Saturday, June 26, 2010

If you had one wish

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 2:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "And so it was when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, 'Ask! What may I do for you before I am taken away from you?' Elisha said, 'Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.'" 2 Kings 2:9

I have always loved folktales where the characters are given wishes. "You can have three wishes…" fires up my imagination: What would I say if someone offered that to me? In the stories, usually the characters' choices have a hidden twist, showing the characters as foolish (e.g. "King Midas and the Golden Touch") or wise in what they wished for.

The Bible has its own brand of wish stories. Solomon and Esther were given the opportunity to make wishes. Another is in today's reading where Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for him before Elijah is taken into heaven. Elisha's answer: "Please let a double portion of your spirit be on me," is interesting. A footnote explanation in my Bible says:


"Since the double portion was the privilege of the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:17), it has been suggested that Elisha is asking to be Elijah's successor. Yet this is more than just a petition to be Elijah's successor because that had already been established (1 Kings 19:16-21).


Elisha realized that he did not have the capability to fulfill the awesome responsibility of carrying on Elijah's work. As Elijah's successor, Elisha applies the principle of the firstborn to ask for a spiritual inheritance. This is described as the spirit of Elijah (2 Kings 2: 9, 15) and is either an indirect or direct reference to the Holy Spirit.

The Hebrew word "spirit" has a wide range of meaning (it can refer to the human spirit, the Holy Spirit, an evil spirit, a prophetic spirit, or even the wind). Here it probably refers to the energizing power of the prophetic spirit that characterized the life of Elijah. The Holy Spirit is the author of Elijah's prophetic gift (1 Samuel 10:6,10; 19:20,23)" p. 483, New Spirit Filled Life Bible.


You and I will probably never be asked what we wish for in such a straightforward way. However, any time we contemplate our lives in regard to goals, objectives and resolutions, we encounter a variant of this, couched in challenges like:

"If you could sum up the purpose of your life in one word, what word would you choose?

What would you want your epitaph to say?

Over the course of your life, what do you want to do? to be?

(Read more at "Writing a Mission Statement" by Chip MacGregor).

Elijah got it right. God's 'yes' to his request was so evident, the sons of the prophets remarked on the presence of Elijah's spirit visible in him even as he returned alone (vs. 15).

Likewise we need to think carefully and prayerfully about what we wish for. For it may just come true!

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the wisdom to see my life realistically and to desire and pursue only Your best for me. Amen.

MORE: Noble wishes

Here are some wishes to consider as we contemplate our personal wish lists.

- A thirst for and delight in God (Psalm 27:4; Psalm 63:1).
- A knowledge of right priorities (Psalm 37:4; Matthew 6:30-33)
- A love for and knowledge of God's word (Joshua 1:8; 1 Peter 2:2).
- The opportunity to impact many people and lead them to Christ (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 4:19; Luke 5:10).

Think about (and write out if you like) what you would say if you were given one wish.


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Friday, June 25, 2010

The Asaph approach to conquering fear

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 77:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "And I said, 'This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.' I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old." Psalm 77:10-11

One characteristic of memory is that it is selective. We tend to remember the good over the bad. Think back to your childhood. Chances are it will seem an idyllic, happy time. "Those were the good old days," we say. Somehow the fears, embarrassments, boredoms and dissatisfactions are not what we remember first about the past.

Memories -- good memories -- are what Asaph, the psalmist, uses to conquer his fearful thoughts during a very bad time. He is in a "day of trouble" where he prays all night long (vs. 2). He feels so overwhelmed even thoughts of God don't comfort him (vs. 3). He is troubled sleepless and speechless (vs. 4).

Then he decides to take himself and his negative thoughts in hand. "But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High." He reviews God's attributes in a series of rhetorical questions (vs. 7-8) and recalls times from the past when God appeared unbeatable:

There was the time God redeemed "the sons of Jacob and Joseph" (vs 15) -- a reference, perhaps, to God saving the Israelites from famine by bringing them to Egypt where Joseph had stored up food.

There was the time "The waters saw You and they were afraid" (vs. 16) -- a reference to the parting of the Red Sea when the Egyptians were hot on their heels.

There was the time "You led Your people like a flock, By the hand of Moses and Aaron" (vs. 20) -- a reference to their 40 years in the wilderness.

Are you in a desperate, fearful, can't-sleep-because-of-troubled-thoughts time? Or maybe it's just a thin-cloud-of-anxiety, or bad-premonition, or can't-stop-worrying-about-things-up-ahead time. Whatever causes your spirit to "complain" use the Asaph approach to conquering fear.

1. Ask yourself the rhetorical questions he asks, to remind yourself about the bigness of God:
- "Will the Lord cast off forever?"
- Will He be favourable no more?"
- Has His mercy ceased forever?" etc. (vs. 7-9).
The answer: Of course not!

