Sunday, May 28, 2017

God keeps us

hand cradling feet
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 17:1-11

TO CHEW ON: " ' Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.' " John 17:11

How wonderful to hear Jesus pray for us—because this prayer was not only for the disciples present but also " ' … for those who will believe in Me through their word' " John 17:20. He prays that God will keep us. the need for such a prayer signals a danger of which we need to be aware: the possibility we could lose faith.

A short sweep through the Bible shows us some of the ways.  God keeps us:

  • Wherever we go. Like He was with Jacob, God is with us - Genesis 28:15; Proverbs 2:8.
  • Physically. The psalmist expresses it: "He guards all his bones. Not one of them is broken" - Psalm 34:20.
  • Always. He never sleeps - Psalm 121:4.
  • Through His name. What does it mean to be kept "through His name"? The Amplified Bible expresses John 17:11: " 'Holy Father, keep in You name [in the knowledge of Yourself] them whom You have given Me' " - John 17:11 AMP. I understand it as getting to know the breadth and depth of His essence (His name) and seeing how capable He is of whatever we need.
  • As we lay our anxieties on Him. He then guards our hearts and minds with His peace - Philippians 4:6,7.
  • From the evil one - 2 Thessalonians 3:3.
  • ...and what we have committed to Him - 2 Timothy 1:12. If we have committed our lives, His power can keep us through our lifespan until we see our salvation - 1 Peter 1:5.
  • From stumbling, so we will be able to stand in His presence with joy - Jude 1:24.
  • From the extreme test of end-time events, the "...  the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth" - Revelation 3:10.

When we feel we are on precarious footing in our faith—perhaps after going through a test of sickness, bereavement, family troubles or whatever, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus prayed for us to be kept. We can trust Him to make a way for us, through the difficulties, back to a firm footing of faith.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your keeping power. When my grip on faith in You is weak, please send an answer to Jesus' prayer for me. 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.

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)


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Beautiful humility

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 5:1-14

TO CHEW ON:
“… Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud / But gives grace to the humble.’” 1 Peter 5:5 (the quote is Proverbs 3:34)


Genuine humility has to be one of the most attractive qualities a person can possess.

The word “humble” serves as both an adjective and a verb. Its noun form is “humility.”

[Humble means - Adjective: not proud or arrogant but modest; having a feeling of insignificance; low in rank, importance or status; courteously respectful. Verb: to lower in condition, importance, or dignity; to make meek.]

A partial list of synonyms for humble helps us understand what humility feels like and how we communicate humility through actions: content, courteous, deferential, gentle, lowly, mild, modest, obliging, polite, quiet, respectful, sedate, simple, soft-spoken, submissive, unostentatious, unpretentious.

Aside from the fact that humility makes us attractive to others, it is also desirable because it is hugely attractive to God.
  • God “regards” the lowly (Psalm 138:6) “…For though the Lord is high yet has He respect to the lowly bringing them into fellowship with Him” - Psalm 138:6 AMP.
  • He will look “… on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit” - Isaiah 66:2
  • We are great in God’s eyes when we welcome the “least” person, e.g. a child - Luke 9:48.
  • Humility sets us up to be exalted by God while pride sets us up for divine humiliation - Luke 14:11; James 4:10.
  • God “gives grace” to the humble - Jame 4:6 and our focus verse, 1 Peter 5:5.

As we contemplate who God is and compare with who we are, humility is the only rational response. May we take this realistic sense of ourselves into the day, and more … may humility pervade our lives.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to see myself realistically and respond with appropriate humility. 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.

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)



Friday, May 26, 2017

Armed for what is ahead

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1Peter 4:1-19

TO CHEW ON: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” - 1 Peter 4:1.


“So, since Christ suffered in the flesh [for us, for you], arm yourselves with the same thought and purpose [patiently to suffer rather than fail to please God]. For whoever has suffered in the flesh [having the mind of Christ] has done with intentional sin—has stopped pleasing himself and the world and pleases God.” 1 Peter 4:1 AMP

Three ideas hit me as I read this passage today:

1. We need to arm ourselves with thoughts and purpose. 

2. We arm ourselves to suffer. 

3. This suffering comes from fellow citizens.

A little further along from our focus verse in the reading, Peter connects our suffering with those who cause it: "they" (1 Peter 4:4)—the friends, neighbours, colleagues and superiors who we formerly hung out with but don't any more because we now live by different priorities. Their astonishment at our Christ-centred lifestyle plays out in animosity and attempts to get us to join them in their activities of “shameless, insolent wantonness, in lustful desires, drunkenness, reveling, drinking bouts, and abominable, lawless idolatries" - 1 Peter 4:3 AMP.

A few days ago my nephew and his family came to Canada for a short furlough from ministry in Uganda. His Rwandan-born wife told of her experience that sounds a lot like 1 Peter 4.

