Thursday, June 30, 2011

Little foxes

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 2:8-3:4

TO CHEW ON: "Catch us the foxes
The little foxes that spoil the vines
For our vines have tender grapes." Song of Solomon 2:15

Our reading today is a sample of one of the richest love poems in literature, and the only such writing in the Bible. It is first and foremost a celebration of love between a man and a woman. As such it has a happy lighthearted playfulness that is contagious. It is also sensuous with the colour of flowers, the sound of the dove and of singing, and fragrant with new growth on the vines. However, as is often the case with romantic love, there is also trouble. "Little foxes that spoil the vines."

In marital love it's not hard to imagine what some of those little foxes could be: disagreements over money, a critical spirit toward one's mate that comes out in words and actions that undermine, disunity over how to bring up the children, coldness and receptivity toward each other...

An introductory paragraph about the Song of Solomon in my Bible comments on how to read this book as a sort of marriage manual:

"The Song is a constant goad to drifting marriages with its challenge to seek for openness, growth, and joyous relationship. It also makes an excellent premarital manual. As biblical archetype it can bring healing to the core of our being with its hope of covenant love as it reshapes our marriages..." - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 860.

But the Song of Solomon can also be interpreted as an allegory of Christ and the church. Carrying on with the introductory paragraph above.

"Its portrayal of the covenant relationship also has application to the covenant love relationship enjoyed by God's church. In this regard, the Song can be rich in symbolism but should not be read as an arbitrary allegory with mysterious meanings supplied by the whim of the reader; rather any such personal application of one's love relationship with Christ should be interpreted with solid application, using obvious biblical parallels" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 860.

Keeping that last warning to not stretch comparisons in mind, I think it's safe to say that little foxes, seemingly small issues, can also attack our relationship with God. A footnote in my Bible names a few of these: unbelief, resistance, hardness of heart. "Hardness of heart is the great enemy of love, since everything depends on receptivity and openness - Read Numbers 13 and 14)" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 863.

Let's examine our lives for "little foxes." In our marriages what are the little annoyances that threaten our relationships? As believers in the body of Christ, the church (the Bride of Christ) are we guilty of unbelief, resistance, hardness of heart toward Jesus, our spiritual bridegroom?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be aware of the little issues that so sneakily spoil my relationship with my husband, and the tolerated sin that compromises my relationship with You.

MORE: Just a little...

  • laziness leads to poverty (Proverbs 6:10-11).
  • foolishness leads to a wrecked reputation (Ecclesiastes 10:1).
  • tolerated sin leads to its exponential growth in one's life and in the church (1 Corinthians 5:6).

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Change your focus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 13:1-6

TO CHEW ON: "But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation." Psalm 13:5

"How long O Lord?" David wails at the beginning of this psalm — 'How long will You forget me, hide Your face from me. How long will I need to be preoccupied with my terrible situation? How long will my enemy win over me?'

No doubt we often feel such a "How long?" welling up inside of us too. "How long will I (or someone I love) be sick? How long will I be unemployed? How long till my loved one comes to you?" "How long _____?" Put your own 'how long' in the blank.

But by the end of this six-verse psalm, David is no longer singing the "how long" blues. It ends with,"I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me."

Why the change of heart?

The turn comes in verse 5: "But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation."

David has turned his attention away from his bleak situation onto God. As he contemplates God and His qualities and attributes (here mercy and salvation) his circumstances shrink down to size.

Maybe we need to do what David did as we deal with our own 'how long' worries and complaints. He knew about God and knew God by experience. In the time of his trouble he could draw on that knowledge, shifting his focus from his problems to his God. Do we know enough about God to do this?

In his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer says:

"Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives. As it would be cruel to an Amazonian tribesman to fly him to London, put him down without explanation in Trafalgar Square and leave him, as one who knew nothing of English or England, to fend for himself, so we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul" p. 15.

PRAYER: Dear God, as I face the challenges of everyday living, help me to study You, to know You and then follow David's example and trust You. Amen.

MORE: Thoughts of God: improving, humbling, consoling

"There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep that our pride is drowned in its infinity...No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind than thoughts of God....

But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe....

And whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead's deepest sea; be lost in His immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch or rest, refreshed and invigorated" - C. H. Spurgeon (spoken at the age of a mere 20 years!), quoted in Knowing God by J. I. Packer, page 13-14.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Scripture praying

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:57-80

TO CHEW ON: "'And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation toHis people….To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.' So the child grew and became strong in spirit. Luke 1:76-77; 79-80

I love the prayers of prophetic blessing in the Bible, especially the ones that fathers prayed over their children. Our reading today is the powerful prayer / prophecy that Zacharias prayed the day he and his wife brought their eight-day-old baby to the temple to be named and circumcised. And isn't the outcome of Zacharias's prayer exactly what we want for our kids and grandkids - physical growth and spiritual strength?

So why not pray the same way for our kids? We may not have the original Holy Spirit inspiration that Zacharias did on the day he prayed this prayer, but we do have all of inspired scripture on which to base our prayers. Why not pray it for and over our kids?

Dick Eastman in his book The Hour That Changes the World gives a three-part plan for devising scripture prayers.

1. Listen to or read a passage from the Bible.

2. Stop listening or reading the moment you discover a verse or two that impress truth on your heart:
- Meditate on what the verse is saying to you.
- Ponder every aspect of the passage.
- Evaluate how the passage might be transformed into a specific petition.
  • Does this verse prompt me to pray for something specific?
  •  How can this passage be directly applied to my petition?
  • Can I use some of the words of the passage verbatim as I pray?

3. Using your mediation "form a personal prayer 'enriched' by that promise from God."

- Dick Eastman, The Hour That Changes the World, pp. 59-60.

Here are a couple of my favourite passages on which to base prayers for the babies and children in our lives:

"So Samuel grew and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground." 1 Samuel 3:19

"And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was on Him." Luke 2:40

"And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man." Luke 2:52

PRAYER: Dear God, please bless (___insert names of loved ones) and keep them. May You make Your face shine upon them and be gracious to them. May You turn Your face toward them and give them peace. Amen (prayer based on Numbers 6:22-27).

MORE: Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Today the church celebrates the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

Here is the collect that begins the day's liturgy:
"Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

"Birth of St.John the Baptist" by Luca Signorelli (1445-1523)

(This is a re-post - devotion first published on June 24, 2010.)

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Persistent prayer

"The Shunamite Woman"
by Harold Copping

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 4:18-37

TO CHEW ON: "He went in therefore, shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord." 2 Kings 4:33

When the Shunamite woman's son died so suddenly and unexpectedly, she was desperate. Without taking the time to explain to anyone what had happened or what she was doing, she rode straight to Elisha, the man of God.

Go to God
In her action I see the first prayer principle we find in this passage. It is one for the person needing prayer — we'll call him/her the pray-ee. When we're that person and in trouble, the best place to go is to God — or, as in the woman's case, to someone who knows God and has a close relationship with Him.

Accept no proxies
Elisha sent his servant back with his walking stick (staff). But the woman wouldn't leave Elisha until he himself agreed to come too. We see she was wise in this, for though servant Gehazi worked for Elisha and carried his equipment, his prayers didn't have the same effectiveness. The principle here is another one for pray-ees: Don't settle for less than what your conviction has impressed on you; don't be content with proxies. This is not unbiblical — for not all Christians have the gift of faith and miracles (1 Corinthians 12:4-10).

Follow God's instructions
When Elisha arrived, he went into the room with the boy and prayed for him. Then he did a strange thing - laid himself on top of the boy so that his mouth was on the boy's mouth, his hands on the boy's hands etc. Lo and behold, the boy's flesh became warm. I see in this a principle for the pray-er: follow God's instructions as you pray, both in what you say, and what you do.

Keep praying until the burden lifts
But the boy didn't revive. The passage describes Elisha walking back and forth in the house. I can just imagine his anguished praying: "God, is this Your answer? Isn't there more? What do I do now?" I see here another principle for the pray-er: Keep praying until the burden lifts.

Of course Elisha didn't quit but returned and stretched himself over the boy's form again. This time the lad came back to life and Elisha gave him back to his overjoyed mom.

Next time we have a big problem or someone comes to us to pray for a big problem let's remember these principles — and put them to the test.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Shunamite woman's simple faith and Elisha's creative and persistent prayer. Help me to be more reliant on You in trouble and more keen to listen to Your instructions and to persevere when I pray — for myself and others. Amen.

