Monday, November 29, 2010

Will we have blood on our hands?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 3:16-27

TO CHEW ON: (The words of God to Ezekiel...) "'When I say to the wicked, "you shall surely die," and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.'" Ezekiel 3:18

Ezekiel knew exactly what God was talking about when He said, at the beginning of this encounter, "I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel" (3:17).

Watchtowers, staffed with watchmen, were used in two places. Farmers built them near paddocks and vineyards to be on the lookout for predatory animals and thieves. Watchtowers were also built into city walls. From them watchmen surveyed the surroundings. It was their job to warn the king of any danger in the form of suspicious people, armies, or natural disasters approaching the wall.

But Ezekiel's job was not to be a watchman for a farm or city in Judah or Israel. For this priest of the Zadok family was in exile in Babylon. God was giving him the job of warning the people, his countrymen and fellow exiles, that they were in danger of God's punishment because of their wickedness and backsliding — in plain words, their sin.

I never read this passage without feeling a shiver. For in all the intervening years between saying this to Ezekiel till now, God's stance toward sin hasn't changed. And His way of warning people about their precarious state is still through watchmen and watchwomen. That's you and me.

It doesn't matter that the endangered ones around us don't even acknowledge that God exists, or believe in an objective standard of right and wrong, or sin, or personal culpability. Though it is hard to find the words to warn our neighbours and friends that God will someday judge sin and the people who commit it, God's words to Ezekiel if he doesn't caution them echo down to us: "...his blood I will require at your hand."

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to be a faithful watchman. Please help me think of creative ways to communicate to my generation the reality of their danger. Amen.

MORE: Warning words template

In a 1998 sermon titled "The Final Divide: Eternal Life or Eternal Wrath, Part 1" John Piper gave a passionate plea to all age groups to pay attention to their eternal fate. Perhaps his words could be a template of how we might address our families, friends and neighbours:

"So, whatever else you see here (the text was Romans 2:6-10), please don't miss this. What could be more important or more relevant or more urgent or more immense or more captivating than your happiness or misery for all eternity?

Children, this is very important for you. Someday you are going to die. I hope it will be when you are very old and full of years. But you might be six or sixteen when you die. And when you die, you will either enter eternal life with God or go away under his eternal anger and misery forever. You don't have to be afraid about this. God has given his Son, Jesus, to die for sinners so that everyone who trusts in him will not go to hell, but have eternal life (John 3:16). But you do need to care about this. So listen carefully today and ask your daddy or mommy to help you be sure that you will go to heaven and not to hell.

And teenagers, be wise and set your minds to think about what really matters in this world. Don't be foolish and give your best energies to things that last a moment and then are gone. Don't think that you will live a long time and deal with heaven and hell when you are old. Every day the news carries stories about teenagers dying suddenly. And if you put it off, what you may find is that your heart is so infused with the mindset of this world that you are no longer able to feel a serious spiritual affection. O how many times I heard my father say the ominous words of Ecclesiastes 12:1, "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" Few things are more to be feared than a godless, miserable old age unable to delight in heaven or fear hell. Do not presume that you will get serious about eternity when you are old. Do it now.

And all you married couples and single people in the prime of your life, beware of being swept into the all-consuming demands of your careers only to find yourselves gasping for some fun and entertainment on the weekend, finding your relief from worldly work in worldly fun. And waking - perhaps - someday to realize you have no taste for things of God. You have become a connoisseur of restaurants, and videos, and movies, and sports, and stocks, and computers, and a hundred transient things. And all the while, your sense of heaven and of hell has died. Wake up before it is too late. And tremble at these things today. And set your minds to think about the biggest issues in the universe: eternal life or wrath.

And all you older saints (or maybe some who are not saved), don't hide from this fast-approaching, all-important question of where, in just a few short years or months, your soul will be. O may God give you grace to think of it and know that you are ready, with the righteousness of Christ, to enter into life and not to fall into the hands of omnipotent wrath.
Read entire...
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Healed on the way

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 17:11-37

TO CHEW ON: "So when He saw them, He said to them, 'Go, show yourselves to the priests.' And so it was that as they went they were cleansed." Luke 17:14

I love how Jesus healed in so many ways. He was never predictable. He never healed according to a formula.

  • He healed the centurion's servant and the Syro-Phoenecian woman's daughter from a distance (Matthew 8:13; Mark 7:25-30).
  • He took Peter's mother by the hand, and lifted her up (Mark 1:31).
  • He commanded the paralytic to get up from his stretcher and take his bed home with him (Matthew 9:6).
  • A woman with a private bleeding problem was healed as she touched Jesus' clothes (Matthew 9:20-22).
  • He told a man with a shrivelled hand to stretch it out and when he did, it was healed (Matthew 12:13).
  • He diagnosed and tackled the root of one person's problem (demon possession) and in the process healed him from being dumb and blind (Matthew 12:22).
  • For the deaf man with a speech impediment, Jesus put His fingers in the man's ears, spit and touched the man's tongue, looked up to heaven, "...sighed and said...'Be opened.'" Then the man could hear and speak plainly (Mark 7:32-35).
  • And in our story today, He healed ten lepers "as they went."

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture. It's as if Jesus was discouraging people from putting faith in a method. Rather, they were to put faith in Him.

