Sunday, February 19, 2017

The love gene

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 5:38-48

TO CHEW ON: ‘But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.'”  Matthew 5:44,45

The list of do’s and don’ts in our passage today reminds us a lot of yesterday’s list from Leviticus 19. There is even the same motivation: love (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:44).

However, Jesus goes further than the command to love one’s neighbor (hard enough) to say that disciples—we—should love even our enemies.

How can He expect this of us?

He showed us how by His example

  • By what He said: John 3:16; Matthew 5:44
  • Through His life:
 * He had compassion on the crowds, whatever their beliefs (Matthew 9:36; 14:14).

* He cried over Jerusalem whose citizens were rejecting Him (Matthew 9:36).

* He healed the ear of one of the soldiers who came to arrest Him and prayed for forgiveness of those who mocked Him while on the cross (Luke 22:41; 23:34).

  • In His death: 
* It’s how His followers (here Paul) understood His death: “ For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”  Romans 5:6-8.

The Holy Spirit gives us this heart transplant. 
It is only through the Holy Spirit that we become carriers of this family love gene.

* “'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

*“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5.

*“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” Galatians 5:22

*“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 1 Peter 1:22.

Perhaps the extent to which we do (or don’t) love our neighbors and our enemies says something about how much of our lives the Holy Spirit has access to.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, the command to display this family trait of love, even when it feels entirely unnatural, is a wake-up call to me to allow Your Spirit greater control of my life. Please help me in this. Amen.

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, February 18, 2017

Practical holiness

"Gleaners" - A way to take
care of the poor. Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Leviticus 19:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel and say to them: "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy."'" Leviticus 19:1-2

Holy (holiness) [qadosh  - to be set apart, dedicated to sacred purposes, sacred, clean, morally or ceremonially pure] is a preoccupation of Leviticus. In chapter 19 the writer (Moses) commands Israel to be holy and follows with a list of practical dos and don'ts that flesh out holiness (set-apartness) in their setting. This list includes:

- Honor parents (Leviticus 19:3).
- Observe the sabbath (Leviticus 19:3).
- Offer sacrifices willingly and by the rules (Leviticus 19:5-6).
- Build into your farming practices a way to take care of the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10).
- Promptly pay what you owe (Leviticus 19:13).
- Judge righteously (Leviticus 19:15).
- Deal openly with neighbour disagreements (Leviticus 19:17).
- Love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
- Keep the bloodlines of your cattle and the seedlines of your plants pure (Leviticus 19:19).
- Keep clothing fibers pure (Leviticus 19:19).

- Make or worship substitute gods (idols) (Leviticus 19:4).
- Treat sacrifices casually (Leviticus 19:7-8).
- Steal (Leviticus 19:11).
- Lie (Leviticus 19:11).
- Profane God's name by swearing (Leviticus 19:12).
- Cheat or rob your neighbour (Leviticus 19:13).
- Take advantage of the disabled (Leviticus 19:14).
- Show favouritism to anyone (Leviticus 19:15).
- Spread gossip or hearsay (Leviticus 19:16).
- Hold secret grudges or brood on ways you can get back at your neighbor or countryman (Leviticus 19:17-18).

What observable everyday behaviors. Though Christ's sacrifice has fulfilled the Mosaic law so that we no longer carry out the Old Testament ceremonial dos and don'ts on this list, I would submit that at least five items on the "Do list and every item on the "Don't" list  still apply to us in our setting today (not as a way to gain salvation, but as a way to live in harmony with God and people).

A sidebar article in my Bible about holiness sums it up well:

"When God commands us to be holy even as He is holy, He is simply calling us to let Him do through us what He does in and of Himself (1 Peter 1:15-16). God is absolutely "abandoned" to the purpose of manifesting the beauty of His character. This is not petty arrogance or egocentrism on God's part for the essence of God is that He always selflessly gives...It is the clear call to make the ultimate choice of abandoning ourselves to that one purpose: to let God be God through us — engulfed in the flames of holiness, yet wondrously released from all other competing affections." - Stphen Fry, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 155-156.

PRAYER: Holy God, please tutor me in the ways of holy living in my circumstances. Help me to make holy choices in the multitude of decisions that I will face today. Amen.

MORE: "Holy" by Nichole Nordeman

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.
Bible Drive-Thru

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Faithful" affliction?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:75

TO CHEW ON: “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” Psalm 119:75

I was talking recently to a friend whose husband had a stroke seven or eight months ago. She said something like, God has seemed closer and more real through this time than ever before.

