Monday, January 16, 2017

Pursue unity

Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” 1 Corinthians 1:10

I was recently followed on Twitter by a religious entity which, when I checked into it, appeared to be a cult. On their website was a video where people—all the same race and dressed alike except for the color of their clothes—were seated at desks placed in perfectly straight and parallel rows, smiling robotically as they read their Bibles.

I don’t think this is the kind of unity Paul is talking about here. In fact, in another place in this very letter he acknowledges differences among Christians:
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
There are differences of ministries but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” - 1 Corinthians 12:4,5,6 (emphasis added). 

Later in 1 Corinthians 12 he uses an easy-to-understand metaphor for the church, comparing it to the human body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). We know how that only works well when all its diverse members work together.

So what kind of unity is Paul taking about here when he says they should be: “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”?

I appreciate the application Leslyn Musch suggests for this verse:

“Intentionally pursue unity within the body of Christ. Do not give place to divisions or competition. Honor others, seek to be like-minded and recognize Jesus as the common ground for unity” - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action-Through 1 Corinthians," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, 1607 (emphasis in the original).

Notice the verbs Musch uses, reminding us that this unity doesn’t just happen but is intentional and takes effort. We need to to “pursue” unity. We refuse to (“do not”) entertain thoughts of division and competition. We “honor” others, try (“seek”) to understand them, and in it all “recognize” Jesus as the basis for our unity. Of course if His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, lives in each one of us, we have a synchronized inner guide that should cause us to be consistently united. Why it doesn’t always work out that way is a topic for another time.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to put this pursuit of unity into practice in my life—at home, at church, and as a member and representative of the church to the secular world around me. 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, January 15, 2017

Israel—a land in waiting

Jerusalem (Image: Pixabay)

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 49:14-26

TO CHEW ON:
“… your walls are continually before Me … For they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me” - Isaiah 49:16b, 23b

On December 27th the United Nations Security Council passed its latest resolution against Israel—passed because the U.S., which has in the past supported Israel by vetoing such resolutions, chose to abstain from voting.

The result has been a war of words between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israelite President Benjamin Netanyahu, and others.

The resolution is one of twenty the U.N. has adopted against Israel this year while passing just four for the rest of the world (one each for North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Russia). It seems obvious that anti-Semitic sentiments are again surfacing, indeed flourishing internationally.

In the context of the above, I find the prophecies in today’s passage reassuring. The first part of Isaiah 49 promises salvation for the Gentiles through God’s Servant (yesterday’s reading). Continuing on, God assures “Zion” (Jerusalem) who laments, “‘The LORD has forsaken me, / And my Lord has forgotten me”— that NO. God remembers like a mother remembers her child and "See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" - Isaiah 49:15,16.

God’s promises to Israel in Isaiah 49 include:
  • “Your walls are continually before Me” - Isaiah 49:16. This promise brings to mind a particularly onerous part of the recent U.N. resolution that labels Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem including the Western Wall as illegal. This assures us that God is up-to-the-minute aware.
  • Victory over their enemies - Isaiah 49:17,18.
  • Adequate space to live - Isaiah 49:19.
  • Population growth - Isaiah 49:20.
  • International respect and obeisance - Isaiah 49:22,23.
  • God Himself as their defender - Isaiah 49:25.

What specific events loom in the immediate future for Israel are impossible to predict, though I don’t have a good feeling in light of prophecies such as all nations against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2) and other predictions of terrible trouble ahead for her (Zechariah 13:8,9; Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21,22). But I know in the end, victory for Israel is sure because God keeps His promises!

PRAYER: Dear Father of Gentiles and Jews, I pray for the land of Israel (in waiting to realize her ultimate destiny), her people, her leaders and for the peace of Jerusalem. 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, January 14, 2017

The Gentile's light

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 49:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “Indeed, He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,


That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Isaiah 49:6

Here, way back in Isaiah, God states His intention to make a way for all people on earth to be saved from the death penalty of their sin. It will be through His Servant—who we believe is Jesus.

The old saint Simeon recited some of Isaiah 49:6 when he took baby Jesus in His arms and blessed Him on the day of His presentation:
“‘For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.’” - Luke 2:30-32.

Still, the realization that Gentiles were included in God’s plan made a lot of waves in the early church. When the Holy Spirit fell on those assembled at the house of Gentile Cornelius,
“… those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” - Acts 10:45.

Paul and Barnabas also recited this Isaiah prophecy as proof of God’s plan when the Jews in Antioch became envious over the multitudes of Gentiles who heard the Gospel:
 “ ‘For so the Lord has commanded us:”I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.”’” -  Acts 13:47.

