Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Unity—the reputation we want

Church unity - cross
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 1:12-30

TO CHEW ON: "Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel." Philippians 1:27

Whenever a prominent Christian makes news for conduct, it reflects on the whole church. As Christians we don't live only to ourselves and this is never more evident than when one of our famous ones stumbles.

"Conduct is a word that usually describes one's life as a citizen," writes Wayne Grudem in his commentary on this passage. "The city of Philippi prized its Roman citizenship, but Paul reminds his readers that the most important conduct is to behave in a manner befitting citizens of the kingdom of God" - Wayne Grudem, Study notes on Romans, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1661.

Paul goes on to tell the Philippians what he'd like to be hearing about them: "… so that… I may hear of your affairs that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel" (emphasis added). In plain words, he wants them to have a reputation for UNITY.

Paul is surely following his leader Jesus in this. Hear Jesus pray in John: "…'that they all may be one as You Father are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us that the world may believe that You sent Me' " - John 17:21.

So let's remember, we don't live only for ourselves, Our conduct reflects on the whole body of Christ. And there's no better "reflection" than to mirror the unity of the Godhead.  Let's work for that within our own congregations and throughout the many communities that make up Christendom. How? Some ways to foster unity that come to mind:

  • Focus on the beliefs we hold in common, versus those on which we disagree.
  • Get to know Christians from other churches in the community. One way to do that is to attend interdenominational events. For example, our community has a joint Good Friday service that involves all evangelical churches that care to participate.
  • View members of other churches as brothers and sisters in the same big family rather than rival families.

PRAYER:
Dear God, may my conduct be a credit to Your kingdom and a force for unity in it. 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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Monday, September 15, 2014

Prize excellence

TODAY'S SPECIAL:  Philippians 1:1-11

TO CHEW ON:
"And this I pray … that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value—recognizing the highest and the best and distinguishing the moral differences." Philippians 1:9,10 AMP

Excellence. We appreciate it in our things—well-made clothes of quality fabrics, vehicles that purr as they run on a minimum of gas, a sofa that still looks good after being a trampoline, a table and a wrestling mat to a couple of kids.

But what does excellence in a life look like? Perhaps we should break our lives down into their parts to see what is excellent in various departments.

Thoughts

All activities begin in our thoughts. The Bible has some excellent advice about what kinds of thoughts we should allow to tumble around in our heads:
  • A list of thought-worthy subjects: things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, praiseworthy is found in Philippians 4:8.
  • Thinking about God's word is excellent - Joshua 1:8.
  • Thoughts about ourselves should be realistic - Romans 12:3.

Words
Our words give others a look into our hearts/thoughts. The Bible describes excellent words as:
  • Appropriate - Proverbs 15:23; 25:11.
  • Gracious - Ecclesiastes 10:12; Colossians 4:6.
  • Comforting - Isaiah 50:4.
  • Edifying - Ephesians 4:29.
  • Simple and clear - Matthew 5:37.
  • Convicting in their honesty and wisdom - Ecclesiastes 12:11.
  • Spiritually inspiring - Ephesians 5:19; 1 Peter 4:11.

Work
Most of us spend the majority of our time at work. Whether we work for a boss or are self-employed we want to do excellent work. The Bible's description of excellent work and workers includes the facts that:
  • Excellent work is deliberate and planned, not rushed - Proverbs 21:6.
  • Excellent workers are faithful and diligent - 1 Corinthians 4:2; Proverbs 10:4.
  • They work at everything as if God were the boss - Colossians 3:17. 
  • They work with a view to what lasts for eternity - Luke 12:16-20.

What a standard! Let's challenge ourselves to excellence in every department of our lives today.


PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the wisdom to recognize the path of excellence and the discipline to take it. Amen.

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Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)



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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nurture your song-life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 98:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things" - Psalm 98:1a

Are you a singer? By that I mean, do you find yourself voicing or humming tunes? Do songs play in your mind and overflow from your mouth?

Songs perform many functions in our society. They tell stories, express love, grief, longing, and outrage. They entertain us and with them we entertain ourselves and each other. Unfortunately we often equate singer with star and feel that if we don't sing well we have no business inflicting our sour notes on others.

