Friday, September 04, 2015

A pest in the garden

"Rise up my love, my fair one
and come away"
by James Shaw Crompton
"Rise up my love..." by James shaw Crompton
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 5:2-6:3

TO CHEW ON: "I had put off my garment;
how could I put it on?
I had bathed my feet;
how could I soil them." Song of Solomon 5:3


Even this idyllic garden of love has a pest or two. In today's reading we see glimmers of selfishness when Beloved comes to the door, but Bride doesn't feel like getting dressed or soiling her clean feet. So she delays. When she does eventually open the door no one is there.  Beloved has gone. She has delayed too long.

We may recognize Bride's selfishness in reactions that well up within us. We don't like to be interrupted, pulled away from activities that we have planned, or have our sleep broken by the telephone.

After ignoring the summons to respond we may be filled with regret just like Bride was. But when we try to back-track, we often find, just like she did that once an opportunity to show love has been squandered, it is lost forever.

PRAYER: Dear God, I recognize Bride's selfishness in me. Help me to respond to opportunities to show love and think more of others than myself. Amen.

MORE: The sober truth


John Piper explores selfishness in a February 2011 sermon entitled "I Act the Miracle":
"Selfishness is virtually the same as pride and is the deep, broad corruption that is at the bottom of it all. I would give it six traits.
    •    My selfishness is a reflex to expect to be served.
    •    My selfishness is a reflex to feel that I am owed.
    •    My selfishness is a reflex to want praise.
    •    My selfishness is a reflex to expect that things will go my way.
    •    My selfishness is a reflex to feel that I have the right to react negatively to being crossed.
And the reason I use the word “reflex” to describe the traits of selfishness is that there is zero premeditation. When these responses happen, they are coming from nature, not reflection. They are the marks of original sin.
Now what happens when this selfishness is crossed?"
- Read all of I Act the Miracle and discover ANTHEM (an acronym for victory over selfishness and its nasty symptoms).
 By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

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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, September 03, 2015

Five ways to prove your faith is alive

Sprouting vegetables
"Receive... the implanted word" - RGBStock.com photo
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 1:19-2:17

TO CHEW ON: "But be doers of the word and not hearers only deceiving yourselves. … Thus also faith by itself, it if does not have works, is dead." James 1:22; 2:17.


In our reading today, James stresses the importance of living what we claim to believe. He begins by clarifying where those beliefs originate. They are not our ideas but come from the word: "… receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" - James 1:21.

He goes on to give five examples of things we do that prove our faith is alive. The person with a living faith:

1. Controls his / her tongue - James 1:25
The phrase used for control in the NKJV is "bridle his tongue" (James 1:25). A bridle is "the head harness including bit and reins, used to guide or restrain a horse" - Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary. The bit goes into the horse's mouth, the harness—leather straps attached to each side of the bit—fits over the horse's muzzle and the driver or rider holds the reins to control and steer the horse. What a picture of a self-controlled mouth / speech—or better yet, a metaphor of speech controlled by the Holy Spirit, the One who should be in our life's saddle.

2. Gives practical help to society's poor - James 1:26.

"Orphans and widows" are named here.
Visit  - episkeptomai  is more than a mere social call. It means to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes in order to see how he is; to look upon in order to help or benefit; to look about or look out for one to choose, employ etc.

3. Stays pure - James 1:26.
The NKJV uses the phrase "unspotted from the world." The NASB says "unstained." The Amplified adds "uncontaminated." 

4. Treats everyone the same - James 2:1-9.
James takes quite a bit of space to describe the tendency of his readers to fawn over those who appear wealthy while sidelining the poor person. He calls it "partiality" and names it what it is: "sin" - James 2:9.

5. Is generous to the needy brother or sister - James 2:15-16.
James uses the word "give" to describe what they do for these people.
Give - didomi means to give of one's own accord, to let have, supply, furnish necessary things, hand out lots. The sense is of generous, no-questions-asked giving.

