Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Thorns

I have finished reading through Jeremiah and Lamentations and have decided to take a break from the prophets to read the NT accounts of Jesus’ birth.

Today Matthew 1,2

The image I get here is of God doing all that is needed to keep the flickering flame of His plan burning. His Son will be born. He uses ordinary means as long as they suffice. But He is never stymied by how grim or hopeless things look. When the situation needs a stronger message, a more direct approach he does what is necessary– breaks through in a vision to Joseph, causes the Magi to notice His star, comes to them in a vision warning them not to return to Herod, warns Joseph to flee to Egypt, and finally moves Joseph, again through a dream, away from Judea and to Nazareth. This tells me God will do what it takes to fulfill His plans and purposes. He can break through in any way He pleases.

Jesus survived. But along the way some were not spared. "...he (Herod) put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts..." (Matthew 2:16). With all the miracles in this story, surely God could have performed one more and interfered in some way to save these innocent lives. But He didn’t. Their deaths were apparently part of His purpose too.

We (I) like to think of Christmas as a pristine time when all is peace and beauty and joy and love. We celebrate the purity and whiteness of snow, the warmth of firelight and family, the beauty of Christmas music in the holy hush of candlelight services. We feel betrayed when our celebrations are marred by botch-ups – things like planes missed, people getting sick, death. But why should we expect any less thorn pokes than were part of the first Christmas.

In my world right now, all kinds of things seem wrong. My cousin has her first chemo treatment for Stage 3 ovarian cancer today. A friend is facing a year of chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer. A former neighbor is wasting away with pancreatic cancer. A young couple in our church discovered in the last week that the baby they were expecting was severely malformed, in fact had a condition which put the life of the mom in jeopardy and so they were forced to make a heart-rending decision.

I believe that God has the power to put all these ‘wrong’ things right. I pray and trust and watch, but so far He hasn’t chosen to do that. The only conclusion I can come to is that in some way, like those babies slaughtered by Herod, these things are part of His purpose. (And how He fulfills both His overall will in nations and history while simultaneously working out His particular will in the lives of individuals is a feat no smaller than creation itself.)

I find this revelation of my omnipotent God both comforting and disturbing. It’s comforting to realize that, no matter how things look, God’s plans won’t be thwarted by anyone or anything. My response is to want to be available to Him, to do whatever He wants through me. At the same time I know that just because I’m flowing in His river doesn’t guarantee me a pain-free, ease-filled life without its agonizing moments of bewilderment.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Jeremiah 46

When Israel decides to go to Egypt, Egypt becomes the target of God’s attentions. This oracle predicts how God will deal with that nation – how each part of the army will be defeated, how Babylon will come against her, how her complacent citizens will be destroyed.

God’s dealings with Egypt come about partly at least, to discipline and correct Israel and bring her back into a right relationship with Him. For this chapter of dire predictions ends with reassurance: "But do not fear, O My servant Jacob and do not be dismayed, O Israel! For behold I will save you from afar....I will rightly correct you."

correct, yasar (yah-sar); Strong’s 3256: to chasten, correct, instruct, reform. The discipline and correction necessary for moral training.

Deut. 8:5: "As a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you." Here the word implies the disciplining action as a parent disciplines a child.

Proverbs 29:19 "A servant will not be corrected by mere words." Here the implication is that sometimes a tongue lashing isn’t enough.

I Kings 12:11 " father chastised you with whips but I will chastise you with scourges (points or barbs, lit. scorpions)." Correction can include physical pain.

1 Chronicles 15:22 "Chenaniah, leader of the Levites was instructor in charge of the music because he was skilful." Here the correction involves the discipline of the teaching / learning of musical technique.

Some thoughts:

1. God’s dealings with His own are always no-nonsense. He doesn’t pamper them or play games. He is truly our example in tough love.

(Tough love: n. The use of strict disciplinary measures and limitations on freedoms or privileges, as by a parent or guardian, as a means of fostering responsibility and expressing care or concern. [from the Free Online Dictionary].)