MORE: "I Must Tell Jesus"

If anything will drive us to Jesus it is big problems. Elisha Hoffman wrote a song about that in 1894. Here is its story:

"Hoffman's pastime was writing hymns, many of which were inspired by pastoral incidents. One day, for example, while calling on the destitute of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, he met a woman whose depression seemed beyond cure. She opened her heart and poured on him her pent-up sorrows. Wringing her hands, she cried, 'What shall I do? Oh what shall I do?' Hoffman knew what she should do, for he had himself learned the deeper lessons of God's comfort. He said to the woman, 'You cannot do better than to take all your sorrows to Jesus. You must tell Jesus.'

Suddenly the lady's face lighted up. 'Yes!' she cried, 'That's it! I must tell Jesus.' Her words echoed in Hoffman's ears, and he mulled them over as he returned home. He drew out his pen and started writing...

'I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone...'

From Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World's Greatest Hymn Stories by Robert J. Morgan, p. 233.

Enjoy Candi Station's singing of "I Must Tell Jesus."

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Faith for much

"The Widow's Oil"- 1695 woodcut
by Johann Christoph Weigel

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 4:1-17
TO CHEW ON: Then he said, 'Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbours — empty vessels; do not gather just a few.'" 2 Kings 4:3

When one of the 'sons of the prophets' died, his widow was in trouble. For he hadn't left much of a legacy — two sons, a little oil and a debt. Now the creditor was about to claim the sons as his slaves to pay for that debt.

This destitute women went to Elisha for help. He was a miracle-working prophet with the reputation of having inherited the spirit of his mentor Elijah. His instructions were simple yet faith-challenging. "Go and borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbours — empty vessels; do not gather just a few."

Elisha's unspoken message was — God is able to do a big thing, just don't limit Him with your small faith. A footnote to this verse in my Bible says, "The provision was in proportion to the woman's faith and ability to receive" - New Spirit-filled Life Bible, p 485.

In what ways do we need God to intervene for us in miracles today? Are we limiting Him with small faith? What steps of faith (equivalent to borrowing all those containers) could God be asking us to take, to prepare for His extravagant outpouring on our behalf? Do we actually believe He can do this? Are we affirming that faith by preparing for the abundance He has the ability to provide?

"...And try Me now in this," says the Lord of hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it'" - Malachi 3:10.

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me any vessel gathering I need to do to prove to myself, to the world, to You my faith in Your limitless ability. Amen.

MORE: Faith wisdom

All quotes taken from Prayer Powerpoints, compiled by Randall D. Roth.

"In order to make sure that we are not retreating from the tension of faith, it is helpful to ask ourselves as we pray, 'Do I really expect anything to happen?' This will prevent us from going window-shopping in prayer."
- Catherine Marshall - p. 68

"If you pray for bread and bring no basket to carry it, you prove the doubting spirit which may be the only hindrance to the gift you ask."
- D. L. Moody - p. 65

"Prayer is asking for rain.
Faith is carrying the umbrella."
- Robert C. Savage, p. 64

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Friday, June 17, 2011

The goal: perfect and complete

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 13:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "...And this also we pray, that you may be made complete....Finally brethren, farewell. Become complete... " 2 Corinthians 13:9b,11a NKJV

When I was a kid I took piano lessons. Several times during my piano lesson career, I signed up to take an exam. This involved becoming proficient in all the technical elements and learning several pieces at my grade level. For weeks, even months, my teacher and I worked at preparing me for this exam. Every week when I came for my lesson she would critique my scales and four-note chords, my Bach Invention and my Chopin waltz so I could strengthen each weakness. My goal for exam day was to impress the examiner with a performance that was as perfect and complete as I could make it.

Here Paul is urging the Corinthians to be "complete" as Christians.

["Complete (katartisis) means an improving, equipping, training, disciplining. It includes making the necessary adjustments and repairs. The related verb katartizo is used for the disciples mending their nets - Matthew 4:21" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1626.]

When Paul talks about "complete" what does he mean? What are we striving after to make us complete as disciples of Jesus? In piano I depended on my teacher to challenge and grow me toward the standard she knew was required to get a good score. In the Christian life, the package of completeness we are working toward is found in the Bible. (The word "complete" is used in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where Paul describes how God's word is useful to us.)