Besides illustrating another mode of healing, this incident gives us other insights into divine healing:

1. Miraculous healings can be progressive.
As a sidebar article in my Bible explains: "...not all healing is at the moment of prayer. Instant healings are often expected whereas this illustrates the healing 'in process' over a period of time following prayer" - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1422.

2. Visiting the doctor doesn't mean we doubt what God has done.
Jesus told these lepers to show themselves to the priests, whose job it was to declare them clean (Leviticus 13:1-59). The priests were the doctors in that culture. Jesus here supports getting outside confirmation of a miraculous healing.

3. Giving credit to God and thanking Him should be our response.
Isn't it interesting that the one leper to return to thank Jesus was a foreigner. My Bible's footnote about this detail says, "Perhaps the others, who were Jews, felt that healing was their due, since they were of the chosen race" - NHSLB, p. 1422. But we know there are no entitlements because of race or lineage in God's kingdom, and no grounds to take any of God's grace gifts (like healing) for granted.

Does someone in your life need healing today? Maybe it's you. Be encouraged if you have prayed but your healing hasn't yet happened. You may still be healed as you continue on your way.

PRAYER: Dear God, I grapple with the fact that there are dear ones for whom I pray, and they are not healed. I have pledged that as long as there is breath, I will pray on. I know You can heal them in earth-time if that is Your plan. If not, I know they will be whole in eternity. Amen.

MORE: The story depicted in art

One of my favourite Bible illustrators is James Tissot (French 1836-1902). Here is his painting inspired by this story.

The Healing of Ten Lepers - by James Tissot

The Brooklyn Museum houses many of Tissot's works. From October 2009 to January 2010 they ran an exhibition of his paintings on the Life of Christ. View a sampling here.


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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bread

 Foccacia Bread - recipe below

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 6:14-35

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and He who believes in Me shall never thirst.'" John 6:35

Bread - how many ways can we say it: buns, rolls, biscuits, foccacia, matzoh, challah, zwieback... Chances are whatever your culture, bread has been part of it.

I grew up in a large family. Mom had her hands full keeping eleven mouths fed. But she always felt easier about the meal when she had plenty of bread on hand. Because if other things ran out, we could always fill up on bread. Along with millions of others on earth, bread was our 'staff of life.'

Thus when Jesus calls Himself the "bread of life" we know He is making big claims. Let's go through John 6 (today's passage and a bit more) to see what we can learn about Jesus as bread.

At the beginning of our reading, we see a wowed crowd. Jesus has just fed 5000 people natural bread, supernaturally multiplied. He has met one of the most basic human needs with bread. We see that He understands and can supply bread for physical hunger

But when He senses that His miracle is prompting them to want to crown Him king (of a kingdom of everlasting loaves), He leaves. He has not done that miracle to get leverage for political power. Rather it is a set-up to make them aware of a different kind of hunger and how He can satisfy it.

On the next day, when they find Him, He explains this to them (vs. 26-27).

They start guessing about what He means: "Manna, right? Your bread to us is like the manna Moses gave our forefathers in the desert."

"Wrong," says Jesus. "The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world...I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger and he who believes in Me shall never thirst" (vs. 33, 35).

Later in the chapter He expands even more on what ingesting Him as living bread means as He refers to the need to "...eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink HIs blood" (vs. 54). In His words we recognize the reference to the Last Supper - and our communion celebration (Matthew 26:26-28).

Then He explains the result of eating this bread, this true "staff of life": "This is the bread which came down from heaven — not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever" (vs. 58).

What does this mean for us? It's simple really:

Come + Believe + Eat = Live

Come: God initiates even this (John 6:44).

Believe: as in base our very lives on Jesus' death for us, trusting Him for salvation.

Eat: live by His kingdom principles. This includes trusting Him for our physical needs including bread (Matthew 6:26-33). It also means to celebrate His spiritual "breadness" by eating the communion bread (and drinking the wine), in this way reminding ourselves of His death for our sins.

Live: acknowledge and enjoy Him as enough — for this life and the next.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, what a simple yet deep concept — You my bread. Help me to eat You today and be satisfied. Amen.

MORE: Make some bread today

I love making bread! One of my favourites is foccacia. It is a slightly raised savoury Italian yeast bread that makes a wonderful companion to homemade soup. I cheat and use my bread machine to prepare the dough. Here is the recipe I use. (Of course you can use the given amounts and mix by hand).

Foccacia Bread (1 1/2 lb. loaf)

Dough
1 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/1/2 - 2 tsp. active dry yeast

Topping
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup (2 oz.) Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

- Mix dough and let rise.
- Remove dough to floured countertop or cutting board.
- Oil a cookie sheet.
- Separate dough into three even sections.
- Roll each into a ball and press flat onto the cookie sheet.
- Allow to rise 30 minutes until doubled.
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- With 2 fingers poke holes all over the dough.
- In a medium bowl combine oil and garlic, then drizzle over top of dough.
- Sprinkle with cheese and parsley
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until brown.

From Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehbeg & Lois Conway

(A HAPPY THANKSGIVING to our American neighbours!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sing!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 96:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "O sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His
salvation from day to day." Psalm 96:1-2

Today is Sunday. If you attend church somewhere, chances are you will sing. You may sing songs that you know in a style that you enjoy, or new songs that excite you, or even be encouraged to sing along with music that is not to your taste.

