Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Doubting nothing"

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 11:1-18

TO CHEW ON:‘Then the Spirit told me to go with them doubting nothing.’” Acts 11:12

“In my lifetime I have had certain, if few, remarkable instances of the presence of God,” writes David Adams Richards in his book God Is.: My Search for Faith in a Secular World. “From my very earliest days, I recognized this presence now and again…These instances most often came in ways I least expected from the time I was a child.” (God Is. David Adams Richards, Location 732 – Kindle Version)

He goes on to relate incident after incident where happenings from his life spoke to him of divine providence with events dovetailing in amazing ways. As a youth he was in a high speed car crash but escaped without a scratch while a school buddy was killed in a freakish traffic mishap going a mere 30 miles per hour. He came across a gift he had meant to give his dying mother 20 years to the day after her death. A stray paper poking from between books on his shelf turned out to be a photograph. It was a picture of a little girl and her mother – the girl he and his wife helped look after when her immigrant mother discovered she had brain cancer. In the picture, the mother, whose cancer had just been discovered, was still beautiful. He found it years after the mother’s death, but only an hour before the girl, her father and grandmother were to arrive to visit (they had moved back to Europe).

In our reading today Peter, when called to task by the Jerusalem apostles over eating with an uncircumcised Gentile (Cornelius) had exactly such a miraculous “coincidence” to relate. His vivid vision, followed by Cornelius’s servants at the door, and the readiness of Cornelius and his family to hear what Peter had to say convinced the apostles that this new development was actually a God-thing: “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God saying ‘then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life’” vs. 18.

Have you had such evidences of God in your life? I have. For example, I often find that things I read or hear relate directly to something I am writing. I will find a quote that catches my eye in a book or internet article and the next day that very idea presents itself in the Bible reading for this devotional or some other piece I’m writing. Let’s watch for the many ways God tells us, “I am here – right beside you, going with you through this day.” Let’s gratefully accept the signs of His presence “doubting nothing.”

PRAYER: Dear God, Thank you for these little assurances of Your presence. Help me to be alert to them, and acknowledge You in them today. Amen.

MORE: David Adams Richards is an award-winning but new-to-me Canadian writer. He is most known for his fiction. His writing, which has been compared to that of William Faulkner, has won many awards (Governor General’s, Giller Prize). He makes his home in Toronto and the Miramachi area of New Brunswick.

Links to articles about God Is.

"Canada's literary community gets religion all wrong" by David Adams Richards - excerpts from God Is.

"'Who's 'conformist?' David Adams Richards on atheists" by Douglas Todd - Vancouver Sun

"AUTHOR DAVID ADAMS RICHARDS TO DISCUSS GOD IS: MY SEARCH FOR FAITH IN A SECULAR WORLD IN AN ON-STAGE INTERVIEW WITH MARK TUNNEY" from News @ UNB

"Author finds God is in the details" by Stuart Laidlaw

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I purchased God Is. Kindle version, through Amazon.com. Clicking on the title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate pages.






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Monday, April 26, 2010

Ointment for the soul

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 23:1-6

TO CHEW ON: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6

I am a fan of lotion and skin cream. I rub St. Ives Vanilla onto arms, legs and trunk all through the dry-air months of winter. I love to catch the fragrance of orange or almond cream on my hands. I treat itchy insect bites with Calomine and guard against infection by putting Polysporin on nicks and cuts. Psalm 23 is like a lotion psalm to me, with its ability to comfort, soothe, and protect against the irritation of anxiety and the poison of fear.

We can view this psalm in at least two ways. We can read it as praise – a boasting about God and all the ways we have found Him to adequate for all our needs. Or we can read it as a declaration of faith – a psalm of promise. It is in this sense that I have found it most effective as a balm.

When I am in need I claim the promise that He will care for me, to the extent of supplying my physical needs: “I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” His presence can refresh my mind and emotions: “He restores my soul.” When I am confused about direction, I have His promise to “lead me in the paths of righteousness.”

When I anticipate tragedy and death “I will fear no evil; for you are with me.” Though at such times I can expect the instruments of his shepherding (his rod and staff) to inflict pain and limitation, I can be sure that they contribute to my security and comfort.

When I am confronted by enemies “You prepare a table before me.” In other words, instead of dreading embarrassment, I can claim God’s honor.

When I feel insignificant, “You anoint my head with oil” showing me favor and hospitality.

When I’m tempted to look with concern on the future, I remind myself “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

If you’re a seasoned Christian who has had the Lord as your shepherd for a long time, no doubt you’ll be reciting this psalm as praise to God. But if your experience with the Shepherd is limited, and you haven’t yet found these things true in your experience, recite the psalm as a prayer of faith. Let it soothe your soul and butter your spirit.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I love being one of Your sheep. Help me to claim and experience Your shepherding through each incident and season of my life. Amen.

MORE: “Reflections on Psalm 23 – For People With Cancer” is a movie by Ken Curtis.

