Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A warning for our mouths

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 20:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "You shall not take the name the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." Exodus 20:7

In our culture where oaths and minced oaths [expressions based on profane or taboo terms that have been altered to reduce the objectionable characteristics of them] flow as freely as water, it is a good thing to remind ourselves of how serious it is to "take God's name in vain."

But what exactly does that mean? Various Bible translations and paraphrases express it as:
"misuse" God's name (NLT, NIV 1984).
"use the name of the Lord your God carelessly" (God's Word 1985).
"idly utter" (Douay Rheims).
"You shall not use or repeat the name of the Lord your God in vain [that is lightly or frivolously, or profanely]" (Amplified).
"No using the name of God your God in curses or silly banter" (Message).

Bible commenters agree that this means we are not to use God's name
- to swear falsely as in undergirding a lie.
- to swear as a means of enforcing acts of witchcraft and conjuring.
- to swear trivially as in using God's name lightly during everyday conversation.

I like how Matthew Henry places this commandment in its context of number three in the first four that deal with our duty to God:
  • Commandment One: We are to worship God and Him alone.
  • Commandment Two: Our worship is to be spiritual and not given to images, pictures, superstitions or human inventions for God. 
  • Commandment Three: Our worship is to be serious and reverent. 
  • Commandment Four: One day in seven us to be allotted for worship.

Today I feel warned about the seriousness of loose speech. Even minced oaths like gosh, gee, geez, golly, cripes, etc. have no place in the daily speech of one who is determined not to take God's name in vain.

PRAYER: Dear God, please grow in me true respect for You—such respect and reverence that avoids any shade of disrespect and vain misuse of Your name. Amen.

MORE: More on minced oaths
"As blood-bought children of God we should be very thoughtful about the words that we use, and very careful in our choice of words. This is especially true at times of surprise or amazement or sudden pain or disappointment when we tend to burst out with an exclamatory word or comment. Those of the world blurt out all kinds of inappropriate words, not giving much thought to what they are really saying. All such careless speech and profane cursing should find no place on the lips of a redeemed saint: "Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips" (Psalm 141:3)...."
The article goes on to name a variety of minced oaths and explain their origins. Read all of "Minced Oaths."

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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." (

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. 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.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Faith in God—not our words

woman praying on her knees
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 4:13-25

"Therefore it is of faith …. God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as they they did…" Romans 4:17

In this passage, where Paul compares Abraham's faith in God's promise to make a nation of him to our faith in Jesus' death and resurrection to give us new life, these familiar words jump out at me: "God, who gives new life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did…"

I obviously haven't been paying attention for I have assumed that these words were a description of how the person of great faith prayed. But on a close reading, it isn't us who call things which do not exist as though they did, but God. Here is how the NIRV puts it:
"The God that Abraham believed in gives life to the dead. Abraham’s God also creates things that did not exist before" - Romans 4:17b (NIRV).

We're talking about the object of faith here. I like the simple definition of "faith" in the Dictionary of Bible Themes: "A constant outlook of trust towards God, whereby human beings abandon their own efforts and put their full confidence in him, his word and promises" (Dictionary of Bible Themes accessed through

We put our faith not in the effort of our spoken words of faith but in God. It is only He who is able to "call those things which do not exist as though they did," to bring about the seemingly impossible for Abraham, for us in salvation, and for the requests about which we pray.

There is, in my mind, a big difference between this reading and how I've heard followers of the Word of Faith movement claim this verse—as a challenge to utter new things into being by the faith words one says or prays.

Yes, we make audacious requests, speaking in faith—that God will heal cancer, break addictions, turn whole nations around, etc. But we know it's not our words that will accomplish these things or our faith in these words, but God. I like how a sidebar article in my Bible explains this verse and how we can apply it when we pray:

"Notice that this verse does not say God calls things at are as though they do not exist but rather that God calls those things which do not exist as though they do exist. Thus we see that authentic faith does not deny the obstacle at hand, but declares that God is greater than the obstacle. Faith does not deny that a sickness is in the body, but declares Jesus' ability to heal the body (see Mark 5:23). Faith does not deny financial need, but acknowledges Jesus' ability to meet our needs (see Matthew 17:24-27)" - Gerald Brooks, "Pretending vs. Believing," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1555.

The fact that we utter faith-filled words does matter. But those words are never the power behind answered prayer. Our creator God is.

Dear God, who calls those things which do not exist as though they did, please strengthen my faith in Your ability to provide creative solutions to the problems I bring to You each day. 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.

Scripture passages marked NIRV are taken from the New International Reader's Version, copyright © 1995, 1996, 1998, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Grace that stretches over centuries

Cross, against sun and reflection on water
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 4:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' " Romans 4:3

In his typically logical style, Paul sets out here to show how Abraham's and David's faith and God's grace and forgiveness combined to guarantee their salvation even though they lived millennia before Christ.

