Sunday, April 22, 2018

Original Exorcism

Lucifer of Liége, Liége Belgium (Image: Pixabay)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 13-17; Psalm 112

“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!” Isaiah 14:12

Here we have the interesting account of what is believed to be Satan’s casting out of heaven. My Bible’s notes explain the double application:
“These verses … are part of the proverb against the king of Babylon. The language, however, shows that he is a type of Satan” Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 891.

There are several other accounts of Satan’s fall:
- Jesus, when debriefing the disciples on their return from ministering in His name and excited that they could perform exorcisms, told them this was no surprise for Satan was a long-ago defeated foe. He said:‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’” Luke 10:18.

John in his Revelation vision tells it again:
“So the great dragon was cast out, the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world, he was cast to earth, and his angels were cast out with him” - Revelation 12:9*

It is interesting to notice the details in Isaiah’s telling. Lucifer’s pride and self-will are on display in his “I will” statements:
“I will ascend to heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation…
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High” - Isaiah 14:13-14.

God responds to him:
He will be brought down
He will be the object of stares
He will be the object of ridicule.
He will be cast out by even the lowest place, the grave.
He will be alone (Isaiah 14:15-20).

What particularly makes me sit up and take notice in this account is the reason for Satan’s fall: pride and self-will, attitudes with which I (and perhaps you too?) am all too acquainted.

PRAYER: Dear Father, by Your Spirit help me to recognize, repent of, and root out the satanic qualities of pride and self-will that so readily take root and flourish in my life.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 112

* Some eschatologists interpret this as a future and final casting out of Satan. different from the one described in Isaiah; others see this as a flashback to that first casting out.

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.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Draw from this well!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 9-12; Psalm 111

TO CHEW ON: "'Behold God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
For YAH the LORD is my strength and song;
He also has become my salvation.
Therefore with joy you will draw water
From the wells of salvation'" - Isaiah 12:2,3

Water was a valuable and much-sought-after commodity in the parts of the east where the events of the Bible played out. The New Bible Dictionary says of Bible wells: "In the arid parts of the East, water may become as precious as gold. Wells were and still remain the subjects of fierce disputes and even strife. They became heritable and were exploited by human monopolies at an earlier date than land." The New Bible Dictionary, p. 1325.

We can gain a fuller appreciation for the "wells of salvation" picture in our focus verses today, when we review the key role that wells played in Israel's history.

- Hagar's life was saved when God opened her eyes to the well at Beer Lahai Roi (Genesis 21:14-19).
- Later Isaac settled at that same well (Genesis 25:11).
- Isaac had to dig many wells before he was finally able to make peace with his enemies and settle down in the land (Genesis 26:15-22).
- Jacob met Rachel at a well (Genesis 29:1-2; 9-12).
- Moses' desperate flight from Egypt ended at a well in Midian (Exodus 2:15).
- Three of David's men risked their lives to get David a drink of water from the Bethlehem well.(2 Samuel 23:15-16).
- Jesus offered living water to a Samaritan woman at a well (John 4:1-13).

Likening our salvation to drinking from a well yields some interesting comparisons.

  • Like the well was a life-saver for Hagar and Moses, the wells of salvation are just that -- salvation -- for us spiritually. 
  • What we know about wells generally (that they access water that is underground) and Isaac's experience with them tells us that finding those wells of salvation may require effort on our part. For some it is the culmination of years of searching. 
  • Like wells were the hub of community life in Palestine, the "wells of salvation" are the center around which relationships develop as we meet God and get to know Him and each other in the community of believers, the church. 
  • Should we stray, hopefully we would be like David hankering after water from the Bethlehem well, as we remember and long for the sweet living water of the salvation wells that satisfied like no other.
Let's drink from the wells of salvation today — the water of forgiveness and cleansing, the assurance of eternal life, the comfort of God's presence in the indwelling Holy Spirit who is our comforter, counselor, teacher...drinking deep from all the things that salvation means.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for salvation and what it means for me in everyday life. Help me to never view it casually or take it for granted. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 111

MORE:  Isaiah 12:3 - illuminated

"A kneeling figure looks up to Christ and points at a man who draws water issuing from the foot of the crucifix. Christ looks out from Heaven towards a lamb and crucifix. The crucifix and lamb are not mentioned in the text, but are an interpretation of the word "Savior". (From Biblical Art on the WWW.)

