Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pondering God's promises

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 2:15-21

TO CHEW ON: "But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:19

From the day the angel came to Mary with the almost incomprehensible message, "The Lord is with you; blessed are you among women .... You shall bring forth a Son .... and of His kingdom there will be no end," her life was changed (Luke 1:28-33).

When she went to visit her relative Elizabeth, she was greeted with more unusual words: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" - Luke 1:42.

The strangenesses continue in today's reading when shepherds find the new parents in their cowshed accommodation and tell them that an angel has announced their baby's birth, identified Him by His manger bed and swaddling clothes, and proclaimed Him "A Savior who is Christ the Lord."

Mary's response: "She kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." And at least three more times in Luke we find Mary puzzled and pondering things that are playing out in the life of her child Jesus - Luke 2:33,50,51.

Though our experience will never mirror Mary's we too may have promises and dreams that set us pondering. They may be dreams God has put in our hearts for our own futures. They may be things people have spoken over us. They may be the destiny we see for our kids. They may be the role we envision our church will play in the community, or our country will have on the world stage.

Joyce Meyer had such a dream. Early in her Christian life she caught a vision of a ministry she believed God had for her. In her book Battlefield of the Mind, she describes how that vision was challenged. But claiming Romans 8:26 for the things she did not understand, she confronted naysaying thoughts with a determination to believe, not doubt, God's promises. She says:
"As Christians, we need to learn to decide to believe. God often gives us faith (a product of the Spirit) for things our minds just can't always seem to come into agreement with. The mind wants to understand everything—the why, the when, and the how of it all...

I had decided long before to believe what the Word says, and to believe the rhema (the revealed Word) that God gave me (the things He spoke to me or the promises He gave me personally), even if I didn't understand why, when, or how it would come to pass in my life" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 51.
As we ponder the promises God has given us, let us too channel those musings through the filter of faith. Mary obviously did. Why else would she have told the servants, troubled at running out of wine during the wedding in Cana, "Whatever He (Jesus) says to you, do it" (John 2:5)?

PRAYER: Dear God, as I stand on the threshold of the new year, please help me to ponder Your promises to me with faith, knowing that You can do "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Amen.

MORE: New Year's Eve

In Canada New Year's Eve is a time for celebration and partying. People gather in houses, hotel ballrooms, and city squares to eat, drink, and dance as they count down to 12 midnight. Then they welcome the new year with fireworks, kisses and the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

Churches often sponsor gatherings that bring in the new year a little differently. These New Year's Eve events, sometimes called Watchnight Services, find people welcoming the new year on their knees or singing praises to God.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

God's portable house

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 21:1-7

TO CHEW ON: "And I heard a loud voice from heaven sang, 'Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people, God Himself will be with them and be their God.'" Revelation 21:3

Portable homes range from pup tents that weigh ounces to grand motorized coaches that are practically castles on wheels. However, even the grandest doesn’t compare to the tabernacle (skene – tent) of God, shown to John in his Revelation vision.

Throughout the Bible the tabernacle signifies God’s dwelling place. He gave Moses instructions on how to make the first physical tabernacle on Mount Sinai – an elaborate tent made with specific materials and completely dis-assemblable. The Israelites carried it with them during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, putting it up at each extended stop. God’s glory hovered over it and so possessed the Holy of Holies, no unsanctioned person could go into it and remain alive.

When Solomon built the temple, the physical portable tabernacle was retired. But Bible writers continue to refer to it:
  • David talks about being hidden in God’s tabernacle in the time of trouble (Psalm 27:5).
  • The writer to the Hebrews explains how Christ’s sacrifice on the cross brought an end to the need for the High Priest’s yearly ministry in the Holy of Holies. No longer did he need to go into that room of the tabernacle (or temple) with a blood sacrifice to atone for sins. (Hebrews 9:6-15)
  • God spreads his tabernacle over the saints who come out of the tribulation in Revelation 7:15.
  • The beast blasphemes it in Revelation 13:6.
  • And in Revelation 15:5 “the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.
In our reading today, a heavenly voice declares to John that God’s tabernacle is with men. Then John sees an indescribably beautiful city – the New Jerusalem – also called His bride, descending from heaven. It’s an incredible sight to picture and even more incredible to think that we will someday be a part of such an event!