And Paul continued to boldly explain God’s plan to include all people till the end of the account of his ministry:
“Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”  - Acts 28:28.

As a Gentile, I am eternally grateful that God’s plan includes me—that verses like John 3:16 truly apply to “the world” and mean “whoever.”

“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only-begotten [unique] Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish—come to destruction, be lost—but have eternal (everlasting) life” - John 3:16 AMP (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for sending Jesus to die for all mankind, that salvation is available for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. 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, January 13, 2017

Trial template

"David Lifting Up His Soul to God"
by Franco dei Russi - The Getty Trust

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 40:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "But I am poor and needy;
Yet the Lord thinks upon me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
Do not delay, O my God." - Psalm 40:17



The editors of my Bible have helpfully summed up this psalm with the title "Faith Persevering In Trial." So we know that trial will be one of its subjects. In it the writer (David) talks about two aspects of trial:

I - He shows us what a trial looks and feels like. According to David a trial feels:

  • Like it's going on too long. "I waited patiently … make haste to help me … Do not delay" He says (Psalm 40:1, 13, 17).
  • Disorienting, dangerous, life-threatening. David calls it a "horrible pit" and "miry clay" (Psalm 40:2). He's in the dark. I imagine him feeling helpless and terrified as quicksand sucks him downward. He fears for his life (Psalm 40:14).
  • Evil. He senses evil all around him and searches his own heart; maybe the evil within him is to blame for this trouble (Psalm 40:12).

II - He shows us how to bring God into our trial.
  • He cries out to God until he gets a sense that God is with him. He uses the image of God setting his feet on a rock (out of that miry clay - Psalm 40:2).
  • He praises and sings (Psalm 40:3-4).
  • He focuses on God's creativity and "wonderful works" (Psalm 40:5).
  • He re-commits himself to God (Psalm 40:6-8).
  • He testifies in church (the "great assembly" - Psalm 40:9-10).
  • After again giving in to feelings of despair, desperation, and panic (Psalm 40:11-15) he refocuses on God. He makes God big: "The Lord be magnified," even though in the last verse plummets us down to earth and trouble's reality again: "But I am poor and needy … Do not delay, O my God" (Psalm 40:16-17).

Though some of what David says in this psalm makes it seem like his trial has already passed, sprinkled throughout are reminders that he's still in the middle of it (Psalm 40:1, 13, 17). I would suggest that the things David does to bring God into the middle of his trial are things we can do too. We don't have to wait for trials to pass to sense God's presence, to praise Him, to testify to others and, if we find our thoughts again slipping into fear, to pull our focus back to God, who will also be our "help" and "deliverer."

May this psalm be our template as we go through trials of our own.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for David's honesty as he describes what he's going through. What a wonderful example hs is of someone changing his focus from trouble to God. Help me to do that with big and little things that come against me. Amen. 


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Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV) Used by permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Lord of storms

lightning & storm clouds
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 29:1-11

TO CHEW ON: “The LORD sits enthroned at the Flood,
And the LORD sits as King forever.
The LORD will give strength to His people;
The LORD will bless His people with peace.” Psalm 29:10,11


In Psalm 29 God is pictured as a storm-bringer. There is noise: “thunder” and a powerful “voice.” There is destruction: the storm “breaks the cedars” and makes them “skip.” It “shakes the wilderness” and even causes the deer to give birth prematurely.

The writer of my Bible’s notes says about this passage:
“Poetically the psalmist refers to an earthquake or thunderous quake in the Lebanon mountain range and at Sirion (Mt. Herman) which splinters the biggest trees, the mighty cedars, as if they were matchsticks” - K.R. Iverson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 707.

What interests me about this storm, though, is the way the psalmist (David) sees God through it. He sees God not as pagan peoples did—a deity who needed to be placated to stop the storm (Jonah 1:4,5,6)—but as lord over it, commanding it.

We can conclude David trusted God, even His stormy side, because of the way he ended this psalm:
“The LORD will give strength to His people.
The LORD will bless His people with peace” - Psalm 29:11.

I ask myself can I, can we learn to trust God in storms—the physical and the circumstantial—like that? Do we still believe in Him, in His love, righteousness, and justice toward us when the house is torn apart in a hurricane or when our lives are torn apart by cancer, a stroke, or heart attack? It’s easy to proclaim to someone else: “The Lord will give you strength and peace.”  But how does one actually experience it?

