Sunday, December 04, 2016

Treasure hunt

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:161-176

TO CHEW ON: “I rejoice at Your word
As one who finds great treasure.” Psalm 119:162



I love the metaphors the psalmist and other Bible writers use for the Word of God. In our reading today the psalm writer likens it to “treasure.”

So I have just been on a treasure hunt, looking for Bible passages that speak of treasure and how it relates to the Christian life.

Where is this treasure?


When you hear the word “treasure,” does the image of treasure maps come to mind, and mines deep in the earth from which miners hack out gold, diamonds and other precious stones? That’s what I think of.

Isaiah references treasure in that way. Speaking as the voice of God to HIs chosen servant Cyrus, Isaiah says:
“I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden riches of secret places” - Isaiah 45:3.

Jesus too implies the hiddenness and value of treasure when He talks about the Kingdom of Heaven:
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field’” - Matthew 13:44.

In several places Bible writers refer to those deep things at the center of our being—our hearts—as treasure, and it’s not always good. Jesus again:
'A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things'” - Matthew 12:35.

Another aspect of this inner treasure is its use as a description of the impact and value of our lives. Jesus warns about the futility of living life consumed with storing up treasure on the physical plane and concludes:
 “...‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” - Matthew 6:19-21.

To the Rich Young Ruler, who had supposedly done everything else, Jesus said:
‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven and come, follow Me’” - Matthew 19:21.

What is this treasure?


Our focus verse (Psalm 119:162) equates it with God’s communication (word) to us. That certainly includes the Bible.

Solomon pairs it with wisdom:
“There is desirable treasure
And oil in the dwelling of the wise” - Proverbs 21:20.

Isaiah says “The fear of the Lord is His treasure” - Isaiah 33:6. 

Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven in terms of treasure. In one parable he likens the kingdom to a valuable pearl:
'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it'" Matthew 13:45,46.

Paul writing to the Colossians speaks of this treasure as Jesus:
“… of Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” - Colossians 2:3.

A lovely sidebar to this is the wise men who acknowledged this treasure with their gifts to the baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh - Matthew 2:11.

Paul speaks of this treasure as something we believers can possess:
“But we have this treasure (Christ—“…the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” - 2 Corinthians 4:6) in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” - 2 Corinthians 4;7.

So let’s live consistent with our wealth today, in deed and word. In Jesus’ words:
‘Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old” - Matthew 13:52.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for the treasure of Your word, and of Jesus whose Spirit lives in me through the Holy Spirit. Help me to live consistent with the knowledge and in the power of this wealth today. Amen.

MORE: Second Sunday in Advent
On this second Sunday of Advent, churches may celebrate in various ways. Some may light the second candle representing JOY. Others may pay special attention to the players in the incarnation story, like the prophets, angels, shepherds and magi. The prophets appear to be the focus of the collect part of the liturgy for this day:

"Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for 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.


Saturday, December 03, 2016

Headlights for life

Headlights on a dark road.
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:105-120

TO CHEW ON:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105


Yesterday we focused on preparing the way of the Lord and straightening those desert highways—doing heart roadwork. Today we explore another aspect of traveling life’s road.

All of us who have driven in darkness know how important good headlights are. Here God’s word is pictured as the headlights for making our way through life—both low and high beam:

“… verse 105 shows us how God’s Word lights the way, giving direction for each step (“to my feet”) and for long-range plans (“to my path”) - Jack Hayford, “God’s Word in Practical Fruitful Living,” New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 783.

Some Bible passages that focus on more ways God’s word is light for life’s path:

  • It gives understanding (“enlightens the eyes”) - Psalm 19:8
“The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes” - MSG.

  • The introduction of God’s word into a situation leads to clarity and  grasping meaning (seeing below the surface) even for the “simple” - Psalm 119:130.
“Break own you words, let the light shine out
let ordinary people see the meaning” - MSG.

  • God’s laws, rules, and reproofs help us understand how life works and works best - Proverbs 6:23.
“For sound advice is a beacon,
good teaching is a light,
moral discipline is a life path” - MSG.

  • Finally, prophetic passages in the Bible are the light of hope for the future - 2 Peter 1:19.
“And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”

I can apply this to our lives no better than Hayford does in the concluding words of his article: 
 “Let God’s Word guide, correct, instruct, lead, teach, and confirm (and I would add, give hope)” - Ibid.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, help me to not only read and study Your word but drive through life by its light. 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)



Friday, December 02, 2016

PREPARE

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 40:1-20

TO CHEW ON: “Prepare the way of the LORD
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God” - Isaiah 40:3


How do we “prepare the way of the LORD” during this busy season?

