Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Waiting for morning

TODAY'S SPECIAL:  Acts 23-24; Psalm 130

TO CHEW ON: "Out of the depths I have cried to You O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice!" Psalm 130:1-2a

In January 2018 it was eleven years since my brother went to the doctor about his morning headaches. The doc soon found the cause — high blood pressure, which led to a diagnosis of kidney failure, which led to the discovery of the real culprit, a tumour, the advancing tentacles of which had choked that poor kidney.

Surgery, radiation, prayer, and hope followed. But in the intervening time it became clear that that malignant tumour would not be denied. After a time in palliative care in the summer of 2010, my brother was sent home. There his nurse-wife looked after him in his own private hospice.* Her email update from early 2011 is a modern incarnation of the Psalm 130 experience. Here are some snatches:

"...anticipation and hope is replaced by a reality that continues to wear you down and break your heart 100 times a day.... Sometimes I feel that we have entered into a 'twilight zone,' where all the old expectations and normal pleasures have been tossed aside, and we are left to grapple with a whole new set of circumstances and rules.... This is the valley of the shadow of death..."

Psalm 130 is a psalm written by a sufferer for sufferers. Eugene Peterson in his book A Long Obedience in he Same Direction speaks of what it teaches us:

"Such are the two great realities of Psalm 130: suffering is real; God is real.... We accept suffering; we believe in God. The acceptance and the belief both emerge out of those times when 'the bottom has fallen out' of our lives" p. 142.

Thankfully it doesn't end there.

"But there is more than a description of reality here, there is a procedure for participating in it. The program is given in two words: wait and watch. The words at the centre of the psalm: 'I pray to God — my life a prayer — and wait for what he'll say and do. My life's on the line before God, my Lord, waiting and watching till morning, waiting and watching till morning.' Wait and watch add up to hope" - p. 142.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be realistic about suffering. May my faith in You be unshaken by it. And help me to be a companion in waiting and watching with those who are suffering now. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 130 

MORE: Notes from the furnace

My sister-in-law ended her January update in 2011 with this testimony: "....we are not without peace and gratitude. Sorrow and peace can go hand in hand, I have discovered."

Then this quote:

"Shining is always costly.  Light comes only at the cost of that which produces it.  An unlit candle does no shining.  Burning must come before shining.  We cannot be of great use to others without cost to ourselves.  Burning suggests suffering.  We shrink from pain.  We are apt to feel that we are doing the greatest good in the world when we are strong, and able for active duty, and when the heart and hands are full of kindly service.  When we are called aside and can only suffer; when we are sick; when we are consumed with pain; when all our activities have been dropped, we feel that we are no longer of use, that we are not doing anything.

But, if we are patient and submissive, it is almost certain that we are a greater blessing to the world in our time of suffering and pain than we were in the days when we thought we were doing the most of our work.  We are burning now, and shining because we are burning.  The glory of tomorrow is rooted in the drudgery of today.  Many want the glory without the cross, the shining without the burning, but crucifixion comes before coronation." - from Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman

*UPDATE:  I initially wrote this devotion on January 25th, 2011. My brother died that evening.

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, October 16, 2018

Tell your story

Paul arrested in a riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:31-36)   - Artist unknown
 Paul arrested in a riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:31-36) - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 21-22; Psalm 129

" 'For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.' " Acts 22:15

I never tire of hearing stories of how God draws people to Himself and works in their lives. These tales—as original and varied as the people who tell them—range from stories of quiet pilgrimages to dramatic visions that turn life around in an instant. Paul's story was of the latter variety.

At the time it happened, his experience was reinforced by Ananias coming to him. Ananias was an entirely different sort of person. Paul describes him here as "… a devout man according to the law, having  a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there…" (Acts 22:12).

We know that sage Ananias had his own side of the story (Acts 9:10-18). His word to Saul/Paul was: God has chosen you. Now go and tell your story (my paraphrase of Acts 22:14-15).

Now, following his arrest by the Jerusalem mob, Paul gets to tell his story to the crowd that has just rioted and nearly taken his life (Acts 21:31-36). Of course this experience itself is a new installment in Paul's story.

Ananias' assignment to Paul is ours as well. Let's stay alert to God working in our lives so we recognize the continuing installments of our own "seen and heard" with God. Then let's retell the fresh chapters as conversations and situations, riots and debates open up along those lines.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for working uniquely in each life. Help me to recognize Your presence and action in my life and give me the courage to tell others. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 129

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, October 15, 2018

Is it time for a burning?

