Monday, January 31, 2011

Do not fret

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 37:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Cease from anger and forsake wrath
Do not fret — it only causes harm (it only leads to evildoing - NASB)." Psalm 37:8

So much of our frame of mind and sense of well-being depends on our thoughts. In Psalm 37 David gives us some good thought guidelines. He begins by telling us some thought patterns to shun: anger, wrath, and fretting. In fact, he warns against fretting three times (vs. 1, vs. 7, vs. 8).

"Fret" in Hebrew is charah, a primitive root also translated angry, and kindled. Its English definitions are so telling for our context:
1] to be vexed, annoyed, troubled.
2] to become worn, chafed or corroded.
3] to bite away bit after bit of something with or as with the teeth.
4] to eat through something by or as if by corrosion.
5] to rankle, fester.
6] to become rough or agitated, as water.
Synonyms are irritate, vexation, annoyance, uneasiness.

Do you tend to fret? I know I do. When something troubles me I am like a dog with a bone, biting, chewing, gnawing, then burying but always coming back to uncover my worry so that I can bite, chew and gnaw some more.

David doesn't leave us to fend for ourselves against the negative thoughts  of anger, envy and fretting. Psalm 37:1-20 is full of good thought options. We can instead:

"Trust in the Lord" (vs. 3). This is putting the weight of ourselves - our past histories, present circumstances, and future hopes, dreams, expectations, and fears - on God.

"Dwell in the land" (vs. 3). Though not a thought per se, dwelling connotes a rooted, settled, contented existence.

"Delight yourself in the Lord" (vs. 4). We need to focus on God's good character and gifts to us and not on our lacks as compared to what someone else has.

"Commit your way to the Lord" (vs. 5).  Literally, we roll ourselves and our way onto God. We let God take the wheel of life, not fixated on the route we take but giving Him the right to move us here or there,

"Rest in the Lord" (vs. 7).  We are silent, still, at ease, relaxed.

"...wait patiently" (vs. 7).  We aren't in a hurry to see things completed. We live by God's timetable.

"Cease from anger" (vs. 8). We refrain from, let go of, withdraw from anger. This is something we can do — a willful action on our part.

We don't need to be at the whim of negative thinking. But to avoid the tyranny of our destructive thoughts we need to first recognize, then put the brakes on angry, anxious, fretful ones, and finally replace them with thoughts of trust, contentment, delight, commitment, rest, and patience.

PRAYER: Dear God, as I face a new week, I'm sure I'll be tempted to fret. Help me to replace fretting with constructive thoughts of You and Your goodness to me. Amen.


MORE: Not doubt but fear

"Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt. Perhaps the opposite of faith is fear. To lack faith perhaps isn't as much an intellectual disbelief in the existence of God as fear and distrust that there is a good God." 
- Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts, Kindle location 2091

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The foolish ones

Artist's rendering of David's sling.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

TO CHEW ON: "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are." 1 Corinthians 1:27-28

The Bible is full of examples of God working through foolish, weak, base, despised things and people. Here are just a few of the many in the Bible:

  • When God wanted to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, He used Moses's shepherd rod, also called  a staff (Exodus 4:2).
  • When He was planning to defeat the Midianites, He chose a cautious leader (Gideon), and then instructed him on how to thin out his army to a mere 300 men. Their weapons consisted of trumpets, pitchers and torches (Judges 7:1-23).
  • Samson killed 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15).
  • Saul, Israel's first king, came from the small, insignificant tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:21).
  • David killed full-armoured Goliath with a stone hurled from a primitive sling (1 Samuel 17:40).
  • Jesus fed a multitude with five loaves and two fish (John 6:9).

Why does God use such un-intuitive means? Paul tells us in verse 29: "...that no flesh should glory in His presence." In other words, when God accomplishes things using people and methods that, according to human wisdom should never be successful, all the credit and glory go to Him.

We can respond in several ways:

1. With relief. There's hope for even us very ordinary, unexceptional folks. If we get out of the way and let God be in charge, He can use even us.

2. With self-searching, asking, is there within our desire to live a significant, contributing life any vestige of seeking after our own fame, our own credit, our own prominence? Perhaps within our answer lies the clue to why our efforts are so often ineffectual.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to leave my ego and its wisdom behind. Help me to be content to be one of Your foolish, weak, base, despised glory-bearers. Amen.

MORE: Foolish enough
"When looking back on the lives of men and women of God the tendency is to say - What wonderfully astute wisdom they had! How perfectly they understood all God wanted! The astute mind behind is the Mind of God, not human wisdom at all. We give credit to human wisdom when we should give credit to the Divine guidance of God through childlike people who were foolish enough to trust God's wisdom and the supernatural equipment of God."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 26th reading.

- Be blessed today.



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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

God's three requirements

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 6:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "He has shown you, O man what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?"
- Micah 6:8



Micah's exaggeration in the verse just before today's focus verse is almost humorous:

"Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?"

But the next item is no grinning matter:

"Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression
The fruit of my body for the sins of my soul?"

