Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Know Him

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 2:14-3:5

TO CHEW ON: "I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice
In lovingkindness and mercy
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness
And you shall know the Lord." Hosea 2:19-20

God lays bare His heart in Hosea with almost shocking vulnerability. Like a rejected earthly lover, we see His reflex to hurt the one who has hurt Him: "I will take away…take back…uncover…cause mirth to cease…destroy…punish" (Hosea 2:9-13).

Then He will win His loved one (Israel) back "…allure her…speak comfort…give her..." He recalls their early relationship -- the days Israel was completely dependent on Him during the exodus from Egypt to Canaan. He wants that relationship with her again. Then she will call Him Husband, not Master. She will be so taken up with Him, she will forget the names of her former lovers. She will know him (Hosea 2:14-18).

There was the nub of the matter. God wanted a relationship with His people. He wanted them to know Him. He still wants such a relationship with us. The outward trappings of religious ritual and observance are not what He's after. Rather, He wants a relationship that invades us, takes us over, claims our loyalties to the deepest levels.

It's easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are already there. Until we observe our natural reactions to life. What are our preoccupations? Our pursuits? Do we worry? Our answers to these questions may show us we still have a long way to go before we can say He is truly engraved on our minds and hearts -- that we are experiencing the eternal life potential of knowing Him.

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where I am going after other lovers. Help me to know You at a deep, personal, life-impacting level. Amen.

MORE: "Knowing You" by Graham Kendrick, sung by Robin Mark



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Monday, July 26, 2010

Living object lesson

"Hosea"
by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 1:1-2:13

TO CHEW ON: "When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea:
'Go take yourself a wife of harlotry
And children of harlotry,
For the land has committed great harlotry
by departing from the Lord." Hosea 1:2

Of all the incredible things God asked the Old Testament prophets to do, His assignment for Hosea was among the most shocking. He was to marry a prostitute. His children were called "children of harlotry," either because they were children of a known prostitute or because they weren't even necessarily Hosea's biological kids.

God asked other prophets to be object lessons of His message too. Isaiah was to name his children names that foretold coming events. For example, one of his kids was to be named Maher-shalal-hashbaz, meaning "speed the spoil, hasten the booty," which referred to impending international events (Isaiah 8:3-4). He was also told to go around partially clothed for a while as a picture of how destitute the people of Egypt and Ethiopia would be when they were led away captive (Isaiah 20:2-4). God instructed Ezekiel to lie on his left side, and then his right a required number of days and in this way picture the siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1-6).

God was clear in what He was trying to communicate through Hosea's choice of Gomer for a wife. He was picturing the way His people had let themselves be lured away by other religions. He portrayed then as fickle and making fools of themselves by pursuing other lovers (gods). When their search came to nothing, they returned to their "first husband" (2:7) as Gomer left then returned to Hosea.

If God sent a prophet among us today, I wonder what kind of object lesson he would be asked to live out. Perhaps God would draw attention to our obsession with technology by having His prophet make a home with a demanding robot.

Or perhaps he would open our eyes to see how things are often not as they look by choosing as His messenger a person who seemed healthy but was actually full of deadly cancer.

Or would He be able to point to what we all aspire to be -- pure, beautiful and waiting for His return -- by using a woman prophet, glowing and radiant in gorgeous bride-wear (Revelation 21:2,9)?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to learn about myself and my tendency to stray from you pictured in these prophetic object lessons. May I align my life with the highest ideals in Your word. Amen.

MORE: A modern Hosea story

Redeeming Love is a fictional portrayal of the Hosea / Gomer story by Francine Rivers. Set in California's gold country in the 1850s, the book tells the story of the prostitute Angel and Michael Hosea, who loves her with a love that never gives up. Since the book first came out in 1997 it has sold over 1 million copies.




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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Servants rule

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 10:34-45

TO CHEW ON: "But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.'" Mark 10:42-44

If you are a reader of science fiction or fantasy you will be familiar with the idea of an alternate universe. It is the setting an author creates, where the sky may be pink, the animals talk, or people communicate by electronic waves filtered through nerve endings -- whatever the author has imagined and created.