2. God is active on the large scale (as in nations) as well as in individual lives to bring people into right relations with Him.

3. I think of my prodigal and wonder, what kind of correction it will take to bring him back. When will the correction of words need to be ratcheted up to become the correction of chastisement?

4. In my own life I need to understand and cooperate with the long process of correction as it’s pictured in the teaching of musical technique. It took years for me to learn to play the piano. I spent hours perfecting scales, arpeggios and four-note chords in order to train my hands to play difficult music well. So then, why should I be surprised when the circumstances of life show me how much I still need to work on patience, trust, obedience, self-control...etc. etc.

Lord, I thank You for Your correction in my life and the life of my family. I’m happy that you don’t relent when we cry ‘Enough!’ Keep correcting us, Lord, for we want to become everything You have in mind for us.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Prophetic

Jeremiah 45.

This five-verse chapter is Jeremiah’s prophecy to Baruch his scribe.

I imagine the scene. Baruch has stuck with Jeremiah in the muscle-cramping hours of taking dictation. He has seen the scroll, product of their joint efforts, through from getting it onto parchment, to reading it before a few princes, to giving it to one of them to read to the king.

Baruch and Jeremiah were in hiding when King Jehoiakim systematically sliced and fed the laboriously written document to the fire. Then Baruch stuck with Jeremiah through the days, weeks, perhaps months of getting all those prophecies into writing again.

Somewhere in the process he (Baruch) had the thought or said the words, "Woe is me now! For the Lord has added grief to my sorrow..."

We’re not told from where this emotion sprang. But we do know that it was intermingled with a little of the yeast of ambition. Perhaps it was completely rooted in the frustration of seeing a personal agenda thwarted. For God’s message to Baruch through Jeremiah contains this pointed admonition: "And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them..."

What a jab in his spirit those words must have been. What a heart-pounding moment as light shone into the deepest recesses: I’m discovered - found out!

Whether prophetic words come to me through people or the words of Scripture that is always their effect. For true words of prophecy come from the One of whom David said, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?" (
Psalm 139).

A true prophetic word comes from God the Holy Spirit’s insight – like when Peter was given a knowing about Ananias and Sapphira (
Acts 5:1-11). It frictions with our spirit to produce the spark of conviction which can be ignored or acted on (Acts 24:25; James 1:23-25).

God, who sees everything, who knows my secret thoughts – those things I don’t even put into words or admit to myself – reveal me to myself today. Then give me the courage to act on Your revelation.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Faith in Desperate Times

I’ve been working my way through Jeremiah. Tucked away in the middle of all the oracles are some chapters of interesting narrative (36-44)

Judah is in desperate times. Jeremiah’s prophecies that the land will be taken over by the Babylonians have come true. Judah’s king Zedekiah is captured. Anybody who is anybody in Judah is taken into captivity (Jer. 39). The commoners and Jeremiah remain. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar commands that Jeremiah be protected. He appoints Gedaliah as governor.

After a short while Ishmael, a remaining prince of the royal family (it seems he was on the battlefield during the siege and therefore escaped being taken captive - Jeremiah 40:7,8), kills Gedaliah and the warriors who protect him. Before the news of Gedaliah’s death gets out, Ishmael also kills most of an envoy of 80 men who arrive from various parts of the kingdom to Jerusalem to worship at the temple.

When Ishmael’s treachery becomes known, the people of Judah are justifiably concerned. Will Ishmael’s blood bath continue? And what will be the reaction of Nebuchadnezzar when he discovers the governor he appointed has been butchered?

It is in this setting the captains of the armed forces that remain in the land and all the people come to Jeremiah, and ask that he inquire of God what they should do. (It’s obvious from the context that they are planning to leave Judah and go to Egypt.)

After ten days Jeremiah hears from God. His words:
1. You should stay in the land and good will come to you (42:9,10).

