Sunday, October 31, 2010

How to live free

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 8:23-47

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" John 8:31-

The Bible connects the ability to discern truth with obedience in several places. Paul does it in Romans 1 when he talks about sinful people "who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (or wickedness)" (Romans 1:18). Their refusal to acknowledge God as God and glorify Him (which surely includes obedience), results in foolish darkened hearts and lives that are enslaved to physical lusts, passions and outright rebellion (Romans 1:18-32).

In our focus verse today Jesus states the same idea only coming at it positively, maybe because of the sympathetic crowd ("Those Jews who believed Him"):

"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 
And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

Let's look closely at Jesus' words to see how He connects obedience, to  knowing truth, to freedom.

"If you abide in My word..." Abide (Meno) means to remain as one, not to become another or different. A cross-reference to this verse in my margin is John 14:23-24: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word." The NIV says "If anyone loves Me he will obey My word" (NIV).

"...You are My disciples indeed..." Disciple (Mathetes) comes from the root "math" which suggests thought with effort put forth. My Bible defines disciple as "a learner, one who follows both the teaching and the teacher" (Word Wealth, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1307).

"...And you shall know the truth..." Know (Ginosko ) means to perceive, understand, recognize, gain knowledge, realize, come to know. "Ginosko is the knowledge that has inception, a progress and an attainment. It is the recognition of truth by personal experience" (Word Wealth - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1459).

"...and the truth shall make you free." Made free (Eleuthero) means to make free; set at liberty from the dominion of sin.

What does this mean for you and me? We could say that obedience to God and what He tells us of His will in the Bible is key to us being  disciples and to understanding truth in a way that is only possible once we've actually lived it. Oswald Chambers expresses the connection between obedience and understanding truth so well:

"The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark to me, then I may be sure there is something I will not do. Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey."
-- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 27th reading.
A corollary of living this way is that I'm set free from sin being the boss in my life. Ironic, isn't it, that freedom comes through putting oneself under the will of Another.

It sounds great in theory... now to consistently put it into practice!

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live free. Help me to identify where I am still in bondage because of disobedience that keeps me blind to the truth about You and myself. Amen.

MORE: Halloween

Today is Halloween. It is a secular holiday that has sacred roots. It is still listed in the Lectionary as a holy day: Vigil of All Saints.

An All Saints Vigil Liturgy (found on an ecumenical liturgy site) includes a renewal of Baptism. The leader begins that part of the service with the invitation: "I invite you (to stand) to affirm your commitment to Christ and your rejection of all that is evil."


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Friday, October 29, 2010

A seven-word antidote for life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 1:1-2:4

TO CHEW ON: "Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him.
But the just shall live by his faith." Habakkuk 2:4

The prophet Habakkuk lived during desperate times. Josiah's reforms had run their course in Judah. The nation had again fallen into chaotic disarray with violence, oppression of the poor and the collapse of the legal system. Add to that the rise of Babylonia (the Chaldeans) who had conquered Assyria and Egypt and was eyeing Judah's northern border, and you have a grim scenario.

Habakkuk's innate sense of justice was deeply troubled by all this. And so he dared to question God. Subheadings in my Bible make it easy to follow their conversation:

Habakkuk: God, why don't You do something? (1:1-4 - my paraphrase)

God: I will use the Chaldeans. (1:5-11)

Habakkuk: Why do you use wicked people? (1:12-17)

(To himself: I'm all ears to hear the answer to this!) (2:1).

God: Write what I tell you so that you can easily spread this message when the time is right: THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY HIS FAITH. (2:2-4)

The introductory notes to Habbakkuk in my Bible explain what these words probably meant to the prophet at the time:

"For the prophet, the promise is for physical protection in time of great upheaval and war. When the predicted invasion by foreign armies becomes a reality, that righteous remnant whose God is the Lord, whose trust and dependence is in Him will be delivered and they will live." "The Book of Habakkuk" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1223.

Of course the words "The just shall live by their faith" have echoed through history. For Paul and the writer of Hebrews they were the anchor of salvation. For Martin Luther they were the catalyst for the Reformation.

The seven words God spoke to Habakkuk way back in 600 B.C. also apply to us today. Everyday living demands faith. Handling sickness, catastrophe, and financial instability demands faith. Believing that we are really right with God demands faith. Doing what we hear God telling us to do demands faith.

For what do you need faith today?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to follow my vague anxieties to their sources of fear and unbelief. Help solidify my faith in Your goodness and ability to bring into my life things that are good for me. Amen.

MORE: Questioning God

I love the way Habakkuk speaks plainly to God about the things that trouble him. And God answers back. A sidebar article in my Bible suggests five keys to hearing God's voice, gleaned from Habakkuk 2:1-3.

1. Meet with God regularly in a special place of prayer: "I will stand my watch."
2. Look for God to speak to you in dreams and visions: I will "watch to see."
3. Listen for the word of the Lord: "He will say to me."
4. Keep a journal of things that God says: "Write the vision."
5. Wait for God to bring it to pass: "It will surely come."
"Five Keys to Hearing God's Voice" by James W. Ryle, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1225.