2. Think back to specific instances in your life when God has come through for you. Has He preserved your life in a dramatic way? Has He helped you through financial difficulties? Has He answered prayers, made you a part of amazing "coincidences," showered you with everyday mercies? Go back even farther to reviewing the history of your family, your people. Reminisce yourself into a place where you can exclaim like Asaph did: "Who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples" (vs. 13-14).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for evidences of Your presence in my life. Thank You for memories that reassure me of Your ability, power and love. Amen.

MORE: Matt Redman sings "How Great Is Your Faithfulness"




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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tug-of-war life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 5:2-26

TO CHEW ON: "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." Galatians 5:16

I'm sure you are familiar with the phenomenon of someone telling you not to do or think about a certain thing, and immediately you are tempted to do or think exactly what you've been told not to. You reach out to touch the wet paint, read the forbidden book, let your thoughts wander into off-limits territory. The best way to avoid such knee-jerk straying is to focus on what you should do, not what you shouldn't.

That's what Paul's admonition to "walk in the Spirit" prompts us to do: take our minds away from those things we're told not to do and put the focus on where it should be--living a Spirit-controlled life. In this regard a sidebar article in my Bible sheds light on the process:

"The design of the Holy Spirit as He develops in us fruit characteristic of the "divine nature" (vv. 22-23, 2 Peter 1:2-8), is to constrain us toward a life in which the tendencies of the flesh are both undesirable and unproductive….


The Holy Spirit both monitors and empowers, enabling practical godliness. Discernment on our part teaches that some sins are driven by carnal nature (flesh) and others by carnal nurture (nourishment), depending on the way one is fed or bred. Some sins are avoided because of divine prohibitions and others by divine (Holy Spirit) inhibitions when the indwelling Spirit brings the Word, or personal warnings to mind.


Growth in Christ increases resistance to all that is uncharacteristic of Him. We become more internally motivated as our hearts learn to inhibit disobedience instead of relying on our minds to memorize rules and wrestle to obey. Learning to "walk in the Spirit" will bring a gradual movement from mental rules and disciplines to an obedience rooted in the heart's judgments and convictions." - Jack Hayford, "Walk in the Spirit" from New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1637.

It's not a once-for-all battle, though. Rather, we could describe the Christian life as an ongoing tug-of-war between our indulgence-craving flesh and the Holy Spirit constraining us toward righteousness. We will experience the victory of the latter more and more often as we repeatedly and continually:

1. Abide in a right relationship with Jesus (Galatians 5:25).

2. Understand our true strength is found in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10).

3. Submit to the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).*

*Above three insights from Kenneth C. Ulmer, "Growth Inhibitor #3: The Flesh" - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1637.

Sounds great. Now to live it!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put all this great theory into practice. I long for the fruit of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life. Amen.

MORE: Lessons from tug-of-war

Tug-of-war is an ancient game of strength. It pits two teams against each other as they pull in opposite directions on the same rope. The team that pulls the rope and the other team over a predetermined mark on the ground, wins.

I found a forum page on which people volunteer their strategies for winning a tug-of-war competition. Though there is no lack of conflicting advice ("I'd say big guys in the back" versus "it's better to put your strongest people in the front") some strategies are instructive in helping us live the Christian life.


"All pull hard at once" - Give resisting temptation your best effort right from the start (Proverbs 4:14).

"Most important thing is to keep leaning back." - Don't even make the first motion toward giving in (Daniel 1:8 versus 1 Kings 11:1,4).

"Maximize the amount of time your feet are on the ground" - Don't lose focus, even for a moment (Romans 6:13).

"Little tricks are the best. Tell your team ahead of time that if the other team says "1,2,3,pull," you will pull on their 2 or 3. They won't be ready because they were preparing to attack." - Be aware of the sneakiness of your own human nature and use that awareness to work in your favor (James 1:12-15).

"Get a synchronized jerking motion so that everyone on the team is pulling at once" and "Get low, lean back, and dig in. Tug of war is almost all in the legs." - Know your weapons (Ephesians 6:10-18).

"Pull your pants down" and "Pull the other team's pants down" - Umm, yep, well, I'm thinking distraction might be a good tactic. Like distracting yourself from the allure of the temptation by planning an escape route (1 Corinthians 10:13).


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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Liberty

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 4:21-5:1

TO CHEW ON: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." Galatians 5:1

At the time I am writing this we are in a season of TV program finales. Last Sunday night the final episode of "Survivor" aired. Last night twitter was full of anticipation over the final episode of "Lost." I watched the ending of "Celebrity Apprentice" (oh foolish woman) -- and vowed next season I wouldn't let myself start following one of these entertaining time-wasters. Because they sure get their hooks in you so you want, no need, to see the next episode, and the next, and the next…

It's a type of bondage, what the dictionary describes as "subjection to any influence or domination." And it's the topic of our today's reading in Galatians.