2. You should not fear the king of Babylon. God is your protector. He will cause Nebuchadnezzar to have mercy on you (42:11,12).

3. Don’t flee to Egypt. If you do, the things you fear under Nebuchadnezzar will happen to you there (42:13-19).

4. And don’t think that I (Jeremiah) don’t know that in your hearts you were hypocritical when you asked me to consult God for you and have no intention of obeying what He says.


This story convicts me. How often don’t I pray and with my words assure God I am on-side to obey whatever He says.
But then, when the answer comes back and:

1. it doesn’t make sense with how circumstances look


2. it doesn’t fit with what I’ve already determined I want to do,

I turn my back on what the ears of faith have heard. Instead I rationalize it away, like these people did, saying things like, that couldn’t possibly be God; He wouldn’t be saying that ("You speak falsely! The Lord our God has not sent you ..." etc. (43:1,2)!

The story continues. These people do go to Egypt and thus seal their doom (Jer. 43, 44).

And so I ask myself, what danger have I placed myself in when I’ve done something similar.

God, help me to listen to and obey Your voice - even when circumstance and the advice of others contradicts what I hear from You.

Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to. ~George Seaton

The acid test of our faith in the promises of God is never found in the easy-going, comfortable ways of life, but in the great emergencies, the times of storm and of stress, the days of adversity, when all human aid fails. ~ Ethel Bell

Faith is putting all your eggs in God's basket, then counting your blessings before they hatch. ~Ramona C. Carroll

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Does Any of This Apply to Me?

Divinely designed priestly garments, a signet plate of pure gold, inscribed with the words "Holiness to the Lord" worn on the front of the turban, an altar which has gone through a seven-day atonement ceremony to make it holy and fit for use... (Exodus 28) I read of these things and think, surely none of this has anything to do with me!

Until I recall the words:

"I appeal to you, therefore, make a decisive dedication of your bodies, presenting all your members and faculties as a living sacrifice (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship." (Romans 12:1 Amp.)

And exactly how does one do that?

"Do not be conformed to this world – this age, fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs. But be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind – by its new ideals and its new attitude – so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good, and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]. (Romans 12:2).

What does a world-conformed life look like? Watching an evening’s worth of TV commercials, for example, illustrates the fashions and superficialities our society values. We’re pressured to go after riches, good looks and sex appeal, a secure retirement plan, a car that enhances our image, the right social and business contacts, products which will make our homes reflect well on us, and on and on.

Those of us belonging to Christ, though, are not to be conformed to and strive after these things. Instead we are to be transformed and changed, with a set of different values. One can’t help but think of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5,6,7) as a template of new values, ideals, and attitudes.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The First Consecration

The first incidence of consecration appears in Exodus 19.

The Israelites have been out of Egypt and tramping through the desert for three months. They have traveled as far as Mount Sinai, where Moses there "went up to God." The consecration process begins with God’s invitation. He instructs Moses to say this to the people:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will obey My voice in truth and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own peculiar possession and treaure from among and above all peoples; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation [consecrated, set apart to the worship of God]. These are the words you shall speak to the Israelites." (Exodus 19:4-6 - Amplified).

So Moses gathers the people together. And after telling them what God has asked, the decision is unanimous: "All that the Lord has spoken, we will do."

Next God gives the people some specific instructions for the consecration process to begin. They are to 1] wash their clothes; 2] observe the set boundaries around the mountain and not trespass onto it, and 3] refrain from customary sexual activity.

On the third day after these instructions were given, God’s presence descends on the mountain. There is thunder, lightning, a thick cloud and a trumpet blast so that the people in the camp shake with fear.

Then Moses brings the people from the camp to the foot of Mt. Sinai to meet with God. Imagine their terror as they watch the peak wrapped in fire, smoking like a furnace and the whole mountain trembling in an earthquake, while the trumpet blast grows ever louder. Finally Moses speaks and God answers, calling him up to the mountain for more intimate conversation.

