Friday, April 29, 2011

Privileged above prophets and angels

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 1:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "To them it was revealed that, not to themselves but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven — the things which angels desire to look into." 1 Peter 1:12

Though it took Peter a while (as we saw yesterday) by the time he wrote this letter he was completely convinced that Jesus was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. Can't you just sense the thrill he feels knowing he had actually witnessed the things that prophets and angels had strained to see?

A commentary on 1 Peter in my Bible gives this advice:
"Devote yourself to loving Jesus, even though you cannot see Him. Loving and believing in Him with faith releases unspeakable joy and glory in your life. Spend time studying the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus and their fulfillment in the New Testament. Realize that angels long to look on these things and that studying the Bible is a privilege" - "Truth-In-Action In 1 Peter," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1771.

To help carry out that good advice, here us a little bit elementary school fun for you. Below is a list of seven aspects of Jesus' death recorded in the Gospel of John. Under that are some prophetic references. Can you match each prophecy with its fulfillment? (One prophecy reference predicts two events.)

Aspects of Jesus' death prophesied in the Old Testament:

1. In obedience to His Father (John 18:11). _____
2. Announced by Himself (John 3:14; 18:31-32). _____
3. In the place of His people (John 18:14). _____
4. With evildoers (John 19:18). _____
5. In innocence (John 19:6). _____
6. By crucifixion (John 19:18). _____
7. Buried in a rich man's tomb (John 19:38-42). _____

Old Testament Prophecies:

A. Numbers 21:8-9    B. Psalm 22:16   C. Psalm 40:7-8   D. Isaiah 53:4-6   E. Isaiah 53:9   F. Isaiah 53:12

(Answers below)

PRAYER: Dear God, I worship You for the wisdom of Your plan, put in motion "from the foundation of the earth". Open my eyes to see and understand where I fit into the part of the story playing out in my time. Amen.

MORE: Jesus and prophecy

"Nobody in the history of the world has foreknown and foretold and carried out his life and death and resurrection the way Jesus did. The overwhelming impact of reading the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus is that here is a man who knows what is coming, describes what is coming, and performs what is coming, according the purpose of God foretold in Scripture, that he was sent to fulfil. He sets his face like flint to do everything written of him, and he will not turn to the right hand or to the left lest one prediction of his Father in the Old Testament should fall to the ground." - (Read all of "The Sovereign Sacrifice: Foreknown, Foretold, For Faith) By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org



Answers: 1. C |  2. A  | 3. D  | 4. F  | 5. E |  6. B |  7. E



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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Who is Jesus?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 2:22-36

TO CHEW ON: "This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses .... Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus both Lord and Christ." Acts 2:32,36

Understanding Jesus' identity was a process, even for the disciples. It is illuminating to see how many times Jesus alerts His close followers to who He is and how that will play out. Here's a sampling:


Still they don't understand. Peter is especially forward in voicing his disapproval of Jesus' prediction that He will suffer and die. In Mark 8 after Jesus says plainly what His fate will be, Peter takes Him aside and rebukes Him.

Later, when Jesus asks His disciples, who they say He is and Peter gives the right answer: "The Christ of God," Jesus again reminds them of His fate, that He will "be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” Luke 9:22.

When these predictions become actual events Peter is the most adamant that Jesus' arrest is a big mistake (he actually attacks one of the soldiers, cutting off his ear). He is then so shaken that he betrays Jesus by insisting to those who identify him as one of Jesus' disciples, that he doesn't even know Him.

Despite this thickness, God doesn't give up on Peter or the rest of the disciples. At the tomb, the angels reiterate what Jesus has been saying (Luke 24:6-7). Later, the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus get another teaching session about how Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecies in the writings of Moses, the psalms and the prophets (Luke 24:13-27).

In our reading today we see that Peter finally gets it. He proclaims boldly, "This Jesus God has raised up of which we are all witnesses .... Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus both Lord and Christ."

Watching this process brings two things to mind:

1. I wonder how often we don't hear the things we don't want to hear. That seems to have been the disciples' problem. They had an idea of who Jesus was but thought that He would establish an earthly kingdom. So anything that didn't fit with that, they didn't hear. Are we so different? Do we take to heart the things Jesus said, for example, about the last days in Matthew 24 and 25, and as a result live alert?

2. Each one of us must come to our own conclusion about who Jesus is. Do we believe He is just another good prophet in a parade of prophets that have walked this earth — as a majority of earth's inhabitants would believe? Or do we believe He really is who He said He was — God the Son, who died in our stead so that we can be reconciled with God the Father? Our eternal fate hangs on our answer.

