Sunday, July 31, 2011

The full-meal deal

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 14:13-21

TO CHEW ON: "But Jesus said to them, 'They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.'" Matthew 14:16.

In today's reading we see a soft side of Jesus. Our story begins just after Jesus has heard that Herod killed John the Baptist. So he "...departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself."

Why did He go away? My Bible's footnotes say it was, " avoid a premature conflict with Herod. His death would be according to God's will, not Herod's" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1316.

I think He had another reason too. I think He was grieving. John was His relative. They were colleagues, fellow preachers. John had baptized Him. John's death was also a foreshadowing of His own future. So He needed a little distance, a break, some privacy from public scrutiny to work through His emotions and doubtless to pray.

His 'holiday' was short-lived. The crowds followed Him to that deserted place. But instead of being irritated by them — as I'm sure I would have been — He was "moved with compassion" and spent the whole day hanging out with them and healing them.

It grew late. Still no one was making a move to go. "Send the multitudes away," the disciples said.

But Jesus said, "They do not need to go away." And then He took the little they had and fed them, abundantly. The five loaves and two fish turned into "they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained."

And so we see Jesus cared for the whole person. There was not a need for which He was not adequate — more than adequate. What a sight for the disciples, seeing that small lunch being transformed into a community picnic. What an experience, being His hands and feet in distributing the meal. What an indelible memory of God's compassionate heart.

I ask myself:
  • Do I come to Jesus with my most practical needs?
  • Do I call on Him for others — or do I send them away to get their needs met somewhere else?
  • Am I available for Him to use in distributing His abundance?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please grow in me Your compassionate heart. I want to see people not as interrupters and irritants to my plans but as those You love deeply. Please use me to show that love as I make myself available to You.

MORE: Broken bread in God's hands

"I wonder what kind of finger and thumb God has been using to squeeze you, and you have been like a marble and escaped? You are not ripe yet, and if God had squeezed you, the wine would have been remarkably bitter. To be a sacramental personality means that the elements of the natural life are presenced by God as they are broken providentially in His service. We have to be adjusted into God before we can be broken bread in His hands. Keep right with God and let Him do what He likes, and you will find that He is producing the kind of bread and wine that will benefit His other children"- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 30th reading (emphasis added).

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

When you're down, look up

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 145:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised." Psalm 145:3

What is getting us down today? Whether we are battling vague discontents or outright threats to our lives and well-being, a positive outlook can make a difference. David's thoughts in Psalm 145 can be a template of how we can strengthen our hope and brighten our outlook. Such an attitude change basically involves shifting our focus from ourselves to God.

In this acrostic psalm David names the ways he talks with and about God. A good chicken-and-egg-type question here may be - Which comes first, the feelings or the praise? Many wise people speak of how our feelings often follow our acted-upon decisions. You have no doubt heard relationship counsellors advise us to speak words of love to our spouse even when we're not feeling the love.

Whatever David was feeling on the day he wrote this Psalm, he left no stone unturned in his praise. Look at all the ways he draws his own attention and the attention of his observers to God. He says he will extol, bless, praise, search (implied by "His greatness is unsearchable" - Psalm 145:3), declare, meditate on, speak, sing, remember (implied by "utter the memory of" - Psalm 145:7), talk, make known, call upon.

David's boasts about God are rich in content:
  • He praises God for who He is; His person and identity: "I will bless Your name; I will praise Your mouth shall speak praise of the Lord" - Psalm 145:1-2, 21.
In the preface to his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer says, "Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives ....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" p. 15.
  • He praises God for what He has done in history: "One generation shall praise Your works to another....Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts..." Psalm 145:4,6.
We can start on this by reviewing God's actions in Bible stories. We can keep our ears open whenever Christians gather to hear how God is at work in their lives. We can read the biographies of others. And of course, we can review our own histories to refresh our minds about how God has worked in our lives in the past.
  • He praises God for His "wondrous works" - Psalm 145:5,10. I interpret this as praising God for creation. A study of any aspect of creation from the galaxies of outer space to the intricate workings of our bodies reveals an organized creativity that is simply awe-inspiring.
  • He praises God for His kingdom: "Your saints...shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom....Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations" - Psalm 145:11-13.
This is praising God for His interactions with us, His sin-tainted, fallen race of humanity, as revealed in the Old and New Testaments. It's really the whole story of redemption and the possibility of being reconciled to God through Jesus and thus to become subjects in that kingdom.