Here are some verses that talk about completeness (also called "maturity"- NLT; "full restoration" - NIV;  "perfected" - Amplified, "in good repair" - Msg.). They give us a picture (though incomplete for sure) of what Paul is talking about and what we strive for:
  • Some have earned that label. Job was a man who had a reputation with both the devil and God as being "blameless" - Job 1:1.
  • Jesus linked being "perfect" with becoming detached from worldly possessions - Matthew 19:21.
  • Paul talked about love as the thing that would bind all the virtues together in perfect unity - Colossians 3:12-14.
  • James referred to how faith and works need to mesh, with works completing or making perfect one's profession of faith - James 2:22.
  • He also spoke of the ability to guard one's tongue as an evidence of the greater discipline of the "perfect man" - James 3:2.
  • John spoke of our love shown to one another as the evidence of God's loving being perfected in us - 1 John 4:12.

Fortunately we don't have to work on this alone. We too have a "piano teacher." God Himself promises to show us where we need to improve. Look

"I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward. So let those [of us] who are spiritually mature and full-grown have this mind and hold these convictions; and if in any respect you have a different attitude of mind, God will make that clear to you also" - Philippians 3:13-15 (Amplified)

Completeness is a great big goal that can seem discouragingly huge. But it has been my experience that God often handles my shortcomings like my piano teacher did — one at a time. That I can handle.

PRAYER: Dear God, the goal of completeness is a big, intimidating one. Thank You that You deal with me one issue at a time. Help me to be a teachable student today, sensitive and malleable to Your correction. Amen.

MORE: "Joy in the Journey" - Michael Card

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

We will not bow

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 3:8-25

TO CHEW ON: "But let it be known to you, O King, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." Daniel 3:18

This incredible story of God coming to the rescue of Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego has always been one of my favourites. I find it interesting that in it, their friend and former spokesman, Daniel, wasn't with them. It was he who got them into this pickle, in a way. Because when he was promoted to governor in Babylon, it was on his request that his friends got the jobs and profile that they had (Daniel 2:49).

However, these three young men were stalwarts in their own right. They never for an instant considered bowing to that image. Their answer made it clear that they had counted the cost: "The God whom we serve is able to deliver us.... But if not, let it be known....we do not serve your gods nor will we worship the gold image" - Daniel 3:17-18.

Their chutzpah outraged the king who then commanded the penal fire, already prepared for anyone who dared defy his order, be heated seven times hotter.

He lost three "mighty men of valour" in the fire toss and then witnessed a miracle of selective burn. For though SM&A had been thrown in "bound in their coats, their trousers etc." now they were "loose, walking in the midst of the fire..." And a holy creature was with them so startlingly different in His appearance, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged Him as the "Son of God."

As I read this story and look for parallels in our own lives, I can't help but think how, in many ways, that golden image is for us, the church of the 21st century, a good public opinion.

For years Christianity has been the worldview of the majority of  Canadians and we in the church were in sync with our culture. That's no longer the case. Our culture has changed to the degree of accepting, indeed promoting, many things that, if we insist on living by the Bible, we must reject. For example:
- The world "created" without God (through evolution).
- All religions leading to God.
- Homosexuality as normal, right, and good.
- Abortion.

Society has a fiery furnace too. Its threats if we don't bow to their current norms include fines and jail time, taking away the church's tax-free and charitable donation status, and maligning us in the media.

What is our response?
  • Have we thought it through beforehand like SM&A had so that when society's minions insist on compliance we can reply "Your threat means nothing to us" (Msg)?
  • Are we as faith-filled as these three young men were when they said: "Our God.... is able to deliver us"
  • Could we see ourselves adding something like, "Whether God delivers us or not, let it be known to you, O society (of Canada, the US, Europe, China, India, Africa...) we do not serve your gods nor will we capitulate to the standards you have set up"?

PRAYER: Dear God, I read this story and feel convicted. Help me to have the resolve to worship only You that these men had. May I exhibit their reckless abandonment to Your care as I seek to uphold Your standards and live in ways that please You. Amen.

MORE: A church that bows

The United Church of Canada has been in the vanguard of Canadian churches that have synchronized their beliefs and practices to fit with the changing mores of society. A recent article in the National Post profiles their denomination (not glossing over their current dwindling and confused state). Read "The Split in the United Church."

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

God's visible shining

"God and Moses"- 1573 woodcut
by  an unknown artist.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 34:18-35

TO CHEW ON: "Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses' hand when he came down from the mountain) that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him." Exodus 34:29

The visible glory on Moses' face when he came down from talking with God on Mount Sinai seems to have served several purposes.