Some things this story shows about consecration:

1. God’s reason for wanting a holy, consecrated, set-apart people is to form a "Kingdom of priests", a people who are set apart to worship God. Now, we may argue, this was for the Hebrews of the Old Testament. But no, this is for:

To you then who believe – who adhere to, trust in and rely on Him.... But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, [God’s] own purchased special people, that you may set forth the wonderful deeds and display the virtues and perfections of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9).
This is for us, today. God still wants a people, set apart, consecrated to worship God.

2. This setting apart of the people demanded preparation on their part.

  • They had to wash their clothes. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains it this way:
Not that God regards our clothes; but while they were washing their clothes, he would have them think of washing their souls by repentance. It becomes us to appear in clean clothes when we wait upon great men; so clean hearts are required in our attendance upon the great god who see them as plainly as men see our clothes.
  • They had to stay off the mountain, for it was going to be charged with Divine electricity. How awesome God appeared that day - how frightening and fierce - not at all like the milquetoast God of illustrations. If mountains quake under His feet - how much more should puny humans reverence Him. I love what Wes Campbell says in the introduction to" The Theophanies" section of Praying the Bible - the Book of Prayers (the theophanies are the God-sightings in the Bible):
When we pray the theophanies we begin to touch his power, to hear that loud voice like many waters, to tremble in the presence of the thunders and lightning bolts. Any person who does not at some time pray the theophanies will likely limit God. To them, God may become smaller than he really is, because the person will be praying to God as they understand him to be, not as he has revealed himself to be. After all, God is who he says he is – not who we think he is! So it is essential to begin all prayer by praying to the Person of God and praying the theophanies will keep us from praying to an extension of our own darkened mind.
  • Finally, the people were to break with routine "Sanctify the people...Be ready by day after tomorrow; do not go near a woman." (Exodus 19:10 & 15). Matthew Henry again:

    Call them off from their worldly business, and call them to religious exercises, meditation and prayer, that they may receive the law from God’s mouth...Wandering thoughts must be gathered in, impure affections abandoned, disquieting passions suppressed, nay, and all cares abut secular business for the present dismissed and laid by that our hearts may be engaged to approach unto God.

God, as I enter into this season of consecration, purify me from my sin: "Wash me thoroughly [and repeatedly] from my iniquity and guilt, and cleanse me and make me wholly pure from my sin!...Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean [ceremonially]; wash me and I shall [in reality] be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:2,7). Help me to eliminate from my life for this time, things that would take my focus off You. Instead, help me to see and worship You as You really are. Amen

Consecrate - a Primer

1] To set apart as sacred; dedicate to sacred uses with appointed ceremonies.

2] To dedicate, devote (He consecrated his life to the cause.)

3] To apotheosize (deify, glorify, exalt) canonize.

4] To make reverend or venerable; hallow (consecrated by time)

Archaic - hallowed, consecrated.

From the Latin consecratus, pp. of consecrare - thoroughly holy.

consecrated: that act or ceremony or the state of being consecrated.

A Week of Consecration

Our pastor has challenged us to observe, in the coming week, a time of personal consecration. As he put it in his message this Sunday, Canada is in a time of moral crisis and it has happened on our watch. We need to prepare ourselves to meet with God. We need to spend time in intercession for family, community, our land, the world. But perhaps more than anything else, we need a time of personal revival. In the words of the prophet Joel.

vs.12 - Therefore also now, says the Lord, turn and keep on coming to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning [until every hindrance is removed and the broken fellowship is restored.]

vs. 13 - Rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness, and He revokes His sentence of evil [when his conditions are met].

vs. 16 - Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elderly people, gather the children and the nursing infants; let the bridegroom [who is legally exempt from attending] go forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. [None is exempt from the humiliation.]

vs. 17 - Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Have pity and spare Your people, O Lord, and give not Your heritage to reproach, that the [heathen] nations should rule over them or use a byword against them. Why should they say among the peoples, Where is your God? (Joel 2:12, 13, 16, 17 - Amplified Bible)

As part of my response to this challenge, I will be cutting back on my web activities this week, including making entries to this blog. I will be doing a personal study on consecration, which I will post here.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

This Year I Want to be a Sheep - 2

(A devotional look at Psalm 23 - continued)

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

One of the reasons I need to live rightly is that God’s reputation is at stake - the reputation He gets when others watch the way I, who claim to be His child, live.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.