After considering all that, who can stay down in the dumps? David's focus on God in Psalm 145 has certainly lifted my spirit. I hope it has yours too.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to get into the habit of looking at You when I am feeling down. Amen.

MORE: Praise is rising - by Paul Baloche

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

God's blessings > man's defraudings

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 30:22-43

TO CHEW ON: "And Laban said to him, 'Please stay, if I have found favour in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake.'" Genesis 30:27

In today's episode between Jacob and his father-in-law Laban, Jacob attempted to get his family's independence by suggesting it was time for them to go back home. But Laban would have none of it.

"Please stay," he begged. "God is blessing me because of you. Name your wages and I'll pay them."

Jacob devised wages that separated the flock by markings. He would take all the spotted, streaked and mottled animals.
"Jacob offered to take the least desirable of the animals, but those so easily identified that there could be no accusation of stealing" - Footnote - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 45.

Laban agreed to this but, cagey man that he was "...removed that day the male goats that were speckled and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had some white in it and all the brown ones among the lambs, and gave them into the hand of his sons" - Genesis 30:35.

In other words, Laban stacked the deck against Jacob, starting him off with an unspotted (and pure black?) flock.

So Jacob devised a way of influencing conception using peeled rods. "Jacob was not practicing superstition," explains my Bible's footnote. "He was exercising faith which he somehow associated with the rods. God, having designed the laws of genetics intervened and honoured Jacob's faith - Genesis 31:9" - NSFLB, P. 46.

And God did honour Jacob's faith. For the final verse of our reading says, "Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys" - Genesis 30:43. I love what my Bible's footnote says about this: "God's blessings are always able to exceed man's defrauding."

God's blessings are still available for us today. A quick overview of Scripture gives us some instances and promises of God's blessing.

  • When confronted by a large enemy army, Jehoshaphat encouraged the army: "Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall prosper." Then he positioned worshipers to go in front of the warriors and God went to work on their behalf. Read the story in 2 Chronicles 20:20-24.
  • When faced with opposition to rebuilding the Jerusalem wall, Nehemiah, confident in God's direction and leading said, "The God of heaven Himself will prosper us" - Nehemiah 2:20. Of course we know that wall got built.
  • John pronounced the blessing of prosperity in all things on those whose souls prosper - 3 John 1:2.
  • David promises God's blessing when people support God's chosen people, the Jews - Psalm 122:6.
  • And the Bible abounds with promises of prosperity and blessing for those who live according to God's ways and instructions. A few examples: Deuteronomy 29:9; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 1:1-3.
So let's position ourselves under the spout of God's blessing, and then no matter what our situation looks like on the outside, take that encouraging thought with us: "God's blessings are always able to exceed man's defrauding."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your promise of blessing. Help me to recognize barriers in my life that would obstruct the flow of Your prosperity and blessing. Amen.

MORE: Shepherd of Life - Steve Bell

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

The happy life of blessing

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 128:1-6

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed is every one who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways." Psalm 128:1

Yesterday, as I was watching "Property Virgins" (an HGTV show where we follow home buyers in their attempt to purchase a first property) I was struck by a statement made by the young woman of the featured couple. After they encountered road block after road block to the closing of their purchase, the host Sandra asked them how they were feeling. The wife answered, "As if I'm depending on someone else for my happiness."

Happiness is what Psalm 128 is about. Eugene Peterson in the chapter on this psalm in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction describes how the "blessed" [or happy - asher - Psalm 128:1-2; barak - Psalm 128:4-5] state is what Psalm 128 is about, beginning with the promise: "blessed is every one who fears the Lord" to the pronouncement of the physical blessing of seeing our human descendants in, "Yes, may you see your children's children."

