Saturday, July 22, 2017

Not our responsibility

Naomi and her daughers-in-law - Gustave Dore

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 1:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "… for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!" Ruth 1:13

Naomi had her situation figured out. She would return to Israel because the famine that caused her family to move to Moab was over. But it was a bitter return. For death had taken all the men in her life and with them all her hopes for grandchildren. The last thing she wanted at this point was to be responsible for the continued childlessness of her daughters-in-law. Our focus verse is almost like an apology to them that they have been implicated in what she feels is God's judgment of her.

However, here, in the middle of her trial, Naomi's sight is still partial. Wasn't she taking on herself a burden of blame that had no place on her shoulders?

But we do that too. Our health gives way, or there's a downturn in the economy, or we suffer a disaster and feel like the course of our life is set. On top of that we feel responsible for and guilty about the people we're dragging along with us into these situations.

Orpah accepted Naomi's logic and turned back. But Ruth didn't. We'll never know exactly why but I like to think she saw something attractive in even depressed Naomi's faith. In the ten-or-so years she had known the family, somehow their God had captured her heart to the extent she could say, "Your God (shall be) my God" - Ruth 1:16.

(Look! here we have it again... that personal decision to make the distant deity of an acquaintance My God)

I love how this story ends, with Ruth a big part of the solution. Here's what the women of the town, rejoicing at the time of Obed's birth (Ruth's son, Naomi's grandson) say to Naomi: "And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him" - Ruth 4:14.

What can we apply to our lives form this story? Two possibilities:

1. It's too soon to judge a situation's conclusion and meaning when we're in the middle of it.

2. God is responsible for those implicated in our problems—not us. If Naomi had insisted that Ruth return home with Orpah she would have missed out on the great climax of her life. Instead, she took Ruth back with her and made it possible for God to give her a surprise ending and show His faithfulness to Ruth as well as to her.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to release my circumstances and my loved ones to Your care, not take undue responsibility for them. May my words and actions help them believe that You can turn things around and care for them too. Amen.

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

Bible Drive-Thru

Friday, July 21, 2017

Spirit rain

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 44:1-8

TO CHEW ON: “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty
And floods on the dry ground;
I will pour My Spirit on your descendants
And My blessing on your offspring."

God had to get Jacob alone to begin working on him personally. The situation that drove Jacob away from home (an angry brother who was threatening to kill him) was nasty. But already on his very first night away God came to him, transforming an open-air bedroom into the “house of God... the gate of heaven” - Genesis 28:17. That was the day Jacob began to think of himself as God’s responsibility and God as his God - Genesis 28:20-22.

In our reading, written hundreds of years later, God is still promising a blessing on Jacob’s descendants. The outpouring of His Spirit flows to us today so we too can say, “I am the Lord’s,” can tattoo or brand ourselves, so to speak, “the Lord’s” - Isaiah 44:5.

May we open ourselves to His rain (reign).

He is a GIFT - Acts 2:38
The Spirit was present in the PROPHETS for PROPHECY - 1 Peter 1:10-12
The Spirit is poured on all, YOUNG and OLD, MEN and WOMEN - Joel 2:28, 29
We can ASK - Luke 11:13
He is a LIFE-GIVER - Romans 8:11
He is a BAPTIZER - 1 Corinthians 12:13
He is the Spirit of GRACE and SUPPLICATION - Zechariah 12:10
He is HELPER - John 14:16; 16:7
He is TEACHER - John 2:27; Luke 12:12
He is POWER - Luke 24:29; Acts 1:8
PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, quench my thirst, flood my dry ground with Your refreshing presence. 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, July 20, 2017

Is He your God?

"Jacob's Dream" by Salvatore Rosa (Source)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Genesis 27:46-28:22

TO CHEW ON: “Then Jacob made a vow saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God.’” Genesis 28:20,21

As I read this bit about Jacob realizing that God could be his God, I am reminded of Abraham’s servant. His interactions with God began, at least, at arm’s length as well. In his prayers and storytelling, he always referred to Yahweh as the God of his master Abraham - Genesis 24:12, 27, 42.

