Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Don't face trouble alone

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 107:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He saved them out of their distresses." Psalm 107:19

The first part of Psalm 107 talks about many kinds of trouble, described in the language of bondage.
  • There is the bondage of being owned by the enemy (Psalm 107:2,3).
  • There is the bondage of homelessness and not enough to eat and drink (Psalm 107:4-7).
  • There is the bondage of terminal illness (physical—and spiritual? "… sat in darkness") that is caused by rebellion and insisting on one's own way (Psalm 107:10-14).
  • There is the bondage of foolish, self-destructive behaviour (Psalm 107:17,18).

The writer uses a variety of words to describe this subjection: "…wandered … distresses … longing soul … hungry soul … sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, Bound in affliction and irons … chains … gates of bronze … bars of iron … gates of death … destructions…"

It's easy to recognize ourselves described here. Perhaps we see ourselves as we were before we came to Jesus, lost and wandering. Or we've experienced the humiliating bondage of an illness or accident (when I was convalescing from my broken hip in 2014, the feeling of being limited and bound by pain and weakness was very real). It doesn't even have to be a big thing or event that binds us. I'm intrigued by the words:
"He sent His word and healed them,
And delivered them from their destructions" - Psalm 107:20
(emphasis added).
Sometimes slavery comes from within ourselves—our appetites for food, entertainment, our physical, emotional and social longings.

When we feel bound by a physical condition or mentally, emotionally or spiritually, do we do what the psalmist says to do here—cry to God in our trouble (Psalm 107:6,13,19)?

How He answers in our specific case—by supplying food and drink, or healing from illness, or helping us break chains of habit and addiction—is up to Him and will be tailored to us and our situation. But we do need to take advantage of the recourse we have.

PRAYER: Dear Father, when I am in trouble, help me to remember whose I am, and to call out to You for help, intervention, and deliverance. 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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Holy ambition

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 2:20-3:11

 "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God." Colossians 3:1

"All initiative is not inspired," says Oswald Chambers. "A man may say to you -- 'Buck up, take your disinclination by the throat, throw it overboard and walk out into the thing!' That is ordinary human initiative. But when the Spirit of God comes in and says, in effect, 'Buck up,' we find that initiative inspired" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Feb 16 reading.

That's what Paul is telling us to do in Colossians 3:1 - to buck up and start making "those things which are above" a matter of thought and action. In other words, to have holy ambition.

"Holy Ambition" is a topic in my Thompson Chain Bible. Here are some of the passages listed under it - a sampling of "those things which are above" that we are to seek:
  • Enter (the Kingdom of Heaven) through the accepted entrance (Luke 13:23-28).
  • Be a hard worker in God's Kingdom, sharing God's word with integrity (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • Pursue love, the spiritual gifts, and the ability to proclaim God's truth with power (prophecy) (1 Corinthians 14:1).
  • Give life our best effort and finish well (collect the prize) (Philippians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 9:24).

It's a list of lofty things for sure. Translating these items from theory into everyday living is the challenge. What does it mean, for example, to enter through the narrow gate? It may mean being the only one in your family who believes and accepts salvation through Jesus. Living to finish well may mean persevering in a job that is sometimes unsatisfying and tedious.

Perhaps one way of applying such principles to life would be to ask ourselves questions, like 'Will this activity help me pursue love? Is it consistent with me being a Kingdom worker? Will it help me finish well?'

To quote Chambers again:

"The initiative of the saint is not towards self-realization, but towards knowing Jesus Christ. The spiritual saint never believes circumstances to be haphazard, or thinks of his life as secular and sacred; he sees everything he is dumped down in as the means of securing the knowledge of Jesus Christ….Whether it be eating or drinking or washing disciples' feet, whatever it is, we have to take the initiative of realizing Jesus Christ in it" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 11 reading.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to know the difference between human and holy ambition. May I have the imagination to see Jesus present in every circumstance.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.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Servants rule

Image from
 TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 10:34-45

TO CHEW ON: "But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.'" Mark 10:42-44

If you are a reader of science fiction or fantasy you will be familiar with the idea of an alternate universe. It is the setting an author creates, where the sky may be pink, the animals talk, or people communicate by electronic waves filtered through nerve endings -- whatever the author has imagined and created.

In a way the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God is like that alternate universe. When we give Jesus our lives and enter that kingdom, we soon discover that the 'laws of gravity' have changed.