But the psalmist never mentions accuracy of pitch or quality of tone when he tells us to sing. One gets the sense that instead of technical skill, it's the spiritual life behind the song that matters. It's a life so vigorous it can't help but find expression in "a new song" and a "joyful shout." It spontaneously erupts in songs and praises, taking advantage of every available music-maker; the harp, the trumpet, and the horn for the Psalm writer (the piano, guitar, drum, synthesizer, violin, cello, bass etc. for us)

The second part of our focus verse—"For He has done marvelous things"—gives us the reason for such songs and a clue about how to nurture a robust song-life. It begins when we move our attention from ourselves to God. For He has done and is doing "marvelous things" all around us in creation, in history, and in our own lives.

Let's prepare a path for song as we meditate on God's many "marvelous things." Then let's open our mouths and lend our vocal cords to sing the praise, worship, and thanks that flows from our meditation.

PRAYER: Dear God, may thoughts about You and Your "marvellous things" birth songs in my heart today. When I don't feel like singing, help me to open my mouth in faith that my feelings will follow as I sing anyway. Amen.

MORE: Holy Cross Day
Today the church celebrates Holy Cross Day or Feast of the Cross It is a feast that celebrates the cross as the instrument of salvation. The day's liturgy begins with this Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. 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, September 13, 2014

Our own Egyptian Hallel

"Miracle at the Red Sea" - Artist unknown
"Miracle at the Red Sea" from Artwork from the Bible and Its Story - 2

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 114:1-8

TO CHEW ON: "When Israel went out of Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became His sanctuary,
And Israel His dominion." Psalm 114:2


Psalm 114 is one of the Egyptian Hallel psalms*. It celebrates Israel leaving Egypt—an event that put God's stamp of ownership on them: "Judah became His sanctuary,
And Israel His dominion."


After stating this the psalmist recalls specific incidents that we could say symbolize facets of the relationship between Israel and Yahweh:

God delivered them: "The sea saw it and fled; / Jordan turned back." Twice God turned back water for Israel—once at the Red Sea, taking them forever out of the Egyptians' clutches, and again when they crossed the Jordan River into Canaan (Exodus 14:21; Joshua 3:13-16).

God communicated with them. He told them His will and what pleased and displeased Him when He dictated the law to Moses on Sinai. "The mountains skipped like rams, / The little hills like lambs" refers to the mighty earthquake that rocked the Mount Sinai when God's glory cloud settled there (Exodus 19:18).

God supplied their needs: "Who turned the rock into a pool of water, / The flint into a fountain of waters." Twice during their wilderness wanderings God supplied water from rocks (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11).

There is a wonderful parallel for us in this psalm.
  • For when we leave our Egypt of slavery to sin, we too become "His sanctuary" (1 Corinthians 6:19), under "His dominion" (John 20:27,28).
  • He communicates to us through the Bible (Joshua 1:8), a revelation that may lead to earth-shaking changes in attitudes and lifestyle for us (Hebrews 4:12).
  • We can also trust Him to supply our needs (Matthew 6:31-34).

PRAYER: Dear God, may it truly be said of me, Violet (insert your name here) has become His sanctuary. She is His dominion. Amen. 


*Egyptian Hallel Psalms:
"Hallel means praise. It is the name given to the group of Psalms 113-118, which are preeminently psalms of praise. It is called "The Egyptian Hallel," because it was chanted in the temple whilst the Passover lambs were being slain. It was chanted also on other festival occasions, as at Pentecost, the feast of Tabernacles, and the feast of Dedication. The Levites, standing before the altar, chanted it verse by verse, the people responding by repeating the verses or by intoned hallelujahs. It was also chanted in private families at the feast of Passover. This was probably the hymn which our Saviour and his disciples sung at the conclusion of the Passover supper kept by them in the upper room at Jerusalem (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26)" - Easton's Bible Dictionary (accessed through Related Resources to Psalm 114 on biblegateway.com)

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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, September 12, 2014

Hazards of judging

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 14:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." Romans 14:10

The urge within us to judge others is insidious and strong. That tendency may be stronger in some personality types than others. If we're perfectionists and hard on ourselves, we may be hard on others too.

What need does judging others fill? Why does judging make us feel so good?

It does give us a sense of moral superiority: I'm better than you because I don't do this or I do that. In this way it feeds our ego, the human side of us that wants attention and praise—not something God approves of in the first place. And judging has a lot of other hazards too.

