Saturday, August 29, 2015

A vixen in the palace

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 6:14-29

TO CHEW ON: "Because John had said to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not." Mark 6:18,19

Herodias was a female force to be reckoned with in Herod's palace. Our reading today paints a picture of her as:
  • a seducable woman. She let herself fall for Herod even though she was married to his brother Philip.
  • an influential woman.  She instigated Herod's arrest of John. Later her daughter came running to her for advice about what to ask for after Herod promised the girl anything following her dance routine.
  • a bitter, revengeful woman who held against John the fact that he had denounced her illicit union with Herod.
  • an opportunistic woman, who recognized and seized the chance to get back at John.
  • a ruthless woman who demanded John's death by beheading.

Guess what—I've seen many of these evil qualities in myself. Oh, I haven't acted on them to the extent Herodias did, but have, to my shame, known myself to hang onto bitterness, imagine revenge scenarios. I have seized opportunities to get back at a person and slipped in snide asides to sway my husband and kids...

I would submit tha there may be a little of Herodias in most of us.

An attitude that is impervious to sensuous flattery, forgives wrongs, leaves revenge in God's hands, and responds with humility to criticism (deserved or not) does not come naturally to me or most of us. The Herodias in us is someone only God can change.

"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them." - Ezekiel 36:25-27

See also 2 Corinthians 5:17 and 1 John 1:7-9

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put to death (i.e. crucify - Galatians 2:20) the life of carnal emotion and response that rises naturally within me. Amen.

MORE: Wisdom about women and wives

From Solomon (who had his share of experience):

"Like a gold ring in a pig's snout
is a beautiful women who shows no discretion." - Proverbs 11:22 NIV

"A wife of noble character is her husband's crown,
but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones." - Proverbs 12:4 NIV

"Houses and wealth are inherited from parents
but a prudent wife is from the Lord." - Proverbs 19:14 NIV

"A quarrelsome wife is like
a constant dripping on a rainy day'
restringing her is like restraining the wind
or grasping oil with the hand." - Proverbs 27:15,16 NIV


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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.


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Friday, August 28, 2015

Are you a loyal bride?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 45:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Listen, O daughter,
Consider and incline your ear;
Forget your own people also, and your father's house;
So the King will greatly desire your beauty;
Because He is your Lord, worship Him." Psalm 45:10-11

This psalm is subtitled "The Glories of the Messiah and His Bride" in my Bible. The picturesque images of a middle-eastern marriage ceremony with a king welcoming his new bride grow heavy with meaning as we think of them in terms of the spiritual wedding of Christ and His bride. Of course we recognize this as a theme that flows through the Bible.

One aspect of this theme is the couple leaving their childhood homes and establishing a new home together. It's a principle as old as creation: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh" - Genesis 2:24.

Of all the expressions in the Bible, Ruth's declaration of loyalty to her mother-in-law (even after her husband was dead) is the most poignant. Not surprisingly it is often used in wedding ceremonies:  
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God - Ruth 1:16,17.

My Bible's commenter explains how the instructions for a bride to leave her old home apply to Christians in the church age: "The bride of a king was often from another nation, and so she had to break with her own culture to marry, just as Christians now must forsake marriage to worldly things in order to be part of the bride of Christ" - Dick Iverson, notes on Psalms, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 723 (emphasis added).

And so we do well to ask ourselves, are we living totally and unreservedly in the home of our husband the Lord Jesus? Or do we still hang on to bits and pieces of our worldly homes from the past?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am so honored to be part of Your Bride. Help me to be faithful bride who incites Your desire because my loyalty is all to You. Amen.

MORE: Spiritual adultery

We recall how many of the prophets speak of Israel's backsliding and worshiping idols in terms of marital unfaithfulness--adultery. The prophet Hosea was even commanded to marry a harlot (Gomer) and when she left to go after other men, he had to repeatedly bring her back home. This was a picture to Israel of how God pursued them.

Andrew Peterson's powerful song "Hosea" pictures Gomer's waywardness and her final response to Hosea persistently coming after her (just as God pursues us).


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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, August 27, 2015

The locked garden

My "garden enclosed" at our former home.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 3:6-5:1

TO CHEW ON:
"A garden enclosed (locked or barred)
Is my sister, my spouse
A spring shut up
A fountain sealed." Song of Solomon 4:12


The garden is another theme Solomon picks up in this love poem.