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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Excuses

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 19:11-27

TO CHEW ON:
"For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him." Luke 19:26

On first reading the above, we might be tempted to say, "Not fair!" For those of us brought up on the precepts of democracy, where everyone is supposedly equal, taking away from someone who doesn't have, to give to someone who does, seems wrong.

In context, though, we see this parable Jesus told is a story about taking responsibility for what one has. It's a story about being a good steward of something one has been entrusted with, and being rewarded for that.

The third servant — the one who hid his money (mina) instead of investing it — intrigues me. Why do you suppose someone would do what he did? I can imagine several reasons;

- Lack of confidence
Maybe, when he saw the others entrusted with multiples of what he got, he thought, The master sure doesn't think much of me by giving me only one mina. I must be lacking in some way. Then he let his lack of confidence immobilize him.

- Naturally cautious
Maybe he was a man who just didn't like to take risks. It's ironic, though, that by refusing the do the most unrisky thing — deposit the mina in a place where it could at least earn interest — he was putting himself at the greatest risk of all.

- Insignificant sum
Perhaps he thought, This small amount is so insignificant when compared with what the others have been given, it doesn't really matter what I do with it.

- Perfectionism
Jesus reports the servant's reply when the King asks him to explain his investment paralysis: "I feared you because you are an austere man..." Could that reveal his underlying fear of doing it wrong? So, because he wasn't sure he could do this exactly as the king expected, he didn't do anything?

- Ideological differences
This king was hated. Maybe the servant — independent thinker that he was — decided to show the king that he didn't give a fig for his kingdom, didn't want to play the king's game and showed it by treating the master's gift with indifference and disdain.

The above is speculation, of course. But these are all reasons we don't invest our minas — the gifts and talents with which we were born — in the Kingdom of God.

This parable has been a significant one in my life. It is one of the reasons why, a few years ago, I decided to take up writing in a more serious way.

What is your mina? Have you invested it in God's Kingdom, or used one of the excuses, above, to hide it away in a handkerchief?

PRAYER:
Dear God, help me to be a good steward of all You have given me. Amen.

MORE: Mina
A mina (called a "talent" in a similar story Jesus told recorded in Matthew 25:14-29) was a weight equal to 50 shekels (according to a footnote in my Bible). Here it refers to approximately a pound of money. Each minah (Hebrew) was worth about three months' salary, not an insignificant sum if you think of it in term's of today's wages.


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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Canadian Blog Awards

Some kind reader nominated Other Food: daily devos for the 2010 Canadian Blog Awards.  Round 2 voting is now underway. I would be so honored if you helped "Other Food" make a good showing.

Cast your vote for "Other Food" here once a day until noon October 26th ("Best Religion and Philosophy Blog 2010" category - third from bottom).

And thanks so much for your support!

Fruit Cycle

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 19:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "So he made haste and came down and received Him joyfully." Luke 19:6

The wonderful story of Zacchaeus is unique yet typical. It is like following the life cycle of a piece of spiritual fruit in the way it illustrates the stages of someone coming to Jesus. Here are some of those stages:

1. Spiritual hunger
Zaccheus was rich and a social and religious outcast. His position as a chief tax collector meant he was doubly hated as a collaborator and enforcer with the Romans. He's the kind of person we easily depersonalize, feeling they're altogether not like us. But despite his more-than-adequate lifestyle and incorrect politics, he had spiritual longings. That's true of most people.

2. Attraction to Jesus
Jesus intrigued Zaccheus, to the point he climbed a tree to compensate for his shortness in order to see Him. Fascination with Jesus continues into our generation. I have heard and read many stories of people, even in places where Jesus is not well known and faith in Him not condoned, having a fascination with Him and encountering Him in visions and dreams.

3. Chance intersection
Jesus happened to look up and catch sight of Zaccheus. God often brings together thirsty people with the thirst-quencher sometimes in ways so seemingly coincidental we're amazed by the miraculousness of it.

4. Personal encounter
Jesus invited Himself over to Zaccheus's house. I don't know if that was socially kosher or not, but Z. sure didn't mind. He was as delighted to bring Jesus into the place he lived as Jesus was to meet him there. Jesus does that; meets us where we live.

5. Easy pickings
Zaccheus was ripe fruit. Notice how ready he was to change (vs. 8). We don't know if Jesus had to say anything to convince him that his life needed a shakeup. God had prepared his heart — as He prepares the hearts of all who come to Him.

6. Transformation
"Today salvation has come to this house," said Jesus. Salvation didn't just come to Zaccheus's life but his "house" (Oikos — his dwelling, family, descendants). We could say the same today whether the person encountering Jesus has been a gangster, an imam, a desperate housewife or cynical student.

Have you seen God operating in your life or the lives of others in these ways? I have. Being aware of these stages of spiritual fruit helps me in two ways.
  • I can pray specifically for these things to be happening in the lives of people I know who have not yet met Jesus or who have turned their back on Him.
  • I can be reassured that I am part of the process (as Jesus told us to be), even if I'm not the one to pick the fruit.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me be a worker with You in introducing people to Jesus. Amen.

MORE: Another take on this story

It just happens that the day I'm writing this is the day this story is featured on Bible Drive-Thru (my kids' devotions). Read "Dinner with a Sinner."



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Monday, October 25, 2010

Blind

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 18:31-43

TO CHEW ON: "But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.