“Ken Curtis was diagnosed with advanced cancer with little prospect for survival. He pursued a combination of traditional and alternative medicine, undergirded by a strong spiritual dimension and prayer support team.

Psalm 23 was a vital part of his spiritual component, and for this video Curtis went to Israel, home of David and the Psalm, to be with the shepherds, travel "through the valley of the shadow of death," and explore and enjoy the healing powers of the green pastures and still waters. The resulting meditations provide a combination of candid personal experience of what it means to battle cancer and some of the spiritual resources available through this time-honored Psalm…”

This movie is posted full-length (60+ minutes) here (bottom of the page). Whether you have cancer or not - WATCH IT! It will so bless you and give you a new appreciation for this beautiful psalm!!


Keith Green sings “The Lord is My Shepherd




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Friday, April 23, 2010

Of shepherds and sheep

TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 10:1-21

TO CHEW ON: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep…. I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep and am known by my own.” John 10:11,14

I find few passages in the Bible more comforting than the shepherd and sheep ones. Of those, John 10 where Jesus describes Himself as the good shepherd ranks right up there with Psalm 23. Let’s look at this first half of John 10 to see what we can discover about our divine shepherd.

1. Jesus, our shepherd, has a legitimate claim to us. The flock’s real shepherd doesn’t need to sneak into the sheepfold to get access to the sheep or convince them to follow him. They are his possession. He can come through the door and relate openly to then. As our spiritual shepherd, Jesus bought the rights to us when He died and paid our ransom. He is our rightful owner. Of course it’s up to us to decide if we want Him to shepherd us, or not.

2. A good shepherd knows his sheep intimately, inside and out, and by name. The sheep recognize his voice and trust him enough to follow. This is how well Jesus knows us. He is trustworthy and we can follow Him with confidence.

3. Jesus calls himself the door of the sheep. I remember years ago a Sunday School teacher telling how a shepherd would station himself at the door of the sheepfold, place his staff across the entry, and watch/count as each sheep bounded over his staff, into the fold. Describing himself as the door is Jesus’ picturesque way of telling us, we come to God through Him; there is no other way.

4. Jesus has good intentions toward His sheep. He said, “I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly” (abundantly: perissos = superabundance, excessive, overflowing, surplus over and above, more than enough profuse, over the ordinary, more than sufficient).

5. Jesus is a good shepherd. He says that several times, and we get the message: there are bad shepherds. Just before Jesus launched into this teaching, he was talking to the Pharisees. He called them blind leaders (John 9). Here He describes bad shepherds as hirelings. They lead because it’s their paid job. But when things get tough, they scatter and leave the sheep defenseless. The intention of some false shepherds is to actually steal, kill and destroy the sheep. Jesus is not like that. He has gone to the extent of giving His life for His sheep.

6. The shepherd and sheep share a deep and lasting relationship.

“As the Father knew the Son and loved him, so Christ knows his sheep, and has a watchful tender eye upon them. As the Son knew the Father, loved and obeyed Him, so believers know Christ.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Zondervan, 1961, p. 1564.

Is Jesus your shepherd? Do you recognize His voice? Do you obey – knowing that His intentions toward you are only good. Spend some time today thinking of Jesus as your shepherd and what kind of a sheep you are.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to follow you as a sheep follows the shepherd he loves and trusts. Help me to be a good shepherd to the people who look to me for leadership. Amen.

MORE:
The Lord’s My Shepherd” (Stuart Townend version)





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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Light some incense today!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 8:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “Then another angel having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” Revelation 8:3-4

In John’s vision, events in heaven continue to play out. He (the Lamb) opens the seventh seal to reveal an expanding vista of seven trumpets. The seven judgments they announce (8:2-11:18) are cataclysmic. The first four (found in our reading today) affect the natural world and remind us of the Egyptian plagues (hail, blood, polluted water, death to living creatures, darkness).

What I find fascinating are the two verses about the saints’ prayers that precede the fateful trumpet blasts. They seem almost out of place. Here, as earlier, an angel presents these prayers to God as incense.

Incense has been associated with deity and worship since ancient times. Divination by interpreting the shapes that rose from incense smoke was an inexpensive way for poor people to determine the will of the gods. The Egyptians and other Gentile nations used it in their worship. Still today it is part of the practice of Buddhism, Christian Orthodoxy and other religions.

In Old Testament religious practice, only the priests were allowed to offer incense. Moses’ instructions to Aaron included strict regulations concerning its makeup and use. God specifically forbade the personal mixing and use of the incense designed for worship. David first likened prayers to incense.  God warned the Israelites through Isaiah that offerings, including the burning of incense, done while clinging to known sin were offensive to Him.  In Malachi its use symbolized the universal worship of God: “In every place incense shall be offered to My name…” Malachi 1:11

That the prayers of the saints (us!) should be equated with something as integral to worship as incense tells us how important they are to God. Here they are directly connected to the judgments that follow. For after presenting the incense prayers to God, the angel takes the golden censer that held them, fills it with fire from the altar, throws it to earth, and the action begins.

