Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Angelic helpers

The Archangel Michael
by Hans Memling, c. 1479

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 12:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer." Revelation 12:6-7

Here we are given a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into the initial expulsion of Satan ("the dragon") and his cohort evil angels from heaven. Michael leads the heavenly army. He is called an "archangel" which means chief or first: a chief angel or angel of the highest rank.

We see Michael in action in several other places in the Bible as well. He comes to the aid of the angel who carries a message of strengthening for Daniel (Daniel 10:13,21). He is part of events to come that Daniel prophesies in Daniel 12. And he is also mentioned in Jude as the angel who disputed with the devil over the body of Moses (Jude 1:9).

The activity of other angels (who are usually unnamed) is frequent throughout Scriptures. An angel or angels:

- Led Lot and his family from doomed Sodom (Genesis 19:1,16).
- Led the Israelites through the desert to Canaan (Exodus 14:19).
- Prepared food for an exhausted Elijah (1 Kings 19:5).
- Shut the mouths of lions so Daniel's life was spared (Daniel 6:22).
- Ministered to Jesus after his 40-day fast and temptation by the devil (Mark 1:13).
- Opened prison doors for Peter and John (Acts 5:19).

I have never seen an angel, though some can make that claim. Yet the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) talks of angelic activity in relation to God's people. Their job is to do God's bidding and perform His will. No doubt that sometimes involves giving a hand to us needy mortals.  The writer of Hebrews says of them, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for angels, part of Your creation I don't know a lot about (by experience) but gladly accept by faith. I welcome their help when You send them to my aid. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. The liturgy begins with this collect:

"Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."




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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Separation

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 16:19-31

TO CHEW ON: "'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'" Luke 16:26

It is not fashionable, these days, to emphasize or even mention God's judgment. Obviously it's much more comfortable to dwell on His love and the benefits of living life under His direction. However, the Bible includes both.

Today's reading — a story Jesus told about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus — doesn't tiptoe around the fact that the decisions we make in life will be judged and will impact our eternal destination.

The rich man was in Hades (hell), not because of his wealth, but because of the way he used it. My Bible's footnote to verse 25 says: "Wealth does not automatically condemn one to hell, nor does poverty in this life guarantee eternal joy. One's destiny depends upon one's relationship to God, which is often reflected in the attitude toward material possessions" (New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1422).

One of the aspects of God's judgment that comes across in Jesus' story is separation.

Separation as a consequence of rejecting God is a theme that runs through the Bible:
  • Proud sinners are banned from God's sight (Psalm 5:5).
  • Ezekiel speaks of "rebels and those who transgress against Me" as being kept out of the land of Israel (Ezekiel 20:38).
  • Jesus speaks of the wheat and the tares ("weeds") coexisting until harvest time when the reapers will separate out the tares to be burned (Matthew 13:30, 49).
  • Jesus also predicts a time of global judgment: "All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another" (Matthew 25:32,46).
  • In our focus verse, the speaker, Abraham, describes a gulf of separation between Hades and heaven.

What is the great separator? Sin. For even Jesus, the sinless son of God was separated from His Father when He took on Himself the sins of the world. Sin not covered by Jesus' blood, separates those who have committed it from God and a future in heaven (Revelation 22:15).

This separation stands in sharp contrast to the relationship that is the essence of eternal life. Mark Buchanan explains it so well in the "More" section of yesterday's devotion.

The dreadful pain we feel at the death of a loved one is only a foretaste of how horrible would be a permanent separation from God and all things good. Let's live wide awake to the reality of God's coming judgment of separation and choose relationship  while we can.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for bridging the gap of separation between sinful me and God. Amen.

MORE: Jesus: wall-breaker

"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation." Ephesians 2:14

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Checkpoint

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments
For this is man's all." Ecclesiastes 12:13

Sometimes the attractive rascal doesn't get his just desserts until the very end of the story. The author makes us wait till we get to the back of the book to show us her take on how life works. That's the case with Ecclesiastes.

The author has painted a fairly cynical picture of human life and effort. But in his closing lines he tells us that there is something that does have meaning.

A commentary on this passage in my Bible says, "Hear the conclusion of the matter: after Solomon had tried every possible experience that the world said would bring happiness, he found it all to be futile and pointless. Devote yourself to God who alone gives true meaning to life." "Truth-In-Action through Ecclesiastes, New Spirit Filled Bible, p. 868.

