Monday, May 30, 2011

Our actions - seen and weighed

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 2:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Talk no more very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge and by him actions are weighed." - 1 Samuel 2:3 ESV

Tim Challies in his book The Next Story reminds us of how the internet and wireless technology has made much of our lives traceable. Search engine data, email, telephone and text message records, our twitter stream, not to speak of what we write on blogs and comment on web pages can all be cobbled together to form a picture of who we are. Of course, if we have nothing to hide, we don't worry a lot about this, relying on the improbability that anyone will actually take the time and effort to sleuth it all out and join the dots.

However, there is One who doesn't need Google's search engine records to know what kind of person we are: "The Lord, the God of knowledge." He is the One who knows us in an all-inclusive Psalm 139 way and will eventually weigh our actions.

It's interesting that later in the chapter of today's reading, after Hanna has finished praying and gone home, probably in blissful ignorance about the tainted environment in which she's left Samuel (barely out of toddlerhood) the writer begins to tell the story of Eli's sons. They turn out to be a living illustration of what she has just prayed.

He begins the story about them: "Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord" - 1 Samuel 2:12. Then he describes how they were flaunting the rules of handling the sacrifices, and ends: "Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord" - 1 Samuel 2:17.

Whether the people knew they were sinning or not isn't clear, and isn't the issue. What mattered was that God saw and His evaluation counted.

I take two challenges from today's passage.

1. I need to realize that God knows even my most private moments. Despite the digital trail I leave with my daily actions, I may be able to maintain a comfortable degree of privacy from others. But I can't hide anything from Him. He not only sees my actions, but knows how to weigh them — interpret the motivations from which they come.

2. I want to live in such a way that if someone actually took the time to piece together the digital bits I leave behind, that trail would glorify Jesus.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live each moment with the consciousness that You see. And help me to gain the wisdom to weigh my actions with the scales that You use. Amen.

MORE: What does your digital trail say about you?

Tim Challies:

"More people than ever before are watching us, keeping tabs on us through our data. They are sorting through this data to find a picture of who we are....Wouldn't it be remarkable if the "Numerati" could see a distinct difference between data trails Christians leave behind and the ones left behind by unbelievers — that our data trails made it obvious that we had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). And wouldn't it be a shame if the data trails were nearly indistinguishable?" - Tim Challies in The Next Story, p. 187.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Confession template

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 14:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "Take words with you
And return to the Lord
Say to Him,
'Take away all iniquity
Receive us graciously,
For we will offer the sacrifices
of our lips.'" Hosea 14:2

Nothing helps the act of confession like speaking it aloud to God in words. There is something about actually saying the words that cements feelings of remorse into something more.

One of the most well-known prayers of confession in the Bible comes from David. Psalm 51 is David's prayer of confession and repentance, prayed after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his affair with Bathsheba -- that one-night-stand that morphed into murder after David got Bathsheba pregnant and had her husband killed to cover up his sin (2 Samuel 11-12:15). Though it took a pointed story to get David to acknowledge his sin, once he did, his repentance seems altogether genuine.

Let's look at Psalm 51, taking from it a template for confession. (I'm not sure how important the order is. I'll roughly follow the order of the psalm.) Here are some of the things David, and we, can express in words to God.

- Ask for forgiveness (Psalm 51:1).

- Name our sin (51:3, 14). Though at first David calls his action simply "my sin" and "my transgressions," later he refers to it as the "guilt of bloodshed." It's good to be specific.

- Acknowledge that our deed was an action against God (as well as a person, if it was a sin against another person) (Psalm 51:4).

- Ask for cleansing (51:2, 7, 10).

- Ask for restoration (51:12).

- Accept God's forgiveness -- and that you are forgiven (51:15-17).

- Anticipate and expect that God will continue to use you (51:13).

Our God is so merciful, His forgiveness so unconditional, it's easy to become blasé about our sin. Thoughts like, Oh, God knows my heart; He knows I'm sorry, easily follow sinful actions. However, when we come to God with words, our off-handed mental penitence changes in a subtle way, becoming more real, more serious, more owned.

