Sunday, February 28, 2010

What makes you "exceedingly glad"?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 21:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “For You have made him most blessed forever;
You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence.” Psalm 21:6

The story I began yesterday, about Larry Crabb and his cancer, well there’s more. After his wife left the hospital the night after he got the news, he experienced an array of emotions. Looking outside at life going happily on he asked “Why me?” He started thinking of why this might have happened to him and what he could do to get God to reverse the disease. Maybe if he had long, long devotions and memorized lots of Scripture the doctors would discover, at the next exam, that the lump had disappeared.

Then he thought of Satan and Jesus’ conversation at the time of Jesus’ temptation. Satan would give Him everything He needed/wanted, if He would forfeit one thing – intimacy with and the pleasure of Father God. Of course Jesus turned Satan down.

Crabb recalled a parable by Augustine where God told Augustine to write his ultimate wish list. After he had done it, God came to him again and said, “I will give you everything on your list and a long life to enjoy it all. But there is one condition. If you accept this offer, you will never see My face.” August explained: “The chill that you feel when you think of never seeing God’s face is your love for God.”

Then the light dawned for Crabb:

“Life is all about knowing God…And I realized that I wanted God more than anything or anyone else, with my whole being. That was the first miracle.

Then came the second…. I felt joy. Yet even the peace and joy weren’t really the point. That night I experienced the presence of God. What more – or less could I want?” (Soul Talk pages 3-8).

We don’t need to be in a hospital room to experience God’s presence – but maybe it helps. As I read Larry Crabb’s story I ask myself, is knowing God my highest ambition? Does time spent in His presence make me “exceedingly joyful”? What will it take, of life experience, to finally get my eyes off of "worthless things" and fully focused on Him? 

PRAYER: Dear God, I am so easily distracted by and preoccupied with the things of this world. Please teach me how to live in and find joy in Your presence above everything else. Amen.

MORE:How I Long for You” is a beautiful and intimate worship song on one of my Hillsong CDs. (On my Worship playlist, it’s the song that has the most plays).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Have you thought about the finish line?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 4:1-8

TO CHEW ON: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

“Shortly after noon on July 5, 1997, the doctor told me I had cancer,” writes Larry Crabb in the Introduction to his book Soul Talk. He goes on, “My wife and I cried when the doctor left. He had made no promises. We didn’t know if I’d live or die. It takes a while to realize what life is all about. We don’t ask the hard questions until we have to. That day I had to. …The curtains covering my soul fell back and I began to see what was happening inside. When that occurred, the battle began. But it’s also when life began” (Soul Talk, p. 2).

The “curtains covering my soul” got a definite tug in 2006 – the year my mom died. As I made funeral arrangements then cleaned out her apartment and gave away and sold her things, I began to know at a gut level it would be only a matter of time before the person whose heap of stuff needing to be dealt with was me. And I’d better start living more than ever with those hard questions in mind.

Questions like: Have I discovered what I’m here for? Have I made a difference? What will I be remembered for? If I died today, would I have regrets? What would they be?

Paul was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge will give to me on that day.”

What about you? Have you begun asking yourself the hard questions? It’s never too soon to begin, so that you can end like Paul did – with no regrets!

PRAYER: Dear God, please keep the light on inside me. Help me live today with the end in mind. Amen.

  • Every Christmas, Concordia College in Moorhead Minnesota presents a program of choral music. For years they have performed it against the backdrop of a 20 x 60-foot painted Christmas mural reflecting the year's theme. For many of those years David Hetland designed the stunning murals for those concerts, then supervised the volunteers who painted them. In 2006, at the age of only 59, Hetland died – but not without a sense that he had achieved something of significance.
David Hetland talks about his life and work.

A David Hetland mural
  • Gavin MacLeod became famous for playing parts on the Mary Tyler Moore show and the Loveboat series. But now that he’s older, he considers a couple of far less prestigious projects the ones that define what his life is about.
Gavin MacLeod "The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry"

If you had to make a 2-minute video like this, what would you say about your life?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pass it on

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 2:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2

Who are the people in your life who have taught you the Gospel? There are many on my list – from family members to big name preachers and authors who don’t have a clue that their words and lives touched mine.

In our focus verse today Paul instructs Timothy to pass on the words he (Paul) passed on him, to more faithful men. They, in turn, will teach others and so the Gospel will spread while it is also preserved authentic and free from corruption.

Paul’s instructions to Timothy in this regard span the whole book. In other places when talking about communicating the Gospel Paul says:
1. Share it fearlessly (1:8).
2. Guard its integrity (1:13-14).
3. Learn from the goal-oriented soldier (2:3-4), the disciplined athlete (2:5) and the hard-working farmer (2:6).
4. Be prepared to share it any time and in whatever manner (convince, rebuke, exhort, teach – 4:2).

Have you taken your place in the line of those who are passing on the Gospel? There are a myriad of ways you can do this:

  • Read Bible stories to your children or grandchildren.
  • Share your life of faith with family members and friends (in modern ways too, like on Facebook).
  • Teach a Bible study at your church or in your neighborhood.
  • Talk about what God is teaching you in letters and emails.
  • Write a blog about what you’re learning through the Bible and the teaching of others.
  • Recommend Christian books that have been meaningful to you. Give them as gifts.
  • Tell your friends about Christian TV programs or internet sites or podcasts that teach you the Gospel.