Solomon seems to allude to this conclusion early in chapter 12 when he says, in effect, make that discovery as early in life as possible

How much better to have devoted all of life to things that really matter than to conclude at the end of a life consumed with running after material stuff and novel experiences, we were chasing the wrong things.

Wherever you are on life's journey, the beginning, middle or end, let this be a checkpoint as you ask yourself: "What am I really living for?"

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see where I'm heading if I stay on the path I'm on. Help me to live in such a way that at the end of life, I will have no regrets. Amen.

MORE: Live -- not just any life, but eternal life

Jesus too speaks about "the conclusion of the whole matter" when He says: "Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" John 17:3.

Mark Buchanan says about this passage:

"There is something about heaven and eternity that we have to grasp, because if we don't, we'll miss everything else. We'll read the music but never sing, study the choreography but never dance.


It's this: Heaven starts now.


Eternity is not primarily a measure of time — chronological time stretched to infinity. It is not first and foremost a place. Eternity is primarily a quality of relationship. It is first and foremost a presence: to know God and Jesus Christ.


Eternity begins now.


Christianity's most shocking claim is that Jesus is the only way to God. No one gets to heaven apart from Jesus. No one enters eternal joy apart from Christ. That's our claim. I have seen people react to it with anger, contempt, disgust, incredulity. 'How dare you say that. That is so arrogant and narrow and imperialistic.' That reaction might be warranted if heaven were only a place and eternity only a duration of time. But heaven is a unique knowing. It is personal, intimate knowledge, not of some thing, but of Some One — the only true God and Jesus the one He sent.


This is eternal life."

— Mark Buchanan, Things Unseen, pp. 102-103.





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Friday, September 24, 2010

Wisdom for work

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 11:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "Cast your bread upon the waters,
For you will find it after many days." 11:1

"He who observes the wind will not sow,
And he who regards the clouds will not reap." 11:4

"In the morning sow your seed,
And in the evening do not withhold your hand;
For you do not know which will prosper,
Either this or that,
Or whether both alike will be good." 11:6

I don't know whether you read the positive thinkers (Dale Carnegie, Robert Schuller et al). I know I have and, though some of their writings seem unrealistically optimistic, I do admit to feeling empowered, energized, and hopeful after spending some time with them.

That's also how the three verses above make me feel. They provide a refreshingly positive outlook in a book that takes a mostly gloomy view of human effort.

These three proverbs speak to three aspects of work. I'll tell you how they speak to me as a writer. Perhaps that will give you thoughts about how they relate to you and your work.

  • The "Cast your bread..." verse says to me: "Make investments even though the return isn't immediately apparent; risk effort rather than withholding it out of an abundance of caution." This verse is in my stack of "writing verses." I think of it when I send away a manuscript. It is true in more ways than one. For it is often many days before I hear back the fate of something I have submitted.
  • I've paraphrased the "He who observes..." verse: "Don't delay effort by making excuses that the conditions aren't exactly right." In my field of endeavor, this is easy to do. I can tell myself, this piece isn't quite ready and continue tweaking it forever. Or I can think up reasons why now is not the right time to submit (in summer editors will be on holidays, in fall -- swamped with submissions, close to Christmas -- preoccupied etc.). This verse advises me not to rationalize myself into paralysis. Rather, I should expend myself, even if conditions don't look ideal.
  • "In the morning sow your seed..." says to me, "Diversify your efforts/investments for you don't know which will succeed, or if they all will. (I like the positive note "...or whether both alike will be good." He could just as easily have said, "Or whether both alike will fail.") As a writer, this verse gives me permission to diversify (work in a variety of genres), something which the common wisdom doesn't recommend but which suits my style and personality only too well.
These proverbs all advise wise stewardship of effort. It's a work ethic of which Jesus approves. Whatever your line of work, may their wisdom liberate, motivate, energize, and empower you too!

PRAYER: Dear God, please deliver me from laziness, over-cautiousness and fear, Help me to act on your promptings, and live carefree as I leave the results in Your hands. Amen.

MORE: In the same vein...

Here's another bit of writing advice I've had posted near my writing workplace for years. It is addressed specifically to writers but I'm sure it's applicable to other areas of work as well:

"One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now... Some more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."
-

- Annie Dillard



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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Night prayers

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 5:33-6:16

TO CHEW ON: "Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day He called His disciples to Himself and from them He chose twelve whom He also called Apostles." Luke 6:12-13

As I grow older, one of the changes I've noticed in myself is that I don't sleep as well. What I try to remember to do during the minutes and hours of wakefulness, is pray.