Until then, though, God has a far humbler tabernacle. Us. You and me. Though the exact word “tabernacle” isn’t used, we are plainly told in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 that we are God’s dwelling place. What an honor, privilege and responsibility!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to begin to grasp the significance of being Your dwelling place on earth. Help me to live accordingly. Amen.

MORE: Michael Card sings “The New Jerusalem

(From the archives)

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Stephen - a kitchen worker's role model

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 6:8-7:2a

TO CHEW ON: "And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people .... And they (Synagogue of the Freedmen members who opposed Stephen) were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke." Acts 6:8,10

When we recruit for church kitchen volunteers or look for someone to administer our soup kitchens or free stores, are faith, power, and wisdom on the list of qualifications? It has always amazed me that such a talented, articulate man like Stephen was picked to do what we might consider the menial job of overseeing the distribution of food to foreign widows.

The twelve disciples seemed to think this food distribution job was beneath them ("It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables" - Acts 6:2). But Stephen, along with six others, willingly took on the task and, I believe, forever elevated the role of the kitchen volunteer.
  • Stephen's position put him in the public eye where his reputation as a man of faith and power was affirmed.
  • He had the platform to explain and defend his faith. In this capacity he showed himself someone who possessed irresistible wisdom and was full of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe I find Stephen so attractive because I have spent a fair amount of time serving in our church's kitchen. (In fact, on the day that I'm writing this, I'll be working in the kitchen for some hours, helping with a funeral tea.) The role comes with little prestige. We are often ignored, sometimes bossed around and generally treated like servants. But I think it's a privilege to be in the train of kitchen volunteers like Stephen who, when he was martyred for his faith, was welcomed into heaven by Jesus Himself (Acts 7:56-60).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that no kingdom service is menial to You. Help me to work with the right attitude today. Please gift me with the faith, power, and wisdom of Stephen as I serve. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Stephen

Today is the Feast in honor of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The liturgy for the day begins with this Collect:

"We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Joseph's Dilemma

"The Anxiety of Saint Joseph" by James Tissot (1836-1902)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 1:18-25

TO CHEW ON: "Then Joseph her husband, being a just man and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly." Matthew 1:19

Joseph has always intrigued me. I think of him as thoughtful and deep, the strong, silent type. Here he faced the dilemma of his life: his beautiful fiancee was pregnant.

My Bible's study notes explain about Jewish betrothals:
"In Jewish law, betrothal involved a formal binding contract before witnesses but the betrothal abstained from sexual relations and the woman remained at her father's house until the actual wedding ceremony. The betrothed referenced each other as husband and wife (vs. 19,20), and the contract could be terminated only by death or a formal divorce decree" - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1290.
Did the culture allow private conversations between engaged young people? If it did, I can imagine Mary's explanation, probably tearful (how could you not be emotional when the love of your life, the man who had your future in his hands, was looking at you with utter shock, disbelief and...revulsion?) even though this was a holy, joyful thing that had happened to her.

What to do? Joseph was considering putting her away secretly—divorcing her—the solution described in Deuteronomy 24:1. But just in time, "while he thought about these things" an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to confirm Mary's claim that this baby was indeed what she had said and not the fruit of a sinful union. So Joseph married her and the rest of the story played out.

Have you noticed how God showing up here just in the nick of time, just as He often comes to us in our emergencies. It never feels soon enough for our likes, but neither is it too late for the situation. God could have alerted Joseph to what was about to happen before any of it transpired, saving him the stress, worry, and crisis. But He didn't. Why? I believe it was because God was developing Joseph's faith at the same time He was working out His plans for the earth in sending Jesus.

