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.

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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, July 22, 2016

"Do not cling..."

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

TO CHEW ON:
"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."
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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




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

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Part of a bigger story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 4:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David." Ruth 4:17.

The story of Boaz and Ruth ends happily. The other relative and first-in-line with a right to redeem Naomi's land (and inherit Ruth as his wife) declines. And so Boaz gets the land and the wife, and soon there is a baby on the way.

Naomi becomes a grandma whose happy lot is lauded by the "chorus"—the women of Bethlehem. They sing the praises of Ruth while Naomi cuddles little Obed (Ruth 4:14-17).

And then the author does something interesting—recites a genealogy. By doing this, I believe he is telling us this story of Naomi and Ruth, Boaz and Obed fits into a much larger one.

Some of the characters of this larger story:

Perez

Perez was the son of Judah (son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Israel's patriarch Abraham) and Tamar. Tamar was that woman first married to Judah's firstborn son, who, when he died, Judah gave her to his second son. When he died too, Judah promised her to the third son. Tamar, not trusting Judah to keep his word, dressed as a prostitute and got pregnant by Judah himself. Yikes! (Read the story in Genesis 38. Perez appears in Genesis 38:29).

Nahshon

Nahshon was the head of the tribe of Judah during their time of wandering in the wilderness under Moses - Numbers 1:7; 2:3.

David
He was the second king of Israel and the prophets predicted Messiah would come from His house and line - Jeremiah 23:5; Isaiah 9:7; 11:1; Acts 13:34.

Flipping over to the New Testament book of Matthew, we see a continuation of the genealogy begun in Ruth and how it eventually leads to—Jesus! (Matthew 1:1-16).

All our stories are also part of a larger story. Just like Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz had no idea they were living out an episode in the narrative of God's big story of redemption, neither do we know the plot line or significance of the story of our lives.

God does, though:
"And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them" - Psalm 139:16
and
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" - Ephesians 2:10 (emphases added).

I'm looking forward to heaven—when I'll be able to read and understand the whole book, including my little chapter of it! You too?

PRAYER:
Dear Father, how exciting to zoom in on these little episodes of Your story and see You working in the details of the lives of ordinary people. May I be a sympathetic character in Your story on earth. Amen. 

MORE: I came across a short video about the book of Ruth by Dr. Daniel I Block (professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College). He has recently written the commentary on Ruth in the  Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series. This under 5-minute video puts a perfect cherry on top of our short study! Watch it. It's so worthwhile!





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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.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Two love stories

Boaz and Ruth - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 3:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
"And she said to her, 'All that you say to me I will do.'" Ruth 3:5

The plot grows more intriguing as Naomi sets Ruth up to push for what the older woman has probably had in mind since she heard Boaz was in the picture—a marriage between Boaz and Ruth.

Some lovely bits that jump out at me from today's chapter:
  • Ruth's absolute trust of Naomi.
This trust comes out in her reply to Naomi's plan for the night visit to Boaz at the threshing floor: "All that you say to me, I will do." Doesn't that remind you of the reply of young Mary who was to be part of another risky chain of events (Luke 1:38)?

  • Ruth's words to Boaz: "'Take your maidservant under your wing…'"
We read similar words yesterday coming from Boaz: "'The Lord repay your work and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge" - Ruth 2:12. I wonder if, when Boaz said them, he had any idea that he would soon be the very embodiment of those wings for Ruth?.

  • Boaz was a "close relative."
That sounds innocent enough to us, but in the Hebrew the meaning of "close relative" is way more load involving duties and responsibilities.

[Close relative - gaal  means to redeem, to act as kinsmen redeemer, avenge, revenge, ransom, do the part of a kinsman. To redeem from slavery. To redeem by payment.]

The story of Boaz and Ruth is a beautiful human love story. But it is also a type of the spiritual love story between God and us.

We people are Ruth.

 We come to Him in Ruth-like abandonment, as Paul did on the Damascus Road: "'Lord, what do you want me to do?'" - Acts 9:6.
 

Jesus is our Redeemer.
" Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” - Galatians 3:13.

"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" - Galatians 4:4,5.


"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" - Ephesians 1:7.

"…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" 1 Peter 1:18,19.

He longs to take His lost ones under His wings.

"'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!'" - Matthew 23:37.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for paying with Your life to redeem me by buying my freedom from sin and the demands of the law. 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.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Tell your story—and tell it well

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 2:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "There was a relative of Naomi's husband, a man of great wealth of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz." Ruth 2:1

Don't you just love reading a story as skilfully told as this one? The plot of Ruth expands today as wealthy Boaz comes on the scene. There is just enough detail and zoom in on specific incidents to make the characters come alive.