Can you think of more?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for those who have taught me about you. Help me to pass this good news on to others. Amen.

MORE: Steve Green sings “Find Us Faithful”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I do not know you

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 13:22-35

TO CHEW ON: “But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.’....O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” Luke 13: 27,34

“He is not safe, but he is good.” I'm thinking this description of the lion Aslan from C. S.Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe might be a caption for today’s reading.

The Jewish leaders thought they had God all figured out. In their theology, His favor was on the Jews. The very fact that someone was born one, and especially if that one tried to keep the law, guaranteed them a ticket to paradise with God.

In our reading today Jesus puts the boot to that notion. His words, “I do not know you,” would breathe a chill into any heart. But simple knowledge of Him as a person when He was on earth, or about Him and His teachings now, was and is not enough to secure us a place with Him in heaven. Here He seems dangerous – someone who will act in a way they (and perhaps some of us) would never expect.

A few verses later, though, we see Him weeping over Jerusalem, longing to protect her people like a hen protects her chicks. His goodness is shown in His tender love for even those who reject Him.

What a cameo of God – on one hand finding it necessary to exclude people from heaven because they refuse to come His way, on the other weeping over those same people.

So what is God’s way of coming? It is through Jesus. We must admit our sinfulness and inability to be acceptable to God on our own. We need to realize that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. When we accept and believe this about ourselves and come to Him His way, we will never need to fear hearing those dreaded words – “I do not know you.”

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for making a way back to God for me. Help me to not only come to You for salvation, but to live my life on earth by the principles of Your kingdom. Amen.

MORE: A wonderful movie based on Lewis’s book “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” was released by Disney Pictures just before Christmas in 2005. Here is the movie trailer. (Just seeing it makes me want to watch the movie again.)

Want more Narnia fun? Go to

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 27:1-14

TO CHEW ON: “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait (in faith) on the Lord;
Be of good courage
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

I underline and write little notes in my Bible. The verses above are underlined with this note beside them: “Aug/09 Benjie’s accident and home stay.” It refers to our son’s 20-foot fall from a roof onto concrete last summer. It was a scary time with head injuries and broken bones. After he was discharged from hospital it was a stretching time, when our unhappy 20-something kid had to move back in with the folks because he needed help.

 B. the day after the accident

When you’re in the middle of such a time, you realize – Now I’m putting it to the test. All these things I’ve said about God and His goodness to others – will they prove true in my own life? It’s a time you have to stir up courage, wait, believe.

This psalm makes a couple of things clear:

1. People who trust God encounter trouble like everyone else. When David asks rhetorically, “Whom shall I fear?” and “Of whom should I be afraid?” he’s telling us there are people / events / circumstances he could be fearing. He speaks of armies coming against him, war, a time of trouble, a time of feeling forsaken.

2. But God is with us in our troubles. David says God hides him, sets him on a high rock (out of harm’s way), takes care of him when he feels alone. God’s ministrations come to us in different ways at different times. As I write this, I keep remembering images of the devastation in Haiti from last month’s earthquake – the desperate people, hurt, lost, orphaned, homeless. Did God come to them? I’m sure in the days and months ahead, we will hear how He did.

B. with his dad, Friday, Feb. 19, 2010
- Granville Street Bridge, Vancouver, BC.

He came to us. The ophthalmologist who saw our son on the day of the accident predicted he would probably lose the sight of his injured eye. Several weeks later his words were, “I’ve never seen such a remarkable recovery.” In the months since his accident B’s fractured wrist has almost full mobility and his face isn’t scarred. Looking back on that time, I see how it made our relationship with him stronger and more tender. We truly saw the goodness of the Lord!

Whatever trouble you’re in the middle of today, take the words of this psalm as your own. “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.”

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your faithfulness, help, protection, and for not deserting me in my time of trouble. Help me to learn to wait on you in every situation. Amen.

MORE: Hillsong – The Desert Song

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Irresistible temptation?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 4:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “’Therefore if you will worship me all will be yours’” – the Devil. Luke 4:7

Who of us can’t empathize with Jesus in His temptation? At the moment of His greatest vulnerability Satan came to Him, whispering - You need this. You deserve this. Here’s a way to prove how really great You are. 

"Christ in the Desert" by Ivan Kramskoy - 1872

Satan uses the same tactics with us. The Apostle John, in 1 John 2:16 puts easy-to-recognize labels on Satan's three most-used modes of temptation:

1. “The lust of the flesh.” Your physical self craves this. You’ve got to have it. Satan tried it on Eve in Eden (“the tree was good for food” – Genesis 3:15), and here on Jesus (“Command this stone to become bread”).

2. “The lust of the eyes.” You see, crave, and covet. Satan drew Eve’s attention to the forbidden fruit which was “pleasant to the eyes.” To Jesus the devil pointed out “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.”

3. “The pride of life.” Here’s a way to realize or prove your human potential. To Eve it was “a tree desirable to make one wise.” Satan challenged Jesus: “throw yourself down from here.” The arrival of angels to rescue Him would prove His identity as the fulfillment of a prophecy about Messiah.