In a way the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God is like that alternate universe. When we give Jesus our lives and enter that kingdom, we soon discover that the 'laws of gravity' have changed.

In Mark 10 Jesus explains one of those changes to His disciples. The Zebedee brothers, James and John, have just come to Jesus asking for a special position in the kingdom they expect Jesus to set up (which they think will be earthly and happen any day now). The other disciples are understandably outraged. Who do these two think they are -- asking for special treatment!?

Instead of scolding them. Jesus gathers all the disciples around to take advantage of this teaching moment. He explains that, unlike the universe they have lived in their whole lives, where the great ones are the people with recognized position, in the Kingdom of Heaven, the great ones are the ones who serve. For, Jesus explains, even the Son of Man (God incarnate), came not to be served but to serve (vs.45).

We, or at least I, still struggle with this concept. I'm easily star-struck by someone's outward popularity or power, judging greatness by outward appearances (look how the media fawns over her, how often he is quoted, how many Twitter and Facebook followers she has, how many people follow his blog). But that's not what impresses God. He takes note of the unknown person who may be doing the lowest, most behind-the-scenes job (cleaning toilets, typing the minutes, cooking and serving the food) with an attitude of willing service. In His eyes, those are the truly great ones, the ones in first place, the ones who rule.

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the heart of a genuine servant. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St.James the Apostle

Today is the day church liturgy remembers and honours the Apostle James, who is known for more than his request to get special treatment in Jesus' kingdom. Tradition credits him with being the first of the twelve apostles to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus. The liturgy for the Feast of James the Apostle is here.

Daphne Rademaker sings "Serving You" against background scenes from the movie "Call To Harvest" by Gospel For Asia Mission.




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Friday, July 23, 2010

If Jesus is really God...

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 2:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Colossians 2:9

There is nothing subtle in the statement Paul makes about Jesus in Colossians 2:9. He says in plain words, He is God.

This probably doesn't sound controversial to us if we're from a Christian heritage, privy as we are to the New Testament as well as the Old, the writings of scholars, theologians and apologists spanning the centuries. But it was controversial to people in the first century who had only the evidence of three years of Jesus' ministry and the word of eye witnesses. And it is a controversial statement to many moderns who lump Jesus in with founders of other religions and think of him as merely one prophet among many.

But, as H.C. Thiessen says in his Lectures in Systematic Theology: 
"The Son is recognized as God. The importance of the doctrine of the deity of Christ can scarcely be overestimated. Jesus Christ does not sustain the same relation to Christianity that other founders of religion sustain to the faiths which they have originated. Buddha (B.C. 563-484), Confucius (551-478), and Mohammed (A.D. 570?-632) are significant primarily for their teaching; but Jesus Christ is significant primarily for His person." p. 138.

There isn't room in one short devotional to list the proofs (with supporting Bible references) that Jesus is God, as theologians like Thiessen have done so ably -- proving that He:
- has the attributes of deity (is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, immutable)
- fulfills the offices of deity (as creator and sustainer of the created world).
- exercises the prerogatives of deity (forgives sins, raises the dead, will execute judgement). etc.

If you're interested in studying this, there are many great internet resources. For a start, check out John Piper's category the "Deity of Christ" (on the Desiring God site) which contains numerous links.

I, for one, am convinced. But what difference does a belief in Christ's deity make? I can think of three responses:

1. I can have confidence that Jesus IS the way to God -- as He says in John 14:6. I can proclaim this without apology, even though such audacious certainty is not politically correct in our society, which encourages tolerance of any and all opinions on how we get to God.

2. The logical response is to give Him my life. This is exactly the plea Paul makes to the Romans. After exclaiming over the excellence of God's plan and way of working in Romans 11:33-36, he goes on in Romans 12:1 to say: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."

3. I can have peace, knowing that I have the best. As the verse following today's focus verse says "…you are complete in Him…" (Colossians 2:10).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I acknowledge You as God and Lord of my life. Help me to understand all this means in everyday living. Amen.