May we, through the Holy Spirit, experience what the disciples did that day on the Road to Emmaus: "And He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures" (Luke 24:46).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming as the fulfillment of prophetic scripture to die for me. Help me to understand the Bible and apply it to my life. Amen.

MORE: "My Deliverer is Coming" - Rich Mullins


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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Camping in His presence

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 16:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Psalm 16:11

This psalm is called a Michtam — a title which, a footnote in my Bible says, refers to deliverance from death. Peter quotes from Psalm 16 on the day of Pentecost, referring to Jesus' deliverance from death in resurrection. Peter had done his memory work — note how closely his speech followed Psalm 16:8-11:

"I foresaw the LORD always before my face,
      
For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
      
Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
      
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
      
For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
      
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
      
You have made known to me the ways of life;
      
You will make me full of joy in Your presence." - Acts 2:25-28

Peter then applied the message of the psalm to their current situation. My paraphrase: 'See, this is what David prophesied, that from his (David's) line Christ would come to sit on his throne. He foresaw this Christ's resurrection which God fulfilled in Jesus. And it's Jesus who is now at the right hand of God, who pours out the Holy Spirit on us today.'

And so as we now think about "the path of life" David asked God to show him, we interpret it in the light of Jesus' resurrection. When we claim this verse for ourselves, and pray it over our lives, we do it knowing Jesus has conquered death and the "path of life" winds into eternity.

But we don't have to wait till eternity to experience the joy of it. We can have it whenever we camp in His presence. A commentary article in my Bible expands on what that means:

"Radical, passionate, life-changing devotion bursts forth in our lives from one primary source: consistently being in the presence of the Lord.
  • Know that abundant life, fulfillment, delight and joy are found in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:11 - our focus verse).
  • Stay in God's presence for there you will find wisdom and protection from those who would rise up against you (Psalm 17:2-9).
  • Follow David's example by recognizing that it is in God's presence that you will find grace, honor, mercy, faithfulness, great joy, and gladness (Psalm 21:1-7).
  • Hide in God's presence. It is a place of shelter and safety (Psalm 31:20)."
"Truth-In-Action Through Psalms" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 719.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for making the round trip from heaven to earth. Help me to absorb all that Your resurrection means and avail myself of eternal life's delights by intentionally and consistently living in Your presence now. Amen.

MORE: The Jesus Way - Brian Doerksen



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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The symbolic reenactment

This is a photo of my baptism at the age of
14 in the North Saskatchewan River,
near Borden, Sask.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 6:1-11


TO CHEW ON: "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father even so we also should walk in newness of life." Romans 6:4

We have just come through a season of celebrating Jesus' death and resurrection. In our passage today Paul explains how that event is reenacted in our lives when we are baptized.

The faith tradition in which I grew up and was baptized (Mennonite Brethren) practices baptism by immersion. This simply means you go to a body of water that's about waist deep and the person who baptizes you tilts you backwards so that you are totally under: "...buried with Him..."

Thankfully we're not there three days but mere seconds. Then the baptizer raises us out of the water. This signifies Christ's resurrection: "That just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

For most people, their baptism as a watershed event, powerful in many ways.

  • The spiritual symbolism of the physical act brings home to the person being baptized in a tactile way what happened when they trusted Jesus for salvation.
  • It's a sign to onlookers of one's allegiance to Jesus. It's a ceremony (or 'ordinance') unusual enough to grab attention and signal that the person being baptized is serious about his or her faith and following Jesus.
  • To the person being baptized (and to onlookers) it marks a moment of fresh resolve "...of being dead indeed to sin but alive to God..." - Romans 6:11.

Have you been baptized on the confession of your faith as a symbolic reenactment of your own death to sin and life to God? If not, consider this ordinance for yourself. It may impact you in ways you hadn't imagined.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for baptism which pictures so beautifully what happens when I trusted you as Saviour and Lord of my life. Amen.

MORE: Exploring BAPTISM in more depth

Three things that Paul teaches about baptism from Romans 6:3-4 according to John Piper:

"1. The first thing we learn about baptism is that it was universally practiced in the early church, and Paul assumed that it should be.