When dealing with temptation, first you need to recognize it. Look for the satanic fingerprints of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life on temptations that come your way.

After recognizing temptation, you need to deal with it. To each temptation Jesus replied with truth - the Scripture. He knew that Satan’s stated or implied promises were only as good as their author – full of deceit and a pack of lies. There are other ways to respond. Sometimes you need to flee the situation (push away from the table, turn off the TV or computer). At other times you need to face the situation (you’ve just got to your car and realized there is a bag of flour, unnoticed and unpaid-for, on the bottom of your grocery cart).

I love 1 Corinthians 10:13 – the classic dealing-with-temptation verse: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Next time you recognize temptation, breathe an SOS prayer and then take the "way of escape" that God shows you.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your example of how to deal with temptation. Help me to recognize temptation and discover Your way of escape. Amen.

MORE: Oswald Chambers on temptation:

The word "temptation" has come down in the world; we are apt to use it wrongly. Temptation is not sin, it is the thing we are bound to meet if we are men....

A man's disposition on the inside, i.e., what he possesses in his personality, determines what he is tempted by on the outside. The temptation fits the nature of the one tempted, and reveals the possibilities of the nature. Every man has the setting of his own temptation, and the temptation will come along the line of the ruling disposition.  (From My Utmost For His HighestRead entire)

The old gospel hymn “Yield Not to Temptation” by Horatio R. Palmer speaks a lot of truth.

Here Bishop David Ellis sings it, backed by a gospel choir.

Friday, February 19, 2010


TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 91:1-16

TO CHEW ON: “Because you have made the Lord who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.” Psalm 91:9-10

This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible. I don’t know how often I have sought it out when I have felt fearful, anxious about safety, or concerned about my health or the health of my family.

I love the images of God as protector and safe place.
  • We can live under His wings as baby birds find warmth, comfort, and safety from the elements under the wings of mother bird.
  • He is a fortress. Picture one of those castles in Europe, built on inaccessible mountainsides.
  • He is a refuge. In Israel, there were designated cities of refuge where a person could run to when accused of killing someone. Inside a city of refuge, the accused was guaranteed safety from revenge killing.
  • He is a deliverer. The picture is of someone springing the trap to loose a bird.
  • His truth is protection – both as a shield and a small shield (buckler).
  • His presence defends from personal attack, sickness and war.
  • He assigns our care to angels.
  • He transcends the natural order of nature to keep us safe.
  • He gives us a place of honor.
  • He answers our prayers.
  • He rewards us with long life.

Why all this special attention? “Because you have made the Lord who is my refuge, even the most High, your dwelling place.” (91:9)

A sidebar article in my Bible sheds light on "refuge" and "dwelling place":

“The word makhseh translated “refuge” means “a shelter,” “a place of trust,” and derives from the root khawsaw meaning “to flee for protection,” “to confide in.”

Maween translated “dwelling place” indicates “a retreat.” It derives from the root 'onah which describes the security of “intimately dwelling together in marriage.”

When we make the Lord our refuge and habitation by trusting Him – taking our cares, fears and needs to Him; by seeking His counsel, spending times of refreshing with Him, and by loving Him and walking closely with him through every day, we enter into a sheltered place of promise….” New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 758 – Nathaniel M. Van Cleave.)

Do any of the images God as protector resonate with you? Take the picture of that with you today. Revel in His care today.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your intimate knowledge of and care for me. Help me to confide in You and make You my retreat. I make You my safe place today. Amen.


Psalm 91 by Lincoln Brewster

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Softer blue, sweeter green

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:13

TO CHEW ON: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away’ behold all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Do you remember the first time you went to the church you now attend, or first saw the house in which you now live? Chances are on that first visit your senses picked up things to which you’ve since become oblivious. A church we once attended was plagued with a water seepage problem and a chronic musty smell. Over time I got used to it so that I never even noticed. But when a new pastor came, he mentioned that smell as making a bad first impression.

In our focus verse today Paul talks about first impressions of the Christian life. They’re good. Everything seems new and changed. I’ve heard people describe how even colors and smells seem brighter and sharper.

Do you remember that time for you? Though I don’t have vivid memories of the day of my childhood conversion, I do recall the day I recommitted my life to Christ as an adult. I felt a great sense of relief: I didn’t have to be the boss of my life any more.

It’s natural for the sense of newness and novelty of our first days as a Christian to abate. But it’s also good to remember that time. It gives us a renewed appreciation for what happened to us that day and how life-shaking the decision to give one’s life to Jesus is. Here are some ways to revisit those days when everything seemed new:

1. Recall the time of your salvation or recommitment to Christ, and read the stories of others.

2. Spend time with new Christians. There’s nothing like the perspective of a baby Christian to help you remember what it was like when you first came to Jesus.

3. Spend time with people or books that promote a world view that’s different from yours. When I do this (and I often just stumble on this more than intentionally pursue it) I get a sense of dis-ease. I think through why I feel that way and realize again how my life in Christ has changed everything.