God's response to Joseph reminds me of some paragraphs I came across in J. I. Packer's Knowing God. Packer, speaking of another Joseph and his reaction to his brothers in Genesis 45:4-8 says:
"Once again we are confronted with the wisdom of God ordering the events of a human life for a double purpose: the man's own personal sanctification and the fulfilling of his appointed ministry and service in the life of the people of God....

These things are written for our learning: for the same wisdom which ordered the paths which God's saints trod in Bible times orders the Christian's life today. We should not therefore be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Why, simply that God in His wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly....

But how are we to meet these baffling and trying situations if we cannot for the moment see God's purpose in them? First by taking them as from God, and asking ourselves what reactions to them, and in them, the gospel of God requires of us; second by seeking God's face specifically about them" J. I. Packer, Knowing God, pages 103-105, 1975 edition (emphasis mine).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to go to You when life is puzzling and full of questions. Then help me to, in faith, obey what you reveal, as Joseph did. Amen.

(From the archives.)

Advent Calendar - December 24

Christmas Fact:

The magi brought the baby Jesus kingly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The sap of the frankincense tree (Boswellia carteri or Boswellia thurifera) dries into hard, yellowish brown lumps of bum resin known as frankincense. .... The English word “frankincense” comes from the Old French words franc encens, meaning pure or high-quality incense. Although it was most commonly used as incense in ancient times, frankincense was also prescribed as medicine.

The sap of the myrrh tree (Commiphora myrrha) dries into hard, reddish brown lumps of gum resin known as myrrh. It was used as a medicine and a component of perfume and incense.

Encyclopedia of Christmas pp. 219 & 395

Frankincense tree
Myrrh tree

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Captives no more

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 9:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "And I will bring back the captives of My people Israel..." Amos 9:14

Though Amos's prophecy was a prediction to his readers (in 760-750 B.C.) of the literal return of Israeli captives, we can't help but hear the spiritual overtones.* They reverberate down to us today.

Who comes to mind as a releaser of captives but Jesus? We see Him in the Nazareth synagogue open the book of Isaiah, and hear His voice, full of authority, read these words (from Isaiah 61:1-2):

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
       Because He has anointed Me
      To preach the gospel to the poor;
      He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
      To proclaim liberty to the captives
      And recovery of sight to the blind,
      To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
       19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” 
- Luke 4:18-19.

What is He offering healing, sight, and liberty from? John 8 tells us it is SIN.
"Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' .... .Jesus answered them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed'" - John 8:32, 34-36.

The fact that Jesus' coming to earth was part of God's plan to free us from sin's death sentence (Romans 8:1-11) is just one more reason to give thanks and celebrate at Christmas time.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You that Your incarnation, death and resurrection made possible my release from sin's prison. Help me to experience this freedom over sin as I live controlled by Your Spirit. Amen

*"When all around is spiritual, there is no reason to take this alone as earthly. An earthly restoration to Canaan had no value except as introductory to the spiritual" - Amos 9:14 commentary in Barnes Notes on the Bible.

MORE: Only four more sleeps

Advent Calendar - December 21

Christmas Fact:

According to early Christian tradition, Jesus was born in one of the caves that local people used to shelter animals. As early as the second century A.D., pilgrims began to visit that cave. The Roman emperor Hadrian (76-138 A.D.) constructed a shrine to the pagan god Adonis over this site. In approximately 325 A.D. after the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, the empress Helena (c. 248-328 A.D.) had the temple to Adonis destroyed and built the Church of the Nativity over the presumed site of Jesus’ birth. . . .

Today the Church of the Nativity is an Eastern Orthodox shrine. The cave in which Jesus was born lies underneath the church. Known as the “Grotto of the Nativity,” this underground chamber is a site of intense religious devotion for Christians of many different denominations.