I find I am in good company. As I study Bible characters who did the same thing, I discover that they spent time at night praying instead of sleeping for a variety of reasons.

1. Jacob spent all night wrestling with an angel of God the night before he had arranged to meet his brother Esau, from whom he had been estranged for years because he had tricked him out of his birthright.

2. Samuel, grieved and angry, "cried out to the Lord all night" after God told him that He regretted choosing Saul as king.

3. David woke at midnight with his heart so full of joy at God's "righteous judgements" that he got up to give thanks.

4. Jesus prayed all night before He chose His twelve apostles (our focus verse today).

5. Paul and Silas were still praying and singing hymns  at midnight after they had been arrested, beaten and locked up in a Philippian prison.

Watching these people pray during a time when folks normally sleep shows us:
- they were confident that God never sleeps.
- they believed praying would make a difference.
- they were eager to include God in every part of their day.

So, whether you're awake at night because tomorrow is a big day, your emotions are riled-up, or you're in too much physical pain and discomfort to sleep, take it as an invitation to join the crowd of night praye-ers. In fact, your night prayers are probably way more important to the situation than the sleep you're missing is to your next day.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that You never sleep. Remind me to use the times at night when I can't sleep to commune with You. Amen.

MORE: Thoughts on prayer

"As a camel kneels before his master to have him remove his burden at the end of the day, so kneel each night and let the Master take your burden." — Corrie Ten Boom

"It's so easy to promise to pray for people, or just plan to pray for people, and forget. So many afflictions, so many tragedies or desperate hopes that cry out for intercession. Only an instant of my time, only a few words, a thought — and who knows? It may be the only word of prayer that person will get." — Marjorie Holmes

"Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening." — Matthew Henry

"Prayer is not something we do at a specific time, but something we do all the time." Richard Owen Roberts

My friend Jan Cox has begun writing a blog about prayer. Under the Cover of Prayer is full of encouragement to pray as well as prayer stories from Jan and others. Go visit. You'll be blessed!


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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The secret of effectiveness

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 5:12-32

TO CHEW ON: "However the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed." Luke 5:15-16

If anyone had an excuse for not having the time and energy to pray, it was Jesus. Wherever He went, the crowds gathered. Even times he set aside for relaxation, or wanted stillness to grieve were hijacked by the multitudes. They followed this captivating teacher and compassionate healer wherever He went, around lakes, up mountainsides and into isolated places.

Jesus' deity did not trump His fatigue either. For we see Him after one long day fast asleep in a storm-tossed boat.

However, He never used the excuse that He was too busy or too tired to pray. Instead He made opportunities to commune with His father in a variety of times and ways. For He knew that His power for ministry was linked at the very artery/vein level, to prayer. Note the word "So" in our focus verse. The people were coming to Him to be taught and healed. So (thus) He needed to pray.

  • At other times He went into the wilderness (our focus verse).

In the light of Jesus' example, I ask myself:
- Do I make the time and opportunity to pray? Or do I make excuses about why I don't pray?
- Do I start my day and my projects with prayer?
- Do I deal with life's heavy times first in prayer?
- Do I let the insights I gain during times of prayer inform my living?
- Am I a continuing student of prayer?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I love the example You set in prayer. Please teach me to pray. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Matthew

Today is the church celebration of Matthew, a disciple Jesus called after one of His prayer sessions.

A set of videos/DVDs of Jesus' life is based on the Gospel of Matthew. When I think of Matthew, I see the gentle and wise elderly man who plays the part of Matthew in the movie, telling his memories to what look like his grandchildren, while a scribe writes his words.

Watch the movie trailer.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pray for authorities

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Timothy 2:1-7

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." 1 Timothy 2:1-2


The instructions to pray for rulers and authorities must have been especially difficult for members of the early church. Their rulers were often cruel and repressive with no qualms about giving Christians a bad time. Followers of "The Way" were frequently scapegoats, accused of and then killed for crimes they had never committed.

In spite of this, Paul tells Timothy to instruct the people in his congregation to intercede and give thanks for all in leadership and authority positions. Still today, whether we like them or not, agree or disagree with their politics and decisions, we are to pray for those who rule and have authority — in our land and all over the world.