Then it happened as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging." Luke 18:34-35

This morning, as I read this passage, I noticed something I have never seen before: the juxtaposition of two blindnesses. Do you see it?

The disciples didn't understand what Jesus was saying about how He was going to die — they were blind: "this saying was hidden from them." Then right in the next verse, Jesus and the disciples ran across a physically blind man.

When the blind beggar heard Jesus was nearby he cried out. "Jesus, Son of David," and kept shouting, despite everyone around him telling him to shut up. It seemed he knew who Jesus was better than the disciples did.

When Jesus asked, "What do you want me to do for you?" the man answered, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." That's a request the disciples needed to make too. They didn't know it, of course, as many of us don't when our eyes aren't acute to the wavelength of spiritual reality. For we can as be blind about spiritual things as they were.

It takes spiritual sight to make right spiritual decisions. When we come to God, we need to understand our sinful, lost state, who Jesus is, and how He can redeem us. Then we need sight about the spiritual aspects of all the segments of our lives.

Henry Blackaby in the "Experiencing God" workbook makes this comment about the everyday life and work of the Christian :
"...throughout your life you will have times when you want to respond to situations based on your own experiences or your own wisdom. Such an approach will get you in trouble. This should be your guideline: always go to the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of your situation to you. Look to see what God says and how He works in the Scriptures" Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God, p. 14 (emphasis mine). 

Jesus gives the beggar his sight in a physical miracle. "Your faith has made you well," He says.

I wonder, is faith our key to receiving spiritual sight as well? Faith to take the teachings of the Bible at face value. Faith to let them be the reality we live by even when what they say doesn't jive with what popular culture tells us.

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me my blind spots, in work, in relationships, in ministry. Then open my eyes to spiritual truth as I search Your word  about them. Help me to have the faith to respond to what I see with obedience. Amen.

MORE: "Open Our Eyes Lord"




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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Are you sanctimonious?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 18:9-30

TO CHEW ON: "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess." Luke 18:11,12

Who of us has not felt slightly put off when people use prayer for other purposes than simple communication with God — to inform about a situation, perhaps, or give a little theological instruction? In Jesus' story the Pharisee uses it to point out his own good points. We'd say his prayer was sanctimonious.

Sanctimony (assumed or outward sanctity; a show of outward holiness, devoutness, moral superiority; exaggerated gravity or solemnity) is a child of pride. We see it in evidence in various places in the Bible. It came out:

- When the people made a show of religious fasting while at the same time they were mean, selfish, unjust and unfair (Isaiah 58:1-5).

- When the priests in Isaiah's time separated themselves from the people in a holier-than-thou way (Isaiah 65:1-5).

- When the guilty put on airs of innocence when confronted with their sin (Jeremiah 2:35).

- When the religious leaders of Jesus' time prayed publicly in synagogues and on street corners with a view to impressing passersby (Matthew 6:5).

We're probably most tempted to be sanctimonious when we're around other Christians — people who will be impressed by the number of missionaries we support, or the number of times we've read through the Bible. Though it is legitimate to share such details to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." (Hebrews 10:24), Jesus put the kibosh on any such display or boasting meant to impress others. Groom yourselves as usual when you fast, He said. Go into a private place to pray for "your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly."

Sanctimonious words start with sanctimonious thoughts. Asking oneself questions like those found in the little tract "Traits of the Self Life" works as a way to detect the seeds of self-righteous boasting. Ask:

"Am I ever conscious of:
- A secret spirit of pride — an exalted feeling, in view of my success or position; because of my good training and appearance; because of my natural gifts and abilities? An important, independent spirit? Stiffness and preciseness?
- Love of human praise; a secret fondness to be noticed; love of supremacy, drawing attention to self in conversation; a swelling out of self when I have had a free time in speaking or praying?"
-- "Traits of the Self Life" published by the Western Tract Mission."

Such tendencies left unconfessed and unchecked will lead eventually to the stinky little actions, words, even prayers of self-righteousness and self-exaltation that Jesus so detested.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please show me any tendencies toward self-righteous pride in my thoughts and actions. I want my life with You to be completely genuine and uncontaminated with the desire to impress others. Amen.

MORE: The real issue: Who or what are we trusting in?

In a sermon on this passage John Piper uncovers, in our tendency to boast and appear self-righteousness, an even deeper issue of the heart: who or what we're trusting in to save us. He  says:

He (the Pharisee) is not presented as a legalist—one who tries to earn his salvation. That is not the issue. One thing is the issue: This man was morally upright. He was religiously devout. He believed God had made him so. He gave thanks for it. And that is what he looked to and trusted in for his righteousness before God—for his justification. And he was dead wrong.


And so are so many people today, who are turning away from the doctrine of justification by faith alone on the basis of Christ alone. What Jesus wants us to see here is that how righteous you are, or how moral you are or how religious you are or whether God has produced that in you or you have produced that in yourself—that is not the basis of your justification before God. That is not how you are accepted and declared righteous in God’s law court.

The issue is: Are you looking totally away from yourself? When you see yourself standing before the holy Judge, and you know that to escape condemnation you must be found righteous in this all-knowing, infinitely-just court, what are you going to look to and trust in? I am pleading with you on behalf of Jesus this morning that for your justification you not look at or trust in what God has worked in you. But that you look at and trust in Christ alone and all that God is for you in him. By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org.


