Friday, October 24, 2014

Persistent children

Praying child
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 7:1-14

TO CHEW ON: " ' Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened.' " Matthew 7:7,8

If you've ever lived with a child determined to get his or her way, you'll have experienced a bit of what these verses talk about from God's point of view.  "Mom, please. Why not? You said…Please? When?"

My Bible's commentary says about the grammatical construction: "The Greek imperatives ask, seek and knock (vs. 7) are in the present tense suggesting continued petition" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Matthew, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1302.

However, prayers that take a long time to be answered are much more than our attempts to convince God that it's answer time. Persevering prayer:
  • proves to God and us our deep desires.
  • reminds us of our ignorance of God's timing.
  • focuses us on what is really important enough to stay on our prayer list year after year.
  • may have us searching our lives for hindrances to God answering our prayers,
  • while at the same time living alert to ways God is working and the part He may want us to play in bringing about the answers.

Daniel Henderson, in his book Transforming Prayer says about prayer generally:
"He has ordained prayer as a means by which we depend on and trust in Him. He answers our prayers to give us what He knows we need to bring Him glory. … We often pray to escape our difficulties rather than embrace discipleship" Daniel Henderson, Transforming Prayer, p. 79.

About the parallel passage to this one (Luke 11:9-13) Henderson says:
"Jesus clarifies His focus on the good things we should expect with these words: 'How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!' (Luke 11:13). The life spring of all the good things the Father wants to give us is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit" - Ibid, p. 81.

So we can and should keep up our persevering ways in prayer, knowing that the answer—whatever it is, whenever it comes—will be good.

PRAYER: Dear God, please keep the burden heavy on me over the things You want me to continue to pray for. 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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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Enduring legacy

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 90:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands." Psalm 90:17

Does it seem to you that Christmases are coming around faster than they ever did when you were a child, and birthdays, and anniversaries? I don't know what it is about getting older that makes time seem to fly. Perhaps it's the realization that it's running out. The top of the timer is only half full, one third full, one quarter full...

The theme of Psalm 90 is the brevity of life and the stewardship of time. What vivid pictures the writer, Moses, paints to show how short life is:

To God a thousand years are like yesterday (before you realize it, only a memory), and a watch in the night (a few hours on duty) - Psalm 90:4.

To us life is like a flash flood, a sleep when time passes without our awareness, grass that grows in the morning but by evening is cut down, as slight as a sigh - Psalm 90:5-6,9.

Other Bible passages add paintings to the "Life is Brief" gallery:
  • "Our days on earth as as a shadow" - 1 Chronicles 29:15.
  • "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle" - Job 7:6.
  • "My life span is gone, taken from me like a shepherd's tent; I have cut off my life like a weaver. He cuts me off from the loom" - Isaiah 38:12.
  • "You have made my days as handbreadths" - Psalm 39:5.
  • "He comes forth like a flower and fades away" - Job 14:2.
  • "For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" - James 4:14.

In the setting of such fragility and brevity, Moses' request seems almost brash: "...establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands."

[Establish = kun means to be firmly established, stable, secure, enduring, directed aright, fixed aright, steadfast.]

Isn't this what we all want—to do something significant, to leave something that endures past the span of our short lives?

Just over a month ago we celebrated the thirteenth anniversary of 9-11. I would suppose that the men who designed those twin towers thought they had left a multi-generational legacy in the massive structures. Yet they came down in mere hours. What everyone celebrated on the anniversary was not the memory of those buildings but the acts of heroism, self-sacrifice, and love performed by many who died that day and how they made a lasting difference to lives.

Our love for people, as it works itself out in a hundred different ways, is also the best legacy we can leave. It is an investment in never-dying souls. Let's concern ourselves with leaving such a legacy especially as it involves introducing those souls to Jesus, the giver of eternal life.

PRAYER: Dear God, Moses' prayer is my prayer today: 'Let the beauty of the Lord my God be upon me. And establish the work of my hands for me. Yes, establish the work of my hands. Amen.

MORE: a poem...

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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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The gift of a leader

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 78:56-72

TO CHEW ON: "So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands" - Psalm 78:72.

All in all, this is a pretty depressing psalm until we come to the last three verses. There we see that God didn't give up on these people despite their long history of unfaithfulness. Instead, he gave them what they needed, though they didn't deserve it: a chosen leader in David, whose leadership was characterized by integrity and skill.

The people God chose for leadership and prominence are characterized in many ways in the Bible.
  • God called the tribe of Levi—the Israelites separated to serve Him in the worship service of the tabernacle and temple—as "Mine" and a "gift" (Numbers 3:12; 8:19; 18:6).
  • The prophet Haggai named Zerubbabel as God's "servant" who was "like a signet ring," i.e. His very stamp of authority (Haggai 2:23).
  • God called Paul a "chosen vessel" (Acts 9:15).
  • But God's leader choices are not always the obvious ones. Paul, in Colossians tells us how upside-down they sometimes look: "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world ... and the base things and the things which are despised ... and the things which are not to bring to nothing the things that are" - Colossians 1:27-29.

