Saturday, December 20, 2014

Beauty—separate from the madness and mayhem

forest with sun streaming in
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Chronicles 16:23-36

TO CHEW ON: "Give to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering and come before Him.
Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." 1 Chronicles 16:29


Our reading today is part of the song of thanksgiving David sang when he brought the Ark to Jerusalem. It soars with praise and thanksgiving, God-compliments and God-boasts. It suggests to its listeners and participants how to worship:
"Sing to the Lord …  proclaim the good news …  Declare His glory …  Give to the Lord glory and strength … the glory due His name. Bring an offering … Worship…in the beauty of holiness… Tremble before Him… Give thanks and say, 'Save us, O God of our salvation."

To me the climax of David's song is the line from verse 29: "Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness."

[Holiness (Qodesh) means apartness, sacredness, separateness, holiness.]

A sidebar article in my Bible explains:
"To worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness is to worship God in the adornment, enrichment, enhancement of His "otherness" and sacredness. He is separate and set apart from all that He created. He is the Holy One—this is His crowning attribute that sums up all His attributes" - LeMar Boschman, "Worship In Holiness," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 539.

As I'm writing this, our news media is all a-frenzy, reporting on two events—the antics of local eco-protestors on Burnaby Mountain and the riots, looting, fire-setting and general lawlessness that started in Ferguson, Missouri on November 24th.

No matter who's right or wrong in these situations, the ugliness, bad language, violence, anger, resistance to authority they bring out is sickening. To me it's a vivid illustration of the beastly heart inside us, usually covered by a veneer of civility but so readily aroused to rebellion and mayhem.

Setting my mind, tuning my mouth to praise God, who is "separate and set apart" from us—clamorous, violent, easily provoked humans—spending time in His altogether fair, powerful, pure presence, appreciating His creativity, thanking Him for His accomplishments in history (knowing that He will sort out these events too), salvation, my life, is mighty attractive right about now!

PRAYER: Dear God, I know my mind can only begin to comprehend You—just because You are holy, separate, other. Today, please help me to experience some of Your holy essence as I worship in Your presence. 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.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Sit before God

David by Rembrandt
"David" - by Rembrandt
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 7:18-29

TO CHEW ON:
"Then King David went in a sat before the Lord ...." 2 Samuel 7:18

Today's reading continues the story we began yesterday when God told Nathan to return to David and tell him, 'No. You are not to build Me a house.'

Did David feel shock and disappointment at the change? Did he have the urge to question and argue? Nathan's message obviously got him thinking and wanting to be in touch with God about what was going on. So he went in and "... sat before the Lord."

"'Sat' actually means remained," says my Bible footnote to this verse. "David spends a lengthy time before the Lord, that is, in the tent where the ark stood"- Jerry Cook,  commentary on 2 Samuel, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 411.

As he sits there, his thoughts range:
  • He sees his own puniness and insignificance - 2 Samuel 7:18.
  • He marvels at God's grace and favour to his family, given for reasons only God knows - 2 Samuel 7:18-21.
  • In God's blessing of him and the nation of Israel, he recognizes God's greatness and he foresees Israel becoming a blessing to the whole earth - 2 Samuel 7:22-24.

By the end of his time of sitting before God any vestige of a snit is gone. He's completely back in sync with God's plan - 2 Samuel 7:27-29.

What a great example David is to us. When things catch us by surprise, when our expectations come crashing down in disappointment or failure, when the road forks and we sense God tugging us in a direction we hadn't planned on going—and tens of other times—is a good time for us to stop and sit before God.

There we can let Him impress us with His person. He may reassure us with memories of His help in the past. And no doubt He will feed our imaginations with the possibilities of the course He is setting us on for the future.

PRAYER: Dear God, in the hustle and bustle of life, I don't take enough time to sit before You. Please draw me aside to do this, and to make a habit to spend time regularly sitting in Your presence. Amen.


MORE: His presence—a cure for anxiety


"Our eyes should be taken off self, removed from our own weakness and allowed to rest implicitly upon God's strength .... A simple confiding faith, living day by day and casting its burden on the Lord, each hour of the day, will dissipate fear, drive away misgiving and deliver from doubt (Philippians 4:6).