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Saturday, October 23, 2010

The "but" of constant prayer

"Peter Returns"
by Johann Christoph Weigel,
(Woodcut, 1695)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 12:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church." Acts 12:5

I love how the little word "but" in the middle of the sentence of our focus verse suggests a change of direction in what follows. It's as if Luke were saying, This thing that was happening to Peter was really bad, insurmountable even, but (nudge) look at what followed because of constant prayer.

The word my Thompson Chain-Reference Bible uses to describe this kind of praying is "Importunity." I know, I had to look it up too. It means persistence in making demands or requests; repeated demands or requests.

Here are some Bible characters who were importunate:

- Abraham, when he asked God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah because of Lot (Genesis 18:32).
- Jacob, when wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:26).
- Moses, when praying for the people (Deuteronomy 9:18).
- Hannah, when praying for a child (1 Samuel 1:1-20).
- Jesus, teaching it in a parable (Luke 18:1-5).
- Jesus, praying in the garden (Luke 22:44).
- And of course the church in our focus verse today.

This is probably one of the easiest kinds of praying because it arises out of a felt need. As you can see by the list above, Bible people did this kind of praying in a variety of situations. Some prayed for others this way (Abraham and Moses), while others prayed for themselves (Jacob and Jesus). Some prayed about situations they wanted changed (the church), while others prayed out of a deep desire for something personal (Hannah, the woman in Jesus' story). Whatever the situation, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much," James assures us (James 5:16).

The story of Peter's release from prison is almost comical in the characters' delighted surprise when their prayers are answered. See Peter shake the sleep from his eyes, the fog from his brain as he walks behind his mysterious liberator through the Jerusalem streets. See flustered Rhoda leave Peter knocking at the door while she interrupts the prayer meeting to tell everyone the good news. See poor Peter, knocking and knocking and knocking... I hear those guys; why aren't they letting me in?

I would probably be no less scattered if some of my importunate prayers were answered. Though that isn't a great commentary on the robustness of my faith, I'm going to put this lesson into practice right now and importune God about a few of the things that have been on my prayer list for a long time. Will you do the same?


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this story of a direct answer to persistent prayer. Help me to remember it when I struggle with discouragement and the temptation to give up in my prayers. Amen.

MORE: Quotes about persistent prayer

"Continual prayer will be appropriate — yes required — in many cases. Large issues have long-range consequences that may require a lot of time to work out." - Jack Hayford, quoted in Prayer Powerpoints, compiled by Randall D. Roth, p. 167-8 (origin: Prayer is Invading the Impossible, Logos, 1997, p. 141).

"To think there's always going to be a quick solution or even a satisfactory-to-us answer is a faulty expectation. Sometimes answers to prayer lie dormant, being fertilized by unceasing prayer. When the seed finally germinates, rapid growth can take place." - Edith Schaeffer, quoted in Prayer Powerpoints, p. 168 (origin: "Restoring Vitality In Your Prayer Life: An Interview With Edith Schaeffer," Intercessor for America Newsletter Vol. 20 No.1 January 1993).

"George Mueller prayed fifty-two years for an unsaved loved one, but it wasn't until some time after he died that his loved one came to know Jesus Christ as Savior. I believe our prayers go right on living and working even after we die." - Hope MacDonald, quoted in Prayer Powerpoints, p. 166 (origin: Hope MacDonald, Discovering How To Pray, Zondervan, 1976, p. 86).


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Monday, October 18, 2010

Loyal Luke

St. Luke by Frans Hals c. 1625
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 4:9-22

TO CHEW ON: "Only Luke is with me..." 2 Timothy 4:11a

The first part of our reading today gives us a rare glimpse into Paul's personal situation. It's rather sad. Demas has checked out ("forsaken me, having loved this present world"), Cresens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia, Tychicus to Ephesus. He doesn't even have his books and favourite cloak. But he does have Luke.

This articulate physician accompanied Paul on many of his travels and had stuck with him through the high points and low. At the time of writing this letter, Paul was imprisoned in Rome and at a particularly low point. This imprisonment wasn't like a previous one, when he was in his own hired dwelling and could receive visitors easily. Now he was in a dungeon, where it was hard to find him. Before he looked forward to release. Now he looked forward to death. This letter contains his last recorded words. The friends who surrounded him had dwindled to one.

But the friend he had was a quality person. In addition to being a medical doctor, Luke was an investigative journalist (who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts).

He showed himself an astute theologian who emphasized the universality of the Christian message while showing Jesus' Jewish roots. He included stories of Jesus as the Saviour of all kinds of people, some of whom the other gospels leave out — like Zaccheus the tax collector and the thief on the cross.*

And he was a loyal friend. His sticking with Paul shows that.

In our time, loyalty isn't something that gets held up as a quality worth striving after. We'll be loyal to a brand as long as it serves us. But when something better comes along, we'll switch. That utilitarian attitude readily infects our relationships with people too.

But Luke wasn't like that. Though the days of basking in the reflected glory of being Paul's assistant and companion were over, though we might expect such a versatile and talented man to find more profitable, satisfying, even safe things to do, he chose to stick with his aging, unpopular and imprisoned friend.

