Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kingdom children

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:43b-50

TO CHEW ON: "And Jesus...said to them, 'Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you'll be great.'" Luke 9:48

In our passage today Jesus again confronts His disciples (and us) with the upside-downness of the kingdom of heaven. The disciples are arguing about who will be the greatest. Jesus answers by putting a child before them and making the startling statement, "Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me."

In a passage that speaks of the same event, Matthew reports Jesus saying, "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 18:3.

What qualities of children make them good kingdom citizens? I can think of at least five (and [Ha!] they all start with 't' just like a sermon).

Children are trusting. Look at how a child lays its head on the shoulder of a parent and falls asleep. That's how we are to trust God .

Children are transparent. They easily show their feelings and live without trying to be someone they are not. Jesus told His disciples to live with such lack of guile: "Let your yes be yes, your no, no."

Children are teachable. Think of the ways a child develops physical skills, picks up language and attitudes. Such a teachableness is the key to entering the kingdom  and continuing in it.

Children are tolerant. They don't discriminate against people because of shabby clothes or poor social standing. We should be just as accepting.

Children are telling. A little child full of good news finds it impossible to keep that news inside. We are to be just as overflowing with the good news that our sins are forgiven, our friendship with God is restored and that we have eternal life.

I ask myself, am I nurturing within me these childlike qualities? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me relate to You as a child to a trusting parent. Help me to live these qualities in my relationship with others too. Amen.

MORE: Converting To Childhood

Jesus: “... unless you are converted and become as little children
you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 18:3

You lose sophistication and veneer
and become clear
sing, skip and play
easily laugh and cry
then fall asleep without a care
for Daddy is nearby.

No longer do you worry
about whether there will be
food to eat, clothes to wear
how to get from here to there.

You’re malleable clay again
learning your family’s ways and graces.
And once again you fit
into small places.

© 2007 by Violet Nesdoly — all rights reserved.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Jesus' template for discipleship

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:10-27

TO CHEW ON: "'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'" Luke 9:23

Part of our reading today is Jesus' private and direct instructions to His disciples. In it He tells them plainly, about a year before the events, that things will not end well for Him (vs. 22). To those who continue following Him despite all this, He explains what such loyalty involves.

Let's look at His instructions phrase by phrase to discover more about what being a disciple means for us as well.

"If anyone desires to come after Me..." Following Jesus is not something that is forced on us. We do it out of our desire or volition — though it is a desire that is put in us, in the first place, by God Himself (John 6:44).

"...let him deny himself..." "Understand and accept that discipleship means forsaking all selfish personal ambition," says a study note in my Bible. To me this means submitting every plan and goal to His lordship, every decision to Him for the final say.

"...and take up his cross..." This isn't startling until we think about what a cross was in the time of Jesus — an instrument of death for criminals. Taking up His cross was what Jesus was forced to do literally as He went from Jerusalem to Golgotha. In our day we might say, pick up your gun, or noose or lethal injection as a reminder of how dead you are to yourself.

"...daily..." This rejection of the self-life happens again every morning. Though it may begin with a crisis decision, we need to renew our commitment to it every day.

"...and follow Me."
"With Jesus, righteousness no longer consists of observance of an external legal code. He likens it to an apprenticeship to Himself as Master Teacher through the Holy Spirit" (Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1439).

I like that: "apprenticeship to Himself as Master Teacher." For the life of a disciple is not turning one's back on selfish ambition toward a life of nothingness. Instead it is such a rejection so that the powerful life Jesus can have full sway in and through us.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I want to be this kind of a disciple. Please teach me what it means to take up my cross daily and follow you. Amen.

MORE: "Jesus I My Cross Have Taken"

I love this modern rendition of this classic - by Henry F. Lyte - 1824. (Sorry, there's no info on who the singer is.)



Lyrics are here. (You may want to turn off the player on upper left of the cyberhymnal page if you're following the lyrics along with the YouTube singer.)

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Authority to heal

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.... So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere." Luke 9:1-2,6

Today as I read this passage I am conflicted. Coming at this time it seems an almost cruel reminder of my own lack of power and authority. For I am writing this far from home. We have gathered to be near my brother who is in palliative care.