Dick Eastman in his book Love On Its Knees gives us some specific ways we can pray for leaders and authorities. First, he lays out a general "Micah Plan." It is based on praying out of Micah 6:8 — Micah's description of the lifestyle and conduct of a leader:
"He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" 

From this Eastman suggests:

"- We must pray that a particular leader will do justly....that he or she will govern truthfully with a spirit of sincerity.
- We may pray that a leader will love mercy. This means he or she will govern compassionately with a spirit of generosity.
- We may pray that the leader will walk humbly with God. This means he or she will govern modestly and with a spirit of sensitivity."

Eastman then goes on to list seven specific things we can pray for leaders of our country and countries around the world:

1. That unjust leaders will make mistakes that help advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Psalm 109:26-29).

2. That tyrannical leaders will fall from power by receiving unsound advice (Psalm 5:10).

3. That godly leaders will discover spiritual wisdom to govern their nations (Proverbs 28:2).

4. That all leaders will receive a personal message of God's love (Isaiah 52:7).

5. That leaders in troubled nations will grow weary of continuing bloodshed in their lands (1 Kings 5:3-4).

6. That corrupt leaders will recognize their evil ways and turn to God (2 Chronicles 33:11-13).

7. That all leaders will realize that God alone gave them their positions of authority (Daniel 2:20-21) — Dick Eastman (Dick Eastman On Prayer: Love On Its Knees, pages 97-101).

Let's spend some time praying for those in authority today.

PRAYER: Dear God, I confess I have often neglected to pray for the leaders of my land, province and city. Today I pray for my Prime Minister (or president or king...), the premier of my province (or governor of my state...), and the mayor of my city. May they be blessed with Your wisdom, have a personal sense of Your love, and acknowledge Your role in bringing them to their position and helping them carry out their responsibilities. Amen.

MORE: More authorities to pray for...

Elected, appointed, or self-appointed political rulers are not society's only authorities. Many other people have such positions, not formally recognized perhaps but by reason of their influence. Other authority figures for which we can and should pray could be:

1. Judges and members of law enforcement, including the police and the military.

2. Educators which would include teachers, college and university professors, even our kids' sports coaches.

3. Cultural authorities such as entertainers and sports figures.

4. Commercial authorities such as business leaders, and members of the media.

Perhaps you can think of even more...

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Will He know you?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 8:18-9:11

TO CHEW ON: "'And like their bow they have bent their tongue for lies.
They are not valiant for the truth on the earth.
For they proceed from evil to evil
And they do not know Me,' says the Lord." Jeremiah 9:3

These chilling words from today's focus verse snag my attention: "And they do not know Me." Why does God claim these people — citizens of Judah and members of His chosen race -- don't know Him? In this case the peoples' lies show that they don't know God in any life-changing way.

These words set me on a search to find other places God talks about our estrangement from Him and His from us.

Jesus echoes the sentiment from Jeremiah in Matthew 7 when he says that those who do the will of God are the ones God recognizes:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 - emphasis mine).

Jesus also talks plainly about not knowing those who try to come to God in any but the given way - the "narrow gate":

Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”
And He said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ "(Luke 13:23-27 - emphasis mine).

There is a disturbing trend in modern Christianity to dilute Christ's claim that He is the only way to God. Perhaps it seems too narrow, exclusive, and intolerant. Or maybe it comes from a desire for novelty and finding a new and improved way to connect with God. The result is a tendency toward syncretism, a blending of our worship of God with the practices of other religions. It borrows from various faith streams to make a hybrid way to God, which includes Christ and/or a little meditation, asceticism, mysticism etc. These practices are rooted in Gnosticism and eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism etc.

In this context the warning words of Moses ring across the ages. They apply to the church today:

“When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way..." (Deuteronomy 12:29-31a - emphasis mine).

In our quest for a new and improved way to connect with God, to experience spiritual thrills and chills, let's be ever aware of Jesus' words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).

PRAYER: Dear God, at the end of my life I do not want to hear You say, "I do not know you." Please alert me, by Your Spirit, to disobedience and wandering in me. Amen.

MORE: For your consideration...

On the blog Sola Sisters, two sisters who were once involved in New Age religious practice speak from their experience about the syncretistic tendencies they see in the church.

"Mysticism: A Counterfeit Holy Spirit"

"Christian Yoga"

"Fighting for the Faith Interview" — link to a 58+ minute interview with Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio where one of the Sola Sisters tells the story of how she got involved in a type of Christian mysticism.