Let's let his loyalty challenge us to be that kind of friend. The kind that demonstrates Agape love: "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." The kind that Proverbs says "sticks closer than a brother."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for men like Luke who in their quiet loyalty demonstrated the quality of Your love for us. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Luke

Today is the day the church celebrates the Feast of St. Luke Evangelist. The liturgy for this day begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

*General information about Luke and his writings from the introduction to the Gospel of Luke, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, pp. 1381-1383.


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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stay the course

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 18:1-8

TO CHEW ON: "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?" Luke 18:7

If you have been praying for a long time about something, this story with its invitation to persistent prayer is probably one you have clung to.

It drives home its lesson by contrast (as opposed to comparing things that are alike). The main figure in the story is an unprincipled judge — so different from God who is the very essence of all that is good and right.

The other character is a widow. But the person to whom the story applies — the Jesus-follower, the Christian — is a part of the church, Jesus' bride.

The widow brings her story of injustice to that judge over and over and over. That's us, praying about the same thing again and again.

Finally that judge, though he's a rogue, acts on the widow's behalf, not because of the legal rightness of her case, but because he's tired of her bugging him.

Jesus asks (rhetorically), if a secular judge with no standards responds to a woman with no status, even though it's for selfish reasons, how much more surely will God, the very essence of justice, respond to "His own elect" — His Bride — who are persistent?

When you get down to it, this is also a story about patience and trust in God's timing. God knows the right timing for things. I think of Bible characters who waited longer than they expected to:

- Saul for Samuel (1 Samuel 13:7-14).

- Joseph to get out of prison (Genesis 40:14-41:14).

- David to become king (1 Samuel 16:1,11-13 [David's age when Samuel anointed him king isn't given. There is speculation he was as young as 10] ; 2 Samuel 5:4).

In some cases the wait was just days, in others, years. But to the person praying and waiting, it no doubt seemed like the thing would never happen. Waiting for God's time paid off for Joseph and David, just as going ahead in impatience was tragic for Saul.

Let's let Jesus' story encourage us to keep praying while we wait.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to resist impatience and discouragement when I pray. I want to be persistent in prayer while I wait patiently on Your timing. Amen.

MORE: "My Deliverer Is Coming" - Rich Mullins




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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mechanics of a healing

"Your faith has made you whole" - by Edward Armitage (1817-1896)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 8:40-56

TO CHEW ON: "But Jesus said, 'Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.'" Luke 8:46

The story of the woman healed by touching Jesus' clothes has always intrigued me. The verse above makes that healing seem almost mechanical. Whilst I customarily think of prayers for healing — prayers for a miracle of any kind — as having to convince God that His promises apply to the incident, that I'm worthy, and have enough faith, here a woman touches Jesus and she's healed, apparently with no conscious volition on Jesus' part. How does that work?

Jesus said, "Your faith has made you well." So we know she had great faith and that it was key.

Faith is tricky though. It has always troubled me when "possibility thinkers" elevate the importance of faith, seeming to imply that it's the development of a muscular faith that will get us the things we desire ("If you can believe it, you can achieve it" sort of thing). Doesn't that smack of humanism — trusting myself and my human ability to conjure up the right quality and quantity of faith? And doesn't faith have to be in a power or person outside of myself? Faith can't be based on faith, can it?

This woman's faith was not of that sort. She knew to come to Jesus who had a reputation as a healer and whose power to heal was evident everywhere He went. Touching the clothes of anyone else wouldn't have healed her, no matter how strong her faith.

But that combination — a strong faith in the right person — released God's creative ability to reset the workings of the atoms and molecules of her body.

What can we learn from this story (which I take as one more little piece of the puzzle of who God is and how He works)?
  • Good things flow from God. His "virtue" is order, not chaos; unity not disharmony; health, not sickness.
  • God works in response to faith. This woman's faith is the reason Jesus gave for why she was healed.
  • Of course, we have to have faith in the right thing. Only God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) has the power to reorder physical matter in such a life-affirming way.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these clues about what You're like and how You work. Help me to learn from them and to use them to build my faith. Amen.

MORE: Never lost in the crowd

"The nature of her disease was such that she did not care to make a public complaint of it and therefore she took this opportunity of coming to Christ in a crowd. Her faith was very strong; for she doubted not but that by the touch of the hem of his garment she should derive from him healing virtue; looking upon him to be such a full fountain of mercies that she should steal a cure and he not miss it. Thus many a poor soul is healed and helped and saved by Christ that is lost in a crowd.... Believers have comfortable communion with Christ incognito." Matthew Henry's Commentary (emphases in the text,1961 edition)
One of my favorite biblical artists is Darlene Slavujac. See her depiction of this story on this page ("Faith that Heals" about three quarters of the way down).

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Word-light

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:105-120

TO CHEW ON: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119:105

One of the many ways the writer of Psalm 119 portrays God's word is as a light. It's a good comparison on at least two levels. For if life is a journey, we need illumination for the next step ("Your word is a lamp to my feet") and long-range plans ("And a light to my path").  God's word can show us where to go and how to get there.

God's word as the source of the light of understanding is the another thought this verse holds. Sayings that link light and understanding are common in English.