What is singing anyway? The dictionary defines "sing":
"To produce word sounds that differ from speech in that vowels are lengthened, pitches are clearly defined, and voiceless consonants are minimized."

Wow - talk about bloodless! Though that clinical description of singing may be 'anatomically correct,' it misses the whole emotional aspect of "sing" that must be experienced to be understood. A commentary in my Bible gets much closer to capturing that meaning, especially as it relates to Christians:

"Singing is a dynamic and vital part of our devotional life with God. The Psalms refer to singing more than seventy times. Even if you feel that you do not sing well, know that your heavenly Father loves the sound of your voice (Song 2:14). It is not important how well you sing, but simply that you sing. Praise is a pathway to joy" - "Truth-In-Action Through Psalms, Book four: Psalms 90-106," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 770-771.

Not only are the Psalms full of singing — it's all through the Bible. Here are some examples to help us understand when, why, what, and how we sing.

We sing:

- when we're victorious (Psalm 27:6).
- to celebrate the One who brought us salvation (Psalm 95:1).
- aloud and loud (Psalm 81:1).
- accompanied by instruments (Psalm 81:2).
- to the Lord (Isaiah 12:5).
- and to one another (Ephesians 5:19).
- with the mind and with the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:15).
- all kinds of songs  (Ephesians 5:19).
- arising from the overflow of God's word in us (Colossians 3:16).
- from happy hearts (James 5:13).
- a new song, finding fresh reasons and ways to sing praise (Psalm 96:1 our focus verse).

As my Bible says about this verse specifically:
"Sing a new song to the Lord. Whether you are a professional musician or simply one who has a thankful heart, put your praise into song. Offer your song to God as a sacrifice of praise. It is pleasing to the Lord." -- "Truth-In-Action through Psalms Book four: Psalms 90-106," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 771.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for songs and singing. Please "tune my heart to sing Thy grace" with my brothers and sisters in church today. Amen.

MORE: "Any Given Sunday" and some songs for the road...

Carolyn Arends' song "Any Given Sunday" captures the variety of the songs we sing in church:

Any given Sunday...
... you can count on singing
There’s every kind of music
There’s hymns and Bach and folk and pop
And most of it’s in tune

Read the rest of the lyrics and Carolyn's comments here. Catch a sample of the song here (click the >| part of the player till you get to Song 4).

Jan Cox in her blog Under the Cover of Prayer has put together a singing road trip for us. Drive and sing along with her here.


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Saturday, November 20, 2010

You get to choose your king

Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd
Ecce Homo (c. 1849-52) - by Honore Daumier

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 18:28-40

TO CHEW ON: "'But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?'
Then they all cried again, saying, 'Not this Man but Barabbas.'" John 18:39-40

Yesterday we read a psalm that praised God's kingly majesty. The psalmist pictured Him clothed in omnipotence, reigning forever from His holiness-adorned palace. It was a grand picture but one that made us feel very tiny, insignificant and unworthy — as we are.

Today we see that omnipotent, eternal king as a person. It's Jesus!

Look at Him, standing alone in the front of Pilate in the Praetorium, even as the religious leaders, who finally have His death in their hands, wait outside inciting the crowd as they gloat.

"Are you the king of the Jews?" Pilate asks.

"You say rightly I am a king..." Jesus answers.

We reflect back over Jesus' life as told to us in the gospels. We have seen him socializing with sinners, touching lepers, scorning the status endowed by possessions and property, living instead the life of a vagabond. Now He stands before Pilate forsaken by even His friends, tired, disheveled, looking altogether pathetic. So this is how a heavenly king handles Himself? He's so unlikely. It's true what Isaiah says of Him: "He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isaiah 53:2). He is surely not a king by the company He keeps, His worldly wealth, or His physical appearance. On what basis, then, is He a king?

Listen in as He continues explaining His kingship to Pilate: "For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."

Jesus' claim, that he spoke truth, lived truth, represented (and represents) the Kingdom of Truth is as controversial today as ever. The meaning of His claim, "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6), is debated more hotly today than ever, even in some Christian circles.

Today, as in each generation, we are presented with the choice Pilate gave the Jerusalem crowd. Whose claims do we believe? Who will we choose to follow, obey, and give allegiance to? Who will be our king?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I choose You. Please help me to live my everyday life now, as a subject in Your Kingdom of Truth. Amen.

MORE: "Give Me Jesus" by Fernando Ortega





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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wait for God to promote you

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 5:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "So David went on and became great, and the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him." 2 Samuel 5:10

David was 30 years old when he finally became king. We don't know how old he was when Samuel first anointed him  — 10, maybe 15 ? So it took 15-20 years for something that began when he was just a kid to finally became reality in his life.

Those years were no stroll in the park. During that whole time he was in training.

  • He learned to lead.
That was what he'd need to be good at as a king and his apprenticeship was a long one. It began on the Judean hills as he led a flock of sheep. His unusual bravery in the Goliath incident led to a celebration chant (among the women no less) that sparked jealousy in Saul and began years of exile for David. But even when he was on-the-run and living in caves and the desert, he never lacked a following. The fact that his followers were losers and malcontents meant his leadership training was rigorous and challenging to say the least.

