Monday, February 27, 2017

Fasting

Jesus heals the epileptic boy by Harold Copping

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 17:14-27

TO CHEW ON: " ' However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.' " Matthew 17:21

How grieved the disciples must have been when Jesus called them a " 'faithless and perverse generation,' " though He did soften His scold a bit when He gave them an excuse for not being successful with the exorcism: "' However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.' "

This passage gives us some hints about what it takes to have real spiritual power:
Belief, which can be mustard-seed-small, but even in its smallness is genuine and persistent.

Prayer.

Fasting.

Of these three, fasting is the most mysterious to us. It is a spiritual practice we see a lot of in the Bible though.

  • Moses fasted for the 40 days he was with God on Mt. Sinai. It's as if that was a given—such concentrated time in the presence of the LORD Himself was all the food and drink he needed - Exodus 34:28.
  • Fasting was how people showed their respect for and grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan. Similarly David fasted over the death of General Abner - 2 Samuel 1:12; 3:35; 1 Chronicles 10:12.
  • King David fasted when his and Bathsheba's first baby was deathly ill (though his fast didn't save the baby's life) - 2 Samuel 12:16.
  • The Israelites fasted in repentance as they returned to God after a season of idolatry - 1 Samuel 7:6. They did this again in Nehemiah's time - Nehemiah 9:1.
  • Ahab put on sackcloth and fasted after hearing Elijah's prophecy of calamity about to come on him and his descendants. As a result of him humbling himself like this, God sent Elijah back to tell him these curses would not come on him during his (Ahab's) lifetime - 1 Kings 21:27-29.
  • Ezra fasted for the guilty people - Ezra 10:6.
  • Esther, her personal servants, and all the Jews in Sushan fasted and prayed for favour before she went in to request an audience with the king - Esther 4:15,16.
  • Saul fasted after he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road - Acts 9:9.
  • Cornelius, a Gentile, was in a time of fasting and prayer when an angel appeared to him with instructions to fetch Peter. As a result, Cornelius and his household were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit - Acts 10:30.
  • The early church leaders fasted and prayed when seeking direction for their leaders - Acts 13:2,3; 14:23.
  • We read of Jesus fasting only once for the forty days of his temptation in the wilderness - Luke 4:1,2.  But it seems He assumed fasting would be part of a person's spiritual practice, for He said to His disciples: " 'But you when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face…' " - Matthew 6:17 (emphasis added). And here He explained His power over the tormenting spirit by implying that He had prepared for this encounter beforehand by fasting.

The experience of Bible characters paints a compelling case for the practice of fasting, not to get our way but to demonstrate our sincerity before God and to position ourselves intentionally in the powerful realm of His will and purposes.

PRAYER: Dear God, You know how hard I find fasting. Help me to grow in this spiritual discipline. 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.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Shining transformation

The Transfiguration - Artist unknown
The Transfiguration - Artist unknown
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 7:1-13

TO CHEW ON:
“And He was transfigured before them, His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” Matthew 17:2


During His time on earth Jesus occasionally gave His disciples glimpses of heavenly reality. His transfiguration was one of those times.

It started as another simple mountain getaway for Jesus, Peter, James, and John. The Luke account tells us this incident began unspectacularly enough with Jesus praying. But then--wow! “As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered and His robe became white and glistening” Luke 9:29. And Old Testament characters appeared and talked with Him.

“The appearance of Moses and Elijah would have confirmed Jesus’ Messianic identity to the inner circle of disciples. The entire scene was reminiscent of Mount Sinai: the cloud, the light, and the presence of God’s voice - Exodus 19:16-19” - NIV First Century Study Bible.

Indeed! And in that Sinai period, we find more details that resonate here.
- Remember the leadership retreat we read about several day ago, where God showed up in glory - Exodus 24:10,17.
- Then later, Moses’ face shone when he came down from communing with God on the mountain - Exodus 34:30-35.

During Jesus’ lifetime we have this display of glory here at His transfiguration and again at His resurrection - Matthew 28:3.

I love how Paul pulls these threads together to make an application for our lives as Christians. In 2 Corinthians 3, referring to the glory on display at the giving of the law (which he calls “the ministry of death”) Paul argues that the ministry of the Spirit is much more glorious - 2 Corinthians 3:7,8. He ends his treatise on Christ’s glory and how it exceeds the glory of the law with an inspiring declaration:

But we all with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” - 2 Corinthians 3:18 (emphasis added).

May we cooperate with the Spirit to effect such heavenly transformation in us!

