Friday, August 22, 2014

Who do we fear?

Shiphrah & Puah - Artist unknown
Shiphrah & Puah - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 1:1-22

TO CHEW ON:
"The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live." Exodus 1:17


These Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, were doing a brave, maybe even foolhardy thing by saving the lives of newborn boys in the face of Pharaoh's command. But then, as we see the God they feared in action, we realize they were doing a very sensible thing (remarkable about their respect for God: they spared these babies even before God showed His power in the plagues of Egypt and the miracles of the desert).

I think about their stand and I see a lesson in it for me, perhaps for all of us. As our society drifts ever farther from Christian principles, I can imagine scenarios where we might need to take similar stands against our society's laws and social pressures.

For example, a few weeks ago a same-sex couple made local news when they broadcast the fact that the extended family of the baby they were set to adopt withdrew their consent for the baby's adoption because the family didn't want it to be raised by a same-sex couple. Though the family was legally allowed to do this, their actions were labelled homophobic. One of the rejected partners mused about solving such situations with legislation.

The family's stand made me ask myself, what would I have done? It's a valid question, for I believe it will be just a matter of time before the rights of Canadians (and other western, supposedly freedom-of-religion cultures) to express religious convictions in ways that go against the grain of culture, will be illegal.

I submit the answer to how we would react will always be based on who we fear more—God, who has expressed His attitude toward homosexuality and a myriad other things in His word, or the society in which we live?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me live my life for Your eyes, respecting and lining up my life with what You approve more than what society approves. 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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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Our own todah psalm

David playing the harp - Artist unknown
David playing the harp - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 124:1-8

TO CHEW ON:
"Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth." Psalm 124:6

Psalm 124 is David's joyful poem about how God has saved Israel in the past. It is one of the Psalms of Thanksgiving or todah that Bible scholars have grouped together as psalms written to:

"...praise God for something He has done for the Psalmist, to offer thanksgiving in the form of worship. There are three main aspects to todah Psalms: 1) praise for a deed God has done or an experience of God by the Psalmist; 2) it is an immediate response evoked by God’s action; 3) the tone is one of joy" - Dennis Bratcher, "Patterns for Life; Structure, Genre and Theology in Psalms").

Some things these thanksgiving psalms celebrate:
  •    God hears (Psalm 18:6; 66:19).
  •    God heals (Psalm 30:2-3).
  •    God forgives (Psalm 32:5).
  •    God delivers from the enemy.Our reading today is a great example of a deliverance story as David recalls Israel's escape from the Egyptians through the Red Sea (Psalm 124:2-5).
(See Psalm 124 on Bible Gateway - Related Resources - Asbury Bible Commentary for more examples.)

As we read Psalm 124 with its references to the Israelites' history, we might think of our own. Has God lately answered a specific prayer of ours? Has He brought healing? Are we grateful for His forgiveness? Has He delivered us from an enemy?  If you or I wrote a todah psalm of thanksgiving what stories would it tell?

Let's live today with Psalm 124's attitude of gratitude, praise, and hope because God has also been on our side. We too have escaped and "Our help is in the name of the Lord, / Who made heaven and earth" - Psalm 124:8.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for Your presence and help in my personal history. 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, August 20, 2014

Conformed / Transformed

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 12:1-8

TO CHEW ON: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." - Romans 12:2

Two words jump out at me from the above verse: Conformed and Transformed.

[Conformed: suschematizo: Compare to "schema" and "schematic." It refers to conforming oneself to the outer fashion or outward appearance, accommodating oneself to a model or pattern....Even apparent or superficial conformity to the present world system or any accommodation to its ways would be fatal to the Christian life" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1569.]

I can think of at least three levels of relationship where we are tempted to conform.


1. We are tempted to conform to the world and its systems. We should resist conforming to aspects of society that are against what the Bible teaches. The society in which I live, for example, is pro-abortion and has reinvented the definition of marriage. There is great pressure on Canadian citizens (by the media and forces of political correctness) to conform and get with the program in these areas — and others.

2. We will be tempted to conform when we are with our non-Christian friends. Do you ever find you edit yourself when you are with yours? Leaving out things that you would share freely with fellow Christians may not always be a bad thing. However, it may be a symptom of you conforming to expectations of your non-believing friends because you fear they will think you're weird or fanatical.

3. We may even be tempted to conform when we are with fellow Christians. Sam Storms in his testimony in the "Why I am / not a Charismatic" series on the Credo House Ministries blog (accessed in 2011*) describes the peer pressure he felt from fellow believers after he experienced praying in tongues when he was a teenager. He concludes:
"My early opposition to spiritual gifts was also energized by fear .... the fear of rejection by those whose respect I cherished and whose friendship I did not want to forfeit; .... the fear of losing what little status in the evangelical community my hard work had attained."