This focus on prayer makes me want to spend more time on this aspect of my relationship with God. As Barbara Billet expresses it:
I ask You, Lord, that You would fill me with Your consuming fire today. I desire to be used as a house of prayer so that I can pray heartfelt, fervent, effectual prayers that will cause my prayer life to have much power, available, dynamic in its working.” Barbara Billet, Praying With Fire, p. 19

PRAYER: Dear God, please teach me to pray. Amen

MORE: “The Prayers of the Saints Are Like Sweet-smelling Incense" by Matt Redman




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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Christian Carnival 324

Welcome to Christian Carnival 324 -- hosted for the first time here at Other Food! There's much excellent reading in this week's edition. Without further ado - have at it, and enjoy!

Barry Wallace presents What to Say When You Only Have 30 Seconds to Present the Gospel posted at who am i?. This guest post by Demian Farnworth generated some discussion with an atheist who stopped by to comment. (Thought-provoking for sure!)

FMF presents A Very Simple Budget posted at Free Money Finance. A very simple, Christian-based budget. (Who knew budgeting could be so uncomplicated?)

NCSue presents God and green beans posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING. (Here's a new one: green beans as an instrument to lead someone to God!)

Joe Plemon presents How to Get What You Really Want: Give it Away posted at Personal Finance By The Book. A look at the law of the harvest. (Excellent points all)

Caiti and Steve presents The Parable of the Good Samaritan posted at The Bible Blog. (Lots of good background info about who's who in this story.)

angela ambroise presents Devotions and More » Blog Archive » How to become a self-feeder posted at Devotions and More. (Superb practical advice here.)

Andrea @ Unfailingly Loved presents Tattooed Truth posted at Unfailingly Loved. If you were to permanently display words of truth that you learned from the Lord in life, what would you choose? (Andrea never fails to hit a nerve.)

Diane R presents The Wrong and Right Way to Plant a Church posted at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet. People who start churches are often in too much of a hurry to get "their" programs going. But this often really hurts their members. (Wisdom in her cautions.)

Joseph Fallon presents In Defense Of Pope Benedict posted at Non-MainStream Opinions. (Reasonable and dispassionate.)

Darlene Moore Berg presents For a Sunday morning « Darlene's Poetical Pursuits posted at Darlene's Poetical Pursuits. This was an old "poem" that came to mind by the Holy Spirit to be shared this Sunday. (Simple yet profound.)

The Ridge Burns blog presents "The Mexico Outreach" at Ridge's Burns. (Amazing what can flow out of one little "yes.")

Steven and Debra Wallace presents FEDs Boo Hoo Collateral Damage posted at The END TIMES Hoax. Putting the shoe on the other foot...ouch! (What happens when 'collateral damage' is no longer just a theory.)

Weekend Fisher presents The missing superego: removing religion from the public square posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength. If you believe that society helps for the "superego" or conscience, then what does it do to psychological development when morality is removed from the public square? (Another example of reaping what we sow.)

Tom Gilson presents Unconstitutional? Let’s Make That Opinion Irrelevant! posted at Thinking Christian. (Putting the ball back in our court)

Jeremy Pierce presents Maximizing Literalness or Evenness of Interpretation posted at Parableman. (Exposing a problem I hadn't even thought of.)

Space Age Lutheran wrote Lutheran Sermon in 15 seconds about how people expect an advertisement when you share the Gospel with them. The Lutheran way of sharing the Gospel leaves people expecting you to say more. (Short-winded for sure.)

Henry Neufeld writes How Bible Translation Should be Done  at Participatory Bible Study. In the 30 years since I graduated from grad school I have become much slower to give a positive answer to this question.  There are many factors in translation and different methods bring out different aspects of the text. (Mellow wisdom here - a good read!)

michelle presents Choose Love posted at And She Went Out.... (Pointed words, as usual, from Micey.)

Rodney Olsen presents Porn in Public posted at RodneyOlsen.Net. (Good initiative - Rodney & Co. Let us know how it goes.)
 
Finally, the submission here at Other Food -- a devotional: Finished and Unfinished Business. God's best may mean leaving our safe and predictable yesterdays behind.

...and a late entry: Bob MacDonald presents Preview of the next handout for the study of the Song posted at Dust.

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Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

All nations, tribes, peoples and tongues

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 7:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “After these things I looked, and behold a great multitude, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’” Revelation 7:9-10

We have an annual missions emphasis month in our church, which is always opened with a flag parade. As I watch, from my place in the choir, the national flags from around the world come down the aisles, it’s hard to keep singing because of the tears in my eyes and the choke in my throat. The verse above always comes to mind.