  • He learned to trust God.
Psalm 34: "The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears,
         And delivers them out of all their troubles." (vs. 17)
Psalm 52: "But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever." (vs.8)
and Psalm 54: "Behold, God is my helper;
The Lord is with those who uphold my life." (vs. 4)

 were all written during his years of exile.

  • He learned to live by principle and not self-interest.
Very early in his life it seems he had made at least one firm determination: to respect God's revealed will and order. He knew that God had chosen Saul as king over Israel. Thus he refused to take advantage of Saul's vulnerability on at least two occasions when he could have killed Saul and snatched the kingdom for himself (1 Samuel 24:4-7 and 1 Samuel 26:9-12): "The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed."

In today's reading we have the story, finally, of the end of David's training. It culminated in his coronation, a kingship recognized not only by his fellow citizens, but internationally (vs. 11-12).

Do you have a similar sense of God's call on your life? Perhaps you have known for years that you have a role to play in God's kingdom that hasn't yet been realized. Let David be your role model as you:

1. Get trained in the area you need training. David needed to know how to be a leader. Maybe you'll need to know how to teach, or extend mercy, or give generously. Whatever it is, be faithful in small things, and God will entrust you with bigger ones.

2. Build up your faith muscles. Learn to trust God in the everyday challenges that come your way. Because it's a sure thing that when you are elevated to a position of more responsibility, you will need all the faith and trust you have developed.

3. Wait for God promote you.  Resist the temptation to take matters into your own hands. "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up" ["... and make your lives significant" - Amplified] James 4:10.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for David who modeled patience and waiting for Your time to realize the fulfillment of his destiny. Help me to follow his example of faithfulness and patience. Amen.

MORE: More wisdom about God's ways (from Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the will of God - Workbook)"

"If God has a great task for you, He will expand your character to match that assignment." p. 47.

"God will accomplish more in six months through a people yielded to Him than we could in 60 years without Him." p. 37

"Don't just do something. Stand there!" p. 19




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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Burning, pounding words

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 23:21-40

TO CHEW ON: "'The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream;
And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully.
What is the chaff to the wheat?' says the Lord.
'Is not My word like a fire?' says the Lord,
'And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?'" Jeremiah 23:28-29

As we finish the chapter in Jeremiah we began yesterday, the prophet continues on in his rant against Judah's false shepherds and prophets. Then God Himself breaks into the prophecy. He says, in effect (my paraphrase):

'(Despite all these false prophets) let the real prophets keep prophesying. For just as wheat and chaff are separated at harvest time, so someday it will be evident which were false prophecies (chaff) and which were true (wheat). My words are fire (effective, purifying, destroying) and a hammer (powerful, destructive, constructive).'

Scripture witnesses in many places to the effectiveness and power of God's words.
  • At creation: "Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light" (Genesis 1:3).
  • In the lives of people: Sometimes God's words took a long time to come true, as in Jacob's life (God's promise: Genesis 28:15; its fulfillment many years later: Genesis 35:7).
At other times they were enacted instantly (like in the story of Gehazi, Elisha's lying servant. When Elisha confronted him with his lies to Naaman and pronounced the punishment of leprosy, Gehazi became leprous in that instant - 2 Kings 5:27).
  • The Gospels are full of examples of the effects of Jesus' words — turning lives around by dealing with root causes of sin (Matthew 9:1-8), healing people, even raising some from the dead (Mark 5:22-43).

Bible writers weren't being fanciful or literary when they compared God's words to a fire, hammer or sword.

Which is why still today we can trust God's words as they come to us in the Bible. They are far more insightful than any human-authored words that seek to explain how life works and how we should live. For His words are true and will happen as surely as the One who spoke them is reliable. We can look to them for direction for life and hope for death.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your powerful and effective words. Help me to actually build my life on their truths. Amen.

MORE: Book wisdom

"I am a creature of a day. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God. I want to know one thing: the way to heaven. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book! At any price give me the book of God. Let me be a man of one book.--John Wesley

"When you read God's Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, "It is talking to me, and about me." --Soren Kierkegaard

"The Bible is the greatest example of the whole being greater that its parts" –Michael Phillips.
Quotes from Tentmaker Quotes

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

False shepherd alert

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 23:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "'Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!' says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: 'You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,' says the Lord." Jeremiah 23:1-2

I have, in the last while, run into evidence that the problem Jeremiah had with false shepherds in his day continues in ours. Otherwise, how do you explain a Lutheran pastor who describes himself as a "vedic buddhist pagan," or a local church leader who, in his role as TV host-interviewer seems more interested in pointing out how Buddhism contains truth than explaining how it contradicts the Gospel.

In our time, when blending belief systems with a view to getting along with everyone is the trend, I guess it's not surprising. But the pervasiveness of such tainted teaching makes it all the more important to be able to tell who the false shepherds/teachers are. Jeremiah in this chapter names several lifestyle and teaching indicators:

1. They are profane (vs. 11). I can't help but think of the trend in parts of the church these days to use spiced up language even from the pulpit, supposedly to attract the unbeliever: "See, we can relate to you because we talk just like you do."

2. They prophesy by Baal (vs. 13). Sounds like modern syncretism to me.

3. They commit adultery and live like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (vs. 14). All too familiar, isn't it?

Throughout the Bible false teachers / shepherds are mentioned often. Looking at those references gives us some more ways to spot them.