Micah, using exaggeration, is asking, if the extreme sacrifice of one's own child isn't enough to please God, what is? A footnote article in my Bible tells us about the demands of the law:

"The rabbis analyzed the law and found 613 precepts. Those are reduced to eleven principles in Psalm 15, and down to six commands in Isaiah 33:15. But here they have been condensed into three:
1] Remain just / right in all you do.
2] Cherish compassionate kindness and faithfulness.
3] Commit yourself to live in submission to your God" - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1210.

Micah is saying that no sacrifice is big enough if the heart is wrong. And a right heart is shown in three simple things: justice, mercy and a humble day-to-day walk with God.

Living with such attitudes is no easier for us now than it was for the Israelites in Micah's day. How can I show (or fail to show) a heart of justice, mercy and humility if:
  • I lightly scrape someone's car in a parking lot. The owner is no where around.
  • The telemarketer who always calls around dinner time is on the phone again.
  • My life takes a path I never envisioned. It includes sickness, heartache and disappointment.

PRAYER: Dear God, please engrave the attitudes of justice, mercy and humble relinquishment on my heart. Help me to not only say 'Yes, yes' with my mouth, but to live out these attitudes when I'm tempted to be dishonest, unkind, bitter or rebellious. Amen.

MORE: It's practical

"The expression of Christian character is not good doing, but God-likeness. If the Spirit of God has transformed you within, you will exhibit Divine characteristics in your life, not good human characteristics. God's life in us expresses itself as God's life, not as human life trying to be godly. The secret of a Christian is that the supernatural is made natural in him by the grace of God, and the experience of this works out in the practical details of life, not in times of communion with God."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 20.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Heavenly visions

"Ananias Prays
for Saul" by
Benjamin West

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 26:19-32

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Acts 26:19.

Note all the visions that accompanied Paul's coming to faith:
- The vision at Stephen's stoning, where Paul was present (Acts 7:55-57).
- Paul's experience near Damascus (Acts 9:3).
- Paul's vision in prayer (Acts 9:11-12).
- Ananias's vision (Acts 9:10,17).

And throughout his ministry experience, he saw many more:

We may never have heard from God in such a supernatural style. But no doubt we can point to times when we knew God was speaking — through the lines of a book or a magazine article, the words of a sermon or a friend, the lyrics of a song or the canticle birds in the chapel of our own gardens.

The message is so real when we hear it — nothing could be realer or truer. But then we leave the sacred place, step back into what we call the "real world" and that "heavenly vision" is tested. Can we say with Paul, "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision" whatever it is.

Charles Spurgeon said:  
"We must take care that we do not neglect heavenly monitions through fear of being considered visionary; we must not be staggered even by the dread of being styled fanatical or out of our minds. For to stifle a thought from God is no small sin" quoted in New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1538.


PRAYER: Dear God, I would love to be in such close communion with You that what you say to me and show me, is as real — no, more real — than the cereal and toast I'll have for breakfast in a few minutes. Amen.


MORE:
Today is the church Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. The liturgy begins with the following collect:

"O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."



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Monday, January 24, 2011

Assigned to our own

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 26:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me." Acts 26:17-18

What a huge assignment Paul received, the day he was struck blind on the road to Damascus. As he recounted his experience of that day to Agrippa (today's reading), his memory of it was clear enough for him to repeat Jesus' words verbatim.

We may not think it surprising to hear he was to tell the Gentiles about their state. But the Jews too? Those were his people, his family members, relatives, neighbours and colleagues.

And what a precarious state they were in:
- They had closed eyes, for he was sent to open their eyes.
- They were in darkness, for he would turn them to light.
- They were under Satan's power, for he would tell them how to escape those clutches.

It's not difficult to think of people in lands far away as needing such information. But do we believe that our people, our unbelieving friends, family members, and colleagues are in as desperate a condition — blind, in darkness, under the power of Satan? Do we take seriously our job to alert them to their condition, to tell them how to get free so they can live in Jesus' kingdom and look forward to life in eternity with God?

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the courage to alert my neighbours, friends and family members to their need of You. Amen.

MORE: "Shackles - Praise You" - Mary Mary



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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saints?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their and ours." 1 Corinthians 1:2

I'm on holidays at the moment so this won't be a full-fledged, complete, thought-through devotion, just a question to myself, and you:

What does it mean to be a saint on a Saturday in January of 2011?

The study notes in my Bible say about this passage:

"As believers we are made righteous and holy in Jesus alone. Corinthians tells us that having been sanctified, we are called to live holy lives. Holy living requires that we rely fully on the Lord's wisdom and not the wisdom of the world. We are able to understand and discern God's ways by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the Spirit empowers us to live as God's people, holy and set apart to Him." - "Pursuing Holiness," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1606

I need that: the Lord's wisdom and Holy Spirit empowering. For already some of today's plans have gone awry and I hear the self-voice in my head saying: "You deserve to be in a snit!" I'd say that's of the world, and definitely not wise even by its standards!

PRAYER: Dear God, I need Your Spirit's wisdom and power to live out, in today's thoughts and actions, the fact of my sainthood. Amen

MORE: Practical sainthood

"The real test of the saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing disciples' feet, that is, doing the things that do not count in the actual estimate of men but count everything in the estimate of God....Paul focuses Jesus Christ's idea of a New Testament saint in his life, viz., not one who proclaims the Gospel merely, but one who becomes broken bread and poured out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for other lives." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, February 25th reading.