Of course there may be repercussions to our sin, as there were with David's. Even God's forgiveness doesn't blot out sin's consequences.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to learn about true confession and how helpful it is to say the words aloud. Amen.

MORE: "Create In Me A Clean Heart" by Keith Green

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Are you a backslider?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 11:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "My people are bent on backsliding from Me.
Though they call to the Most high,
None at all exalt Him." Hosea 11:7

We so easily turn from God's highest and best for us. The Bible has a word for that: backsliding - "to return to wrong or sinful ways." Hosea characterized his audience as "bent on backsliding." Oh, they were religious all right, but their religion was heartless -- a lifeless sham that didn't please God at all.

We can learn a lot about backsliding by looking at the Bible passages that talk about it. Let's think of the conditions they describe as spiritual symptoms and ask ourselves, do I exhibit any of these?

Symptoms of backsliding include:

Just like a physical illness puts us out of commission, the chronic backslider may find him or herself, spiritually laid up.

Some of the results of backsliding are:
  • It makes the victim unfit for kingdom work (Luke 9:62).

What brings about this condition? The Bible shows us that there is a variety of spiritual germs and viruses that cause backsliding to begin and continue.

Causes of backsliding include:
  • An absence of spiritual leadership. When Moses was on Mount Sinai with God, wishy-washy Aaron, who Moses had put in charge of the people, easily gave in to the peoples' demands to make a calf idol for them to worship (Exodus 32:1-4).
  • Evil associates - Solomon turned from following God by letting his idolatrous wives influence him (1 Kings 11:4).
  • Worldly success - Amaziah returned from successful battle only to set up images for worship (2 Chronicles 25:1-2,14).
  • Shallowness - according to Jesus' warning in the parable of the sower and the seed (Luke 8:13).
  • An empty life - according to Jesus' story, the person who was freed from demonic oppression, but neglected to fill the void with Godly things was soon under the same influences as before (Luke 11:24-26).
  • Lack of spiritual insight, brought about by lack of faith (John 6:63-66).
  • Being in love with the world - as Demas, who left Paul, was (2 Timothy 4:10).

Do you see any symptoms of backsliding in yourself? I know I do in me. Let's follow Hosea's advice:

 Come, and let us return to the LORD;
      For He has torn, but He will heal us;
      He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
After two days He will revive us;
      On the third day He will raise us up,
      That we may live in His sight.
 Let us know,
      Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD.
      His going forth is established as the morning;
      He will come to us like the rain,
      Like the latter and former rain to the earth.
    Hosea 6:1-3
PRAYER: Dear God, I so easily get distracted from Your highest and best for me. Please show my my points of vulnerability toward backsliding. Help me to fall in love with You again. Amen.

MORE: "Holy Spirit Rain Down" sung by Hillsong

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

Monday, May 23, 2011

Spiritual watchmen

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 9:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "But the watchman of Ephraim is with my God; But the prophet is a fowler's snare in all his ways — Enmity in the house of his God." Hosea 9:8

Continuing on with his denouncement of Israel, Hosea speaks of another means of warning — the watchman. The watchman Tsaphah — was a "Person who peered into the distance, spied, kept watch, scoped something out especially in order to see approaching danger and to warn those endangered" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1152.

  • Sometimes watchmen were king's guards (1 Samuel 14:16).
  • More often they were men positioned in a place that commanded a view of the surrounding territory of a city, like in a tower or on a city wall. When they saw suspicious or threatening activity it was their job to alert the city's inhabitants of danger (2 Kings 9:17-18).
  • Often in the Bible, watchmen were spiritual, the prophets that God sent to warn the people of things to come unless they changed their ways. Such was the case with Ezekiel. God told him plainly that he was a prophetic spiritual watchman (Ezekiel 3:17).
  • Like their natural counterparts, these spiritual watchmen could be good or bad. Sometimes they did their job well and saw good results (Isaiah 52:8). At other times they refused to do their job. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:17) talks about prophet watchmen who refused to listen for the sound of the warning trumpet (shofar — yesterday's devotion) and so didn't warn the people.
  • It was often the watchman's job to actually blow the trumpet (shofar) that sounded the warning. In a probing section of Ezekiel there is an explanation of how this worked. If the watchman saw danger, sounded the trumpet and the people didn't listen, their blood would be on their own hands. But if he saw trouble and didn't blow the trumpet, the blood of the people who perished in the calamity that followed would be on the watchman's hands (Ezekiel 33:2-7).