- It was physical evidence that Moses had had a supernatural encounter.
- It was a sign that Moses had an intimate relationship with God.
- It was also a sign that God endorsed Moses as a leader — unlike the Israelites who had repudiated his leadership just a little while earlier (Exodus 32:1-6).
- It wasn't something Moses consciously sought or even knew he exhibited.

The visible glory of God displayed on a person's face is the stuff of other supernatural encounters in the Bible.
  • In Judges 3:16 Manoah's wife (Samson's mother) described the face of the Angel of the Lord as "very awesome."
  • In Daniel 10:6 Daniel encounters a man whose face had "the appearance of lightning."
  • At Jesus' transfiguration His face "shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light" - Matthew 17:2; also Luke 8:29-32.
  • At Jesus' resurrection the angel of the Lord who rolled away the stone was described: "His countenance was like lightning" - Matthew 28:3.
  • When Stephen was stoned, as he was looking into heaven shortly before he died, onlookers saw his face become "as the face of an angel" - Acts 6:15.

There are at least two other references to God's glory shining form one's person, though probably more in a metaphorical way than an actual physical shining: 
  • One is in Ecclesiastes where the writer says "A man's wisdom makes his face shine." (This reference to wisdom reminds me of my favourite wisdom passage — James 3:13-17. Check it out. It kind of dovetails with the next reference to shining...)
  • Another is from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" - Matthew 5:16.
I think we could say, in sum-up, that consciously seeking that visible shining glory for ourselves is not something we need to do.  But we can all aspire to reflect the glory of wisdom, and give others reason to glorify God by the shine of our good works. And should God one day radiate His presence through our physical selves in even more startling and supernatural ways — all glory to Him.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for evidences of Your glorious presence visible on people's faces throughout the Bible. I would love it if my life would shine, to the extent that people would be inspired to glorify You because of it. Amen.

MORE: "Be Glorified" sung by Ron Kenoly

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Holy Spirit's coming — "Whatever could this mean?"

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 2:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'Whatever could this mean?'" Acts 2:12

"Whatever could this mean?" asked the onlookers as they heard the wind sound, saw the flames, understood the message of the "wonderful works of God" in their mother tongues.

One thing it meant was that the church would continue to grow despite persecution. It happened in Acts following the threats and mistreatment that scattered the believers. As a result they spread the gospel to the places they fled. And it continues to today. Consider the Shouwang (Lighthouse) Church in Beijing China.

Begun in 1993 as ten people who met in an apartment, the church quickly outgrew the space, splitting numerous times. When government controls were loosened the pastor brought his congregation into the open, renting an office building as a meeting place. In 2006, lawyers in the congregation applied with the State Administration for Religious Affairs Office to be granted official recognition. And they raised $4 million to buy a meeting place of their own.

Throughout this time the church continued to grow, holding multiple Sunday services, running a welfare program, and helping out during the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province.

The church's application for state recognition was denied, however, and shortly after that big problems began. One Sunday government officers burst into the Sunday service, declaring it illegal and writing down particulars of each person present. Calls were made to the congregants' workplaces and schools and they were threatened with dismissal. The government also contacted the seller of the property and he now refuses to hand over the key. A State-owned paper, Global Times, which at one point spoke favourably about house churches declared more recently: "All Christians as well as those of other faiths, are Chinese citizens first and foremost. It is their obligation to observe discipline and abide by the law."

Despite all this according to a New York Times article:* "Shouwang's ranks continued to grow."

What makes this church so attractive? "Beyond the appeal of spirituality and the promise of redemption, many converts say they are drawn by the intimacy and sense of community fostered by unofficial churches." Sounds a lot like the church in Acts, doesn't it?

What accounts for this growth despite persecution? It is one of the effects of the Holy Spirit's coming — that same Spirit that brought about a 2500% increase (from 120 to 3000) on the day of Pentecost, is still going about His work of adding to the church, government laws against it or not.

Let's pray for the Shouwang congregation. They are now meeting outdoors, refusing to again go underground even though, according to the article cited, "Most of the church's leadership is now in custody or under house arrest. Its Web site has been blocked."

And let's pray for ourselves, that Holy Spirit fire would infuse our meetings and cause similar multiplication in our churches.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, how mysterious are Your ways as you bring vigor and growth out of persecution. Please fill me with the boldness and passion that filled the disciples on the day of Pentecost and which grows the church around the world. Amen.