Note: If you read these devotions online, you may have noticed that the Bible verse now pops up in a little box when you hover your mouse over the reference of the verses that aren't linked to BibleGateway.  I've installed a new widget called RefTagger which makes that happen! 

The only problem is, the widget doesn't work its magic in the email version of the post. And neither does it work if the verse is already linked. 

Because more people read these devotions by email than online, I will continue to link verses. If you want to see the unlinked verses display (without looking them up) you'll need to view the post online (at http://www.otherfood-devos.com).


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Friday, January 21, 2011

Abandoned

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 27:1-14


TO CHEW ON: "When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me." Psalm 27:10



"As a child, Pastor Bill (Wilson) experienced the pain and hopelessness of abandonment. One day, as he walked down a street with his mother, they stopped to sit for a while. She instructed him to sit there and wait for her to return. He sat and waited for three days straight. She never returned. A Christian gentleman who had seen Bill stranded and alone stopped and picked him up..." (from the About Us page of Metro Ministries).

Bill told us a little bit more about that time when he visited our church several years ago. The Christian gentleman who picked him up gave Bill water and something to eat, then paid the $17.50 it took (in 1961) to send him to camp. Five hours later, Bill was at an Assemblies of God youth camp where his life was turned around. He now heads up Metro Ministries, a Christian, non-profit organization dedicated to serving inner-city children throughout New York City and various urban centers around the world.

The love and care of one's parents is pretty well a given. We view it to be foundational to growing up as normal, healthy adults. How many stories haven't we heard of messed up adults whose problems are attributed to being neglected or abandoned as kids? Does our focus verse today mean that God can counteract such a basic lack in one's life?

I believe it does. Look at the stories of noteworthy Bible characters torn from parental care and love: Joseph, Daniel, Esther, the little Jewish maid of Naaman's wife.

Look at God's heart toward the abandoned as it comes out in other scripture passages:

Exodus 22:22-23:
“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry"

Deuteronomy 10:18
"He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing."

Psalm 10:14
"But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief,
         To repay it by Your hand.
         The helpless commits himself to You;
         You are the helper of the fatherless."

Psalm 68:5
 "A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
         Is God in His holy habitation."

Psalm 146:9
"The LORD watches over the strangers;
         He relieves the fatherless and widow;
         But the way of the wicked He turns upside down."

Proverbs 15:25
"The LORD will destroy the house of the proud,
      But He will establish the boundary of the widow."

Jeremiah 49:11
"Leave your fatherless children,
      I will preserve them alive; And let your widows trust in Me.”

Malachi 3:5
"And I will come near you for judgment;
      I will be a swift witness
      Against ... those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans,
      And against those who turn away an alien—
      Because they do not fear Me,”
      Says the LORD of hosts."

If you have been abandoned, remember that God is for you. He promises to take care of you. He will fill in the physical and emotional holes that your experiences have caused. You can say with confidence:

"When my mother and father (or my spouse, or my children) forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me."

PRAYER: Dear God thank You that You are for the abandoned, neglected, forgotten, bereaved, and passed-over ones. Help me, as Your child, to inherit Your heart of compassion, concern and care for them. Amen.

MORE: Covenant House
Covenant House is an organization that houses and takes care of homeless and abandoned youth in cities around North America. The first Covenant House was begun by Father Bruce Ritter in Manhattan in 1972. Read the history of Covenant House - Vancouver (only one of two Covenant Houses in Canada - the other one is in Toronto)

Martin is just one of thousands of kids who have been helped by Covenant House Vancouver. Read his story.

*************

Note: Have you noticed, above, how the Bible verse pops up in a little box when you hover your mouse over the reference? I've installed a new widget called RefTagger which makes that happen! 

The only problem is, the widget doesn't work its magic in the email version of the post. And neither does it work if the verse is already linked to BibleGateway. 

Because more people read these devotions by email than online, I will continue to link verses. If you want to see the unlinked verses display (without looking them up) you'll need to view the post online (at http://www.otherfood-devos.com).

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Milestone of grace

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 15:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they." Acts 15:11

If you dislike conflict as much as I do, you would join me in staying away from the Jerusalem Council meetings of the first century (not that the public and especially no-name women were even allowed into that assembly!). The clash was between "certain men" from Judea and the apostles over making converted Gentiles submit to circumcision and other points of Moses' law.

The certain men (also known as Judaizers) insisted that the Gentile converts needed circumcision to legitimize their salvation. They came to Antioch, where Paul was preaching and many Gentiles were getting saved, to enforce this.

The apostles disagreed. Barnabas and Paul eventually went to Jerusalem to resolve the matter with all the apostles and elders. We can learn some valuable things form the council meeting that followed (which my Bible's footnotes call "a theological milestone in the history of Christianity" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1518):

  • Sometimes conflict is a good thing.
I love the way Paul and Barnabas decided this issue was too big for them to deal with on their own and so took it to the church at large. I love how Luke describes the humanness of the interactions. Paul and Barnbas's description of God's mighty work amongst the Gentiles versus the Pharisees, "It is necessary to circumcise them" (vs. 5) caused "much dispute" (vs. 7 - can't you just hear voices raised in passion and conviction, interrupting and talking over each other?).