MORE: "Fairest Lord Jesus" - Ross Parsley



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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Unpopular prophets

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 7:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Then Amaziah said to Amos, 'Go you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread and there prophesy. But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary and it is the royal residence.'" Amos 7:12-13

We should probably not find it surprising that Amaziah, King Jeroboam's high priest, reacted to Amos's negative prophecies by telling him to shut up and leave. It is not comfortable to have an outsider come onto your territory and tell you that your country is prey for locusts, in danger of being burned and not plumb with God's standards.

However, the uncomfortable assignment of delivering unpopular pronouncements from God has always been part of a prophet's job description. The Bible is full of examples: Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus.

Like a true prophet, Amos was not intimidated. I'm not a prophet by profession or birth, he told Amaziah. But my message is from the Lord. Then, not backing down an inch, he told the man in plain words what would happen: "Israel shall surely be led away captive" (7:13).

The assignment for modern prophets* is no easier. People in our society who speak against the way we as a people and culture are violating God's standards may well find themselves in similar hot water, banned from speaking publicly, reading or quoting the Bible, and in Canada hauled in front of Human Rights Commissions.

As our society drifts farther and farther away from biblical standards, what we as Christians stand for becomes less and less mainstream and popular. And so we may find ourselves tempted to alter the message to make it more politically correct. For telling it straight will probably mean having to pay the price of being an unpopular prophet. Am I up for that? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me be bold and unafraid to tell and uphold Your standards. Amen

MORE: Human Rights Commissions

In Canada we have a powerful system in place to gag people who dare express ideas that don't conform to Canadian society's current norms. Human Rights Commissions are quasi legal bodies active in each province. Most were first formed to help people get fair treatment when they faced things like racial and sexual discrimination at work or in regard to housing. In recent years HRC rulings have frequently come down against Christians who have attempted to uphold biblical morality especially in their positions against homosexuality.

Here, for example, is a case in Alberta from a few years ago, described by Ezra Levant:

"An even more terrifying precedent recently was set in Alberta. The case involved a letter to the editor written by a Christian pastor and published in the Red Deer Advocate newspaper. The letter was a zealous, even rude, expression of the pastor's belief that homosexuality was a sin, and that there was a homosexual political "agenda" that had to be stopped. But instead of joining the debate by writing a letter to the editor, a local teacher complained to the human rights commission.


The commission's one-woman panel--a divorce lawyer with no expertise in constitutional rights -- ruled that "the publication's exposure of homosexuals to hatred and contempt trumps the freedom of speech afforded in the Charter." That was it: Freedom of speech, and of the press, and religion, all of which are called "fundamental freedoms" in our Constitution, now come second to the newly discovered right of a thin-skinned bystander not to be offended.

Read entire...

Jesus told us these kinds of things would happen. Instead of worrying about them, He assures us He will be with us when they do; we can face them with carefree trust: Matthew 10:16-19

16"Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.
 17-20"Don't be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don't be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they've done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don't worry about what you'll say or how you'll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.- Message


*prophet = nabiy
In the modern sense I'm thinking of the prophet as person who delivers God's message as revealed in the Bible (versus someone who foretells the future).


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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Does it satisfy?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 4:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water. But they were not satisfied. Yet you have not returned to Me." Amos 4:8

If there is one thing we can know for sure, it is that for our whole healthy lives we will need to turn to food and water again and again for physical satisfaction. Here, Amos draws a parallel to the perpetual lack of physical  satisfaction and Israel's spiritual state. They too are continually seeking satisfaction, but seeking in the wrong places. And despite the fact that God is raining the consequences of their sins on their own heads, it's not bringing about the desired spiritual changes.

He sent famine, withheld rain, appeared preferential (sending rain on one city but not another), troubled their gardens with pests and disease, allowed their own children to fall to the plague. But it was all to no avail. "Yet you have not returned to Me."

Amos tells them what will bring lasting satisfaction. It is the destination to which all his doom-filled predictions are meant to drive them - to God Himself. "Seek Me and live (5:4); Seek the Lord and live (5:6); Seek good and not evil that you may live (5:14); Let justice rain down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream (5:24).

We are not so different from these Israelites. Our search for satisfaction takes us down paths of overwork, shopping, too much food and drink, sex, sometimes even drunkenness and addiction. But we're looking in the wrong places. Because only God can once-and-for-all satisfy the gnawing hunger that creeps back when we feed in other places.