So how do we resist conformity to the world wherever it raises its head? By being "transformed by the renewing of your mind."

And how do we renew our minds? One way is to soak them in God's word. As Joyce Meyer puts it: "....we must know the Word of God well enough to be able to compare what is in our minds [and, I would add, able to recognize and compare the thinking that is behind those outside ideas and forces that tempt us to conform to them] with what is in the mind of God" - Battlefield of the Mind, p. 4.


PRAYER: Dear God, please alert me to areas where I am tempted to be conformed to this world, regardless of how subtle. Please transform my mind as I yield myself to You and give Your words the final say in my life. Amen.


*Though I can no longer find Storms' quoted article online, he talks about the same fear on his blog: "Are Miraculous Gifts For Today - Part II" (under point 6.)

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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, August 19, 2014

Unsearchable

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 11:25-36

TO CHEW ON: "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" Romans 11:33

The verse above concludes what a footnote in my Bible calls "the longest extended theological argument in the New Testament (Romans 1:16-11:33)" - Wayne Grudem,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1568. It's as if Paul is throwing up his hands and saying—"With all I've just explained about God's ways, I've merely exposed the first layer of God's wisdom and knowledge...there's so much more to find!"

[The word unsearchable means just that — unsearchable. When we search for something we seek or look for it diligently, we investigate it and give it a critical and probing inquiry. God's unsearchable wisdom and knowledge cannot be plumbed even when we subject it to such extensive investigation.]

Other Bible writers bear out the unsearchableness of God's ways. There is mystery in every category.
  • In the reasons for evil:
In Job, the Bible book that wrestles most openly with the why and wherefore of evil, the conversants draw the conclusion that God's ways are unsearchable: Job 5:9; 11:7; 33:13; 37:23.

  • In nature and the whys and wherefores of life:
"...no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end," declares Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:11. See also Ecclesiastes 8:17

  • In God's extending of grace and mercy to people:
God expresses this mystery of grace to Moses when He says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy" Exodus 33:19. He gives no reason for why He is merciful to some and not to others. And yet, when we look at our lives we see the fingerprints of His mercy and grace all over them. If you're having trouble recognizing them, read Psalm 107:1-43 for the myriad of ways God visits His grace on people.

Paul ends his musing about God's unsearchable ways with praise: "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever."

I feel the same way. I'm glad that the more we search to understand God and His dealings the more we find. I'm glad that the Bible can stand close inspection, in fact, flourishes under it opening up new treasure as we drill down.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that You are bigger than our human minds can comprehend, and that Your plans and ways can withstand our closest scrutiny. Please help me to have faith where I don't understand You and Your ways. Amen.

MORE: Grace in story

The Watcher, a novel by Sara Davison has a character, David, who does some very bad things. He eventually gives his heart to Jesus but isn't completely honest regarding his past with his wife or the church he pastors. There comes a point in the story when that past comes back to bite him and he steels himself for the worst to happen. What does happen, as expressed through David's thoughts, is a great example of God's extravagant and undeservable grace:

"He had never forgotten how he'd felt that day in the cabin, like God was so real, and so present that he could reach out his hand and touch him. Kathryn had showed him God that day, in the midst of her own terror and pain. Then in prison, the darkest place he'd ever been, he'd come to him through Tiny and the boys. Now, in the face of his betrayal, the people of his church were revealing God to him once more. What have I ever done to deserve these gifts?


It's not what you've done; it's who you are. You are mine and I'll never let you go" - The Watcher, Kindle Location 5195 (emphasis mine).
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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, August 18, 2014

Grafted branch

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 11:13-24


TO CHEW ON: "And if some of the branches were broken off, and you being a wild olive tree were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you." - Romans 11:17,18.

I am a Gentile and eternally grateful that there is a place in God's olive tree for grafted-in branches.

In an article in my Bible, Shira Sorko-Ram says of Romans 11:
"One of the most remarkable passages in the Bible states that the Gentiles were made rich because of Israel's fall (Romans 11:11-12). Because they were cast away for a season the world is being touched with the message of salvation and reconciliation to God. ...The great revelation Paul enunciates in Romans 11 stands as a towering statement to God's sovereign workings in redemption. Through Israel's sin, God provided the whole world with a Savior! 'Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! ....His ways are past finding out!' (Romans 11:33)"
- Shira Sorko-Ram, "Understanding Messianic Jewish Ministry," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1881-1882.
Paul calls God's plan "severity" and "goodness." He is severe in lopping off the unbelieving branches, but good in grafting in believing ones. It is not a matter of race with God, but a matter of belief, for He will again graft in those Jewish branches when they turn back to Him in belief (Romans 11:23).