My Bible’s study notes have this explanation of Jacob’s words in Genesis 28:20,21:
“Jacob was endeavoring to grasp the promise and to adopt the LORD as his God by formalizing a relationship such as his father had enjoyed. His words are nether cynical nor a bribe” - R. Russell Bixler, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 43.

We have no further insights into the relationship between God and Abraham’s servant. But Jacob, here, responded to God’s reaching out to him.

I would submit that our experience of God is not so different. It is He who makes the first move. After we sense His awareness of us, His knowledge of us and our circumstances, His reaching out to us (however that happens—through the perfect-to-our-situation scripture, song, podcast message, words of a friend etc.), we are undone. As undone as Jacob was:
“‘Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it.’
And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! this is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.’” - Genesis 28:16,17.

After such encounters, it’s up to us, like it was up to the two Old Testament men, to respond. Will we, like Jacob, move closer? Will we claim the Lord as our God?

Dear Father, thank You for taking the initiative in Your relationship with humans as a whole and with individual people. Thank You for all the times you’ve shown yourself to me as my God. Help me to always respond to Your overtures in a way that will deepen our relationship. 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.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The puzzle of the Kingdom of Heaven

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 13:33-46

TO CHEW ON: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven...The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field..." Matthew 13:33,

Jesus' stories were both fascinating and puzzling for His followers over 2000 years ago and to a large degree they are still that way. Many of his parables concern the kingdom of heaven (also called the kingdom of God). This subject for the Jews in Jesus' time would have been especially captivating, considering their domination by the Romans and hope that Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom to throw off that domination.

Jesus never intended to do that. That much is clear from the many times He stated that His kingdom was not of this world. And so for us these many years later, we still puzzle over the precise meaning of the kingdom of heaven. Is it a time, a place, a state?

The parables in today's reading are a bit like puzzle piece in the picture of what that kingdom will look like.

1. Permeating everywhere (Matthew 13:33):
Like yeast grows silently yet surely, eventually permeating a whole lump of dough, so the kingdom of heaven does its work of penetrating evil and transforming lives wherever we find it.

2. Pure, though now mixed (Matthew 13:37-43):
In the story the wheat and tares (non-wheat) existed together. Jesus explained that the wheat was the sons of the kingdom, the tares were the sons of the wicked one. That tells us that there is an aspect of the kingdom that is present (Jesus Himself, the "Son of Man" is the good seed sower, and those who accept His teachings He calls "sons of the kingdom" - Matthew 13:38).

The parable implies that it's not our job as individuals or as the church to determine who is wheat (who is saved — a son of the kingdom) and who is not. That's the job for the angels (Matthew 13:39,41). "Premature separation in the present age is out of the question and becomes more destructive than purifying," says J. Lyle Story in my Bible''s study notes (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1315).

3. Decisions about the kingdom in this life have eternal consequences (Matthew 13:40-43):
Jesus talks about the "'end of the age'" when angels will  separate those who grew into kingdom grain and those who didn't, will "'... gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and those who practice lawlessness" and cast them into a place of torment.'"

4. Hidden (Matthew 13:44-46):
Jesus likened the kingdom to hidden treasure and one valuable pearl. I imagine this pearl sitting in a box with other pearls. Though it looked a lot like the others, its greater value was obvious to the pearl merchant who knew what to look for. In other words, this pearl was hiding in plain sight. That's the kingdom too, its value apparent to those who look for the right thing.

4. Precious (Matthew 13:44-46):
Jesus likened the kingdom to a "treasure" and a "pearl of great price" worth giving up every earthly possession for.