A few days before our conversation, her husband—who is now in a wheelchair and can no longer speak—had had an unexpected seizure. My friend said about that: I have unusual peace. I’m not running around agitated and fretting like I did right after the stroke because God has been faithful through this whole time and I know He’ll take us through this as well.

My friend and her situation come to mind this morning as I read the psalmist’s reaction to being “afflicted.”

[Afflicted - anah - means afflict, oppress, humble, be afflicted, bowed down.] That definition encompasses a lot. It could mean being humbled / oppressed / made to bow in a variety of ways from physical illness, to business failure, to social humiliation, and more.

The psalmist regarded his affliction as a positive thing in the three times he mentioned it:

1. It became a magnet that drew him back to God
Before I was afflicted I went astray
But now I keep Your word” - Psalm 119:67.

2. It drove him to study God and His communication:
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted
That I may learn Your statutes” - Psalm 119:71.

3. His affliction was / is testing and strengthening his faith in God’s goodness:
“I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” - Psalm 119:75.  

[Faithfulness - emuwnah means firmness, fidelity, steadfastness, steadiness]

I understand this as God allowing these afflictions to come the psalmist's way, our way with intention—good intention.

[Fidelity means loyalty, strict observance of promises, adherence to detail.
Steadfast means fixed in direction, firm in purpose, unwavering.]

I know my first reaction to affliction of any kind is to pray: “Help! Get me out of this!” But maybe that’s not always the best prayer. Maybe a better one would be:

PRAYER: Dear Father God, please use this affliction to crowd me to You, to help me learn about You and Your ways, and to prove Your faithfulness to me and others. Amen.

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, February 16, 2017

Statute songs

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:49-64

TO CHEW ON: "Your statutes have been my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage." Psalm 119:54

Why do we sing?

Some of us sing almost unconsciously, in a habitual sort of way. Sometimes we hum or sing along with the catchy tunes on the radio or our listening device; we know the words and the melodies and rhythms make us feel good. Sometimes we sing the songs of our childhood to entertain grandchildren, and the songs of our youth to remember the past. And we sing in church.

I would submit that the last singing—in church—may be the most unemotional, mechanical kind of singing we do. It’s what’s done there so whether we enter into the message and emotion of the song or not, we sing.

Here the psalmist talks about singing God's statutes. Were these the Mosaic laws set to music? Did he sing them to help him memorize and review the myriad commandments contained in the code? Perhaps. But they seem meant also to bolster his faith and remind him that God is right there beside him in his pilgrimage life. We get the sense that he turns to these songs when life gets puzzling and discouraging, singing them to remind himself of what and who is his focus.

Or perhaps he didn't literally put God's commandments to music but he is using music here as a metaphor for how God's laws put joy into him in the same way a song would.

Eugene Peterson says about joy:
"Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence. It is not what we have to acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience. ... Joy is a product of abundance; it is the overflow of vitality. It is life working together harmoniously...

Peterson goes on to say that when we feel joyless, we may try to rouse joy artificially with entertainment. But though a comedian or movie may amuse us for a time, the joy they give is never permanent. However, he says, there is a way to live that taps into genuine joy.

"We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to centre ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab." A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 96-97 (emphasis added).
I think that's what the psalm writer is doing here: living in response to God's lavishness, in an environment of an alive God, centering himself in God with music the reminder and overflow of such a life.

I ask myself, how can I do that today? How can you? Singing to remind ourselves of God's goodness and to express our gratitude—outside of church, and in—is a good place to start.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to focus on Your abundance, to centre myself in You, to live in Your environment to the extent that songs of faith, hope and joy will well up inside. Amen.

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, February 15, 2017

Oh shiny!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:33-48

TO CHEW ON: “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.” Psalm 119:37

Are you attracted by beautiful things? By the tempting challenges that promise to further your career? By the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that might just set you up for the foreseeable? Oh shiny!

The Bible has a lot to say, indirectly and directly, about what we see and respond to.

