Friday, August 26, 2016

A harvest of words

Image: pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 13:15-25

TO CHEW ON: "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name." Hebrews 13:15


Fruit is not the first step of the growing cycle. It's closer to the last. We need seeds, germination, nurturing, growth, ripening before we get fruit.

If what comes out of our mouths is "fruit," it is the result of what's gone on before. That happens mostly in our minds.

What seeds are we planting—or allowing to be planted? Are they thought seeds that will lead to the fruit of praise? What thoughts are we allowing to germinate, watering with our attention and concentration, ripening as self-talk until they spill out as the "fruit of lips"?

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it's "Through Jesus..." that whatever our situation, it is or can be reworked into something praiseworthy. This "praise" is not a false optimism, though it may not always be what comes naturally but rather a "sacrifice."

Let's listen to the fruit of our lips. If we discover a harvest of fear, complaining, negativity, criticism, discontent etc., let's look into the earlier part, the thought part, of the "fruit of lips" process.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, help me to keep the soil of my mind full of Your truth. Amen. 


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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Practice contentment

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 13:1-14
TO CHEW ON: "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." Hebrews 13:5-6

Covetousness, it seems to me, is one of the big engines that drives our capitalist system. For example, new versions of electronics come out several times a year. So why would we want to hang onto our old smartphone, computer, or tablet when there's a new one that does more things faster? New styles in clothes and house decorating have us refreshing our wardrobes every season, redecorating the house every few years.

The system needs us to spend money in this way to keep going and growing. Manufacturers, investors and advertisers are masters at exploiting our natural tendency to want what the next person has, or the newest and best. Their goal: make sure we're never content.

These verses in Hebrews tell us to act, indeed to be, the exact opposite. The various translations add shades of meaning to the simple words of the NKJV.

"Let your conduct..." is rendered "Let your character and moral disposition..." (AMP), "Don't love..." (NLT), "Keep your lives free..." NIV, "Don't be obsessed with..." (MSG).

"Covetousness" is called "...love of money [including greed, avarice, lust, craving for earthly possessions] and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]" AMP (I'd say that covers about everything!). "Don't be obsessed with getting more material things" says the Message.

Instead we are to be content. This because God has promised to be with us always. Even if we lose everything, no one can take away our relationship with Him and our hope of a future with Him.

I ask myself, is that enough for me not to need that new car, updated dining room furniture, Caribbean cruise that my friends rave about?
PRAYER: Dear God, please press home to me the importance of contentment. Help me to make choices that foster it. Amen.

MORE: Angles on contentment

- Our relationship with God enhances it (Proverbs 15:16).
- It can be nourished in any circumstance (Philippians 4:11).
- It makes possible the novel state of being content with one's wages (Luke 3:14).
- With it we can learn to enjoy and appreciate the simplest things in life (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

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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)

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
 

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.



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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Steward

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 4:1-15

TO CHEW ON:"Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." 1 Corinthians 4:2

In Paul's day a steward was an important part of wealthy households. It was the steward's job to oversee particularly the feeding of the household. He was in full charge and accountable only to the owner.

A steward in our time has no less responsibilities. He is, by my dictionary:
1) One entrusted with the management of property, finances, or other affairs not his own — an administrator.

2) One in charge of buying provisions, managing servants etc.

3) One with a unique role in various settings:
  • on a ship, in charge of food and the guests' comforts.
  • on an airplane or bus, one who waits on the passengers.
  • in a union, a shop steward is the intermediary between the workers and the union leadership.

When Paul was calling himself a steward he was identifying himself as a person who dedicated himself to the spiritual nourishment needs of others. Whatever his role (and he had many: explainer of God's word, teacher, preacher, church planter, mentor) he lived it under the overarching principles of being a "servant of Christ" which included being "a steward of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1).

Though we may not have an official position of leadership, all of us have those in our lives to whom we can be spiritual stewards. Whether those who look to us are our children, or friends, or members of our Bible study class, or whole churches, let's take personally Paul's challenge to be faithful stewards of the things God has entrusted to us:
  • God's word - the Bible, in our country freely available in multi-translations with an accompanying embarrassment of riches in the Bible helps and commentaries department.
  • Time, talents and opportunities (from internet access to an opening in conversation with our local barista).

We could make the faithful steward in the story Jesus told, our model (Luke 12:42-43).