In Mark 10 Jesus explains one of those changes to His disciples. The Zebedee brothers, James and John, have just come to Jesus asking for a special position in the kingdom they expect Jesus to set up (which they think will be earthly and happen any day now). The other disciples are understandably outraged. Who do these two think they are -- asking for special treatment!?

Instead of scolding them. Jesus gathers all the disciples around to take advantage of this teaching moment. He explains that, unlike the universe they have lived in their whole lives, where the great ones are the people with recognized position, in the Kingdom of Heaven, the great ones are the ones who serve. For, Jesus explains, even the Son of Man (God incarnate), came not to be served but to serve (vs.45).

We, or at least I, still struggle with this concept. I'm easily star-struck by someone's outward popularity or power, judging greatness by outward appearances (look how the media fawns over her, how often he is quoted, how many Twitter and Facebook followers she has, how many people follow his blog). But that's not what impresses God. He takes note of the unknown person who may be doing the lowest, most behind-the-scenes job (cleaning toilets, typing the minutes, cooking and serving the food) with an attitude of willing service. In His eyes, those are the truly great ones, the ones in first place, the ones who rule.

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the heart of a genuine servant. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. James the Apostle

Today is the day church liturgy remembers and honours the Apostle James, who is known for more than his request to get special treatment in Jesus' kingdom. Tradition credits him with being the first of the twelve apostles to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus. The liturgy for the Feast of James the Apostle begins with this prayer:

O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 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.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Persistent, overbold, shameless asking

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 11:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "'So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.'" Luke 11:9-10

If you saw my monthly prayer list, you would know that I take these words of Jesus seriously. Many of the items keep reappearing month after month, even year after year. In some ways, the fact that they are still there is a "yes" answer. In the case of ill family members and friends, that they're still on my list means they're still alive to be prayed for.

It's good to know that instead of resenting our persistence (which can also be translated importunity, overboldness, and shamelessness) God encourages it.

A little footnote in my Bible explains it this way:
"Jesus teaches persistence in prayer along with a sense of urgency and boldness. He does not suggest that we must overcome God's reluctance to respond to our requests but that we must be earnest and wholehearted in prayer. The persistence is necessary for our benefit, not God's." New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1409.

For what do you continue to ask? What do you keep seeking? What doors remain closed? Whether your requests are for yourself or others, pester God about them. He doesn't mind. Instead, He invites bulldog prayer habits.

 Dear God, thank You for this invitation to persist in prayer. Today it encourages me to pray with new energy for the things that have been on my prayer list a long time. Amen.

MORE:Prayer Lists

Do you use a prayer list? For years I have gone back and forth between using one and not. In 2008 I invented a form that I can fill in weekly (though I have been doing it monthly). It has a space for answered prayers. I describe it here.

How do you keep track of things to pray for?

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Praying for a good land

Red Leaf House of Prayer: check it out.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 85:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Yes, the Lord will give what is good;
And our land will yield its increase." Psalm 85:12

Is the state of our land—the country we live in with its political borders, the very dirt under our feet—dependent on God's blessing? The sons of Korah, writers of this psalm, would make that connection. In this prayer for favour on their land they:
  • remind God of His past goodness to them including the fact that He has returned them from captivity  (Psalm 85:1-3).
  • beg for spiritual revival ("Restore us... revive us ... show us mercy ... grant Your salvation" - Psalm 85:4-7)
  • dream about how His mercy on the land will look (Psalm 85:8-13). It's a metaphorical picture of good qualities reunited: mercy and truth meeting; righteousness and peace kissing.  There's a new crop of truth springing from the ground like a germinating field. Righteousness looks down on it from heaven (we envision the sun, smiling down on new growth).

I do my share of complaining about the state of my country—its judicial foot-dragging, its penchant toward political correctness that turns a blind eye when some break the law while it clamps down hard on others, and its slide into immorality and ethical greyness. But do I bring these concerns to God as much as I bellyache about them to others?

If not, why not? I suspect it's because at some level I haven't made the connection between His power and the state of the country I love.

I want to pick up the slack so my land "will yield its increase" not only of physical plenty but of righteousness, truth, and mercy.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being the God of nations and lands as well as individuals. Help me to cast my concerns about Canada on You. I pray for a time we will "make His footsteps our pathway" - Psalm 85:13.