"It is not unusual for Christian leaders to strongly disagree," says a footnote in my Bible. "Acts 15 shows how through the Spirit and open dialogue they are able to resolve their differences" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1519).

  • Sometimes circumstantial evidence is admissible.
That's what Peter gave. He referred to his experience with the uncircumcised Cornelius (Acts 10), concluding that because God had responded to Cornelius and his household by sending the Holy Spirit, circumcision wasn't essential to God's acceptance.

Then Barnabas and Paul recounted the miracles and wonders God had performed through them among uncircumcised Gentiles.

James clinched the argument by bringing up God's intention to save the Gentiles even as far back as Amos (in verses 16 & 17 he quotes Amos 9:11-12)

  • Sometimes it's possible to reach a good compromise.
The council's decision was that certain law rules be followed. Circumcision wasn't one of them (vs. 20-21).

  • Through it all, God's grace can be on display.
The possibility of disagreeing without needing to part company, the review of all that God had done since Jesus ascended to heaven, the reminder of Gentile inclusion from the prophets — they were all gifts of God's grace. Peter's sum-up articulates the climax of such undeserved favour:

"But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we (circumcised Jews) shall be saved in the same manner as they (uncircumcised Gentiles, saved by virtue of grace and nothing else)" Acts 15:11.

May that be the message of our lives too — through disagreements and discussions, through our testimonies and the words of Scripture we cling to — we're in only because of His grace.

PRAYER: Dear God, I'm such a performance-oriented person, it's hard to accept that there is nothing I can add, or need to add to Your grace to me. I take it with thanks. Help me to extend grace to others — grace of the quality You give to me. Amen.


MORE: "Grace, Greater than All My Sin" and "My Heart Your Home"

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Monday, January 17, 2011

A template for pleasing God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Deuteronomy 10:12-22

TO CHEW ON: "And now Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good. Deuteronomy 10:12-13

Here Moses gives the Israelites — and us — a tidy list of five things that God expects of us:

"What does the Lord your God require of you..."

"but to fear the Lord your God..."
"Fear" (yare) means to stand in awe of, to reverence, honour and respect. Moses gave these instructions to the Israelites who had witnessed the plagues that God sent to soften Pharaoh. They ate and drank God's provision for them in the wilderness. They saw the lightning and smoke, and heard the rumble of His presence on Mount Sinai. They knew how awesome God was. We do well to review these pictures of God to put a little starch in our respect for Him.

"to walk in all His ways..."
"Walk" (halak) means to come, depart, proceed, move, go away. Every direction is covered. That's how everywhere and constant is to be our living out of His ways and doing the things He approves of.

"and to love Him..."
"Love" ('ahab) includes human love for another human, human love for God as well as human appetite for objects — food, drink, sleep, wisdom. Perhaps our relationship to those last gives us a model for loving God. Do we 'love" Him, long for Him, crave Him, need Him, have as much affection for Him as we have for food, drink, and sleep?

"to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul..."
"Serve" ('abad) means to labour, do work for another, serve as subjects, serve with levitical service. This service is not to be tentative or half-hearted. Rather it's to be filled with energy, enthusiasm, intention, devotion and focus. It's service that completely absorbs the heart (seat of appetite, emotion, and passion) and the soul (self, mind).

"and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes."
"Keep" (shamar) means to guard, observe, give heed to, keep watch over. Such paying attention implies a watchfulness over thoughts and actions that is often absent from our lives which have grown accustomed to relaxing in the expectation of grace.

Why do we live this way? It is certainly not to curry God's favour in a salvation-earning way. Rather, we do it because it's the way we were designed to work best. And when we do, we position ourselves under God's downspout of blessings. Read God's promises to Israel if they lived this way:

"And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled....

For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do—to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him— then the LORD will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess greater and mightier nations than yourselves.  Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the River Euphrates, even to the Western Sea,shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand against you; the LORD your God will put the dread of you and the fear of you upon all the land where you tread, just as He has said to you."  -- Deuteronomy 11:13-15; 22-25

PRAYER: Dear God, I cannot live in this God-pleasing way without Your help. Please work in me the 'want to' and the 'how to.' Amen.

MORE: Spiritual disciplines
"We don't have to wonder how to meet with the Lord and experience Him. God Himself established paths—such as Bible intake, prayer, worship, service, evangelism, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and fellowship—which make our spiritual walk with Him simpler and more satisfying." from "Discipline Yourself" by Donald S. Whitney


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Sunday, January 16, 2011

God and sham

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 5:16-27

TO CHEW ON: "But let justice run down like water
And righteousness like a mighty stream." Amos 5:24

One outcome of seeking God, a subject we explored yesterday, is a visible change in how we live. Israel needed to change in the social justice department. Amos spoke out over how offended God was because of their mistreatment of the poor and powerless. He named their sins :
"Because you run roughshod over the poor and take the bread right out of their mouths... You bully right-living people, taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they're down"
 (yesterday's reading, vs. 10- 12, Message.).

In today's reading Amos warns of God's judgments. It will be a visitation resulting in the "day of the Lord" that is not delightful but full of wailing, mourning, trouble at every turn, darkness: "Alas! Alas!"