He explains how the Bible is one long exposition of God's blessing from Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:28), to Abraham (Genesis 12:2), to the twelve tribes (Genesis 49), to Jesus' beatitude blessings (Matthew 5:3-12), to the seven "salvos of blessing" in Revelation (Revelation 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:714).

So, is Peterson saying that for those who "fear the Lord" there will be a smooth sailing happiness for the duration of life? That's certainly not been my experience, and I'm sure it's not yours. If it doesn't mean constant situational happiness, what does the happiness of God's blessing mean?

Peterson again:
"As we read this story of blessing and familiarize ourselves with the men and women who are experiencing God's blessing, we realize that it is not something external or ephemeral. Not a matter of having a good day, not an occasional run of luck. It is an
'inner strength of the soul — and the happiness it creates, ....the vital power, without which no living being can exist. Happiness cannot be given to a person as something lying outside him...The action of God does not fall outside but at the very centre of the soul; that which it gives us is not something external, but the energy, the power of creating it ... The blessing thus comprises the power to live in its deepest and most comprehensive sense. Nothing which belongs to action and to making life real can fall outside the blessing....Blessing is the vital power, without which no living being can exist.'*
It is this that fills and surrounds the person who is on the way of faith." - p. 117.
I must admit I have been where the young house hunter of my opening paragraph was — wishing circumstances would change so I could again feel happy. But such happiness is shallow and transient. Oh to have, on a daily basis, that "inner strength of the soul," the "power to live" in the faith that God is in every situation, that He loves me and that He is working all the time for my highest good.

PRAYER: Dear God, please grow my faith in Your goodness and Your good plans for me. May I experience and live Your blessing over the long haul of discipleship. Amen.

MORE: No tricks, no luck
"There are no tricks involved in getting in on this life of blessing, and no luck required. We simply become Christians and begin the life of faith. We acknowledge God as our maker and lover and accept Christ as the means by which we can be in living relationship with God. We accept the announced and proclaimed truth that God is at the centre of our existence, find out how he has constructed this world (his creation), how he has provided for our redemption, and proceed to walk in that way. In the plain words of the psalm: "All you who fear God, how blessed you are! how happily you awoke on his smooth straight road!" - Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 119-120.

"If you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters." - H. H. Farmer (quoted in Peterson, p. 121).

* quote from Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, 1926; pp. 182-199.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

The lingering Mary

Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene
by William Brassey Hole

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Then the disciples went away again to their own homes, But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb." John 20:11

Of all the disciples it is Mary called Magdalene who puts the most human face on the grief Jesus' friends felt as His death. She is the Mary who was named among Jesus' women disciples. She is among the women "who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities." She herself was delivered from seven evil spirits. And she was grateful -- to the extent she traveled with Jesus and supported Him with "substance," probably money and service.

(This closeness may be why there has been unsanctified speculation about Mary being intimate with Jesus in a sexual way. There is no grounds at all for this in the Bible.)

Mary Magdalene was loyal to the end. She was there in the crowd of women, looking on from afar when Jesus was crucified. In our reading today we find her getting up while it was still dark on the day after Sabbath, to slip out to Jesus' grave  and grieve.

There what a cruel shock! The tomb seal was broken and the body missing. She suspected grave robbers. Distraught, she reported back to Peter and John, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him."

She then must have gone back to the tomb with the men, for after they left, we see her there again, weeping. Maybe to reassure herself that He really was missing, she entered the vault where His body should have been and encountered two angels in white. It was after a short conversation with them that she saw Him. Not only that, He talked to her!

It happened when she lingered. Not in a hurry to get on with her life, she stayed after the others had left. Jesus met her then.

Maybe we can learn something from this. Maybe we need to be a little less tuned toward entering or reentering the hustle and bustle of the day. A little more willing to linger.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to learn from loyal, grateful, practical yet willing-to-linger Mary Magdalene. Amen.

MORE: Feast of Mary Magdalene
Today is the Feast of Mary Magdalene. The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:

"Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

Magdalene is a historical fiction account of this woman by Angela Hunt.