"Saint Paul and the burning of pagan books 
at Ephesus" by Lucio Massari (1559-1633)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 19-20; Psalm 128

TO CHEW ON: "Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them and it totaled fifth-thousand pieces of silver." Acts 19:19. 

I love the beginning of a year. I like starting new calendars and a new daybook. I get the urge to purge old papers from my files and junk from my closets and the garage. I want to unburden myself of the past and make a new start.

The people in Ephesus made such a new start too. However, for them it wasn't a new year thing where they rid themselves of their abundance of clutter, but a spiritual housecleaning where they gathered and destroyed their how-to-do-magic books.

At dinner with friends a few weeks ago, a couple told of how they did something similar. Shortly after they became Christians, the man burned all his masonic artifacts, the woman her astrology jewelry. No pastor or leader told them to. They just knew it was necessary to make this spiritual break with the past. Why? Because physical objects can be weighted with spiritual power for good or bad. Earlier in this chapter we see how people used handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched Paul to bring healing to the sick (Acts 19:12). And in our focus verse, they destroyed those magic books.

Perhaps we need to do more of this—physically destroy those objects in our lives that signify and bind us to our life before Christ: the CDs, books, jewelry, good luck charms, masks...whatever.

Occult expert Kurt Koch says:
"Every object of sorcery must be destroyed. In the great revival which Paul experienced in Ephesus, many of those who were now believers brought their books on magic arts and burned them in the sight of all (Acts 19:19).

In the revival in Indonesia the natives brought their fetishes and occult objects together in heaps and destroyed them in a similar way.

Magical books and occult objects carry with them a hidden ban. Anyone not prepared to rid himself of the ban will be unable to free himself from the influence of the powers of darkness" - Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, p. 90.
PRAYER: Dear God, please open my eyes to anything that is keeping me in Satan's bondage. Help me to make a break with any darkness from my past. Amen.

MORE: Collecting masks and objects of heathen worship

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 128

Kurt Koch makes this observation about collecting what some might call anthropological artifacts:

"Some missionaries are actually enthusiastic collectors of devil's masks and similar objects of heathen ritual worship. Through hanging the trophies up in their homes they burden the whole house and all who live in it .... These idols have sometimes been used for years or even decades in heathen rituals. In this way they become crystallization points for demonic powers in houses where they are displayed as works of art. The Spirit of God does not dwell with idols, even in a so-called Christian home" - Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, p. 92.

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.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The ready Christian

alter to the unknown god
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 17-18; Psalm 127

"Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols." Acts 17:16.

Paul is such a good example of the ready Christian: "… always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…" - 1 Peter 3:15. Here, in new-to-him Athens, watch how he does it:

1. He starts by observing his surroundings (Acts 17:16).

2. He goes to the hotbeds of thought and discussion—the synagogue and the marketplace to listen and talk. (Acts 17:17-18).

3. He accepts an invitation to speak at the Areopagus, even though the invite is hardly given in a  complimentary way. (They call him a babbler - Acts 17:18. According to my Bible's footnotes, a babbler was one who picked up scraps of learning here and there and peddled them. It seems this is a better description of those who "… spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing" - Acts 17:21).

4. He grabs their interest with something from their own culture—an inscription to an Unknown God seen on an altar. He dangles this need for something they haven't yet found in front of them: "Wouldn't you like to know Him?" (Acts 17:22-23)

5. He's a good closer. At the end of his message he urges them to take action: repent because judgment is coming (Acts 17:30-31).

6. He does all this while killing time in Athens—waiting for ministry partners to join him.

I ask myself, what would I have done if I had been in Paul's shoes? Sightsee? Probably. But with a view to giving my testimony and sharing the gospel? I don't know. I'd probably have viewed this as time off from ministry.

But for Paul—really for all of us—there is no time off. This story shows us that all kinds of situations can be a springboard for the gospel.

Though the fruit of Paul's ministry here is minimal ("For reasons Luke does not explain, results here were meagre—no baptisms, no new church, and no letter to the Athenians in the New Testament" - Gary Kinnaman, notes on Acts, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1524), some believed. But Luke/Paul don't dwell on the low numbers. Paul has been faithful, and now it's time to move on (Act 18:1).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to become a ready Christian—alert to any and all opportunities to tell about and defend my faith in You, and not discouraged by small results. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 127

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, October 13, 2018

Called and led

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 15-16; Psalm 126

TO CHEW ON: “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia but the Spirit did not permit them… Now after he had seen the vision (of a man saying ‘Come over to Macedonia to help us’) immediately we sought to go to Macedonia concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel there.” Acts 16:6-7,10

A reader, Judy, tells of a missions trip she took to South Africa (used with her permission):

First of all God supplied the funds. In 1966 I taught school on First Nations reserves north of Souix Lookout. I bought two large paintings for $35 each from Norval Morrisseau when he visited the isolated community I was teaching in. During our years of teaching in the Arctic they hung unframed, tacked up with push pins in several homes.

