Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Zarephath Hospitality

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 17:8-24

"So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which he spoke by Elijah." 1 Kings 17:15-16

God's response to Israel's wicked King Ahab was to whisper a prophetic message of no rain for three years in the ear of a man from Tishbe. Elijah, that man, delivered the message to the idolatrous king and then ran for his life. He eventually skipped the country to Sidon, where God told him he would find a widow woman to feed him.

Put yourself in the place of that woman. She was gathering sticks for the fire that would cook her last meal when this sight of a man approached her and asked not only for a drink but for food. The audacity! Yet, his promise (using words like "Thus says the Lord") that if she fed him, she would have a never-ending supply of food was attractive. What could it hurt? She took him in.

I am impressed with her hospitality. In our society of panhandlers and people living on the street, can you picture yourself doing the same? Of course there is a level of hospitality—extending the generosity of our home to those we know—that is safer. But do we do even that?

Do we invite our friends from church, the folks we meet while delivering our kids to school, our neighbors, over for a meal or coffee? Do we even take the time to stop and chat (the first step of hospitality: giving a few minutes of our time, attention and interest)?

The story of Elijah and the widow isn't finished, though. One day her son became ill and died. "Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to kill my son?" (1 Kings 17:8) the grief-stricken woman sobbed.

Elijah carried the child's limp body to his room. There he pleaded with God for the his life—and the boy revived.

Here we see another thing about hospitality. In addition to giving us the satisfaction of company and the joy of sharing, it boomerangs back on us in blessings, sometimes greater in number and scope than we ever gave out in the first place.

Karen Burton Mains in her book Open Heart, Open Home tells of a period of time their home was hounded by problem after problem. That year she experienced firsthand the fruits of the hospitality lifestyle she had advocated and modeled in front of their parishioners. Here is her paraphrase of Matthew 25:31-4.

"For I was weary, and they dusted and cleaned and scrubbed and laundered.
For I was fatherless…and they tilled his soil with me in our helpless womanity, praying over the man-sized gas cultivator and stubbornly willing it to do a week's work in a day.
For I was hungry, and they brought stews of the products of the good earth, and hand-kneaded bread, and apple pies from the fruit of the backyard trees.

For I was imprisoned by despair and they sat on my bed and wept as I wept, and brought guitars to concert me privately…

For I was aggrieved by the broken world and they picked up my dropped baton and made the race with my battered friends for me. They sent prayers against the marred days and performed miracles over unwieldy faucets and the bent things that populated my heart.

For I was helpless and they mothered my children, buying circus tickets and planning bike hikes, making sure the days were special for growing up.

For I was bereaved from bearing too much pain in others, finding no room for my own and they sent me to restore in the mountains and rest in the sea.

Yea, as they did this all for me, they did it unto Him who sent me."

Open Heart, Open Home: The Hospitable Way to Make Others Feel Welcome & Wanted by Karen Burton Mains p. 120-121 (1976 edition).

PRAYER: Dear God, please grow a hospitable spirit in me. May I be a conduit through which Your blessings can flow to others, and to which Your blessings will flow from others to me. 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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Monday, May 23, 2016

Do we provoke God?

Elijah confronts Ahab - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 16:29-17:7

TO CHEW ON: "Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. " 1 Kings 16:33

Provoking God? It sounds serious!

A brief survey of Bible passages that speak of provocation tell us some of the things that provoke God.

God is provoked by:

  • Unbelief and refusal to act in faith—what the Israelites did when they balked at entering the Promised Land despite all the miracles along the way - Numbers 14:11.
  • Rejecting His appointed leaders—the way Korah, Dathan and Abiram challenged the leadership of Moses and Aaron - Numbers 16:30.
  • Rebellion—the way the Israelites often acted during their wilderness trek - Deuteronomy 9:7,8,22; Psalm 106:7.
  • Idol worship - Deuteronomy 31:20,29; 1 Kings 14:9; 16:26,33 (our focus verse); Jeremiah 7:18.
  • Scoffing at God's work—what Sanballat and Tobiah did over Nehemiah's wall - Nehemiah 4:6.
  • Breaking covenant with Him and refusing to keep His law ("testimonies") - Deuteronomy 31:29; Psalm 78:56.
  • Words against Him - Isaiah 3:8.
  • Sacrilegious things in a holy place - Ezekiel 8:3.