"Palliative." That adjective says it all. He has, the doctor says, two weeks to live at most.

We have prayed for him to be healed, but so far God has not answered yes to that prayer. Many thoughts crowd in...If only Jesus were here — He could heal him. But we have the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus. So why is he not healed? Is it sin in our lives, or lack of faith or simply not claiming and acting on the authority we have?

Jack Hayford comments about this passage:

"The Gospel throbs with confidence in the full transparency of power and authority for ministry by Jesus to His disciples then and now:


- We may expect victory over the power of darkness and their operation (Luke 10:19).


- We are assigned to "do business" as authorized representatives of our Lord until He returns (Luke 19:13).


- We are promised the Father's pleasure "to give" us the kingdom that is to supply us with His peace and power (Luke 12:32).


Dominion over evil has been given, but we can expect to see spiritual breakthrough to the degree we receive and apply that authority in prayer, preaching, teaching and personal ministry." Jack Hayford - "Authority for Ministry" Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1403.

So far my brother has not been healed. But I will keep praying for that until he takes his last breath. For I believe that physical healing is part of the atonement ("...by His stripes we are healed") and if God has more earthly purposes for my bro to fulfill, he will be healed.

PRAYER: Dear God, I long to see more of Your power evident in my life as authority over sickness and evil. Am I missing something. Please show me. Amen.

MORE: "Come Walk Among Us"

Michael Hansen wrote this beautiful prayer asking for Jesus' presence. Here is a snippet. (It's on the Freedom / Kelly Carpenter, Loralee Thiessen & Michael Hansen
 (Cafe 4)" project.)


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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Rabbi with x-ray vision

"Nathaneal Under the Fig Tree" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:43-51

TO CHEW ON: "Nathaneal said to Him, 'How do you know me?' Jesus answered and said to him; 'Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.'" John 1:48

Jesus' picking of His disciples appears an easy, random process though it wasn't random at all, based as it was on His x-ray vision of each potential disciple's heart. Simon, Andrew, James and John came at His simple invitation. So did Matthew  and Philip.

Philip found Nathaneal and invited him to follow too. He wasn't such an easy sell.

"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" he asked, when he heard that was where Jesus was from. He knew — astute scripture scholar that he was — that Nazareth wasn't the prophesied birthplace of Messiah.

Philip, confident he had found the Real One, said simply, "Come and see."

Jesus didn't disappoint. On meeting Nathaneal He exclaimed, "Behold an Israelite in whom is no deceit."

The description obviously resonated with Nathaneal because he responded, "How do you know me?"

Jesus mysterious answer made sense to Nathaneal alone" "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."

Jesus had apparently put his finger on a significant moment in Nathaneal's life. Perhaps it was a time when he was in crisis or facing a fork in the road. Maybe it was a moment he had been praying for direction, or that he would be shown truth. Whatever it was, Jesus' mention of that moment under the fig tree arrested Nathaneal right where he lived. I can see his eyes get big, his jaw drop in surprise. Then, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"

Has God ever shown you that He sees you in the same private way? From the pastor speaking on the exact text you read in your quiet time on a Sunday morning to you hearing from a person shortly after memories of them cross your mind (perhaps for the first time in a long while), recognize these 'coincidences' as Him watching you under your fig tree.

Respond as Nathaneal did — with worship.  And then become His modern disciple.  Who else would you want to follow after meeting someone who sees, knows and loves you in such an intimate way?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for your all-seeing knowledge of me. Help me to respond to Your invitation to follow You with the abandon that Nathaneal did. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Bartholomew

Today is the Feast of Saint Bartholomew (whom scholars believe is the "Nathaneal" mentioned in today's reading). He is listed among Jesus' twelve disciples.

The Catholic Almanac describes Bartholomew:

Bartholomew (Nathanael): A friend of Philip; according to various traditions, preached the Gospel in Ethiopia, India, Persia and Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed and beheaded; in art, is depicted holding a knife, an instrument of his death; Aug. 24 (Roman Rite), Aug. 25 (Byzantine Rite).
Read entire entry about Bartholomew.