PRAYER: Dear God, what a privilege to be a steward of the eternal truths of the Bible. Help me to be faithful. Amen.

MORE: "Servants think like stewards, not owners

"Servants remember that God owns it all. In the Bible, a steward was a servant entrusted to manage an estate. Joseph was this kind of servant as a prisoner in Egypt. Potiphar entrusted Joseph with his home. Then the jailor entrusted Joseph with his jail. Eventually Pharaoh entrusted the entire nation to him. Servanthood and stewardship go together, since God expects us to be trustworthy in both. The Bible says, 'the one thing required of such servants is that they be faithful to their master.' How are you handling the resources God has entrusted to you?" - Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life, p. 266-267.

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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, August 23, 2016

How do you handle "evil tidings"?

"The Messengers tell Job of his Misfortunes"
by William Blake - 1805-6


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 112:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "He will not be afraid of evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord." Psalm 112:7

 Ann Voskamp's heart seized up in fear the morning her son mangled his hand in a farm accident. Though she knew, in her head, that God was in control, the death of her baby sister when Ann herself was only four had coloured her heart-perception of God and His sometimes inscrutable ways.

 Jerry Bridges has written an entire book that grapples with this issue. In the introduction to Trusting God Even When It Hurts, he says:

"God's plan and His ways of working out His plan are frequently beyond our ability to fathom and understand. We must learn to trust when we don't understand. In order to trust God we must know Him in an intimate personal way. David said in Psalm 9:10, 'Those who know Your name will trust in You for You Lord have never forsaken those who seek you.' To know God's name is to know Him in an intimate personal way. It is more than just knowing facts about God. It is coming into a deep personal relationship with Him as a result of seeking Him in the midst of our personal pain and discovering Him to be trustworthy" - Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When It Hurts, Kindle location 142.

Seeking God in the midst of pain can take various forms. Ann Voskamp came to know and trust Him by practicing gratitude. For over a year she kept a list of God's good gifts to her and wrote about it in the book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Life Fully Right Where You Are).

Another way might be to study what the Bible says about God's sovereignty and love. That's how Jerry Bridges came to write his book.

If we don't have the inclination to do that, we can always benefit from the insights of others. Bridges' book, or others, like J. I. Packer's Knowing God are excellent ways of familiarizing ourselves with God as He is portrayed in the Bible.

Still another way is to memorize, meditate on, and pray scripture passages that assure us of God's sovereignty and love.

Whatever way you and I choose, let's spend time getting to know God today, so that it can be said of us: "He/She will not be afraid of evil tidings."

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to know You so well, to trust You so completely that "evil tidings' will not rock my faith in You. Amen.

MORE: The urgency of sorting out your theology

Rebecca Stark writes:

"In what I believe was God’s providential preparation, in the years right before my husband’s cancer diagnosis, we came to a much fuller understanding of some things about God: that he is working his plan in every bit of the universe all the time; that he has righteous reasons for everything he does, even though we might not—and probably won’t—understand them; and that suffering and death, when they occur, are God’s chosen means to accomplish good things"

She goes on to make the case for sorting out one's view of God (one's theology) before trouble ever strikes by giving examples of how tragedy rocked the faith of some who didn't do that. She concludes:

"If you’ve already come to love a God who you understand to be purposefully working in all things—even the terribly tragic ones—for his good purposes, then you keep on loving and trusting him when real tragedy strikes you. And more than that: You cling to him as the only sort of God who could be a rock for you in difficult times. That you weren’t spared suffering doesn’t throw you for a loop, because you expected that somewhere, sometime, you would have your share of it as God conforms you to the likeness of his son.


You still suffer, of course, but you suffer knowing that there is meaning in your suffering, something that cannot be there if God is simply creation’s uninterested or unknowing overseer. You still suffer, but you suffer with God as a firm comfort and a source of steadfast hope, for you know that your tragedy, in his hands, is working good things."

Read the whole article (and follow the links).

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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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Monday, August 22, 2016

Do you have an obedient ear?

Gold earring with amber gemstone
Photo from RGB Stock
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 25:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold
Is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear." Proverbs 25:12



Rebuke isn't a word we use often these days. It means to reprove sharply, reprimand, check or restrain by command. Its synonym reprove (to rebuke, censure, blame) is almost as rare.

Perhaps we don't use these words because we don't do much rebuking or reproving. When the news carries stories of people getting beat up for trying to check or restrain bad behaviour, can we be blamed for keeping our mouths shut?