"That is the divine cure for all fear, anxiety and undue concern of soul, all of which are closely akin to doubt and unbelief" - E. M. Bounds, E. M. Bounds on Prayer, Kindle location p. 20)

David's prayer in  2 Samuel 7:18-29 is considered another of the Great Prayers of the Old Testament.

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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.





Thursday, December 18, 2014

My plans or God's?

Nathan and David - Artist unknown
Nathan and David - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 7:1-17

TO CHEW ON: " ' Wherever I have moved about with all the children of Israel, have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel saying, "Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?" ' " 2 Samuel 7:17


When David had the idea to build God a permanent house to replace the tent tabernacle, the prophet Nathan was quick to endorse it. But that night God told Nathan what He thought about David's plan. It wasn't what Nathan had said. The answer to the rhetorical question God wanted Nathan to put to David ("… have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel whom I commanded to shepherd My people saying, 'Why have you not built me a house of cedar?' ") was NO. God had not asked for this before. Neither was He asking for it now.

My Bible's study notes on this verse explain: "God reminds David of His original intent in calling him to shepherd My people Israel, not to build Him a house" Sam Middlebrook, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 410.

In this situation we have an example of David making his own plans and asking God to bless them (we talked about that very thing yesterday). This fall I took a DVD course (Discerning the Voice of God) by Priscilla Shirer. In the workbook that accompanies the lectures, she talks about our tendency to make plans and then ask God to bless them (instead of waiting for God to point us in the direction He wants us to go). Here are some bits I've underlined in my workbook:

"We have to decide to spend our time either discerning and aligning ourselves with the purposes of God or doing what we want while asking God to bless it" - Priscilla Shirer, Discerning the Voice of God (Workbook),  p. 85.

"We have invited ourselves to do things God isn't doing" - Op. cit., p. 91.

"When seeking God's guidance, always take into account the activity He is allowing in your life at that time" - Op. cit., p. 89.

"We often find God's will when we do what's next and obediently respond to the normal duties of life" - Op. cit.,  p. 90.

"If you feel an overwhelming urge to act spontaneously, pull in the reins" - p. 93.

"Wait for the Father to lead you. If you do not feel an assurance in a decision, then wait. You will be glad you did" - Op. cit., p. 94.
However, let's not get the idea that God didn't appreciate David's heart.  He actually turned David's desire around by promising David his own house—not one of cedar and stone, but of an everlasting dynasty (2 Samuel 7:16). We know that Jesus came from David's line and take this as a prophecy of His forever Kingdom.

God also assured David that a son of his would be the one to build that house of cedar. It happened when Solomon built the temple.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be sensitive to what You're doing in my life and around me, and to get on-board with Your activity instead of cooking up plans of my own. 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, December 17, 2014

What has God chosen you for?

Signet ring - with the image of Childeric
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 2:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "'In that day,' says the Lord of hosts, 'I will take you Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,' says the Lord, 'and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,' says the Lord of hosts." Haggai 2:23

Zerubbabel was a leader of the Hebrew exiles returning from Babylon in 537 B.C. He was a governor and is mentioned in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. In the New Testament, he shows up in the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17 - Zerubbabel is mentioned in verse 12).

In our reading today we see one reason he was a significant Bible character. It is because God had a specific and special role for Zerubbabel in accomplishing His purposes. Here's what God wanted to do:

"I will shake heaven and earth. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and those who ride in them... (Haggai 2:21-22).

Zerubbabel was the man God picked for that task:

"I will take you, Zerubbabel...and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you..." Haggai 2:23.

Throughout the Bible we can trace the pattern of God choosing an individual when He wants to accomplish some special purpose.
  • When God wanted to do something about wicked humanity but still save some, He chose Noah (Genesis 6:5-14).
  • When God planned to free the Israelites from the tyranny of Midian, He chose Gideon (Judges 6:11-16).
  • When God wanted the Gospel spread to Gentiles, kings, and Jews, He chose Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-16).

In his book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says:

God never asks people to dream up something to do for Him. We do not sit down and dream what we want to do for God and then call God in to help us accomplish it. The pattern in Scripture is that we submit ourselves to God. Then we wait until God shows us what He is about to do, or we watch what God is already doing around us and join Him"  - Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God, Workbook, p. 34.

