Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Poured-out life

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law - Artist unknown
Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 8:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "… that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.' " Matthew 8:17

Jesus is busy and popular. We see him, at the beginning of today's reading (having just come down from a mountain teaching session followed by a huge crowd), talking with and then healing a man with leprosy. He walks to Capernaum and on entering the city gets waylaid by a Gentile centurion. At Peter's house one of his hostesses is sick so Jesus heals her. Then in the evening Peter's property becomes an impromptu healing and deliverance clinic for the town.

Now I realize that the Matthew narrative makes it sound like these things happened one after the other in close succession. There may well have been more time between the incidents than it seems. But even if these events occurred over days to a week, Jesus had a full schedule, which He carried out with not a whiff of a bad attitude.

There is no eye-shift of impatience when the man with leprosy stops Him. Rather, " ' I am willing (to heal). Be cleansed.' "

There is not a watch-glance of schedule-keeping when the centurion stops him. Rather, there is close listening, honest admiration of the man's faith, a mini-lecture to take advantage of the teachable moment, and the promise of an answered prayer.

At Peter's house, after a full day, He  heals before supper and then ministers healing and release from demonic bondage till long after dark.

No wonder Matthew recognizes Him as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4. It doesn't happen through His looking on but because of His intimate involvement with and service of humanity—of us.

I watch Jesus here and get convicted as I imagine what my reactions to the things He encountered would have been:
- I would have been irritated by all those interruptions.
- I would have been overwhelmed by all the needs.
- I would have been self-protective, insisting, for example, that we take a break after supper instead of getting back to work.

Later in the New Testament, we see the disciples living with the same bold, people- and ministry-centred focus that they had seen in Jesus. Where did they get this spirit? From being with Jesus (Acts 4:19)

Maybe if I, if all of us, hung around Jesus more, allowed His Spirit to take over ours, we too would be known for the assured yet compassionate, identifying-with-human-needs, poured-out life that characterized Him.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am full of awe at the way You handled life and its demands. I need the ability to see beyond my list of urgencies to what's eternally important, and the courage to pour my life into those things. 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, November 24, 2014

Don't worry

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 6:22-34

TO CHEW ON: " 'Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?' " Matthew 6:25

The last part of our reading today gives three reasons why we shouldn't worry:

1. Worry is unnecessary (Matthew 6:26, 28-30):
Why? Because we're in the hands of the same creator God Who sees that the birds get fed and the flowers and grass get clothed. Jesus asks, rhetorically, of His human audience, " 'Are you not of more value than they?....will He not much more clothe you?' "

2. Worry is ineffective (Matthew 6:27):
Worrying about a "one cubit" height increase could also stand in for other things we're born with—physical features, genetic tendencies or traits, a certain IQ. We don't have control over these things so we waste our effort and energy worrying about them.

3. Worry is unbecoming  (Matthew 6:31-32):
Worrying makes us like the "Gentiles"—those who have no faith in anything or anyone but themselves. In fact, an endnote about this passage advises: 

 "Acknowledge worry as sin. Discipline yourself to turn from any anxiety and choose to trust the Lord" -Leslyn Musch,  "Truth-In-Action through the Synoptics, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1440.
"Rather than being preoccupied with material things, our ambition should be to seek first God's kingdom and righteousness, knowing that as we do so, He has pledged Himself with covenant faithfulness to respond — all these things shall be added to you"  J. Lyle Story, study notes, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1301.

Matthew 6:33 is in my repertoire of memorized verses. I don't know how many times I have pulled it out of memory and recited it to myself. It is one of those settle-me-down verses that calm anxious thoughts and reinforce thoughts of trust and faith in God. If you haven't done so already, you might want to memorize it too.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to discipline myself away from thoughts of anxiety to thoughts of trust, especially in the area of everyday living. Amen.