– Encyclopedia of Christmas pp. 47,48

Virtual tour of the Church of the Nativity - Bethlehem

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Thursday, December 15, 2011


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Titus 1:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "For there are many insubordinate both idle talkers and deceivers ... whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not for the sake of dishonest gain .... Therefore rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith." Titus 1:10-11,13

A friend was sharing the story of her spiritual journey with me the other day. She told of a time, about a year into her walk with Christ, when substitute teaching jobs kept coming up on the day of her women's Bible study. Feeling the need for more money, she almost always accepted them.

One day when she again phoned her Bible study leader to tell her she would be away, the woman confronted her. "You know," she said, "you're a new Christian and you need this Bible study. You need to get off the fence."

"My leader's words really made me think," my friend said. "We don't reprove or rebuke people much these days."

My friend is right. Rebuke, reproof, confrontation—whatever word you use for it—our tolerant society isn't very tolerant of such corrective speech. But this is what Paul told Titus to do when he encountered the idle talkers [mataiologos  = speaking that lacks reason and worth and gives evidence of an undisciplined lifestyle - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1720] and the deceivers who influenced entire families against the gospel with motives of personal gain.

Titus isn't the only place the Bible mentions rebuke/reproof.

  • Proverbs speaks of the people who rebuke the wicked as having delight and gaining a blessing (Proverbs 24:25). However, the writer is realistic and also warns of the bad reception such rebuke may cause (Proverbs 9:7).
  • Luke tells us to rebuke with care, and forgive when the wrongdoer repents (Luke 17:3).
  • Paul tells his readers to expose the deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). He lists "rebuke" as one of the routine duties of the pastor, along with "preach, exhort, convince, and teach" (2 Timothy 4:2). He tells Timothy to rebuke publicly so that onlookers will examine their own actions (1 Timothy 5:20) and Titus to rebuke sharply (our reading) and with authority (Titus 2:15).

Have you ever been rebuked? Have you rebuked someone? Maybe this is a biblical practice we should do more of, with the intention of helping people mature (Titus 1:13) and as an expression love to fellow members of God's family (1 Corinthians 4:14).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to have the courage to rebuke a fellow Christian if there is a need. But more, help me to accept rebuke. Help me to see it as an act of love. Amen.

MORE: Only 10 more sleeps

Advent Calendar - December 1

Christmas Fact:
A fun tradition observed by some families during the holidays is to put together a Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzle. A large board or card table works fine as a puzzle holder. Spread out the pieces and leave them out so they are a constant temptation to whoever has a few minutes to work at the puzzle – until the picture is complete.

Here’s a simple computer puzzle to try.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How far will God bring you?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 7:18-29

TO CHEW ON: "Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said 'Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that you have brought me this far?'" 2 Samuel 7:18

God's favour to David, as evidenced by His promise to make David's family a forever lineage, caused him to take stock of how far he had come. His humble beginnings as the youngest, stuck tending sheep while his brothers lined up for Samuel's anointing, would not have predicted this. Neither would the years he lived as an outcast on the run from King Saul. But no person or circumstance could thwart God's plans for him.

It's the same for you and me. Our humble beginnings and what has happened in our past is no obstacle to God and His destiny for us. However, when we're in the middle of humdrum life, it's hard to believe or even grasp this. Here are some verses to help us build faith in God's creative ability to transform our lives:

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations" - Ezekiel 36:25-27, NLT.
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope'" - Jeremiah 29:11, NLT.
"But He said, 'The things which are impossible with men are possible with God'” - Luke 18:27, NKJV.
"And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit"  - 2 Corinthians 3:18, AMP.

As Joyce Meyer puts it:
"I encourage you to take a positive look at the possibilities of the future and begin to "call(s) those things which do not exist as though they did" (Romans 4:17). Think and speak about your future in a positive way, according to what God has placed in your heart, and not according to what you have seen in the past or are seeing even now in the present" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 186.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for the example of David who came from nowhere to father the royal line from which You were born. Please give me the faith to live out the dreams I believe You have placed in my heart. I want You to bring me as far as I am meant to go. Amen.