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Saturday, August 21, 2010

A mother's meddling fingers

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 117-118:18

TO CHEW ON: "It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in princes." Psalm 118:8-9

“Did you remember to show your class message to Mr. Jones?*” I asked my 17-year-old son We were in the car, driving him to a friend’s house to spend the night.

A slight pause - then, “A little story about that. I won’t be giving it.”

“What? Why not?”

“Mr. Jones went through it. Said it was too casual. Wanted me to change it. I thought about it, but then I decided, ‘No. This speech is me.’ So he said, ‘Do you mind if I get someone else to do it?’”

It was a warm Wednesday evening in mid-June and high school life was winding down for Ben. Today had been his last day of classes in Grade 12 at the Christian school he’d attended for six years. The next day he had a ride to the summer camp for a several-day counsellor training session. All that was left of school now was provincial exams in about a week, then graduation at the end of the month.

He’d felt honoured when fellow students voted him to give the class message at the grad ceremony. I’d seen him work on it several times in the last few days, though he hadn’t wanted me to read it (“It’ll be a surprise for you, Mom.”) Today he was to have had it vetted by Mr. Jones, the vice-principal.

Now my husband, Ernie, and I exchanged worried glances.

“How do you feel about this?” I asked Ben.

“Oh, I’m fine with it, I guess,” he said lightly, although there was something in his face that told me it bothered him more than he was letting on.

“Can we read it?” I was determined to see for myself what the kid thought he could get away with.

“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “I won’t be giving it now so it doesn’t have to be a surprise. Why do you want to, though?”

“We’d like to see what you wrote,” Ernie replied, “and see if you’ve been fairly dealt with.”

“Don’t phone the school,” Ben said. “I’ll handle this.”

“We wouldn’t do that unless we had your permission,” his dad assured him

I went straight to the computer when we got home, found the speech, printed and read it. To be sure, it began casually enough with, “Hey, welcome here,” instead of the customary “Good evening ladies and gentlemen.” But as I went through it, I failed to see what had caused the VP’s reaction. It was positive about the school, complimentary to the teachers and full of school memories. It was funny in Ben’s way with word-play, the odd ‘in’ joke and, all in all a great speech for a 17-year-old boy.

“Here, you read it,” I said, giving it to Ernie and then, after he’d finished, “What do you think?”

He shrugged. “It’s fine. Actually, it’s a good speech.”

“I’m going to phone Mr. Jones,” I said. “They can’t do this to him.”

“Uh, wait a minute.” My husband stopped me. “Remember we promised we wouldn’t phone.”

“Hmm!” I muttered. “I’ll get Ben to change his mind.”

I dialed his friend’s number and got through – to a busy signal. I tried again. Still busy. I must have punched “Redial” 20 times in the next 45 minutes but only got that bzzz, bzzz, bzzz.

Finally at ten o’clock and now too late to call anyone about such a matter, I stomped off to bed, thinking dire thoughts about Mr. Jones, the school and even the student, whomever he or she would be, that would take Ben’s place... and how would I ever sleep with my mind in such a turmoil?

“God,” I prayed, “what do I do now?”

Words that had been hanging around the edges of my consciousness for the last 45 minutes came into focus. “The Lord will fight for you...” That was a Bible verse. Where was it? A few minutes later I’d found it. They were God’s words to Moses when he was facing the Egyptians: “The Lord will fight for you and you need only to be still” Exodus 14:14 (NIV).

“God, are those Your words to me for this situation?” I asked. Secretly I doubted that He could (or more truthfully would) do anything to change this mess. But, I decided, I didn’t have any other options. So, with those words ringing in my head, I fell asleep and slept surprisingly well.

However, the battle wasn’t over, at least not for me. Next morning on the drive to work, the unfairness of the situation swept over me again. Without consciously realizing what I was doing, I watched scenes play in my head. Mr. Jones was holding out his hand for me to shake at graduation and I was ignoring it and treating him with total disdain. That would show him to treat my son that way! In fact, I would never talk to him or his wife again and...

I caught myself. What was I doing? I was again manipulating to get my way - in my imagination at least. If I was truly offering this situation to God, wasn’t it important for me to have the right inner attitude as well? I pulled my thoughts back to last night. If I wanted God to fight for me, I knew that I needed to stop fighting for myself in every arena, even in my thoughts.