If we want Christmas to be more than just a time of family and cultural celebration, we may find it necessary to ask ourselves if any spiritual road maintenance needs to happen in our lives.

My Thompson Chain Bible has a category called “Readiness precedes blessings.” I’ve distilled thoughts from some of those verses in an acrostic poem. Maybe you will find some things in it to help you “prepare the way of the Lord / Make a straight … a highway for our God.”

PREPARE

Provide a path for God
Rend your hearts, repent, return, reconcile
Envision with obedience-washed eyes
Prepare trenches for God’s blessing
Allow yourself to sit; allow the dead to rise
Reap the crop of God’s righteous rain
Enter—washed, white, every bit prepared

(Verses on which these are based [slash indicates line break]: Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3 / Joel 2:12-13; Matthew 5:24 / John 9:7 / 2 Kings 3:16-17 / Matthew 9:14-17; John 11:39 / Hebrews 10:12 / Revelation 7:13-14.)

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to prepare my heart for this beautiful season of remembering and celebrating Your incarnation.

MORE: Laurel’s story

My friend Laurel and her husband have two children with autism spectrum disorder. Listen to her story of how Christmas was ripped away, and then returned to her as she learned a new way to celebrate the season.



Laurel Archer | Advent from Christian Life Assembly on Vimeo.


Laurel and some of her friends write an Advent blog each year. It’s updated regularly throughout Advent at Four Parts Hope.

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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, December 01, 2016

Jesus the winnower



TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 3:1-12

TO CHEW ON: “‘His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse out His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’” Matthew 3:12


As we enter the month where we celebrate Jesus’ birth, John the Baptist’s cry alerts us to the fact that Jesus came not just as a baby, meek and mild. The actions John describes Him doing (for we come to see that John here refers to Jesus) are “winnowing”—a harvest activity that separates the valuable (grain) from the worthless (chaff).

[Winnow: blow a current of air through grain to remove the chaff; remove chaff from grain; remove (people or things) from a group until only the best ones are left; find or identify (a valuable or useful part of something).]

Winnowing was the action Jeremiah described God performing on Judah as a result of King Manasseh’s sin:

“And I will winnow them with a winnowing fan in the gates of the land;
I will bereave them of children;
I will destroy My people,
Since they do not return from their ways” - Jeremiah 15:7.

Isaiah predicted Israel would be God’s tool to thresh and winnow the nations:
“Behold I will make you into a new threshing sledge with sharp teeth; …
You shall winnow then, the wind shall carry them away” - Isaiah 41:15,16.

Malachi speaks of a day of when, after the winnowing is done,  the extraneous parts of the harvest (stubble) will be burned in judgement;
“For behold the day is coming,
Burning like an oven,
But all the proud, yes all who do wickedly shall be stubble.
And the day which is coming shall burn them up …
But to you who fear My name
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise
With healing in His wings…” Malachi 4:1,2.

So let’s remind ourselves—as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth—of John the Baptist’s image of Jesus the winnower (predicted in the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament hundreds of years earlier). Yes, Jesus came as a vulnerable, innocent, soft and cuddly baby but it was to fulfill a mission that was going to disrupt life and even prove deadly.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for coming as a baby to winnow out good from evil. 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.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Six words we should stop saying

"Christ Feeding the Multitude" by Gustave Doré
"Christ Feeding the Multitude" by Gustave Doré

TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 6:1-15

 TO CHEW ON: “‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?’” John 6;9

Philip added to his answer about how much food they had, his opinion of their supply: “What are they among so many?” This is not an unfamiliar sentiment to us when we compare what we have with the need. So it’s reassuring to remind ourselves that Jesus’ feeding of the crowd here is not the only time in the Bible God came to the aid of the desperately needy.
  • The psalmist claims God’s help for mental need: “The LORD preserves the simple; I was brought low and the HE saved me” - Psalm 116:6.
  • Jesus healed a recalcitrant medical condition where a woman, after 12 years of hemorrhaging, had exhausted medical help - Mark 5:25-29.
  • Those in storms received God’s help. Jesus came to the disciples when He saw them “straining at rowing for the wind was against them” - Mark 6:48. And a whole boatload was saved through the prayers of Paul - Acts 27:14-42.
  • Jesus came to the aid of a desperate father by casting out a spirit that had oppressed his son since birth - Mark 9:17-29.
  • An angel came to the aid of Peter shackled in prison - Acts 12:5-10.