A footnote in my Bible says: “Christ’s death and Resurrection for us and our identification with Him by faith make existence as a new creation possible…. Our relationship with Christ affects every aspect of life.New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1616, emphasis mine)

It sure does!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Thank You for making possible this new life. Help me never to forget or take for granted the immensity of the change Your death and resurrection made for me. Amen.

MORE: The words of this old hymn talk about first impressions of this new life:
Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
Christ-less eyes have never seen!
Birds in song His glories show,
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His and He is mine.
I Am His and He is Mine” by George W. Robinson, 1876
Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the day that begins Lent on the church calendar. The Ash Wednesday liturgy starts with these moving words from the Collect:
"Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Read more liturgy for this day…

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Bible - amazing book

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 19:1-14

TO CHEW ON: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” Psalm 19:7

Recall! The word makes us cringe even as we perk up our ears to hear what is being recalled this time. A few weeks ago it was over-the-counter medications manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. Before that it was cribs made by a company in a town near where I live. In 2008 it was meat products packaged and distributed by a company with plants across Canada. Probably nothing is as damaging to a company’s reputation as having to send out a warning about the safety of its products – though denying there is a problem and continuing to circulate dangerous goods is, in the end, even worse.

Our reading today talks about something that will never need to be recalled. God’s word – the Bible – has been around for centuries and it will continue to remain perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, righteous, desirable, sweet, effective to warn us and, if we follow its advice, to deliver us to God as acceptable.

How can I say such a thing with such certainty? Well okay, I’ll admit there is an element of faith here. But my faith is based on more than just the Bible’s claims for itself. My trust in the Bible is also based on these things:

- It’s indestructibility. How long do most books last? Not long! But the Bible, despite the passage of time and numerous efforts to exterminate it, is going stronger than ever.

- Its character in both message and unity. Where else will you find a collection of 66 books from 50 different authors written over about 1600 years that contains “One doctrinal system, one moral standard, one plan of salvation, one program of the ages”? (Lectures in Systematic Theology – Thiessen, p. 85)

- Its influence. It has and continues to cross cultural and language barriers around the world.

- Its fulfilled prophecies. “Only God can reveal the future and we have many proofs in the Scriptures that He did reveal it to His servants” (Thiessen, p. 88).

For these reasons I have foundationed my life on the Bible – and don’t expect to ever find out it is broken, faulty, mistaken or polluted. What about you? On what have you built the house of your life?

PRAYER: Dear God, I thank You for the Bible, which is rich beyond words. Help me to understand it and live by its principles today. Amen.

MORE: A few years ago I wrote this children’s poem in which I tried to include many of the descriptions of the Bible found in the Bible. It sums up today’s thought in 12 lines:


God's Word is eternal,
God-breathed, radiant, right,
Pure spiritual milk,
Our lamp and our light.

It's a fire, a hammer,
The power of God.
It's sweeter than honey,
A two-edged sword.

It's wisdom for life,
Our standard and rule.
Choose to ignore it
And you'll be the fool.

© 1998 by Violet Nesdoly (First published in Partners)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love choices

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 John 2:7-17

TO CHEW ON: “He who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” 1 John 2:10

A while ago I saw a TV commercial that made me chuckle.

This couple is out together. The girl looks earnestly into the face of the guy and says, “I love you.”

He opens his mouth as if to say he loves her back, but can’t seem to get the word out, “I lu… le… la …” He screws up his face with the effort while the look on hers grows ever more distressed.

A barmaid happens by and calls out, “Would you like another X-brand (beer)?”

“I’d love one!” This time the word comes out without any effort at all.

It’s obvious that this young man knew at a gut level the word love has more than one meaning.

In our passage today “love” or “loves” occurs four times. In each one the word used in the Greek text is agape. A sidebar article in my Bible says:
“Agape denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable good will that always seeks the highest 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.”

That’s how we are to love our “brother.” And that’s how John tells us not to love the world or the things of the world…. which means it’s possible to love the world that way. Do we?

The definition goes on:
“Agape is more a love by choice than philos which is love by chance, and it refers to the will rather than the emotions” (Word Wealth – New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1556).

On this day when we celebrate yet another kind of love – eros – often characterized more by butterflies in the stomach and a stirring in the loins than cold light-of-day choice, let’s certainly give our romantic lover kisses, chocolates and assurances of fidelity. But let’s also look long and hard at the quality of our love for that person, indeed all our brothers (and sisters) and to the things on which we choose to set our hearts. May 1 Corinthians 13 be our agape love template.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your agape love for me. Help me to choose to love others that way.

MORE: Valentine’s Day
Today is Valentine’s day – a day our society celebrates romantic love. We’re told flower, card and chocolate shops make a major part of their year’s proceeds from this holiday. Do you have someone special that you love romantically?

Gary Chapman has written many books about the five love languages.  Do you know your spouse or significant other’s love language? (Take the test.)

You might want to read some stories of how the awareness of a spouse’s love language made a difference.  How might this knowledge impact the way you celebrate Valentine’s day?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The winning equation

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Hebrews 12:1-15

TO CHEW ON: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

There is something inspiring about watching athletes win a medal – especially when those athletes are from your country and you know a bit about what it took for them to get there.