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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Are there dead flies in your life?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 10:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Dead flies putrefy the perfumer's ointment,
And cause it to give off a foul odour;
So does a little folly to one respected
for wisdom and honour.
...The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious
But the lips of a fool shall swallow him up." Ecclesiastes 10:1,12

In this day of the internet, when anyone can post on blogs, forums, chat-rooms, and twitter, can comment on news features, editorials, blogs, and columns, Solomon's advice to avoid words of folly is more apropos than ever.

It is advice especially applicable to people of faith. The world, rightly or wrongly, holds people who call themselves Christians to a high standard.

I believe we are justified in holding each other to a level of consistency. How disappointing would it be if you discovered your pastor, whose teaching nourishes you on Sundays, was in the habit of disparaging his parishioners on a pastor's forum, and sometimes forwarded off-colour jokes?

For those of us who have an online presence the danger of messing up is always present. Perhaps the best protection against being betrayed by your own tongue and actions is to have a guileless heart, where you have already dealt with unworthy thoughts, words, and temptations to act impetuously (we all have them) before God. ("A wise man's heart guides his mouth and his lips promote instruction" - Proverbs 16:23 NIV.)

How much better to be known as a person whose speech (in every venue: blog posts, e-news comments, forums, chats, Facebook) and life, is characterized by grace.

Some of my favourite verses in this regard:

"She opens her mouth with wisdom
And on her tongue is the law of kindness" - Proverbs 31:26  (said of the virtuous wife by King Lemuel).

"A gentle response defuses anger,
but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. " Proverbs 15:1 Message

"Pleasant words are a honeycomb
Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones" - Proverbs 16:24

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me the dead flies in my life — the places where my stated beliefs and words / actions don't line up. Amen.

MORE: "May the Words of My Mouth" - Tim Hughes





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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Work

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 9:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going." Ecclesiastes 9:10

Though we may equate work with the fall, it pre-existed sin's entrance into Eden. God gave Adam the work of tending the garden before he and Eve sinned. And despite what the writer of Ecclesiastes says about the cessation of work after death, Jesus' remarks to His disciples about them ruling and reigning with Him when He establishes the Kingdom of Heaven, suggest that work may continue past the grave.

Work [1. Continued exertion or activity, whether physical or mental directed to some purpose or end; labour. 2. The acts, obligation etc. that one does in return for something of value, as money. 3. Any prolonged or industrious effort.] is part of life, whether we enjoy it or not. It shapes our days, gives us a reason to get up in the morning and sends us to bed tired at night.

In our focus verse, Solomon touches on a couple of aspects of work that can make it more enjoyable and us more productive.

"Whatever your hand finds to do..." suggests that all work may not be equally attractive. Sometimes we are required to just do the next thing, whether we feel like it or not — to tackle the odious task at hand.

"...do it with all your might..." addresses the way we accomplish our work. Doing a job with all our might implies working with focus, energy, physical strength, skill and imagination.

"...for there is no work... in the grave where you are going" tells us that work is not all there is. Of course the principle of the Sabbath, refraining from work one day in seven and spending it in rest and worship, runs through the Bible. If you are near or at retirement age, you will be facing the fact that the number of years that society considers you productive, is limited. So, Solomon says, work hard now, while you still have the ability.

I ask myself, do I:
- Tackle all the things I need to do, even the ones that are hard, boring, unpleasant and scary — the tasks I'd rather avoid?
- Work with focus, giving each job my best?
- Work with the knowledge that my earthly workdays are numbered?

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the right attitude about work. Help me to do everything as if You were my boss and supervisor — because You are. Amen.

MORE: Work-related

In this day of electronic bombardment, it's easy to get distracted from the job at hand. Michael Hyatt (CEO of Nelson Publishing) often addresses issues of productivity on his blog. He begins a recent post about lists:

"My to-do list is at the center of my personal workflow. Like you, I am bombarded with scores—sometimes hundreds—of requests every day. They show up in my inbox, on the phone, and at my door. All of them want action now. That’s why years ago, I learned the importance of creating a daily to-do list. It might sound simple, but I don’t know of a more important productivity tool."

Read all of "Your to-do list as a personal command center"

You might also enjoy "What to do when you hate your job."

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Who put you here?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Timothy 1:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry." 1 Timothy 1:12

It is a good thing, from time to time, to review where you are and why you are here — to think back over your history and thus regain the sense of God's hand guiding you into the job and ministry you find yourself in.

Paul had a strong sense of divine appointment. It comes out in the way he opens his letters. The first verse of our reading today is an example: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope."