And this is not a result they can divert with religious play-acting. For God "hates" it all — their feast days, sacred assemblies, burnt, grain, and peace offerings, their sung songs and instrumentals (vs. 21-23).

There is only one remedy — a change of attitude that results in a change of action: "But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream."

A footnote in my Bible explains these two words:

"Justice and righteousness are two of the most important concepts in the prophets.
Righteousness is the quality of life demonstrated by those who live up to the established norms in a relationship. They "do right by" another person.
Justice is the judicial process of determining who is right in a case of law. The just party was helped by the court. Amos's contention is that the poor are not being defended in the court. Therefore justice is not done" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1178.


What does this have to do with you and me? I see it as a warning to certainly deal with the unrighteousness and injustice we find within ourselves, but also other things in our lives that are against what God stands for. If we are nurturing things He hates — dishonesty, covetousness, marital infidelity, idolatry, etc. — while we go on as usual, pretending they aren't there, putting on a good front,  bringing our tithes and offerings, singing and raise our hands in worship, we are living a sham and are in as much danger as Israel was in Amos's day.

Let's ask God to show us our own hearts, reveal to us how we need to change, and then work those changes from the inside out.


PRAYER: Dear God, I so readily kid myself, carrying on like everything is great, even as I've got heart issues: resentments, envy, pride etc. Here I see how much you hate sham. I think I need some Holy Spirit counselling. Amen.

MORE: The fear of God

"...the wrath of God is eternal, terrible, deserved, and escapable, because of the death and resurrection of Christ."


How does our fearing God (which I implied above is something we should do) line up with Jesus paying the penalty for our sin, defeating sin's penalty, death, and extending grace to us? John Piper sheds some light on that in his message: "The Present Effects of Trembling at the Wrath of God."


If you say—which you should—“But doesn’t the Bible teach us not to fear? Aren’t there many commands like, ‘Fear not, for I am with you.’ What do they mean?” They mean two things. They mean, Don’t fear man, fear God. And, second, they mean, Don’t fear God as your enemy, fear him as one who once was your enemy and still is infinite in power and holiness. - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Read entire



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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Eye time, heart time

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 5:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:
'Seek Me and live;
Do not seek Bethel,
Nor enter Gilgal
Nor pass over to Beersheba;
For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity
And Bethel shall come to nothing." Amos 5:4b-5.

If you want to see God's heart laid open, His love exposed and vulnerable, read the prophets. Here he speaks through Amos — who wasn't a professional prophet at all but a shepherd who prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel between 760 and 750 B.C. during the reigns of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel.

Amos's invitation — no his plea, to his hearers is from God: "Seek Me and live." Then God, in a sort of imaginary discussion with them and anticipating what they will reply, answers their objection:

"Do not seek Bethel" (about 10 miles north of Jerusalem, the southern boundary of the northern kingdom and where Jeroboam I had set up a golden calf idol); "Nor enter Gilgal" (the ancient shrine connected with Joshua and Saul); "Nor pass over to Beersheba" (a place of pilgrimage where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all worshipped God).

It seems God was saying, I don't want your rote religious forms or rituals based on the encounters that your ancestors had with Me in the past. I want you to seek Me and to have that relationship with Me now.

What's involved in seeking God?

  • Moses in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah talk of seeking God whole-heartedly, i.e. making our search for God our heart's focus - Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13.
  • The psalm writers talk of seeking God's face - Psalm 27:8; 105:4. When we seek someone's face, we look into their eyes to establish that one-to-one connection. We study their expression to see whether they are happy or sad, pleased or displeased with us.
  • Here Amos connects seeking God with life, bringing to mind the opposite possibility, that not seeking God leads to death.
  • Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount gave seeking God priority over even getting our basic needs met - Matthew 6:31-33.

Like the Israelites would answer God's "Seek My face" with "But I go to Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba," we could say, I come from a line of believers. I go to church, give money to charity, help the poor. Those things are good. Part of seeking God is doing the stuff - 2 Chronicles 14:4.

But there is more. There's the relationship. That's what God wants with us. Eye time. Heart time.

PRAYER: Dear God, how blessed am I to worship You, a God who pursues a relationship with me. Please help me to clear up any barriers to our relationship. Amen.


MORE: "How I Long For You" by Hillsong



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Friday, January 14, 2011

My projects or His purposes?

"St. John the Baptist Sees Jesus From Afar" 
- by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:29-42

TO CHEW ON: "'I did not know Him but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.'" John the Baptist in John 1:31

John's career choice as a baptizer was not some random job that came out of a brainstorming session with his high school counselor. It was a God-inspired career the main purpose of which was to introduce Messiah. It was the curtain rising, the drum roll on Jesus, the Lamb of God.

John tells us plainly how it worked:
"I did not know Him but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water....I did not know Him but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit' and I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God!" John 1:31, 33-34.

John, the writer of this gospel, doesn't describe that baptism but Matthew does. In fact, it seems John the Baptist had no clue who the person would be. For when Jesus asked John to baptize Him John "...tried to prevent Him saying, 'I need to be baptized by You and are You coming to me?'"

However, Jesus insisted and immediately after, "... the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him" Matthew 3:14-17

How exciting it must have been for John to see what God had told him secretly happening before his eyes and everyone watching. How fulfilling to know that he was God's instrument and his life was furthering God's eternal purposes.