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for these glimpses of Your glory in the Bible, May Your indwelling Spirit transform me so that I reflect Your shining presence. 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, February 25, 2017

Live (and die) with abundance

Clouds against the sky and distant earth below
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Peter 1:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "… for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:11

The Bible is full of promises of abundance:

[Abundance: 1) a plentiful or overflowing supply; great number or quantity. 2) Fullness. 3) Wealth, affluence - Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary.]

  • Jesus came to give us abundant life - John 10:10.
  • God gives us abundant grace - 2 Corinthians 9:8.
  • God works in and through us with abundant power - Ephesians 3:20.
  • He will supply our needs from His riches - Philippians 4:19.
  • We have an abundant entrance into His kingdom - 2 Peter 1:11—our focus verse.

But notice, in our verse, the little hinge words "for so." They tell us that this abundant entrance has some conditions. This promise follows Peter's instructions to his readers of what they are to do—and do with some energy, "giving all diligence" - 2 Peter 1:5.

They are to add these qualities or attitudes to their lives:
faith
virtue (value, moral excellence and goodness)
knowledge
self-control
perseverance
godliness
brotherly kindness
love

"… if these things are yours and abound" (notice another relative of abundance here), Peter promises his readers will be fruitful, far-sighted (not "short-sighted"), "making their call and election sure" (we might say their lifestyle ties the bow on the fact that God has chosen / elected them for salvation), and walking sure-footed (they will "never stumble") into their eternal home ("the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.")

I love how Peter challenges his readers—of long ago and us today—to not just live as close to the line of the old life as possible, but to live for abundance, giving themselves with energy to pleasing God so they not only live well but also die well. Such teaching is never out of date.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your promise of abundance in many categories. Help me to diligently add faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to my life so that I too will have an abundant entrance into my eternal home. Amen.

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

Bible Drive-Thru


Friday, February 24, 2017

The last laugh

Lucifer cast out of heaven
by Gustave Doré

Lucifer cast out of heaven - Gustave Doré
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 2:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision." Psalm 2:4


Here God appears contemptuous, laughing at the nations who unite to throw off His constraints. What other times in the Bible does God laugh in such a way? What actions and attitudes evoke His contempt? 

The worship of idols:  
  •  Moses tells the Israelites that God will spurn them if/ when they forsake Him to follow other gods - Deuteronomy 32:19.

Plots against the righteous:
  • God laughs at the wicked person who plots against the righteous one - Psalm 37:13.
  • In another place he psalm-writer Asaph, writing as someone puzzled by the sufferings of the righteous at the hands of ungodly people, depicts God as waking up to defend the righteous - Psalm 73:20.

God-defiant nations:
  • David asks God to vindicate Himself before all the God-scorning nations - Psalm 59:8. 
  • Isaiah tells of Hezekiah receiving a threatening letter from the Assyrian king Sennarcherib. He spreads that letter before God and prays for help. Shortly after, Isaiah gets a message from God for Hezekiah concerning Sennacherib and addressing him that says, in part: "The virgin daughter of Zion has despised you, laughed you to scorn. The daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head behind your back" - Isaiah 37:22.

Pride:
  • Wisdom laughs at the calamity of the ones who disdain her counsel - Proverbs 1:26.
  • God scorns the scornful but gives grace to the humble - Proverbs 3:34.

If there is any thread that weaves through all these instances it is how our unrealistic human arrogance evokes God's scorn, derision, contempt and laughter.

Sadly, the attitude that challenges God and His power is more rampant today than ever. Let's be aware of it and careful not to get infected, for God will always have the last laugh.

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live in the reality that acknowledges You and Your sovereignty over people and over me. When, in the face of circumstances, others challenge You—Your existence and Your power— help me to remember that the story hasn't ended yet. Amen.

MORE: Handel's Messiah Alert

Handel dipped into Psalm 2 often when writing the Messiah.

The recitative "Unto which of the angels said He at any time (Psalm 2:7) prefaces the chorus "Let all the angels."


"Let us break their bonds asunder" (Psalm 2:3)


"He that dwelleth in heaven" (Psalm 2:4) and "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron" (Psalm 2:9)  end with the Hallelujah Chorus.

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

Bible Drive-Thru


Thursday, February 23, 2017

A daily choice

Sapphire
Sapphire - Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 24:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.” Exodus 24:9,10

Yesterday we saw that God’s Kingdom is not only talk but also action. It comes in power—signs, wonders, and miracles - 1 Corinthians 4:20.