MORE: How to seek God's kingdom first

How do you "seek God's kingdom first"? Rev. John Piper gives some good practical advice in a 1984 sermon "Do Not Be Anxious About Your Life":

"...instead of being anxious, "Seek first God's kingdom." In other words when you think about your life or your food or your clothes or your spouse or your job or your mission, don't fret about them. Instead make God the king in that affair and in that moment hand over the situation to his kingly power and do his righteous will with the confidence that he will work for you and meet all your needs. To seek the kingship of God first in every affair and every moment of life is a thrilling way to live. It's full of freedom and peace and joy and adventure—and hardship; and it's worth it all. If you believe in the kingship of your heavenly Father, you do not need to be anxious about anything."
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org - Read entire ...
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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, November 23, 2014

Regrets

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 15:1-28

TO CHEW ON: “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am….” I Corinthians 15: 9-10a

Are you one of those people who are haunted by the life you lived before coming to Christ? Perhaps you slept around, wrecked a marriage, had an abortion, or abused your body with drugs and alcohol. I gave my heart to Jesus when I was a little girl but turned my back on God for some years in my 20s. I still get flashbacks of scenes from that old life. They fill me with shame and regret.

Paul speaks of such regrets. Memories of his zeal in persecuting the church before he met Jesus make him feel unworthy to be an apostle. I wonder if scenes from events like the stoning of Stephen (in which he participated) dogged him even after his conversion.

“But…” Paul continues, and with that great little hinge word he opens the door on light: “…by the grace of God I am what I am.” So many thoughts flow out of this eleven-word sentence:
  • God knows about me and my past and He forgives.
  • I can’t do anything to change the past; I must forgive myself too.
  • God knows why He put me in the place I am today; it’s not my job to understand His ways or to justify them to others.

If there’s one good thing that can come out of a shadowy past, it’s the way it keeps you from becoming self-righteous. Because when you see someone caught in sin, you know at a gut level that but for the grace of God, it could be you.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your grace (favor I don’t merit and didn’t earn) that takes me the way I am and makes me useful to Your kingdom. Amen.

MORE: “Just As I Am”
God takes us the way we are. The familiar invitation hymn “Just As I Am” expresses it so well. Charlotte Elliott (a once miserable old maid) wrote the words to this hymn. Robert J. Morgan tells the story in Then Sings My Soul.

A bitter women with broken health, Charlotte railed against God. Her family, trying to help her, invited a Swiss minister, Dr. Cesar Malan to their home for a meal. During the dinner conversation Charlotte lost her temper and denounced God. Family members left the room in embarrassment. Alone with the pastor, he confronted her:


“You are tired of yourself aren’t you? he asked. “You are holding to your hate and anger because you have nothing else in the world to cling to. Consequently, you have become sour, bitter and resentful.”

“What is your cure?” asked Charlotte.

“The faith you are trying to despise.”

As they talked, Charlotte softened. “If I wanted to become a Christian and to share the peace and joy you possess,” she finally asked, “What would I do?”

“You would give yourself to God just as you are now, with your fightings and fears, hates and loves, pride and shame.” (Then Sings My Soul, p. 113)

Charlotte did come as she was that day and was forever changed. She wrote the poem “Just As I Am” some years later to help her brother raise funds for a school to educate the children of poor clergymen. It was later set to music by William B. Bradbury.

Here it is, sung by Brian Doerksen

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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.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Recognizing Jesus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:31-46

TO CHEW ON: " ' And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." ' " Matthew 25:40


One of the popular motifs of the Christmas dramas we used to put on in Sunday School was the poor, beggarly misfit becoming a type of the Christ child. It turned out that the person who noticed and served this unfortunate one amid the hustle and decorations, the shopping and food preparations, was the one who had the true Christmas spirit.

Recognizing Christ in unusual places and people is the theme of our reading today. Seeing and caring for His needs in those around us—the hungry and thirsty, the lonely stranger, the forsaken prisoner, the person who needs warm clothes ("naked") and sick—brings not only the King's commendation but the label of "righteous" and escape from eternal punishment (Matthew 25:34, 45-46).