Hosea was a responsible watchman. Though our verse describes how the people viewed him (as an annoying fowler's snare - a bird trap) he was faithful and consistent in speaking his unpopular message.

What kind of watchmen are we? In this time when there is no appetite to hear about God's objective standard of right and wrong, are we still faithful in talking about sin and God's remedy for it? Or are we guilty of altering the message, saying there really isn't a problem? Or are we altogether silent?

Ezekiel's disturbing warning haunts me as I consider my own action/inaction in this regard:

"But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths" - Ezekiel 33:6 NLT

PRAYER: Dear God, this is a sobering word to me. Help me to be a better watchman on the wall of my family, community, country, unafraid to speak about and explain what You say about our lostness and eventual destination without You. Amen.

MORE: Holy Visitation - Lyrics by Charlie Hall, sung by Rita Springer

Sound the alarm,
gather the people,
gather the elders,
Let the ministers wail...

Sound the alarm
Awaken the watchmen
Open their ears let their voices be loud
We prophesy, You'll come to this nation
Touch this generation with a holy visitation.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 7:8-8:14

TO CHEW ON: "Set the trumpet to your mouth!" Hosea 8:1

In the midst of poetic images of cakes and ovens, doves and eagles, treacherous bows and wild donkeys comes a very real sound — the sound of the trumpet.

A Hebrew trumpet (shofar) was made from a curved animal horn. It was the national trumpet of the Israelites and used on military and religious occasions to summon the people (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1151, New Bible Dictionary p. 855).

The shofar's sound communicated a variety of messages.
  • It was first heard in Exodus when it heralded God's coming down and His presence on Mount Sinai at the time He gave Moses the law (Exodus 19:16, 19, 29 and Exodus 20:18). It said God is holy.
  • The shofar was an important part of God's strategy to defeat Jericho (Joshua 6:1-20). It said God is powerful.
  • In Ezekiel 33:2-9 the prophet's voice became the shofar, warning the city of danger. That would also be the case here in Hosea. This shofar said, God is merciful in His warnings, but He judges sin.
  • The shofar was also used in religious services. It announced the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:9) and the return of the ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:15). It said God invites and welcomes worship.
  • All these trumpet sounds remind me of another trumpet, called the "last" one. Paul refers to it in 1 Corinthians 15:52 and again in 1 Thessalonians 4:16: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God." This time it says, Jesus is coming again!
As we meet with fellow Christians today wherever we attend church, let's do so with an awareness of the messages of the shofar: God is holy, powerful, and merciful but just. He invites our worship. But in order to welcome the sound of the shofar of His return, we need to be ready. We get ready by accepting His offer of eternal life. (John 14:6; John 3:16).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your word which communicates truth in multisensory ways. May I live with these shofar sounds in mind today. Amen.

MORE: Sound of the Shofar

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

God wants relationship

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 6:1–7:7

TO CHEW ON: "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice;
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6

In this meaning-packed little verse we discover what God did and didn't want from Israel back in Hosea's time.

He didn't want sacrifices and offerings that were insincere and showy piety. His feelings about sacrifices made with the wrong attitude is clear. Here, for example, are His strong words through prophet Micah:

What can we bring to the Lord?
      What kind of offerings should we give him?
   Should we bow before God
      with offerings of yearling calves?
 Should we offer him thousands of rams
      and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
   Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
      to pay for our sins?
 No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
      and this is what he requires of you:
   to do what is right, to love mercy,
      and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:6-8, NLT

What He did want was relationship. It's the kind of relationship wrapped up in the phrase "knowledge of God."