The bondage that Paul is pleading with the Galatians to throw off once and for all is bondage to keeping the ceremonial law as a way of earning God's favour. The whole reason for that law is because we're under another kind of bondage -- a slavery to ourselves and our own sinful natures. Our dilemma is depicted throughout scripture.

- We show our entrapment when we sin: "His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin" (Proverbs 5:22).

- We can't change this predilection to sin on our own (Jeremiah 13:23).

- Paul articulates the pinch we're in in Romans 7. Even the rules (law) which God gave to help us understand Him and His standards work against us in that they arouse sinful passions instead of quelling them (Romans 7:5). We find ourselves, despite our best efforts, in bondage to our sinful natures so that Paul cries out in frustration "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:22-24).

Paul answers his own question in Romans 8. We get free from our sinful selves not by trying to keep laws but by walking according to the Spirit: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2). It is in this freedom that Paul is pleading with the Galatians to "Stand fast."

What does living in this freedom look like in everyday living? Oswald Chambers says:

"Always keep your life measured by the standards of Jesus. Bow your neck to His yoke alone, and to no other yoke whatever; and be careful to see that you never bind a yoke on others that is not placed by Jesus Christ. It takes God a long time to get us out of the way of thinking that unless everyone sees as we do, they must be wrong. That is never God's view. There is only one liberty, the liberty of Jesus at work in our conscience enabling us to do what is right." (My Utmost for His Highest - May 6 reading)

As I see it, it's a life lived by a conscience formed and sharpened by the Word of God and applied by the Holy Spirit. Your thoughts?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to life under Your light yoke. May I recognize and stay away from anything that would enslave me under a different yoke. Amen.

MORE: Jason Upton sings "Freedom Reigns"





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Monday, June 21, 2010

Earth gathering

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 66:7-24

TO CHEW ON: "'…It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory. 
19 I will set a sign among them; and those among them who escape I will send to the nations: to Tarshish and Pul and Lud, who draw the bow, and Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off who have not heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles. 
20 Then they shall bring all your brethren for an offering to the LORD out of all nations, on horses and in chariots and in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,' says the LORD, 'as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.'" Isaiah 66:18b-20


One of the most moving parts of the recent Winter Olympics was the parade of nations during the Opening Ceremonies. As nation after nation entered B.C. Place led by their flag-bearer, its members decked out in the outfits that often incorporated national colors and ethnic designs and symbols, it was hard not to think of the parade of nations described here in Isaiah and in other places in the Bible. Only, this parade will not assemble athletes to compete in physical games of sport, but peoples from every nationality and language to worship God.

The theme of the nations of earth worshiping God spans the Scriptures.
- David predicts it in the Psalms (Psalm 22:27).

- Isaiah describes a time when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).

- God's presence in the nations will bring with it a welcomed justice (Isaiah 42:4).

- Jesus commanded His disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of theSon and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).

- The Holy Spirit was poured out on Christians at Pentecost for the express purpose of expediting our witness "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

- The gathering we see in Isaiah 66 when "all flesh shall come to worship before me (66:23) reminds us of other prophetic scenes. The one in Revelation 7:9-10, for example: "I looked and behold, a great multitude which no one could number 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 saying 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!'"

- But we're not at that time yet. Jesus has promised to delay His return until the gospel has been preached "in all the world" (Matthew 24:14).

I ask myself, what am I doing to make the parade of worshiping nations a reality? What are you doing?

PRAYER: Dear God, I bow to You as ruler supreme. May the day when these scenes of every nation and tribe gathering to worship You come soon. Amen.

MORE: Interceding for nations

Dick Eastman in his book Love On Its Knees devotes a chapter to praying for nations. He says:

"Because the Bible tells us redeemed humanity will come from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, we know that we are interceding in God's will when praying for all four of these categories systematically in our prayers."

He suggests four types of prayers based on the four categories:

1. Interceding for "every tribe": "We must pray for frontier evangelism."
2. Interceding for "every tongue": "We must pray for translation evangelism."
3. Interceding for "every people": "We must pray for national evangelism."
4. Interceding for "every nation": "We must pray for systematic evangelism."

from Dick Eastman On Prayer: Love On Its Knees, pages 106-109.











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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 30:7-33

TO CHEW ON: "This is a generation that curses its father, and does not bless its mother." Proverbs 30:11

I don't think I can recall a TV show or commercial lately where fathers are honoured. The message is more likely to follow along the lines of the Capital One credit card promos, where the dud of a father books a flight (to his parents' home or a vacation spot) at an inappropriate time because his inferior credit card company has blocked all the good weeks.