Fast forward ahead to 2008 when after reading something on Becky's blog I said to Christian, Where are those paintings? I'd done some research on the Internet and realized they just may have some value. I sold one of the paintings for $6,500. Christian said immediately that I should do something very special with this unexpected windfall. I like to imagine our Lord saying on the day I bought the painting, "Do I ever have a surprise for you. It will be arriving in 42 years."

I heard about the volunteer group in South Africa, again through Becky's blog. One of her daughters had worked in an orphanage and had had a very positive experience. I wanted to teach and found a school along the east coast that seemed to be a good fit. I did make it clear that I did not want to teach computers or run an after school recreation program. They said that was fine I could just be in a classroom.

I was picked up in East London by a different volunteer group than the one I'd communicated with. I thought that was a little unusual. The next day I found out that the first group had contracted me out to a second group AND . . . . . perhaps you can guess what is coming; they wanted me to teach computers and run an after school recreational program. For a few moments to use my mother's term, I was floored. Then I thought about the lessons I'd learned in home studies the previous winter studying the life of Abraham. Don't focus on the "problem." Focus on God.

I was sure God could/would enable me to do the tasks but I also knew the desire of my heart and where my strengths lie. I had immediate assurance from Him that there would be a solution to the situation. It took a couple of days until I was at King's Playschool. That was the last name of the people who ran a rural facility out of their home. I had noticed the verse "They shall shine like stars in his crown" from the song "When He Cometh" based on Zech. 9:16, on their sign. So .. . . I knew they were believers but they didn't know I was.

When I had the opportunity I told Tracy that I was a follower of Jesus Christ, that I knew He had led me to South Africa but that I didn't know what I was supposed to do. She said she'd been praying for someone to relieve her of classroom duties while she dealt with the rest of her life. Here's what was on her plate.

Pentecostal Pastor's wife of a growing church.
Home schooling their 3 children
Running the school of 50 children and 10 employees
In the process of adopting two black babies who had been abandoned
Teaching a class

I had three glorious weeks of teaching eager 5 year olds. Most of my ideas were new for them… Both Tracy and I felt so blessed…. Who, but our loving Father, would take a woman from northern North America and team her up with a woman from Southern South Africa at exactly the right time! These kinds of experiences just light a fire under my faith which was already strong. An entire year later I still marvel at it and hope I always do.

They light a fire under my faith too! I never cease to marvel at God’s way of putting together the circumstances of our lives to work for His kingdom and our blessing if that’s our desire.

(Even as I'm preparing to repost this, a song is playing on my husband's computer, reminding me of the same truth: "In His time, in His time, He makes all things beautiful in His time")

In today’s reading Paul and Silas were shunted off the track they were on by the Holy Spirit. How that looked, I’m not sure – a feeling of uneasiness, a prophetic message? However it happened, they knew they were not to go to Asia. At Bithynia likewise “the Spirit did not permit them.” The vision to go to Macedonia, then, was most welcome. Here was clear direction .

In Philippi – one of the largest cities in Macedonia – was Lydia and a band of believers who met at the riverside regularly for worship. Can you imagine how she must have felt the morning Paul and Silas showed up and told her the story of how they got there.

Judy’s story shows us that God still works in behind-the-scenes ways. It freights these familiar verses with a new and personal relevance:

“Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:27-28

PRAYER: Dear God, please put my life in the stream of Your usefulness. Help me to hear Your Spirit’s instructions and obey them. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 126

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.

Friday, October 12, 2018

One secret to perseverance

Illustration from Lyman Abbot Commentary on Acts

Oriental Prayer Meeting - Illustration from Lyman Abbot Commentary on Acts
Oriental Prayer Meeting
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 13-14; Psalm 125

TO CHEW ON: "So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus." Acts 13:4

What strikes me about the disciples here is their lack of personal agendas. They have no five-year plan to evangelize the world. There seem to be only two items on their to-do list: hear and follow God's instructions.