We need to keep in mind that God's choice and acceptance of us is not due to our goodness, our race, or our heritage. We do not inherit a spot in His family because we come from a long line of believers and our parents believed in Him. Rather each person comes individually and is accepted because he or she has put personal faith in Christ for salvation. God is color blind when it comes to salvation and we should be too.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your sovereign, wise plan, in which I as a Gentile can have a part. 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, August 17, 2014

4 reasons for hardening of the hearteries

stony heart
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 11:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written: 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see, and ears that could not hear to this very day.'" Romans 11:7,8 NIV


When Paul speaks here about the Israelites being "hardened" and their "spirit of stupor,"  he's hearkening back to several references in the Old Testament that speak of a similar dullness.

Moses describes the Israelites' spiritual hardness when they are about to enter Canaan. Their minds don't understand, their eyes don't see, and ears don't hear despite the miraculous way God has cared for them during their 40-year wilderness wander - Deuteronomy 29:4.

Three prophets make a similar charge. Isaiah talks about Israel's "calloused' hearts" (Isaiah 6:9,10). Jeremiah calls them "foolish and senseless" (Jeremiah 5:21).  Ezekiel identifies an attitude of rebellion behind their spiritual hardness (Ezekiel 12:2). 

Though here in Romans Paul brings up this topic primarily to explain how Israel's spiritual state opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles, I see in the description of Israel's hardness of heart a yellow light for all believers, Jews or Gentiles. I believe we can become similarly blind, deaf, calloused, hardened, dull, and stuporous. Some ways:
  • When we fail to see and be grateful for the way God is caring for us as the Israelites did in the wilderness.
  • When we don't allow the spiritual truths of God's word penetrate our hearts ("...ever hearing but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving" - Isaiah 6:9).
  • When we make up or own way to come to God as Paul here implies Israel had done ("What the people of God sought so earnestly they did not obtain" - Romans 11:7. "Having failed to obtain the right standing with God, they had sought by their own efforts, they have been hardened..." - Wayne Grudem, commentary on Romans, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, Kindle location 260,148).
  • When we allow rebellion to creep in
Do we sense in ourselves some hardening of the hearteries (like the physical hardening of the arteries, where blood flow to the heart becomes impeded, even blocked ending in death)? Let's ask God for healing of sight, hearing, and a restoration of sensitivity to Him. He can do it!

 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 - Ezekiel 36:26.

PRAYER: Dear God, please tenderize my heart. Soften it towards You and the things that matter to You. Amen.

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All Scripture quotations 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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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Through what lens do you view life?

Joseph reveals himself to his brothers
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 45:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "'And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now, it was not you who sent me here, but God...'" Genesis 45:7-8

Relationships within families have the potential to dredge up deep emotion. We get an insight into Joseph's at least three times in the story of how he is reunited with his family as we watch him weep.

The first time is just after his brothers come to Egypt seeking food. He recognizes them but they don't recognize him (Genesis 42:8). The first time he meets them he speaks roughly to them, imprisons them for three days and, before sending them on their way, demands they return with their younger brother. Then he overhears this conversation amongst them (spoken in their native tongue—not the language of the Egyptians - Genesis 42:23):
"Then they said to one another, 'We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.'
And Reuben answered them, saying, 'Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us.'” - Genesis 42:21-22.

He realizes they haven't forgotten about him. In fact their treatment of him haunts them and they are feeling guilty. His reaction: "And he turned himself away from them and wept."

Again in today's reading, just before he tells his brothers who he is he "...wept aloud and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it" (Genesis 45:2). He weeps again when he meets his full brother Benjamin (Genesis 45:14).

But I don't believe these are primarily tears of hurt and pain. For in the years between when his brothers sold him and this time of reuniting, he has worked through the bitterness, self pity, blame etc. Because now instead of scolding his brothers, he puts the responsibility of what has happened to him on God: "'So now it was not you who sent me here, but God'" Genesis 45:8.

Oh to have a similarly God-centered view of life that cancels out blaming others and instead interprets all circumstances through the lens of God's sovereignty as Joseph does: "And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance" - Genesis 45:7.

As a commentary on this verse in my Bible expresses it:

"Trust in God's sovereign providence. He causes all things to work for your good as you remain faithful to His calling and purpose for you" - R. Russell Bixler,  notes on Genesis, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 74.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your sovereign working in my life. Please help me to view the circumstances of my life (even the difficult, bitter ones) through the glasses of Your providential love. 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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