[Knowledge = da'ath  means knowledge, understanding, intelligence, wisdom, discernment, skills.]

Earlier in his message, Hosea had pointed to a lack of knowledge as the reason why the people were in their present distressed state: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" Hosea 4:6

Jesus referred to this knowledge not as knowing something intellectually, but knowing a person: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" - John 17:3. It's a relationship powerful enough to change mere life to eternal life.

He also wanted mercy. The way Jesus applied this verse (He quoted Hosea 6:6 at least twice - both times in response to criticism from the Pharisees) sheds light on what receiving and extending mercy might look like in our own lives.

In one instance it was after the Pharisees chided Him for eating with tax collectors and sinners. He replied: "Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not call the righteous but sinners to repentance" - Matthew 9:13.

Another time the Pharisees were critical of Jesus' hungry disciples harvesting a few grain heads on the Sabbath. According to the Pharisees, this was work and work of any kind on the Sabbath was a strict no-no. Jesus debunked their rule with examples of historical exceptions, concluding: "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" Matthew 12:7-8.

For us today, this little verse speaks on at least two issues:
  • God is still more concerned with our knowing Him than serving Him or keeping rules — especially when those two things are done in a rote way to soothe our consciences so that we can keep on living the way we like.
  • He extends mercy to us, but also expects us to give this mercy to others, so that they too will know God in relationship.
PRAYER: Dear God, Thank You for pursuing a relationship with me by sending Jesus. Now Jesus' words, "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,'" feel like a stone in my shoe. Help me to understand this mercy, and live it out in the circumstances of my life. Amen.

MORE: Mercy

Enjoy the lively "Mercy is Falling".

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Seek (baqash) My face

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 5:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "I will return again to My place
Till they acknowledge their offense.
Then they will seek My face;
In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." Hosea 5:15

Though it is surely more 'politically correct' these days to speak about how God responds to our sinful ways with grace (and He does that) another response is on display in our passage today. Hosea warns of three negative ways God will respond to Israel's the habitual sinning:

1. He will withdraw from them (Hosea 5:6)
God will be silent. He will feel distant.

2. He will come as destruction from within (Hosea 5:12).
A wool garment taken out of storage and found to be riddled with moth holes, or a bathroom wall covering mould and dry rot come to mind. Inner destroyers like moths and rot work silently, secretly, but surely. They may refer to hidden sins like cheating, stealing, and sexual secrets.

3. He will come as a predator (Hosea 5:14).
For Israel this happened when they were carried away into exile. For us it could be natural disasters, political troubles or personal tragedy.

God does not send or allow these things because He is mean or vindictive. Rather they are to get our attention so that they will again seek him.

[Seek = baqash  means to seek, to diligently look for, to search earnestly until the object of the search is located. Baqash can apply to seeking a person, a particular item, or a goal. Peace is to be searched for earnestly - Psalm 34:14. The Lord's face, that is His presence, must be especially sought (Psalm 27:8) "Word Wealth - seek," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1149).]

We too can examine our lives to see if God's apparent absence is His discipline. He has not interfered with us as we have allowed secret sins to feed on our integrity like moths on wool, or rot on organic material. He has not intervened as outright tragedy has carried away our comfortable existence. If not us, maybe these things are happening to someone we love.

Let's resist allowing bitterness or anger toward God take root in our lives as a result of these devastations. Rather, may we understand them as God's invitation to seek Him more fervently with baqash earnestness, diligence and perseverance.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to see the things that happen in my world — both the big, grand-scale things and the day-to-day of my life — through spiritual eyes. Help me to search my heart for reasons why You feel absent. Help me to root out secret sins. May I understand trouble as an invitation to crowd closer to You.

MORE: "God is determined to make you pure and holy and right..."

"There is no heaven with a little corner of hell in it. God is determined to make you pure and holy and right; He will not allow you to escape for one moment from the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit. He urged you to come to judgment right away when He convicted you, but you did not; the inevitable process began to work and now you are in prison, and you will only get out when you have paid the uttermost farthing. 