2. The second thing we learn about baptism is that it is by immersion, not sprinkling or pouring.

3. The third thing we learn about baptism here is that it signifies our death with Christ that was accomplished at Calvary and was first experienced when we were united to Christ by faith."
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Read Dr. Piper's explanation and expansion of each of those points in the sermon transcript "United with Christ in Death and Life, Part 2"



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Monday, April 25, 2011

Rebuked

"Jesus appears to the eleven"
Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 16:9-20

TO CHEW ON: "He appeared to the eleven as they sat at table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen." Mark 16:14

How sobering to be the object of Jesus' rebuke. This stern passage had me wondering about other times Jesus rebuked people. On doing a little study, I found at least six categories of rebukes (oneidizo: reproach, revile, suffer reproach, upbraid) that Jesus issued:

1. He rebuked the demonic. When a demon speaking through a demon-possessed man in the synagogue exposed and opposed Him, Jesus said, "Be quiet and come out of Him" - Mark 1:25.

2. He rebuked those who criticized the extravagant love showed to Him by others.
  • During the incident of Mary anointing His head with oil at Simon's dinner, Jesus rebuked Simon and all those critical to Mary's lavish demonstration of love. (Mark 14:6-9, also Luke 7:44 and John 12:7).
  • When Martha hosted Jesus in their Bethany home and complained that Mary wasn't helping, Jesus rebuked her for having chosen the wrong priorities  (Luke 10:41).

3. Jesus rebuked those who followed Him for selfish reasons:
  • He rebuked the people who followed Him simply because He had fed them (Luke 6:26).
  • He also rebuked a man who came to him trying to get his inheritance by having Jesus intervene on his behalf (Luke 12:14).

4. Jesus rebuked those (and these were His followers) whose weak faith made them powerless.
  • He scolded the disciples, calling them a "faithless and perverse generation" when they couldn't cast out a demon from an oppressed boy (Luke 9:41).
  • He also rebuked them when, in Gethsemane, they slept instead of watching and praying (Luke 22:46).

5. Jesus had many rebukes for those who didn't understand the part He played in God's plan. He rebuked His opponents for this:
  • The Scribes and Pharisees because they couldn't read the signs of the times (Matthew 16:3).
  • Those who questioned His authority to say, "Your sins are forgiven you..." to the paralyzed man (Mark 2:8).
  • The synagogue ruler for being more concerned with following man-made Sabbath-keeping than the well-being of a woman He healed (Luke 13:15).
But His disciples didn't understand His role either. He was no less harsh in rebuking them.
  • When Jesus prophesied His torture and death and Peter took Him aside, rebuking Jesus for saying those things, Jesus rebuked him right back, identifying the spirit behind Satan's words as satanic (Matthew 16:23, also Mark 8:33).
  • Jesus rebuked His followers for not getting the connection between His life and fulfilled prophecy in Luke 24:25.
  • Later when Peter tried to defend Him with a sword, Jesus rebuked Peter and healed the damaged ear (John 18:11).
  • Our focus verse today (Mark 16:14) would be another rebuke in this category. His eleven disciples, who had been with Him for almost three years, and who had heard what He taught and been eye-witnesses to all that He did, still remained cynical of the reports of those who had seen Him after His resurrection.

In Revelation when the resurrected Jesus gives John messages for the early churches, He gives a reason for His rebukes. It's because of His love: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Revelation 3:19).

I ask myself, am I in any of the above categories? Haven't I been guilty of criticizing the extravagant worship of some?  Haven't I been weak-faithed and powerless to do the things Jesus said His disciples would do? Haven't I sometimes been a cynic when it comes to believing eye-witness miracle testimonies?

What about you?

Let's welcome Jesus' love shown through constructive rebuke, and ask Him for faith and courage to change our ways.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus I know that I am as vulnerable to rebuke as were the people in Bible days. Please forgive me and show me my real self so I can grow as Your disciple. Amen.


MORE: Easter Monday

Today the church celebrates "The Monday In Easter Week,"  or Easter Monday.

The collect for the day that begins the liturgy:

"Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."


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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Secret disciples

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 27:57-66

TO CHEW ON: "Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus." Matthew 27:57

Here Joseph of Arimathea (a rich man, Matthew points out) asked Pilate for Jesus' body. John's account of the same event includes Nicodemus as Joseph's companion in this:

"After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds" - John 19:38-39.