Canadian speed skater Cindy Klassen is one such inspiring person. Always a gifted skater, she was rejected for the Olympic women’s hockey team before she even tried speed skating. Once she put on those speed skates she began winning medals including a bronze in the 2002 Olympics. Then in a freak accident in 2005 she cut twelve tendons, a nerve and artery in her arm and was forced to take time off. But she bounced back, winning five medals at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. However, in February of 2008 she again cut her season short to be by her sister’s side after Lisa Klassen suffered a near-fatal traffic accident. And later that year she had surgery on both her knees. Yet in December 2009, she qualified yet again to represent Canada in speed skating at the 2010 Olympics. Her story tells us something about the power of a goal and the strength of the human spirit when it comes to reaching that goal.

These elements also come into play in the race that is the Christian life. The ultimate goal for the Christian, as we said yesterday, is to hear Jesus’ “Well done!” when we break the finish-line tape. But the race is long, the obstacles many. That’s where we need determination, endurance, perseverance. Our inspiration and example is Jesus. I love how the Amplified Bible describes His role:

“Looking away from all that will distract to Jesus, Who is the Leader and Source of our faith, (giving the first incentive for our belief) and is also its Finisher (bringing it to maturity and perfection)” Hebrews 12:2 Amplified

The writer speaks of how Jesus’ finish (enduring the cross, despising the shame, seated at God’s right hand) inspires us. I also get inspiration from how He ran the middle of the race – His compassion, His single-mindedness, His wisdom, His ability to capture truth in little stories, His plain speech, His eye for the individual, and on and on… What a winner!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming to earth to run this earthly race over 2000 years ago. Remind me to look to You for inspiration about how to carry on every day – and to finish well. Amen.

MORE: Find out more about Cindy Klassen at her web site.

Listen / watch her interviewed for 100 Huntley Street

Cindy Klassen’s Olympic schedule (her first race is tomorrow!)

Our prayers go out to the family and friends of Nodar Kumaritashvili, indeed the whole Olympic community after the death of this 21-year-old Georgian luge Olympian yesterday following a crash on his final training run.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Let the games begin!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 9:16-27

TO CHEW ON: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” I Corinthians 9:24

Today the 2010 Olympics begin in Vancouver, BC, Canada (just a 45-minute drive from where I live)! Vancouver has been preparing for this event for seven years. When my daughter and I posed in front of this Olympic countdown clock in 2003, 2,357 days seemed like an eternity away.

In the intervening years a lot has gone on. There has been upheaval and inconvenience as roads were improved and buildings raised. Thousands of employees and volunteers have signed up to help. A complex security system has been put in place. In the last few weeks, travel and parking around Vancouver has become increasingly difficult as the city prepares for a multitude of visitors and their timely delivery to event venues all over the Greater Vancouver area and as far away as Whistler.

Athletes around the world have been preparing too. They’ve disciplined and trained their bodies. They’ve entered qualifying competitions to earn the right to represent their countries. They’ve sacrificed time, money, energy, perhaps even relationships, all for the privilege of competing with the world’s premiere athletes in this event.

The likenesses of the Christian life to an athletic competition were not lost on Paul – and they resonate with us today in a fresh way:

1. We work toward a goal. Like event organizers and athletes, we live our Christian lives with the goal in view. To win for us means Christ’s “Well done.” Every sacrifice, discipline and hardship is worth that prize.

2. We make the necessary sacrifices. Like the host community and the athletes, Christians prepare. We do that by learning how to use the equipment (the Bible) and exercising disciplines like prayer, fasting, stewardship of our possessions and our bodies, balancing rest and work – not to earn salvation but because we function best when we follow the Maker’s instructions.

3. We avoid becoming disqualified. How heartbreaking when, after years of preparation, an athlete’s effort doesn’t count because he broke the rules. How just as heartbreaking to see Christians of prominence and influence fall by the wayside because of moral or ethical failure. How to avoid this? We must follow Paul’s example: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection… lest I myself become disqualified.” Sin starts so tiny – just a thought… Even that must be nipped it in the bud.

The Christian’s Olympic Games start the day we hand over the controls of our lives to Jesus and end when He welcomes us home. May we all finish well!

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live my Christian life with the focus of an athlete intent on winning the prize. And I pray for the Vancouver Olympic Games. May they be a wonderful celebration for the world, safe and free from tragedy of any kind. Amen.

MORE: More than Gold
Under the “More than Gold” banner, churches and para-church organizations have been preparing for the 2010 Olympics since 2004. Their purpose: “To connect and coordinate the community in working together on initiatives before, during and after the 2010 Games; building a momentum that becomes a tipping point toward the holistic transformation of our city.”

Explore all the exciting events they have planned. Then join them in praying for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic (February 12-28) and Paralympic Games (March 12-21, 2010).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Portable glory

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 9:28-43a

TO CHEW ON: “And they were all amazed at the majesty of God.” Luke 9:43a

“…the appearance of His (Jesus’) face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.” Ping! Haven’t we seen this somewhere before? Doesn’t this hearken us back to Moses and his shining face after being with God on Mount Sinai (yesterday’s devotion)?

It must have been quite the awesome yet disturbing experience for the disciples, being dazzled by incredible light while hearing Jesus talk about his “decease” – death – with the glorified patriarchs. It must have left them with an overwhelming sense of rightness, goodness and well-being. Otherwise why would Peter suggest they build tents and stay?