'Is this a God of mercy, and of love?' you say. Seen from God's side, it is a glorious ministry of love. God is going to bring you out pure and spotless and undefiled; but He wants you to recognize the disposition you were showing - the disposition of your right to yourself. 

The moment you are willing that God should alter your disposition, His recreating forces will begin to work. The moment you realize God's purpose, which is to get you rightly related to Himself and then to your fellow men, He will tax the last limit of the universe to help you take the right road. Decide it now - 'Yes, Lord, I will write that letter to-night;' 'I will be reconciled to that man now'"  - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 1 reading.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A temporal spanking?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 2:2-23

TO CHEW ON: "For she did not know
That I gave her grain, new wine, and oil,
And multiplied her silver and gold —
Which they prepared for Baal.
Therefore I will return and take away
My grain in its time
And My new wine in its season
And will take back My wool and My linen
Given to cover her nakedness." Hosea 2:8-9

When children are little, physical punishment is something they understand often better than words and reasoning (even though spanking is certainly out of favour with the modern parenting gurus). Here God threatens to administer a temporal spanking to Israel, who has been pursuing affairs with idols, just as Hosea's wife Gomer has gone after other men.

God's tone is one of hurt aroused to the point of indignation as He speaks to Israel about her unfaithfulness:

"She did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, oil; Therefore I will return and take away My grain...and new wine...She has said 'These are my wages that my lovers have given me,' so I will make them a forest..." Hosea 2: 8, 9, 12.

Israel is interpreting her physical abundance as the payment for her allegiance to Baal instead of coming from the God of heaven. So God says, in effect, I'll take it away. Maybe that will drive you back to Me.

As I read this, I think how we are often like that too. We attribute success, provision, all the good stuff we have as resulting from our own hard work, or keen intellect, or stable government, or luck, or karma — anything but God. It's interesting to view, as a contrast, the range of temporal blessings that the Bible says come from God's hand and are an evidence of His favour:*

  • The wealth of the patriarchs - Genesis 24:35; Genesis 26:12.
  • The sturdiness of the Israelites' clothes and shoes while they wandered for 40 years over rough desert terrain - Deuteronomy 29:5.
  • The well-being of Obed-Edom's household while he housed the Ark of the Covenant - 2 Samuel 6:11.
  • The riches and honour of Solomon, given as a by-product of his request for wisdom - 1 Kings 3:13.
  • Rain and the seasons to make earth productive - Psalm 65:9; Acts 4:17.
  • The success of secular rulers to the extent that even the animal kingdom is on their side, as they serve God's purposes (though they may not realize or acknowledge it) - Jeremiah 27:6
  • Along with material wealth, the ability to flourish spiritually - 2 Corinthians 9:10.

Do we acknowledge the real Source of the myriad blessings in our lives? When week after week there is food in the fridge, money for gas, health to live comfortably, do we thank God? Or do we, like the Israelites, attribute those blessings to ourselves or someone else? If we do we may, like them, be at risk of God withdrawing His bounty as He seeks to draw our attention back to Him.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to understand the degree to which I am dependent on You for all the good things in life. Help me to be a person of habitual thankfulness for Your blessings to me throughout my days. Amen.

MORE: "How is God making my life full right here, right now?"

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes about how nurturing an attitude of gratitude toward God changed the outlook of her life. Moira Brown of 100 Huntley Street interviewed Ann about the book in March 2011. In the two segments below, Ann explains what brought about the focus of gratitude in her life and how she continues to foster it.

Part 1 − 8:30 minutes

Part 2 − 9:38 minutes

*Email subscribers: to read the verses without looking them up, visit the article on the web, where a text box widget displays the verse when you hover the mouse over the reference.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

New Testament star

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 7:51-60

TO CHEW ON: "And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'" Acts 7:59

Stephen is like a shooting star on the New Testament scene — spectacular, bright, but short-lived. He shows us how inspiring a short but well-lived life can be.