In Exodus 24 we have an example of one such supernatural phenomenon. Moses, Aaron, his sons Nadab and Abihu, and the 70 elders Moses had appointed to help him, went up Mount Sinai for a leadership retreat.

What happened there no doubt blew their minds. They saw God in a setting so beautiful it practically defied describing, though Moses tried: “And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity” - Exodus 24:10. That day they ate and drank together with their heavenly Host. In recounting this, Moses seemed incredulous that they had survived - Exodus 24:11.

We would think that such an experience would change these men forever—that they would be staunchly loyal to Yahweh and would never give Moses another moment of trouble. But that’s not what happened.

At the institution of Tabernacle worship, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were careless about God’s instructions, “offered profane fire,” and died as a result - Leviticus 10:1,2.

The elders were swayed, along with the rest of the congregation, by the discouraging report of the ten spies who insisted they could never take Canaan (Numbers 13:27-14:30). They may well have been among the 250 leaders who joined Korah, Dathan, and Abiram’s rebellion and met their demise then - Numbers 16:1,2,35.

All that to say, the sight of God’s gory, the witnessing of signs and wonders is not a guarantee either that people will stay loyal to God.

Contrast their falling away with Joshua, one of the faith-filled spies who became Israel’s leader after Moses died. He stayed the course. At the end of his life, he left Israel with a challenge that we today can still rise to: Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” - Joshua 24:15 (emphasis added).

Though he spoke to them on a particular day of decision, “this day” is always our day of decision. May we choose God each day of our lives!

PRAYER:
Dear Father, help my faith in You to stay strong whether I “see” You or whether I don’t. 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, February 22, 2017

The argument of power

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

TO CHEW ON: “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” 1 Corinthians 4:20

Does it seem to you that some folks are impervious to the gospel? No argument, no matter how logical or compelling, convinces them of the existence of God and His evaluation of and remedy for mankind.

If I’m understanding Paul correctly here, he is saying there is a way to conquer even such refusal to believe. It’s not with words, though, but with the power of God.

The Bible speaks often about the power of God. The references below are a few places. They give us an idea of the areas and ways God’s power has shown up in the past and may again.

1. Israel’s Chronicles historian told how historical figures, here David and a “man of God,” understood the rise and fall of nations to be due to God’s help or withdrawal of help - 1 Chronicles 29:12; 2 Chronicles 25:8.

2. The Spirit of the Lord gave the prophets the courage and power to rebuke sin - Micah 3:8.

3. Jesus’ life was characterized by the power of the Spirit - Luke 3:22; 4:14,15. The gospels are full of accounts of His teachings and miracles that repeatedly overcame unbelief.

4. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit descended on the disciples with physical sounds, sights, and manifestations - Acts 2:2-4.

5. That spiritual power was on display in the lives of the disciples, in their witnessing power, favour, miracles, and eventually, opposition - Acts 4:33; 6:7-15.

6. Paul prayed in his letter to the Ephesians that the power of God’s Spirit would strengthen his readers in the inner person - Ephesians 3:16.

7. Paul encouraged Timothy to use his spiritual gift to conquer fear and live in power, love, and a sound mind - 2 Timothy 1:17.

Does God still show up today in supernatural power, miracles, signs, and wonders? I believe He does. One example is in the dreams and visions of Jesus that many Muslims who come to faith tell about.

I am praying for the kingdom to come in supernatural power to some folks I know, who remain unmoved by words.  

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, may Your power flow in and through us as a means to convince a skeptical world of the kingdom of God and win them into 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.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Carless in the care of God"

Field crocuses - © V. Nesdoly
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 6:16-34

TO CHEW ON:
“'Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own trouble. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.'” Matthew 6:34

I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly familiar with “worry” that activity defined as: tormenting oneself with or suffering from disturbing thoughts; tormenting with cares, anxieties, etc.

Our passage lists common worry subjects: what to eat, drink, wear. As someone who lives in affluent Canada, I don’t worry much about those things. When our basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter are met, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs illustrates where our worries typically go next—to  security and safety, then belonging and love, then esteem, and finally self-actualization and achieving our full potential.

Whatever level our worries are focused on, Jesus tells us here to STOP worrying. I love how the Message rendering of these Matthew 6 verses directs our focus off our worries and onto Someone else.  I’ve bolded the phrases and words that show us where to look instead.

25-26 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds….

30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes" - Matthew 6:25-26; 33-34 MSG.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to focus on You, Your reality and goodness shown every day in Your provision and care on every level. I want to live carefree in Your care. 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 MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.


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