Excerpt from a starred booklist review:

"Angered by the assertions of The Da Vinci Code (2003)--in particular, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene--Hunt tells the traditional story, more or less, of Mary Magdalene. The "more or less" would be that Hunt turns Mary into a staunch feminist and downplays her history as a prostitute. She is Yeshua's shrewd advisor and helpmate, no more. And she is an interesting woman…"

From the archives

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An inheritance of deception

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 29:15-30

TO CHEW ON: "So it came to pass in the morning that behold it was Leah. And he said to Laban, 'What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?'" Genesis 29:25

Isn't it ironic that the very thing Jacob perpetrated on his father and Esau (identity deception) has now been visited on him? My Bible's footnotes say about verses 22-25:

"An ancient lamp provided little light, and the bride was always veiled, as Jacob's mother Rebekah had been (Genesis 24:65). Further, Leah must have been eagerly cooperating in the deception. Our sins have a way of catching up to us. Jacob pretended to be Esau and disguised himself thus. The whole idea of Jacob's deceiving Isaac had been his mother's and Jacob discovered, to his grief, that Laban was as scheming and dishonest as his younger sister Rebekah" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 44.

It makes one wonder what went on in the home of Bethuel (their father - Genesis 24:15). Was it the unnamed mother or Abraham's side of the family (for Rebekah and Laban were grandchildren of Nahor who was Abraham's brother) that planted that seed of deception?

It could well have come from Abraham's line. Abraham himself had lied to Pharaoh and Abimelech King of Gerar about his relationship to Sarah (Genesis 12:11-13; Genesis 20:2). Isaac did the same thing (Genesis 26:7).

This generational dysfunction reminds me of a sermon series on the family that our pastor recently preached. One Sunday he pointed out that Satan is often active in the family setting. He finds a way into our households by sowing disrespect, disunity, drift and coldness, time pressure, unforgiveness, unwise priorities, infidelity, heavy debt, secrets, anger.

Another Sunday he asked: "What is the verbal climate in your home?" I think another good question to ask would be "What is the moral climate in your home?" For if we are deceitful, slanderous, rebellious toward authority, apt to run up enormous debt or any other number of things, we shouldn't be surprised when we see these behaviours reflected in our kids.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see my family as You see it. Show me what I can do to put a stop to destructive generational traits. Amen.

MORE: Brent Cantelon's series on the family

You can watch my pastor's series on the family online. Go to media and scroll down to the family series — dates: May 29, 2011; June 5, 2011; June 12, 2011 and June 19, 2011.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

God's serendipities

"Jacob and Rachel" by Rabbi Karo

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 29:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Then he said to them, 'Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?' And they said, 'We know him.' So he said to them, 'Is he well?' And they said, 'He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.'" Genesis 29:5-6

The first people Jacob meets when he arrives in the land of his mother's people are acquainted with his uncle Laban. And how providential, that as he is speaking with them, who should arrive on the scene but that uncle's daughter Rachel shepherding her flock of sheep — the same Rachel who wins Jacob's heart and later becomes his wife.

This story reminds me of other serendipitous encounters — like the one of Abraham's servant finding a wife for Isaac. There the servant goes to the community well at the time the women come to draw water and prays specifically that God will identify the right girl for Isaac by having her offer to water his camels when he asks for a drink for himself. Before he finishes uttering the words, along comes Rebekah. Read what happens in Genesis 24:15-21.

And then there's that amazing 'coincidence' of the Shunamite woman (the one whose son Elisha raised from the dead). On Elisha's advice she leaves the country to survive a famine. When she returns, it appears she finds squatters on her land, for she goes to the king to request her land back. She enters the palace at the exact time that the king is interviewing Gehazi (Elisha's servant) about Elisha's miracles. In fact, Gehazi has just told him about Elisha raising the Shunamite woman's son from the dead when she arrives on the scene. Of course she gets her land back - 2 Kings 8:1-6.