The results of provoking God throughout Israel's history were serious:

  • The Israelites were doomed to wander for 38 more years in the wilderness - Number 14:23
  • Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and their families were destroyed for challenging God's appointed leaders - Numbers 16:31,32.
  • Ahab's provocative ways led to three years of drought- 1 Kings 17:1.
  • Nehemiah seemed concerned that the scorn of his detractors would lead to discouragement of the workers - Nehemiah 4:5.
  • Israel's idol worship led to the temple's destruction by a foreign power - Ezra 5:12.
  • Provoking God also led to Israel's exile - Jeremiah 8:19.

Though it's easy for us to look down our noses at the fearful and rebellious Israelites or idolatrous Ahab, another read-through of the list of things that provoke God in relation to our setting may demolish some of that smugness.

- Are we ever guilty of unbelief and refusing to act in faith?

- Have we ever rebelled against the leaders God has placed over us?

- Do we have idols? Not silver and gold images, perhaps, but other things like work, people's praise, money, etc. that compete with God for first place in our hearts?

- Have we ever scoffed at what others report as God's work?

- Have we ever been disdainful of sacred things—by what we've said?  By what we've done?

Yes, God is long-suffering and merciful. Jesus has paid for these sins with His death. But still our provocations may have consequences.  What a shame to miss out on His best, to assign ourselves, by our attitudes, words, and actions, to seasons of wilderness wanderings, drought, and exile.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to be sensitive to what pleases and what provokes You. I have been guilty of unbelief, rebellion, idolatry and more. Help me to see these things that provoke, grieve and displease you—as sin. 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.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Will persecution stumble us?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 15:26-16:15

TO CHEW ON: "These things I have spoken to you that you should not be made to stumble." John 16:1

What "things" is Jesus referring to?
  • That the world will hate them (John 15:18,19).
  • That they will be persecuted (John 15:20).
  • That they will be hated without a cause (John 15:25).
  • That the Holy Spirit will be their Helper (John 15:26).

["Parakletos = called to one's side, intercessor, comforter, helper, advocate, counsellor ... The Holy Spirit leads believers to a greater apprehension of gospel truths. In addition to general help and guidance, He gives strength to endure the hostility of the world system" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1472.]

We in North America have had it pretty good in the persecution department. In many cases our forefathers fled to Canada and the U.S. from religiously oppressive regimes for the reason that they wanted to live in place where they could worship according to their convictions. As a result for several generations the prevailing culture of North America has been sympathetic toward Christians.

But that's changing. Read the comments under pro-Christian articles in secular media and you will often see scorn, mockery, disdain, name-calling, even hatred for Christianity and Christians.

As Jesus warns here, let's not let that reaction cause us to stumble—in confusion, discouragement, fear, intimidation. Because:
  • It's what we should expect - John 16:4.
  • It's part of our inheritance - John 15:18,19.
  • It proves whose we are - John 15:23.

Rather, let's claim the help of the Holy Spirit

  • To remind us of Jesus' predictions about such treatment - John 14:26.
  • To assure us that we belong to God's family - Romans 8:16.
  • To tell us what to say - Mark 13:11; Luke 21:14,15.
  • To give us boldness - Acts 4:29-31

PRAYER: Dear God, I don't like abuse, scorn, or ridicule. Please help me to have the spirit of Jesus under such treatment—of wisdom and Holy Spirit boldness. Prepare me now for what the future holds of negative reactions to Christ-followers. Amen.

MORE: Persecution.org

The website Persecution.org monitors persecution of Christians around the world. A little snooping around on that site shows us that though persecution in North America happens, it occurs much less frequently than in many other countries.

You can read news about persecution of Christians throughout the world as you search for news by country.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Hope - Love connection

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 5:1-11

"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

Hope cannot only exist but thrive in us because of the quality of God's love. It is the agapé love that Paul describes so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8. A sidebar article in my Bible explains this love:
"Agapé denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable good will that always seeks the good of the other person, no matter what he does. It is the self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object. Agapé is more a love by choice than philos which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotions. Agapé describes the unconditional love God has for the world" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Live Bible, p. 1556. (Emphases added.)

This love, Paul says, "… has been poured out in our heart."

I see two implications:

1. We receive this love from God.
The quality of this love means we can have hope because God's intentions toward us are always and only for our good. This love is not contingent on how loveable we are or on us doing anything to earn or keep it.

Paul lists some of our inadequacies to earn or achieve this love further on:
  • "...when we were still without strength" Christ demonstrated this love by dying for us - Romans 5:6. 
  • "... while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" - Romans 5:8. 
  • "... when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God..." - Romans 5:10. (Emphases added.)

2. We give this love to others.
Doesn't that follow? If our hearts are full of this love, won't it flow out to others, and back to God. John, in his letters, kneads the necessity of our love for each other into the dough of everyday life.
  • "He who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him" - 1 John 2:10. 
  • "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother - 1 John 3:10. 
  • "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" - 1 John 4:7. 
  • By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" - 1 John 5:2. (Emphases added.)