I find it interesting that these two members of the Sanhedrin, so intimidated by their fellow Jewish leaders during Jesus' life that they didn't follow Him openly, finally showed their colours at His death. Perhaps they felt ashamed that they hadn't declared themselves sooner. Maybe they wished they had tried harder to bring about a different ending, and this was the least they could do. From their point of view it had ended badly and now showing their allegiance to Jesus was more important than staying tight with the Sanhedrin crowd. Maybe folks like they were the reason Jesus had warned so often about the danger of riches.

On the other hand, their riches and position now gave them the leverage they needed to get Jesus' body from Pilate. Joseph had the tomb, Nicodemus the expensive spices. With their resources they showed Jesus care and respect, albeit too late.

I come from this story with two thoughts.
  • Riches and influence can be a trap. Fear of losing them has the power to shut mouths and change behaviour. I am reminded of Jesus' words: "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" - Mark 8:48.
  • But riches and influence are also needed in the Kingdom of God. God gives the power to make money ("...for it is He who gives you the power to get wealth..." - Deuteronomy 8:18). He places people into positions of influence ("But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another" - Psalm 75:7). If we're rich and influential, let's not get caught up in materialism and power, nor be made to feel guilty by those who have given up everything. Rather, let's put our resources at the disposal of the Kingdom of God.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Joseph and Nicodemus who honoured Jesus so beautifully in His death. Help me to use my influence and resources for Your kingdom. Amen.

MORE: Michael Card - Things We Leave Behind

"'Cause when we say 'no'
to the things of the world
we open our hearts
to the love of the Lord and
its hard to imagine
the freedom we find
from the things we leave behind"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Envy

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 27:3-31


TO CHEW ON: "For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy." Matthew 27:18

Envy - what a seemingly small and innocuous motivation was behind the death of Jesus. Who of us hasn't, at one time or another, referred to ourselves as being envious of someone for their possessions, talents, or lot in life?

The Greek word used in the original Matthew 27:18, "because of envy"--  phthonos --  means simply "envy, prompted by envy".

When we speak of envy we refer to "a feeling of resentment or discontent over another's superior attainments, endowments or possessions. It is often accompanied by dislike, ill-will, even hatred" - Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary.

(Note that the Scriptures below are not linked to Bible Gateway. If you view this post online, hovering your mouse over the reference will bring up a little text box with the verse inside.)

Envy is an emotion that threads through the Bible. A quick look at examples show its destructiveness:
  • Cain killed Abel because he was envious of the fact that God had accepted Abel's animal sacrifice (in compliance to God's directions) over Cain's sacrifice of produce (Genesis 4:5,8; 1 John 3:12).
  • Envy caused the Philistines to sabotage Isaac's wells (Genesis 26:14).
  • Envy was rife in Jacob's family:
- his wife Rachel was envious of Leah (Genesis 30:1).
- His uncle Laban's sons were envious of him (Genesis 31:1).
- He favoured Joseph, which caused envy and hatred to grow among his sons (Genesis 37:3-5, 11).
I could go on and on with examples but I'm sure you get the picture.

The scary thing about envy is how common it is, and how readily it springs up in anyone — in us.
  • Asaph the psalmist warns against the righteous envying the wicked (Psalm 73:3).
  • Solomon warns of envying our successful neighbour because of his hard work and skill (Ecclesiastes 4:4).
  • Proverbs characterizes envy as "rottenness to the bones" (Proverbs 14:30).
  • Paul calls it carnal behaviour (Corinthians 3:3), anti-love (1 Corinthians 13:4), the opposite of walking in the day (Romans 13:13).
  • James refers to envy as sensual, demonic wisdom whose symptoms are confusion and every evil thing (James 3:14-16).

The wake-up call is that whether or not we are envious is entirely within our control:

"Do not let your heart envy sinners..." says Proverbs 23:17.


"Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another" says Paul in Galatians 5:26.

A  bit of envy is not merely a natural and harmless reaction to life's perceived unfairnesses. Envy is not okay. It's a dangerous little murder seed that was powerful enough to initiate the death of Jesus.

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me the envy that is hiding inside me. Help me to see it as the poison it is and to destroy every trace of it. Amen.


MORE: Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday:

"Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great & Holy Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries, is the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the Canonical gospels. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, and is preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday" definition from Wikipedia.

And here is the liturgy for Maundy Thursday. 


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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Watchful praying

"The sleep of the disciples"
by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 26:31-56


TO CHEW ON: "'Stay here and watch with Me....What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation...'" Matthew 26:38, 40-41

In our readings from the last several days we see, Jesus had given the disciples lots of warning that something big was up. He had interpreted the fragrance Mary of Bethany poured on His head as "for My burial" (Matthew 26:12). He had said plainly that one of them would betray Him (Matthew 26:21). He had charged them to eat and drink parts of the Passover meal as if they were His body and blood (Matthew 26:26-29).