These stories show that God is in not only the big events of our lives but in the steps that lead to them. Each one of our steps may not be as weightily significant as these three incidents, but let's be alert to God working in the details — the chance meetings, the answers to prayer, the divine serendipities.

We can say with David:
"Show me your ways, O Lord....On you I wait all the day (Psalm 25:4,5)

"But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord...My times are in Your hand (Psalm 31:14-15).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be alert to Your ordering of the details of my life and to trust Your wisdom in these things. Amen.

MORE: Forgetting

Is God in the seemingly late or missed appointments too? Take forgetting. A few weeks ago my husband and I were in the midst of applying for passports and both of us needed the signature of a guarantor. When friends invited us over for coffee, we asked whether they would act as our guarantors. They willingly said they would. However, on the day of the coffee date, both hubby and I forgot all our forms and documentation at home!

Is God is such memory blips? If He is in the meetings, surely He is in the missings too! I have no idea why we forgot our forms that day, but someday I'm sure we'll see the whole picture.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Word-directed living

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:121-144

TO CHEW ON: "Direct my steps by Your word
And let no iniquity have dominion over me." Psalm 119:133

The decision to take direction for our steps — our living — from God's word is a crisis, one-time, turn-in-a-new-direction decision, and a daily decision as we face everyday life.

It's easy to say, yes, I will love my neighbour and forgive my enemy, for example, when all my neighbours are sweet and my enemies are laying low. But try living in a tight suburban cul-de-sac or townhouse complex where neighbours are everywhere. When their kids are playing ball hockey right beside your flower beds, or doing skateboard tricks on the newly laid asphalt, or playing loud music at all hours, or swearing at you when you're on council and it's your responsibility to enforce common property rules, then to direct your steps by God's word becomes a very real moment-by-moment decision. How easy it is to rationalize that its principles are fine in theory but in practice...?

Nancy Pearcey talks about the challenges of living by the truths in the Bible in her book Total Truth:

"For the nonbeliever sitting in the naturalist's chair, all that exists is a closed system of natural causes. The very definition of what counts as knowledge is limited by naturalism and utilitarianism. But for the believer sitting in the supernaturalist's chair, the natural world is only part of reality. A complete perspective includes both the seen and the unseen aspects of reality. Christians are called not merely to assent intellectually to the existence of both parts of reality but also to function practically on that basis. Day by day, they are to make choices that would make no sense unless the unseen world is just as real as the seen world....

It means we sometimes act in ways that seem irrational to those sitting in the naturalist's chair, who see only the physical world. It means we do what is right even at great cost, because we are convinced that what we gain in the unseen realm is far greater than what we lose from a worldly perspective" - p. 361.

When we live by God's word, we acknowledge the reality of that "unseen realm." We live by faith that the kingdom of heaven we've been exploring for the last few days is real and that there are values beyond getting our way, winning the argument, appearing to come out on top, and getting revenge.

PRAYER: Dear God, please make me aware of how Your word applies to my circumstances, and then help me to have the courage, faith, and humility to live by it. Amen.

MORE: More Pearcey:
"Sadly, many Christians live much of their lives as though the naturalist were right. They give cognitive assent to the great truths of Scripture but they make their practical, day-to-day decisions based only on what they can see, hear, measure, and calculate. When confessing their religious beliefs, they sit in the supernaturalist's chair. But in ordinary life, they walk over and sit in the naturalist's chair, living as though the supernatural were not real in any practical sense, relying on their own energy, talent, strategic calculations. They may sincerely want to do the Lord's work, but they do it in the world's way — using worldly methods and motivated by worldly desires for success and acclaim" - Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth, p. 36

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Friday, July 15, 2011

The first-and-last God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 44:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts
'I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God." - Isaiah 44:6

I find it interesting that in this verse that precedes a denouncement of idols, God identifies Himself in detail. It's as if He's saying - I am that God — the King of Israel God, the Redeemer God, the Lord of hosts God, the first-and-last God. Don't confuse Me with any other God.