"You shall draw the waters with joy from the Saviour’s fountains" -Unknown illustrator of St. Alban's Psalter' - England first half of 12th century.

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, April 20, 2018

Dull hearts

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 5-8; Psalm 110

TO CHEW ON: “And He said, ‘Go and tell these people;
“Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.”’” Isaiah 6:9

Isaiah’s encounter with God brings an overwhelming sense of his own sinfulness. But after the angel purifies his lips with a live altar coal, he responds to God’s call for help with “Here am I! Send me.”

It is then he gets the bad news. The people God is sending him to have dulled understanding. They will see but not see. Hear but not hear. Their hearts are blunted toward God and will be unreceptive to Isaiah.

A footnote in my Bible says:
“The same message that softens a receptive heart also hardens an unreceptive heart. So in sending forth the message to a people known to be unreceptive, their condition is worsened” - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p.881.

In our society, which prides itself on skepticism toward claims of absolute truth, an unreceptive attitude toward the Gospel is common. Is there a chance some of that attitude has seeped into us and begun to calcify our own hearts?

The Bible speaks eloquently of the by-products of a dull, unbelieving heart.

1. Theological confusion and dithering - 2 Timothy 4:2-4; 3:7.

2. Moral confusion - Romans 1:28-32

3. Marriage breakdown - Matthew 19:8.

4. We become blind to the fact that sin’s attractiveness is a lie - Hebrews 3:13

5. Miracles don’t happen - Matthew 13:58

6. We become vulnerable to calamity - Proverbs 28:14

7. We become vulnerable to premature death - Proverbs 29:1

8. There are repercussions on how we spend eternity - Romans 2:5

I don't know about you - but I don't like these!

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me a sensitive, believing heart. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 110

MORE: Keith Green sings his prayer for a softened heart in “My Eyes Are Dry.”

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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Egocentric idols

Image: Microsoft Clipart
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah1-4; Psalm 109

TO CHEW ON:  "Their land is also full of idols;
They worship the work of their own hands,
That which their own fingers have made." Isaiah 2:8

John Piper takes a little swipe at a common interpretation of Jesus' command, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39):

"The popular misconception is that this command teaches us to learn to esteem ourselves so we can love others. This is not what the command means. Jesus does not command us to love ourselves. He assumes that we do." — John Piper, Desiring God, p. 209.

It seems to me there is only a short distance between healthy self-love and idolatrous self-love. I wonder if, in our rich, possession-obsessed society, we don't indulge in such idolatry more than we realize. We regularly look to the things we own to give us a sense of worth. We dote on their excellence and how their quality will reflect well on us. When we get down, we shop for more things to help us feel better.

Making an idol out of a car or house or pair of shoes is an easy kind of idolatry to identify. However, there are other ego-centric idols that are just as widespread, but may be harder to put their fingers on. Dale Hanson Bourke in a chapter on idols in her book Embracing Your Second Calling speaks of a Bible-study worksheet (written by Tim Keller) that probed her heart in this regard:

"...the worksheet contained a list of the types of idolatry many modern-day men and women embrace. In part, it included statements like:

Approval idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am loved and respected by...'

Control idolatry: Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of...'

Helping idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if people are dependent on me.'

Work idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am highly productive and get a lot done.'

Achievement idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am being recognized for my accomplishments / excelling in my career.'

...One suggestion from the study is to think about what you fear the most or what you worry about most often. If you follow that trail, you almost always arrive at the foot of an idol." -- Dale Hanson Bourke, Embracing Your Second Calling, pp. 90-91

These thoughts convict me. I need to sweep a spotlight into and through the tucked-away rooms of my heart to see what self-idols are hidden there. What about you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where I am worshiping something/someone other than You. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 109

The Bible Project VIDEO: Isaiah 1-39 (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, April 18, 2018

Pursuing personal revival

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 23-25; Psalm 108

TO CHEW ON: “Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the LORD to follow the LORD and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statues with all his heart and all his soul to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people took a stand for the covenant.” 2 Kings 23:3

In the up-and-down story of Judah’s kings we were introduced to Josiah in yesterday’s reading. He became Judah’s king at a mere eight years old. He was one of the rare kings that “...did what was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:2). This involved cleaning up the temple.

The cleanup unearthed a copy of the Book of the Law. When Shaphan the scribe read it to the king (who would probably have been in his early to mid-20s by then - 2 Kings 23:23), he tore his clothes in distress.