Surely they sensed it wasn't business as usual. They didn't know what was about to happen (even though Jesus tried to tell them), but they could have brought their puzzlement to God. Especially when Jesus alerted them specifically to "watch," they could have been on the lookout for what all these things meant − to Jesus and to them.

The word watch has within it the meaning of close observation with a view to warning if trouble is coming, as a guard or sentinel. In the Old Testament watchmen guarded walled cities. It was their responsibility to warn the inhabitants of approaching enemies.

Jack Taylor says of this kind of praying: "Watching in prayer and supplication bespeaks having spiritual insight to discern the wiles of Satan and to discover the latter's ends and means" - Jack Taylor, quoted by Dick Eastman in The Hour that Changes the World, p. 64.

But instead of watching, the disciples slept.

I ask myself, am I much different? In the last little while the earth has been plagued with disruptions all over —  political uprisings throughout Africa and the Arab world, floods in Australia, an earthquake in New Zealand, another in Japan, followed by a devastating tsunami.  I do pray for peace generally and for the inhabitants of these natural-disaster-ravished places along with the people trying to help them. But am I also watchful for what these things might mean in the realm of the spirit? Am I alert and praying into that? What about events in my own community and family?

Jesus' words: "Watch and pray" echo down to us across the centuries. Are we engaged in watching prayer, or are we, as the disciples were, thick, drowsy, and becoming riper every day for temptation's picking?

PRAYER: Dear God, I confess my frequent preoccupation with "other things" and my short-sightedness when it comes to prayer. Help me to be more spiritually alert and watchful especially over Satan's designs towards me, my family, and the world. Amen

MORE: Watchful Praying

Dick Eastman concludes his chapter on watching prayer, in the book The Hour that Changes the World, with four practical things we can do to become watchful prayers:

1. Take a few moments during prayer to become spiritually alert. Watch for the methods Satan may try to use to hinder your Christian walk that day. Prayerfully claim power to defeat Satan in each of these areas.


2. Read denominational or missionary-evangelism magazines to help become alert to specific needs in God's work around the world.*


3. Prayerfully recall various international news developments that deserve special prayer.


4. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal further spiritual facts about these needs. This will aid you in praying more intelligently for these needs."

- Dick Eastman in The Hour that Changes the World, p. 73.


*These days one could add to magazines, websites of mission organizations and individual missionaries.


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Sunday, April 17, 2011

When God takes over at your church

 "The Multitude in the Temple" by James Tissot


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 21:12-22

TO CHEW ON: "Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' they were indignant." Matthew 21:14-15

For one glorious afternoon in the first century God took back the Jerusalem temple. Can you see the scene in its chaotic wonderfulness?

The wreckage of the temple market is strewn all around — tables tipped over, chairs with their legs in the air, freed doves underfoot pecking away at spilled grain.

Meanwhile a stream of unfortunates begins trickling in. There's a blind man stick-jabbing, hand-feeling his way. And here comes another hop-hobbling on crutches and another stoop-shouldered, shuffling between his helpful sons. "We've heard Jesus is here. Can you take us to Jesus?"

The children that ran with the palm-branch-waving crowd have followed Him into the temple too. With the energy and exuberance of kids everywhere they cut through they line that is forming to dance circles around Jesus as they resume the chant: "Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!"

People get fixed, healed, straightened, loosed, and the excitement grows. This is not a King who only rides through the streets fulfilling a parable-prophecy, but Someone who has power to actually change things — heal sicknesses, correct conditions where they matter, where people live!

The scribes and pharisees miss it completely. Matthew underlines the irony of the scene: He was doing "wonderful things" but they were "indignant."

Jesus was so comfortable with the less-than-perfect, the poor, the desperate, the accused, the lame, the blind, the ones with issues. Almost all His miracles are performed on such. When He went to parties it was with the outcasts. When He told stories about banquets, it was this class of people that got the invite that took, because they came.

Far be it from you and me, perhaps somewhat set in our faith ways, to be the chief priests and scribes kind of cold-water-throwers when these types begin coming to our meeting places. When the addicts get freed and happy, when the tattooed former motorcycle gang member leads his leather-clad buddies right into "our" pew, when God, using His unconventional-to-us ways takes over at our church — will we respond with indignation or become part of God's palm-waving, Hosanna-singing program?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to recognize Your working, welcome and join it, it rather than feeling threatened because it doesn't fit with old custom and tradition. Amen.