Despite what critics say about Christianity being a religion for only certain races or nations of people (and the rest should hold to their traditional beliefs and customs as a birthright for them and an anthropological curiosity for us), faith in Christ is available for and has been found and claimed by citizens of hundreds of countries on all earth’s continents. Here John sees this multinational crowd in heaven, praising God and Jesus.

When he asks from where they come, an elder answers, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.” An end note in my Bible explains about “come out”:

“Literally ‘ones coming out’ a present participle, expressing a continuous and repeated action, not a once-for-all action. This is not a post-consummation picture. Therefore, tribulation is to some degree taking place throughout the entire church age. The great tribulation describes the acceleration and intensification of troublesome times as this age comes to an end, climaxing in the Rapture and Second coming” New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1827.

The word tribulation used here (thlipsis) is the same one Jesus used to describe our lot on earth in John 16:33. It means pressure, oppression, stress, anguish, tribulation, adversity, affliction, crushing, squashing, squeezing, distress. Though those of us living in free societies may label our treatment by those opposed to Christ as tribulation, books like Tortured for Christ and Kabul 24 give us instances of real tribulation in graphic color. It’s happening right now, and all around the world.

The amazing thing about the tribulation victims pictured in Revelation 7 is that they not only come through such an experience with their faith intact, but full of praise to God. When I hear or read about people living through tribulation, I often ask myself, how would I do? The persevering power of the gospel illustrated here fills me with hope!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Canada where I have freedom to believe and worship according to my conscience. Please be with those who are suffering tribulation now. Help them to have the courage to persevere and hold onto their faith.

MORE: Various organizations keep us aware of what is going on with the persecuted church all over the world. Voice of the Martyrs Canada is one such. Their news items not only keep us informed, but are also a great reminder to keep praying for those in present tribulation.

Voice of he Martyrs Canada website.

Their blog.

VOMC on twitter.



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Monday, April 19, 2010

Body life

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 9:19b-43

TO CHEW ON: “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” Acts 9:31

The church in today’s reading is a beautiful example of the diversity that should be found in the Body of Christ as a result of the spiritual gifts God gives each member (1 Corinthians 12: 27-31; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11).

The newly converted Saul now channeled his passionate nature into spreading the good news about Jesus. He was a powerful preacher and apologist (evangelist, preacher, teacher). When the Jewish leaders targeted him in a murder plot his Christian brothers planned and carried out his escape from Damascus (administration).

In Jerusalem the church leaders didn’t trust Saul and were fearful of him. But Barnabas encouraged and stood up for him until he was accepted as one of them (pastor, leader, exhortation, mercy).

Spreading the gospel got a boost at Lydda and Sharon when Peter healed a local eight-year bedridden man (healing).

At Joppa, Tabitha, was known and appreciated for her “good works and charitable deeds” towards the poor, especially widows (helps / mercy). Her illness and death, followed by her coming back to life (miracles) after Peter’s prayers (mercy) brought more attention and converts to the Joppa church. There Peter continued to work, all the while enjoying the hospitality of Simon a Tanner (helps).

This is how the healthy church operates. People with various gifts fill their spot and work gets done on all fronts. It’s easy to envy the high profile workers – the evangelists, teachers and preachers. But there is a spot and a need for everyone (1 Corinthians 12).

Whatever your place is in the body – do your thing. Whether it’s hidden or public, whether you get recognition or are ignored, keep doing your thing (as in using your gift[s] for the benefit of all). No one else may know but God does and He will reward you.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the diversity of gifts and ministries in the body of Christ. Please help me to find and fill my spot. Amen.

MORE: Daphne Rademaker sings “Serving You” against scenes from the movie “Call to Harvest" produced by Gospel for Asia Mission.





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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Christian Carnival - here Wednesday (21st)!

I'm excited to announce that Other Food is hosting the 324th Christian Blog Carnival this Wednesday.

Maybe you'd like to join in by submitting an article from your blog. Posts should be:

Christian:

  • The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.
  • Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

Recent:
  • Posted between midnight Tuesday April 13th and Tuesday April 20th.
To enter, simply click on the "Submit an article" link in the right sidebar widget (which doesn't seem to be working at this very moment but will be again soon, we hope) and fill out the generated form.

Or email me with:
  • name and url of your post
  • name and url of your blog
  • brief description of your post




I will publish the Carnival post with links to all this week's articles on Wednesday morning.

Go!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 9:1-19a

TO CHEW ON: “Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem…’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go…’” Acts 9:13, 15a

While Peter’s restoration occurred during a quiet conversation with Jesus, Saul’s (later Paul) was a dramatic encounter. God knew that Saul’s zeal was rooted in the belief he was doing the right thing and what it would take to change his mind. When the light, the power and the voice of Jesus stopped him on the Damascus road, he converted in an instant.

In this story I sympathize with Ananias. Imagine being told to visit Christianity’s most vocal and influential opponent (to us Richard Dawkins,  say, or Sam Harris) . Even compliant Ananias raised objections…Lord, do You know who this man is and what he has authority to do? (verses 13-14). To Ananias’ credit, he went anyway, found the now blind, helpless, and hungry Saul and helped onto his feet the man who became the church’s most articulate champion.