Our reading today continues the story, telling of how Josiah covenanted to follow that Book of the Law with his whole being. That involved ridding the land of pagan worship.

The details of this (2 Kings 23:4-20, 24,25) show the extent of Judah’s degradation. But wow, he really cleaned house! He burned idols, desecrated and destroyed pagan shrines, and rounded up priests and other practitioners and did away with them. Finally, he celebrated Passover once again. I think we could call what happened to Josiah “revival.”

I see in his story, some parallels of how we might pursue personal revival.

1. He rediscovered God’s Word (2 Kings 22:10,11)
Though we may not have lost God’s word physically, have we perhaps misplaced it in other ways? If we read it only rarely or as a matter of rote, let’s “find” it again and read it regularly with receptive hearts as God’s communication—His love letter—to us.

2. He cleaned up the land (2 Kings 23:4-20,24,25)
Maybe we too need to do some spiritual housecleaning. We might view what we’re reading, watching, and browsing with an eye to what these things are doing to us spiritually. We might search for objects of worship, like money, success, image, reputation etc. that have become our “idols” and “high places” and again put God on the throne of our lives.

3. He re-instituted Passover (2 Kings 23:21-23)
For us this might be as simple as once again meeting with Him regularly to pray and read the Bible, attend church, cultivate Christian friends, sign up for a Bible study, or listen to Christian programs and podcasts.

4. He led a generation back to God (2 Kings 23:3)
I love how Josiah’s decision impacted not only him but the whole nation: “And all the people took a stand for the covenant” - 2 Kings 23:3. Though we don’t have the clout of a king, our personal revival is bound to affect more than just ourselves. Nowadays with the internet and social media, we have the means to influence not only those with whom we interact face-to-face but virtually the whole world. Only eternity will reveal the impact of our decision to wholeheartedly follow Jesus.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for the example of young Josiah. May I be as resolute in obedience and as ruthless in rooting sin out of my life and following You with my whole heart and soul.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 108

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.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Don't face trouble alone

"For He satisfies the longing soul, / And fills the hungry soul with goodness" Ps. 107:9
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 20-22; Psalm 107

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.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 107

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, April 16, 2018

Desperate king

Hezekiah prays - 2 Kings 19:14
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 18-19; Psalm 106

"And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it, and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord." 2 Kings 19:14

Today's reading is only part of a larger story where Sennarcherib king of Assyria has threatened Hezekiah, king of Judah, numerous times.

  • Hezekiah responded to the first threat by asking the Assyrian envoys to stop speaking the language the people could understand - 2 Kings 18:26.
  • He responded to the second threat with silence and later called on Isaiah to pray - 2 Kings 18:16-37; 19:2-4.
  • Today's reading is Assyria's third challenge. Walter Brueggemann says of this time:
"... it is important to understand the context of acute anxiety in which the king prays. Hezekiah utters his prayer because he is completely vulnerable and has exhausted all other resources" - Walter Brueggemann, Great Prayers of the Old Testament, p. 82 (emphasis added).

So Hezekiah goes to the temple in Jerusalem with the threatening Assyrian letter in hand, spreads it out before God and prays.

What a picture of "Help!" Perhaps this is what we should do more of when we get puzzling correspondence, bills that are bigger than the extra in our bank accounts, a bad report about our child from the teacher,  distressing news about our neighbourhood or country in the newspaper. We too could spread these things out before God and cry out for His help.

As the writer of my Bible's notes says, "Hezekiah is an excellent illustration of what a believer should do when threatened by an enemy. Hezekiah does not react to the threats of Sennarcherib, but cries out to the Lord for help" - Larry D. Powers, Notes on 2 Kings, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 507 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, please bring to my mind this picture of Hezekiah the next time I feel threatened. May I make it a habit to call on You in trouble before I do anything else. Amen.  

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 106

MORE: A great OT prayer

Hezekiah's prayer here is considered another of the great prayers of the Old Testament. Our commenter on these prayers takes this lesson for us from Hezekiah's actions and words:
"In the midst of a frightened people and in the face of overwhelming imperial power, Hezekiah nevertheless acts and speaks as a person of faith who appeals to a will and an agency that refuses conventional worldly characterizations of power .... The most important promise of this text is that prayer cannot be confined to safe familial or domestic spheres of life. The most important seduction of this text is the temptation to harness 'the power of prayer' to the cause of state in uncritical ways" - Walter Brueggemann, Op. Cit. , pp. 86,87 (emphasis added).

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