Gardens are woven throughout the Bible. Mostly they are places you want to be—peaceful, refreshing, nourishing, their fruitfulness symbolic of the Creator's favour.

Some Bible gardens are:

The garden home
Man's first home was a garden - Genesis 2:8.

The contentious garden
Lust for Naboth's garden had Ahab and Jezebel eventually murdering its owner so they could have it - 1 Kings 21:2

The status garden
King Solomon was a great planter of showy gardens - Ecclesiastes 2:4

The soothing garden
King Xerxes went to his garden to cool his temper after discovering Haman's treachery - Esther 7:7.

The fruitful garden
God's promises to Israel were often made in terms of the garden. He promised to turn their desert back into a garden - Isaiah 51:3. He told those who pursued Him with fasting and passion "You shall be like a watered garden..." Isaiah 58:11. And through  Jeremiah He promised that the remnant that returned from exile would be like a "well watered garden" - Jeremiah 31:12.

The garden of betrayal
Jesus and His disciples went to a garden (Gethsemane) after their Passover meal together. This is where Judas, His betrayer, found Him - John 18:1.

And our focus verse alerts us to another type of garden. It is

The exclusive garden
We notice, perhaps curiously, that the garden in our focus verse is enclosed, locked or barred. Why is that?

The writer of my Bible's notes explains "She (the Shulamite) is not a garden enclosed locking him out, but a private protected garden for royal use into which she invites her beloved to enter. The Shulamite, along with all her choice products is now his" — Donald Pickerill, notes on Song of Solomon, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 864.

This exclusivity speaks to us on two levels. It is essential for marriage. It is also true of us in our relationship with God, our spiritual husband.

Want to wreck your life's garden? A guaranteed way is to fool around on your spouse, or cheat on God.

PRAYER:
Dear God, these garden pictures hold so much attraction. Help me to protect the garden of my marriage and the garden of my relationship to You with complete fidelity. Amen.

MORE: Gardening books

Throughout my life I have enjoyed gardening. My bookshelf has a healthy section of gardening books. Some favorites are a series by a British writer, Dr. D. G.Hessayon (The Complete Garden Expert and The Flowering Shrub Expert). These books have been especially useful to me because the climate in Britain is similar to the climate where I live.

Another beautiful gardening book is Almost Eden written by fellow Canadian Kim Burgsma. I almost owned it a few Christmases ago, but ended giving away the copy I meant to keep. The book is full of gorgeous photos, information, and thoughtful reflection about gardens. Here's a bit about the book from Kim's website:

"Almost Eden captures the absolute wonder of the earth and teaches us how we can create a little bit of this wonder in our own backyards. Readers will discover how their gardens can be in tune with God’s original plan of earthly stewardship and be creative and well designed.

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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, August 26, 2015

Little foxes

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 2:8-3:5

TO CHEW ON: "Catch us the foxes
The little foxes that spoil the vines
For our vines have tender grapes." Song of Solomon 2:15

Our reading today is a sample of one of the richest love poems in literature, and the only such writing in the Bible. It is first and foremost a celebration of love between a man and a woman. As such it has a happy lighthearted playfulness that is contagious. It is also sensuous with the colour of flowers, the sound of the dove and of singing, and fragrant with new growth on the vines. However, as is often the case with romantic love, there is also trouble. "Little foxes that spoil the vines."

In marital love it's not hard to imagine what some of those little foxes could be: disagreements over money, a critical spirit toward one's mate that comes out in words and actions that undermine, disunity over how to bring up the children, coldness and lack of receptiveness toward each other...

An introductory paragraph about the Song of Solomon in my Bible comments on how to read this book as a sort of marriage manual:

"The Song is a constant goad to drifting marriages with its challenge to seek for openness, growth, and joyous relationship. It also makes an excellent premarital manual. As biblical archetype it can bring healing to the core of our being with its hope of covenant love as it reshapes our marriages..." - Donald Pickerill,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 860.

But the Song of Solomon can also be interpreted as an allegory of Christ and the church. Carrying on with the introductory paragraph above.

"Its portrayal of the covenant relationship also has application to the covenant love relationship enjoyed by God's church. In this regard, the Song can be rich in symbolism but should not be read as an arbitrary allegory with mysterious meanings supplied by the whim of the reader; rather any such personal application of one's love relationship with Christ should be interpreted with solid application, using obvious biblical parallels" - Ibid.