It wasn't works, Paul says using Genesis 15:6 as his proof text. Wages for work would be considered a debt, not a tally on the grace side as this is (Romans 4:4).

The work under consideration is circumcision. But Abraham believed before he was circumcised. Circumcision was only a sign of his faith, implemented later to mark those who were of his faith line (Romans 4:9-11). Some who weren't circumcised also had this faith (Romans 4:12)

It was faith. The column accounted for righteousness in the ledger of a life was faith in God's forgiveness says Paul, quoting David from Psalm 32:1,2. It was God forgiving, covering, not imputing committed sins to our account.

The implication for his readers—including us—is that salvation comes to us this way too. It is all grace flowing from Jesus' death for us. It flows back through the centuries to believers like Abraham and David, and forward to us. Our faith is in Christ and His death in our stead, which means our sins that should condemn us to death are similarly forgiven, covered, not imputed to our account.

I believe only eternity will bring home to us the immensity and blessedness of this truth.

PRAYER: Dear God thank You for your plan of salvation, enacted in a moment of time, but with efficacy for all people who have ever lived. 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.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

A disposable life

"Jesus heals a bind man"
- Chartres Cathedral
"Jesus heals a bind man"  - Chartres Cathedral
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 8:22-9:1

TO CHEW ON: " ' For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.' " Mark 8:26,30,31

It is interesting what Peter (Mark is believed to be John Mark's recording of what he heard from Peter) recalls of a time about a year before the crucifixion.

Jesus heals a blind man, then commands him to tell no one (Mark 8:26). Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is. Peter answers, " ' You are the Christ.' " Jesus tells Peter and all of them to " ...tell no one about Him" (Mark 8:30).  Then He predicts His suffering, rejection by the Jewish leaders, death and resurrection "openly" (Mark 8:32).

Why this secrecy about some things and openness about others? '

My thought is that we view these things, about which Jesus asks for secrecy, in the light of His death and resurrection and see how His ability to heal and His title as Messiah fit into God's scheme of things. But Jesus' contemporaries had no such advantage. His reputation and resulting popularity as a healer and Messiah (who the Jews thought would be their political savior from the Romans) would conflict with His real mission. And so He hushed up these things, or tried to.

I wonder if we still don't do something similar with Jesus. We ask for His healing and invoke His power, but without a view to the price He paid and what it means for us if our lives are to actually connect with His plans and purposes. It means:  " 'Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his crosslose his life for My sake and the gospel…' "be proud of Jesus' unpopular work and words - Mark 8:34-38.

His power and popularity then, and through the Holy Spirit in our lives now, are not to serve our relief from pain or desire to be on the winning side. Rather, they are to serve the purposes of the kingdom of God, to fit into a picture that is way bigger than any one life, or even lifetime. Our part may not feel like health or winning at all, but like losing.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for becoming a man and living clear-sighted about Your mission. Help me to see my life as similarly disposable—for You and the gospel. 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.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

God's answer

"The Empty Tomb"
 Illustration from a book by Martin Luther.
The Empty Tomb - from a book by Martin Luther
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 22:16-31

TO CHEW ON: "You have answered Me." Psalm 22:21b

This psalm pivots at verse 21. There the speaker (prophetically Jesus, Messiah) comes to the triumphant conclusion "You have answered Me."

Up to that point He has dwelt on the dreadful things that would and did happen as His life spiraled toward death. Today's reading includes the howls of the suggestible crowed insisting Barabbas go free and Jesus die, His pierced hands and feet, the gawking scorn of onlookers, and the dice game for His robe. And then He proclaims, "You have answered Me."

But He died. So we ask,  how did God answer Him?

The answer came three days later. As explained by the writer of my Bible's Psalm footnotes: "The resurrection of Jesus was an answer to His prayer and to the agonizing prayer of every sin-laden human soul"-  K.R. "Dick" Iverson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 702.

That last phrase snags my attention: "...every sin-laden human soul." That includes me. It prompts me to ask: How does Christ's resurrection impact me—and you?

Wayne Grudem devotes an entire chapter to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus in his Systematic Theology. Here are some bits, gleaned from that chapter to answer our question: 

How does Jesus' resurrection impact us?

1. We are made spiritually alive.
"When Jesus rose from the dead he had a new quality of life .... When we become Christians our bodies remain as they were .... But in our spirits we are made alive with new resurrection power."

2. The penalty for our sin is paid.
"When Christ was raised from the dead, it was God's declaration of approval of Christ's work of redemption .... There was no penalty left to pay for sin, no more wrath of God to bear, no more guilt or liability to punishment—all had been completely paid for."

3. There will be resurrection bodies for us.
"In calling Christ the 'first fruits' (1 Corinthians 15:20) Paul uses a metaphor from agriculture to indicate we will be like Christ .... Christ as the 'first fruits' shows what our resurrection bodies will be like when, in God's final 'harvest' he raises us from the dead and brings us into his presence" - quotes from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 614-616.