Despite my resolve, the inner battle continued. At times the impulse to brood on how I could fix things was so strong, I felt I was being physically wrenched. I began to realize that part of the reason relinquishing control here was so hard for me was because running interference for my kids had become an established pattern in my life. “No I will not go there,” I told myself every time my wilful imagination tried to sneak in another vengeful thought. “God can work things out without my help,” I would remind myself yet again and imagine physically taking responsibility for this situation off my shoulders, like one slips out of a backpack, and handing it to Him.

Slowly the tide turned. In fact, five days later, when Ben returned home I was completely resigned to the fact that at the grad ceremonies in a few days, I’d be listening to someone else give the class message. And I was perfectly prepared to talk to Mr. Jones with not a hint - in look or body language - of animosity toward him.

Tuesday morning Ben went to school to write his first provincial exam. Lunchtime came, one o’clock, two o’clock. I was beginning to worry when the phone rang. It was Ben.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Mr. Jones and I are working on my speech.”

I almost dropped the phone. “What...?”

“I’ll explain when I get home.”

It turned out that without Ben bringing up the matter, Mr. Jones had approached him about delivering the speech after all. And, wonder of wonders, now Ben was ready and willing to make some of those changes that would make his speech acceptable.

“Oh God, thank you!” I prayed, as I thought of how my interference would have botched things up. As a result of my silence, my up-to-now good relationship with Mr. Jones had not changed as I’m sure it would have had I talked to him when my temper was hot. Ben had come around, without nagging by us, to willingly edit his speech. But most important, I had seen what God could do without the help of my meddling fingers.

*not his real name.

(This true story was first published as "A Mother's Meddling Fingers" in the ezine Christian Women Online, May, 2006)

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me put difficult situations, indeed, situations of all kinds, into Your hands (and leave them there). Amen.

MORE: You may want to memorize...

If you are like me, the impulse to fix things in my own way kicks in powerfully in crisis moments. So at such times, it helps if I have ammunition ready. If you have the same tendency, you may want to memorize one or several of these assurances of God's help:


Exodus 14:14
Psalm 40:4
Isaiah 57:13
Psalm 118:8-9

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Communicate!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Joshua 22:21-34

TO CHEW ON: "When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased." Joshua 22:30 (NIV)

Someone heard, and told someone else. Soon the scandalous news was all over the land west of the Jordan River: their Israelite brothers had erected an altar on the east bank.

Because Moses' law forbade worship anywhere but in the tabernacle at Shiloh, the outrage was palpable. This disobedience, this cult, must be stopped! Soon men from across the country had gathered at Shiloh. They would go to war and halt the sacrilege!

Fortunately saner heads won the day. "Maybe we should send someone over there to see what they are thinking..." someone suggested. So before they marched en masse against their kin, they sent Priest Phinehas and ten of their leaders.

Good thing they did! Because when the west-siders met with the folks on the other side, they discovered the motives were not at all what they had thought. The people of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had built the structure not to offer sacrifices on it, but to act as a reminder. They called the altar "Witness." It was meant to signify to them and their descendants that they were Yahweh worshipers, like their brothers on Jordan's other side.

How easy it is for us too, to attribute motives, to jump to conclusions, to act on half of the information. This little incident teaches us the importance of communication. Before we spread stories, besmirch someone's reputation, launch an all-out war, we do well to seek out and listen to the other side of the matter.

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me wisdom and discretion when I encounter things I don't understand or agree with. Help me, when at all possible, to be a peacemaker. Amen.

MORE: Quotes about communication

"Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

"No one would talk much in society, if he knew how often he misunderstands others." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true." - Charles Dickens

"To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others." -  Anthony Robbins

"If you start a conversation with the assumption that you are right or that you must win, obviously it is difficult to talk." - Wendell Berry

"You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist." -Indira Gandhi.



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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Marathon walk

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Joshua 22:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses, the servant of the Lord, commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul." Joshua 22:5

I love Joshua's ability to deliver inspiring and challenging benedictions (like Joshua 1:6-9). In today's reading he is dismissing part of the army to return home. Years earlier they had been enlisted to fight alongside their other-tribe brothers and help conquer the part of Canaan that was west of the Jordan.