Keeping that last warning to not stretch comparisons in mind, I think it's safe to say that little foxes, seemingly small issues, can also attack our relationship with God. A footnote in my Bible names a few of these: unbelief, resistance, hardness of heart. "Hardness of heart is the great enemy of love, since everything depends on receptivity and openness - Read Numbers 13 and 14)" Op. Cit p. 863.

Let's examine our lives for "little foxes." In our marriages what are the little annoyances that threaten our relationships? As believers in the body of Christ, the church (the Bride of Christ) are we guilty of unbelief, resistance, hardness of heart toward Jesus, our spiritual bridegroom?


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be aware of the little issues that so sneakily spoil my relationship with my husband, and the tolerated sin that compromises my relationship with You.

MORE: Just a little...

  • laziness leads to poverty (Proverbs 6:10-11).
  • foolishness leads to a wrecked reputation (Ecclesiastes 10:1).
  • tolerated sin leads to its exponential growth in one's life and in the church (1 Corinthians 5:6).
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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, August 25, 2015

Seeds of Jesus in the Song of Songs

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 1:1-2:7

TO CHEW ON:
"He brought me to the banqueting house
And His banner over me was love." - Song of Solomon 2:4

"The Song is the best of all songs, a literary work of art and a theological masterpiece," says Donald Pickerill, writer of my Bible's introduction to Song of Solomon. He goes on, "The song itself is like its favourite fruit, pomegranates, alive with color and full of seeds" - Introduction to the Song of Solomon, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 859.

I love the idea of this book being full of seeds. Let's find a few of those seeds—the objects and images which appear here and reappear throughout Scriptures, most within the life of Jesus—in today's reading.

Love  (Song of Solomon 1:2, 4, 7, 9):
- John's words describe the extent to which Jesus loved His disciples: "He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end" - John 13:1. Then John describes Jesus washing the disciples' feet.
- Of course we can't think of love and leave out Paul's great description of love in 1 Corinthians 13.

Fragrance (Song of Solomon 1:3):
Paul talks about our lives, fragrant with the likeness of Christ in 2 Corinthians 2:14:
"Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse" - MSG.

Spikenard (Song of Solomon 1:12):
- Mary anointed Jesus with Spikenard - John 12:3

Myrrh (Song of Solomon 1:13):
- The wise men brought myrrh as a gift to the baby Jesus - Matthew 2:11

King (Song of Solomon 1:4, 12):
- Jesus prayed "Your kingdom come" - Matthew 6:9,10
- He talked about His kingdom that was not of this world - John 18:36

Vineyard (Song of Solomon 6:14):
- Jesus said of Himself, "I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant" - John 15:5 (MSG).

Flock (Song of Solomon 1:7,8):
- Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10: " I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd risks and lays down His [own] life for the sheep" - John 10:11 (AMP)

Dove (Song of Solomon 1:15):
- The Spirit of God in the form of a dove descended on Jesus at His baptism. It's recorded in Matthew 3:16.

Fruit (Song of Solomon 2:3):
- Jesus spoke often of fruit. He spoke of bearing fruit when he spoke of Himself being the vine. He also mentioned fruit in the parable of the sower - Mark 4:20.

Banquet  (Song of Solomon 2:4):
- We recall that Jesus did His first miracle at a wedding banquet - John 2:1-11
- Of course the word banquet conjures up the picture of the greatest banquet yet to be—the Marriage Supper of the Lamb - Revelation 19:9.

In conclusion, here area  few more words from our Song of Solomon Introduction writer:
"In the Song of Solomon, as in other parts of the Bible, the Garden of Eden, the Promised land, the tabernacle with its Ark of the Covenant, the temple of Solomon, the new heavens and the new earth are all related to Jesus Christ ... The very essence of covenant history and covenant love is reproduced in Him (Luke 24:27; 2 Corinthians 1:20).

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for this beautiful love song that speaks in so many ways of Your relationship with the church, and our relationship with You. Help me to be receptive to Your love, and to return it to the best of my ability.  Amen.

MORE: All My Days by Rita Springer

Rita Springer sings her response to our lovely Jesus. Can we sing along?