One way Paul retains such conviction is by reviewing how he came to God in the first place. He alludes to that time when he talks about his life before Christ: "I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man, but I obtained mercy..."vs. 13.

Paul encourages Timothy, further, to recall prophetic words others have spoken over him: "I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you that by them you may wage the good warfare" vs. 18.

One more thing I have found helpful is reviewing Bible passages that have spoken powerfully to me, rereading the verses and stories that have set me on the path I have taken.

It is easy, in our time of many options and choices, to get distracted from core life and ministry purposes and goals. Reviewing our history with God, recalling the prophetic words of others, and rereading the Scriptures that have shaped our lives can be a good way to again get focused on where we are and why.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have the conviction of being where I am by Your hand. Thank You for putting me in the this ministry. Amen.

MORE: Burning words

I love the way the disciples described the effect of Jesus' spoken words on them as they walked together to Emmaus: "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

What Bible words or stories have burned within you, helping establish you in the direction your life and ministry have taken?

Some such for me would be Luke 19:11-27.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Do you have a fallow heart?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 4:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem:
'Break up your fallow ground
And do not sow among thorns.'" Jeremiah 4:3

In this plea through Jeremiah God calls wayward Judah and Israel back to Him. He calls their hearts "fallow ground."

I think summer fallow — the fields my father would leave unplanted each year. He cycled these so that every growing season a bit of the land got a rest. One doesn't expect a crop from fallow land. Israel and Judah have been spiritually unproductive.

But it's time to get back to planting and crops. Get the soil of your heart ready, says Jeremiah. How is that done? Another prophet prophet — Hosea — tells us. It's by seeking the Lord (Hosea 10:12).

When you plant, watch that you don't put that valuable seed among thorns, cautions Jeremiah. We think of Jesus' parable where the seed is the God's word and the thorns signify the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches which "choke the word and it becomes unfruitful."

If you and I are in a fallow, unfruitful state, we too can again become spiritually productive. We can break up our heart's barren crust by seeking the Lord — reading the Bible, asking God to show us the ways it applies to us personally, sharing our lives with Him in prayer and being open to His correction and instruction.

But in this time of noisy electronics and many distractions, we are also vulnerable to thorns — the ring-tones of cell phones, the instant information of the Internet, cares of work, family, the need to earn money. We need more than ever to watch over our hearts that they remain good, productive soil.

PRAYER: Dear God, I want my heart to be receptive and productive. Help me to see You with energy and be vigilant to guard what I find and learn. Amen.

MORE: "I Will Delight" by Fernando Ortega





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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Are you ready to die?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 8:2-17

TO CHEW ON: "No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit,
And no one has power in the day of death.
There is no release from that war." Ecclesiastes 8:8a

Our family has, within the last week, looked in death's face several times. In one, doctors predicted my brother with terminal untreatable cancer would likely die within two weeks. But instead of succumbing, he rallied and even now soldiers on past the given date.

In another, my father-in-law died unexpectedly in his sleep. For his son who visited him earlier in the day there was no prediction that his dad was living his last hours.

The lesson for me in all this: Be ready to die at any time.

The Bible gives some good advice on how to get ready, and live ready, to die:

1. We should get our affairs of life and business in order.

2. We should get our spiritual lives in order so that we are always ready to meet God.

3. While we have life, we should live it to the full, savouring the good times even as we realize that dark days are also part of life.

4. We should spend our days doing things that are significant for God.

5. We should live with the realization that someday God will inspect and judge our work.

Though the subject of death may make us squirmy, it is never too soon to be ready to die. Give your own inevitable death some thought today. You won't regret it.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me face the uncomfortable fact of my own mortality. Help me to look at all aspects of my life realistically and do what I need to do to be ready to die.


MORE: The Boomer Burden

Julie Hall (aka "The Estate Lady") has written a wonderful book to help our generation (the Baby Boomers) cope with looking after the affairs of their aging, dying parents. The advice in The Boomer Burden also applies to our own affairs. It helps readers think through the many aspects of how to prepare for death themselves so that their final wishes are honored and life is easier for those left behind to administer their estates. (Highly recommended reading! My review of it is here)




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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Rooting out anger


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 7:1-8:1

 TO CHEW ON: "Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry,
For anger rests in the bosom of fools." Ecclesiastes 7:9

I will never be one of those people of whom their kids can say, 'Mom never said an angry word.' Because I've been known to lose it.