But when it was time, they left and headed back to the rough-and-tumble, grubby and confusing world below. The contrast was stark. The very next day from out of the crowd came a desperate man.

His sad tale of the disciples’ inability to cast a demon out of his little boy brought Jesus’ rebuke (even after all they had experienced, they were still ‘faithless') and an invitation to fetch the boy. Even as he came the demon threw him down in a convulsion. Then Jesus rebuked the dirty spirit, cast him out and at least one father and son went home that day knowing, at a see-and-touch level, the majesty of God.

We too know the contrast of this story. From times of ecstatic worship, when we’re in the very presence of God’s clean, holy light, we’re inevitably ejected back to earth with its broken-down cars, clamoring kids, aging parents, and sinister lab reports. Just as Jesus didn’t stay on the rarified mountaintop, neither can we. For that’s why Jesus came – to spread the majesty of God to all. And that’s still our mission today.

PRAYER: Dear God, may my times with You translate into stronger faith and more usefulness to my troubled world. Amen.

MORE: Oswald Chambers says:
“It is a great thing to be on the mount with God, but a man only gets there in order that afterwards he may get down among the devil-possessed and lift them up. We are not built for the mountains and the dawns and aesthetic affinities, those are for moments of inspiration, that is all. We are built for the valley, for the ordinary stuff we are in, and that is where we have to prove our mettle. Spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mount. We feel we could talk like angels and live like angels, if only we could stay on the mount. The times of exaltation are exceptional, they have their meaning in our life with God, but we must beware lest our spiritual selfishness wants to make them the only time.”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest (October 1 reading)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Veiled or unveiled?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6

TO CHEW ON: “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord…. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:6

Moses had been away from the camp for a long time. His second 40-day absence didn’t end in a golden calf though, but a golden face. The joy that Aaron and the people of Israel felt when they saw the familiar figure approach turned to fear as he got closer. Something had happened to his face. It shone so brightly they could scarcely look at it. The time Moses had spent with God and the intimacy of their fellowship resulted in God’s visible glory remaining evident on his physical features.

This is the incident to which Paul refers in this passage, so rich with veil imagery. Out of consideration for the people, Moses got into the habit of covering his face with a veil after he had spent time with God. That way the people didn’t have to fear him – or damage their eyes.

Paul refers to other types of veils here too. There is the veil of understanding. God the Holy Spirit is the One who removes that barrier to belief in Jesus by helping us make sense of the Bible.

The "veil taken away in Christ" (vs. 14) is the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the temple. Only select priests could go behind the veil into the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant sat and God’s glory rested. But at Jesus’ death that veil was torn in two. Now anyone can come to God.

“The rending of the veil” 1890 by William Bell Scott (1811-1890)

That’s why we can approach Jesus face-to-face now. Actually Paul describes our interaction with Him as “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.” Jesus, the physical man, was God’s glory reflected in a human form.

As we study His face, His life, and make Him our example in attitude and action, an amazing thing happens. We ourselves are transformed, through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, into carriers of His glory.

Just as Moses didn’t realize his face shone, you might be unaware of the glory of God’s presence on you. But as you exalt Jesus, God’s light shines through you, illuminating dark hearts and drawing the veil from puzzled faces.

PRAYER: Dear God, what a privilege to be a reflector of Your glory. Please show me anything in my life that might obscure it from shining through. Amen.

Don Moen sings “Shine Jesus Shine”

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Unlikely and despised

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 16:1-24

TO CHEW ON: “And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. Therefore let no one despise him.” 1 Corinthians 16:10-11

On January 10th this year, a young and relatively unknown women’s curling team won the right to represent Alberta in the Scott Tournament of Hearts. They did this by beating the veteran Shannon Kleibrink rink. After 22-year-old skip Valerie Sweeting’s final shot, there was stunned silence in the Calgary curling venue. Onlookers could scarcely believe their Goliath champions had fallen to a rink of unlikely and formerly ‘despised’ 21 to 23-year-olds.

We have the same tendency to despise – especially unlikely leaders – in the church. In our reading today, Paul tells the Corinthians not to despise (exoutheneo) Timothy. Why might they have done that?
- His youth.
- His less-than-ideal pedigree – he was part Hebrew, part Greek.
- His sickly, generally timid manner.

These same factors come into play as we evaluate our leaders. Their youth and inexperience, combined with things like trendy (weird, to us) clothes and hairstyles may, in our eyes, disqualify them from teaching us anything. They may be foreigners with hard-to-understand accents who sometimes use odd words making them sound less intelligent than they are. Or they may have personalities that don’t display well in the limelight – wooden speaking styles and a general lack of public polish.

Despite unlikely outward appearances, Paul instructs us to honor the leaders God gives us and treat them with respect. He speaks of how fractious preferring one minister over another is worldly. He talks of how, though God’s choices for leaders may seem unlikely to us, their success brings glory to Him because no way could they have achieved it by themselves.

Are there Timothys in your life? How do you treat them?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to value and respect the leaders You have placed in my church. May I honor You with my attitude toward them. Amen.