- We talk about the light dawning on us when we finally get it, comparing our new-found understanding to the sun coming over the horizon at sunrise.

- We say there's a light at the end of the tunnel — a reference to the end of a mining or railway tunnel — when we find a solution to a problem or perceive hope in the situation.

- We talk about considering things in the cold light of day when we reconsider the solution to a problem or issue sometime later, in a calmer, more practical way.

The  idea that God's word is the source of understanding about life runs through the Bible:

  • The "pure" teachings of God's word are enlightenment (Psalm 19:8).
  • "Your words" give understanding to the simple ("Break open your words, let the light shine out, let ordinary people see the meaning" -- Message) (Psalm 119:130).
  • Even its negatives, its don'ts, are illuminating and lead to the "way of life" (Proverbs 6:23).
  • It is the source of wisdom, knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6).
  • When times are dark, its promise of better things brightens our situation with hope (2 Peter 2:19).
  • It gives us understanding about success and prosperity (Joshua 1:8).

I ask myself, am I living in the light of God's word — letting its principles inspect my daily actions, trusting its promises for my future? If you've ever tried to walk even a familiar path in complete darkness, you'll know how uncertain and tentative is each step. What a shame if we choose to grope about in the dark of our own understanding, goals, and determination when light is so available.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for your practical and versatile word. Please help me to comprehend its teachings and principles, and to know how to apply them to my everyday living. Amen.

MORE: Wisdom from Psalm 119 - Piper

"Seven Kinds of Prayer to Soak our Bible Reading"

But since our text is Psalm 119:18, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law," we should let this psalmist show us how he prays more generally about his reading of the Word of God. So let me close with a little tour of Psalm 119, and show you seven kinds of prayer with which you can soak your Bible reading this year.
We should pray . . .

1. That God would teach us his Word. Psalm 119:12b, "Teach me Your statutes." (See also verses 33, 64b, 66, 68b, 135). True learning of God's Word is only possible if God himself becomes the teacher in and through all other means of teaching. 

2. That God would not hide his Word from us. Psalm 119:19b, "Do not hide Your commandments from me." The Bible warns of the dreadful chastisement or judgment of the Word of God being taken from us (Amos 8:11). (See also verse 43).

3. That God would make us understand his Word. Psalm 119:27, "Make me understand the way of Your precepts" (verses 34, 73b, 144b, 169). Here we ask God to cause us to understand - to do whatever he needs to do to get us to understand his Word.

4. That God would incline our hearts to his Word. Psalm 119:36, "Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to [dishonest] gain." The great problem with us is not primarily our reason, but our will - we are disinclined by nature to read and meditate and memorize the Word. So we must pray for God to incline our wills.

5. That God would give us life to keep his Word. Psalm 119:88, "Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth." He is aware that we need life and energy to give ourselves to the Word and its obedience. So he asks God for this basic need. (See also verse 154b)

6. That God would establish our steps in his Word. Psalm 119:133, "Establish my footsteps in Your word." We are dependent on the Lord not only for understanding and life, but for the performance of the Word. That it would be established in our lives. We cannot do this on our own.

7. That God would seek us when we go astray from his Word. Psalm 119:176, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant." It is remarkable that this godly man ends his psalm with a confession of sin and the need for God to come after him and bring him back. This too we must pray again and again."

Excerpt from "Open My Eyes That I Might See" By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org


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Thursday, October 14, 2010

God's Word: Boundary-setter

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:89-104

TO CHEW ON: "I have restrained my feet from every evil way
That I may keep Your Word." Psalm 119:101

It's one thing to declare our belief in the inerrancy of God's Word (our subject yesterday), but quite another to give that Word such an elevated place that it impinges on our lives, curtails our activities, and changes our habits. That's what the psalmist tells us he does.

1. He is so convinced that God's Word is the real thing, that he has put muscle into getting familiar with it: "Your law has been my delight" (vs. 92); "I will never forget your precepts" (vs. 93); "I have sought Your precepts" (vs. 94); "I keep Your precepts" (vs. 100). Then he lets it dictate his action or inaction: "I have restrained my feet from every evil way" (vs. 101).

2. He gives greater regard to God's Word than common sense -- the wisdom that's available to everyone, even his enemies (vs. 98), the wisdom of experts (vs. 99), and the wisdom of experience (vs. 100). In our time that might look like someone who refuses to compromise honesty and integrity even when the boss and the culture at the workplace encourage lying, taking cash payments to avoid taxes, fudging expense accounts, that sort of thing.

3. In fact, he sees all of life through its filter (vs. 104). We'd call that having a Word-centred (or Christian) worldview. Whole books have been written on this. Let's just say, such a biblically centred filter will quickly set you apart from the humanist, the atheist, the agnostic the pantheist and all manner of "ists" among your acquaintances.

I ask myself, do I know God's Word well enough to make it the filter through which I view life?

Do I have such confidence in it that I prefer it when other "wisdom' conflicts with it?

Does it affect my behavior? Do I let its teaching about moderation and self-control keep me from overdoing it while eating or shopping? Do I obey its advice to control my tongue and refrain from gossip, slander, hateful speech, outbursts of anger? Does it restrain my feet to the extent of keeping me away from a questionable movie or TV series when I know the images and language are sure to erode the standards of purity and holiness He has set for me? Have I let it be my boundary setter?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Bible. Help me give its principles and teachings not only lip-service but life-service. May I have the courage to live by it no matter how odd, foolish or naive that may make me appear to those around me. Amen.