So, if we're wanting more of that agapé love in our lives, how do we get it?

I believe as we read about, meditate on, and accept by faith God's love for us, our ability to love Him and others will expand. And, we need to remember that while agapé love is supernatural, we have a part to play in it. It is also loving by choice. It is a love of the will rather than the emotions. It is a love we choose to nourish in our lives.

Dear Father, please grow hope in me by helping me to understand the breadth of Your love for me, and by choosing to love all those around me in the way You love me. 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.

Friday, May 20, 2016


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 8:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "You have made him (man) to have dominion over the works of Your hands; 
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen --
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas." Psalm 8:6-8

Though I find myself resisting the messages of tree-hugger, save-the-earth organizations like the Sierra Club, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society because of their lack of balance and extremist ways,  many of their warnings are worth listening to. I often disagree with their motivations and methods, but they are definitely on the side of preserving nature from mankind's carelessness and greed—something God gave humankind responsibility for when He said to Adam: "…have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:28). As a sidebar article in my Bible puts it:
"The world literally stands or falls based on the actions and stewardship of human beings….we should never be satisfied to dwell on a mere lower level of creaturely existence, but strive to live at the highest and fullest level of our human nature. God designed for man a more noble destiny than creation could ever bestow. We should continue to explore what it is to be human, made in the image and likeness of God and given dominion (stewardship) over all the Earth."
Charles Blake /Jesse Miranda "Twin Truths: Man's Dominion and Responsibility" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 691.

It's not hard to find green initiatives with which to align oneself. The trouble is, many of them arise out of world views that are anti-Christian in their origins (Naturalism, Materialism or Pantheism for example) and lead finally to their own brands of idolatry (e.g. the reverence with which our society treats animals).

Still, the fact remains that in general we humans (Christians included) are doing a lousy job of stewarding the earth. Which is why I think we're wise to go along with local initiatives that are for stewardship wherever, in good conscience, we can—things like recycling, obeying bans on cosmetic pesticides, treating pets and work animals with kindness, picking up after ourselves etc.

As each of us does his or her part, we can make a difference. In this one thing, at least, we find ourselves on the side of political correctness, even though our actions may flow from a motivation many eco-warriors would find unacceptable. 

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to do my part in stewarding Your magnificent creation. Amen.

 Eating close-to-home
Eating foods produced close to home is one green initiative that is growing in popularity. It's based on the desire to limit the need for transporting foods from afar and all that that entails. The 50-mile Diet encourages people to eat only things grown within a 50-mile radius of where they live.

Simply In Season carries a similar message. This colorful (and gorgeous!) spiral-bound cookbook was commissioned by the MCC, and helps North Americans identify and prepare foods that are local and in season.

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.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wisdom and the Creator

"He drew a circle on the face of the deep" 
Sand artistry by Valentina Beyard (V. Nesdoly photo)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 8:20-36

TO CHEW ON: "When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep …
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman
And I was daily His delight
Rejoicing always before Him."  Proverbs 8:27,30

Have you ever watched a sand artist perform? Using a table which has a shallow layer of sand on it (and which is usually lit from the bottom so observers can watch her movements), the artist's deft fingers and hands create scenes that become faces, then symbols, back to scenes as she draws in the sand.

That's the kind of picture I imagine here as God creates, only on a massive and real scale. He "draws a circle on the face of the deep" and we have earth (attesting to its roundness long before Magellan's voyage or satellite photos). He goes on to settle the mountains in place, craft the fountains, make a boundary for the seas. All the while Wisdom looks on "as a master craftsman; and I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him."

Can't you just see it? The creative trinity (for Jesus, the Word [John 1:1-3,14] and the Holy Spirit were present [Genesis 1:2] at creation) feeding off each others ideas, adding their own, laughing in excitement, delight, and admiration at their ingenuity. In fact, some have suggested that "Wisdom" in Proverbs 8 is the Holy Spirit talking:

"She (wisdom) is speaking to God in Proverbs 8, on her own, and God is working through Wisdom in the creation of the world. They are one! The Father created the world through the Son in the power of the Spirit" - explains theologian Dr. Jurgen Moltmann (quoted by Trudy Beyak in The Mother Heart of God, p. 218. 

My Bible's commenter says about this section: "God's wisdom … has been likened to a woman, is identified as the Eternal One and the life-giver who, according to the New Testament, is Jesus (John 1:1,2; 11:25)" - John Garlock, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 813.