MORE: Only 12 more sleeps

Advent Calendar - December 13

Christmas Fact:
The Nativity scene also rooted itself firmly in French soil, especially in the southern region of Provence. The first manger scenes included only those figures most related to the story of the Nativity: Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds, etc. In the eighteenth century, however, people began to display a multitude of characters in their home Nativity scenes. . . .

In 1803 small clay statuettes from Provence, called santons (or "little saints") appeared at the Christmas fair in Marseille. These santons became an essential element of the French Nativity scene. In addition to characters mentioned in the biblical accounts of the Nativity, the Provencal santons represented a wide variety of ordinary French townspeople, such as the baker, the mayor, the fishmonger, the village idiot and others. . . Like their Italian counterparts, French Nativity scenes depicted the birth of Christ taking place in a local setting, such as a village in Provence.

Encyclopedia of Christmas p. 409

The Provence tradition of Nativity scenes and santons carries on.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Inspired communique

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 3:10-17

TO CHEW ON: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

We toss around the word "inspired" almost as loosely as we do the word "love." We describe a variety of things as inspired from ways of preparing food to how we feel when we experience an aha moment. So we are not to be blamed when we ask, what does Paul mean, here, when he says, "All scripture is given by the inspiration of God"?

[Of the nine shades of meaning my dictionary gives for "inspire" three seem related to the kind of inspiration Paul is talking about: * to impart or suggest by divine intervention, *to breathe or blow upon, and * to breathe in or inhale.]

In a sidebar article about our focus verse, Jack Hayford explains the method and extent of divine inspiration:

1. It (the Word of God, the Bible) is the word of the Holy Spirit. "Theopneustos" (Greek, meaning inspiration of God) literally means "God breathed." This describes the source of the whole Bible's derivation...the Bible is not the product of elevated human consciousness or enlightened human intellect but is directly "breathed" from God Himself.
2. 2 Peter 1:20-21 elaborates this truth and adds that none of what was given was merely the private opinion of the writer and that each writer involved... was 'moved by' (literally "being borne along") the Holy Spirit ...
3. 1 Corinthians 2:10-13...says that even the words used in the giving of the Bible (not just the ideas but the precise terminology) were planned by the Holy Spirit, who deployed the respective authors of the Bible books to write "comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (literally "matching spiritual words to spiritual ideas"). This biblical view of the Bible's derivation is called the plenary verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, meaning every word is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God." - Jack Hayford, "The Divine Inspiration of the Bible," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, pp. 1714-15.

Have you not felt awe and amazement as you have seen evidence of this divine inspiration yourself? Take for example, how various Bible writers expound on similar ideas, using similar images in passages that were written centuries apart. They do it about:
  • Sheep - Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 53:6; John 10:11
  • Water - Isaiah 41:18; John 7:37; Revelation 7:17
  • Bread - Exodus 16:4; John 6:32-35; Matthew 26:26, and many others.

Let's view God's word as the miracle communique it is, and let it speak into our lives as doctrine, reproof and instruction, equipping us for "every good work."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Bible. Help me to apply its teachings and truths in my everyday life. Amen.

MORE: Only 14 more sleeps

Advent Calendar - December 11

Christmas Fact:

The earliest known Christmas tree ornaments were apples. Medieval actors used them to decorate the paradise tree, the central prop of the paradise play, a medieval European mystery play often performed on December 24th. The apples represented the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Later, unconsecrated communion wafers were added to the tree, representing the salvation offered to humankind by Jesus Christ.