MORE: "Ride On King Jesus" - Steve Bell




Today the church celebrates "Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday." Enjoy the rich liturgy of the day here.



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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do WHAT?

"The donkey and her colt"
by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 21:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 'Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me.'" Matthew 21:1b-2.

At a luncheon I attended recently I heard a talk by a young woman who heads the Athletes In Action ministry at a local university. As she described her typical day — going on campus early to meet with a sports club and talk about how faith in God can enhance athletic performance, then camping out in the coffee shop or other place athletes gather to meet with them one-on-one, build relationships, and so walk with them through things like performance anxiety, sexual pressure, sexual identity confusion etc.— I thought: I could never do that!

It's the same reaction I feel welling up when I read Jesus' command to the two disciples in today's reading. What do you mean, "Go...find a donkey and a colt....loose them ... bring them to Me"? You mean just go and take someone's donkey? You've got to be kidding!

Of course Jesus' disciples were well broken in by now. His out-of-the-box directives had seen them through scarcities of fish, food needed to feed a large crowd, a supply of tax money , a poorly supplied missions trip, and many other incidents. We don't read that they demurred for a second. Instead, they did exactly what Jesus said, and became part of the fulfillment of prophecy.

Two thoughts:
1. We don't all have the same job in God's kingdom. I love Paul's comparison of the church with the human body. We're not all the same organ or part and so we will have different functions. The Athletes in Action staffer was herself once a part of a varsity soccer team and has credibility in the world of university athletes. I know God isn't expecting me to do what she's doing.

2. Even so, sometimes what God tells me to do may not make sense. Obeying what He says may stretch my faith.

May my history of doing whatever God has asked me to do in the past prepare me for whatever kingdom errand he has for me today. And may my obedience today prepare me to do whatever He asks tomorrow.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to do whatever assignment You give me today. Amen.

MORE: Why did Jesus need that donkey?

"Jesus sends two of his disciples to get a donkey... Why? What is he doing? Why does he want a ride into Jerusalem on a donkey? Never before has he done such a thing. 

Matthew tells us why in verses 4-5, 'This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "Say to the daughter of Zion [that is, to Israel], 'Behold your king is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden,''"


This is a quote from the prophet Zechariah (9:9). Jesus has chosen to act out the fulfillment of this prophecy and to declare his kingship in the action of riding on a donkey. This means, yes, I am king, for that's what the prophet says it means: 'Behold your king.' 

'But,' he is saying, 'I am gentle and lowly. I am not, in my first coming, on a white war-horse with a sword and a rod of iron. I am not coming to slay you. I am coming to save you. This time. Today is the day of salvation.'"

- "Jesus Declares His Kingship" - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org.





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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Powerful name

"Triumphal entry into Jerusalem" 
- Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 118:1-29

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Psalm 118:26

Parts of Psalm 118 were what the "very great multitude" shouted as Jesus approached the city riding on a donkey - the event we now celebrate as Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-10). Those crowds recognized the prophetic scene painted in Psalm 118 as Jesus entered Jerusalem's gates:
"Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them....
This is the gate of the Lord
Through which the righteous shall enter" - Psalm 118:19,20.

Their shout "Hosanna" is the Hebrew rendering of "Save now" (Psalm 118:25). Their chant, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" is a direct quote from Psalm 118:26.

Their declaration that Jesus came "in the name of the Lord" is weighty with meaning. Daniel Henderson in his book Transforming Prayer devotes a whole chapter to exploring "the name of the Lord." Here are some bits that help us understand what the crowds were shouting that day and what we do when we invoke that powerful name:

"The 'name of the Lord' represents more than a title for God. It is the essence of His identity and character revealed to the hearts of men....


Throughout His ministry Jesus brought great clarity to us about His character and identity by declaring His unique names....He excited worship, for example, with the 'I am' statements made in the gospel of John:
  • 'I am the resurrection had they life' (John 11:25).
  • 'I am the way, the truth, and the life' (John 14:6).


Later the New Testament books will explode additional truths about our Christ, telling us that He is the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8), the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the chief cornerstone of the household of God (Ephesians 2:20), the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), the very Word of the God (Revelation 19:13), and the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16)" - Daniel Henderson, Transforming Prayer, p. 127-129.