Stephen makes his first Bible appearance in Acts 6. There he is one of the men hand-picked to work in the widows' feeding program. He is chosen, along with six others, for good reputation and being full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

In Acts 6:5 he gets special mention as "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit." In Acts 6:8 he is singled out as a person of faith, power and the ability to do signs and wonders. Acts 6:9 shows that he is also a gifted apologist, for when members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen debate with him, they are unable to resist his wisdom. They are so humiliated, they set up Stephen with false accusations.

As he stands before his accusers, Stephen takes the opportunity to explain God's plan through Jewish history, concluding with the Jews' recent killing of Jesus. Our reading today is the end of that speech where he is condemning them for this: "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you."

They stone him for that. But even in death he is admirable, asking God to forgive them.

My thoughts, as I read his story, are What a waste! He seems like too gifted a man to merely serve tables. His reasoning and speaking talents could have been so useful in the church. But God had other plans.

What challenges can we take from Stephen's life?

1. To take every assignment, no matter how insignificant and unspiritual it seems, as  from God and worthwhile. It's interesting that the disciples looked for men who were full of the Holy Spirit to distribute food. We can learn from that that for even mundane jobs, maybe especially mundane jobs, we need Holy Spirit fullness to complete successfully.

2. To realize that God's plan for a successful, full and finished life are not measured by our criteria. "It was too soon for him/her to die," we say whenever a young person dies. But God sometimes has different plans.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
       “ For
as the heavens are higher than the earth,
      So are My ways higher than your ways,
      And My thoughts than your thoughts."  - Isaiah 55:8-10

3. To nurture within us a genuine faith that will stand up, even under pressure. Stephen's faith in God never faltered, even as the stones were  bruising his arms and legs, crushing his ribs and smashing his skull. Though God didn't miraculously swoop down to rescue him he didn't exhibit one iota of bitterness, using his last breath to pray for forgiveness for his killers.

PRAYER: Help me to be like Stephen, full of Your Spirit for every job, concerned with Your kingdom more than my own comfort or longevity, and with a heart so in tune with Yours that I can forgive my enemies. Amen.

MORE: Modern Martyrs

Dying for one's faith continues into our time. Check out these sites:

Links to stories about some modern martyrs

Worthy News

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Letting God get a word in

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 15:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "'If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you.'" John 15:7

Here we see an important part of abiding — or living — in the vine (Jesus) is prayer. And an effective way of praying, that is praying prayers that get answered, is making God's words part of our prayers.

This happens on several levels.

1. God's words change us so we ask for the right things.
As we get familiar with God's heart as expressed in the Bible and we let it change us, our desires will come into line with His will. When that happens we'll pray for things that are His will. When we and God want the same thing, His answers to our prayers will be "Yes."

2. We pray God's words back to Him.
God's word has unique power. Jeremiah describes it as a hammer and a fire. Isaiah tells us it will not fail in the purpose for which God sends it out. So why not pray these powerful, unable-to-fail words back to God.

Daniel Henderson (author of Transforming Prayer) quotes Calvin Miller in this regard:

"Too often we go into God's presence with a list of pleas, trying to talk God into granting our desire. But this kind of praying makes us 'one big mouth' and God 'one grand ear.' But when we pray the Scriptures, it makes God the voice and leaves us the ear. In short, God gets His turn at getting a word in edgewise" - Calvin Miller, from The Path to Celtic Prayer, p. 57, quoted in Transforming Prayer p. 103.

Henderson tells us how he does this practically:

"On a personal level, I read the Scriptures using the Bible program on my laptop. As specific passages speak to me, I paste them into my journal program. Then I take time to allow those Bible segments to speak deeply to my heart and write out my prayers in response. This sense of Christ's presence and the substance of His Word guide my praying for that day" - Transforming Prayer, p. 105.

Let's ask God to show us ways we too can adjust our prayer times to combine Bible words and prayer.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please teach me to pray using the power of Your words. May they change me. Help me to find and recognize Bible passages that express Your will for the people and circumstances in my life. May I then be alert to use them in prayer. Amen.