Now the battle is done and they're allowed to rejoin their families. So Joshua sends them home with a challenge — one that can spur us on as well.

1. He begins by telling them to heed (do, observe, keep, obey) the commandments and instructions Moses gave them.

We don't have the ceremonial law to obey. Nor do we seek to earn a place in heaven by the way we live. But we do still have reasons to live by the standards God has set. I can think of at least two: 1] God's ways of living are the way life and we work best. Living by the principles set out in Jesus' teachings are heeding the "Use and Care Manual" of life. 2] Living this way pleases the Person who took the fall for our sins. We love Him for that, and want to live in a way that delights Him.

2. "Love the Lord your God..." Joshua tells the people. It's a reminder that this is a lifestyle arising out of a relationship built on love. And it's a relationship with no less than deity.

3. "Walk in His ways..." Walking gets us from here to there, not quickly but surely. A walk describes a lifestyle for the distance.

Joshua's command that the people walk in God's ways implies they had a choice. There were other ways they could choose to take. It reminds me of Jesus' advice to choose a certain road in life — not necessarily the one most traveled.

4. "Hold fast to Him... " - NKJV; "Cling to and unite with Him" - Amplified; "Embrace Him" - Message. This part of Joshua's commission tells us that this is an intentional, will-based relationship on our part. The phrase "cling to" reminds us of the description of marriage from Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall come united and cleave to his wife..." NASB. It is a relationship to pursue, nourish and guard.

5. "Serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" - NKJV; "your very life" - Amplified; "serve him with everything you are and have" - Message. This means no holding back, no keeping some other plan in reserve in case this one doesn't work out. It's total commitment to God. "The way to life — to God! — is vigorous and requires total attention." Matthew 7:14 - Message.

I ask myself, am I up for this challenge? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live this way: choosing to walk in Your ways, choosing YOU, and investing all I am and have in this choice. Amen.

MORE: Why?

You may be asking yourself, why would I choose to live a life so constricted by standards not of my own making. Such choices reflect on what we believe is the purpose of life.

Mennonite writer Katie Funk Wiebe tells of the day she discovered that purpose. This happened during the time when, as a young woman of 20, she was renting a room in a seniors convalescent home:

"One Saturday morning I walked into the large, sunny reading room hoping there would be someone there to help me wile away the time. It was empty. With nothing better to do I rummaged through some untidy shelves of books and papers. There I found it — the book that was to change my life....

It turned out to be a volume of daily devotional readings and so, much in the same manner as I had often sought a penny fortune in a slot machine, I turned to September 1, to read what was written for this day. The words of a Scripture leaped from a page to arrest me: "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16 RSV). The introductory paragraph began:
'Continually restate to yourself what the purpose of your life is. The destined end of man is not happiness nor health, but holiness.'
 These were the intensely right words for me. Here was the answer to my problem. I had lacked purpose to my life and this book which I held in my hand was telling me what the purpose of life was...."
 
(The devotional book from which Katie Funk Wiebe was reading, was Oswald Chambers' My Utmost For His Highest, the September 1st reading).

Quoted from "A Pilgrimage in Books" first published in Christian Living, April 1962 from the book The Voice of a Writer, pp. 43-44.




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Thursday, August 12, 2010

What's your spiritual surname?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 3:13-4:6

TO CHEW ON: "And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man saying, 'We will eat our own food and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by your name to take away our reproach.'" Isaiah 4:1

The custom in our culture for a married woman to change her surname to that of her husband is ancient. Isaiah refers to it in our reading today when he talks about the desperate state of Israel's women.

In vivid poetry Isaiah describes their flirtatious ways. The result of their unfaithfulness is judgment. Their alluring points become disgusting. The men of the nation are slaughtered in war till there is such a shortage of men we see the scene described in our focus verse: seven women begging one man to give them the respectability of marriage and the right to take his name.

Name (Hebrew: shem) means renown, fame, memorial, character. The root suggests marking or branding. In the New Testament the equivalent Greek word is onoma. Besides referring to a specific person, onoma is also used for all the things that a name implies such as rank, authority, character and reputation.