The challenge for us, then, is to resist going down a self-determined path. It means placing our confidence in God, not ourselves. We seek God's kingdom instead of what the world approves of and admires. We look for God's perspective in every circumstance instead of looking at how circumstances can serve us. Applying this viewpoint to life and work, we wait until we perceive God's activity before we decide what projects we should work on, instead of starting something on our own initiative and then asking God to bless it.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put this into practice in my life. I need the spiritual perception to see where You are at work. I need wisdom to understand what this means for me. I need courage to cast aside self-generated projects in favour of assignments that come from You. Amen.

MORE: Signet rings

In ancient times, official documents contained a seal.  This was an impression or imprint on the document often made in a blob of wax. It told the recipient that the document was authentic.

Such seals were sometimes imprinted by pressing the ring the ruler wore (a signet ring) into the soft wax.

Wikipedia says of signet rings:
The wearing of signet rings (from Latin "signum" meaning sign) goes back to ancient Egypt; the distinctive personal signature was not developed in antiquity and most documents needed a seal. The tradition continues, especially among the armigerous, in European and some other cultures.  
Because it is used to attest the authority of its bearer, the ring has also been seen as a symbol of his power, which is one explanation for its inclusion in the regalia of certain monarchies. 
From "Seal (emblem)"
 So we see, when God calls Zerubbabel a signet ring, He is referring to the power and authority He has given this man He has chosen for this job.

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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, December 16, 2014

Come Desire of All Nations

Wise men worshiping Jesus - William Hole
Wise men worshiping Jesus - William Hole
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 2:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "For thus says the Lord of hosts: once more (it is a little while) I will shake the heaven and earth, the sea and dry land. And I will shake all nations and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of Hosts." Haggai 2:6-7

Imagine having a clear sense, on a particular day, that God wants to use your tongue for His message. That seems to have been Haggai's experience "on the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month." Thanks to his cooperation, we have his words to ponder these many years later.

As we read his prophetic message, we get the sense of double, perhaps multiple fulfillments. Some of these predictions came true shortly after Haggai's time, some were for a time in the distant future and some for the end of time. Even in our short  focus passage we see this.

"And I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land. And I will shake all nations" (vs. 6-7) brings to mind passages we have recently read about the great end-of-earth disturbances Jesus predicts in Matthew 24:7,29.

"..and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations ..."(vs. 7) sounds Messianic. It reminds us of Jesus coming to earth as a baby and how representatives of the earth's nations came to Bethlehem to honour Him as King (Matthew 2:1-12).  But there is also a future picture here—one we see in John's vision (Revelation 7:9-10).

"… and I will fill this temple with glory"
is a prophecy that also has multiple fulfillments.

It was fulfilled in a sense when Haggai's contemporaries completed the temple and worship resumed there.

Jesus interpreted "temple" on several levels: the actual building standing in Jerusalem and His own body. His double meaning led to Him making controversial statements like  "'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up' " (John 2:19)— claims which eventually became part of the case that ended in His crucifixion (Mark 15:48; Matthew 26:61) and his body-temple being changed to one of resurrected glory.

My Bible's introduction to Haggai explains how this is also a prophecy  for the future:
 "… what God will do in the new temple will one day gain international attention. After an upheaval among the peoples of the Earth, the nations will be drawn to the temple to discover that they had been looking for: the One whom all the nations have desired will be displayed in splendour in the temple. The presence of this One will cause the memory of Solomon's glorious temple to fade so that only Christ's glory remains…" Sam Middlebrook, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1241.

Recent happenings on Jerusalem's Temple Mount show that we are definitely still waiting for the day when "…in this place I will give peace" Haggai 2:9.

As we celebrate the coming of the Desire of All Nations to earth as a baby, let's not lose hope in the fulfillment of the parts of Haggai's prophecy that have yet to be realized.

PRAYER: Dear Desire of All Nations, thank You for coming as a baby. We look forward to the day You return in glory and bring peace. 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, December 15, 2014

God stirs the heart

Haggai preaching - Artist unknown
Haggai preaching - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 1:1-15

TO CHEW ON:
"So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God." Haggai 1:14

The prophet Haggai's ministry  was short—less than four months. He was one of the exiles returned from Persia to Jerusalem in 536. Bible scholars date his ministry in the year 520.