  • Unfamiliar teaching. Jeremiah describers them as teaching something "new" and says they "speak a vision of their own heart" (Jeremiah 23:16). Paul warns Timothy about their "doctrines of demons," and their "profane and idle babbling" (1 Timothy 6:20).
  • Human-centered. This may mean making up rules for people to follow, as the Scribes and Pharisees did (Mark 7:7). It could also include teaching human wisdom instead of Christ: "philosophy and empty deceit ...tradition of man according to the basic principles of the world and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
  • New take on Jesus. False teachers often tinker with Jesus' identity. Paul warns the Corinthians about preachers who proclaim an unfamiliar Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). Peter warns about teachers who deny the efficacy of Jesus' work on the cross (2 Peter 2:1). Some may even use Scripture itself to challenge Jesus' identity, like Satan did during Jesus' temptation (Matthew 4:6).
  • No bad news. The false shepherds of Ezekiel's day avoided the bad and unpleasant, saying only things the people wanted to hear (Ezekiel 13:10).
  • Divisive. Paul warned Titus about teachers who were divisive (Titus 3:10). Related to causing division is the desire to build one's own following (Acts 20:30).
  • Hypocritical and immoral lifestyle. Jesus warned about teachers who lived lives of hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). Paul lumped heretical teachers in with those who practiced idolatry, sorcery and a lot of other things (Galatians 5:20).

The key thing in identifying false shepherds still always comes down to being familiar with God's word. When we know what it says, we'll be alert to someone who is trying to tell us something it doesn't say: "...holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:7-9).

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live by truth. Help me to know and understand Your word so that I will be able to detect error. Amen.

MORE: Doctrinal defection

"What we see today in the moral collapse of the ministry is not the worst priestly failure. Far more devastating for the church long term is the doctrinal defection of thousands of pastors away from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and away from biblical truth.
"The Curse of Priestly Failure" By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org



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Monday, November 15, 2010

Heads-up endtime living

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 21:20-38

TO CHEW ON: "'But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly." Luke 21:34

At the end of a list of prophetic predictions that detail how we will be able to tell that the Kingdom of God is near, Jesus gives the practical warning of Luke 21:34. It tells us to take a step back and look at our own thoughts and actions. Jesus warns against a couple of preoccupations that can distract us from alert end-time living.

He describes our faulty focus as hearts "weighed down." The Greek word for weighed is bareo which means to to weigh down, burden, depress. Isn't it interesting that Jesus mentions as weights, "carousing (dissipation) and drunkenness" — activities we would normally think of as cheering us up. But He knew very well the consequences of such attempts to deal with the pain and drudgery of life. If you've ever lived such a lifestyle, you'll know its tensions and drama when, in the sober light of morning, you have to deal with the fallout of drunken actions from the night before, and when the need for money to keep the party going never ends.

The other thing that can weigh us down are the "cares of this life." Cares (merimna from meiro — to divide and noos - the mind) means distractions, anxieties, burdens, worries. "It means to be anxious beforehand about daily life. Such worry is unnecessary because the Father's love provides for both our daily needs and our special needs" - "Word Wealth" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1769.

Who of us hasn't let the cares of this life capture our focus at least once in a while? So here, to urge us toward carefree living are a few encouragements in that vein from the Bible:

- Psalm 127:2 tells us it is "vain"  or "useless" to lose sleep over everyday cares. If we're trusting God in the way we should be, we can leave things in His hands long enough to get some rest.

- Jesus, in Matthew 6:25 and Luke 12:29, tells us not to worry about the mundane things of life.

- It is just such preoccupation that chokes the word in our lives, according to Jesus' story of the sower and the seeds (Matthew 13:22).

- Jesus chides Martha over her being "worried and troubled about many things" (Luke 10:41). Her symptom: stressing out over serving a nice meal to guests.

- Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi, telling them to replace anxieties with prayers and thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6).

- We can do this because we know Who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

In this time when many of the "signs" Jesus talks about early in Luke 21 seem to be playing out, let's stay alert to His imminent return by living soberly and carefree.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for spelling out these signs of the times. Help me to live attentive to the right things, smothering my tendency to worry about the details of living with the knowledge that you want me to leave these things in Your hands. Amen.

MORE: Dottie Rambo's "We Shall Behold Him" sung by Sandi Patti




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Sunday, November 14, 2010

An occasion for testimony

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 21:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "'But for all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.'" Luke 21:12-13

Jesus' words, "But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony," remind me of a story I heard this summer.

A missionary to the Middle East related an incident where he felt God was telling him to bring Bibles into a certain country.* Though he argued with God, "But that's illegal. It will get me arrested," he felt no release from the assignment.

So he went and, as he expected, his suitcase of Bibles was confiscated and he was put in jail. Fortunately he had one Bible on his person and was soon explaining the gospel to his cellmate. Before the night was over, that man had accepted Jesus.

In the morning the missionary was released. "But you must promise not to give away any more Bibles," the authorities said.

"I'll try," he said, "but I can't promise."

It was no good. He could not resist giving out more copies of the scriptures, and so later in the day found himself being hauled off to jail again. There he was put back in the same cell, where his last night's cellmate lingered on.

He, though, was ecstatic at the missionary's return. "I had so many questions," he said. "I was asking God to send me the answers. He sent you!"