Taking on another's name, as in marriage, is identification at the deepest level. God, using prophets like Isaiah, spoke about how He desired Israel and Judah to marry Him, to identify with Him, to be true to Him. He wanted them to take His name. This was His heart for them then, and is still His heart for us today:

      “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
      I have called you by your name;
      You are Mine." - Isaiah 43:1


Through His name we receive many benefits:
His is a most excellent, exalted name that will someday cause every conscious being to worship (Philippians 2:9-11).

Doesn't all that just make you want to live under the covering of His name forever? The end of our reading today describes the pleasant result:

"And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain." Isaiah 4:6

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to discover the beauty of identifying with You at a marriage/name-change level. Amen.

MORE: "Your Name" by Paul Baloche





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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Egocentric idols

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 2:6-3:12

TO CHEW ON: "Their land is also full of idols;
They worship the work of their own hands,
That which their own fingers have made." Isaiah 2:8

John Piper takes a little swipe at a common interpretation of Jesus' command, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39):

"The popular misconception is that this command teaches us to learn to esteem ourselves so we can love others. This is not what the command means. Jesus does not command us to love ourselves. He assumes that we do." — John Piper, Desiring God, p. 209.

It seems to me there is only a short distance between healthy self-love and idolatrous self-love. I wonder if, in our rich, possession-obsessed society, we don't indulge in such idolatry more than we realize. We regularly look to the things we own to give us a sense of worth. We dote on their excellence and how their quality will reflect well on us. When we get down, we shop for more things to help us feel better.

Making an idol out of a car or house or pair of shoes is an easy kind of idolatry to identify. However, there are other ego-centric idols that are just as widespread, but may be harder to put their fingers on. Dale Hanson Bourke in a chapter on idols in her book Embracing Your Second Calling speaks of a Bible-study worksheet (written by Tim Keller) that probed her heart in this regard:

"...the worksheet contained a list of the types of idolatry many modern-day men and women embrace. In part, it included statements like:


Approval idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am loved and respected by...'


Control idolatry: Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of...'


Helping idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if people are dependent on me.'


Work idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am highly productive and get a lot done.'


Achievement idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am being recognized for my accomplishments / excelling in my career.'

...One suggestion from the study is to think about what you fear the most or what you worry about most often. If you follow that trail, you almost always arrive at the foot of an idol." -- Dale Hanson Bourke, Embracing Your Second Calling, pp. 90-91

These thoughts convict me. I need to sweep a spotlight into and through the tucked-away rooms of my heart to see what self-idols are hidden there. What about you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where I am worshiping something/someone other than You. Amen.

MORE: More from Tim Keller:

Pastor and teacher Dr. Tim Keller develops the concepts of modern idolatry further in his book Counterfeit Gods. A talk he gave at The Gospel Coalition in 2005 is summarized  in "The Grand Demythologizers: The Gospel and Idolatry." Follow this link to hear/watch the entire talk.



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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gallery of faith

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 11:21-40

TO CHEW ON: "And these all died in faith, not having received the promises but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland." Hebrews 11:13-14

If you have read today's reading, you have seen faith in action. What impresses me about the descriptions of faith in this ledger of heroes is the variety of ways faith impacts life.

  • Faith touches the beginning of life (vs. 23) and the end (vs 20-23).
  • It influences choices (vs. 24-25).
  • It is demonstrated in obedience (vs. 28).
  • It leans on God in times of emergency (vs. 29).
  • In battle it trusts the Commander, not conventional wisdom (vs. 30).
  • It acts alone if necessary (vs. 31).
  • It subdues kingdoms, works righteousness, sees promises fulfilled, cheats death (vs. 33).
  • It faces ridicule, persecution, even death without flinching, regardless of the outcome. (vs. 36-38).

How can faith do all these things? Because it believes that this physical see-feel-hear-smell-taste-life is not all there is.

A sidebar article in my Bible talks about what the Bible writers mean when they talk about faith. They understand that:

1] "the entire creation, visible and invisible, is the result of a Creator's direct, intelligent action and not the product of blind chance.