  • Way back in Eden it was the sight of that tempting fruit that first got Eve in trouble (Genesis 3:6).
  • Lot too was attracted by the sight of that well-watered Jordanian plain. It drew him to move close to corrupt Sodom (Genesis 3:10,12).
  • Achan’s eyes got him in trouble when they dwelt on the beautiful Babylonian garment, the silver and the gold. His covetous look led to taking, hiding, and a whole lot of trouble for him, his clan, and Israel (Joshua 7:21 - read the whole story in Joshua 7:10-26).
  • Rich and wise King Solomon made several observations about setting one’s eyes on and directing one’s life by the attractive. By his own admission he lived that way (Ecclesiastes 2:4-8). And though he claimed to have kept his wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:9), in the end all he went after turned out to be futile (Ecclesiastes 2:11). His advice: Go ahead and let your heart follow your eyes, but there will come a day of reckoning for this (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
  • Even Jesus faced the temptation of the attractive (Matthew 4:8). He was not taken in. And on that mountaintop of temptation, Satan’s proffered exchange exposed what’s at stake here: “‘All these things I will give you if You will fall down and worship me” - Matthew 4:8 (emphasis added).

Perhaps that last is key to unveiling what’s behind such “Oh Shiny!” temptations for us too.  Their appeal and our response to them reveals to us and the world what our heart is worshiping. So the prayer of the psalmist becomes as relevant today as ever.

PRAYER: “Incline my heart to Your testimonies
And not to covetousness.
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things.
And revive me in Your way” Amen.

MORE: Extracurricular
Another passage that we might consider when facing the “shiny” opportunities and challenges that come our way is Paul’s advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:4,

“No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”

We might ask—is this shiny possession / opportunity / deal, consistent with my role in the Kingdom of God? Or will it prove a distraction?

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, February 14, 2017

Love—it begins between the ears

Elderly couple on Valentine's Day
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 2:31b-3:13

TO CHEW ON: "Love … believes all things, hopes all things …" 1 Corinthians 13:7

Today is Valentine's Day when we demonstrate our love with all kinds of loving actions like sending cards, gifting chocolates, and taking our loved one out for dinner. It's a day when 1 Corinthians 13—the Love Chapter—is the perfect reading. But have you noticed how many of the attributes of love listed in it are rooted in thoughts and not actions at all.

Let's make a list. (I've referred to the Amplified along with the NKJV):

Love refuses to think thoughts of:
  • envy, jealousy, vainglory or self-exaltation (1 Corinthians 13:4).
  • violated rights, self-promotion, resentment, the evil done to it (1 Corinthians 13:5).

Love encourages thoughts of:
  • patience, kindness (1 Corinthians 13:4).
  • truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).
  • perseverance—bearing up under anything and everything, the best about the loved one, hope (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Whatever kind of love we celebrate today—the love of parent to child, friend to friend, or lovers—let's remember that how it begins and whether it stays strong are dependent on the thoughts we feed it. If your love for someone is anemic, take a look at your thoughts about that person. And love-friendly thoughts not only nourish love but also give integrity to all those actions of love we perform today—and every day.

PRAYER: Dear God, please make me sensitive to thoughts that destroy love—like envy, jealousy, and resentment. Help me to make a habit of thinking the best of every person. Amen.

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, February 13, 2017

Works that last; works that burn

fire burning behind a wall
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 3:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." 1 Corinthians 3:14,15

The older I get, the more I ponder the meaning of these verses as they relate to my own life. Will my life's work last or will it burn?

Here are some things the Bible calls enduring or lasting:
  • Riches and honour whose source is God - Proverbs 8:18.
  • Spiritual food that "endures to everlasting life" - John 6:27. The whole chapter of John 6 is Jesus declaring and explaining his role as the Bread of Life that lasts.
  • Spiritual works that endure (1 Corinthians 3:14). The works Paul talks about here relate to building the church and Paul uses the metaphor of Jesus as the foundation of this building and each one of us as builders.
  • Faith, hope and love - 1 Corinthians 13:13.
  • Unseen eternal things - 2 Corinthians 4:18.
  • The kingdom of God, which cannot be shaken - Hebrews 12:27-29.

Here are some of the things the Bible names as frail and destructible:
  • Our lives - Psalm 49:12; 78:39; 103:14.
  • Our righteousnesses—the good things we do to try to earn salvation - Isaiah 64:6.
  • Our pleasures - Luke 12:19,20.
  • Human knowledge - 1 Corinthians 13:8.
  • The glory of man - 1 Peter 1:24.
  • Material things—the earth - Psalm 102:25,26.
  • Spiritual works that don't pass the fire test (1 Corinthians 3:15). Though these works will burn, Paul makes a special point of saying that the person who built the works will be spared, barely, and with no reward.

These two lists leave a lot of room for self-searching and discernment, as you and I compare how we spend our lives with what will last, and what won't.

Dear God, please help me to discern what is a worthwhile use of my limited time on earth. Help me to bring this perspective to all the activities of my life. Amen.

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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