These little pictures of the kingdom of heaven serve to heighten our expectation. They also help us live realistically on earth as we:
  • Refrain from making pronouncements and judgments on who is saved and who isn't.
  • Refuse to get discouraged at the apparent insignificance of the kingdom and how it seems not to be flourishing in many places.
  • Understand the kingdom of heaven's penetrating and permeating power wherever it is, growing silently and secretly. 
  • Realize our decisions on earth (for or against what Jesus taught) have eternal implications.
  • Value the kingdom's worth--greater than any earthly treasure or wealth.

PRAYER: Dear God help me to get the big picture of kingdom of heaven realities. May I not grow discouraged but live like a kingdom daughter as long as I am on earth, doing my bit to help it spread and grow. Amen

MORE: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" - Keith and Kristyn Getty

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, July 18, 2017

Soil that receives

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 13:18-32

TO CHEW ON: "But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.'" Matthew 13:23

I remember as a little girl, there were some preachers I liked a lot more than others simply because they told stories. Actually as a big girl I don't feel that differently. I'm sure Jesus with His repertoire of parables would have been a great favourite.

The parable of the sower and the seed is one of eight major parables which Jesus told. He not only told the story but took the time to explain it in all its intriguing allegorical detail. Thus it's easy to get caught up in the story's fine points. But it's also important not to miss the big point, which a footnote in my Bible has boiled down nicely: "Its central message is that the gospel of the kingdom will meet with varying levels of success in the human heart" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Matthew,  New Spirit-filled Life Bible, p. 1314.

And don't we all want it to meet with that 100-fold success in our own hearts! A large measure of that success is due to how receptive the soil of our life and heart is — as the parable illustrates.

Here are some aspects and results of spiritual receptivity gathered from Scripture.
  • It involves attentive listening - Nehemiah 8:3; Proverbs 4:20.
  • It requires response - Proverbs 15:32.
  • A change of direction may be needed (repentance) - Jeremiah 12:16.
  • The most complete receptivity involves the commitment and abandonment we demonstrate when we eat food (faith) - Ezekiel 2:8; Ezekiel 3:2.
  • It may look different in different people. Or perhaps we could say, it involves steps or stages. Martha showed her receptivity to Jesus by opening her home to Him and preparing a meal. Mary sat at His feet listening. While Martha's receptivity was good, Jesus called Mary's listening the one "needed" thing  - Luke 10:38-41.
  • It involves obedient action. In Acts the believers who received the gospel were baptized - Acts 2:41.
  • It may require study and analysis. We compare what others teach with the Bible to ensure we're doing the things that line up with God's Word - Acts 17:11.
  • It produces results in us personally (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and spiritual productivity in our lives (Matthew 13:23 our focus verse today).

I ask myself, am I receptive to the good news of the kingdom? Do I hear it and respond to it (with repentance if necessary)? Do I commit to it in faith? Am I obedient to its ordinances? Do I study what people say about it, checking those teachings with the Bible to make sure I'm not being led astray? Are my heart and life being changed? Am I bearing fruit (both inwardly exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit and outwardly the fruit of other lives coming to Jesus and being strengthened in Him through my influence)?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for the picture of seed and soil in this parable. Please help me to be alert to bad soil conditions in my life, and to improve my heart soil's receptiveness to You and the truths about Your Kingdom. Amen.

MORE: Soil Types

Though it's too late to analyze your garden soil for better results this year, it's never too late to gather information about how you might improve it in the future. Here's an interesting article called "Soil Types and Testing" which names the various elements in soil, and describes a simple test you can do to analyze your own garden soil. (It's fun to imagine what comparisons Jesus would have made, what lessons He would have taught with such information!)

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, July 17, 2017

Kingdom secrets

The Sower - Artist unknown
The Sower - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 13:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "The disciples came to him and asked, 'Why do you speak to the people in parables?' He replied, 'Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.' " Matthew 13:10,11 NIV

We all love to be in-the-know. Here Jesus told His disciples, you are.

Though the parables appear to be simple stories which Jesus' listeners loved because they were so homey and relatable to life, they also hold deeper truths than what  appears to the eye / ear. "…secrets of the kingdom of heaven" Jesus called them.