Jesus' words, reinforced by this story, prompt me to ask, how differently would I view life if I looked at things that happen to me as potential occasions for testimony? Things that look bad on the surface — illnesses, hospital stays, accidents...could they be disguised occasions for witness?

I challenge myself, and all of us, to view the events of life with that possibility in mind. Instead of praying for release from the uncomfortable, inconvenient, even nasty incident, let's pray to have the insight to see the opportunity, and the courage to speak the good news about Jesus in it.

*names and identifying details have been left out to protect the people involved.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to see that You allow every detail in my life for a reason — that things that feel like accidents, mistakes, even tragedies, are there by Your permission. Help me to use these events as occasions to witness about the reality of You in my life. Amen.

MORE: Gaither Vocal Band "Born Again"





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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jesus - stumblingstone or millstone?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 20:1-26

TO CHEW ON: "Then He looked at them and said, 'What then is this that is written:
"The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone"?
Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.'" Luke 29:17-18.

When Jesus identifies the religious leaders of the day as the rebellious vine dressers in the story He tells, they take exception. But when He claims to be the rejected cornerstone of Psalm 118:22 they become incensed -- to the point of plotting His arrest.

The verse from Psalm 118 is quoted five times in the New Testament as a reference to Jesus being rejected by Jewish leadership (e.g. 1 Peter 2:7). Here Jesus follows the quote with an interesting statement: "Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." It seems that whatever way we encounter this stone, it injures us.

Paul is an example of a Jewish leader who stumbled on this stone but allowed it (Jesus) to break him and change the course of his life. Jesus' identity and claims altered his paradigm so completely that the things he once depended on as his ticket to eternity with God became mere rubbish. Read his testimony in Philippians 3:4-15.

That stone continues to stumble us. Here are two ways:

1. Jesus in his role as the cornerstone of God's plan, died to pay the penalty for our sins.  His death, not our works, is our way to heaven. Ask most people who don't have a personal relationship with Jesus on what grounds they think they will be accepted into heaven and they'll say something like — "I do my best. I'm sure someday the good things I've done will outweigh the bad." But that's not how God evaluates. He calls our righteousness "filthy rags". They don't save us.

Try to explain to someone how the most brutal murderer can get into heaven if he trusts Christ, even in his dying moments, while someone else who has done good things all his life will be denied entrance if it is sought purely on the basis of those good works. It doesn't seem fair. It's a stumbling block.

2. After we come to God, again we stumble on this stone as all the common-sense principles on which we've built our lives — love your friends, hate your enemies; look out for yourself first; forgive only when your enemy is really sorry and asks for forgiveness, get things to amass them for yourself etc. — get turned on their heads by Kingdom principles. We are required to change our point of reference from ourselves to God and His ways.

But how dreadful to not let Jesus stumble and break us, to resist Him, only to find that He becomes, at the end of time, not a stumblingstone, but a millstone of judgment, grinding us to destruction.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming and making a way for me to be right with God. Deal with my human pride, self-sufficiency and everything else that needs breaking as I make You the cornerstone of my life. Amen.

MORE: Bible millstones

The Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible explains about mills and millstones:

"The simplest kind of mill used to grind grain into meal was called a mortar — a hollowed-out stone that held grain to be pounded by another stone. A more efficient mill consisted of two stones, 60 cm. (2 ft.) in diameter and 15 cm. (6 in.) thick The nether (or lower) stone was raised in the centre. The upper stone was hollowed out and had a hole in the middle. Grain was poured into the hole and the upper stone was turned by means of a handle. The grain was crushed as it fell between the two stones."
— Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, edited by J. I. Packer, M. C. Tenney, p. 469.




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Friday, November 12, 2010

The heart-mouth connection

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 6:37-49

TO CHEW ON: "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." Luke 6:45

Have you ever heard someone make a rude or unfeeling statement and then try to back-peddle by saying something like, "I don't know where that came from; it's so unlike me." Maybe you've done it yourself.

The trouble is, attempts to change another's impression of us by claiming surprise at what we've just said is entirely useless. Because, as our focus verse today points out, what we say, whether impulsive or not, is like us.

Though, as Proverbs implies, it is possible to hide our thoughts with our speech (some wag has even said, "The purpose of speech is to disguise thought") eventually what is inside us comes out — especially when we're jostled.

Luke 6:45 pictures our heart as a storehouse from which we bring treasure.
Treasure (Thesauros) is:
"1. The place in which good and precious things are collected and laid up (casket, coffer, receptacle where valuables are kept, a treasure, storehouse repository).
2. The things laid up in a treasury."

How can we make sure our hearts are a treasury of good things? A sidebar article in my Bible makes this comment about this passage:

"Jesus motivates His disciples to live righteously by emphasizing that such living comes from the heart through faith with love and in trust....Remember that your words and actions flow out of your love relationship with Jesus. Never undervalue obedience." - "Truth-In-Action through the Synoptics," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1438 (emphasis added).

Henry Blackaby says, " Everything in your Christian life, everything about knowing God and experiencing Him, everything about knowing His will depends on the quality of your love relationship with God." - Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God Workbook p. 53, emphasis added).