Perhaps one way is to prepare to trust Him in big storms by building our trust muscles now, as we exercise them in the little storms we face each day.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, these sentiments—God will give you strength and peace—are easy to speak when I’m in the calm. Help me to grow in trust as I lean on You daily in the small storms that come my way. 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, January 11, 2017

Getting God's direction

"Flight Into Egypt" by Gustave Doré
"Flight Into Egypt" by Gustave Doré

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 2:13-23

TO CHEW ON: “But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.” Matthew 2:22

On Christmas Eve we watched a movie called “The Nativity.” Watching it I was impressed with how earth-shattering the events of the incarnation must have been to Mary, Joseph, and their families.

After an angel convinced Joseph of Mary’s purity and he took Mary as his wife, Jesus as his son, much rested on his shoulders. At least three times he had to break with routine so that Jesus would be safe—rush off in the middle of the night, move to a foreign country, move back home, but to which home (Matthew 2:13-14, 19-20, 22)?

We who know the whole story probably don’t appreciate the weight on his shoulders. Was that dream I just had a word from God or the result of my over-active imagination? Is my uneasiness at returning to Judea justified or am I being paranoid?

God directed Joseph, yes sometimes through voice and dream communication but also through his human emotions and intuition. It’s the same way I believe He directs us.

Even when we’re not sure which path to take, He is there, as He has promised (“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; / I will guide you with My eye” - Psalm 32:8).

He leads, sometimes in ways as obvious as an angel visit or a voice (”Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,/ “This is the way, walk in it,”/ Whenever you turn to the right hand/ Or whenever you turn to the left” - Isaiah 30:21).

At other times His leading is as subtle as that almost imperceptible check inside us we call “fear,” or “this is right,” or “just take the next step”  (“I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; / I will lead them in paths they have not known. / I will make darkness light before them, / And crooked places straight. / These things I will do for them, / And not forsake them.” Isaiah 48:17).

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for my mind, emotions and experience that work together with Your word and presence to give me guidance. 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, January 10, 2017

No barriers

Cornelius - Acts 10 (Artist unknown)
Cornelius - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 10:30-48

TO CHEW ON: "And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Gentiles also." Acts 10:45.


Here Peter is at the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Under ordinary circumstances that's the last place you'd expect to find him. But on this day, after seeing a vision and being summoned by Cornelius's servants because of his vision (Acts 10:9-16 & 3-7), he is convinced that this is a divine mission.

He has just finished explaining about Jesus and how "'… whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins'" when it happens: "… the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word" - Acts 10:44.

How do they know? They hear them speak with tongues and magnify God, just as it had happened on the day of Pentecost for Peter and the believers in that upper room (Acts 10:46).

The incredible thing to these onlookers (the Jewish "brethren from Joppa" who went with him - Acts 10:23) is that God has bestowed Himself on Gentiles in this way. It blows their idea of God's plan all to pieces.

Even Peter who earlier linked Joel's prophecy ("I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh - Joel 2:28) with the initial out-pouring of the Spirit  (Acts 2:16-21) seems taken aback. But he is open to affirming this paradigm shift. For he suggests that there's no reason why these new believers can't be baptized (Acts 10:47).

In our day after a couple thousand years of living with the idea of the Gentiles included in God's plan, the incredulity of these early Jewish believers seems almost humorous. But I would submit we still have, in our minds, some Jew-Gentile-type barriers.  These aren't based on race but other things like intelligence, education, the lifestyle a person has lived or the sins he or she has committed.

Does God really call, forgive, save everyone? Can the Holy Spirit indwell and empower someone who is mentally challenged? Someone with minimal education (who, say, can't even read)? What about the person who comes to Jesus after having a sex change, or is a repentant thief, pornographer, or child serial killer?

Whatever barriers we have erected towards some of these groups, the Bible doesn't support them. It tells us over and over, God's grace is for everyone.

  • "Look to Me and be saved, All you ends of the earth…" Isaiah 45:22.
  •  "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters …" Isaiah 55:1.
  • "… as many as you find, invite to the wedding" - Matthew 22:9.
  • "'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink'" - Jesus in John 7:37.
  • "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him" - Romans 10:12.
  • "… who desires all men to be saved" - 1 Timothy 2:4.
  • "Whoever desires let him take the water of life freely" - Revelation 22:17.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your invitation to ALL. Help me to demolish any barriers I might have toward people of any kind. May I see them all as candidates to receive Your saving grace and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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 Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotes are taken from the 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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