What follows is scenes of the family in full sweaty costume celebrating all the year's holidays in the heat of summer, or on the beach besieged by storms, or the tennis court hassled by swarms of bugs. The camera segues to one of the kids who mutters, "Dad needs to get a Capital One card," followed by him / her looking at the camera and asking, "What's in your wallet?" They're funny, but they do carry the message: Poor dad. He sure is stupid. But his smart kid isn't.

This attitude is not new. In fact it's as old as Jacob deceiving Isaac to get the blessing of the firstborn (Genesis 27).

There are many ways we can dishonour our fathers (and mothers; the Bible usually talks in terms of both parents):

1. By living lives of disobedience, rebellion, stubbornness and sensuality (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

2. By showing lack of respect (Deuteronomy 27:16).

3. By taking sides and promoting dissension and quarreling in the family (Micah 7:6).

4. By failing to provide for them when they are in need and we have the means (Mark 7:11).

The Bible teaching is unequivocal in its stand supporting fathers and parents in general.
1. The command to honour parents is one of the ten, and accompanied with the promise of long life (Deuteronomy 5:16).

2. The child who treats parents disrespectfully is living dangerously (Proverbs 30:17).

3. Robbing parents of what is their due puts children in cahoots with the destroyer (Proverbs 28:24).

4. Children betraying parents is one of the unnatural family behaviors that will typify end times (Matthew 10:21; 2 Timothy 3:2).

The application to us cuts many ways.

If you are a father, you will want to live in a way that earns the commanded respect.

If you are the wife of a father, it's important to refrain from undermining your husband to your children by going behind his back with deceitful, underhanded speech or manipulations like Rebekah did.

If you are a child and your father is still living, you can provide for him (time, attention and respect are provisions as well as financial help if he needs it and living support if he is elderly or failing).

Whether your father is dead or alive, you can focus on the good in him, refusing to dwell on the hurtful actions or lacks that may be a part of your memories.

How will you honour your father today?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for earthly fathers. Thank You for the gift of my dad and his godly example. For those of us who don't have earthly fathers, thank You for promising to be a father to the fatherless. Amen.

MORE: Steve Green sings "Find Us Faithful"






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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Demonized

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 8:26-39

TO CHEW ON: "When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him and with a loud voice said, 'What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.'" Luke 8:28

The Yanomamo are a fierce tribe of Indians who live in the jungles of Venezuela. The story that Mark Andrew Ritchie tells in The Spirit of the Rainforest - A Yanomamo Shaman's Story is through Jungleman, one of the most powerful shamans of the tribe.

Though the Yanomamo had met white men (nabas) of various kinds -- rubber traders, anthropologists and missionaries from various denominations -- it was when they met Pepe (Joe Dawson who worked under New Tribes Missions) that the spiritual conflict really began. Pepe and his family came to live at Honey Village (at the Yanomamo's invitation) where Shoefoot (Jungleman's protege and relative) was the shaman. Over time Shoefoot gave up his spirits. Here's what happened the next time Jungleman came to visit his brother-in-law and friend:


When I pulled my canoe up to the shore at the mouth of the Metaconi I felt the usual excitement that comes with meeting old friends. But something was very different. What was it, I wondered.
"Don't go in here," Jaguar Spirit told me. "There's too much danger here. We are afraid." It was the first time I had ever heard fear coming from Jaguar Spirit and it made me feel poor inside. My hands began to flutter and I held my bow tight to make them stop.


There can't be any danger here, I thought. These people are my friends. They have always been my friends. But it wasn't just Jaguar. All my spirits were crowding the shabono in my chest and making a terrible noise about how afraid their were.


When I saw Shoefoot I was stunned. "What has happened to your spirits?" I asked him, looking at his chest. I could see they were gone.


"I threw them away, brother-in-law."


"What!" I whispered as hard as I could. "How could you do that? Why would you do that?"


"I found the new spirit I was looking for," Shoefoot said. "Yai Wana Naba Laywa -- the unfriendly one. You know, our enemy spirit."


"You can't have him!" I whispered in excitement. "It's too hot there and he never comes out!"


It was a horrible visit for me. There was a spirit in Shoefoot's village that I couldn't understand. But it was powerful. That's why my spirits were so upset when I came. I hung my hammock next to Shoefoot and as soon as I lay down they were all there, every spirit I have, crowding my shabono.


"Please Father!" they all begged together. "Please leave here. It's not safe here. We are terrified." And they were. The new spirit in Shoefoot's chest had them all frightened like I had never seen them before.


He's my friend, I thought.


"He's no friend of ours! We hate him!" All my spirits talked at the same time. "Please Father! Please don't throw us away."


The thought of throwing my spirits away hadn't even come into my mind. Why would they say that to me?