It is our love relationship with God that motivates toward obedience. God's word tells us what to do with the "works of the flesh" (many of which start out as thoughts: lust, hatred, selfish ambition, envy, jealousy, conceit, for example). We need to replace them by walking in the Spirit and nourishing its fruits (Galatians 5:16-26). As we, in obedience, root out those "flesh works," even to the extent of shunning them in our thought life, and in their place cultivate the fruits of the Spirit, our hearts will become a true treasury that will flow out in good words no matter how we're bumped.

PRAYER: Dear God, I should probably be thanking You for "slips of the tongue," where I reveal to others and myself the bad stuff stored in the treasury of my heart. Help me to love You more, so that obedience becomes the most important thing. Amen.





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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

City transformation

My city - transformed by sports in February 2010.
Oh that it would be transformed by the gospel!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Finally brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you." 2 Thessalonians 3:1

For a couple of weeks last February my city was transformed. Unfortunately the transformation did not come because of the gospel, but because of the Olympics. Of course we enjoyed the citywide good will, excitement, and patriotism along with everyone else. It was as if uniting in this common task — hosting the world — had changed us from armchair critics to partners. Even late night crowds resisted their usual tendency to implode into drunken brawls. Everyone joined in on the Canada-boosting, fun, and celebration.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for him and his team that the word of God would run swiftly and be glorified in and through them (supposedly as they took the gospel to other cities). It had certainly had an effect in Thessalonica. Acts 17:6 describes how the Christians were accused of turning the  the world upside down.

Can we pray that the gospel will run swiftly and be glorified in us to the extent it causes city-wide reaction and transformation? I think so. A sidebar article in my Bible suggests some prayer points we can use as we intercede for our cities:

"To pray for this:
1. Base your prayer requests on biblical cases of cities being impacted by faith and the gospel (for example, Jerusalem, Nineveh, Philippi, Lystra, Jericho, Samaria, Antioch).
2. Pray for a full activation of God's love among the believers in your community (2 Thessalonians 3:5).


It is biblical to believe for a move of the gospel that will not only change you, your church, and your city, but one that will cause that grace to spread a testimony far beyond your locale (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)."
- David Bryant, "How to Pray for Your Community or City" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1695.

Let's take this challenge to pray for our cities. Let's pray with faith in God "...who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ to all generations" Ephesians 3:20-21).

PRAYER: Dear God. I pray for my city, that the gospel may run swiftly and be glorified in homes, churches, workplaces, restaurants...as it spreads person to person and via radio, TV, and the Internet. May Your good news transform my city. Amen.



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Monday, November 08, 2010

Draw from this well!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 12:1-6

TO CHEW ON: "'Behold God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
For YAH the Lord is my strength
He also has become my salvation.'
Therefore with joy you will draw water
From the wells of salvation." Isaiah 12:2-3


Water was a valuable and much-sought-after commodity in the parts of the east where the events of the Bible played out. The New Bible Dictionary says of Bible wells: "In the arid parts of the East, water may become as precious as gold. Wells were and still remain the subjects of fierce disputes and even strife. They became heritable and were exploited by human monopolies at an earlier date than land." The New Bible Dictionary, p. 1325.

We can gain a fuller appreciation for the "wells of salvation" picture in our focus verses today, when we review the key role that wells played in Israel's history.

- Hagar's life was saved when God opened her eyes to the well at Beer Lahai Roi..
- Later Isaac settled at that same well.
- Isaac had to dig many wells before he was finally able to make peace with his enemies and settle down in the land.
- Jacob met Rachel at a well .
- Moses' desperate flight from Egypt ended at a well in Midian.
- Three of David's men risked their lives to get David a drink of water from the Bethlehem well.
- Jesus offered living water to a Samaritan woman at a well.

Likening our salvation to drinking from a well yields some interesting comparisons.

  • Like the well was a life-saver for Hagar and Moses, the wells of salvation are just that -- salvation -- for us spiritually. 
  • What we know about wells generally (that they access water that is underground) and Isaac's experience with them tells us that finding those wells of salvation may require effort on our part. For some it is the culmination of years of searching. 
  • Like wells were the hub of community life in Palestine, the "wells of salvation" are the center around which relationships develop as we meet God and get to know Him and each other in the community of believers, the church. 
  • Should we stray, hopefully we would be like David hankering after water from the Bethlehem well, as we remember and long for the sweet living water of the salvation wells that satisfied like no other.
Let's drink from the wells of salvation today — the water of forgiveness and cleansing, the assurance of eternal life, the comfort of God's presence in the indwelling Holy Spirit who is our comforter, counselor, teacher...drinking deep from all the things that salvation means.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for salvation and what it means for me in everyday life. Help me to never view it casually or take it for granted. Amen.

MORE:  Isaiah 12:3 - illuminated

"A kneeling figure looks up to Christ and points at a man who draws water issuing from the foot of the crucifix. Christ looks out from Heaven towards a lamb and crucifix. The crucifix and lamb are not mentioned in the text, but are an interpretation of the word "Savior". (From Biblical Art on the WWW.)

"You shall draw the waters with joy from the Saviour’s fountains" -Unknown illustrator of St. Alban's Psalter' - England first half of 12th century.





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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Beware of...

"The Scribes and Pharisees 
sit in Moses' seat" 
by Alexandre Bida, c. 1874

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 20:27-47

TO CHEW ON: "Then in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, 'Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.'" Luke 20:45-47

Jesus' sharp public criticism of the scribes in this passage, coming seemingly out of nowhere, may surprise us.