Two thousand-plus years later, this list is as relevant as it ever was. Let's challenge ourselves today by living out practical proofs in these ways—and others—that our faith is truly alive.


PRAYER: Dear God, help me today to express through my actions the love and commitment I say that have to You. 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, September 02, 2015

Enticing desires

Twisted ladder-like structure
Photo from RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 1:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed." James 1:14


In North America's new-world climate of celebrating practices the Bible condemns, one thing bothers me especially: the young age at which these proclivities apparently manifest themselves. When people say they knew at age five or six that they are the wrong sex—when little elementary school boys and girls say they feel they should really be little girls and vice versa, I find myself asking—weren't they born this way? They don't really have a choice, do they?

James answers these questions in today's reading.

Yes, they were born that way. We were all born twisted by a sinful nature. Each one of us has our set of "own desires" by which we are easily enticed to stray from God's revealed ways—that is, enticed to sin.

The enticements we give in to may be less socially controversial—like the desire to be noticed (pride) or to have lots of stuff (covetousness), etc. But their end is just as much sin  as sexual rebellion.

But yes also to the choice question. We do have a choice as to whether we give mental assent and eventually outward expression to those sin-enticing desires. My Bible's study notes explain it this way:

"When inner desires respond to outward enticement, sin is spawned. James does not mention Satan's role in temptation. His purpose is not to discuss the origin of sin but to explain that enticement to evil is not from God. In stressing the outward nature of temptation, James leaves sinners no excuse. Satan is indeed the external source of temptation, but no one can blame him for the roots of sinful deeds, which lie within the individual. See Mark 7:1-23" - John Mark Ruthven, study notes on James, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1751.

So as we consider the society in which we live, let's pause for a personal reality check. We're in the same boat—born sin-twisted, not by the same enticements perhaps, but needing God's grace as much as anyone.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see myself as someone needing Your grace, even as I attempt to uphold standards of morality given in the Bible within a society that flaunts breaking them. 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, September 01, 2015

Bring them to Jesus

Jesus and the Syro-Phoenecian Woman by Alexandre Bida
Jesus and the Syro-Phoenecian Woman by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 4:24-37

TO CHEW ON: "Then they brought Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him." Mark 7:32

You've got to love this mother who brought her daughter's condition to Jesus' attention and the man's friends who took the initiative to bring their hearing- and speech-impaired friend to Jesus. In the Bible, many people brought individuals to Jesus.

  • At the beginning of His ministry, Matthew records: "… they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them" - Matthew 4:23.
  • Another time "… they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed…" Matthew 9:32.
  • A father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus - Mark 9:17-20.
  • "… men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed…" and from the housetop broke through the roof to lower him before Jesus - Luke 5:18-20.
  • Annoyed bystanders brought the loud blind man to Jesus when Jesus "… stood still and commanded him be brought to Him" - Luke 18:35-42.
  • Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus because " 'We have found the Messiah' …" - John 1:40-42.
  • Philip invited his skeptical friend Nathaniel to meet Jesus - John 1:45-46.
  • Philip and Andrew were a go-between for some Greek seekers who wished to see Jesus - John 12:20-22.
  • The scribes and Pharisees brought a sinful woman to Jesus as a test - John 8:2-6.
  • Martha invited her mourning sister Mary to come to Jesus - John 11:28.

What can we take from this sampling of folks who brought people to Jesus? Three things come to mind:

1. Often people aren't named, just referred to as "they." Neither is much said about the person they bring. The spotlight is on Jesus. Perhaps we can conclude from this that our bringing others to Jesus is not about us at all or even about them but on God and how He is glorified through these encounters.

2. People brought others to Jesus as a solution to a variety of problems including physical, mental and emotional. We too can take any problems our friends or acquaintances have, to Jesus.

3. Even when the reason behind bringing someone to Jesus was less than pure, there was a good outcome (Luke 18:35-42; John 8:2-6). Mixed motives on our part shouldn't hold us back from bringing people and situations to Him.