"He'll want you to throw us away," they said. "You'll see. Please don't listen to him, Father!"


My spirits were right about that. Shoefoot and his new naba friends did want me to throw my spirits away. Shoefoot's new spirit would never get along with mine."



When I first read the account quoted above, I thought immediately of the reaction of the demons that lived in the tomb-dweller of today's Bible reading.

Our society is fascinated with the paranormal (which would include what we see happening in this story). Fiction, movies and TV shows that highlight spooky, unexplainable (by natural, scientific means) activities are viewed as nothing more than a scary romp. However, if we believe the Bible, demons and evil spirits are real, and probably way more active in the 21st century than we'd ever imagine.

My Lectures in Systematic Theology book provides the following list under the heading "The Work of Demons":

1. They inflict disease (Luke 9:37-42).

2. They cause mental disorders (Mark 5:4-5).
("Although no doubt many so-called psychopathic cases come under this head, we must not forget that the Scriptures do not refer all mental disorders directly to the work of demons." Thiessen p. 208).

3. They lead people into moral impurity (Luke 4:33-36).

4. They disseminate false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1).

5. They oppose God's children in their spiritual progress (Ephesians 6:12).

6. They sometimes possess human beings and even animals (Acts 8:7; Mark 5:12-13).

7. They are sometimes used by God in the carrying out of His purposes and designs (Revelation 16:13-16).

My reaction to any study of Satan and his henchmen is the same as it was to reading the Spirit of the Rainforest book. It makes me want to crowd close to Jesus and not have anything to do with any other spirit.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for defeating Satan and all his hosts. Help me to recognize his activity and to stay away from anything that would involve or ensnare me in it. Amen.


Several years ago, I found this book on my father-in-law's bookshelf. It is the fascinating story of a Canadian trapper and shaman, who himself dealt with the spirit world but was set free by the power of Jesus. It's an excellent read - if you can find it!






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Friday, June 18, 2010

Patience

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 8:4-25

TO CHEW ON: "But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." Luke 8:15

"When people ask me what kind of time commitment it takes to write a novel, I give them two numbers: 2000 and 10" says Randy Ingermanson in his popular email newsletter called "Advanced Fiction-Writing Ezine". "2000 hours is the 'typical' number of hours that a novelist spends developing her craft so that she's good enough to get published. 10 hours per week is the minimum number of hours per week that a novelist should be spending in order to write a book in a year."

I don't know about you, but Randy's advice speaks to me about patience, perseverance, endurance -- the very things that are also necessary for producing a harvest of good fruit in the Christian life.

That's the subject of the Jesus' parable part of our reading today. In it, the sower seeds the Word of God (Old Testament stories, psalms, proverbs, prophets, the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of the Apostles). It falls on all kinds of ground (receptive and non-receptive ears/lives). But it only bears fruit (yields visible results in changed allegiances, priorities and lifestyles) in good soil, and needs the added ingredient of patience to do this.

Patience comes from the word hupomone. It means constancy, perseverance, continuance, bearing up, steadfastness, holding out, patient endurance. "It describes the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances, not with passive complacency but with a hopeful fortitude that actively resists weariness and defeat." p. 1741 New Spirit Filled Life Bible.

The Bible speaks of patience in many places. Job was famous for it (James 5:11). The way Jesus endured beatings and the cross was our example in it (1 Peter 2:18-23). Several of the early churches were commended for it (Revelation 2:2; 2:19). It is closely related to hope (Romans 8:25), can earn us the title of "ministers of" or "true servants" of God (2 Corinthians 6:4), "blessed" (James 5:11) and can make us worth following (2 Timothy 3:10).

I ask myself, do I have patience? Do you? It's worth developing, not only for the short-term projects it will help us complete (children raised, houses built, quilts made, novels written) but also for its result in producing lasting life-fruit of all kinds.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to develop patience, endurance and perseverance. I want my life to produce a harvest that lasts.

MORE: "Worth it All" by Rita Springer





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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unwelcome wages

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 65:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "'Behold it is written before Me: I will not keep silent but repay -- even repay into their bosom -- your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together,' says the Lord, 'who have burned incense on the mountains and blasphemed Me on the hills; Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom.'" Isaiah 65:6-7

What is it about us humans that we so readily tend toward breaking rules? Wherever there is a posted speed limit, for example, you can guarantee that more people will be driving over than under it (at least where I live). My husband is currently on the council of our townhouse strata. Suddenly he's more aware than ever of owners parking in visitor spots (something our rules forbid) -- an awareness that's uncomfortable because, as a council member, he has some responsibility to see that those rules are enforced.

Our penchant to break human-made rules is not lessened when it comes to rules God sets. Our reading today is God's response to Isaiah's sermon-prayer of 63:7-64:12. God answers Isaiah's impassioned questions about why Israel is in the state she's in (64:10-12) by detailing what He sees.