Let these stories remind us that God is never limited by our lack. So whatever our need and however puny the resources at hand, let’s forever stop the faith-destroying words “What are they among so many?” from crossing our lips.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, thank You that You are never limited by my meager resources. Help me to look to You, not myself and what’s around me, when I’m in need. 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.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Spirit we want

Tree of Jesse - Artist unknown
Tree of Jesse - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 11:1-10

TO CHEW ON:
"The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord." Isaiah 11:2



The rich Spirit of the Lord—that Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge "and of the reverential and obedient fear of the Lord" (AMP) rests on the Jesse branch (Isaiah 11:1). That would be a descendant of David, who was a son of Jesse. We understand this prophecy to be of Jesus.

As we read this list, His early wisdom comes to mind:
"And the Child grew and become strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him" - Luke 2:40.

When His ministry commenced, we recall the visible descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at His baptism - Matthew 3:16.

Throughout Jesus' life, Godly qualities were lived out in Him. My Thompson Chain Bible has a longer (than the Isaiah 11) list of qualities that typified the Spirit of Christ:
  • Divine - Isaiah 11:2
  • Wise - Isaiah 11:2
  • Just and Fearless - Isaiah 11:4.
  • Faithful - Isaiah 11:5.
  • Tender - Isaiah 40:11
  • Quiet - Isaiah 42:2
  • Gentle - Isaiah 42:3
  • Persevering - Isaiah 42:4
  • Liberating - Isaiah 61:1
  • Saving - Isaiah 63:1
  • Compassionate - Matthew 9:36
  • Meek and lowly - Matthew 11:29
  • Longsuffering - Luke 9:55-56
  • Forgiving - Luke 23:34
  • Zealous - Acts 10:38
  • Loving - Ephesians 5:2

The exciting thing is that when we become His children, He gives us the same Spirit: "The Spirit of truth … He dwells with you and will be in you" - John 14:7.

His Spirit is life-giving - Romans 8:11.

He guides and leads us - Romans 8:14.

He opens up truth to us and gives insights into the future - John 16:13.

His Spirit gives wisdom (what is needed to enact all the other qualities) that is not only theoretical but also practical. I love how my Bible's notes on wisdom includes this sum-up:
"Biblical wisdom unites God, the Source of all understanding, with daily life, where the principles of right living are put into practice" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 888.

And so we are brought back to earth with convicting passages like this one from James that describes what Jesus' heavenly wisdom does not and does look like:
"But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above but is earthly, sensual, demonic …. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" - see all of James 3:13-18.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize worldly versus the heavenly wisdom of the Spirit of Jesus. Quicken my will toward instant obedience of Your Spirit's voice. 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)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Making plans

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 15:1-33

TO CHEW ON: "...and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain I shall come to you." Romans 15:23,24


When Paul wrote Romans he had not yet met the Christians there. In his letter he introduces himself to them in anticipation of seeing them — and it sounds like he hopes it is soon.

Our reading today is full of his plans. He wants to go eventually to Spain and his visit of Rome will be on the way. Presently he is anticipating a trip to Jerusalem (from Corinth where scholars believe Romans was written). In the meantime, he asks them to help Phoebe a businesswomen from Cenchrea, and to give his greetings to fellow tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila.

It is a normal and good thing for us to make plans. They help us look toward to the future with expectation and optimism, and to tailor the present with realism. For example, our plan to buy a car next year will give us the discipline to live frugally this year so that we can save the needed money for our purchase.

Did Paul eventually get to Rome? Yes he did, but hardly in the way he anticipated. For his trip to Jerusalem ended in arrest and imprisonment. And though God affirmed to Paul in a dream that he would someday realize his goal of visiting Rome (Acts 23:11) it wasn't for a while.

To prevent the Jews from lynching him, his Roman captors soon transferred him to Caesarea. There he was held in prison for two years and when it looked like Felix's successor was going to hand him over to the Jews again — which would mean certain death — Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 23-25). This meant traveling to Rome.

However, even the last leg of his journey wasn't straightforward. On his voyage from Caesarea to Rome, his ship met with a deadly storm at sea that saw him and his shipmates washed up on the island of Malta for the winter. Only in spring could they continue toward their destination.

So Paul eventually got to Rome, only several years later as a prisoner. And though the Acts history ends with him still in Rome, tradition would support a later trip to Spain before he was martyred by Nero in 67 A.D.

So though it may be normal, and healthy to make plans (and in fact for the Christian these plans may be divinely inspired and initiated — as it seems Paul's desire to visit Rome was) let's not be surprised when God modifies them, adding all manner of twists, turns, and adventures.

Two Bible passages come to mind.

"We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps" - Proverbs 16:9, NLT.
"Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”  How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that” - James 4:13-15, NLT

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your plan for my life. Help me to live in sync with your purposes, to catch Your vision, and to make plans according to Your promptings. Then help me to hang onto them loosely, allowing You to craft my circumstances in their fulfillment. 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.

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.


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