The way the prophet Jeremiah describes what we do is so right-on:


"My people have committed a compound sin:
   they've walked out on me, the fountain
Of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns—
   cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves." - Jeremiah 2:13 (Message)

God's invitation to come to Him for lasting, spiritual thirst-quenching is clear. Jesus promised that those hungering and thirsting for righteousness would be filled. He promised He would be water that would be like an artesian fountain flowing from within, and forever satisfying bread.

Do I come to Him to be satisfied? Do you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to look for satisfaction in You. I confess I don't always go to You first when I'm 'thirsty.' Teach me how finding satisfaction in You looks in my day-to-day life. Amen.

MORE: "This is the Air I Breathe" music and lyrics by Marie Barnett
(Sung by Hillsong)





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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Christian Carnival 335

Welcome to Christian Carnival 335. It's good to have you back here at Other Food! Again there are many interesting posts in this week's edition.  Without further ado - read away (and thanks to all who contributed!)

  • Matthew C. Keegan presents Are Students Really Prepared For College? posted at WordJourney Magazine. Millions of college-bound freshmen will be leaving for school in August and September, with many marking their very first extended time away from home. High school is over and the college years beckon, but are students really prepared for college and all that this setting has to offer? (If, as Matthew says, college dropout rates are at 25%, this is a program whose time has come.)
  • David presents Some thoughts... at Help 4 Life  I'm always looking for new ways to collaborate with people. So If I can help with anything let me know! (This personable marriage, family, and youth therapist shares his life by video;  it's 6 minutes well spent).
  • Joe Plemon presents When Dreams Die posted at Personal Finance By The Book. Even the Apostle Paul had great disappointments. We can learn from his response. (Hope-filled post for those dealing with dead or dying dreams.)
  • Jose Anajero presents 2 Kinds of Success posted at Real Life Success. (Success viewed from various angles - like "When the opportunity to do right presents itself, the opportunity to do wrong presents itself right along side it.")
  • Jeremy Pierce presents Age of Accountability posted at Parableman. A critique of the age of accountability. (A close examination of this belief shows things aren't as cut-and-dried as some would think. Interesting.)


***********
Would you look to join in the next carnival a week from today?

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 July 6 and Tuesday July 13.
To enter, simply click on the "Submit an article" link in the right sidebar widget  and fill out the generated form.


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Walking with God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 3:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Can two walk together unless they are agreed?" Amos 3:3

This eight-word rhetorical question could be the text of a wedding sermon, or the basis of a talk on the principles of a business partnership. Where it appears, in the middle of Amos's prophecy, it refers to another even more basic relationship -- one's relationship to God.

"Now we are at the heart of Amos's prophecy," says a sidebar article about this verse. "God elected Israel to be His people but they were not walking in oneness with Yahweh. In fact they were heading in different directions!" - Lloyd Olgivie, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1176

When we walk with someone we go in the same direction. We move at the same speed. A walk conjures pictures of conversation and fellowship along the way. It is exercise non-strenuous enough that we don't tire quickly -- a relationship for the long haul.

Enoch walked with God. So did Noah. The psalmist pleads with readers to walk with God and expounds on its delights. Prophets Micah , Zechariah, and Malachi speak of the same thing. The challenge to walk with God is still ours today, as a group (the church), and as individuals.

I have recently been reading the old classic Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray  (one book of the Kindle compilation: Devotional Classics: Andrew Murray George Muller Collection). The subject of the whole book is intimacy with God. I've highlighted many spots. Here are some of Murray's thoughts that, I think, shed light on walking with God:

"Abiding in Jesus is nothing but the giving up of oneself to be ruled and taught and led, and so resting in the arms of Everlasting Love." (Location 216)