2] historic figures have encountered this Creator in personal ways, evidencing He is more than merely a force and that He is a personal God who relates to those who seek Him n providential and redemptive ways" (Gerald E. Brooks in "The Concept of Faith" New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1743).

I would add a third item:

3] The person with biblical faith knows that this life is not all there is. Someday he/she will arrive at the "homeland" (Hebrews 11:13-16).

What do you need faith for in your life today? The return of a prodigal? The healing of a body? The untangling of a situation at work or school? Whatever it is, let the exhibits in this gallery reassure you that God can work in your circumstance too. And should the price of your faith mean you pay the ultimate price, you can rest assured that this life is only the first chapter of your continuing saga of redemption and grace.

PRAYER: Dear God, please grow in me a strong unshakeable faith in You. Amen.

MORE: A life out of sync with the world
"...the life of faith is the life of an exile, a sojourner, a refugee. The promises of God are our real home and we have seen them from afar and have greeted them and tasted them and they have made us restless and uneasy. They have begun to shape our whole way of seeing and thinking and feeling. They have colored all our values and goals and desires. We have been put out of sync with this world because our treasure is in heaven. — John Piper,"The Hope of Exiles on the Earth."


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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Beyond a Buddy-God

 "Psalm 50 - The Lord Summons the Earth" by Moshe Tzvi HaLevi Berger
View the entire Psalm series by Berger

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 50:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "You sit and speak against your brother;
You slander your own mother's son.
These things you have done, and I kept silent;
You thought that I was altogether like you;
but I will rebuke you,
And set them in order before your eyes." Psalm 50:20-21

We put ourselves in danger of making some of the most serious errors about God when we think of Him as being just like us. How could a God who is all-loving and all-powerful allow evil, we ask,  and manufacture a God who is either not all-powerful or not love.

How can a God who tells us to be humble, demand that we praise Him, we wonder, and manufacture a God who is all ego or so meek and mild as to be of no consequence.

In Psalm 50, Asaph challenges the misconception that God is altogether like us. He points out that:
- God is the creator (vs. 1-2).
- God's presence is mysterious and awe-inspiring (3).
- He is an altogether capable, righteous judge (4-6).
- He doesn't need us or our possessions (7-13).
- Rather, we need Him (14-15).
- His silence and lack of reaction to our rebellion don't mean that He doesn't see or care (16-21).

Our human minds and imaginations, limited as they are by time and space, find it hard to conceive of a God who encompasses all the descriptions of Him in the Bible. There comes a time when we need to throw up the hands of our human understanding and opt for a different response. It is a response of faith. It expresses itself in an attitude of praise,  thanksgiving, and compliance to the rules and principles-of-living given to us by this God who is beyond our understanding. It's how Asaph responds in verse 23:


"Whoever offers praise glorifies Me;
And to him who orders his conduct aright
I will show the salvation of God."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that You are beyond my imagining. When I don't understand You, I choose faith. Help me to resist the temptation to keep You in the box of my human ability to figure You out. Amen.

MORE: More thoughts on Psalm 50

Our view of God affects how we live our whole lives. John Piper preached from Psalm 50 on October 15, 1989. Though his sermon was delivered to a specific congregation (Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minneapolis) to address a congregation-specific need, the insights he arrives at are relevant to us all. His message, "Call upon Me in the Day of Trouble and I Will Deliver You" begins:

"This psalm is a word from the Lord about a wrong view of God leading to a wrong way of sacrificing to God. It has something very crucial to say about how our view of God relates to our money and our giving to God's cause. I chose this text because I wanted to address the root issue of our financial condition, namely, the issue of God."

(Okay, I know most of you probably won't click through to read that whole sermon. So here's another choice bit from it that you've just got to read:
"Beware of a mindset that belittles and insults God. God is an absolutely unstoppable, unfailing, constant, volcano of power and fire and joy and help. He never wearies in the slightest and is omnipotently enthusiastic about his gracious purposes in your life. Never let a weak or miserly or tightfisted or weary or boring God enter your mind. He owns all and loves to glorify his power and grace by delivering people who call on him. Keep God great in your eyes for the rest of this year.")

