Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pour it out, pour it out, pour it out!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Joel 2:18-32

TO CHEW ON: "And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams
Your young men shall see visions
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days." Joel 2:28-29

"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting,"  writes Luke in Acts 2."Then there appeared to them divided tongues as of fire and one sat upon each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" Acts 2:2-4.

Confusion, amazement, perplexity, marvelling, cynicism. These were some of the reactions of the onlooking crowd when they saw that first general outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Peter, though, knew exactly what was happening. He explained: "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel." And then he quoted the prophecy in our focus verse today (Acts 2:17-21).

Joel's prophecy takes an abrupt positive turn in Joel 2:18. After repentance "THEN..." God pities, returns the land to productivity, changes the nation's reputation, "restores the years that the locust has eaten" and promises to "afterward" pour out His spirit in a lavish way.

In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit came on only certain individuals to enable them to do the job God had for them to do. But Joel speaks of a new time when God says, "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh..."

My Bible's footnotes on Joel point us to some of the significances of this event:

"Pour out" signifies great abundance, like deluges of rain on a parched land.

"All flesh" means every human category: gender, age, class. "Whatever Spirit-anointed ministry is available to sons is equally available to daughters" - Jerry Cook, notes on Joel, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1166.

"Menservants and maidservants" are slaves. "This was absolutely unprecedented. In the Old Testament there is not even one instance of a slave functioning as a prophet" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1166.

This lavish Holy Spirit outpouring wasn't a one-time Pentecost event. Peter tells his listeners, "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call" Acts 2:39.

"I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten," prophesies Joel. "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh...whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved..." What welcome words to the beleaguered Hebrews in Joel's time.

And they still have relevance to us today. Whether our locust years are a time of actual physical desolation or prodigal wandering, God can restore those stolen years and then make every day fresh and abundant with the Holy Spirit's presence.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live in the extravagance of  Your Spirit's fullness. Amen.

MORE: "Holy Visitation" by Charlie Hall, sung by Rita Springer

Charlie Hall has put the words of Joel 2 to music in the powerful song "Holy Visitation." Sung here by Rita Springer, it invokes the Spirit's coming... "Pour it out, pour it out, pour it out / Over Your sons and Your daughters..."

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Maintaining the highways to Zion

Difficulty Hill - illustration from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress
Illustration from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 84:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed—happy, fortunate, to be envied—is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion." Psalm 84:5 AMP

The writer of this psalm draws our attention to the delights of the House of God. For him it's a literal place, a building, the temple in Jerusalem.

He speaks in picturesque language of his envy of the sparrows that nest near the altar. He glosses over the difficulties of the journey to Jerusalem, telling how even the Valley of Baca* becomes a place of springs because of anticipation. He would be willing, he says, to do the lowliest job at the temple—be a mere doorkeeper—rather than live separated from God in the "tents of wickedness."

I doubt that these days we feel the attachment he felt to a church building or the place we meet for worship. In many cases the venue in which we gather isn't even used solely for church but might, for the rest of the week, serve as a home, classroom, theatre, hotel meeting room etc.

Which is why I love how the Amplified translation shifts our attention from the place we're going to how we set out to get there: "Blessed—happy, fortunate, to be envied is the man … in whose heart are the highways to Zion." For no matter where we worship, our meeting with God begins with an attitude and journey of the heart.

How can we make our hearts  "highways to Zion," not only as we prepare to meet together on Sunday, but every day? Embedded in this psalm are some of the practices of these pilgrims that we could perhaps adopt ourselves.

1. We can remember former meetings with God and dwell on their delights. The psalmist says, "My soul yearns, yes, even pines and is homesick for the courts of the Lord" − Psalm 84:1 AMP.

2. Singing is mentioned several times (Psalm 84:2,4): "Blessed … are those who dwell in Your house and Your presence; they will be singing Your praises all day long" - Psalm 84:4 AMP.

3. We can focus on our blessings, even in the midst of difficulties - Psalm 84:6.

4. We can trust. The Amplified Bible expands: "... blessed ... is the man who trusts in You, leaning on and believing in You, committing all and confidently looking to You and that without fear or misgiving" - Psalm 84:12 AMP.

We don't have to wait for a special day to go to a special place and experience the joy of God's presence. We can keep our heart highways to Zion maintained every day of the week!

PRAYER: Dear God, the psalmist's delight in experiencing Your presence here is contagious. Help me to feel the same pull to spend time with You. Amen.