"Your body is His temple, your daily life the sphere for glorifying Him: it is to Him a matter of deep interest that all your earthly concerns should be guided aright. Only trust His sympathy, believe His love, and wait for His guidance--it will be given. Abiding in Him the mind will be calmed and freed from passion, the judgment cleared and strengthened, the light of heaven will shine on earthly things, and your prayer for wisdom, like Solomon's will be fulfilled, above what you ask or think." (Location 515)
"Abiding in Jesus is not a work that needs each moment the mind to be engaged, or the affections to be directly and actively occupied with it. It is an entrusting of oneself to the keeping of the Eternal Love, in the faith that it will abide near us, and with its holy presence watch over us and ward off the evil, even when we have to be most intently occupied with other things. And so the heart has rest and peace and joy in the consciousness of being kept when it cannot keep itself." (Location 847)

"We are so easily led to look at life as a great whole, and to neglect the little to-day, to forget that the single days do indeed make up the whole, and that the value of each single day depends on its influence on the whole." (Location 913)


"Each day of faithfulness brings a blessing for the next; makes both the trust and the surrender easier and more blessed. And so the Christian life grows: as we give our whole heart to the work of each day, it becomes all the day, and from that every day." (Location 941)

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to walk with You today -- in the same direction, at the same speed with time for fellowship along the way. Amen.

MORE: A classic hymn

The lyrics of the song "Still, Still With Me" were written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. This remarkable woman raised seven children, maintained a career as a college teacher, wrote 30 books as well as many articles and poems, and, after the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin became an international celebrity. Her life also had its share of heartache. One son drowned while a freshman in college, another was an alcoholic, and a daughter became a morphine addict after receiving pain medication following childbirth.

How did she manage her hectic and full life? After dedicating her life to God at the age of 14, she literally walked with Him daily, as this song describes. Robert J. Morgan talks about the writing of this song in Then Sings My Soul:
"Harriet rose each morning at 4:30 to meet with the Lord before the day began. She enjoyed watching the sunrise, listening to the birds and sensing the all-encompassing presence of God. It is this habit Harriet described in her best-known hymn, written while meditating on Psalm 139:17-18. '…When I awake I am still with You.'" p. 129

"Still Still With Thee" sung by the Altar of Praise Men's Chorale





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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Modern slaves

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 2:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "Thus says the Lord:
'For three transgressions of Israel and for four,
I will not turn away its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for silver,
And the poor for a pair of sandals,
They pant (trample on) the dust of the earth
Which is on the head of the poor
And pervert the way of the humble.'" Amos 2:6-7

Last night my husband and I went to a fundraiser for International Justice Mission. Four 12-14-year-old girls organized this concert and dessert night. Interspersed with songs by Carolyn Arends, yummy chocolate fondue and more music by She Says Electric, they brought us face to face with the plight of modern slaves.

For, as our young emcee reminded us, though the last country to make slavery illegal did so in 1981 (Mauritania), there are more slaves on the planet now than at any other time.

They told us stories of young girls in poverty-ravaged cultures who are promised good paying jobs, then sold to brothel keepers in countries like India, Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Guatemala.

In 2008 a Nike factory in Malaysia was exposed for human rights violations that were virtual slavery. Young people applying for work at the factory were charged a fee to come to work. When they couldn't pay, they were advanced the fee on credit so started work owing money. On arrival their passports were taken away. They lived on-site in crowded squalid conditions, working long hours six days a week and earning so little, they would never be able to pay back the debt they incurred to get the job. (Nike promised to look into the situation, so conditions may have changed by now.)

Companies selling fair trade products like chocolate and coffee have sprung up all over the place. They assure us that the coffee and chocolate they sell doesn't have any human rights-compromising behaviour in its picking or production history.

The Bible speaks of slavery in negative terms. Though slavery was an accepted part of Old Testament culture, six years was the length of time a Hebrew slave could be kept; to be freed in the seventh year. Kidnapping a free man with the intent to sell him was punishable by death. Slaves had rights to physical well-being. Injuring a slave, to the extent of merely knocking out a tooth was grounds for the person to go free. In our reading in Amos, Israel's slave-making behavior was grounds for God's punishment.

Uncomfortable revelations like we heard and saw last night about modern slavery make me feel squirmy. They demand more than just a tsk, tsk. How can I (and you) make a difference to those trapped in it?
- We can pray
- We can support organizations who work to free slaves.
- We can change our buying habits.

