he can evaluate our competence or our usefulness or our worth. He rules, guides, commands, loves us as children whose destinies he carries in his heart" - Peterson, Ibid., p. 64.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this reminder of my realistic position before You. Thank You for Your mercy that looks on me with soft, compassionate eyes, instead of with the condemnation I deserve. Help me to extend Your mercy to others. Amen.

MORE: Kyrie Eleison (As We Come Before You) by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty


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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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