Encyclopedia of Christmas, p. 439

Directions to make homemade Christmas ornaments here.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

The extravagant ministry of Jesus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 61:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes
The oil of joy for mourning
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." Isaiah 61:3

The whole of Isaiah 61 refers to the ministry of God's anointed. Who is that? Jesus said these words when He was in the synagogue in Nazareth—a direct quote from Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
       Because He has anointed Me
      To preach the gospel to the poor;
      He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
      To proclaim liberty to the captives"

He concluded with, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:17-21) telling us that He is that anointed one. So we're pretty safe in saying that the words in today's reading describe the ministry of Jesus.

Let's dig out some of the goodness of the rich images in our focus verse to understand what Jesus' presence in our lives can mean.

1. It is a comfort and a consolation - Isaiah 61:2b-3a.

2. It is a favourable exchange
  • We get beauty for ashes. Ashes in the Bible are associated with grief and mourning. How often don't we see mourners sitting in ashes or putting ashes on themselves? But Jesus ministers beauty for the grey dust of disappointment and pain.
  • We get the oil of joy for mourning. Oil is also loaded with symbolism. People used it to get ready for the day. Anointing someone with it set him apart as a king or special minister. It also symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Here we see that we can substitute mourning for that oil of preparation, anointing, and power.
  • We exchange the "garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." I like how my Bible's footnotes explain this: "The symbolism here depicts festive joy as part of Messiah's reign. The spirit of heaviness refers to discouragement. It is to be replaced by an abundant life (the garment of praise). Many see in this text the power of worship-filled praise to cast off the oppressive works of darkness" - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 946.
3. It leads to a stable, productive life.
We become God's planting, His trees of righteousness. This imagery recalls other tree verses:
  • Psalm 1:3 where the godly person, planted near water is fruitful, unwithering, and prospers in everything.
  • Psalm 92:14 where the righteous are like trees that "still bear fruit in old age."
  • Ezekiel 47:12 where trees minister food and healing to the nations.

All this is meant to enhance God's glory, declaring His power and adequacy in living colour through the transformed lives of us, His people.

Let's claim and apply these ministries of Jesus to our lives today.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to exchange my disappointments, griefs and heavinesses for beauty, joy, and praise. I want to be one of Your flourishing, God-honouring trees. Amen.

MORE: Only 15 more sleeps

Advent Calendar - December 10

Christmas Fact:

The first carols were not singable songs at all, but ring dances. They were used to celebrate many occasions as well as Christmas, but were not allowed in church. As carols changed and became songs to sing, many of these folk songs, lullabies and hymns were written about Jesus’ birth. Legend says that St. Francis of Assisi first allowed carols to be part of a Christmas midnight service in the 1200s.

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” often sung at Christmas, was written by Aurelius Prudentius in the 4th century. It was set to plainsong in the 13th century. Here is a John Michael Talbot rendering of it.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Thanks and thanks again

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

TO CHEW ON: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Paul's little list of to-do items would make more sense to me if it was inverted: in everything give thanks + pray without ceasing = rejoice always.

Thankfulness in everything is a choice. It's easy to be thankful for the little and big blessings that keep appearing throughout our day: a morning carafe of coffee, a hot shower, electricity and a functioning computer, a drawerful of pens... But the things that aren't good on the outside: a morning headache, a sick child, a snowstorm on the day of the outing. How can we be thankful for these?

Two lines of thought come to mind.
1. We can usually find something in the situation to be thankful for. My morning headaches get me out of bed early. They usually dissipate with my first coffee. When kids are sick we can be thankful for doctors and medical help. The day's plans wrecked by weather may lead to a set of new ones with their own reasons for thanksgiving.

2. Our intentional thanks, even when we don't understand, confirms, expresses, and grows our faith in the goodness of God who has allowed this circumstance to touch us.

Pray without ceasing is what we do as we continually think, whisper, say out loud, even sing our thanks to God.

Rejoice always is the natural result, in our attitude and emotions, of such determined thanksgiving.