The battle with anger is probably harder for some people than others. But no matter how unnatural it feels to stay even-tempered, the Bible makes it clear that anger is seldom a good thing.

- It leads to evil (Psalm 37:8).
- It leads to unwise decisions and actions (Proverbs 14:17).
- It is in our control (Proverbs 16:32).
- Patience and overlooking another person's wrongs are a better response (Proverbs 19:11).
- It sets us up for judgment (Matthew 5:22).
- It is on the list of carnal qualities to "put off" along with malice, blasphemy, and filthy language (Colossians 3:8).
- It disqualifies us for positions of leadership (Titus 1:7).
- It is not conducive to a righteous life: "God's righteousness does not grow from human anger" - Message (James 1:19-20).

Anger begins in the thought life and is often a symptom of other problems: unmet expectations, impatience, hurt pride, selfishness, self-centredness. You can probably think of more.

Discovering the root of one's anger is an important insight. Those of us with an anger problem can ask for God's help to determine what is triggering those bouts of temper. Only as we attack anger's root will we finally overcome this foolish and impulsive response to people and circumstances.

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me insights into the anger that still lurks in my heart and explodes at the most inopportune times. Amen.

MORE: Circumstances and my thoughts
"...circumstances do not make men; it is their reaction to circumstances that determines what kind of men they will be...


...The mental stuff of the Christian can be and should be modified and conditioned by the Spirit of Christ which indwells his nature. God wills that we think His thoughts after Him. The Spirit-filled, prayerful Christian actually possesses the mind of Christ, so that his reactions to the external world are the same as Christ's. He thinks about people and things just as Christ does. All life becomes to him the raw nectar which the Spirit within him turns into the honey of paradise.


Yet this is not automatic. To do His gracious work God must have the intelligent cooperation of His people. If we would think God's thoughts we must learn to think continually of God. 'God thinks continuously of each one of us as if He had no one but ourselves,' said Francois Malaval; 'it is therefore no more than just if we think continuously of Him as if we had no one but Himself.'


We must think of the surrounding world of people and things against the background of our thoughts of God..." — A. W. Tozer, "The Sanctification of Our Minds" from That Incredible Christian.


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Monday, September 06, 2010

Soul food

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 6:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "All the labor of man is for his mouth,
And yet the soul is not satisfied." Ecclesiastes 6:7

Has it ever struck you how ever-near is your next bout of hunger? For the healthy person the desire to eat recurs at regular intervals separated by mere hours and is never satisfied in a final way. This is, however, a good thing, as it keeps us fueling ourselves so we stay alive.

In the Ecclesiastes passage the Preacher refers to this insatiableness. But he looks at it as a disadvantage. We could take his reference to our physical hunger as a stand-in for all the physical things in life that promise satisfaction. We partake, indulge, even over-indulge, hoping to quell that nagging ache. But still there is hunger — soul hunger. Our souls are not satisfied with material things.

Jesus' words stand in bold contrast. He tells us He is the water that finally quenches soul and spirit thirst. He is the bread that finally satisfies and gives spiritual life.

I ask myself, where do I find myself going to quench soul and spirit hunger? To material things? To the arts — literature, paintings and sculptures, music? To social interaction? To personal performance and productivity?

These things have their place. Some are better at providing temporary satisfaction than others. But Jesus and what He offers is the source and supply of spirit and soul food that fully and finally satisfies in a way that lasts into eternity.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me look for and find my satisfaction in You.

MORE: "All Praise Rising"





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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Empty promises

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil." Ecclesiastes 5:1

I fill out my missions pledge card in the heat of the moment, my faith buoyed by the stories of miracle provision in other places. Any second thoughts as to the amount I promise to give monthly are quelled by the pastor's words: "This faith promise is between God and you. No one will ever call on you to collect." I leave, feeling happy with myself. However, the months that follow will tell whether or not those feelings are justified.

Do I take my pledge seriously when finances are low, or a new need arises that requires every spare nickel and dime? Or have I made the "sacrifice of fools" — an empty promise that I break when my circumstances change?

Solomon in Ecclesiastes, warns against such glib vows "Better not to vow than to vow and not pay," he says (vs. 5).

I can think of several reasons we make promises to God that we don't keep.
  • Sometimes we make them in the heat of the emotional moment. Later when our feelings have cooled, we go back on those vows.
  • We might make a promise to God when we're in trouble, to try to induce Him to help us out.
  • If the promise-making is public, we might pledge to do a certain thing or give a certain sum of money to impress others.
  • Of course we might also make promises to God as genuine expressions of faith, love, devotion, and gratitude.