Notice the "I am"s. Don't they hearken us back to Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-15)? And they place us fully in the conundrum of a God who is without beginning and end which flows through scripture

  • Abraham called on the "Everlasting God" in Genesis 21:33.
  • "The Lord shall reign forever and over," Moses sings in the song that celebrates God's destruction of the Egyptian army and making a way for the Israelites to cross the Red Sea - Exodus 15:18.
  • The psalmist praises God for His everlasting kingdom in a dominion that endures throughout generations - Psalm 145:13.
  • Paul lauds Him as "The King eternal, immortal, invisible to God who alone is wise, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen." - 1 Timothy 1:17.
  • John sees Him as "the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End ... who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" - Revelation 1:18, and Revelation 11;17.

He is a God whose forever-life does not change. J. I. Packer describes Him:

"Created things have a beginning and an ending, but not so their Creator. The answer to the child's question, 'who made God?' is simply that God did not need to be made, for He was always there. He exists forever; and He is always the same. He does not grow older. His life does not wax or wane. He does not gain new powers, nor lose those that He once had. He does not mature or develop. He does not get stronger, or weaker, or wiser as time goes by. 'He cannot change for the better,' wrote A. W. Pink, 'for He is already perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse.' The first and fundamental difference between the Creator and His creatures is that they are mutable and their nature admits of change, whereas God is immutable and can never cease to be what He is." − Knowing God, 1972 edition, p. 81

PRAYER: Dear God, Thank You for words like eternal, Alpha and Omega, everlasting, forever and ever that help me understand You, albeit in a still limited way. Help me to grasp the implications of Your eternity for my life. Amen.

MORE: Immortal Invisible, God Only Wise

This song written by W. Chalmers Smith expands on 1 Timothy 1:17. What grand lyrics, focusing our minds on the amazing attributes and qualities of God.

More on Immutability

- See the Immutability entry in Rebecca Writes "Theological Term of the Week."
- See her blog post "God's Immutability."

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Revive me

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:145-160

TO CHEW ON: "Revive me..." Psalm 119:149, 154, 156, 159

The writer of today's reading writes from a place of despair, even desperation. He cries. He can't sleep. He feels persecuted. He is revolted by the godlessness around him. And he senses a need for revival. That's what jumped out at me as I read this passage. Four times within these 15 verses he prays, "Revive me..."

Revive [chayah] in English means to bring back to life or restore to consciousness; to give new vigour, health; to make effective or operative again; to renew in the mind or memory; to refresh, reawaken. Let's look closely at the psalmist's request for revival to see what we can glean for times we sense a similar need.

It's interesting that each request is phrased slightly differently (at least in the NKJV).

  • "O Lord, revive me according to Your justice [mishpat ]" - Psalm 119:149.
The NLT expresses this "...let me be revived by following your regulations," implying that an aspect of renewal could be up to us as a rousing of ourselves to again pay attention to what God wants. (The other translations I checked: NKJV, AMP, NIV & ESV didn't communicate that kind of action on our part, however.)
  • "Revive me according to Your word [imrah]" - Psalm 119:154.
What the psalmist seems to be doing here is reminding God of the promises in the written word (Torah). "Preserve my life according to your promise," is how the NIV renders this (also similar in NLT and ESV).
  • "Revive me according to Your judgments [mishpat ] - Psalm 119:156.
The NLT translates this similarly to vs. 149: "let me be revived by following your regulations." "Give me life according to your rules," says the ESV.
  • "Revive me, O Lord, according to Your lovingkindness [checed ] - Psalm 119:159.
Here the psalmist appeals to God's love in his request for revival. "Give back my life because of your unfailing love," says the NLT.

Judging from how the psalmist phrased his requests here, I think we could say that he saw revival as predominantly initiated by God. Though we may help it along by again turning our will to live in ways that please Him, we depend on Him to be true to His attributes — faithfulness, love, mercy — to keep the promises in His word and to extend His lovingkindness to us. One thing I believe we can do, however. Like the psalmist we can realize our need and pray for the breath of His life to again fill us.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am reminded of Your words to Nicodemus, embodying the mystery of spiritual life: "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." Please blow the wind of Your life over me. Revive me. Amen.