Actually David was an example of that. He had no royal upbringing but apprenticed for the job as king in the fields  as a shepherd. Yet it was the perfect preparation for his role as Israel's shepherd.

Two things come to mind:
1. Do I, do we, value and support our leaders, viewing them as God's gift, His hand of authority, His choice vessels for us?

2. Maybe some of us are leaders in training but don't even realize it. The Colossians verses remind us that sometimes God's choices are not the obvious ones. We may not feel like leadership material, but that doesn't mean we aren't. Are we ready to lead should God put His hand on our shoulder for the job?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the leaders—the pastors, deacons, board members, small group leaders etc.— You provide. Help me to respect and listen to them, regarding them as Your gifts to me. Amen.

MORE: Leadership journey

Eleanor Clitheroe's leadership journey was not smooth. A profile article about her begins:
"She was one of the most powerful women in Ontario, controlling not only every light switch in every home, but also the huge industrial machines and every computer in the financial district on Bay Street. Today she is simply an Anglican curate."

Her firing from Ontario's Hydro One in 2002 plunged her into turmoil and stress, but also put her on the path to a different kind of leadership. Read's story of this remarkable Canadian leader: "The Winding Road of Faith"

10-minute 100 Huntley Street video profile of Eleanor Clitheroe

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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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Guises of unbelief

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 78:40-55

TO CHEW ON: "How often they provoked Him in the wilderness and grieved Him in the desert! Yet again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel" - Psalm 78:40,41

The beginning of today's reading strikes me with its list of ways the Israelites demonstrated their unbelief: "provoked ... grieved ... tempted ... limited." The trouble is we find even more ways than this if we go through the psalm's 72 verses:

  • Broke covenant and were lawbreakers (Psalm 78:10).
  • Forgot His word and His power (Psalm 78:11, 42).
  • Sinned and rebelled (Psalm 78:17).
  • Spoke against God (Psalm 78:19).
  • Disbelieved God and didn't trust Him (Psalm 78:22,32).
  • Were insincere, i.e. flattered and lied to Him (Psalm 78:36).
  • Were disloyal and unfaithful (Psalm 78:37).
  • Provoked and grieved Him (Psalm 78:40, 56, 58).
  • Tempted and limited Him (Psalm 78:41).
  • Backslid and turned aside from Him (Psalm 78:57).

Unbelief has many guises. What a checklist for our own lives! Is there any chance we have some of these outfits hanging in the closets of our hearts?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize unbelief in my heart, no matter what form it takes. Help me to know You better and experience You at every level, so that it becomes second-nature for me to exchange unbelief for faith. Amen.

MORE: Covenant

The hurt and outraged tone in God's voice—as rendered by Asaph—brings us to the question, what did/does God expect? This passage speaks of the expressions of God's expectation they had violated, calling them covenant and law (vs. 10), salvation (vs. 22), and testimonies (vs. 56).

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology speaks of God's agreements with man in a section titled "The Covenants Between God and Man." This bit from his introduction to that section helps us understand what they were and meant—to the Israelites and to us:
"How does God relate to man? Since the creation of the world, God's relationship to man has been defined by specific requirements and promises. God tells people how he wants them to act and also makes promises about how he will act toward them in various circumstances. The Bible contains several summaries of the provisions that define the different relationships between God and man that occur in Scripture, and it often calls these summaries 'covenants.' With respect to covenants between God and man in Scripture, we may give the following definition: A covenant is an unchangeable divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship.

Although this definition includes the word agreement in order to show that there are two parties, God and man, who must enter into the provisions of the relationship, the phrase divinely imposed is also included to show that man can never negotiate with God or change the terms of the covenant obligations or reject them ....

This definition also notes that covenants are unchangeable. They may be superseded or replaced by a different covenant, but they may not be changed once they are established. .... the essential element at the heart of all of them is the promise, 'I will be their God, and they shall be my people' (Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 6:16, et al.)" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 515, 516 (emphasis added).
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, October 20, 2014

Paul's mother-care

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:8

TO CHEW ON: "But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but our own lives, because you had become dear to us." 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

What untypical words to read from Paul, who is usually so instructional and corrective. They remind me of a little saying:

"People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care" - John C. Maxwell.

This might be a good time to refresh our memory about who these people were that Paul was writing to (the Thessalonians) and how the church at Thessalonica came into existence.

It was only the second church started on the European continent. The first was in Philippi, about 90 miles northeast. You will recall how Paul and Silas traveled from Troas to Macedonia (on the continent of Europe) in response to a vision (Acts 16:9). The mission at Philippi took a bad turn when Paul and Silas were thrown into prison. But an earthquake sprung them from their cell. They then led the jailor to Jesus and soon left town. (Their Philippian adventures are recorded in Acts 16:11-40.)