Isn't that what we as Christians all want — to know that our actions, words, and lives have accomplished something significant and lasting because they were God-centered and aligned with what God was doing?

In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says:

"To live a God-centered life you must focus your life on God's purposes, not your own plans. You must seek to view situations from God's perspective rather than your own distorted human outlook.


[...] God never asks people to dream up something to do for Him. We do not sit down and dream what we want to do for God and then call God in to help us accomplish it. The pattern in Scripture is that we submit ourselves to God. Then we wait until God shows us what He is about to do, or we watch to see what God is already doing around us and join Him" - Experiencing God Workbook, p. 33-34).

How do I rate here? How do you? Are we dreaming up projects and asking God to bless them? Or are we waiting for God's explicit instructions or joining Him in His work already in progress?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be God-centered with my life focused on fitting in with Your purposes and exalting Jesus.

MORE: How do we know where God is working?

There are some things that only God can do. Henry Blackaby lists them in the Experiencing God Workbook:

Things Only God Can Do:
1. Draw people to Himself
2. Cause people to seek Him.
3. Reveal spiritual truth.
4. Convict the world of guilt about sin.
5. Convict the world of righteousness.
6. Convict the world of judgment.


When you see one of these things happening, you know God is at work. He is at work when you see someone coming to Christ, asking about spiritual matters, beginning to understand spiritual truth, experiencing conviction of sin, being convinced of Christ's righteousness, or being convinced of judgment" p. 83.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

My will or His?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 40:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart." Psalm 40:8

"I delight to do Your will, O my God" — can I honestly say that? Can you?

In the book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby describes doing God's will as giving God the right to help Himself to my life. I imagine God doing that — possibly interrupting my well-planned day with a phone call (not from Him, but from some person who needs to talk, or needs a babysitter), an unforeseen emergency, or more serious stuff like illness — my own or someone else's (not that God sends illnesses, but He allows them). How I handle these things helps me see how much delight I actually take in one aspect of God's will — what He brings my way.

Then there's the whole area of choice, of discerning and doing God's will in things as big as what career I choose to as small as what plans I make for the next hour.

Here are some things the Bible teaches about conforming our will to God's will.

1. We gain an inner GPS: Our focus verse today connects a delight to do God's will with inner guidance: "And Your law is within my heart."

2. Prayer is one way we bring it about. Jesus prayed: "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

3. It proves we are part of God's family: Jesus said, "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50).

4. Jesus is our example.
- He said, "I do not seek My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me" (John 5:30).
- The writer of Hebrews actually quotes part of Psalm 40 as fulfilled in Christ : "Then I said, 'Behold I have come — In the volume of the book it is written of Me — to do Your will O God" (Hebrews 10:7 compare to Psalm 40:7-8).

5. It is the way to become spiritually discerning and wise.
- It gives us discernment about theology and doctrine: "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority" (John 7:17).
- It also gives us wisdom for daily living: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God"(Romans 12:2).

6. It is best done whole-heartedly. Ephesians 6:6 talks about "doing the will of of God from the heart."

7. It is practical, impinging on and shaping everyday life. James reminds us that God has the right and sometimes does trump our daily plans: "Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow.... Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that" (James 4:13-15).

8. Our compliance with it confirms our reservation in heaven. The Apostle John writes: "And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17).

Henry Blackaby suggests a will-surrendering prayer to pray when we are faced with confusing choices. I think that it's a prayer we do well to pray every day:

PRAYER: "Lord, whatever I know to be Your will, I will do it. Regardless of the cost and regardless of the adjustment, I commit myself ahead of time to follow Your will. Lord, no matter what that will looks like, I will do it." Experiencing God Workbook, p. 123.

MORE: "I Surrender All" sung by Robin Mark




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Saturday, January 08, 2011

New address for "Other Food: daily devos"



I just set up a custom domain name for Other Food: daily devos.

The new URL is http://www.otherfood-devos.com

Over the next days emails may be interrupted. URL changes often take a few days (up to three) to come into effect everywhere, so please be patient as I wait for the account to be switched over and then make the necessary changes to Feedburner (which sends the emails).

Blogger will redirect anyone going to the blog's old address (http://vnesdoly2.blogspot.com) to the new one (http://www.otherfood-devos.com).



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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Epiphany

"The Magis" by Isabella Collette

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 2:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him." Matthew 2:10-11

No doubt during the Christmas season just past you saw a dramatization or tableau which included the wise men. These exotic Christmas story characters were Magi or astrologers. My Bible notes call their area of expertise "a sophisticated science in this era." But they were far more than occultic star-gazers. Their journey to find a star-announced king teaches us much about abandoned and reckless worship:

1. They were men of the upward gaze. Because their area of study was the stars, their sensibilities were already attuned to what was beyond and outside of them. Though in our day we might label their study occultic or New Age, their attitude of receptivity to the supernatural made them prime candidates for the epiphany.

2. They were men of faith. Imagine embarking on a weeks-to-months'-long journey across middle eastern deserts and wastelands on the strength of a star! This bit: "When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy," makes me think their faith was tested. (Maybe there were a few cloudy night or the lights of Jerusalem obscured the star's brilliance and they questioned, Are we really on the right track?) Otherwise, why the emotion when the star became visible again?