I take two things with me from today's reading:

1. We do well to explore and delight in God's creation.
One of the reasons I enjoy my camera so much is because it lets me capture images of this world's beauty. I have a photo blog where I share some of my photos. Come by sometime! Every aspect of God's creation we study—from the tiniest building blocks of matter to the vastness of outer space—demonstrates His wisdom and becomes reason to praise.

2. It's good to be creative.
When we are "creative," that is, organize images, words, and  matter in interesting ways (because we never truly create something out of nothing but reassemble things already made) we are demonstrating the image of God in us. I love the picture of Wisdom / Jesus beside God, "His delight" and "rejoicing before Him." Not criticizing or putting Him down but appreciating, enjoying, and cheering. It's an attitude we can cultivate toward the creative efforts of the people in our lives (and toward ourselves).

PRAYER: Creator God, I am in awe of You and Your creativity and wisdom in how You made this world teeming with life and beauty. You are AMAZING! Help me to nurture the creativity of those around me, and within myself. Amen.

MORE: Sand artist in action

Watch the sand artistry of Valentina Beyard. This is from a community Good Friday Service at our church on April 11, 2012.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Shades of wisdom

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 8:1-19

"I love those who love me,
And those who seek me diligently will find me." Proverbs 8:17

This chapter, titled "The Excellence of Wisdom" in my Bible, is a poem about wisdom (actually by wisdom, for Wisdom speaks as if a person throughout).

In the part of Proverbs 8 that is our reading today, wisdom describes herself. Let's look through these 19 verses to compile a list of wisdom's attributes as stated and shown in them.

Wisdom is:

  • Bold - The way this chapter starts out with wisdom crying out from hilltops, crossroads and city gates brings to mind another kind of woman. It's as if wisdom, knowing the importance of persuading people to her way is not above using the wiles of the loose woman (Proverbs 9:13-17).
  • Prudent: "O you simple ones, understand prudence…" Proverbs 8:5,12.
  • Understanding - "… you fools, be of an understanding heart" - Proverbs 8:5,15.
  • Recognized and identified by speech - "Listen for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips will come right things" - Proverbs 8:6.
  • Truthful - "For my mouth will speak truth" - Proverbs 8:8.
  • Righteous - "All the words of my mouth are righteousness - Proverbs 8:8, 20. Wisdom also is the fear of God that "hates … the evil way" - Proverbs 8:13,20.
  • Not given to perversion - "… nothing crooked or perverse is in them" (the words of her mouth) - Proverbs 8:8, 13.
  • A clear communicator - Her words are "… plain to him who understands" - Proverbs 8:9.
  • Valuable - Wisdom's instruction is compared to silver, gold and rubies - Proverbs 8:10,11, 18, 19.
  • Knowledge - "Receive … knowledge" - Proverbs 8:10, 12.
  • Discretion - "I wisdom … find out … discretion" - Proverbs 8:12.
  • Humble - "Pride and arrogance … I hate" - Proverbs 8:13.
  • Good advice - "Counsel is mine" - Proverbs 8:14.
  • Necessary for rulers, nobles and judges - Proverbs 8:15,16.
  • A kindred spirit  - "I love those who love me" - Proverbs 8:17.
  • Discoverable - "… those who seek me diligently will find me" - Proverbs 8:17.
  • Just - "I traverse the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice" - Proverbs 8:20.
  • A means to achieve success - "That I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth" - Proverbs 8:18,21.

 What stands out for me in this list is that Wisdom—this amazing quality of the companion of the Creator and fellow crafter of the Earth (Proverbs 8:30) is available to those who seek it/her. Bible characters that were gifted with wisdom, like Samuel and Solomon, come to mind. But this gift of wisdom is also available to us moderns.

In reading Ravi Zacharias's memoir, Walking from East to West, I was shocked to discover that  all through elementary and high school Dr. Zacharias (known worldwide for his ability to understand philosophy and defend the Bible) was a miserable failure as a student. His despair at his inability to perform and his fear that he would be a failure in life and a great disappointment to his father were responsible for him attempting suicide as a teen.

But all that changed when he accepted Christ.  In his own words: "During those intense months (following his conversion), as I gobbled up every morsel of learning I could, something changed in my life, causing an about-face I never would have expected: I became a voracious reader" - Ravi Zacharias, Walking From East to West, p. 110.

I would submit that when Jesus entered Ravi Zacharias's life, one of the things he brought was wisdom.

I want to be wise—don't you? Let's take the words of Proverbs 8 and James 1:5-8 to heart and ask God for it.

PRAYER: Dear God, may I be a lover of true wisdom—one who lives wisely in thought, word, and action. 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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