PRAYER: Dear God, I am touched by the plight of modern slaves. Help me to remember to pray for them. Please show me other actions I can take. Amen.

MORE: Organizations to check out and support

Shadow of His Wings is an organization that rehabilitates girls and young women who have been rescued from forced labor, abuse and neglect on the streets of Guatemala City.

The Dalit Network works to liberate the Dalit people of India from slave labor. I first became aware of them at Missions Fest in 2009 (and blogged about them here).

International Justice Mission works for justice around the world. It also has a Canadian arm.

Stories:
- Brick Kiln Rescue

- South Asia Quarry Raid

- Namwaan's Story


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Monday, July 05, 2010

Christian Carnival - here Wednesday (7th)!

I'm excited to announce that Other Food is hosting the 335th 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 June 29th and Tuesday July 6th.
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.

Meet Amos

"Call of Amos"
Reformation era woodcut

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 1:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "The words of Amos who was among the sheepbreeders of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah King of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, King of Israel, two year before the earthquake." Amos 1:1

Have you ever taken a trip in a taxi, got into conversation with the driver and discovered he or she was educated well beyond what you would expect? That has happened to me. The "philosopher taxi driver" is common enough to practically be a cliche in our culture.

Today we meet a Bible character whose life illustrates a similar dichotomy. Amos, writer of a powerful oracle from God was a sheepbreeder and orchardist. We'll be reading the whole book of Amos in the next little while, so let's start that by meeting its author. As we look at this little book, we learn these things about him:

1. He was a real person, living in a specific location (Tekoa in Judah) at a specific time (during the reigns of Uzziah and Jereboam II).

2. He came from humble beginnings. As a sheepbreeder (1:1) and "tender of sycamore fruit" (7:14) he was an ordinary, unpretentious labourer.

3. He had literary talents. Throughout the book we'll see his facility with words and images. In Chapter 1, for example, he uses a literary device called "graduated number or numerical parallelism." He uses it five times in this chapter: "For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four…" vs. 3 (and again in verses 6, 9, 11 and 13 in pronouncements against other nations). It suggests "For enough transgressions…for more than enough."

5. He knew God. This final fact is what really qualified Amos for the lasting contribution he has made.

He could name the exact time when God's word came to him: "two years before the earthquake" (an event that has been identified archaeologically and probably helped to date the writing of the book). That knowledge allowed him to say with boldness and authority: "Thus says the Lord" (verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 13).

Also, the confidence he had that this was an assignment from God enabled him to speak without regard to how his hearers would receive his message. For we will see that he prophesies not only against Judah's enemies but against neighbouring Israel. Imagine how it would rankle citizens from the US if, for example, I as a Canadian came to them with words of God's displeasure. Amos, knowing that God had sent him, spoke without being unduly concerned over the fallout to himself.

Perhaps you have felt God fingering you for an assignment. Maybe you even have natural talents or abilities that would fit with carrying it out. (If not evident, perhaps you'd discover they are there when you start moving in an obedience direction.) Don't let humble beginnings or a lack of education or experience stop you. Rather, be like Amos and step out to do the thing God has told you to do.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of prophets like Amos. Help me to be as obedient as he was. Please equip me with his passion, conviction and desire to impress You more than the people around me.

MORE: said another way…

AMOS WAS A SHEPHERD

Amos was a shepherd,
A gardener as well.
He didn't go to Prophet School
Yet God gave him much to tell.

Nehemiah was a servant,
Moses said he couldn't speak,
Samuel was just a child,
David came from keeping sheep.

God doesn't always use
The people we'd expect.
He looks right through the outward part;
He looks for an obedient heart.

© 1998 by Violet Nesdoly, all rights reserved


(Published originally in Partners.)


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

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Are you being refined?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 66:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "For You, O God, have tested us;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
You brought us into the net;
You laid affliction on our backs.
You have caused men to ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to rich fulfillment." Psalm 66:10-12

The silver in the trinkets we wear has gone through a lot to get to its beautiful sheen. Because silver is usually discovered combined with other minerals it is subjected to various processes to isolate it and make it pure. Depending on what it is mixed with, it may be roasted, leached with acid, smelted, ground, refined in an electrolyte solution, added to molten bullion and treated by cupellation (which heats the silver-containing residue to a temperature of 800 C or 1450 F). So when the psalmist talks about us being refined as silver is refined, he is not talking about a pleasant process.