We still bring people to Jesus—not bodily but in our prayers.
Let's continue to do this, asking for His healing of the sick, His touch on physical deficiencies, His breaking of bondages for the demon oppressed, His forgiveness of sin, and His illumination as to who He is—all for God's glory.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to realize I need to bring the needs I encounter to You in prayer as a first action, before I give any advice or embark on any action. 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.


Monday, August 31, 2015

The rotten center

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 7:14-23

TO CHEW ON:
"For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All of these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Mark 7:21-23 ESV

The Pharisees' concept of purity seems to assume that they started out pure, or had achieved purity with their ceremonies. Then they had to keep themselves pristine by doing all kinds of cleansing rituals so no unclean thing could enter their bodies.

 But Jesus told them they had it backward. For it wasn't the things entering their bodies that defiled them but their very thoughts and actions—the things that flowed out of their fallen, defiled, impure, rotten hearts.

Are we as equally dirty? It's common to hear a person, when faced with his or her sinfulness, object: 'I've lived a pretty good life—never murdered anyone, robbed a bank, or even cheated on my spouse.'

But look at the things Jesus lists: evil thoughts ~ sexual immorality ~ theft  ~ murder ~  adultery ~ coveting ~ wickedness ~ deceit ~ sensuality ~ envy ~ slander ~ pride ~ foolishness. We see that lumped in with murder, theft and adultery are evil thoughts, coveting, envy, pride, foolishness. Can even one of us claim to never have committed at least one of these? By Jesus' measure we're all defiled and need purifying from the inside out.

The good news is that inner purity is His free gift to us:

"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you."- Ezekiel 36:25 ESV

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." - Isaiah 1:18 ESV


"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." - 1 John 1:7 ESV


PRAYER: Thank You for making my position before You very clear. I need Your cleansing to purify me from the inside. Amen.

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Scriptures marked ESV are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Escape the grip of unhealthy tradition

Dress of a Pharisee
Dress of a Pharisee
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 7:1-13

TO CHEW ON: " ' Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.' " Mark 7:13

You've probably heard the story of the young wife who cut the end off every roast before placing it in the oven. When her husband quizzed her about it, she said that's what her mom did. Mom said she did it because that's what her mother did. Grandma finally solved the mystery. "My roasting pan was too small," she said. "The roast didn't fit unless I cut the end off."

The religious pharisaic traditions we hear about in today's reading are just as binding and buried in history. Jesus names two: hand washing and Corban.

The ritual hand washing tradition came about when Jewish religious leaders decided it would please God if all people followed the hand washings done by the priests making the temple sacrifices. As well, "The Pharisees taught that religious defilement could be spread by touch, so they prescribed elaborate ceremonies of cleansing" - J. Lyle Story, notes on Mark, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1362.

"'Corban' means withdrawing something from its intended use as though it were an offering made to God" - Ibid.  After a person had declared Corban over his property, he could continue to use it himself for as long as he lived but couldn't transfer its use to anyone else. Thus if he changed his mind and wished to move his parents onto that piece of property or sell it for cash, the law of Corban made that impossible.

These traditions offend Jesus. Later on in the chapter He teaches about real filthiness and how to be cleansed from it (Mark 7:18-23). In our reading He scolds the leaders for not allowing the people to obey the moral law of honouring parents with their man-made tradition law of Corban.

I see at least two lessons for me—and all of us—to learn here:

1. We need to be aware of any tradition or custom that would cause us to break God's moral law. For example, does the violation of our church's (unwritten) dress code cause us to be unfriendly to those who come in dressed, say, for the beach? Jesus wants to love the world through us (John 3:16).

2. We need to be aware of any system of rules or traditions that tell us this is what one needs to do to please God. This makes our faith a system of works, not grace. Even a tradition of church attendance and Bible reading could function in this way, reassuring us we've earned God favour. But that's not how it's done: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" - Ephesians 2:8,9.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize the unhelpful traditions in my life and escape their hold on 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.


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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