MORE: A modern pastor's power

 The topic of pastoral power and church government is huge and fraught with minefields. Old Testament leaders (like Moses) had almost dictatorial powers – under God, of course. In the New Testament, elders and deacons helped govern the church. Through the years, churches have adjusted their government models to the cultures in which they exist. For those interested, here are a couple of articles that address church government and a pastor’s authority. I post them as jumping-off points for your thought – not because I completely endorse the position of the authors.

The Pastor’s Authority” by Ray C. Stedman - This article talks about general principles of church organization and a pastor's power.

The Elusive Biblical Model of Leadership” – This article explains how various models of church government evolved and how the Mennonite Brethren organize their churches.

Monday, February 08, 2010

A new body

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

TO CHEW ON: “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death where is your sting?
O Hades where is your victory?’
1 Corinthians 15:54-55

Today’s reading continues on in 1 Corinthians 15 – where we read a few days ago. Then Paul declared that as someone with ultimate authority Jesus will one day conquer death.

Today Paul talks about the fact that because Jesus conquered death, we too will rise from the dead and live on in new bodies. What will these bodies be like?

Paul explains the difference between  our physical and eternal bodies by using a comparison from the plant world. With typical Paul logic he argues that just like we have no way of predicting what a grown plant will look like when we see it as a seed, similarly we don’t know how our bodies will look or how they will function when they rise. Because our earthly body is a mere seed of our resurrected body.

Jesus’ body after He rose from the dead may give us some clues. His appearances in the forty days between His resurrection and ascension show us:
- He looked like an ordinary person.
- His body had the nail prints of His crucifixion.
- He ate food.
- He could appear at will, even passing through locked doors.
- He had command over creation.

And I’m sure there will be so much more! No wonder Paul erupts by exclaiming. "Oh death, where is your sting?" (A quote from Hosea, by the way).

As we contemplate these things, doesn’t death already seem less terrible? I’ve often thought if we had half a clue about how wonderful our life in eternity with God will be, we would cease feeling bad for those who, according to us, die prematurely. It’s we, stuck on earth, who are to be pitied.

PRAYER: Dear God thank You for defeating death. Help me to live my life, knowing that it is a mere seed of what is to come. Amen.

MORE: Glimpses of heaven
Plane crash victim Mickey Robinson was horribly burned and experienced all kinds of complications. He kept getting worse instead of better. The doctors knew that it was just a matter of time before he died. That’s when God stepped in, complete with a preview of heaven.

YouTube of Mickey Robinson’s testimony (10 minutes)

Another three-part interview of Mickey Robinson’s by Moira Brown, recorded on 100 Huntley Street

Part 1: (10 minutes)

Part 2: (7 minutes)

Part 3: (7 minutes)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Follow Me

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 5:1-11

TO CHEW ON: “And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’ So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.” Luke 5:10b-11

If Peter wasn’t looking for a career change before Jesus came on the scene, the way this rabbi from Galilee messed with his life probably soon had him open to just that. First Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Then He commandeered Peter’s boat as a pulpit (Peter probably listened to His talk – even while he cleaned his nets). After Jesus dismissed the crowd, He suggested Peter and the boys go fishing – something that Peter assured Him they had already done, but without success.

However Peter, smart man, listened to Jesus’ suggestion that they try again – even though it was broad daylight and any Lake of Gennesaret fisherman worth his salt knew that real fishing only happened at night. The result was beyond shocking. They caught so many fish, the boat began to sink.

Peter knew immediately he was in the presence of no ordinary man. He was overcome with a sense of his own sinfulness (what other reaction is there in the presence of God Himself?). Then came this amazing response from Jesus: “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”

Peter, softened by all that had happened to this point, responded immediately. Goodbye fish-boat.

God’s dealings with us aren’t so different.
1. First He gets our attention. Often it's through sickness or calamity.
2. We observe God at work. We read about what He’s done, or hear about it through missionaries, or see His touch on the lives of people we know. We become filled with awe. This is real!  We want to be a part of it.
3. We hear God’s call us personally. It may be a dramatic encounter. Or it may be a quiet dissatisfaction with our lives and their worldly preoccupations, combined with a desire to refocus on things that have eternal value.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to hear Your call and to follow You. Amen.

MORE: Here am I; send me.
“Get out of your mind the idea of expecting God to come with compulsions and pleadings. When our Lord called His disciples there was no irresistible compulsion from outside. The quiet passionate insistence of His ‘Follow Me’ was spoken to men with every power wide awake. If we let the Spirit of God bring us face to face with God, we too shall hear something akin to what Isaiah heard, the still small voice of God; and in perfect freedom will say, ‘Here am I; send me.’”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Friday, February 05, 2010

The final authority

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 15:20-34

TO CHEW ON: “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” 1 Corinthians 15:24-26

When you have a problem with the service you get in a store, you don’t lodge your complaint with the janitor, the boy who stocks shelves, or even the cashier. If you want action on your issue, you go to the person who has the authority or power to make a difference – the supervisor, manager or, if it’s serious enough, the president of the company.

The verses we’re looking at today talk about who has ultimate authority over the universe. They speak of a time in the future – a “Then…” telling us it’s not yet so.