*Baca is a type of balsam plant that can survive in dry conditions. So perhaps this valley is known as a particularly desolate, dry spot. The Amplified translates it: "Passing through the valley of weeping…"

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." (

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thanks for abundance

Thanksgiving cornucopia
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 65:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "You crown the year with Your goodness,
And your paths drip with abundance." - Psalm 65:11

What a perfect psalm to read and meditate on during this month of thanksgiving (well, at least in Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving in October). This psalm is like a list poem that names things for which the writer David appreciated God. These are things for which we too can be thankful:

1. God hears our prayers (Psalm 65:2).

2. He provided an atonement for our sins (Psalm 65:3). In the Old Testament the people sacrificed animals. David would have been referring to that kind of atonement. Then God sent Jesus, the Lamb of God, who became the atoning sacrifice for anyone and everyone in the world who believes (1 John 4:10).

3. God draws us to Himself (Psalm 65:4).

4. He satisfies our spiritual hunger in His house (worship and community) (Psalm 65:4).

5. He performs amazing feats all over the world (Psalm 65:5).

6. He created majestic mountains, a reminder of His power ((Psalm 65:6).

7. He stills sea storms, a reminder that He can also still the tumult of national war and strife (Psalm 65:7).

8. The natural world He created awes people all over the world (Psalm 65:8).

9. He made the glory of sunrise and sunset (Psalm 65:8). What a fine description:

"You made the outgoings of the morning and evening rejoice."

10. He sends rain and other precipitation so that the land is productive (Psalm 65:9-10).

11. His generosity makes possible the climax of the year, when the fields and hills sing with ripeness and abundance (Psalm 65:11-13). Here we have abundance in shops, supermarkets, and malls all year long!

What five personal items would you add to this thanksgiving list?

12. ____
13. ____
14. ____
15. ____
16. ____

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for all You are and give! I am so blessed by Your rich generosity. Amen.


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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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Is trouble our fault?

TODAY’S  SPECIAL: Jeremiah 14:1-22

TO CHEW ON: “Thus says the LORD to this people;
‘They have loved to wander;
They have not restrained their feet.
Therefore the LORD does not accept them;
He will remember their iniquity now,
And punish their sins’ “ Jeremiah 14:10.

There is probably nothing that draws our attention toward or away from God like tragedy. Whether it’s the personal tragedy of sickness, death, or accident or mass disasters like flood, earthquake, fire, or war, when such things touch our lives we feel compelled to ask life's hard questions.

In our reading today Jeremiah describes horrendous drought conditions. There is no water anywhere. Man and beast alike languish (Jeremiah 14:1-6).

He links these physical conditions to the spiritual state of the land’s inhabitants - Jeremiah 14:10 (our focus verse).

As if that isn’t bad enough, God goes on to command Jeremiah not to pray for these people because even if they perform outward signs of repentance (fast, bring offerings) God knows that their repentance isn’t genuine (Jeremiah 14:11,12).

God is especially hard on the religious leaders—false prophets—who claim to speak for God but don’t (Jeremiah 14:13-15).

Back to us, we hesitate—maybe too much—to link difficult circumstances and tragedies to our spiritual condition. Maybe there’s a stronger connection than we acknowledge. For starters, we live in a fallen world where things devolve into chaos rather than evolve into order. Additionally, as citizens of nations that have, in effect, turned their backs on God, Christians are not immune from feeling the effects of God’s punishment on the countries in which we live.

Maybe the consequences resulting from spiritual hardness of sword, famine, and pestilence is one that should not surprise us, both personally and nationally (Leviticus 26:25,26).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to search my own heart and keep clear accounts with You in good times and in bad. Amen.

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, October 18, 2016

The altar call of written words

Simone Martini (Italian (Sienese), about 1284 - 1344)
St. Luke, 1330s, Tempera and gold leaf on panel
Panel: 67.5 x 48.3 x 3.8 cm (26 9/16 x 19 x 1 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 

(Image used with permission of the Getty Open Content Program)


TO CHEW ON: “… it seemed good to me, also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus.” Luke 1:3

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Luke. Our short reading of the four-verse introduction to the Gospel of Luke communicates a surprising amount about this Bible-time physician and gospel author.

1. He hung out with and heard the stories of eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus (“… those things which have been fulfilled among us…”) - Luke 1:1,2.

2. He felt that he understood what had happened - Luke 1:3.

3. His goal was to write an “orderly account” - Luke 1:3.

4. He cared for the spiritual well-being of Theophilus to the extent he was willing to write a book for him (a lot harder in his day than simply hauling out a laptop and banging away).

5. He had confidence in the written word—the story—to help birth and nurture faith in his reader - Luke 1:4.

It’s that last that resonates with me. I have probably come to more spiritual forks in the road, wept more tears, made more decisions as the result of something I’ve read than I have as the result of any altar call. Books have been my altar call!