Their next stop was Thessalonica. Their stay there was just as troubled. Paul spent mere weeks with them, teaching for three Sabbaths in the synagogue where he "...reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead saying, 'This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ'" - Acts 17:1-3).

His message kindled a big response: "...a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women joined Paul and Silas" - Acts 17:4. But the gospel was too controversial for the Jews, who also envied the missionaries their success, hassled Jason their host, provoked a riot, and essentially ran Paul and Silas out of town (Acts 17:5-10).

It is to these believers Paul had known only a matter of weeks that he wrote this letter. It demonstrates the bond of love that Christians everywhere can feel for each other even though they have barely met. For Paul the relationship was especially poignant, as the people he had left behind were brand new believers. And so he used the language of motherhood, assuring these spiritual babies of his mother care for them: "...we were gentle among you just as a nursing mother cherishes (literally 'keeps warm') her own children.... pleased to impart to you not only the gospel...but our own lives."

I ask myself, do I have that spirit of sacrificial mother-love, especially toward those who are new and immature in the faith? Physical babies take a lot of time. Toddlers can tax one's patience. It's not so different with spiritual babies. I want Paul's words to be a model of Christian nurture to me as I interact with believers in all stages of maturity. You too?

PRAYER: Dear God, please grow in me love and gentle care for other believers, especially those who are new in their faith. 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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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Available wisdom

Jesus teaches about paying taxes - Artist unknown
Jesus teaches about paying taxes - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 22:15-33

TO CHEW ON: "When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. … And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching." Matthew 22:22,33

The Pharisees were determined to trip up and silence Jesus. And they had the perfect way to do it. They would out Him as an enemy of Rome by getting him to declare Himself on the contentious issue of taxes.

To add clout and witnesses they took along their disciples—probably the brightest minds in Jerusalem—and some Herodians. The Herodians were a political party that sympathized with the Herods in their policies of governing and introducing new social customs into Jewish society.

But when the troupe got to Jesus and confronted Him, He saw right through their little scheme. Those pharisaic wolves, who had circled their prey and were licking their chops in anticipation of the take-down, were disappointed, while the surrounding crowd marveled at the wisdom of Jesus' answer (Luke 22:17-21). The same thing happened to the Sadducees who tried to trap Him later (Luke 22:23-32). For Jesus was wise.

  • Isaiah prophesied Jesus' wisdom - Isaiah 11:2; 53:11.
  • He was wise from childhood - Luke 2:40.
  • He astonished all who heard Him, especially His neighbours - Matthew 13:54.
  • The amazing thing is that His wisdom can be ours! In Colossians 2:3, Paul describes Christ as the One: "… in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Paul goes on to encourage his readers, "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in him … For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him" - Colossians 2:3-9.

Let's ask to receive His wisdom for all kinds of situations. And then let's move ahead in faith, acting on the answers He gives - James 1:5-8.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I need the spirit of wisdom and revelation for everyday living as much as for special problems. I ask for Your wisdom today. Help me to trust and act on what You tell me through Your word and in prayer. 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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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Leaders are human too

Luke the Evangelist (detail from the Saint Luke Alterpiece, Andrea Mantegna
Luke the Evangelist - by Andrea Mantegna
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 4:9-22

TO CHEW ON: "Only Luke is with me…" 2 Timothy 4:11

Demas, attracted by worldly things, has left for Thessalonica, Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. I could use Mark. I'm cold, bring my cloak. I'd love the books and parchments. Alexander the coppersmith has done a lot of damage to me. At my trial, everyone deserted me… (my paraphrase of 2 Timothy 4:10-16)

This is hardly a list we would expect to read from the pen of the man who wrote: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13); "Take up the whole armour of God" (Ephesians 6:13); and "For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power" (1 Corinthians 4:20).

It shows us that even our strongest and seemingly most invincible leaders have down days. They are not immune from feeling forsaken, lonely, persecuted, physically and mentally needy, and generally discouraged.

But there is a bright spot for Paul. "Luke is with me." Luke, the doctor who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles stood by his beleaguered friend and leader, apparently unaffected by his downturn in fortune, his unpopularity and beaten-up spirit.

Our leaders have their ups and downs too. Do we realize this? Or do we put them on some sort of pedestal, expecting them to be always cheerful, upbeat, encouraging, energetic?

What do we do when someone bends our ear with a complaint about our pastor? Do we listen, sympathize and pass it on? Or do we defend him or her, and make sure the complaint stops with us?

Let's be Lukes who support and are loyal to our leaders through the good times and the bad.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to resist any temptation to criticize and gossip about my pastor. Help me to remember that he is as human as I am, and to pray for him and his family regularly. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

Today the church celebrates Luke in the Feast of St. Luke.

Today's liturgy begins with this Collect:

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 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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