There is worship in unauthorized places (Isaiah 65:3). The people are spending time in the company of and sating their hunger with things God calls an abomination (65:4). And they are proud of it (65:5). So, God says, they are getting their just wages (65:6-7, our focus verses for today).

There is a word for breaking God's rules. It is sin. The idea that sin has wages goes through scripture. These wages are not desirable:

- Sinning is called a futile thing, which will be rewarded with futility (Job 15:31).
- The wicked person will be condemned; he will be destroyed by evil (Psalm 34:21).
- Those who make a lifestyle of breaking God's rules are called fools and are "afflicted" (made ill)  by their sins (Psalm 107:17).
- Their "revenue" (income) is trouble (Proverbs 15:6).
- The sinner spends his life amassing wealth "that he may give to him who is good before God" (Ecclesiastes 2:26).
- Sinners bring evil upon themselves (Isaiah 3:9).
- Evil deeds are repaid in kind (Isaiah 59:18).
- Sinning leads to bitter consequences (Jeremiah 8:14).
- It also leads to a harvest of uselessness and irritation (Jeremiah 12:13).
- It results in calamity (evil, disaster, doom) (Jeremiah 44:23).
- Every transgression and disobedience receives a just reward (Hebrews 2:2).
- Its wages are death (Romans 6:23).

This uncomfortable list of sin's consequences makes one ask: what exactly is the attractiveness of sin again?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me remember, when tempted to sin, that there are consequences. And thank You for the gospel, which counteracts these wages with Your gift of forgiveness and life. Amen.

MORE: "Sin's Wages and God's Gift"

J. Gresham Machen (1991-1937) was a Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. His excellent short essay "Sin's Wages and God's Gift" -- first published in God Transcendent (1949)-- begins:

Some time ago I heard a sermon on this text by a preacher who has now retired. The sermon was not one that I agreed with altogether, but the beginning of it, I thought, was interesting. The preacher said that during the preceding summer he had met in a chance sort of way, on one of the steamers of the Great Lakes, a gentleman who turned out to be a man of large affairs, but a man who had little to do with the church. Incidentally the conversation turned to religious matters, and the man of business gave to the preacher the benefit of a little criticism. The criticism was perhaps not unworthy of attention. "You preachers," the outsider said, "don't preach hell enough."

Read the whole thing and you will not only be impressed with the dreadfulness of sin's wages, but reminded of the wonderful good news of the second part of Romans 6:23: "...the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."



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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adopted child

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 4:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5

Of all the metaphors used to describe our relationship with God, the father-child one may be the one we understand best. In the Old Testament God expressed His relationship with the descendants of Jacob that way, repeatedly calling them "My people" (Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 63:16; Jeremiah 31:1)

In the New Testament, that kinship is expanded to all believers, Jew and Gentile.
  • It applies to all who receive Him (John 1:12).
  • Our sonship / daughtership is evident when we submit our lives to the Holy Spirit's leadership (Romans 8:14).
  • Our family characteristics ("blameless, harmless, without fault, shining as lights") will make us noticeable to the world (Philippians 2:15).
  • Our family likeness may cause the world to reject us (1 John 3:1).
However, this relationship is so worth it. It is one of tenderness and trust, shown by how we can address God as "Abba" or Daddy (Galatians 4:4-7). As our Father, we can look to God to:
  • Stand in for an absent physical father, and defend us when we're vulnerable (Psalm 68:5).

What an incredible inheritance. Who would want to be anyone else's child?

PRAYER: Dear Father God, thank You for making a way for me to be Your adopted daughter. Help me to live in such a way that I will make You and the family proud. Amen.

MORE: Brian Doerksen sings "Father Me"





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Monday, June 14, 2010

Faith graft

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 3:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect in the flesh:" Galatians 3:2-3

If you had the possibility of getting a university degree either by earning it with studies or having it bestowed as an honour, which would you choose? Personally, though an honorary degree would be nice, I think I'd choose the work way, just to have the satisfaction of knowing I had earned it and was worthy of that degree. It's that way with a lot of things in life.

There's something in us humans that loves being capable. It's hard for us to accept others doing something for us. However, establishing and maintaining a relationship with God are not in the category of things we can do for ourselves.

Earlier in Galatians, Paul has explained that we can't earn our salvation. In today's reading he goes on to say it's just as impossible to be sanctified ("made perfect in the flesh") through works.

Andrew Murray in his book Abiding In Christ, addresses our dilemma:

"A superficial acquaintance with God's plan leads to the view that while justification is God's work by faith in Christ, sanctification is our work, to be performed under the influence of the gratitude we feel for the deliverance we have experienced and by the aid of the Holy Spirit. But the earnest Christian soon finds how little gratitude can supply the power. When he thinks that more prayer will bring it, he finds that, indispensable as prayer is, it is not enough. Often the believer struggles hopelessly for years, until he listens to the teaching of the Spirit as He glorifies Christ again, and reveals Christ, our sanctification to be appropriated by faith alone."