During the 16 years that passed between the exiles' return and Haggai's message the people had begun rebuilding the temple but soon abandoned it in disinterest. Now they were focused on rebuilding their own homes. Trouble is, things weren't working out so well. Their harvests were puny, their food unsatisfying, their clothes not warm enough and there was never enough money.

" 'Why?' says the Lord of hosts. 'Because of My house that is in ruins while every one of you runs to his own house' " - Haggai 1:9.

After hearing Haggai's message the leaders decide to be obedient and finish rebuilding the temple (Haggai 1:12-13). God adds His amen to this: " 'I am with you...' " Haggai 1:13.

I love how Haggai gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of why his words were successful: "So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubabbel … Joshua … Johozadak…" Haggai 1:14.

[The Hebrew word for stirred up is ur. It means to rouse, awaken, stir up, excite, raise up, arouse to action, open one's eyes. Other places it's used is of an eagle stirring up its nest (Deuteronomy 32:11); a musical instrument warming up (Psalm 108:2); God awakening the prophet (Isaiah 50:4); and a call to the Lord's arm to "awake"(Isaiah 51:9) - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1243.]

I think we need to pay attention to this whenever we feel the weight of things not right in our own church, city, and country. It was not, finally, Haggai's eloquence that got the leaders and people moving but God stirring hearts.

How do we who aren't leaders aid this process along?
  • Jesus words to pray that God send workers comes to mind - Matthew 9:30.
  • Paul's command to make "supplications, prayers and intercessions" for kings and all who are in authority is another thing we can do. - 1 Timothy 2:1,2.  For, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes" - Proverbs 21:1.

 PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for Your power over the heart of even the highest earthly ruler's heart. Please stir up the hearts of our leaders, secular and spiritual, to honor and obey You. 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.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Straighten the path

straight path through woods
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:15-28

TO CHEW ON: "He said, 'I am
The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
Make straight the way of the Lord.' " John 1:23



These words of John the Baptist are a quote from Isaiah who even seemed to have John in the picture as he wrote it:
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
'Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God."  - Isaiah 40:3.

"Make straight…" What does he mean by that?

[Straight - yashar means direct, to be straight, upright, pleasing good - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 807. ]

It is the word used in one of my favorite verses that promises God's direction to me:
"In all your ways know, recognize and acknowledge Him and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths" - Proverbs 3:6 AMP.

John the Baptist was preparing his listeners for the coming of Jesus when he quoted this. During Advent we too are in a season of preparation. We prepare to celebrate Jesus' coming by buying gifts for others. We prepare programs of music, drama, and readings. We plan menus and shop for food. We clean our "inns" and get them ready for guests. But do we, in the hustle and bustle, neglect to prepare our hearts? To make a straight, direct path for Jesus to come to us, even in the busyness?

Let's take some time this advent season to again appreciate what Jesus' coming means:
  • How it opens the windows of heaven for us:
"Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" - Luke 2:10,11.
  • How it gives us a glimpse into God's own heart:
 "Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" - John 14:9.
  • How it gives even the most difficult experiences a penumbra of light -
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live' " - John 11:25.
  • How it dispels the shadows of our most stubborn fear -
"And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise' " - Luke 23:43.

After those reminders of what His presence means, we may confess sin that makes Him feel distant and get rid of the distractions to His presence that the seasonal running to and fro erect. With these straightened paths He will be with us in our kitchens, banquet halls, malls, the traffic, the church, the hospital… We will experience Him as Immanuel this Christmas!


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to clear away the rubble, do away with the detours so that You have a direct route to my most inner self this Advent season. Amen.
 

MORE: Third Sunday of Advent

Today the church celebrates the third Sunday of Advent. The liturgy for the day begins with this Collect:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

If you have an advent wreath with a candle for each Sunday of the season, today you light the third candle.

What do these candles signify? Tanya Gulevich's Encyclopedia of Christmas tells us the various meanings people have given to the four Advent candles:

~ The four gifts of the Holy Spirit: HOPE, JOY, PEACE, LOVE.

~ The themes of the Advent season: HOPE, PREPARATION, JOY, LOVE

~ Characters in the Nativity story: PROPHETS, ANGELS, SHEPHERDS, MAGI

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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)




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