Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spiritual benefits of insomnia

wide awake
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 16:1-11

TO CHEW ON:
"I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons." Psalm 16:7


What do you do when you can't sleep at night? Fret? Toss and turn? Count sheep? Take a pill?

Night wakefulness is referred to quite a few times in the Bible.

  • For Job's friend Elihu it was a time of hearing God's songs (Job 35:10).
  • For the psalmist Korah it was also a time of lingering songs as well as prayer (Psalm 42:8).
  • For Psalm-writer Asaph night songs evoked meditation and spirit searching (Psalm 77:6).
  • When Israel faced the Assyrians, Isaiah prophesied, not nighttime thoughts of dread and foreboding but "a song as in the night when a holy festival is kept" (Isaiah 30:29).
  • Who can forget Paul and Silas, locked in stocks in a jail in Philippi, praying and singing hymns at midnight? We remember the miraculous jail break that followed (Acts 16:25, 26)!
  • And in our psalm today, David testifies of God instructing him in the night seasons.

So next time we're troubled by insomnia, perhaps we should pause our fretting, turn our attention to God, and ask:
~ Do you have a song for me?
 

~ What Bible verses could I meditate on?
 

~ Who or what situation needs prayer?
~ Is there a battle somewhere that could be impacted by my praise and prayer?

PRAYER: Dear God, You know I don't usually think of sleeplessness as a good thing. Please help me to remember that it can be a time of prayer, song, counsel, meditation and spiritual warfare. 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.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Kept"

Guard
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 1:1-12

TO CHEW ON:
"… who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." 1 Peter 1:5

It's easy to trust in God's keeping power when times are good. But when we get sick, or suffer setbacks in business, or go through heart-breaking times with our kids, or have all we own ripped away from us by fire, tornado or mudslide, or any number of other trials, can we trust that God is still there? Is He still keeping us?

Peter here reminds the "pilgrims of the Dispersion"—mostly Gentile Christians living in various parts of Asia Minor who are experiencing persecution because of their obedience to Christ—that even through their trials they are being "kept."

["Kept—phroureo is "a military term picturing a sentry standing guard as protection against the enemy. We are in spiritual combat but God's power and peace (Philippians 4:7) are our sentinels and protectors" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1763.]

But we have our part to play in this keeping. For it is "through faith." And this keeping will not necessarily mean a return to how things were before the trial, but in ultimate salvation, completely accomplished and understood "in the last time."

If your faith is old, seasoned and experienced, a wealth of memories reminding you of how God has kept you in the past will buttress your faith now. If you're new to faith, you may want to spend time reading stories of Bible characters and biographies of modern Christ followers. The way God kept them through trials will build faith in God's creativity and faithfulness for your life. 

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for keeping me in the past and continuing to do so. Please help me to grow in faith as I experience your keeping power. Amen.

MORE: Reading list

Some Bible characters to read about:

  • Joseph - Genesis 37, 39-47.
  • Hannah - 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11.
  • Ruth - Bible book of Ruth.
  • Esther - Bible book of Esther.
  • Daniel - Daniel 1-3, 6.
  • Nehemiah - Bible book of Nehemiah.

Some faith-building biographies (links are to my reviews of these books):

  • Kabul 24 - Henry O. Arnold & Ben Pearson

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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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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The word that cuts


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 2:22-42

TO CHEW ON: "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?'" Acts 2:37

 Lydia Christensen was a 36-year-old Danish teacher who had it all—a great career, loving family, and a good man who wanted to marry her. But the Christmas of 1926 found her dissatisfied and searching for more.

Back in her apartment after celebrating with her family, she felt like reading and went to her bookshelf:

"I read off the names of the authors: Kierkegaard, Oenslaeger, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, Plato. I had read them, quoted them, lectured about them—but they offered me no answer now. At the extreme right of the top row, my eye rested on a plain volume bound in black. … For a moment I hesitated, then I reached up and pulled it down" - Appointment in Jerusalem, Derek & Lydia Prince, Kindle Location 409.

The book Lydia pulled down was a Bible. She had been required to read it for one of her college courses. Soon she was immersed in the story of Jesus from Matthew and then the Sermon on the Mount.

"At the fourth beatitude I suddenly caught my breath: 'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). Hunger and thirst … Could this be the very longing that I felt for something I could not express in words? Did I dare to apply these words to myself?" Ibid, KL 419.

Lydia did apply those words to herself and her life was changed that day. Her experience is just another example of the power of God's word which cut to the heart of the listeners in Acts (notice how much of Peter's sermon is Scripture quotes), and continues to impact people around the world.

I ask, am I opening myself to this enlightening (Psalm 119:105), burning, pulverizing (Jeremiah 23:29), growing (Acts 19:20), cutting (Hebrews 4:12) word? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the power of Your word. Help me to be guided, broken, cut,  moulded, formed, disciplined, fertilized, encouraged, and challenged by it today. Amen.

Quotes taken from Appointment in Jerusalem by Derek & Lydia Prince, Kindle Edition. Read my review of it HERE.




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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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Monday, April 21, 2014

Receive the Spirit

"... look at My hands" - Jesus - Artist unknown
"Look at My hands" - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:19-31

TO CHEW ON: So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to You!' As the Father has sent me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" John 20:20-21


This quiet scene of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit into His disciples shortly after His resurrection is quite a contrast to the pandemonium of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-13). An article in my Bible talks about the differences:

"Jesus' words 'Receive the Holy Spirit' help to set in context two different works of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life. First, here on Easter night the disciples do, in fact 'receive the Spirit' as the 'Spirit of life' - Romans 8:2. … Second, however, on Pentecost the work of God's Spirit as the Spirit of power (Isaiah 11:2 "might") is to enable Jesus' disciples for ministry—witness and service—to fulfill their mission to the world" - Scott G. Bauer, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1481.