Whenever I come to passages like Psalm 66, which describe people going through such refining, a voice inside my head says, "Who are you to talk?" Because the truth is, I have not experienced much of such extreme refining in my life. However, I do know that even the light 'roasting' I went through stuck on the couch for a few weeks, many years ago, waiting for a troubled pregnancy to settle down and go to term, or end prematurely, was not fun (especially when it ended prematurely).

I did come through that experience refined and richer in many ways. I was more understanding of the hurts of others. I was less confident in my ability to make my plans and dreams happen. I was thankful for the supports in my life (my husband, family and church friends). And I was more determined than ever to trust God, even when I didn't understand what He was doing.

I will not pretend to know what your refining experience is like or presume to give you advice on how to handle it. But I do hope and pray that you will come through it pure, strong and beautiful. May the result find you bursting with praises like the psalmist's: "Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul" Psalm 66:16.

You may already know the verses below by memory. If not, you may want to put them on your 'to memorize' list for the future. When you are in the middle of a refining time, they will give you perspective. If things are going well for you, memorize them against the day that refining fire enters your life:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 
1 Peter 1:6-7 (besides the NKJV translation quoted, the link goes to this verse in four more Bible versions - so choose your favorite).
PRAYER: Dear God, please be with my friends who are in the midst of refining -- coping with cancer or other physical problems, dealing with difficult family situations, caring for elderly parents, struggling with career disappointments etc. May each one come out pure, beautiful and praising You. Amen.

MORE: Happy Independence Day!!

Today is the day our neighbours in the U.S. celebrate their nation and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 -- the day they declared independence from Great Britain. They celebrate with parades, community festivals, family picnics and barbecues, concerts, games (especially baseball), public gatherings, speeches, and of course end the day with fireworks.


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

Friday, July 02, 2010

Do you have a message to deliver?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 5:1-19a


TO CHEW ON: "And the Syrians had gone out on raids and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman's wife. Then she said to her mistress, 'If only my master were with the prophet who is in samara! For he would heal him of his leprosy.'" 2 Kings 5:2-3

The scenario of the little captive Hebrew girl giving her mistress this word of hope has always fired my imagination. Some years ago I wrote a fictionalized account of the story. I'm going to share it with you today (which will make this devo a bit longer than most; sorry about that!).


A MESSAGE TO DELIVER*

“Tamra!”

Was that mother? Tamra stirred in the happy darkness of sleep.

“Tamra! Rise you lazy thing!”

Tamra opened her eyes, saw the gray walls and remembered. She was far from home, a slave in General Naaman’s house. She jumped up, dressed and hurried into the kitchen.

“At last!” Saleem picked up the small pitcher. Tamra followed with the steaming jug, through the brightening courtyard, up the stairs to Mistress’s chamber.

As they entered, Tamra glanced at Mistress. Her eyes were red, her face swollen. She’d been crying!

Saleem became all sweetness. “Will your highness have the full hair dressing today?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mistress said. She sounded sad. While Tamra waited for Saleem’s next order, she studied Mistress’s face. Something was wrong.

Saleem, seeing Tamra idle, dismissed her with a jerk of her head toward the door.

Back in the kitchen, Tamra helped Amram arrange a tray of pomegranates and grapes. But she thought of Mistress. “Why does Mistress weep?” she finally asked.

“Haven’t you heard?” Amram replied. “Master has leprosy.”

Leprosy! The word hit like a slap. “Will he be banished?”

“When he’s sick and crippled.”

Proud, fierce Naaman, a leper! Tamra mulled over this incredible fact as she put the final touches on the tray. This changed everything – again.

The changes had begun that horrible day she and mother had been walking home from market in Shunem. They’d stepped off the road at the sound of hoof beats. But the soldiers stopped anyway. One leaped off his horse and came straight for her. She could still hear mother’s scream and feel his roughness as he swung her onto his horse. She’d been tied with others and a few days later Master’s servant brought her here.