Are you and I as quick to obey – even when obedience seems like non-sense? Oswald Chambers says about obedience:

“There is no moral virtue in obedience unless there is a recognition of a higher authority in the one who dictates…. a man is a slave for obeying unless behind his obedience there is a recognition of a holy God.


But woe be to me if when I see Him, I say I will not. He will never insist I do it but I have begun to sign the death warrant of the Son of God in my soul. When I stand face to face with Jesus Christ and say – I will not, He will never insist; but I am backing away from the recreating power of His redemption.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 18th reading.

To whom or about what is God saying “Go” to us today? Will I? Will you?


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for examples like Paul and Ananias who illustrate how the lives of people in Your kingdom interlock. Help me to cooperate with You in this by going whenever you say the word. Amen

MORE: Some modern Ananiases

Gladys Aylward, missionary to China said:

"I wasn't God's first choice for what I've done for China…I don't know who it was…It must have been a man…a well-educated man. I don't know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn't willing…and God looked down…and saw Gladys Aylward…And God said - "Well, she's willing."


Jackie Pullinger, missionary to Hong Kong:

At the age of 22 Jackie Pullinger, British subject and graduate of Royal College of Music specializing in the oboe, felt she was to be a missionary. But when all the missionary societies turned her down, she followed the advice of a pastor who told her, “go out and buy a ticket for a boat going on the longest journey you can find and pray to know where to get off.” She bought a ticket from France to Japan. When she got to Hong Kong she knew this was the place.

She tells her fascinating story in Chasing the Dragon (which I read some time ago and reviewed here.)


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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Unfinished and finished business

TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 21:1-25

TO CHEW ON: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We are going with you also.’ They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.” John 21:3

Peter’s simple pronouncement, “I am going fishing,” becomes complex when we put it into context. Three years earlier he had left fishing to follow Jesus. The years he had spent with this incredible teacher were quite a ride. He had seen healings of all kinds, people raised from the dead, the Scribes and Pharisees bested. The wisdom of Jesus’ lessons and stories exceeded any he had ever encountered. He had experienced the very presence of heaven.

However, in the end, it all proved confusing and disappointing. Jesus didn’t do the expected and prove Himself Messiah. Instead He was put to death at the instigation of the very leaders to whom He had proved Himself superior. But Peter’s biggest disappointment was with himself. After pledging to stick by Jesus no matter what, he denied Him – and on the prodding of a mere woman.

Now, though Jesus had risen and Peter had seen Him, the future was still utterly foggy. And so his words, “I am going fishing,” seem a poignant attempt to reverse the last three years of his life. He will go back – back to the simple way things were before he met Jesus, back to when he was oblivious to the possibilities of what life could be, but also back to before he had proved himself such a useless cad.

Intuitive Jesus knew where Peter was and how to reach him. In their interchange Jesus put His finger on the exact thing that was bothering Peter and confronted him with it. He brought closure to the unfinished business of their broken relationship.


He also made it clear to Peter that fishing was finished business. He closed the door forever on it by giving Peter a new assignment. The three Jesus-years weren’t a waste or mirage. Instead they were the doorway to more responsibility (despite his failure): “Feed my lambs….Tend my sheep….Feed my sheep.”

Have you ever been at a spot in your life when you’ve gone back to “fishing”? Perhaps after sensing the call of God, things haven’t worked out the way you thought they would or you’ve let yourself down. Take it from someone who has at various times retreated to the security of the way things were before – it rarely works. If you are tempted to go back to the past in your career or ministry, don’t, until you’ve spent time with Jesus and got the confirmation that that is indeed His next assignment.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help us to leave former things and ways behind. Give us the faith to face new challenges and forge into new territory at Your bidding. Amen.

MORE:
“…once you receive a commission from Jesus Christ, the memory of what God wants will always come like a goad; you will no longer be able to work for him on the common-sense basis.”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (March 4th reading)



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Thursday, April 15, 2010

No-holds-barred worship

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 4:1-11

TO CHEW ON: “The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne saying”

‘You are worthy, O Lord
To receive glory and honor and power
for You created all things
And by your will they exist and were created.’” Revelation 4:10-11

The scene John describes in today’s reading is beyond comprehension and difficult even to imagine. It is not unlike other glimpses we get of God and the activity in heaven. There are striking similarities. Note the “sea of glass” in Revelation 4:6 and the sapphire-like pavement under God's feet when He showed Himself to Moses and the 70 elders on Mount Sinai. Note the exotic creatures here and described similarly in Ezekiel’s vision. Note the abundance of eyes in both places.

What does it all mean? An end-note in my Bible suggests that the sea of glass denotes the unapproachableness of God. The four creatures speak of majesty (lion), courage and strength (ox), intelligence (man) and speed (eagle) “in the service of the Creator.” The abundance of eyes symbolizes God’s unceasing watchfulness.(New Spirit Filled Life Bible p.1824)

These visions evoked fear, awe and above all, worship in those who saw them.