To clarify what kind of judging we're talking about, in Romans 14 Paul addresses a specific kind of judging, i.e. Christians judging each other in non-essentials of the faith—food preferences, the behavior of each others servants, which day to observe - Romans 14:1-6. There is a place for Christians to judge the conduct of fellow believers in essentials—albeit very carefully and within guidelines - Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1.

So we're talking about Christians judging each other on non-essentials. When we do that:
  • We're revealing that we may have tendencies to commit the faults we're judging in others. The very fact we're aware of another's faults in a certain area is probably a tip-off that we struggle with the same thing (and probably sometimes fall) - Romans 2:1.
  • We're meddling in things that are none of our business. Like the food or servant issue for the Romans, when we're critical of the way fellow Christians keep their homes, or how they raise their kids, or generally live their lives, we have no idea how they got that way or what life is like for them behind the scenes - Romans 14:1-6.
  • We're setting ourselves up to be similarly judged - Matthew 7:1.
  • Our critical, judgmental attitude toward our Christian brother may keep non-Christians from coming to Christ—especially if our moral superiority extends to us judging them - Romans 14:13.
  • We don't have all the facts. We don't know enough to judge others fairly. We are to leave judging to God - 1 Corinthians 4:5; James 4:12.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be alert to when I'm being critical and judgmental, even in my thoughts. Please remind me to stop and leave the judging 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.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Trapped!

Egyptian army - Artist unknown
Egyptian army - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 13:17-14:9

TO CHEW ON: "Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel that they turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Sephon; you shall camp before it by the sea.' " Exodus 14:1,2

God's instructions to Moses in the context of what's about to happen sound like a setup. He directs Moses to lead the Israelites into a trap.

When Pharaoh changes his mind about letting the Israelites go, their impending recapture will seem easy. For the mighty multitude is boxed in by mountains and the sea—the only way out would be past Egyptian horses and chariots, or ... a miracle?

Let's remember this story when we feel trapped by circumstances—when there's nothing we can do but pray. For as God had plans to exalt His name and His honor through this event (" '…and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord' " Exodus 14:4) He may have similar plans for us in our boxed in place.

And we will be able to sing with David:

"Blessed be the Lord,
Who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
The snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord
Who made heaven and earth" - Psalm 124:6-8


PRAYER:  Dear God, when there is no human way out, help me to still have hope in 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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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Celebrate and pass on your spiritual story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 13:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, 'This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt.' " Exodus 13:8

The Israelites who experienced the first Passover night may have thought they would never forget that amazing, frightening, wonderful night. But even the most vivid experiences have a way of fading over time to the people who experience them—let alone those who weren't alive at the time and didn't live them firsthand. God knew that and gave the Israelites instructions on how to keep the story of the Passover night fresh. They were to:

Celebrate
They were to celebrate Passover on its anniversary every year (Exodus 13:5).

Refrain from certain food
Leavened food (yeast) had no part in the celebration (Exodus 13:6,7).

Tell the story
They were to tell their children their stories of this day as an explanation of what they were doing (Exodus 13:8).

Sacrifice
They were to sacrifice the firstborn males of the flock and redeem the firstborn sons as per God's instructions as a memorial of what had happened in Egypt on that night (Exodus 13:12-15).

Share symbols
They were to wear things that reminded them of that night: "…a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes." Through generations Jews followed these instructions literally. My Bible commentary says, "The later Jewish practice of wearing phylacteries while praying is based on these verses" James Carroll Tollett, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 93.

We can take a page from Israel's book as we live or own ex-Passover-night lives. No, none of us went through the actual Passover night, but if we have accepted Jesus, we have that landmark day of leaving sin's slavery for God's freedom to commemorate.
  • If we know the date we could celebrate our spiritual birthday.
  • We have a special meal—the Lord's Supper. "Participate regularly in the Lord's Supper. Passover points forward to our ultimate deliverance through Jesus our Messiah" - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action through Exodus," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 130.
  • We can tell the story of our coming to Jesus to our children and grandchildren.
  • We may have symbols we connect with our spiritual history—a golden cross, or prayer shawl perhaps—that remind us of this event. We may also hang significant Bible verses or symbols on our walls (Deuteronomy 6:9).

However we do it, let's remember and pass on our story with God, as the Israelites did.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your amazing plan that threads through history. Thank You for capturing my life in its stitches. Help me to remember my history with You and to pass it on to my children and grandchildren. 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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