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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)

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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Monday, August 24, 2015

Heaven's surprising kingdom

Crown of thorns
Crown of thorns - Image from RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 22:24-30

 TO CHEW ON: " 'And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.' " Luke 22:29,30


Jesus talks a lot about His kingdom (also referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God). In His teaching and parables about it, we discover some interesting things.
  • Here we see that it doesn't operate by society's usual rules of prominence. Its prominent ones are those who distinguish themselves, not by their sophistication and worldly wisdom but by their "youngest" qualities. I take that to mean their complete, innocent, and unquestioning faith.
  • They are also willing to serve (Luke 22:26).
  • The kingdom is not fair but unfair in the wonderful way of elevating those who, by the class and status into which they're born, aren't even elevatable. Jesus confers entry into and prominence in the kingdom. It's a gift (Luke 22:29).
In other places Jesus gives more clues about His kingdom:
  • Luke 14:15 describes more unlikely kingdom recruits. It's not who we would expect but the poor, crippled, blind, and lame; all those who respond to the Master's invitation.
  • In Matthew 25:34+, Jesus describes the unusual way its makeup will be determined. He talks of a day "When the Son of Man comes in his glory"  (Matthew 25:31) as a day of sorting when He'll admit those who, unbeknownst to them, passed the kingdom's entry test by their compassion on earth (Matthew 25:35,36).
  • In 2 Timothy 2:12 the kingdom is given to those who "endure."

Though we are probably well familiar with these descriptions of the Kingdom, we do well to ask ourselves, have we internalized them? Does knowing them change our behavior?

Or, despite what we read in the Bible and hear expounded from the pulpit and elsewhere, will we still be surprised when, someday, we see the answer to what we've prayed thousands of times: "Your kingdom come..."?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You've left us with plenty of information about your kingdom—which is already and which we hope to see in its fullness someday. Help me to order my life here on earth by its principles. Amen.

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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted in this meditation 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.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

God's "hornet' help

Hornet
Hornet - Photo from RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Joshua 24:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
" 'I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow.' " Joshua 24:12


Near the end of his life Joshua assembles the whole nation and delivers a farewell speech. In it he builds a persuasive case for why the Israelites should choose to worship God alone.

He reminds them of how God has helped them from the beginning of their history as a nation. He:
- led Abraham and their forefathers - Joshua 24:3.
- grew Abraham's family - Joshua 24:4.
- performed miracles like sending the darkness that shielded them from the Egyptians when they crossed the Red Sea - Joshua 24:7.
- nullified the curses of Balaam - Joshua 24:9.
- intervened on their behalf with other nations - Joshua 24:12.

The ways God used to work on Israel's behalf internationally are interesting. Here we see that God "... sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you" - Joshua 24:12. My Bible's study notes explain: "This term ("the hornet") is used here to describe fear or panic" -Ronald Mehl, notes on Joshua, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 308.

Joshua was reflecting back on the promises God had made to Moses. Exodus 15:14-16 and Exodus 23:27,28 predict that God will intervene on their behalf with other nations.  Exodus 15 tells how the chiefs of Edom will become terrorized and seized with trembling. The populace will be non-resistant: "... the people of Canaan will melt away."

Exodus 23:27,28 introduces the hornet metaphor to describe how God will plant the fear of them in Canaanite nations, throw these peoples into confusion, infect them with cowardice, and drive them out of the land God has deeded to Israel.

Joshua asks these people—who have seen come to pass exactly what God promised as they conquered Canaanite nations—why would they want to worship any other God?

In our day we have no fewer competitors for our worship. We may not be tempted by actual pagan worship (or we may; I have heard a modern theologian say that one of the main belief systems in our postmodern world is paganism). However, the list of idols that draws us away from God is long. They may include:
  • Materialism - causing us to be obsessed with things.
  • Popularity - causing us to compromise beliefs that are politically incorrect.
  • Success - causing us to choose careers that will help us achieve worldly prestige instead of building God's kingdom.
  • Entertainment - causing us to choose the good, relaxing, enjoyable life instead of kingdom work.

What I find particularly encouraging here is how God helped tiny, insignificant, minority Israel became formidable. I believe He is still able to act on behalf of Christians—who are increasingly a minority in today's secular culture—achieving His ends by similarly sowing fear, confusion, non-resistance, and cowardice into enemy ranks.  

PRAYER: Dear God, may Joshua's challenge to serve You alone continue to ignite resolve in my heart to do just that. Amen.

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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted in this meditation 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.



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