Worship (proskuneo; pros= toward, kuneo = kiss; kiss toward - "to kiss like a dog licking his master's hand") means to prostrate oneself, bow down, do obeisance, show reverence, homage, worship, adore. We worship only God and the risen and ascended Jesus – not angels, saints, shrines, relics or religious people.

Although we’re not currently in heaven, privy to these description-taxing scenes, where worshipers fall down before God and present their crowns to Him, we can also worship on earth in the here-and-now.

1. We can assume physical postures of worship as twenty-four Elders do here – kneeling, bowing, lying on the ground before God during our times of private prayer and even in church. Perhaps it would do us good to remind ourselves of our lowness in relation to God in this way more often than we do.

2. We can give our everyday lives to God  – your “ordinary life – your sleeping eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Message). This is called your “reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship.” (Amplified)

3. We can adhere to His standards and live obediently as people of His covenant (inviting people of all nations to Christ, observing the pattern of life He has set out - like keeping one day of rest - and preserving our assembly place as a "house of prayer for all nations.")

4. We can be part of His plan by aligning ourselves with other Christians as “living stones” (NIV) - members of His spiritual house.

Will we do these things with the same willingness and abandon that the saints in heaven worship in the awe-inspiring presence of God?

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me a sense of Your otherness. I so easily take You down to my level. Help me to worship You with all I am and have. Amen.

MORE: I love John's comparison of God and heaven with precious gems, stones, and metals. Trouble is, I have no experience with many of these jewels. Here is a little about the ones mentioned in this passage.


Jasper

Sardius (similar to Carnelian, only harder and darker)


Emerald


Gold

Crystal


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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Church report card - 3

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 3:7-22

TO CHEW ON: “‘Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me. To him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.’” Revelation 3:20-21

What a contrast in the two churches addressed in our reading today! The church at Philadelphia has the best report so far. It is hard-working, persevering and obedient. It is promised a place in God’s presence, destined to live with Him forever.

The Laodicea church, on the other hand is described as nauseating. It thinks well of itself while it is actually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked." It is the only church to which Jesus gives no commendation at all.

Some Bible students have interpreted these seven messages to the churches as seven dispensations.* They see them as an outline of stages in church history. In their reading:

1. The Ephesus church represents the church at the close of the first century.

2. The Smyrna church represents the church from the beginning of the 2nd century until Constantine (beginning of the 4th century).

3. The Pergamos church is the church of the 4th through 7th centuries.

4. The Thyratira church is the church of the Middle Ages.

5. The Sardis church  represents the church just prior to the Protestant Reformation.

6. the Philadelphia church represents the “true church” throughout all of church history, especially the segment that experiences revival prior to the last days.

7. The Laodicea church represents the church in its final days, prior to its pretribulation rapture. It is characterized by apostasy.

Many Bible teachers feel we’re living in those last days. If we look at current events and line them up with Bible predictions, it’s easy to agree. On many fronts the modern church has fallen into apostasy. Does that mean we’re doomed to capitulate to the same thing ourselves?


I would say ‘no.’ In the end, it is not as a group that we respond to Jesus but individually. That’s why Revelation 3:20 is one of my favorite verses. Jesus comes to me. He knocks on the door of my heart. He wants to spend time with me, eat with me – and you. As groups of us who have welcomed Him into our lives join together, we will continue as a church that delights Him.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, come in! Make Yourself at home. Let’s visit, eat together, and live together. Please make Your home in my heart. Amen.

MORE:O Church Arise” by Keith and Kristyn Getty




*Dispensationalism  ("dispensations" explained) is a way of interpreting the Bible and history. It was developed by C. I. Scofield and became popular through study notes in the  Scofield Reference Bible.  Personally, although I think that interpreting the Bible in a dispensational way  is interesting and has some value, I don't entirely agree with it.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Church report card - 2

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 2:18-3:6

TO CHEW ON: “‘He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life but I will confess his name before my Father and His angels.’” Revelation 2:5

Continuing on with these church report cards, today’s reading contains two more with poor grades. The Thyratira church was given an A for its works, love, service, faith, and patience. But they tolerated a Jezebel figure who “led people into literal and spiritual fornication” (endnotes – New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1820). Jesus warned them that their tolerance and unwillingness to rid themselves of this influence would lead to deadly consequences.

The church at Sardis had a reputation of being alive, but it was actually dead (D-?). Jesus only commends the faithful few “who have not defiled their garments.”

What can we learn about the church and God’s standards for her in the areas in which the churches at Thyratira and Sardis fell short?

1. The church has enemies.  Possibly some of the worst are those who infiltrate its membership, causing dissension and disunity (as in Thyratira’s case).

2. Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers (present and future). Unity in the church was one of the Apostle Paul’s great aspirations for it.