Jesus talks in other places of coming in disguise:

  • In Mark 9:41 the person who serves Christ's disciples with as little as a cup of cold water gets a reward.
  • " 'Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives not Me but Him who sent Me' " says Jesus in Mark 9:37.
  • At another time, Jesus answered a question about how to inherit eternal life with the parable we call the Good Samaritan. In it, the person (Samaritan) who helps his needy neighbour (a beat-up Jew) is the one who loves his neighbour as himself, fulfilling one of the conditions for inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:28-37).

I look at these examples and ask myself—do I recognize Jesus when He comes to me disguised as a child, or a needy stranger, or a sister in trouble? Or am I more like those "goats" in our reading, who will someday appear before the King with 'Duh… Lord, when did I see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?'

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please take the scales off my eyes. Help me to recognize You however  and wherever You appear. 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, November 21, 2014

Watch! Be ready

volcanic steam and ash
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:29-51

TO CHEW ON: " 'For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.' " Matthew 24:38-39


Our reading gives us more natural signs to add to the list of things that herald the near return of Christ:
" '…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken' " - Matthew 24:29.

What causes this unnatural darkening? Volcanic matter in earth's atmosphere? What are those falling stars? Meteors and comets plowing into us?

I can just imagine how such natural disasters will be reported in the news. Scientific experts will analyze and prescribe. They will be the fault of fracking, or fossil fuel use, or CO2, or disturbed ecosystems, or weakened magnetism at the poles, or pollution, or… We will be told, if we only do more of this, less of that, the balance will right itself.

Meanwhile wherever it can, life will go on as usual - Matthew 24:37-38, 40-41.

I describe this scenario because even for those of us who have read these Bible passages and have been forewarned, it's easy to get lulled into complacency by the naturalistic explanations of scientists and those who supposedly understand earth's mechanisms (or at least have lots of theories).

Believers expressing their take on events are / will be mocked no less than Noah was. They're even viewed as dangerous because of their convictions that supernatural forces are at work here and thus they don't buy into scientific prescriptions of how to save the earth.

The billboard sign I take from this passage for myself—for all of us who believe these prophecies—is BE ALERT! Be watchful for Jesus' second coming.

" ' … when you see these things, know that it is near' " - Matthew 24:33. 
" 'But watch therefore…' " Matthew 24:42. 
" 'Therefore you also, be ready' " - Matthew 24:44.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to see Your hand at work in earth's natural events and disasters. Help me to live alert to signs of Your return, not dulled by the spirit of my time. 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, November 20, 2014

The beginning of the end?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:1-28

TO CHEW ON:
" ' All these are the beginning of sorrows.' " Matthew 24:8

If you had never read today's passage and someone handed you its contents on a scrap of paper, would your impression would be (choose one):
a] This sounds entirely unfamiliar.
b] This sounds a lot like current conditions in the world.
c] This sounds like something that could never happen.

If you're like me, you chose b, because this sounds like the writings of someone in the room with me as I watch the nightly news or scan the latest headlines on the computer.

In early parts of this passage (Matthew 24:5-7) Jesus gives us a list of spookily familiar events that herald the near coming of His return to earth / the End:*
- The appearance of false and deceptive Christs.
- Wars and rumours of wars.
- Famines, pestilences and earthquakes.

But, Jesus says, these things are just the beginning of "sorrows." Some translations calls them "birth pains" (NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV)—an interesting comparison suggesting earth-shaking events will become more frequent and intense as they near a climax. Could this be the time we're living in right now? If so, what do we have to look forward to? Jesus' answer:

" 'Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake' " - Matthew 24:9.