[Secret = musterion  from mueo "to initiate into the mysteries" hence a secret known only to the initiated, something hidden, requiring special revelation. In the NT the word denotes something that people could never know by their own understanding and that demands a revelation from God. The secret thoughts, plans and dispensations of God remain hidden from unregenerate mankind, but are revealed to all believers" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Live Bible, NIV - Kindle Location 232,200.*]

Though Jesus told His disciples the knowledge of the kingdom had been given to them, they still needed Jesus' explanation, His "Listen then to what the parable of the sower means" (Matthew 13:18). As we read Jesus' interpretation of the sower story (the verses that follow today's reading) we see what kind of metaphor this was and how Jesus intended his listeners and us readers to interpret it from a literary standpoint.

But there is another level of understanding possible, beyond literary interpretation and to which Jesus referred when He said to the disciples: "… the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them" (Matthew 13:11).

What distinguished the you from the them? It was that the you—the disciples—believed in Him. They were open to the truths He taught and willing to line up their lives with them. The them, the crowds, the Pharisees and religious leaders didn't believe. Some were downright hostile.

Jesus goes on to describe these believers as those who had (knowledge, insight, obedience) and so would be given more whereas those who didn't have would lose even the little understanding they already possessed (Matthew 13:12).

Jesus' truths are revealed:
  • to little children - Matthew 11:25.
  • by God in heaven - Matthew 16:17.
  • to those enabled by the Father - John 6:65.
  • by His Spirit - 1 Corinthians 2:10,14.
  • "to the Lord's people" - Colossians 1:26, 27.
  • through "an anointing from the Holy One" - 1 John 2:20, 27.

As we study the Bible and read it's parables and stories, let's not lose sight of the supernatural help necessary to really get them. That help leads to understanding that comes not only from our heads, but also involves our hearts.

Dear Jesus, help me to be the kind of listener that has, and will be given an abundance. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission (*Kindle version). All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sometimes seeing is not believing

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 12:38-50

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.’
But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’” Matthew 12:38,39

I have often thought it would have been wonderful to live in the time of the Israelites to experience the exodus miracles, or the time of Jesus and see all the wonders He did firsthand. Then, I tell myself, I would have no trouble believing—in God, His existence, His power, His goodness, His ability to keep me.

The scribes and Pharisees were witnesses too. They had seen many of Jesus’ signs. Yet they still resisted believing in Him. It’s like they had a set mold in their mind of how things must be, of how Messiah would look and what He would do. Jesus didn’t fit into that mold and as a result, all their rationalizing abilities were spent on explaining how He could not be who He claimed to be (including the claim that He was doing miracles by the power of Satan - Matthew 12:24).

All the grumbling and mistrust of the Israelites (despite what they’d seen and experienced), as well as this passage remind us—faith didn’t necessarily follow sight.

I would submit we moderns aren’t so different. If, for example, we have ruled out the possibility of a creator, then any evidence of intelligent creation is tossed out, to be replaced by theories that are far more fanciful and far-fetched than any creation story, and demand a lot more faith. (You could call it ABC faith—Anything But Creation faith.)

The sign Jesus left the Scribes and Pharisees with (His resurrection - Matthew 12:40), was, not surprisingly, also rationalized away by them (Matthew 28:11-14).

The question we might ask ourselves on reading this passage is, "How is faith conceived and kept strong with or without signs?"

Based on the stubborn disbelief of these religious leaders, it’s my conviction that faith in God and Jesus is first a decision to open our minds to His existence and all that that implies (as described in the Bible). When we do that, so much of history and modern life falls into place.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to see and live life through the lens of Your existence, death, and resurrection, that is, through faith. Amen.

"Sometimes the very presence of God is barred by our presuppositions and our intense and constant desire for triumph." - Ravi Zacharias (Source: Brainy Quotes)

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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