MORE: Praying the Bible

There are many resources available to help us pray God's word. Some I am aware of:

Praying with Fire

Take Words With You (a pdf book you can download from this page)

You can also write your own scripture prayers for the people you love, your circumstances, your career, your city, and your country. I've posted two such prayers on the "Prayer" page of this blog. Try writing one of these for yourself and your circumstances.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Not chosen

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 1:12-26

TO CHEW ON: “And they prayed and said, ‘You O Lord who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen….And they cast lots and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:24,26

I’m sure you know what it feels like to be overlooked, the one not chosen. You let your name stand for a committee and the other person is picked. You enter a contest and when you look at the list of winners, your name isn’t there. You let the boss know you're interested in an open position, but he gives it to someone else.

This is what happened to Joseph Barsabas Justus, one of the two men the apostles chose to fill the vacancy on their ‘board’ left by Judas. They cast lots to make the final choice and the lot fell to the other man, Matthias. I wonder how J. B. Justus felt after that – rejected, slighted, discouraged, snubbed by the very God he worshiped? For the belief was that God revealed His will by how the lot fell.

Though the disappointments in our lives come at the hands of others and not as directly from God as it appeared here, our belief that God is in the details of life may make our failure seem just as much a verdict from Him. So how do we handle situations when we’re not chosen? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Look for reasons we were disqualified. We can ask God to show us if there is some lack of qualification or skill, or some attitude or action that would disqualify us. In a passage that talks about physical healing, James says that dealing with our known sins impacts whether or not our prayers will be answered. (James 5:13-16)

2. We can ask ourselves why we feel so disappointed. This helps us uncover our expectations and motivations. Were they self-serving?

3. We can focus on becoming the people that are pleasing to God in the hidden places. These include prayer, living in forgiveness, fasting, and giving (money, charity, time) without fanfare and hope of being rewarded.

4. We can give our lives to God anew, surrendering everything including our confusing expectations and motivations.

We never hear again about Joseph B. Justus. I hope he didn’t scoop his ball and run home in a sulk. I hope he stayed around to serve tables, head the prayer chain or fix widows’ roofs, realizing he was chosen for those things or something else just as important.

PRAYER: Dear God, it’s hard for me not to feel disappointed when I’m not chosen for things on which I’ve set my heart. Help me to learn from these disappointments and to live the life You’ve chosen for me with joyful acceptance. Amen.

MORE: "We Bow Down" - Viola Grafstrom, Kingsway Thankyou Music

(This is a re-post from May 14, 2010.)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Eyes - closed or open?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 24:13-35

TO CHEW ON: "But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him...Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him." Luke 24:16, 31

It's easy for us to be hard on the disciples, wondering how they could not know Jesus. How could they not have expected all that happened to happen? After all, Jesus tried to tell them so often and so clearly that He would die but would rise again.

However, I'm not at all sure I wouldn't have been just like those thick-headed unseeing people of Jesus' day. A little study on lack of spiritual insight reveals these things about it:

1. It was often a result of interpreting things literally instead of spiritually.
  • In Matthew 16:11 Jesus' disciples took His warning about the leaven of the Scribes and Pharisees that way (thinking He was talking about literal bread when He was actually referring to doctrine).
  • In John 3:4, Nicodemus at first thought Jesus was telling him he must be physically reborn to enter the Kingdom of God.
  • In John 6:53-58 where Jesus spoke prophetically abut His death as commemorated in communion (eating His flesh and drinking His blood) many people were turned off and left Him (John 6:60,66).

2. Sometimes it was the result of a skeptical nature - like that of Thomas (John 20:25).

3. Sometimes it came from not wanting to hear the bad news. It seems that the disciples' inability to comprehend Jesus' words fell largely in that category (Mark 9:30-32).

4. At other times it seems to have come from the good news being too good to be true (actually a lack of faith).
  • The inability for the disciples to believe that Jesus had actually risen would be an instance of that (John 20:2,8-9)
  • So would today's story of the Emmaus disciples.
  • As would the believers' disbelief that Peter had escaped from prison and was at the door, as Rhoda the doorlady reported in Acts 12:15.