And so as someone who loves to read (and write) these early verses of Luke are a reminder of one of the ways God brings people to Himself, and an affirmation of writing as a tool of the soul-winner. If you’re a writer, don’t underplay the importance of your calling!

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for inspiring Luke to write the stories of Jesus for his friend. Help me—help all kingdom writers—to stay true to our calling and put down words with faith that You will use them in some way. Amen.
MORE: Feast of St. Luke
Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. The liturgy of the day begins with this prayer:

"Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

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, October 17, 2016

Poured out life

David pours out water - Caspar Luiken
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 4:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand." 2 Timothy 4:6

Paul uses the image of a drink offering to speak of his own impending death.

These liquid offerings were part of Old Testament worship.

  • Jacob worshiped God that way when he returned to Bethel, the place God had first met him on his flight from home (Genesis 35:14-15).
  •  A drink offering was part of the consecration of Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:40), the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:13), and the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:18).

We can't help but think of other pourings.

  • David poured out the precious gift of Bethlehem water—his way of acknowledging God was worthy of the best and most desirable (2 Samuel 23:15-17).
  • Mary poured out precious perfume, the most valuable thing she had, on Jesus' feet (John 12:1-8).
  • Paul's picture of his life as a libation here implies that he may expect to be martyred (as in poured out blood).
  •  He uses the drink offering image in another place as well. In Philippians 2:17 the picture is of his drink-offering-life poured over their sacrifice and service. It's as if his life and theirs work together to complete the sacrificea "living sacrifice" he calls it in Romans 12:1.

Can we live drink offering lives? They will seem wasted, perhaps, as David's poured out Bethlehem water and Mary's perfume seemed a waste. But in the apparent waste is new and surprising life. Read words of Jesus:

"Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." John 12:24,25.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live my life like a drink offering—poured out for You. Amen.

MORE: Pour My Love on You (by Phillips, Craig and Dean)

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, October 16, 2016

Are you glad to go to church?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 121:1-122:9

TO CHEW ON: “I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go into the house of the LORD.” Psalm 122:1

Today is Sunday, the day many of us have a habit of attending church. Can you, can I honestly say we're glad to go—that we can’t wait to get there? That’s the question that came to me this morning as I read Psalm 122:1.

Whenever the assigned Bible reading is one of the Songs of Ascent from the Psalms (and Psalms 121 and 122 are such songs), I find myself reaching for Eugene Peterson’s excellent A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It’s a book that richly elaborates on these songs and psalms that were part of the Israelites’ pilgrimages to Jerusalem to commemorate the feasts.

Peterson says some profound things about worship in the chapter on Psalm 122. He explains worship as one activity Christians do that is voluntary: “… worship is not forced. Everyone who worships does so because he wants to” - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience, p. 50.

Peterson points out three items in Psalm 122 that worship does for us.

1. “Worship gives us a workable structure for life” - p. 51 (Psalm 122:3,4).
For the Israelites keeping Sabbath and celebrating the feasts became the bones of the year. Other activities, even work, were subservient to these observances. I wonder, do we allow worship to help us set priorities?

2. “Worship nurtures our need to be in relationship with God” - p. 53 (Psalm 122:4).
God is with us through trouble and good times, when we mess up and when we do good. Times of worship give us space to express our thanks. “A Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot” - Augustine (quoted p. 53).

3. In worship “…our attention is centered on the decisions of God” - p. 54
(Psalm 122:5).
“Every time we worship our minds are informed, our memories refreshed with the judgments of God, we are familiarized with what God says, what he has decided is the way he is working out our salvation” - p. 55.

This psalm and Mr. Peterson’s thoughts on worship have prompted me to list some of the reasons I gladly go into the “house of the Lord":

* I get encouraged by the numbers of people—and their variety—who are my brothers and sisters in the faith.

* The songs and message of a church service often provide a course correction for what’s happening in my life, for the decisions I’m considering, the attitudes I’m nurturing.

* The songs, scriptures and talks remind me of aspects of God that I may have forgotten about.

* Body life—visiting with friends and being on the prayer team—helps me feel connected to what God is doing as I hear about His work in others lives and agree in faith for His help for needs.

Are you glad to go to church? Why or why not?

PRAYER: Dear Father, voluntary worship—that’s what I want mind to be. Help me to deal with life clutter that gets in the way of my sincere, all-in worship. Amen.

MORE: More Peterson wisdom:
“… we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship” - Eugene Peterson, Op. Cit., p. 54.

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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