Need help with this? Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are is a powerful apologetic for thankful living. But you don't have to wait until you have it in hand to be thankful. Begin taking note of things for which you're thankful today. One way is to keep a gratitude journal. Here's a mini-journal to make that will get you started (with instructions for assembly here).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this reminder to be thankful always. Help me to do this as I face the highs and lows of this day. Amen.

MORE: Only 17 more sleeps

Advent Calendar - December 8

Christmas Fact:

The poinsettia was originally cultivated in Mexico. The leaves that crown the end of each poinsettia stalk undergo a seasonal color change in December, turning from green to red. As Christianity spread across Mexico during the colonial era, this color change turned poinsettias into a popular Christmas decoration. The Mexicans call the plant flor de la Nochebuena or "Christmas Eve flower".

Encyclopedia of Christmas p. 474

Visit the Poinsettia Pages to learn more about this popular Christmas plant.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Will God answer my prayer?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 5:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him." 1 John 5:14-15

This morning before sitting down to work on this devotion (some weeks before it publishes), I got word that my son's best friend collapsed last night while playing basketball. His heart just stopped. It was revived with shocks but he is lying unconscious in hospital. My mind is full of questions: What would cause the heart of a 26-year-old, apparently healthy young man to stop? Will he survive? Will there be any damage? Will God answer my (and tens of others') prayers for his recovery?

Our focus verse today sets before us one way we can know prayers will be answered: when we ask according to God's will. A footnote in my Bible lists other bases on which we can be assured of answered prayers:

  • When we ask in Jesus' name (John 14:13-15; 15:16; 16:23-24).
  • When we abide in Christ and allow His words to abide in us (John 15:7).
  • When we have faith (Matthew 21:22; James 1:6).
  • When we are righteous in life and fervent in prayer (1 John 3:21-22; James 5:16).
That note sums up:
"One who abides in Christ and whose words abide in Him; who prays in the name of Jesus, that is, in accord with His character and nature, and who is full of faith and righteousness is not inclined to pray anything contrary to His will. But more than how we pray, God wills and cares that we pray. Genuine prayer is not an attempt at precise means of getting God to meet our desires and demands; but rather in subordinating our will to His, we open the doorway to His fullest blessings being released in our lives" - Peter E. Prosser - Notes on 1 John, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1789-90.

It's a challenge to put all the things, above, together when we're faced with a need for which we want only one answer. If God has another plan, it surely becomes a matter of adjusting to His higher wisdom in faith that He, in His perfect love, knows best.

I'll let you know how this turns out.

(The young man lived, regained consciousness a day and a half later, and suffered only minimal short-term memory loss. The doctors put in a pace-maker to guard against this happening again. His memory is improving every day. He has even returned to school. Thank You Jesus!)

PRAYER: Dear God, this morning my heart is full of want: I want S. to live and get all better. I want his wife and parents to know Your presence in this situation. Please give them the faith in Your love that casts out fear as they trust You for the outcome, whatever it is. Amen.

MORE: Only 18 more sleeps

Advent Calendar - December 7

Christmas Fact:

The earliest use of a crib (also called nativity scene, manger scene, krippe, crèche) in worship dates back to fourth-century Rome. Of the three masses observed at Christmas, one was called Ad Praesepe (meaning "to the crib"). This mass took place in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, at a shrine built from boards believed to have come from the original stable of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Churches throughout Italy and Europe gradually adopted the custom of saying mass over a crib at Christmas time.
Encyclopedia of Christmas p. 407,408

Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome. (Dragging your mouse across the image causes it to scroll around the entire room.)

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Saturday, December 03, 2011


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

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness." 2 Peter 3:11

To the nine people that boarded a charter flight from Vancouver to Kelowna, Thursday October 27th, 2011, started out as an ordinary day. But halfway through their trip captain Luc Fortin knew something was not ordinary about that flight.*

Passenger Carolyn Cross remembers his announcement. Though his words downplayed the gravity of their situation: ("...there is a small leak on the left side of the engine... he's sorry but it shouldn't take that long to get back,") the way his hands shook told her this was serious. "I knew we were going to die," she said. Her response was to take out her iPhone and write goodbye letters to her kids. She managed to hit "send" seconds before the plane crashed onto a highway 900 meters from the runway. Captain Fortin died that day. Others were badly injured.