He goes on to explain this "appropriation" as a tree graft:

"If I want a tree made wholly good I take it when young, and cutting the stem clean off on the ground, I graft it just where it emerges from the soil. I watch over every bud which the old nature could possibly put forth until the flow of sap from the old roots into the new stem is so complete that the old life has, as it were, been entirely conquered and covered by the new. Here I have a tree entirely renewed -- emblem of the Christian who has learned in entire consecration to surrender everything for Christ, and in a wholehearted faith wholly to abide in Him."

Murray suggests that if the gardener talked to the tree, this is what He would say:

"Yield now yourself entirely to this new nature with which I have invested you; repress every tendency of the old nature to give buds or sprouts; let all your sap and all your life powers rise up into this graft."

And the grafted tree would say to the Gardener:

"When you graft me, O spare not a single branch; let everything of the old self, even the smallest bud, be destroyed that I may no longer live in my own, but in that other life that was cut off and brought and put upon me, that I might be wholly new and good." (Abiding In Christ - Chapter 9 - Kindle version).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this grafted-in life that You make available through the finished work of Jesus. Help me, by faith, to live this way.

MORE: Grafting

The picture of a plant graft could also be implied by Jesus when He talks about us abiding in Him in John 15:1-8 (in fact, that is the passage on which Murray's book is based). Grafting is an interesting process. As you read this explanation of plant grafting, look for ways it is like our life in Christ.

"Grafting is a method of asexual plant propagation widely used in agriculture and horticulture where the tissues of one plant are encouraged to fuse with those of another. It is most commonly used for the propagation of trees and shrubs grown commercially.
"In most cases, one plant is selected for its roots, and this is called the stock or rootstock. The other plant is selected for its stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits and is called the scion. The scion contains the desired genes to be duplicated in future production by the stock/scion plant.
"In stem grafting, a common grafting method, a shoot of a selected, desired plant cultivar is grafted onto the stock of another type.
"In another common form called budding, a dormant side bud is grafted on the stem of another stock plant, and when it has fused successfully, it is encouraged to grow by cutting out the stem above the new bud.
"For successful grafting to take place, the vascular cambium tissues of the stock and scion plants must be placed in contact with each other. Both tissues must be kept alive until the graft has taken, usually a period of a few weeks. Successful grafting only requires that a vascular connection take place between the two tissues.
"A physical weak point often still occurs at the graft, because the structural tissue of the two distinct plants, such as wood, may not fuse.
Read the whole article.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Truth + Discipline = Joy

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 5:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You." Psalm 5:11

If there's anything we all seek in life it's happiness. We spend millions of dollars and travel thousands of miles in search of it. A close relative to happiness is joy (the words are used interchangeably in the dictionary definitions). (joy [joi]:1.] A strong feeling of happiness arising from the expectation of some good or from its realization; gladness, delight. 2.] A state of contentment or satisfaction: to have joy in one's work.) Joy has always seemed to me the more substantive of the two.

Calvin Miller in the first chapter of his book That Elusive Thing Called Joy says:
"Three things I do every morning that my life may possess happiness all day long. The first is to affirm the reality of Jesus Christ and thank Him for His lordship. The second thing is to call to mind the reality of Satan, who will seek throughout the day to make me a miserable contradiction of joy. The third thing I do, is to call to mind the gifts that are mine in Christ" p. 13.

Do you suppose Miller used Psalm 5 as a template of his three daily "call to minds"? For they are all there in David's morning prayer:

1. In verses 1-4 David reminds himself of the qualities of the God he worships. He acknowledges God as his ultimate authority ("My King"), yet as someone who even as exalted as He is, hears. He is a good God who eschews evil.

2. In verses 5-6 and 9-10 David calls to mind the reality and strength of evil. He sees it in terms of how God will react to those under its sway. Those who are proud don't have a chance. Liars invite God's destruction. Flatterers who seek to profit from their wickedness and rebellion will be doomed as they follow their own advice.

3. David's reason for joy rests in what he has in God (verses 11-12). Coming to God's temple reminds him of God's mercy. His meditation about God leads to a request for His guidance. It culminates in a bubbling up of joy as he mulls over the benefits of belonging to such a God: a God who will defend him, bless him, and surround him with favour "as with a shield."

Miller extends the meaning of "the gifts that are mine in Christ" to include the abilities and opportunities unique to each of us as individuals. He continues from the quote above:
"…If I live each day faithful to my gifts, developing and improving them, I find I am indeed a happy person. If I am sloppy and careless in developing my gifts, I find a predictable negativity fixing itself into my day." p. 13.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to frame my day with right and realistic thinking in regard to You, the reality of evil and my responsibility. May I look to you today (and every day) as my source of genuine, lasting joy. Amen.