The rest of Psalm 22 sparkles with the joy of this resurrection answer. Praise God, we can join in Messiah's celebration!

PRAYER: Dear God, "My praise shall be of You in the great assembly .... All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord's and He rules over the nations." Amen (quoting Psalm 22:25, 27-28)

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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Friday, February 27, 2015

A human Jesus

Mary holding Baby Jesus
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 22:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts.
I was cast upon You from birth
From My mother's womb You have been My God." Psalm 22:9,10

One of the things I like about the New King James Version of the Bible is the way it capitalizes the pronouns of deity. When one pays attention to that detail, Psalm 22 comes across differently than many other prophetic passages which readers recognized as prophetic only after the events occurred.

All the upper case 'My's and 'Me's of Psalm 22 tell us this is considered to be God speaking—God in human form sent as Jesus, giving a prediction through David of "The Suffering, Praise and Posterity of Messiah" (the title the NKVJ give this chapter).

Jesus' humanity comes through in words like
"I am a worm and no man;
A reproach of men and despised by the people"  vs. 6.

This looks like Jesus with low self-esteem,   Jesus not unaffected by the people's reaction to Him. It brings to mind the verse, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" - Hebrews 4:15.

As a mother I notice the verses that speak of Jesus' childhood. For Mary the risks of pregnancy and childbirth were the same as for any other mother and the psalmist credits God with His help in that process:
"You are He who took Me out of the womb ….
I was cast on you You from birth" - Psalm 22:9-10.

The way Mary trained Jesus also played a part in who He became:
"You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts…" - Psalm 22: 9.

If the early years of Jesus were important in making Him the man He would become, how much more the early training of our children!

Are you a young mom, distracted and  tempted by dreams, ambitions, and outside opportunities? Don't let anything take your focus off the priceless responsibility and opportunity of raising your little ones to trust God from day one. Honor God in this season of your life and He will surely make it up to you in another.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, this human picture of You tugs at my heart. I know You understand my weakness. Help me to put my confidence in God when I am faced with scorn, like You did. 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.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Plot points in God's story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 17:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you." Genesis 17:11

You probably own a few things that signify watershed moments in your life — the Bible you were given at your baptism perhaps, a wedding ring, maybe the clothes your daughter wore when she was dedicated. As people we benefit from such tangible reminders of our history, the things we've experienced, and the promises we've made.

God has sealed His dealings with humanity with signs and markers too. We have the record of them in the Bible (and mentioned some of them a few days ago in "Signs of God's goodness"):

1. Rainbow — a sign marking God's promise to never again destroy all humanity by flood (Genesis 9:12-15).

2. Circumcision — " external sign which showed that Abraham and his descendants were God's covenant people" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p.27.

3. Blood, painted on the lintel and door frames of the house — a sign that the death angel should pass over that house (Exodus 12:13).

4. Unleavened bread — to remind the Israelites that God had brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 13:6-10).

5. Sacrifice of firstborn animals —  a reminder of God sparing Israel's firstborn sons the night the death angel visited (Exodus 13:16).

6. Scarlet cord draped from the window of a house —  a sign that marked Rahab and her family for rescue from Jericho (Joshua 2:12, 17-18).

7. Altar of 12 stones — a sign to remind the Israelites of how God helped them cross the Jordan River to Canaan (Joshua 4:1-7).

8. Dove as the Holy Spirit, ascending and alighting on Jesus at His baptism — a sign of God's favour on Him (Matthew 3:16).

Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God, says this about the way God works—the actions behind the list of signs, above:

"God works in sequence to accomplish His divine purpose. What He did in the past was accomplished with a kingdom purpose in mind. What He is doing in the present is in sequence with the past and with the same kingdom purpose. Every act of God builds on the past, with a view toward the future" Experiencing God Workbook, p. 124.

If you look back over the signs I've listed (and there are many more), can you see a thread? Are they not all part of God's history of salvation—from God's promise to never again destroy all humanity by flood, to His establishing His covenant of nationhood with Abraham, to His keeping of that nation through Egypt's slavery and their wilderness wanderings to, finally, the coming of Jesus, the lamb that would save us all?

God's message of love to us through these markers and signs is a reason for awe, worship, and making our lives available to God, to carry news of that salvation thread to our contemporaries.  

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your plan of salvation and how you have threaded signs of it through the Bible story. Help me to be alert to the signs of Your working in my life. I pray, with David, "Show me a sign for good...." Amen.

MORE: Personal markers

It is good to reflect on the signs, objects or markers that tell the story of God at work in our lives. For me those include significant Bible verses, certain books, a special song...

If we read the accounts of God giving His people signs, one of the reasons He gave the sign, in almost every case, was to help parents explain God's ways their children and grandchildren.

Could you use the signs, objects or markers you recalled to tell to your children and grandchildren the story of how God has worked in your life?

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