After a childhood upbringing in a Ugandan orphanage, she enrolled in a large institution to train in the hospitality industry. As a young woman of Christian honesty, integrity, and courage, she quickly rose to become a student leader. This made her a target and someone to be brought down.

Classmates spread lies about her, trying to sully her reputation so she would be expelled. They stole her notes and textbooks so she couldn’t study. Someone even attempted to poison her. When a teacher told her she would fail all her 21 subjects, she said, “Madame, if I fail, the God I serve is not real. But I will not fail any of my subjects, except French.”

Months later she got her results. She passed every subject—except French.

Even still, about seventeen years after these events, her life of faithfulness to her husband and his to her is a source of disbelief and disdain to those around them.

We as Christians in Canada are accustomed to living in sync with our society. However, as it strays from Bible standards of right and wrong, we find ourselves increasingly at odds with it. 

The thought of preparing for this, of arming ourselves with the expectation that we will suffer (with an idea of what it might  actually look like) and the resolve to live the Jesus way no matter what the people in our lives say or do to us, is timely.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, please help me to live to please You above everyone else, no matter what it costs. 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.

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)


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jesus’ farewell—a blessing

"The disciples watch as Jesus ascends into heaven"
 


TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 24:36-53

TO CHEW ON: “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass while He blessed them, that He parted from them and carried up into heaven.” Luke 24:50,51

According to Luke, Jesus ascended into heaven as He was in the middle of blessing His disciples. This is a detail I’ve never noticed before.

I went on a little search for other places God blessed people:

  • God’s blessing came early, before the fall, when God blessed Adam and Eve
“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” - Genesis 1:28.

  • God pronounced blessing again on Noah, repeating some of the same blessings He pronounced on Adam and Eve. To that blessing He added a bit about the uniqueness of human life (a blessing, we might call it) in the form of a warning:
“ Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
“Whoever sheds man’s blood,

/ By man his blood shall be shed;
 /For in the image of God
 / He made man”  Genesis 9:5,6

  • God blessed Abram:
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
 I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” - Genesis 12:2,3

  • God blessed Jacob. After wrestling through the night with a Man, Jacob asked for a blessing. He received a name change (from Jacob to Israel) and a blessing - Genesis 32:26-29.

  • God blessed Mary, Jesus' mother-to-be. An angel visitor said this blessing:
““Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”[ - Luke 1:28.

  • Jesus blessed the children - Mark 10:15

  • Jesus blessed Peter after he answered Jesus’ question: ‘But who do you say I am?’ with “‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Jesus’ blessing:
'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'” - Matthew 16:17-19.
  • And here Jesus blessed His followers as He left them - Luke 24:50,51. 

I wonder what He said. Maybe something like the wonderful Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:24-26?
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
 The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’

Whatever it was it struck a good note, for the disciples left the spot of His last presence on earth, not with the tears of mourning we would expect from people who had just said goodbye to their dear friend, but with “great joy.” Their next days were characterized by "praising and blessing God."

Does Jesus’ blessing echo down to us? Are we similarly blessed [consecrated to God’s use, caused to prosper, made happy, favoured by God]?

I believe we are. Let’s live today with joy, praise, and worship in the light of Jesus’ ascension blessing on us!

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for this account of Your ascension on the high note of Your favour. Help me to claim and live in Your blessing as mine today. Amen.

MORE: Ascension Day

Today is the day the church celebrates the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The liturgy for the day begins with this collect prayer:

"Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, 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.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Holy Spirit drenching

Image: pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 1:1-11

TO CHEW ON: ‘For John truly baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” Acts 1:5

My pastor spoke on this passage two days ago (from when I’m writing this). What a happy ‘coincidence’!

One of the parts from his talk that sticks in my mind is the part about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

On Easter Sunday in our church, 50 people were water baptized in front of the congregation in two services (eight planned, 42 decided that day in church, when pastor gave the invitation and made available T-shirts, towels, dryers, etc.). So the image of people getting baptized is fresh in my mind. They start out dry, they end up drenched and dripping.

The baptism of the Spirit is like that. I love how pastor expressed it:
 “Being baptized is being soaked, saturated, drenched. Jesus told the disciples to wait to be soaked, saturated, drenched in the Holy Spirit. He wants you to get caught in the rain of the Spirit” - Rev. Derrick Hamre, in “Making Room for the Spirit.”

Where I live, we get lots of rain and I know what it’s like to get caught in it. It soaks your hair and trickles down your neck. It spots your glasses and makes your jeans clammy and cold. It even squishes into your socks and shoes. I ask myself, have I ever been so Spirit drenched?

An aspect of this baptism Pastor brought out is that it’s not salvation. We do receive the Holy Spirit when we ask Jesus into our lives and make Him Lord (Ephesians 5:1-21, specifically verse 18). But this Holy Spirit baptism experience is often (but not always) subsequent to salvation. It was for the disciples. Jesus had already breathed the Spirit on them (John 20:22) but here they were baptized. It was also a second experience for the new believers in Samaria (Acts 8:13-17). For Cornelius and his family, though, it occurred at the time they first believed (Acts 10:44-48).