When those instructions come via the Holy Spirit saying "Separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" there is immediate obedience. No hanging back with—'Well, we had planned to visit our families, take a vacation, write a book…'

Their sense of being appointed and sent by God Himself on this mission was, I think, key to how they would handle what was ahead on this, Paul's first missionary journey (called Saul here, but his name was later changed to Paul). They didn't know it yet, but they would face opposition from a sorcerer, city-to-city hassling by the Jews, the desertion of a team member,  the threat of stoning in one place and actual stoning in another (Acts 13 & 14).

The lesson I take from this is  that I too need to listen to God's voice when I see opportunities to be sure that what I take on is by His leading and not my own idea. I need to be open to new tasks in areas I hadn't even considered. And when I don't hear anything specific, I need to be content to carry on faithfully with what I'm doing, knowing He is perfectly able to let me know when it's time to change course.

This sense of God's call is important because it is sure that I, that you, will face opposition, discouragement, misunderstanding, maybe even threats and physical danger while on Kingdom assignments. The knowledge that God has called us to any specific task will help us to persevere.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this clear picture of how You worked in Bible times. Help me to be as available as Paul and Barnabas were, and to follow Your direction, knowing that if You call me to a job, You will see me through it no matter what comes my way. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 125

The Bible Project VIDEO: Acts - Part 2 of 2 (Ch. 13-28) Read Scripture Series 


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, October 10, 2018

God brings us, not over but through

"Peter Released from Prison by an Ange" from Treasures of the Bible - Early Church
"Peter Released from Prison by an Angel" - from Treasures of the Bible

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 11-12; Psalm 124

"… he (Peter) declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. … And he departed and went to another place." Acts 12:17

I have sometimes wondered, as I read this story and others in Acts, why God didn't do the entire job—here get the angel to deliver Peter out of danger completely. Instead, he just brought Peter through the prison gates, down the first street and poof! he was gone (Acts 12:10).

After telling his story to his friends at Mary's house, Peter had to use his common sense and decide what to do next. It was obviously not safe to stick around so, though it was the middle of the night, he "departed and went to another place" - Acts 12:17.

Perhaps this is how we should expect God to work in our lives too. He can, and sometimes does intervene miraculously when the situation is beyond us. But He doesn't do for us what we can do for ourselves, or take us permanently out of trouble and persecution. It is commonly thought that Peter died by crucifixion.

However, no doubt because of his own experience with it, Peter left us with some powerful benefits of suffering in his first letter:

  • It proves the authenticity of our faith - 1 Peter 1:6,7.
  • Suffering for righteousness brings a blessing - 1 Peter 3:14.
  • It purifies us - 1 Peter 4:1.
  • Through suffering we identify with Christ in a unique way - 1 Peter 4:12,13.
  • In suffering we experience the Holy Spirit and God's glory - 1 Peter 4:14, Acts 7:55.

So, it's not that God can't do the whole job, but that He knows we'll get a greater benefit from going through the tough stuff than floating over it.

PRAYER: Dear God, when I'm in the middle of a hard patch, please help me to remember that You allow suffering for my good—even though it doesn't feel good at the time. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 124

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.

Who scripts your life?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 9-10; Psalm 123

TO CHEW ON: "And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together." Acts 10:27

I love the sense of order and planning that fills this story—divine, not human order and planning.

Peter's thrice repeated vision, followed by the explicit instructions of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:19,20), followed by the arrival of Cornelius's servants and Peter's trip to Caesarea with them, followed by his meeting of Cornelius, hearing his story and seeing the crowd gathered in anticipation of his arrival—it all feels scripted. That's because it was, by God the Spirit Himself!

Suppose Peter had done what I am too often prone to do? What if he had rationalized away the vision (I sure get crazy when I'm hungry), doubted the voice of the Spirit (it's probably just my imagination), and refused to drop everything and go with Cornelius's servants (but my day is all planned)? But he didn't and we have the wonderful story of Acts 10 with its reverberations down to our day as a result.

A snippet from the devotional book I read last night comes to mind. In his meditation on James 4:5, Rick Renner concludes:
"So make your relationship with the Holy Spirit your top priority. Don't give Him a reason to feel betrayed by or envious of other things in your life that have taken His place. Get to know the Holy Spirit's voice in your spirit so He can help you set your life in order. Make sure every area of your life is under His loving control" - Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek, Kindle Location 3791.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, I want to get to know You so well that I always recognize Your voice. Then help me to have a willing spirit that allows You to script my life. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 123

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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