MORE: The Day of Pentecost

Liturgy for the Day of Pentecost begins with the Collect:

"Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

*Source of information for the article above: April 17, 2011 article by Andrew Jacobs - "Illegal Church, Evicted, Tries to Buck Beijing"

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Big cheese or Barnabas leadership?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 11:19-30

TO CHEW ON: "When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord." Acts 11:23

In a recent guest blog post on Michael Hyatt's blog, Jeremie Kubicek (author of Leadership is Dead: How Influence is Reviving It) says, "To be a true influencer in the lives of those you lead, you must understand a simple but powerful question. It is one your followers are asking. It goes like this: 'Are you for me, against me, or for yourself?'"

The early Christians who started a church in Antioch with Gentile members (Hellenists) would have said Barnabas was for them. For when the Jerusalem elders found out about this unheard-of thing (Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus in great numbers) and sent Barnabas to check it out he "was glad" and "encouraged them."

In fact after spending some time with this vital and growing body, he had an idea.  He fetched the relatively new Christian Saul (Paul) to help, and in this way encouraged the launch of another apostolic career.

The writer of Acts — Luke — was so impressed with Barnabas, he interjected his own author aside: "For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith" - Acts 11:24. His short description of Barnabas is a good standard for other-centered Christian leadership of all kinds. This noteworthy leader was:

- a good man.
I read this and think — man with a clear conscience, without obvious personality flaws, someone who, after you spent time with, you would feel better, cleaner, nobler than before. His goodness ruled out jealousy, envy, personal ambition allowing him to embody the quality of love that prefers others above oneself.

- full of the Holy Spirit.
The observable difference the Holy Spirit brought to the lives of the early Christians included authority, power, and a certain nonchalance when it came to being intimidated by lesser authorities. Barnabas's life must have had that sense of moving to the beat of a different drummer.

- full of faith.
Barnabas was a "yes" man. He believed in God and others. Full-of-faith people are positive, optimistic, aware that with God things are possible that could never happen without Him.

I ask myself, how would my followers respond to Mr. Kubicek's question about my leadership. What would your followers say about yours? If they would say that we are first and foremost for ourselves or worse, against them, perhaps Barnabas and his leadership model have something to teach us.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Barnabas's example of good leadership. Please give me insights into the way I lead others. Help me to be for them. Amen.

MORE: More on the focus of leadership

Kubicek goes on to say:

"I have had dozens of leaders that I have appreciated who have been deeply focused on themselves first and foremost. The problem is that they are not memorable. Therefore, they are not significant in my life.

Oh, but I do remember those who were for me. Not only do I remember them, I revere them and value them as leaders and friends. These leaders believed in me, listened to me and appreciated my gifts. Not only that, but they intently invested in my life in significant and valuable ways."

Read all of "The most important question you will ever be asked as a leader"

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Another Lord's Prayer

Jesus prays with His disciples - by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 17:1-26

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven and said: 'Father the hour has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son also may glorify You.'" John 17:1.

Someone has suggested that John 17, our passage today, should be called the Lord's Prayer more than Matthew 6:9-13. If the contents of a person's prayer are an indication of their preoccupations, we can tell a lot about the things Jesus was interested in, that were at the very heart of His thoughts, by these verses.

His prayer contained a three main requests:

1. He prayed that He would be glorified (John 17:1-5).
But, we ask, isn't that self-serving? And then we realize who is making the request, and of whom. He is the God the Son, praying to God the Father who is the sum-total of all that is right, true, beautiful, glorious, excellent... Where else should glory go if not to Him?

2. He prayed that the apostles would be sanctified (John 17:6-19).
In His prayer, Jesus gives us a glimpse of how special and unique these men were as gifts to Him from God the Father (John 17:6-7). He prayed that God would keep them, and specifically, keep them from the "evil one" (John 17:11-12;14-15). He asked that they experience His joy (John 17:13). And He requested that they be sanctified or set apart to take the Gospel — good news about Him and salvation — to the world (John 17:17-19).

[Sanctified: hagiadzo: to hallow, set apart, dedicate, consecrate, separate, sanctify, make holy. Hagiadzo as a state of holiness is opposite of koinon, common or unclean. In the OT, things, places and ceremonies were hagiadzo. In the NT the word describes a manifestation of life, produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1463.]

3. He prayed the the church would be unified (John 17:20-26).
We are included in this prayer as those "who will believe in Me through their word" - vs. 20. Jesus' great desire is that we experience and demonstrate unity. Our unity will be a sign to the world so they believe God sent Jesus (vs. 21). And this unity will eventually flower into His followers joining Him to "be with Me where I am..." (vs. 24).