To set the scene, Jesus and the various religious experts are going back and forth on the fine "what if" points of religion. The Sadducees try to catch Jesus in a question about the resurrection — their hobby horse: they claim there is none. Jesus shows them from Scripture that there is.

Then He goes on to talk about David addressing Christ — who is his son or descendant — as "Lord." "How is He then his son?" Jesus asks, rhetorically posing a theological riddle that insists on the answer that Christ is more than just David's descendant.

And after that He lashes out against the scribes.

However, a parallel passage of this incident shows that Jesus was here actually critiquing what the scribes taught: "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David..." (Mark 12:35-37).

Such sharp criticism from Jesus comes out only when He speaks to or about the religious leaders of the time. We can come to some conclusions about what offends God as we watch Jesus interacting with and responding to them here.
  • He is not impressed with their fine-points questions — designed more as a way to show Him up than as sincere inquiries about how to believe and live (vs. 27-44).
  • "Beware the scribes..." (vs. 46) Jesus warns, pointing out their love of display and public deference. I think His warning is double-edged, telling the disciples don't get taken in by their show, and don't do this yourselves.
  • He disdains their show of piety that would saddle others with the rules they make. In this example, Jesus unmasks its root of greed (vs. 47).
  • He singles them out for "greater condemnation" — to a worse punishment than others would get because they should know better (vs. 47).

We search our hearts to see if they contain similar hypocrisy. Do we ever discuss and argue for the sake of proving our brilliance instead of with a sincere desire to know? Do we love the respect and praise of people? Are we ever guilty of priggish religiosity that would make others conform to our rules and has at its root a different motivation than to bring glory to God? Would Jesus ever tell people to "Beware" of us?

PRAYER: Dear God, sometimes the thought of how well You know human nature is unnerving. Help me to know myself with the same insight and, with the help of Holy Spirit, to make the changes you point out. Amen.

MORE: Jason Upton sings "Freedom"

Vs. 2: "Well, we live in a country supposedly Pharaohless
But all over town and in churches abide
Powerful weaklings who practice their politics
Stealing from Jesus his beautiful bride
Whether you're Pharisees, Sadducees, heresies
You best get outta God's way!
(God is sayin')



Freedom..."



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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Know, remember, drink and be still

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 46:1-11
 

TO CHEW ON: "God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble...
Be still and know that I am God..."
Psalm 46:1,10a


The Sons of Korah wrote Psalm 46 to encourage and give hope to people who were in trouble. By the things the psalmist mentions it seems the trouble was war with another nation. The writer begins with a declaration about who God is:

"God is our refuge  — shelter, protection, fortress, hope, place of trust — and our strength  — power, security — in trouble" 

He reminds the people about the security of the city (vs 4-5). It has an underground stream that provides water even if the water supply is cut off by siege. (Though there is no actual river flowing through Jerusalem, "it is believed by many that there is a subterranean water supply that is the source of various fountains and pools in Jerusalem" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 723.) God's presence in her makes her unshakeable, in case of battering. He will help her at sunrise, which is a likely time for the enemy to attack.

He says more about the identity of God (vs 7-9). He calls Him Yahweh Sabaoth — the Lord of Hosts. I am reminded of the story of Elisha, when the King of Syria comes to capture him, surrounding the city with his army. In the morning, Elisha's servant sees the army and is afraid. But Elisha draws his attention to another army — an army of heavenly warriors: "Do not fear for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" - 2 Kings 6:8-17.

He also calls God the "God of Jacob." This reminds them of their history with God when, in the past, He has preserved their forefather Jacob and his descendants, causing havoc to enemy weapons and transportation.

In the light of all this, God Himself steps to the mic, telling the readers/listeners: "Be still and know that I am God."

The comment writer of my Bible suggests this is "God addressing the wicked warring nations." That may be so. But I think it is also God addressing the worried, wailing people. He tells them to still the fearful voices around them and in their own heads, perhaps even to the extent of silencing their own ideas and suggestions to God about how He could help them.

We may not be living in a city surrounded by an enemy army but our lives can feel just as attacked. Circumstances, demands of home, family and church, sickness, sandwich pressures (simultaneously looking after kids and parents), the clamour around us (internet, TV, radio, the constant demands of social networking via the phone, Facebook, Twitter) can make a mighty din, causing us stress, anxiety and fear.

At such times, let's use the encouragements of Psalm 46. We can:
  • Know our God — a shelter, strength, the Lord of Hosts.
  • Remember our history with God. ("He is the God of ___" [insert your name here]).
  • Drink from the river that flows within — get strength from the Bible and the Holy Spirit's application of what we read.
  • Be still — turn off the noise in our environment, refuse to listen to the chatter in our heads, even silence our own suggestions to God while we wait for His solutions (Exodus 14:13-14).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to take advantage of what is available in You when I'm feeling stressed, anxious, surrounded by demands, or trouble. Help me to be still and wait for You to work.  Amen.

MORE: "Be Still" the song

Canadian singer-songwriter Carolyn Arends has written a song based on this verse. It's on her newest album Love Was Here First.

I can't post the actual song but if you go to this page, that songs starts playing when the page loads.


I love these lines from the bridge section:

Oh how I need a vacation
‘Cause it’s so exhausting pretending I’m God
There would be much less frustration
If I would let you do your job

All lyrics are here



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