MORE: Prayer for our country

In her book Praying with Fire, Barbara Billett writes prayers based on passages from the Bible. In her prayer for Leaders / Word Confession for Canada she writes the following—an excerpt from a longer passage  (substitute the name of your country in places there are references to Canada):

"Father, in the Name of Jesus, You have given me the keys of the kingdom; and whatever I bind on earth is bound in heaven; and whatever I loose on earth is loosed in heaven. Therefore in the mighty Name of Jesus, I cast down the wisdom of this world—that which is earthly, sensual and demonic from over our nation and the leaders of our nation in the Name of Jesus.

I command wrong mind sets, philosophies and belief systems to be utterly overthrown and demolished from the minds of our Canadian leaders in government, the law enforcement, and judicial systems, the Armed Forces, (the media [my insert]), and the educational system in the Name of Jesus.

It is written in Your Word that the heart of the king is in the hand of You, Lord, and that You turn it whichever way You desire. I believe that the hearts of our Prime Minister and the leaders of Canada are in Your hand and that their decisions are divinely directed by You..."

(Based on: Matthew 18:18-19; James 3:15; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5; Proverbs 21,1.

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, July 22, 2016

"Do not cling..."

Mary Magdalene Repentant - Gustave Dore
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:1-18

"Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'"  John 20:17

Jesus was dead and now Mary was being denied even the last thing she could do for Him. I can sense her outrage: "'They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.'" So when Jesus revealed Himself to her, it was beyond incredible. Not only was His body returned, but Himself, alive, warm, touchable, talking!

It was different than before though. "'Don't cling to Me,'" Jesus said. He wouldn't be held down. His mission continued and involved ascension—His permanent physical removal from earth.

Was it bittersweet for Mary, I wonder, having Him back and yet not? Being told to deliver this mysterious message about His coming ascension to the disciples?

It's easy for us, who know how the story continues, to think it was no big deal for them. Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit came, and so the Spirit of Jesus was available to everyone—way better than when His physical presence was limited to one place at a time.

But Mary had no idea how events would unfold. It was as much a walk of faith for her as dealing with the unknown is for us. And just as Mary and the disciples came to understand the wisdom of God's plan as it played out, so we may see the same as we resist the temptation to cling to the past, and live in faith and obedience in the inscrutable now.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me not to cling to the past but to embrace Your plan as it unfolds in my life and circumstances. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:

"Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

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

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

20 things about Jesus in Colossians

Jesus by the sea - Alexandre Bida
Jesus by the sea - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 2:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."  Colossians 2:9

"Colossians clearly portrays Jesus as superior to and preeminent over all things," writes Leslyn Musch in her Truth-In-Action Through Colossians commentary of my Bible. She says: "As you read this letter, look for all the things said about Christ" - Leslyn Musch, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1671.

Let's take up her challenge and look for clues about Jesus in Colossians.
  1. He has a kingdom. Paul refers to "the Kingdom of the Son of His (the Father's) love" - Colossians 1:13.
  2. We are redeemed (bought back) through His blood - Colossians 1:14.
  3. We have forgiveness of sins through His blood - Colossians 1:14. 
  4. He is the image of the invisible God - Colossians 1:15.
  5. He is the firstborn over all creation - Colossians 1:15.
  6. He created everything in heaven and earth - Colossians 1:16.
  7. He is before all things - Colossians 1:17.
  8. In Him all things consist - Colossians 1:17.
  9. He is the head of the body—the church - Colossians 1:18.
  10. He is called the "firstborn from the dead" giving Him the preeminence - Colossians 1:18.
  11. All the fullness dwells in Him - Colossians 1:19.
  12. He reconciles all things in heaven and earth to Himself - Colossians 1:20.
  13. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily - Colossians 2:9.
  14. He is the head of all principalities and powers - Colossians 2:10.
  15. He makes believers alive together with Him - Colossians 2:13.
  16. He disarmed and triumphed over principalities and powers - Colossians 2:15.
  17. He is now sitting at the right hand of God - Colossians 3:1.
  18. He will one day appear on earth again - Colossians 3:4.
  19. He will reward those who fear Him and serve Him in obedience - Colossians 3:23,24.
  20. He is a mystery - Colossians 4:3.

There is much to ponder and wrap one's head around here!  Musch says, "Let faith rise in you as you see the unsurpassed greatness of who Jesus is and all that He has accomplished on our behalf" - source as above.

Let's take that challenge into our day!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, these many aspects of You boggle my mind. Please illumine my mind and heart to begin to understand Your greatness, Your loveliness, and Your preeminence. Amen.

MORE: Fairest Lord Jesus - sung by Ross Parsley

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

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