I ask myself, am I working toward Jesus' prayer being answered? Are you? Is furthering His glory a priority in our lives? Though we are not the apostles, we too are hand-picked by God to fulfill a purpose on earth. Look:

"For we are God's own handiwork, His workmanship, recreated in Christ Jesus, born anew that we may do those good works which God predestined, planned before hand for us, taking paths which He prepared ahead of time — living the good life which He pre-arranged and made ready for us to live" - Ephesians 2:10 AMP.

Do we set ourselves apart for such a God-appointed destiny? And are we working toward unity? Or are we standoffish from other Christians, choosing to focus on our differences rather than the core Gospel truths that unite us?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for this prayer, straight from Your heart. Help me to answer it in my life today. Amen.

MORE: Interview with Satan about unity in the church‬

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Friday, June 03, 2011


TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 4:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified." 1 Peter 4:14

The story of the Ugandan martyrs of the1880s:
"On 3 June 1886, thirty-two young men, pages of the court of King Mwanga of Buganda, were burned to death at Namugongo for their refusal to renounce Christianity. In the following months many other Christians throughout the country died by spear or fire for their faith.

These martyrdoms totally changed the dynamic of Christian growth in Uganda. Introduced by a handful of Anglican and Roman missionaries after 1877, the Christian faith had been preached only to the immediate members of the court, by order of King Mutesa. His successor, Mwanga, became increasingly angry as he realized that the first converts put loyalty to Christ above the traditional loyalty to the king. Martyrdoms began in 1885. Mwanga first forbade anyone to go near a Christian mission on pain of death, but finding himself unable to cool the ardor of the converts, resolved to wipe out Christianity.

The Namugongo martyrdoms produced a result entirely opposite to Mwanga's intentions. The example of these martyrs, who walked to their deaths singing hymns and praying for their enemies, so inspired many of the bystanders that they began to seek instruction from the remaining Christians. Within a few years the original handful of converts had multiplied many times and spread far beyond the court. The martyrs had left the indelible impression that Christianity was truly African, not simply a white man's religion. Most of the missionary work was carried out by Africans rather than by white missionaries, and Christianity spread steadily. Uganda now has the largest percentage of professed Christians of any nation in Africa.

Several years ago I heard an African clergyman, born of pagan parents, tell of his conversion. He said:

'One afternoon I was bicycling along a road and met a young man about my own age bicycling in the opposite direction. He promptly turned about and began to ride beside me and to talk. He spoke with great enthusiasm about Jesus, whom I had never heard of before, and how He had destroyed the power of death and evil by dying and rising again, and how He was God become man to reconcile man with God. I heard what my companion had to say, and before we parted I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Now, the young man who preached the Good News of Jesus Christ to me that afternoon had himself heard of Jesus for the first time that morning.'"

by James Kiefer from the site James Kiefer's Christian Biographies (used with permission).

What strikes me about this story is these words: "The Namugongo martyrdoms produced a result entirely opposite to Mwanga's intentions. The example of these martyrs, who walked to their deaths singing hymns and praying for their enemies, so inspired many of the bystanders that they began to seek instruction from the remaining Christians."

We in the western church go out of our way to avoid persecution, adjusting our message, if need be, to make it more palatable to an offended public. At the same time we decry our anemic state. Maybe a little of what happened in Uganda a century and a quarter ago would do us more good than our predominantly comfortable,  safe environment ... not that I want persecution any more than the next person.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these brave Ugandan Christians who modeled new life in Christ in such a compelling way that not even the possibility of persecution could deter people from coming to You. Please grow in me such a vital, loyal, and attractive faith. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda. The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:

"O God, by your providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: Grant that we who remember before you the blessed martyrs of Uganda, may, like them, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ, to whom they gave obedience, even to death, and by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Gone but not for good

"Ascension of Christ" 
Tiffany window Union Congregational Church,
Montclair, NJ, Designer unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 1:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel who also said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.'" Acts 1:10-11

Even after Jesus rose from the dead His disciples didn't grasp his plan. For when they were together they quizzed Him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

It was only after His answer and then His ascension that they finally understood that this wasn't going to be an earthly kingdom He would set up any day now. 