3. God sometimes uses harsh and unpleasant circumstances to discipline us (individual members and congregations) toward maturity and repentance. This discipline sometimes comes as punishment for a refusal to repent.

4. Christ’s ideal for the church is purity. Again and again this purity is pictured as special clothes. Often these are clothes or robes of white.

As individual members of the body of Christ – the church – the things in the above list apply to and impact not only congregations but us – individuals out of which those congregations are built. Are we experiencing opposition? It shouldn’t surprise us. Are we working for unity. We should be. Are we learning from God’s discipline? Are we doing life in our rich, pure robes of salvation?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, what a privilege it is to be part of Your church. Help me to be a healthy member in this, Your body on earth. Amen.


MORE: "The Church's One Foundation" and two more hymns, sung against a visual background of details from Hubert and Jan Van Eyck's painting "The Lamb of God." 



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Friday, April 09, 2010

Boast, rave, celebrate!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 150:1-6

TO CHEW ON: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” Psalm 150:6

The Hebrew word halal in this psalm that is translated praise means to shine, boast, rave, celebrate clamorously. Do we do that? Boast about God? Rave about His works? Allow our emotions to overflow in actual shouts as we consider His greatness of both person and deed?


Some weeks ago I encountered a lovely fellow-Christian on the skytrain (she had in hand a list of Scripture references so it was easy to start a conversation). As we exchanged information about our backgrounds, I mentioned the word ‘charismatic.’ Her face stiffened. “I’m scared of charismatics,” she said. “They are too emotional.”

Though I defended showing emotion in worship, I’m not sure she was convinced. I should have referred her to this psalm which echoes with the admonition to express our exuberance, joy, enthusiasm and excitement about God in extreme vocal praise.

Jack Hayford in a sidebar article about this psalm says it so well:

“Begin with honestly asking if our habits of praise (spanning the spectrum from the silence of awe to songs of joy) are willing to incorporate the shout of triumph – see Psalm 47:1. Here is biblical counsel to include occasions of extreme praise. If a worthy reason is needed, embrace the ultimate “triumph” – Christ’s cross and resurrection (2 Corinthians 2:14; Colossians 2:13-15).


The triumph of Christ’s cross and resurrection summons. Give Him more praise than any other god gets. He is the “God among the goes,” so our praise of Him should be more outstanding than that given to any other “god.” – Jack Hayford, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 800

PRAYER: Wonderful God, thank You for being worthy of our most extravagant expression of worship, praise and adoration. Help us to be as uninhibited in worship as we are when we cheer on our favorite sports team or celebrity. Amen.

MORE: "Let Everything that Has Breath" by Matt Redman



(Thanks to Jan C., who gave me the heads-up on the above song - perfect for today's reading!)

Shout to the Lord” – Hillsong





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Monday, April 05, 2010

Blind to the obvious

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 24:13-35

TO CHEW ON: “But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him….then their eyes were opened and they knew Him…” Luke 24:16, 31

My nine-year-old daughter’s thick brown hair was combed into silky pig tails that Sunday morning. She’d finally recovered from chicken pox and I’d given her hair a good scrub before church, hoping that that would take away the extreme itchiness she’d had for the last few weeks. As she sat beside me in the pew, I gave her a motherly once-over and noticed flecks of dandruff in her bangs. I tried to brush one away but it was stuck tight to a shaft of hair. I worked at removing another, with the same result. As I glanced over the rest of her hair, I saw more and more dandruff. What on earth?!

In that instant my eyes were opened. This was no flaky scalp condition. The chicken pox I’d blamed for her itchy head was only a partial culprit. I was looking at a case of full-blown head lice. Somehow, preoccupied with the concerns of everyday living and getting her through a bout of illness, I’d never noticed as the hungry critters took up residence.

I spent the rest of that day shampooing heads, scrubbing furniture, washing clothes and bedding, and vacuuming everything in sight. All the while I berated myself for not seeing. How could I have missed something so obvious?

I wonder if that isn’t how the disciples on the road to Emmaus felt after they realized it had been Jesus who had joined them on their walk.. Focused on their circumstances, wearing the dark glasses of human explanation and expectation, they’d spent hours walking and talking with the risen Christ but never realized who He was.

The disciples and the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus - artist unknown

Like them, we too are often blind to spiritual reality. We listen to local, national and international news with a sense of panic, and miss seeing how world events are fulfilling Bible predictions. We get trapped under clouds of discouragement, distraction and defeat, and only after they’ve lifted do we see the fingerprints of Satan all over our situations. We talk to unsaved friends, family members or neighbors but it isn’t till hours later that we realize we didn’t take all kinds of opportunities to talk about Jesus. There is a realm of reality that we can see only through eyes opened by God.

PRAYER: Dear God, please open my eyes to the awareness of Your presence in every part of my life.