Who is the "you" Jesus refers to here? It was to His band of disciples He delivered this private message (Matthew 24:3). So we can, I think, conclude that His disciples of all eras are on notice. That's us. Jesus warns and advises (Matthew 24:10-14):

- We can expect offenses, betrayals, hatred, and death.
- We must be on guard against false prophets.
- We need to be aware of the potential for spiritual lawlessness and coldness.
- Our endurance will be challenged.
- While the above is happening there will also be a great spread of the Gospel to peoples of every nation.

Let's live alert in these perilous days!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to remain watchful, to be unfazed if I am hated, and persecuted for being a Christ-follower, and to stay the course as I do my little bit in spreading the Gospel. Amen.

* "In His private teaching to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus responded to three questions, concerning 1] the destruction of the temple, 2] His Second Coming, 3] the End. These topics are interwoven and sometimes it is difficult to determine which event is being described. This difficulty is partially resolved with the realization that most prophecy is capable of both a near and remote fulfillment. Jesus uses the tragic events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70 as a picture of conditions preceding His own return" - J. Lyle Story, Study notes on Matthew 24:1-51, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1334.


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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.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Woe to hypocrites!

Pharisees by James Tissot
Pharisees by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:13-39

TO CHEW ON: " 'But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.' " Matthew 23:13

In one of His most impassioned speeches, Jesus denounces seven examples of Pharisaic hypocrisy:

1. They were legalistic. The Pharisees' strict legalism kept them and everyone else out of the kingdom (Matthew 23:13).

2. They were unjust. The Pharisees' long prayers, meant to impress others with their righteousness, were contrary to the way they treated the poorest people, like widows - Matthew 23:14.

3. They were evangelists of evil - Matthew 23:15. One thinks of a missionary or evangelist as one doing a good thing. But these missionaries were converting others to become fanatics of a tarnished religion.

4. They were blind guides
- Matthew 23:16-22. If anyone should be able to see, it's a guide! Yet Jesus showed how blind these men were by poking holes in the reasoning by which they came to rules about which oaths were binding and which weren't. The IVP Commentary explains the custom:
"An oath involved invoking a deity as a witness to the veracity of one's claim. On the popular level people had begun using many surrogate phrases for God's name hoping to avoid judgment if they broke the oath. Pharisees endeavoured to distinguish which oath phrases were actually binding" - IVP Commentary, accessed via biblegateway.com.
Jesus' attack was not just against these oath standards, though, but also against the Pharisees' inconsistent standards of holiness and the profanity of using God's name in such frivolous ways.

5. Their standards were inconsistent and out of proportion - Matthew 23:23-24. The Pharisees emphasized tithing the tiniest of spices while ignoring big issues like practicing justice, mercy, and faith.

6. Their lives were superficial - Matthew 23:25-28. Their fine exteriors masked a polluted inner condition.

7. They were self-deceived - Matthew 23:29-36. They claimed that if they'd lived in the time of the prophets, they would never have treated God's servants the way their countrymen did. Jesus' response: " 'Serpents, brood of vipers!' " You will prove how deceived you are by the way you kill, crucify and scourge the prophets, wise men, and scribes that come to your generation (my paraphrase).

Before we look with too much disdain on this lot, we do well to examine our own lives for similar hypocritical behavior:

  • Have we developed legalistic standards of our own that are barriers to people entering God's kingdom?
  • Do we give lip service to a holiness we don't practice?
  • Do we have self-made, inconsistent-with-God's-word standards that, for example, rail against body sins like smoking and overeating, but are indulgent toward TV and movies that pollute the mind?
  • Do our priorities line up with Scripture's? Do our lives reflect the things that matter to God? Or do we break fellowship over sidebar matters like which version of the Bible to read and the order of prophesied end-time events?
  • Are our lives authentic—the same in private as public? Or do we practice secret sin?
  • Are we realistic about who we are? Or does our lifestyle contradict what comes out of our mouths?

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, Your denunciation of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees shows me that my nature is not all that different. Please help me to detect hypocrisy in my life and to deal with 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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