We see conscientious Ruth doing all she can to provide for her aging mother-in-law. Her stellar reputation has reached the ears of landowner Boaz who arrives in a flourish of hoofbeats and dust (my imagination here). We watch his gentleness with her and her trusting response. We notice Naomi perk up when Ruth tells her of the day. We look forward to what will happen next as the at-a-safe-distance Boaz-Ruth relationship continues through the harvest season.

The question, Who wrote this? occurred to me this morning. My Bible's introduction to Ruth suggests Samuel:
"It is also reasonable to suppose that Samuel, who witnessed the decline of Saul's rule and was directed by God to anoint David as God's heir-apparent to the throne, could have penned this himself. The lovely story would already have attracted oral retelling among the people of Israel, and the concluding genealogy would have secured a link with the patriarchs—thus giving a steady answer to all in Israel who would desire their king's family background" - Jack Hayford, Introduction to Ruth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 349.

Ruth's story brings to mind the power and usefulness of our stories. I love hearing accounts of how God works in lives—stories that reassure us of God's faithfulness and thus build our own faith. Hayford's defense of Samuel as author (above) suggests other things about stories. They are sometimes first told orally before being written down. They serve as a link to the past. They also provide valuable information about the background of a prominent person.

We can tell our stories in many ways:

  • Orally to friends and family, and especially to the next generation.
  • More formally as part of a talk, presentation, or sermon.
  • In a written devotional.
  • In a memoir.
  • Through poetry. 
  • Via the actions and words of a fictional character in a novel.
  • In a play.

Do you tell your story? Do you know how to tell it well?
Are you conscious of things like how and when to introduce characters and events with a view to timing, tension and keeping the listener or reader on the interest hook?

Your story is worth telling—and worth telling well!


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the beautiful narrative of Ruth and the stories You are telling through each of our lives. Help me to tell my story with skill and Holy Spirit anointing. Amen.

MORE: More on story-telling

Another word Bible writers use for story is testimony Here are a few verses that encourage us to tell our stories / testimonies:
  • Psalm 60:4
  • Psalm 107:2
  • Isaiah 12:4
  • Acts 1:8
  • 2 Timothy 1:81 Peter 3:15
  • Revelation 12:11

Get some story-telling hints from Jeff Goins:


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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.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Coming full-circle

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 1:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. … Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem." Ruth 1:1,19

Today we begin reading the book of Ruth. The story starts with an Israeli man Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion. They leave their home town of Bethlehem for Moab because of a famine.

In Moab Elimelech dies, the boys marry Moabite girls, and then the sons die. Naomi is left husbandless, and maleless with only two foreign daughters-in-law to show for her years in Moab. It's not a good position.

She hears the famine is over and decides to return to Bethlehem. But I would guess the decision is not an easy one. She has pretty much nothing to show for the Moabite years.  She is returning "empty" - Ruth 1:21.

The family may have been prominent in Bethlehem for when Naomi returns, not completely empty but with one daughter-in-law, "all the city is excited because of them; and the women said, 'Is this Naomi?'"- Ruth 1:19.

Can't you just hear the subtext? "Have you noticed Naomi's wrinkled face, her grey hair? She looked so good when they left. What happened?"

I can imagine Naomi dreading exactly such a thing. But I believe God is in this. Before He can move her on she has to come full-circle, back to the place where it all started (even though it means temporary humiliation).

I am reminded of at least two other instances where Bible characters are brought full circle.

Moses' return to Mount Horeb  (or Mt. Sinai) proves God's presence is/was with him (Exodus 3:12; 19;  the names Horeb and Sinai are used interchangeably for the same mountain).

Peter's full-circle trip to the Sea of Galilee is a confirmation of his call to leave fishing and follow Jesus (Mark 1:17; John 21:19).

What is God saying to Naomi when He brings her back to Bethlehem? Perhaps that her real provision ("Bethlehem" means "house of bread") and protection (Boaz speaks to Ruth of God bringing her to Israel to live under His wings - Ruth 2:12) are in God's land with His people?


Have you noticed God taking you full-circle? He's done that with me. Whenever He does, let's pay attention. There may just be something we need to hear.



PRAYER:
Dear Father, thank You that no journey with You is wasted—when even I'm brought back to old starting points. Help me to learn from Your full-circle leading. 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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