5. Paul tells us that spiritual perception can be impeded by carnality (worldly or fleshly-mindedness) in 1 Corinthians 3:1.

6. He also gives us the secret to understanding the Old Testament. In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 he explains how when we acknowledge Jesus as the fulfillment of God's plan, the veil is taken from our eyes in regard to what is written there in type, symbol and prophecy.

7. And here's the good news for us today: spiritual insight is available to each one of us now, through the help of the Holy Spirit! 2 Corinthians 2:9-11 says:

9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,
   “No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
      and no mind has imagined
   what God has prepared
      for those who love him.”
 10 But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.- NLT

We don't have to be blind. We have the Holy Spirit - the Bible's inspiration - to help us understand it and apply it rightly to our lives and our times.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your Spirit which gives insight into the Bible. Help me to be alert and clear-visioned, understanding and interpreting life through the truth of Your word. Amen.

MORE: "Open the Eyes of My Heart" - sung by Michael W. Smith

TODAY IS MOTHER'S DAY! A bouquet to mothers everywhere. We love, value and appreciate you!

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

That was close!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 116:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "I love the Lord because He has heard my voice and my supplications." Psalm 116:1

Writings where the author expresses what we are feeling are pieces we read over and over. Psalm 116 is such a passage for anyone who has been through a life-threatening, near-death experience. Note the writer's varied reactions to the resolution of his too-close-for comfort event. To which can you relate?

1. Uninhibited love: "I love the Lord..." - Psalm 116:1
It's obvious the speaker was desperate when he cried out to God. Now he is full of love for the God who responded.

2. Resolve to pray more - Psalm 116:2
Because God answered his prayer, he is now determined to pray as long as he lives.

3. Fresh testimony - Psalm 116:3-6; 10-11
He can't help but relive the close call he had. "I was at death's door when I prayed," he tells us. "All I could do was utter a simple call out to God."

4. Time to get back to normal living - Psalm 116:7-8
"Soul, you can relax again," he says to his overwrought emotions.

5. New commitment to do God proud - Psalm 116:9
When he resolves, "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living," it's as if he's saying, 'You won't be sorry you rescued me, God. I'll show you that I was worth it.'

6. New appreciation of salvation - Psalm 116:12-13
I see the writer here, holding up his cup that is full of salvation wine, giving a toast to God.

7. Determined to keep sickbed promises - Psalm 116: 14, 18-19
He obviously did a little bargaining with God, a little vowing and promising when he was down. Now he reminds himself of these promises and determines to keep them.

8. New insights into death - Psalm 116:15
It's as if the writer has looked death in the face and realized it wasn't all terror. For death would usher him into the presence of God, and God's celebration of their being face to face.

9. Renewed commitment to serve God - Psalm 116:16
"I am Your servant," he says, and repeats it, as if determined that his servant role will define him from now on.

10. An overflow of thanksgiving - Psalm 116:17
What else but thanksgiving could flow from an experience like that?

Don't these responses ring true — the overwhelming love we feel for God after He answers a desperate prayer, the urge to tell everyone what has just happened, the remembrance of promises made to God when in the thick of trouble, new insights into death, a strengthened resolve to serve God and be thankful for extraordinary and ordinary blessings...

If you're in a desperate place right now, let Psalm 116 be the light at the end of your tunnel. You might even want to pray its words and promises over your situation in faith. If you've come through such a time, let this psalm express your love, renewed loyalty and gratitude to God.

PRAYER: I love You Lord, because You hear my prayer. I will walk before You now, in the land of the living. I will keep my promises to You and be full of thanksgiving. Amen.

MORE: Prayer and Hope

"After you've worshiped and petitioned to the best of your Holy-Spirit-energized ability, rest it all with Him. The answers may not come in the size packages you suppose, or be delivered at the moment you have in mind. But trust in Him. All power and glory are His. And in freely and praisefully speaking that, you open the door to His invitation that you share it with His way, at His time." Jack Hayford quoted in Prayer Powerpoints, p.223 (taken from Prayer is Invading the Impossible p. 107).

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