For reasons known to God, He has for a time allowed Satan some authority on earth. When we witness sickness, chaos, confusion, hatred and death, we see evidences of that authority. But Satan's authority won't last forever. Our verses speak of a time when God rescinds or puts an end to all other rule but His on the earth.

The Greek word for authority used here is exousia. One meaning for exousia is the right to use dunamis – another authority word that means “strength.” We could paraphrase “He puts an end to all rule, and all authority and power” by saying “He (Jesus) puts an end to all rule and all the right / permission to use strength and power.”

I love how my Bible’s footnote to verse 28 expands on this: “The goal of history and the consummation of the covenant will occur when the kingdom is delivered up to God. When creation will be completely free of all dissident antilife forces.” (The New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1603 - emphasis mine)

Nice thoughts. But how do they impact you and me today? Here are three ways:

1. We can choose to live under ultimate authority – the authority of the Kingdom of God – now. (Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels are full of the ‘laws of physics and gravity’ of that kingdom.)

2. We can appeal, in prayer, to the One with the highest authority.

3. We can live with hope and expectation, knowing that someday God’s authority will be established in real time on earth.

PRAYER: Dear God, I acknowledge Your ultimate authority over my life, over history, over the earth. Help me to live out this belief today. Amen.

Chris Tomlin sings “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name”

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Would God tell you His secrets?

TODAY'S SPECIAL:   Luke 2:22-40

TO CHEW ON: “And it had been revealed to him (Simeon) by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord Christ… 
 (Anna) was a widow of about eighty-four years who did not depart but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” Luke 2:26, 37-38

Nunc Dimmitis - (Infant Christ and Simeon) 
by Giovanni Bellini c. 1505-1510

The day Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the temple a wonderful thing happened. Two complete strangers approached them with messages from God about Jesus, their eight-day-old baby.

What about these people made them candidates to hear from God? What can we learn from Simeon and Anna about the kinds of people to whom God tells his secrets? I see six principles:

1. Live a holy lifestyle. Simeon is described as “just and devout.” Anna lived in the temple, praying and fasting day and night. I don’t think God expects us to go to those lengths. But prayer and fasting – at least occasionally – are disciplines that attune our senses to hear God’s voice.

2. Live with expectation. Simeon was “waiting”

3. Listen. Simeon heard the Holy Spirit’s instructions. In our world of noise from every direction, this is big. At the beginning of January, our pastor challenged us to give our first and best to God. One practical suggestion was to let God’s words be the first ones we hear every morning.

4. Obey. Simeon went to the temple when the Holy Spirit led him, then opened his mouth and spoke over Jesus.

5. Refuse to make excuses because of age or life situation. Both Simeon and Anna were old. Earlier, God spoke to Joseph and Mary who were young. Anna was a widow.

6. Realize that God is in every situation. There are no coincidences. Anna had no specific instructions to go anywhere. She just happened to come in “at that instant” and spoke of what filled her heart.

I ask myself, would God reveal His confidences to me? Would He to you?

PRAYER: Dear God, I would like to be like Simeon and Anna, someone to whom You can tell Your secrets.

MORE: The Feast of the Presentation
Today is known as the “Feast of the Presentation” or “Candlemas” in the church calendar.

Monday, February 01, 2010

You can be God's friend

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Hebrews 2:5-18

TO CHEW ON: “So it is evident that it was essential that He be made like His brethren in every respect, in order that He might become a merciful (sympathetic) and faithful High Priest in the things related to God to make atonement and propitiation for the people’s sins. - Hebrews 2:17 – Amplified.

In many ways we moderns have adapted God to our culture. We are soft on sin in ourselves, saying we can’t help sinning for a myriad of reasons. In such a thought climate it’s hard to view realistically God's holiness and inability to tolerate sin.*

But if God possesses all the attributes we credit Him with, His holiness, which can’t bear the presence of sin, and His mercy, which loves us, can only coexist if the price for sin – death – is paid.

Bronze crucifix by Donatello - c. 1448

That’s where the concept of propitiation comes in. When Jesus, who was human (like us), and sinless (unlike us) took the punishment for our sin, God was appeased or propitiated and we are reconciled to Him.

In our tolerant-of-sin culture, I don’t think we begin to appreciate the hugeness of what this means. H. C. Thiessen, author of a favorite old systematic theology textbook I own says it simply yet profoundly:

“The thought is something like this: At first God and man stood face to face with each other. In sinning, Adam turned his back upon God. Then God turned His back upon Adam. Christ’s death has satisfied the demands of God and now God has again turned His face toward man. It remains for man to turn round about and face God. Since God has been reconciled by the death of His Son, man is now entreated to be reconciled to God.”
- Lectures in Systematic Theology by H. C. Thiessen (1949), p. 328.

PRAYER: Thank you God for making a way for me to be reconciled to You. Thank you Jesus, for dying for me. Amen.

MORE: How can we respond to such good news but with praise?
Worship along with Matt Redman in “Worthy, You Are Worthy.”

* Some parts of Christendom have such a problem with this they have played down the atonement aspect of what Jesus did, questioning whether it really happened and using language like “cosmic child abuse” (the heading “Penal Substitution”) to describe God sending Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins .

J. I. Packer’s response
Adrian Warnock

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