This scenario is a dramatic illustration of how suddenly life can change. It is also a reminder that we will all someday come to our moment of "all these things" being "dissolved."

Peter talks about that time for planet earth as it melts under God's judgment. Such a scenario may seem far off  and vague incentive for us to change our ways. But when we translate it into a warning of how unexpected yet imminent is the dissolution of one's personal world, it feels like reason to pay attention.

Let's follow Peter's admonition to spend the time we have left getting ready for that inevitable dissolve: "And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight" - 2 Peter 3:14 NLT

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live with the reality of life's end in mind. Amen.

MORE: Only 22 more sleeps till Christmas! (if the Lord wills)

Advent Calendar - December 3

Christmas Fact: 

Advent wreaths are a church and family tradition. Made out of greenery these round wreaths sit flat or hang horizontally.

The wreath holds four candles and another sits in the center. Tomorrow in churches around the world, people will be lighting that first candle on the wreath (signifying Expectation or Hope) because tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent.

Find out more about Advent wreaths, their beginnings, their significance and their uses, here.

* Read entire article: "Passenger on doomed flight sent goodbye message to her kids."
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Friday, December 02, 2011


TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Peter 2:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption." 2 Peter 2:18-19

In this diatribe against destructive doctrines Peter gives his readers some ways to identify false teachers. As we face the array of teachers and teachings available through the radio, TV, books and the internet we do well to be alert to these things in what we see, hear, and read.

Characteristics of false teachers and teachings that Peter names:

1. They can be "among us" - 2 Peter 2:1.
2. They are secretive.
3. Their destructive heresies deny Jesus in some way.
4. They are covetous - 2 Peter 2:3,14.
5. They are presumptuous and self-willed - 2 Peter 2:9.
6. They are disrespectful.
7. They mock what they don't understand - 2 Peter 2:12.
8. They celebrate their new beliefs - 2 Peter 2:13.
9. They are adulterous - 2 Peter 2:14.
10. They seek to entice others.
11. Their teachings promise a lot but deliver little - 2 Peter 2:17.
12. Their teachings and lifestyles are sensual - 2 Peter 2:18.
13. They promise liberty but are themselves slaves of sin - 2 Peter 2:19.

A sidebar article in my Bible poses six questions we can ask when we encounter spiritual teachings:
"Here is a test to determine if any revelation is true or false. Does it reinforce God's word and: 1] lead me to Christ and fill me with love for His church; 2] align itself with the clear and complete teachings of the Bible; 3] strengthen my faith and give me an honorable purpose in life; 4] turn me from wrongdoing, promoting righteousness and purity in my life; 5] find wide acceptance and affirmation by notable men and women of God; and 6] build up the body of Christ equipping believers for the work of ministry?" James W. Ryle - "False Prophets," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1776,7.

Faithfulness to God's word is the gold standard of teaching. Let's get to know it so we will not be deceived.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to have a mind and heart that absorb and retain the truths of the Bible. Amen

MORE: Only 23 more sleeps till Christmas

Advent Calendar - December 2

Christmas Fact:
Advent calendars are thought to have been invented in Germany around the turn of the twentieth century. Many are double layers of cardboard with perforated windows which open onto the day’s surprise, perhaps a picture, trinket or piece of candy. In Germany, homemade Advent calendars were sometimes made in the shape of cardboard houses.

Writer Ann Voskamp's son Caleb and his siblings make a beautiful Advent wreath out of wood which also functions as a calender. The Cradle to Cross wreath can be used at Easter time too. Check out the Cradle to Cross Wreath here.

Whatever form they take, Advent calendars are a playful way to count the days between December 1st and 25th.

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