3. They were men of unselfconscious worship: "They fell down and worshiped Him." No attempt to preserve dignity here. These elegant, dignified, well-heeled Magi "fell down" as in prostrated themselves before a child found in the humblest of settings.

4. They were men of extravagant gifts. When you were thinking of gifts to give your family and friends last Christmas, did you ask yourself, What do they need or What could they use? I know I did. The wise men not so much. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were gifts one would give to royalty — more symbolic than practical and certainly extravagant. They remind me of the alabaster jar of perfume the sinful woman poured on Jesus' head.

They remind me too of the costliest, most precious gift we can give: ourselves.

"My son (my daughter) give me your heart..." - Proverbs 23:26

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship" - NIV Romans 12:1

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You the example of the worshiping Magi. Help me to practice their upward focus, their faith, their worship and their extravagant giving. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of Epiphany

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany ("the phrase religious epiphany is used when a person realizes their faith or when they are convinced that an event or happening was really caused by a deity or being of their faith" - Epiphany in Wikipedia).

In many countries today, January 6th, is the day of the Christmas celebration.

The liturgy for today begins with the collect:

"O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
[Correction: For any watchful readers who noticed yesterday's focus verse didn't match with the reading passage - my mistake. I goofed! I linked Ephesians 3 (which was the right reading) and then somehow based the devotion on Philippians 3:20-21.  I don't know how that happened! Maybe someone needed to read about heaven]

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A new tent

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 3:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "For our citizenship is in heaven from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be transformed to the glorious body according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself." Philippians 3:20-21

Have you ever thought about how much your reaction to life is based on how you feel physically? I know I don't function well when I'm tired, hungry, dizzy, itchy, have a headache, feel nauseated, am in pain, etc. And with advancing age, aches and pains are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Though I suppose it's not much of a surprise when our bodies let us down as we get older, the truth is that they can do that at any age. In order for us to reach our expected threescore and ten, our bodies have to dodge a lot of bullets.

All that makes it good news that this physical-body-bound life isn't the final chapter. It's especially good news because we will face the next chapter in glorified bodies. The Bible doesn't give us a lot of information about these new "tents." But what it does say turns our eyes upward in anticipation, especially because this newness seems to involve more than just glorified blood and bone, but a spiritual freedom no longer hindered by malfunctioning cells.

What we can look forward to:

  • Appearing with Jesus: "...you also will appear with Him in glory" (Colossians 3:4).
  • Being identified (as in tattooed or branded) with God the Father (Revelation 14:1).
  • Bearing a recognizable resemblance to Jesus: "...bear the image of the heavenly Man" (1 Corinthians 15:49).

Until that time, we join others across the ages in longing for this new glorified home:
"We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we'll never have to relocate our "tents" again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what's coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we're tired of it! We've been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what's ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we'll never settle for less" 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 - Message.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the promise of a new glorified body. Help me to trust You and to stay true to You through every physical challenge of this life. Amen.

MORE: Incredible hope

As someone who has been relatively healthy, I can't speak with the authority about physical suffering or the longing for a new body of, say, a Joni Eareckson Tada. She suffered a spinal cord injury in her teens and has spent her life as a quadriplegic. If you are bent, bruised and broken physically, or mentally find hope in these words of your fellow-traveler:

"I still can hardly believe it. I, with shrivelled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulders down, will one day have a new body, light, bright and clothed in righteousness — powerful and dazzling.


Can you imagine the hope this gives someone spinal cord-injured like me? Or someone who is cerebral palsied, brain-injured, or who has multiple sclerosis? Imagine the hope this gives someone who is manic depressive. No other religion, no other philosophy promises new bodies, hearts, and minds. Only in the Gospel of Christ do hurting people find such incredible hope" Joni Erickson Tada, in Heaven: Your Real Home, p. 53.

[Correction: For any watchful readers who noticed today's focus verse as originally posted and emailed didn't match with the reading passage - my mistake. I goofed! I linked Ephesians 3:1-21 (which was the right reading) and then somehow based the devotion on Philippians 3:20-21.  I don't know how that happened! Maybe someone needs to read about heaven]

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Monday, January 03, 2011

How to be a reflector

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 60:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "For behold the darkness shall cover the earth
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you
And His glory will be seen upon you." Isaiah 60:2

We have just come through a season where thousands of Christmas lights made darkness a festival. As, one by one, these lights go out for the season, the darkness seems even darker than it did before the lights came on. That kind of opaque darkness is what Isaiah describes:

"For behold darkness shall cover the earth
And deep darkness the people."

One thing breaks the sense of despair and hopelessness this darkness brings;

"But the Lord will arise over you
And His glory will be seen upon you."

No doubt Isaiah's words brought to his hearers' minds a time when God's glory had been upon Israel literally as a cloud hovering over them by day, a pillar of fire by night. Perhaps they thought too of when God revealed His glory on Mount Sinai, in the tabernacle, and at the dedication of Solomon's temple.

That glory came as a person in Jesus: "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12).

After Jesus had ascended to heaven, Stephen saw Jesus' glorified heavenly state.