MORE: Word-quotes to think about

"Some people like to read so many [Bible] chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!" --Charles Haddon Spurgeon

"In most parts of the Bible, everything is implicitly or explicitly introduced with "Thus saith the Lord". It is... not merely a sacred book but a book so remorselessly and continuously sacred that it does not invite -- it excludes or repels -- the merely aesthetic approach. You can read it as literature only by a tour de force... It demands incessantly to be taken on its own terms: it will not continue to give literary delight very long, except to those who go to it for something quite different. I predict that it will in the future be read, as it always has been read, almost exclusively by Christians." --C.S. Lewis

"Here, then, is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God's Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy." --R. C. Sproul

"The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that." --Mccosh

Quotes from Tentmaker Bible Quotes





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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Could the Bible be wrong?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 3:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." 2Timothy 3:16

When Canadian theologian Clark Pinnock died a few weeks ago, publications of all kinds eulogized him. He had a long and influential career in which he changed theological mounts several times, going from Calvinism to, in his later years, Open Theism. I was surprised by a comment under one of the articles about his life, in which the commenter scolded the writer for emphasizing Pinnock's earlier writings because those writings supported biblical inerrancy. What?! I thought. He wants a Bible that is errant?

A Bible full of mistakes is what our society wants, though. That way we can ignore its unpopular teachings on morality, eternal punishment and other things that don't fit with current standards and popular opinions.

But that's not the view of God's word that Paul hands down to Timothy here. Jack Hayford talks about the divine inspiration of the Bible in a sidebar article on this passage:

"...this Book does not merely contain the word of God, but is the word of God in its sum and in its parts...

1] It is the word of the Holy Spirit. Theopneustos (Greek), translated "inspiration of God," literally means "God-breathed." This describes the source of the whole Bible's derivation (that is "all Scripture") as transcendent of human inspiration...

2] 2 Peter 1:20-21 elaborates this truth and adds that none of what was given was merely the private opinion of the writer (vs. 20) and that each writer involved in the production of the Holy Scriptures was "moved by" (literally, "being borne along") the Holy Spirit...

3] 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 expands on this process by which the revelation of the Holy Scriptures was given. Verse 13 says that even the words used in the giving of the Bible (not just the ideas, but the precise terminology) were planned by the Holy Spirit, who deployed the respective authors of the Bible books to write, "comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (literally "matching spiritual words to spiritual ideas").

The biblical view of the Bible's derivation is called plenary verbal inspiration of the Scriptures meaning every word is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God." Jack W. Hayford, "The Divine Inspiration of the Bible," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1714-15 (emphasis his).

If this is indeed so (and I believe it is), no wonder God's word is profitable for such a lot: "doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness." In plain words, it tells us the truth about God, ourselves, and how to live life in the way that works best. Let's take it seriously and apply it to all of life.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Bible. Help me to understand it, and obey, apply, and order my life by it. Amen.

MORE: Why inerrancy matters

Rebecca Writes is a blog written by a blogger with theological interests and expertise. She has been publishing, bit by bit, the 1978 "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy." Here, from her blog, is a summary of  why such a statement was drafted (my italics):

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was formulated in 1978 by approximately 300 evangelical scholars at a conference sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, held in Chicago. The statement was designed to defend the position of Biblical inerrancy against trends toward liberal conceptions of Scripture and higher biblical criticism. The undersigners came from a variety of evangelical denominations, and include James Montgomery Boice, Carl F. H. Henry, Roger Nicole, J. I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and R. C. Sproul. (Source: Theopedia)


Read this historic document as she has published it on her blog.


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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

God's writing on our minds and hearts

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 31:23-37

TO CHEW ON: "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people." Jeremiah 31:33

If you've ever raised kids you'll know how much easier it is to get their cooperation and compliance if they are motivated from within. Getting them to be good by promising a reward for good behaviour is way more effective than threatening punishment for being bad.

Here God tells the people of a day when the nation will be in such an inner-motivated state spiritually. The drive to obey will come from within. Pleasing God will be so uppermost that it will be as if His laws are written on their minds and hearts.

Interestingly, the writer of Hebrews quotes this very passage in Hebrews 8:8-12 and again in 10:16,17. He tells us this compliant state comes about as a result of the "new covenant."

This new covenant came about through Jesus. His death in our stead, paying the penalty for our sins, is the transaction with God that brings this it into effect.

How are our minds and hears so radically changed under it? Through the Holy Spirit living inside us. An endnote to my Bible's Hebrew's 8 passage says:

"Jesus' ministry is performed under the covenant of God's grace, wrought within the minds and hearts of believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus God established a new personal covenant relationship with His people, based not on a compelling force from without, but on an impelling power from within." New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1738.

This is all well and good on paper. But how does it work in practical everyday living? We still have the choice to resist the Holy Spirit or yield to Him (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Even under this new covenant God never takes over life's controls against my will or yours. But He does promise to come to each of us and live in us if we let Him. His presence is that inner drive toward obedience and compliance, stronger than the threat of punishment, proving us His children (Galatians 5:18; Romans 8:14).