Obviously the Jerusalem crowd didn't recognize Jesus in all His fullness. For only days later another crowd shouted "Crucify Him!" But we, with all of the Bible at our disposal, can now see the depth of meaning and power in "the name of the Lord." And it is on the strength of that name (which we often invoke so casually) that Jesus promises God the Father will answer our prayers:
"23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name.24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy" - John 16:23-24 NLT.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming to earth to be the incarnation of all that God is. Help me to begin to comprehend the massiveness of this, and understand the privilege it is to be able to pray in Your name. Amen.

MORE: Praying in the name of Christ

"To pray in the Name of Christ is to pray as one who is at one with Christ, whose mind is the mind of Christ, whose desires are the desires of Christ, and whose purpose is one with that of Christ. Prayers offered in the Name of Christ are scrutinized and sanctified by His nature, His purpose, and His will. Prayer is endorsed by the Name when it is in harmony with the character, mind, desire and purpose of the Name" - Samuel Chadwick (The Path of Prayer, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1936, p. 52) quoted in Transforming Prayer, p.131.




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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hiding Place

Jochebed makes a basket for
Moses - Exodus 2:1-8
(Illustrator of Lillie A. Faris's
'Standard Bible Story Readers,
Book 1-5', 1925-28)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 31:1-24

TO CHEW ON: "You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." Psalm 31:20

When I think about God and hiding, I recall Corrie Ten Boom's book, The Hiding Place. In it, not only did the Ten Boom family hide the Jews, but God was a hiding place for them. (Remember the story of how Corrie and Betsy got a Bible past the guards and into prison with them?)

Whether we're in trouble or just need a refuge from the wear and tear of life, the thought of a hiding place in God is mighty attractive. The definition of the word "hide" expands our view of what this can mean.

[hide: To put or keep oneself out of sight, conceal. To keep secret, withhold from knowledge. To block or obstruct the sight of, keep from view. To keep oneself out of sight, remain concealed. To remain concealed as a fugitive.]

With those definitions in mind, let's look at some of the mentions of hiding and God in the Bible.

  • God conceals us:
David is asking God to conceal him from the "plots of man" and the "strife of tongues" in our focus verse today. He prays similarly in Psalm 27:5 for God to hide him in the time of trouble, and in 64:2 from "secret plots" and "rebellious workers of iniquity."


  • We hide in God:
Sometimes we are the ones who run to God for hiding. "You are my hiding place," says David in Psalm 32:7; "In You I take shelter" - Psalm 143:9.


  • We're close to God:
When we're hiding this way we stay close to God: "under the shadow of your wings" - Psalm 17:8.

  • He hides and protects:
God becomes to us both a hiding place and a protection (shield). How? Through His word - Psalm 119:114.

  • Hidden lifestyle
Hiding in God is where we can actually live: "He who dwells in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" - Psalm 91:1. I think of an iceberg and how it is nine tenths under water. That's how I envision this hidden life with God and ask myself, is the one tenth public part part of my life evidence that the nine tenths part is actually living and hidden in God?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to hide in You in every sense of the word. May Your presence shield me from trials, enemies, tongue strife etc. But mostly, may the part of my life that people see be evidence that I am close to You, hidden in You. Amen.

MORE: "The Hiding Place" - the movie

The story of Corrie's book was made into a movie. If you haven't seen it - it's worth a watch - or two! Here is the movie trailer.






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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Too late

"Jesus Wept" by James Tissot (1836-1902)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 11:17-37

TO CHEW ON: "Now Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.'" John 11:21

What confusion Jesus caused by coming late. Martha didn't understand it. Mary didn't understand it (vs. 32). Even the Jews, who seemed to find a point on which to criticize Jesus every time he did a miracle, faulted Him for not doing one this time (vs. 37).

Jesus himself felt the impact of His delay. The sight of his friends so grief-stricken rocked Him to the core so that He "groaned in spirit," "was troubled," and "wept."

So why didn't He come sooner?

Because He had a bigger purpose in mind than sparing them this tragedy. He alludes to it when talking to His disciples in vs. 14 & 15: "Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe..."

Then, when Martha runs out to meet Him with her "if only..." He says it plainly: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live" - 11:25. He was shortly going to prove that He was bigger than even our biggest and most final enemy — death.

How much like Mary, Martha, and the Jews we are. We pray and wait, holding in our mind an expectation of how God will work. But He doesn't come through for us — until it's too late. But is it?