Just as God the Father breathed the breath of physical life into the nostrils of the first man (Genesis 2:7), here Jesus—God the Son—breathes spiritual life into the disciples (Romans 8:11-17). Then, later, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit empowers them for this new-life ministry.

Both works of the Spirit are necessary in our lives too—the new birth and the Spirit's empowering for what we are left on earth to do.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for giving us new spiritual life through Your Spirit and for also giving us the power for ministry through Him. 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.


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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Do not fear!


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 28:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "But the angel answered and said to the women, 'Do not be afraid'.... Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid...'" Matthew 28:5,10

So often in the Bible, the first words heaven speaks when it encounters earth is "Do not fear. Do not be afraid."

Why is that? Perhaps because there is within those encounters all the fear-producing elements:

Fear: 1] an agitated feeling aroused by awareness of actual or threatening danger, trouble, etc., 2] An uneasy feeling that something may happen contrary to one's desires. 3] A feeling of deep reverential awe and dread 'the fear of God.' 4] A continuing state or attitude of fright, dread or alarmed concern."

Angel encounters are beyond the ordinary, the explainable, and outside usual human experience. Our sinful state and tendencies anchor in reality the fears that come out in such meetings. It is natural to react like Isaiah did: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" - Isaiah 6:5.

The word 'fear' used by the angels and Jesus here is phobeo, defined as "panic that grips a person causing him to run away, be scared, alarmed, frightened, dismayed, intimidated, anxious and apprehensive (compare 'phobia)"  - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1308.

"Don't do that — run away, be scared, alarmed, frightened," say the angels and Jesus at the unveiling of the resurrection. "For this is good news. Now your most basic fear — the fear of death — is conquered."

Imagine how incredible must have been the realization for Jesus' disciples and friends that He was back. But even greater the joy when it finally sunk in what He had accomplished. That what He had said to Martha just before raising Lazarus ("Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die'" - John 11:25-26) was now a reality for them, indeed for all who believe in Him. For us! We do not need to be afraid of our last great enemy - death.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for conquering death in Your resurrection. May the knowledge of what that means for me sink deep into my psyche, helping me life free-fear. Amen.

MORE: Easter! "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" - Steve Green




The Easter Day liturgy begins with this collect:

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 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.
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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Fighting against God

The sealed tomb - artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 27:57-66

TO CHEW ON: "'Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away and say to the people, "He has risen from the dead."' … So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard."  Matthew 27:64,66

How futile to fight against God this way, we say in hindsight, as we read about the precautions the religious leaders of Jesus' day took to guarantee His influence would come to an end. The days and weeks after Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit have more examples of fighting against God.

After Peter healed the lame man and the city was all a-chatter about that miracle, the rulers made another pronouncement: "But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them that from now on they speak no more in this name." To that Peter and John answered: "… we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" - Acts 4:17,20.

A short while later Peter and John made a miraculous angel-aided break from prison and the leaders found them again teaching in the temple. Again the high priest forbade them to teach in Jesus' name, to which Peter they replied: "We ought to obey God rather than men" - Acts 5:22-29.

Finally, the Pharisee Gamaliel came to this rather profound conclusion: "'… keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of man, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God you cannot overthrow it—lest you be found to be fighting against God'" - Acts 5:38,39.

I sometimes wonder what side some of Christendom's current leaders would have found themselves on if they had lived in Jesus' day. What about us? When God works in ways that are biblical but new to us, what do we do? Are we quick to defend our tradition, labeling what we haven't seen before out-of-line, wrong, even demonic? Or do we take a wait-and-see attitude, careful to avoid being in the dangerous position of fighting against God?

PRAYER:  Dear God, help me to be in tune with You and what You are doing. May neither my human skepticism, the fear of man, nor any other thing take me to a place of fighting against 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.


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Friday, April 18, 2014

Forsaken

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 27:27-56

TO CHEW ON: "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" - Matthew 27:46

Jesus and God the Father were always incredibly close. Even at twelve years, Jesus wanted to be in his Father's house and seemed surprised that His parents hadn't thought to look there first when He was discovered missing on their journey back to Nazareth.

At Jesus' baptism the Father, in "a voice from heaven" alerted the onlookers to their relationship: "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."

Jesus was always going off somewhere to spend time with His Father. He'd get up early, spend all nightstay behind, go off by Himself  just so He could be with Him.

Again at Jesus' transfiguration, God the Father broke through to the human bystanders in the proud pronouncement: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!"

So when Jesus cried from the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" we know something very serious was up.

And why Had God the Father forsaken His beloved Son? Because that Son had become something the Father could not look at. Jesus became utterly abhorrent to God when He took our sins on Him.

"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Why did Jesus and God allow that to happen? Because:

"God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life' - John 3:16

Explained eloquently by J. I. Packer:

"God's love to sinners was expressed by the gift of His Son to be their Saviour. The measure of love is how much it gives and the measure of the love of God is the gift of His only Son to be made man, and to die for sins, and so to become the one mediator who can bring us to God. No wonder Paul speaks of God's love as "great," and passing knowledge (Ephesians 2:4; 3:19). Was there ever such costly munificence?" - Knowing God, p. 138-9.

PRAYER: Dear God, Thank You for sending Jesus. Jesus, thank You for enduring the utter desolation of my sin and death on the cross and so that I can be reconciled to God. Amen.


MORE: Good Friday

Today the church celebrates Jesus' crucifixion. We call it "Good Friday."

The Good Friday liturgy begins with this collect:

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Andrew Peterson's song "The Silence of God" portrays how we  feel when it seems God is giving us the silent treatment. At such times perhaps the best thing for us to do is follow Jesus' example and keep praying.




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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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