MORE: "My Eyes are Dry" - by Keith Green

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Impossible rescue

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 55:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord,
'For as the heavens are higher than the earth
So are My ways than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.'" Isaiah 55:8-9

About a month ago on ListenUp (a TV news program that looks at news from a faith perspective) Rikki Ratcliff interviewed Greg Hall, the man who owned the company that drilled through the rock and found the trapped Chilean miners after an August 5, 2010 accident trapped them more than half a kilometre underground.

Even for this Texas drill specialist the project proved very difficult. The miners' exact location was unknown. The shaft was twisty because of the hardness of the rock. But after 17 days someone heard knocking and once the original shaft was completed it was discovered that all 33 miners were alive. 

Once the contact was made, the miners were showered with gifts, including items from Campus Crusade for Christ Chile. Here is an account from an October 2010 Power to change blogpost:

"... CCC Chile provided each miner with MP3 players featuring audio versions of the JESUS Film and the Bible – as well as a CCC t-shirt. We praise the Lord that during their time underground, two miners found Christ, as well as one of their wives, and others found a renewal of faith.
When the miners were rescued, one-by-one, they presented themselves in the t-shirts that read, “Thank You, Lord” and bearing the JESUS
Film Project logo.
On the back is written, Psalm 95:4  “In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also”

Back at home in Texas, Hall continued to pray for the trapped miners and mull over ways they could be rescued. During that process he came in contact with Brandon Fisher whose Pennsylvania company owned a powerful hammering drill head. He devised a plan with that equipment, and the Chilean government approved his plan (called "Plan B" as they were simultaneously considering other rescue methods). His efforts and the efforts of his crew eventually delivered all 33 miners back to the surface on October 10, 2010, 66 days after the accident.

In his ListenUp interview Hall spared no effort in giving God the glory for the rescue's success. "You couldn't have drilled that hole," said the man who had proposed Plan A, "God must have drilled it!" Hall agreed. He recounted how God's presence had sustained him and his workers, keeping them going through harsh physical conditions, little sleep, discouraging setbacks and the very real fear that at any time the drilling could trigger a cave-in or rock shift that would kill the miners below.

As I read about God's inscrutable ways in Isaiah this morning, I can't help but reflect on the truth of that verse demonstrated in this rescue — the fact that a man of faith was chosen for the job, his reliance on God for wisdom and perseverance through the task, his finding the right technology to drill the large hole, the faith and prayers of the miners below...

What impossible situation are you facing today Even if it looks like there's no way out or through it, let the reality of God's higher thoughts and ways buoy your faith and keeping you looking up.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this rescue and the willingness of Greg Hall to give You the glory for it. Please be in my situation of ____ to do the seemingly impossible. Amen.

MORE: See for yourself.

"Plan B: Chilean Miner Rescue Story" - the entire Listen Up segment telling this story (about 20 minutes total).

A news story about Greg Hall

"Chilean Miners discover Christ: choose to wear t-shirts praising God" (October 14, 2010 blog post from Power to Change)

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Sunday, July 03, 2011


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 6:19-40

TO CHEW ON: "But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet and the Abiezrites gathered behind him." Judges 6:34

"The activity the Spirit of the Lord in the book of Judges is clearly portrayed in the charismatic leadership of the period," says my Bible's introduction to Judges. In Gideon's case the moment where God's power really took over is described in Judges 7:34: "But the Spirit of the Lord camp upon Gideon." A footnote in my Bible says. "In Hebrew this literally says 'the Spirit of the Lord clothed Himself with Gideon.'" (New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 324) What an understandable and powerful image!

But this did not happen all at once. Gideon seems to have been naturally timid and certainly cautious. When the angel first appeared to him and told him how he would save Israel, he asked for a sign (6:17-18). When God told him to tear down his father's idol images, he did it at night "because he feared his father's household and the men of the city too much" (6:27). Even after he was Spirit-empowered, he asked for physical confirmation that God would really do what He said and God indulged him, twice (6:36-40).