The exciting thing is that we ourselves, earthbound as we are, can be vessels of that glory: "But we, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image form glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Corinthians 3:18.

"Beholding as in a mirror connotes 'reflecting' as well as 'looking into.' As we behold the glory of the Lord we are continually transformed into the same image by the Spirit of the Lord. We then, with ever increasing glory reflect what we behold" - Footnote to 2 Corinthians 3:18, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1614.

In other words we become like what we gaze at, meditate on, ponder, and try to be like.

The earth around us may be dark — not only physically but also emotionally and morally. We may feel small and inadequate to make a difference. But the thickness of that darkness makes even the smallest light visible. Let's light up that darkness around us today with the reflection of Jesus!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You are an impossible act to follow! Would You, by the Holy Spirit, work in me the will and the way to emulate You. I want Your glory to be reflected in and seen upon me. Amen.

MORE: Verses to memorize

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" - Matthew 5:14-16.

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

New year - faithful God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 8:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and stars which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?" Psalm 8:3-4

Today is the day we not only flip over to a new page on the calendar, but put up a whole new calendar! We can experience a lot of different emotions as we start a new year.

We may feel anticipation, as we look at our crisp new journals or agenda books and wonder what activities and appointments will soon fill those squares. We may feel regret as we look back on the year past and recall the mistakes we've made and the things we've left undone. We may feel sadness because some of our friends and family members are no longer with us, and fear as we look into a future without them which may contain, as well, other dark expectations and dreaded outcomes. Or we may be full of eagerness to get going because we know this year is going to be great!

Whatever our emotions, the beginning of a new year is a good time to ponder the big picture. Psalm 8 — a nature psalm by David — is one way to do this.

In it David talks about looking into the sky and getting a sense of insignificance. That's not hard for us to identify with— mere dots that we are on this tiny planet in one little corner of the vast stretch of the universe where distances between bodies are expressed in light-years, a calculation we can hardly comprehend.

But David also feels a sense of significance. For man is the part of creation that is conscious of God's presence in a way the rest of the created world can never be. As a result he is "crowned" with glory and honour and has "dominion" over the rest of creation. A sidebar article in my Bible elaborates on human dominion and its resultant responsibility:

"Man has a responsibility that the rest of creation does not and holds a critical role in the affairs of earth....The world literally stands or falls based on the actions and stewardship of human beings...For this reason we should never be satisfied to dwell on a mere lower level of creaturely existence, but strive to live at the highest and fullest level of our human nature. God designed for man a more noble destiny than creation could ever bestow. We should continue to explore what it is to be human, made in the image and likeness of God and given dominion (stewardship) over all the earth" - C.B./J.M. in "Twin Truths: Man's Dominion and Responsibility" New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 691.

May I submit that we need to "strive to live at the highest and fullest level of our human nature" not only as we relate to the natural world, but as we confront personal, family and work challenges as well? There too we can live above "a mere lower level of creaturely existence." We don't need to be victims of the ups and downs of circumstances because we choose to live by faith in God, who has visited us and assures us in the Bible:
  • We can face the future fearless because of His love (1 John 4:18)

PRAYER: Dear God, I give You this year with all its uncertainties, its highs and lows, its potential triumphs and disappointments. Help me to choose to trust You in every situation that will come my way in 2011. Amen.

MORE: A verse for the year

For some time now one of my first devotional activities of the year is to choose a Bible verse or verses as a flag-plant or banner for the year.

One year it was: Matthew 6:33

Another year it was: Philippians 4:6-7

Still another year it was: 1 Corinthians 13

Maybe you'd like to join me in doing that this year. Begin by taking some time to sit before God asking Him to show you what Your focus verse should be. Then open yourself to His answer through your own Bible reading, a sermon, song, something you read... When you've chosen your verse write it on a file card, post it on your bathroom mirror or fridge, memorize it, meditate on it, pray it, and generally let it permeate all of 2011.

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Happy New Year!

I can hardly believe a year has passed since I began writing these daily devotions. Thank you to all who read, regularly or occasionally. A special thanks to any and all that have emailed or left a comment. You don't know how much I appreciate hearing from you!

This project is summed up for me by God's words to Ezekiel:

"Son (daughter) of dust, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first; listen to them carefully for yourself. Then afterward go to your people in exile and whether or not they will listen tell them: 'This is what the Lord God says!'" Ezekiel 3:10-11.

That is what I've tried to do this year — listen to what God says to me, and then find words to pass that message on to you. I'm just sorry I do it so inexpertly.

I'm sure writing these daily meditations has done more for me than any reader. One can't handle the Word for several hours a day and not be changed. And since I can't imagine starting my day in any other way, I'll be continuing to post these in 2011. Again I'll use the Canadian Bible Society daily reading guide.

There will be a few changes in the days ahead, though.

  • URL change: I plan to move the blog to a custom domain early in 2011. Hopefully I'll be able to do that without interrupting the daily emails. I'll keep you posted and let you know if you need to re-subscribe.
  • New look: After the change above, I'd like to change the look of the blog. Think of it as spring cleaning and rearranging the furniture.
  • Breaks: These may not be quite as daily in 2011. I'll be taking the odd holiday break.

I am highly honoured that you choose to read. Again, thank you! And God's richest blessing in 2011.





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