Now Saleem swept into the kitchen to get the tray. “Sweep the courtyard girl!” she commanded, cutting off Tamra’s remembering.

Tamra began the long task. But today the rhythm was soothing as she untwisted her tangled thoughts. What did Naaman’s leprosy mean? Maybe what her parents had taught her about Yahweh was true after all. Since she’d come here, God had felt far away and everything she believed had seemed turned on its head. But now Captain Naaman and Mistress had a problem too. Doctors and medicines couldn’t cure leprosy.

But wait! In Israel there was someone – the prophet. Yahweh himself talked to Elisha. He had done all kinds of miracles. He’d even raised her little brother’s friend from the dead. Elisha could heal Naaman. The thought made Tamra’s heart pound hard. She would tell Mistress!

Tamra looked up towards Mistress’s room. Was Saleem still inside? She certainly didn’t want to talk to Mistress with her around. Tamra finished sweeping while watching the stairs. No Saleem. She must have come down. Now would be a good time.

Tamra tiptoed up the stairs and tapped on Mistress’s door. A second later Saleem flung it open, stared at her, then hissed, “What do you want?”

“I want to speak with Mistress.” Tamra could hardly hear her own voice.

Saleem’s eyes narrowed. “No!” Her voice was full of hate. “You may never talk to her! Now get on with your chores, or you’ll be whipped.”

Tamra trembled as she crept down the stairs. Now she’d done it! She got the wash bucket and began to scrub the kitchen floor. But she couldn’t forget the idea that Master Naaman must see Elisha. The thought burned in her – as if Yahweh himself had given her this message to deliver. She had to tell Mistress somehow. Please, Yahweh, please, she prayed silently over and over. Please make a way.

Tamra woke before Saleem called her next morning. As she remembered what she must do, she felt afraid. In the kitchen the towels and jugs were ready, but Saleem was nowhere around.

“Saleem is ill,” Amram told her..

Tamra felt a shiver go through her. God had heard!

Amram helped carry the jugs up to Mistress’s room, then left. Tamra was suddenly nervous. She felt her face go crimson. “What is your pleasure?” she asked, not looking up.

“Where’s Saleem?” Mistress’s voice was sharp.

Tamra’s fear grew. What if her talk of Elisha made Mistress angry instead of glad?

“She’s ill,” Tamra replied. She glanced up at Mistress’s face, then, and saw again the red-rimmed eyes. She looked so sad.

“Pour the water,” Mistress said.

Tamra did her jobs. Mistress spoke only to tell her what to do next. Finally they were at the last thing. As Tamra gathered the hair jewels, she know she had to speak now or this chance would be past. Panic rose inside her. She breathed a prayer and took a deep breath.

“I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria.” she blurted. “He would heal him of his leprosy.”

Mistress grew still. Then she turned around and looked at Tamra. “What did you say, little maid? Say it again.”

Was she angry or glad? Tamra couldn’t tell. But somehow it didn’t matter any more. For now that she had done what she must, she felt Yahweh’s presence like warm sunshine after a cloudy day. He was here. He would take care of her. “I wish Master Naaman would go to see the prophet in Samaria,” she said again. “He would heal him of his leprosy.” This time her voice was confident and strong.


A little sidebar article in my Bible comments:
"See the importance of sharing the hope of God's healing with others. The door to Naaman's healing was opened by the Jewish maid who recommended he seek out the prophet Elisha. Believers do good when they witness to others of both the saving and healing power of Jesus." Nathaniel Van Cleave - "Lessons in Sharing Healing Hope," New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 488.

If God is impressing on you someone who needs to hear the message of the possibility of physical healing, share that message (with childlike faith) today!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of this Hebrew child. Help my faith to be as simple, implicit and obedient. Amen.

MORE: Want to read more about divine healing?

Andrew Murray's entire book Divine Healing is online. The chapters I checked out are short. Read and be encouraged.

* "A Message to Deliver" was first published in the March 2002 issue of Clubhouse Magazine.

Guess what - the very morning I'm writing this devotional, which Scripture comes up in my kids' devotionalsThis exact story (yes I do write these a month or so ahead). How cool is that!!

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

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