The Holy Spirit in him didn't overpower his personality, but worked through his 'quirks' to bring him to the place of doing the needful thing: to obey. If he had heard God's destiny for him  yet balked at tearing down those idols, would the Holy Spirit have come upon him as He did? Perhaps not.

We can cooperate with God's purposes for us by modeling Gideon and obeying God's instructions to us. As Oswald Chambers says:
"If there is something upon which God has put His pressure, obey in that matter, bring your imagination into captivity to the obedience of Christ with regard to it and everything will become as clear as daylight….

The tiniest thing we allow in our lives that is not under the control of the Holy Spirit is quite sufficient to account for spiritual muddle, and all the thinking we like to spend on it will never make it clear. Spiritual muddle is only made plain by obedience. Immediately we obey, we discern."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (September 14th reading).

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, I want my life to be clothes for You. Please point out and help me deal with areas of self-will, stubbornness, disobedience. Amen.

MORE: Signs?

Gideon's request for a sign has made its way into our language. We all know what it means when someone says they are "laying a fleece." But is asking God to confirm something to us with a sign a good thing?

In the New Testament, it was the skeptical scribes and Pharisees, those religious leaders who seemed determined to scoff in spite of everything, who were continually bugging Jesus for signs:

Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; John 2:18; John 4:48; John 6:30

We hardly want to be lumped in with them when Jesus praises those believers (in His time and in the time to come) who trust without the need of a sign. (John 20:24-29)

(This meditation is a re-post from July 3, 2010)

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Saturday, July 02, 2011

What are you?

"The Call of Gideon" by Gerard Jollain
Engraving, about 1670.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 6:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, 'The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!'" Judges 6:12

The description the Angel of the Lord gave Gideon — "mighty man of valor" — doesn't seem unusual until we read on and discover Gideon was anything but that. He himself argued against it when he said to the angel: "Oh my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my father's house" - Judges 6:15.

Later, just beyond the end of today's reading, he did what the angel told him to do but at night, "...because he feared his father's household and the men of the city too much to do it by day..." Judges 6:27.

He reminds me of Peter. Remember the cowardly Peter, so intimidated by events that he couldn't even bring himself to admit knowing Jesus? Then, only weeks later, he was the one who stood up and explained the Holy Spirit coming on the Day of Pentecost, turned the healing of the lame man into an altar call, and just wouldn't stop talking about Jesus even when commanded and threatened (Acts 4:18-20).

What made the difference?

In Peter's case the priests themselves figured it out: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus" - Acts 4:13.

Gideon would also turn out to become what the angel said — a man of valour. When we read his whole story (Judges 6-8) we see that as he spent time with God, heard His instructions and did them he truly came to impersonate what the angel said he was (though at the end of his life, there was slippage - Judges 8:27).

What does God say about you and me? Here is a sampling:

  • We are the salt of the earth - Matthew 5:13.*
  • We are the light of the world - Matthew 5:14.
  • We are saints - Ephesians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2.
  • We are God's living stones, being built up as a spiritual house - 1 Peter 2:9-10.
  • We are children of God and will resemble Christ when He returns - 1 John 3;1-2.

Do these things seem true about us? Or would we like Gideon argue otherwise? We can make it so as we spend time with Jesus, letting Him change us.

PRAYER: Dear God, I would love it if people puzzled over the grace and power evident in my life — and concluded that the only reason for it was because I had been with Jesus. Amen.

MORE: Five more things we are:

  • We are God's workmanship (handiwork) created (born anew) in Christ to do His work that He planned beforehand that we should do - Ephesians 2:10.
  • We are righteous and holy - Ephesians 2:24.
  • We are citizens of heaven and seated in heaven right now - Philippians 3:20; Ephesians 2:6.
  • We are sons/daughters of light not of darkness - 1 Thessalonians 5:5.
  • We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession to proclaim His excellencies - 1 Peter 2:9-10.

*Taken from "Who Am I?" p. 8 of Resolving Personal Conflicts workbook, Dr. Neil T. Anderson, 1990, Freedom in Christ Ministries.

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