PRAYER: Dear God, I love the picture of Your principles and ways written on my mind and heart — so much a part of me that it's easier to obey than not. May it be so. Amen.

MORE: Holy Spirit: more than a guest
The Holy Spirit cannot be located as a Guest in a house, He invades everything. When once I decide that my "old man" (i.e., the heredity of sin) should be identified with the death of Jesus, then the Holy Spirit invades me. He takes charge of everything, my part is to walk in the light and to obey all that He reveals.- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 11 reading.



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Sunday, October 10, 2010

The power of a list

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 65:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Praise is awaiting You, O God, in Zion;
And to You the vow shall be performed." Psalm 65:1

Do you make lists? I do — lists to remind me of what needs to be done, to organize my thoughts, help me with shopping, pack without forgetting anything, keep me on track when I give a talk or speech ...

Psalm 65 is David's list of praise and thankfulness to God. He praises God for:
1. Hearing and answering prayers (vs. 2).
2. Providing atonement / forgiveness for sin (vs 3).
3. Choosing people to come near to Him (vs. 4).
4. Being approachable (vs. 4).
5. The temple (vs. 4).
6. The joy and satisfaction of living in God's presence (vs. 4).
7. The way God inspires confidence (implied is the need to remember ways God has come through for them in the past) (vs. 5).
8. God's power as illustrated in nature — the grandeur of mountains, God's ability to calm physical and people storms (vs. 6-7).
9. That He is visible and available to all on earth (vs. 8).
10. The reliability of day and night (vs. 8).
11. God's nourishment of the earth with rain ((vs. 9-10)
12. An abundant harvest (vs. 11-12).
13. The beauty of a pastoral scene (vs. 13).

David's list is a good example of one way we can set the tone of the day by focusing on God's gifts to us. Instead of dwelling on what's wrong with life, what we dread, fear or regret, let's focus on the good stuff.

I'm going to spend some time today making a praise and thanksgiving list. Will you join me?

PRAYER: Dear God, I'm sorry for my frequent lapses into worry and ungratefulness. Today I choose to think about You and reflect on the things for which I can praise and thank You. Amen

MORE: A gratefulness community

Canadian writer Ann Voskamp began an initiative some time ago to encourage everyday gratefulness. I wrote about joining in here. She challenges readers to, over time, list 1000 gifts which they first of all notice, then jot down and share with others. Bloggers from around the world come together on Holy Experience (Ann's blog) every Monday to share links to their writings of gratitude. (It's all explained here.) Whether you journal privately, or blog, why don't you join us?

(I've been keeping up my list. Check it out.)

Ann's book One Thousand Gifts us due out in January 2011




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Friday, October 08, 2010

Gentleness

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 2:14-26

TO CHEW ON: "And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient." 2 Timothy 2:24

One of the things the internet has done is encourage quarrelsomeness — an attitude that Paul contrasts with gentleness in this letter to novice pastor Timothy. Read the comments on any controversial news story, blog post or YouTube video and you're almost guaranteed to find one or more chippy response, seemingly crafted to start an argument. As soon as someone takes the bait, the fight is on.

The word gentle: (adjective) means kindly, amiable, mild, versus severe, rough or violent; easily handled or managed; polite. "Gentle is a reference especially to disposition and behaviour, and often suggests a deliberate or voluntary kindness or forbearance in dealing with others" (Dictionary.com).

I like that: "a deliberate or voluntary kindness or forbearance." It suggests that gentle is a way we decide to be, even though it may not come naturally.

A quick study of the use of the words gentle and gentleness in the Bible brings out a variety of observations:

1. God is gentle with us. Isaiah 40:11 pictures Him leading us like a shepherd leads his flock — stating explicitly that He "gently leads those with young."

2. "Gentle" is the way we treat the young and vulnerable.
- Jesus treated children gently (Mark 10:16).
- Paul says, "we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children" (1 Thessalonians 2:7).

3. Paul in his instructions to novice leaders underlines the importance of gentleness (Titus 3:21; 1 Timothy 3:3 and our focus verse today).

4. James includes gentleness in his list of qualities that those with heavenly wisdom possess (James 3:17).

5. God's gentleness helps us realize our potential (2 Samuel 22:36, Psalm 18:35).

It's easy to be swept into our society's admiration for wittiness. Who hasn't been tempted to respond to things with which one disagrees with a clever put-down, sarcasm, a strident tone. But such ungentle, quarrel-provoking attitudes and are not God's way.

However, Paul, in advising Timothy, doesn't tell him to be a doormat and accept false teaching in the interests of showing gentleness. The challenge for him and us continues to be to contend for truth, but with patience, humility and gentleness.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to choose gentleness, especially when I'm provoked, irritated, don't agree, challenged, and feel I need to prove that I'm right. Amen.

MORE: John Maxwell, on Gentleness

"I want to have that gentleness of spirit where somehow when people are around me, it gets them off themselves and what they want, and begins to refocus them upon God and who he is. I would like it to be said about me like it was about my pop. Some day I would like someone to say, "You know, I was around John for a while, and I just felt like I was in the presence of God."

— John Maxwell, at the end of the sermon "Fruit That is Never Out of Season: Gentleness."



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