I am not to expect to be spared the hard things, the close calls with death, feeling its cold breath on my neck.

The two statements in this bit will, I think, need some time between them to be proved, at least to feel true. When you’re walking through death valley, it can seem that evil is winning, and it’s easy to be fearful. Even though I know Job-like times are what grow me into maturity, and give my life depth and relevance to others on the same journey, it takes coming through to the other side of an experience like that to be able to say "I will fear no evil." If this is the worst - well, it’s not so bad that God can’t overcome it, transform it even, into something good. This blessing, posted by Ragamuffin Diva says it well.

For you are with me
your rod and staff comfort me.

Rod: used as a weapon against predators.

Staff: used by the shepherd to guide the sheep and set boundaries.

I’ve heard about it and experienced it at least once - the amazing presence of God in trials, making the crucible the best place on earth.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies

A banquet in view of hungry but uninvited enemies - what a great revenge scenario. It reminds me of Mordecai, honored by Haman.

You anoint my head with oil

In biblical times a good host would wash the guest’s feet and anoint his head with oil prior to the meal. Kings were chosen and singled out with an oil-anointing. The sick are to be anointed with oil, symbolizing the healing power of God the Holy Spirit.

My cup overflows.

The small receptacle of my life can’t contain all this good stuff.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I’m thinking Anna. "She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying." She got to see Jesus, face to face.

But is there a way to do this - dwell in the house of the Lord forever - and not literally be in a sacred building?

There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle reception to divine breathings." Thomas Kelly

Lord, help me live on that profounder level today. Amen.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

This Year I Want to be a Sheep - 1

I took a break from my read through the Old Testament over the Christmas holidays, and spent some time in the Psalms. I came yesterday to Psalm 23.

It is one I know so well, I can slip through it with nothing registering at all. Instead of glossing over it, as I was tempted, I decided to examine it phrase by phrase and let my wool-gathering mind range free. For what it’s worth, here is my meditation (in two parts, the next part tomorrow).

The Lord is my shepherd
He is in charge of me. I’m His responsibility, His property, available for His purposes. A shepherd raises sheep for wool, for mutton, for sacrifice. It’s all for the shepherd’s purpose, not the sheep’s.
I shall not be in want
The Shepherd takes care of my needs - even my wants.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I have so much, am so well provided for that even green pasture no longer tempts me to eat. I take my fill and then lie down and relax, knowing that when I’m hungry again, I only need to jump up and keep eating. Such abundance!
He leads me beside quiet water.
Refreshing, easy-to-get-at water. I don’t have to worry about losing my footing on a steep stream-side, or fear being cast into swift-flowing water as the bank is undercut. No. This place of drinking is calm, still, safe.
He restores my soul.
Soul - that emotional part of me which gets hurt feelings, feels inadequate, gets lost in the masses, is easily wounded by a thoughtless word, or bruised by silence and being ignored. That needy, high maintenance part of me is restored and healed when I sense that I, though one of a flock of millions, have my shepherd’s attention. He knows my needs, leads me to pastures and water, takes the burrs from my wool, binds up my bleeding feet and takes care of each part of my sheepness.

Lord, I request sheep appetites, sharp for your pasturage. I find myself easily led away by the manufactured food of success, the attention of others, ease, pleasure. Like unnatural animal foods which lead to deadly BSE, this unhealthy mixture puffs me up, but plants, then nurtures in me the seeds of death. May my thirsts be slaked by the quiet waters to which You lead. May my soul find restoration in Your presence.

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