Finally, we need to keep in mind the reason for this baptism. It’s not for spiritual thrills and chills but for power to carry out Jesus’ final assignment to us:
‘But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” Acts 1:8.

Let’s not get drawn into theological arguments over this Holy Spirit baptism (and I know there are many). Rather, let’s just read what Jesus says and be open to the Holy Spirit’s baptism of empowering as He came on the Christians in Acts—however and whenever He chooses.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, I open my life to You today. Drench me, fill me, use me in any way You choose. 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.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Clap for God

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 47:1-9

TO CHEW ON: “O clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph?” Psalm 47:1


Clapping is an interesting human action. Its #1 definition in the dictionary is “to strike with the palms of one’s hand against one another resoundingly and usually repeatedly, especially to express approval.”

When do we clap?

At concerts, lectures, and readings. At baseball, hockey, basketball, and football games. But in the middle of worship at church?

Here the Sons of Korah are urging worshipers to clap for God. Why? They give some reasons: Because He is awesome, the great King of all Earth, He controls nations and gives victory over them, gives an inheritance to His people, and is exalted.

This psalm shimmers with exuberance, energy, joy, and victory. It’s a psalm we’d read and identify with on a good day. Not so much on a bad one… or maybe that’s exactly the time it should be required reading—at the beginning or in the middle of a battle.

I love the story of King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20) and how when he was threatened by surrounding nations, he reminded himself and the people of who God is. He told God how helpless he felt in the face of these threats. God responded by giving Jahaziel prophetic encouragement for him. The Levites replied in praise “with voices loud and high.” And the next day, Jehoshaphat arranged his army in an unusual way:

 And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying:
“Praise the Lord,
For His mercy endures forever.”
 
Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated (2 Chronicles 20:21,22)
Their praise moved God’s hand. Isn’t that wonderful?

In the light of that, maybe we could read, quote, and follow Psalm 47’s example of praise not just when things are good, but as part of our battle strategy. We could use it as a weapon of praise, a physical expression of faith (with clapping, singing, and speaking praise) reminding us of who God is.

PRAYER: Dear God, You are awesome and King over all Earth. Help me to remember this next time things aren’t going well with me, and give physical expression to my adoration of who You are and my faith in what you will and are doing with singing, praising, and clapping. 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, May 22, 2017

Your life—a finished story

books
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 1:1-23

TO CHEW ON:
"… He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." Ephesians 1:4

Do you realize that your life's course is old news, a finished story, a foreordained destiny to God? One word the Bible uses to describe this is predestine (predestined/predestination).

[Predestine, from pre - before, and destiny. It means to destine or decree beforehand. Predestined: to foreordain by divine decree or purpose - Funk and Wagnall's Dictionary]

Here are some things the Bible says about His predestination (some other words used to express this concept are election, foreknowledge and foreordained):

1. God has something in mind for each person He created - Proverbs 16:4. For example, Paul explains the fate of Jacob and Esau on the basis of each having a foreordained place in God's plan - Romans 9:11.
2. God's plan of salvation as it unfolded in history with all its characters playing their parts was predestined - Acts 4:27-28.

3. Jesus was "foreordained before the foundation of the world" to be our sacrificial "lamb without blemish and without spot" - 1 Peter 1:18-20.
 

4. We—Paul's first century readers, down to us Christ followers all these millennia later are chosen, were chosen "before the foundation of the world for holiness" - Ephesians 1:4 (our focus verse).

5. We're called to be changed people, known and predestined to "… be conformed to the image of His Son" - Romans 8:28,29.

6. We're predestined to adoption as Sons by Jesus Christ to Himself - Ephesians 1:5.

7. God has good works planned beforehand for us to accomplish - Ephesians 2:10.

8. Our inheritance is predestined according to His purpose - Ephesians 1:11.
10. The church is part of God's predestined plan and the means, Paul says, to make God's plan known to demons and angels - Ephesians 3:10.

When we try to completely understand the idea of God's predestining of events and lives, we run smack into a wall of human thought limitation. We ask, how can a just God predestine some lives for wicked evil purposes that will take them to a bad end? Isn't that unjust? On the other hand, we ask, how can an omniscient God not know the path that every person will  take, the choices they will make?

The way I harmonize the Bible's teaching on God's predestination / foreknowledge / election with His justice is to reflect that as far as I'm concerned I have choices. I am not aware of a Divine Puppet-master, pulling my strings.  You too have choices. Everyone on this planet has choices. The choices we make in this life reveal and prove what God knew/knows about us all along—our pre-destiny.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being bigger than my mind can comprehend. May my life today, the way I live and the choices I make, demonstrate that I am Yours. 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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