MORE:

Open My Eyes” by Hillsong






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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Paid in full!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Ephesians 4:1-16

TO CHEW ON: “Therefore He says:

‘When He ascended on high
He led captivity captive
And gave gifts to men.’
(Now this, ‘He ascended’ – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?) Ephesians 4:8-9

On this day between when we celebrate Jesus’ death and His resurrection it is appropriate to spend some time thinking about the price Jesus paid to procure our salvation. What was He doing between when He died and rose again? Paul alludes to Jesus’ activity in this interval. He quotes part of a prophetic psalm (68:18) then takes a word from that psalm, “ascends” to deduce that if Jesus ascended, He necessarily first descended.

"Jesus in Hades"  
Woodcut by an unknown Master 
connected to the Protestant Reformation era 
writings. Published in 1550.
An endnote article in my Bible explains the possible meaning of that descent, coming up with three possible explanations of what Paul meant by “descended into the lower parts of the earth”:
1. A descent into hell (1 Peter 3:18-19).
2. A descent into Sheol/Hades the realm of the dead (Acts 2:25-35).*
3. A symbolic reference to His incarnation, where His coming to earth from heaven was the descent.

Whatever He did, it was sufficient. It purchased our salvation. Praise the Lord! And it made possible the “gifts’ that are the main subject of this passage – those talents and abilities the Holy Spirit gives us and empowers with supernatural effectiveness to ensure the health of His earthly body, the church.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for paying the price for my salvation. Help me to live full-out, expending my talents, using my gifts for Your glory. Amen.

MORE: Whatever the cost and procedure (a descent into hell included, if that was indeed the case) Jesus paid it all. An old hymn of the church by that name had its origins in this poem:

I hear my Savior say
Thy strength indeed is small,
Thou has naught My debt to pay,
Find in Me thy all in all.

Yea, nothing good have I,
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I wash my garments white
In the blood of Calvary’s Lamb.

And now complete in Him,
My robe His righteousness,
Close sheltered ‘neath His side,
I am divinely blest.

When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
Jesus paid it all
Shall rend the vaulted skies.

Elvina M. Hall (1865)


Kristian Stanfill sings a modern version of “Jesus Paid It All”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brVIlXlJRkQ



*Referring to the descent into hell or Sheol, the writer of the article makes this statement: “There is no biblical support for the notion that Jesus suffered in hell, only that He descended to Sheol to release the righteous dead into eternal glory, proclaiming the adequacy of the Atonement and validating the testimony of the prophets.” New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1650.


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Thursday, April 01, 2010

The will of the mob

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 23:1-25

TO CHEW ON: “They were more fierce, saying, ‘He stirs up the people…’”

And they all cried at once saying, ‘Away with this man.’
But they shouted, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him.’
But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.” Luke 23:5, 18, 21, 23
"Give us Barabbas"  by Charles Louis Lucien Muller (1815-1892)

The picture of this angry mob demanding Jesus’ death brings to mind mobs I have seen (mostly via TV and the safety of my living room).
- Muslim demonstrations after the publication of the Danish cartoons.
- Mobs on the streets of Kiev during the Orange Revolution movement in Ukraine.
- Partisan fans at soccer games in Britain and Europe.
- Bloodthirsty crowds during wars of genocide in Rwanda and Kenya.
- Most lately the multitudes on the streets of Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics, cheering on Canadian athletes.

While being a part of these mobs can be fun and non-threatening (as in the last one), I can imagine feeling only terror should one be on the opposite side of the will of most mobs. Mob psychology is unpredictable but often results in actions of apparent insanity that would never happen during moments of cooler emotion. Before we are too hard on the disciples for never raising a hand to defend Jesus but running away, we should put ourselves in their places. Would we have done any different? I see this angry mob during the events of Jesus’ passion as another ploy of Satan. He would use every trick in the book. Frenzied voices raised in unison against Jesus suited him just fine.

But not even a mob is bigger than God. In this case, the will of the mob prevailed because it was part of God’s plan of how He would accomplish our salvation. When we are tempted to fear mobs in whatever guise they take – public opinion, the results of polls, anti-Christian articles on the internet along with supportive and often abusive comments, voices rallied by satirical shows like SNL that mock Christians and Christianity – here are some Bible words to help encourage you and bolster your faith:

Psalm 3:6, Psalm 27:3; Psalm 112:8; Psalm 118:6; Isaiah 6:12; Isaiah 12:2; 2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:18

PRAYER: Dear God, it is easy for me to become intimidated by a multitude of voices. In such times, please remind me that You are Lord, even of the mob. Amen.

MORE:  
"It is no fun to be in a room where everyone assumes a particular view and you do not hold it. Only the very brave, the very wise, or fools rush to expose their minority opinions. Few of us are brave or wise and fools simply confirm the stereotypes. The rest of the very religious keep quiet and so nobody learns. " - John Mark Reynolds, Professor of Philosophy & Director of the Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University.

The article from which the quote was taken: “Ignorance of Christianity No Virtue.”


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