Yet here Solomon praises the person who learns from a rebuke. Other references to rebuke in the Bible help us understand from whom rebuke might come and how to receive and give it.

  • Sometimes it comes from unexpected sources. In the Old Testament, rebuke came to Abram and Sarai from an Egyptian Pharaoh and Abimelech, the king of Gerar, when they lied about their relationship - Genesis 12:18 and Genesis 20:16.
  • Rebuke is valuable when it comes from a righteous, wise person. In Psalm 141:5 the psalmist calls it "excellent oil." Our focus verse likens wise rebuke to gold jewelry.
  • Parents are expected to rebuke their children and wise children will respond with corrected behaviour - Proverbs 15:5; Proverbs 2:1-22; 9:15.
  • Rebuke is most helpful when it's "open" vs. hidden, as in not delivered - Proverbs 27:5.
  • We demonstrate whether we are foolish or wise by how we respond to it - Proverbs 17:10.
  • God, our heavenly Father, shows His care for us when He rebukes us - Hebrews 12:5.

Have you been rebuked by someone lately? Or by God Himself? How do you tend to respond to rebuke?

Instead of getting our hackles up, or objecting "Who are you to tell me I'm wrong?!" let's prove ourselves wise by valuing righteous, helpful, needed rebuke and responding to it with an obedient ear.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be open to rebuke today and to respond with an obedient ear. 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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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Helpless

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 13:10-21

TO CHEW ON: "And behold there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen year and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up," Luke 13:11


There is something imagination-capturing about this woman, so bound by a "spirit of infirmity" that she was physically bent over. In a way, her physical state pictures the helplessness of each one of us.

Though we like to think we are in control of it, the course of our lives is largely out of our hands (Jeremiah 10:23). We even need God to draw us to Himself (John 6:44) like He did this unfortunate woman.

Watch the scene. Jesus noticed this helpless, stooped woman, called her and she shuffled over. Then He touched her and said, "Woman you are loosed from your infirmity." At His touch, "immediately she was made straight." Incredible! She could stretch to her full height again after 18 long years!

Do we realize how helpless we are at any and all stages of our lives? Jesus died so that we can be free from the body casts, the handcuffs of spiritual bondage in which we are bound from birth (Romans 5:6). But even after we come to Him, we are helpless to live in ways that are blameless (Romans 7:18). We need to stay attached to Him to live lives that will accomplish anything eternally significant (John 15:5). 

The sad part is, most of the time I live entirely unaware of how helpless I am without Him, how unable to raise myself up. How about you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live with the consciousness of how much I need You at every moment and stage of my life.
MORE: Kingdom pictures

At the end of today's reading, Jesus gives His listeners more word-pictures about the Kingdom of God. There's a wonderful song written by Allan Levi that illustrates the way Jesus lived this kingdom while on earth. "The Land Where the People Walk Backward."


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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Necessary discipline

man pruning a plant
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 12:5-29

TO CHEW ON: "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11

Do you have regrets about the way you have or are raising your children? In a novel I'm reading, the main character reviews how she and her husband brought up their son, now gone from home. She remembers her husband's impatience when he tried to teach his son the trumpet, her swooping in to help him out when he was in trouble, their visible coldness toward him when he flubbed a music recital. Her descriptions brought back scenes from the days when our children were young—along with some regrets of my own.

Discipline—doling it out, getting it—is never easy, or at least it isn't for me. We can tend to discipline our youngsters when we're in the throes of emotion and be over-harsh and irrational. Or perhaps we hate confrontation and avoid disciplining, only to later reap the fruit of an out-of-control child.

In our Hebrews reading the writer talks about the ways God disciplines us. Several words illustrate the range His discipline takes.
  • He chastens (paideia) us  as in the rearing and training of a child (vs. 5, 7, 8, 11).
  • He rebukes (elencho ) as in giving us verbal reproof (vs. 5).
  • He corrects (paideutes) us as a teacher disciplines (vs. 9).
  • He trains, instructs and punishes us (paideuo) (vs. 7).
  • And He scourges (mastigos) us—disciplining us physically (vs. 6).

Just like children left on their own can yield a harvest of bad fruit, so will we if left untrained and undisciplined.  So let's learn to recognize and welcome God's discipline of us, and model it as we train our children, both natural and spiritual.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to recognize and welcome Your discipline. May I be a teachable child. 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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