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

Friday, August 06, 2010

Your life house

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Peter 1:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "...add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness love." 2 Peter 1:5-7

If we think of our life as a house, faith would be its foundation (yesterday's devo) and the things listed in 1 Peter 5-7 would be the building materials to make the upper structure. The studs and rafters; the roof, walls, windows and doors; the plumbing and wiring; the gyprock, flooring, paint and trim of my life house and yours should be constructed of:

Knowledge (gnosis): knowledge signifies in general intelligence, understanding, also:
  1. the general knowledge of Christian religion
  2. the deeper more perfect and enlarged knowledge of this religion, such as belongs to the more advanced
  3. esp. of things lawful and unlawful for Christians
  4. moral wisdom, such as is seen in right living

Self-control (egkrateia): mastery; self-control (the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites) 
 
Perseverance (hupomone) - remaining behind, a patient enduring also:
  1. steadfastness, constancy, endurance
    1. in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings
    2. patiently, and steadfastly
  2. a patient, steadfast waiting for
  3. a patient enduring, sustaining, perseverance
Godliness (eusebeia) pious, devout
  1. reverence, respect
  2. piety towards God, godliness
Brotherly kindness (philadelphia): the love of brothers
  1. love of brothers or sisters, brotherly love
  2. in the NT the love which Christians cherish for each other as brethren
Love (agape)
  1. brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence
  2. love feasts

Because of our various life situations, personalities, histories and circumstances, how we use these materials in our lives will differ. Only you know where you need to shore up your house with more perseverance, improve the wiring with self-control, soften the decor with brotherly kindness, or freshen the air with love.

To what purpose do we build our lives out of these things? Peter tells us in verse 8: To be fruitful: "For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Bible which leaves no aspect of life untouched. Help me to translate this knowledge into action. Amen.

MORE: "The Builder" by Michael Omartian

Michael and Stormie Omartian put out a great record in 1980 called "The Builder." I couldn't find the title song in audio, but here are the lyrics of this song that talks about God being the builder of our lives. "The Builder"

In another song from that album they carry on the building theme. It's an appeal to an unsaved friend to join them in their newly constructed "home."

"The Only Thing Missing Is You"




(I wore out that album, by the way. I still play it sometimes — even though it's in that retro form known as a record. Michael O is so musically interesting!)


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

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Our stuff

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 12:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "And He said to them, 'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses." Luke 12:15

Jesus, the ultimate teacher, sure knew how to grab those teaching moments. Here the request of someone in the crowd for Him to intervene in an estate division problem gave rise to a proverb and a parable about the stuff people own.

The man who called out, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me," was probably surprised when Jesus took him back to considering the basics of possessions. One of the ideas that He alluded to in His answer: "...one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses," is the fact that people very easily let their possessions define them.

We still do that. Notice, for example, how TV commercials tap into our desire to project a good image. One way, according to the ads, is by being the owner of that new car, living in that home on the golf course development with all its amenities, surrounded by brand-name fixtures and furniture.

Jesus' parable draws our attention away from the glittery stuff we love to posses to our impending separation from those things by death. It's inevitable. It may be much nearer than we think. We can't predict when it will arrive in any case. When it does come, "this night" or that, and our souls are required of us, "whose will those things be which you have provided?"

The implied answer is, "They won't be ours." We'll leave them all behind.

A footnote in my Bible says it concisely:

"Possessions neither give life nor provide security; because death separates from things. The fool in the parable mistakenly looked upon his possessions as his own, not gifts dependent upon the will of God and to be used unselfishly." - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1413.

We can't get through life without possessions. But we can hang onto them loosely, knowing they are lent for a little while. The challenge is to steward them wisely and in a way that will show us "rich toward God." 

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have Your perspective on possessions. She me how to use them in a way that pleases You. Amen.

MORE: Worship - a remedy for stuff-love?

We sang this song in church on Sunday after I wrote the meditation above. These words jumped out at me: "No longer will we give our hearts to the things of this world."  I ask myself, could it be that worship is one of the things that loosens the grip things have on us?

"Holy is the Lord" by Jeff Searles (read lyrics here)



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

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