Solomon's warning to think before we make a promise to God is excellent. We can use that thinking time to examine our motives. For when we make promises to God and break them, it becomes that much easier to feel casual about promises we make the next time, and the next. Our relationship easily becomes one of habitually making promises we don't intend to keep.

But when we keep our promises to God, we demonstrate to ourselves and others that we genuinely respect ("fear") God who isn't in the least duped by our empty and unfulfilled promises in any case.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to search and know my own heart when it comes to making vows or promises to You. Amen

MORE: "Let My Words Be Few" (by Matt Redman, sung here by Philips, Craig and Dean)



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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Disciple

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 14:15-35

TO CHEW ON: "So likewise whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:33

"Disciple" — mathetes — derives from the word math. It suggests thought along with effort. A disciple is a learner — a follower of the teaching and the teacher. Bible writers use it of the Apostles and later of Christians generally.

Nowadays we don't speak much of being disciples, at least not outside of formal instructions about discipleship from pastors and teachers. Why? Perhaps because it implies a relationship that is too radical for us modern westerners who like to keep our options open.

There is none of such holding back in Jesus' definition of discipleship. It involves:
- Self-denial and cross-bearing (Matthew 16:24).
- Renunciation (Luke 14:26 — part of our passage today).
- Leaving all (Luke 14:33 — our focus verse today).
- Perseverance (John 8:31)
- Fruitfulness (John 15:8).

I ask myself, by these descriptors, what kind of a disciple am I? What about you?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to be a disciple by Your definition. Show me where I am reserving parts of my life for myself.

MORE: His

"'If any man come to me and hate not... he cannot be My disciple,' not, he cannot be good and upright, but, he cannot be one over whom Jesus writes the word 'Mine.' Any one of the relationships Our Lord mentions may be a competitive relationship. I may prefer to belong to my mother, or to my wife, or to myself; then, says Jesus, you cannot be My disciple. This does not mean I will not be saved, but it does mean that I cannot be 'His'....Be entirely His."
— Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, today's reading.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A matter of obedience

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philemon 1-25

TO CHEW ON: "Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say." Philemon 21

The little Bible book of Philemon is a letter from Paul to fellow Christian Philemon. In it he appeals to Philemon to be reconciled to his runaway slave Onesimus. It seems that the runaway found his way to Paul, accepted the gospel and is now a helper to Paul while he is in prison.

An introductory note in my Bible explains, "Paul's primary goal was to see Philemon freely embrace the fugitive Onesimus as a brother in Christ. The apostle made clear his desire for Onesimus to stay with him, but insisted on reconciliation first (vs. 13-14)." - Introduction to Philemon, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1724.

Paul's tone is respectful. He is careful to defer to Philemon's own will before taking Onesimus into his own service more permanently: "But without your consent I wanted to do nothing..." vs. 14. He even offers to pay — a blank cheque — whatever outstanding debts Onesimus owes to Philemon: "But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account" vs. 17.

So, coming to the end of the chapter the word "obedience" jumps out at us. Who or what is he telling Philemon to obey? He, Paul, has made no commands in the letter. But by slipping in that word, he is reminding Philemon that there is also an imperative involved here. I would suggest it is the command to forgive.

Jesus was always clear about how important forgiveness was:

"And when you stand praying you hold anything against anyone forgive him so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" Mark 11:25.

"If he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him" Luke 17:4.

In other writings Paul teaches forgiveness too — see Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13.

Paul's suggestion that forgiveness is a matter of obedience applies to us too. Many aspects of relationships involve choices we are free to make. But whether or not we choose to forgive those who have wronged us falls in a different department — that of obedience or disobedience.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to develop an attitude of ready and unconditional forgiveness. Amen.

MORE: Wisdom about forgiveness

I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive.  Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one.  ~Henry Ward Beecher
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.  ~Lewis B. Smedes, "Forgiveness - The Power to Change the Past," Christianity Today, 7 January 1983
"Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future."  ~Paul Boese
"It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend."  ~William Blake, Jerusalem
"He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass."  ~George Herbert
"Forgiving is love's toughest work, and love's biggest risk.  If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator.  Forgiving seems almost unnatural.  Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do.  But forgiving is love's power to break nature's rule."  ~Lewis B. Smedes

More forgiveness quotes found in The Quote Garden (where I picked these).



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

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