MORE: God does not exist to make us happy

"God does not exist to make us happy. Anyone who holds such a preposterous view of God is going to have a miserable relationship with Him. The attitude of many Christians seems to be that He exists to lavish His children with soul-contentment so that we may "lollygag" in spiritual ecstasy between conversion and death. God is a giver, but He does not give joy. He gives redemption, meaning, security, love, victory, and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And our happiness is our response to His gifts.

Consider the implications of this response. One does not become joyous and say "let's pray," but after prayer he may suddenly find himself filled with joy. Rarely does being happy result in learning God's Word, but learning God's Word usually does result in happiness. Perhaps it is correct to say that happiness is the result of discipline."
- Calvin Miller, That Elusive Thing Called Joy, pages 11-12.


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Monday, June 07, 2010

The crucified life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 2:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20

If you have lived your whole life striving to be accepted on the basis of your performance, it's hard to switch that mind-set off. That shift in thinking was what God required of the early church. Peter and Paul were in the vanguard of those who taught that being right with God no longer involved trying to keep the Jewish laws. This radical paradigm shift involved growing pains.

Our reading today tells of some of them. Legalists, called Judaizers, had infiltrated some of the churches in Galatia (north-central Asia Minor which included the towns of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe). Their teaching that keeping certain Old Testament laws were still binding on Christ-followers and necessary for earning salvation was opposite to what Paul taught: that salvation was by grace through faith.

In his famous "I have been crucified with Christ passage, we have the climax of Paul's teaching. He is saying, I appropriate Jesus' death for myself. He perfectly fulfilled the law in my stead. He took the punishment of my inability to do so -- death -- for me. Now I am assured of salvation ("live") not by trying to fulfill the law's requirements but believing that what Jesus did is enough.

The struggle with legalism was not only a New Testament problem. Still today we find ourselves making judgments about people's spiritual states by what they do and don't do. It's comfortable to have cut-and-dried standards and boundaries.

Though a balance here is necessary (even Paul, the champion of salvation by grace through faith, taught church discipline), I'd rather err on the side of extending grace to others. Let God be their judge. Meanwhile I ponder what the salvation-by-grace-through-faith life, the "crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" life looks like for me. As the focus shifts from whether or not I am allowed to have a glass of wine with a meal or sit in church without a head covering to the invisible but stubborn aspects of my self-life, I can start confronting real issues. Things like forgiving someone who has slighted me, loving someone who irritates me, and figuring out why I get irritated in the first place.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to leave the judging of others to You. Help me to live the crucified life, not as a way to earn salvation, but in love, gratefulness and allegiance to You. Amen.

MORE: Food for thought:

"Important in any community of faith is an ever-renewed expectation in what God is doing with our brothers and sisters in the faith. We refuse to label the others as one thing or another. We refuse to predict our brother's behavior, our sister's growth. Each person in the community is unique; each is specially loved and particularly led by the Spirit of God. How can I presume to make conclusions about anyone? How can I pretend to know your worth or place." Eugene Peterson A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 182.


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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Template for trouble

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 30:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness." Psalm 30:11

Last week my daughter's little family was sick -- again! It seems all it takes this year is one little exposure to the church nursery or a friend's visit for one of her little ones to come down with the virus du jour. That means a week to ten days of sitting at home nursing cranky babies -- and sometimes hubby or herself -- while the bug makes its rounds. The ceiling can seem pretty low, the days stretch ahead long and uninviting, during such a bout.

It seems that David may have written Psalm 30 under such a cloud, only worse. Several times he even recalls being at death's door. What does he do in the middle of his dark time?

He doesn't pretend it isn't happening or that it isn't hard. He cries to God for healing (vs. 3), weeps (vs. 5), is troubled (vs. 7). But in each instance he also reminds himself of Who he trusts above all. And he recalls how God helped him in the past: "You healed me…" (vs. 2); "…joy comes in the morning" (vs. 5); "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing" (vs. 11).

Whatever circumstance is causing the pall you are under today, let this psalm be a template for how to react. Give vent to your emotions, yes, but don't stay in despair. Remember God's help to you in the past and let those memories boost your faith. Trust in God's goodness and love toward you for the future. And express thanks for the outcome you hope for in a prayer of faith.

PRAYER: Thank You, God, that You will turn my mourning into dancing; You will put off my sackcloth (for us moderns, black clothes signifying grief) and clothe me with gladness. I will praise and give thanks to You forever. Amen.

MORE: "His Eye is on the Sparrow" by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount (from the movie "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit"




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