The two "men who stood by them in white apparel" (angels?) promised that Jesus would be back, would actually return in the way they had seen Him go. His coming is talked about throughout the Bible. It's in the Old Testament (Psalm 98:9; Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 14:5). Jesus referred to it repeatedly (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27). And it was the hope of the Apostles (Hebrews 9:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 3:3).

The early church expected it to occur any day. There was even a wait-instead-of-work controversy that developed because these early Christians reasoned, why bother working when Jesus will come back any day anyway.

We are still waiting. God's definition of "quickly" (Revelation 3:11) is obviously not the same as ours. But in the meantime, The Bible tells us to occupy ourselves in:

  • Readiness - because Jesus' second coming will be unexpected - Matthew 24:44.
  • Stewardship - because we will be held accountable for what God has given us - Luke 19:13.
  • Waiting - 1 Corinthians 1:7.
  • Charitableness - because God who knows things we don't about motivations behind others' actions  and will judge people by His standard of truth - 1 Corinthians 4:5.
  • Holy living - so we will be preserved blameless - 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
  • Obedience - 1 Timothy 6:14.
  • Joyful expectation - because Jesus' glorious return is a "blessed hope" - Titus 2:13.
  • Constant abiding - so that we can meet Him without shame but full of confidence - 1 John 2:28.

It's tricky living with one eye toward the sky, the other on the things of earth. But it's also very freeing as we keep in mind how transitory this life is, how we need to travel light (both materially and in judgment) and always keep our relationship with God clear, open and strong - so we will be ready for His return. It could be today!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for this account of Your visible ascension into heaven and the clear promise of Your return. Help me to occupy myself productively and in ways that will please You as I wait. Amen.

MORE: Ascension Day

Today the church celebrates the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven. The liturgy for the day begins with this Collect:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

"We Shall Behold Him" written by Dottie Rambo, sung here by Sandi Patty

(The lady Sandi Patty hugs at the end of the video is Dottie Rambo.)

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

God and our nation

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 47:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "For the Lord Most High is awesome;
He is a great King over all the earth.
He will subdue the peoples under us,
And all nations under our feet.
He will choose our inheritance for us..." Psalm 47:2-4

I am writing this the day after the Canadian election. I read the passage yesterday when Canada was still busy voting and no one knew what the outcome would be.

Frenetic polling in the last week had showed a change was in the wind. Canada's left-wing party (the NDP) was rising with each poll. Some pundits even predicted an NDP minority government (this after three years of a Conservative-led minority).

As I read Psalm 47 yesterday with that possibility in mind (one I personally would not choose) it felt like a prayer of faith. Could I be happy and say with sincerity, "God, You are awesome. You have chosen our inheritance for us," even if the outcome wasn't what I wanted? "God reigns over the nations," declares verse 8. Could I believe He still reigned over Canada if the electorate chose a government  that implemented policies I personally couldn't support?

Yesterday the results in Canada (a majority Conservative government) were a "yes" to my prayers. But even if that hadn't been the result, Psalm 47 would still be true. God is awesome no matter who rules over us. He is still king over all the earth. He will still be the chooser of our inheritance. He is way bigger than any election outcome - disappointing or joyful.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for my country Canada and a democracy with peaceful elections. Lord, I pray that You will reign over Canada. Give our one-month-ago re-elected Prime Minister and all the members of parliament your thoughts about Canada's governance. Amen.

MORE: God and elections

John Piper in a sermon he preached before the U.S. election in 1988 said these things about Christians and their stance towards elections (speaking from the text Daniel 4:28-37):

An Application to the Coming Election 
"I close with a simple application of the text to the election on Tuesday. One simple and awesome truth: God will choose the next President of the United States. Verse 32b:
"The Most High rules the kingdom of men,
and gives it to whom he will."
God will give the presidency to whom he will. Now there are two things this does not mean:
1. It does not mean that you should not vote. God will govern the election by governing the voters. "He does according to his will in the hosts of heaven AND among the inhabitants of [the U.S.A.]" (v. 35).
2. It does not mean that God will approve all the policies of the man who wins. Sovereign rule over sinful men is no endorsement of their deeds.

God will choose the president on Tuesday. And there are two things that this does mean:
1. It means that the winner should not boast like Nebuchadnezzar and say, "By my power and my wisdom I have won this presidency." But he should be humbled under the mighty hand of God . . . "who rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will."
2. It means that you should take heart and be encouraged by the sovereignty of God in this election. If your candidate is elected, or if he is not, God reigns!

His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain."  Read entire...

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website:

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