I believe there is a resurrection and life in every seeming delay. God works in our lives not to bring us through by the easiest, most comfortable way but by the most faith-stretching, God-glorifying, best way.

Where does God seem to be taking too long to answer in your life today? Will you trust Him to be resurrection and life in that situation, though it seems even now that He is too late?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to trust Your timing in every circumstance. Amen.

MORE: When belief becomes a personal possession

"Martha believed in the power at the disposal of Jesus Christ, she believed that if He had been present He could have healed her brother; she also believed that Jesus had a peculiar intimacy with God and that whatever He asked of God, God would do; but she needed a closer personal intimacy with Jesus. Martha's programme of belief had its fulfilment in the future; Jesus led her on until her belief became a personal possession, and then slowly emerged into a particular inheritance - 'Yea, Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ. . ." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest - November 6 reading.



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Friday, April 08, 2011

Bruised

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 52:13-53:12


TO CHEW ON: "He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities.
The chastisement of our peace was upon Him
And by His stripes we are healed." Isaiah 53:5

Today's magnificent reading is Isaiah's final Servant Song. A footnote in my Bible describes it: "...one of the greatest passages in the Bible, the mountain peak of Isaiah's book, the most sublime messianic prophecy in the Old Testament, relating to so many features of Jesus Christ's redemptive work" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 936.

This passage is teeming with prophecies fulfilled through Jesus (listed in a sidebar article in my Bible - p. 937):

  • He will be disfigured by suffering (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2) - Mark 15:17,19.
  • He will make a blood atonement (Isaiah 53:5) - Romans 3:25.
  • He will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment (Isaiah 53:7) - John 10:11.
  • He will be buried in a rich man's tomb (Isaiah 53:9) - John 19:38-42.
  • He will justify many from their sin (Isaiah 53:10,11) - Romans 5:15-19.

What I am most struck by, though, is the tenderness of Isaiah's writing as He depicts this Servant. There is no doubt this is God, the Holy Spirit inspiring Isaiah. It is God the Father seeing Jesus through Isaiah's eyes, describing His one and only Son through Isaiah's pen:

"His visage was marred...He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant.... He is despised and rejected...He was wounded...He was bruised... He was oppressed and He was afflicted...He was taken...He was cut off..."

At the same time, it is Isaiah's regret-filled reaction:

"And we hid as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised and we did not esteem Him... Surely He has borne out griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities..."

It's as if he is saying "What have we done?"

That is the emotional response that wells up in me as I read this. And not only what have "we" done, but what have "I" done? I doubt that I would have been much different from the people in Jesus' time who scorned and accused Him, who refused to realize He was dying not for His own sins but theirs (Isaiah 53:4-5). I too am a sheep who has gone astray in the past and still easily wanders.

I turn my eyes away. I can't look as this "tender plant" is "cut off" for me. Thank You Jesus!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for taking my sin on You. Thank You for enduring all the pain, humiliation and undeserved blame to buy me back. Words feel inadequate to describe what You've done, and how much I am indebted to You. Thank You over and over! Amen

MORE: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross - Kathryn Scott




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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Earth tatters

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 51:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "Lift up your eyes to the heavens
And look on the earth beneath.
For the heavens will vanish away like smoke,
And the earth will grow old like a garment,
And those who dwell in it will die in like manner.
But My salvation will be forever
And My righteousness will not be abolished." Isaiah 51:6

Our society is obsessed with the state of Earth. Hardly a week goes but but we're not warned that if we don't drive less, pollute less, procreate less, use less water, fish less, and on and on, our planet is doomed. Such warnings may be warranted. For the Bible makes no secret of the fact that planet Earth will change and is temporary:

  • "They will perish...yes they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak you will change them.." - Psalm 102:26 
  • "The host of heaven shall be dissolved and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll..." - Isaiah 34:4.
  • "...the heavens will pass away with a great noise and the elements will meet with fervent heat" - 2 Peter 3:10.
  • "The world is passing away, and the lust of it" - 1 John 2:17.

In the light of all that, it is only wise to shift one's focus from the things of this transitory, mutable, doomed Earth to that which doesn't and won't change. We need to expend our energies on the things that last. What are those?

  • "The counsel of the Lord, the plans of His heart" - Psalm 33:11.
  • God's salvation and righteousness - Isaiah 51:6 (our focus verse).
("To build on the foundation a building of durable material [gold, silver, precious stones] is to teach sound doctrine and live a life of fidelity to the truth thus leading converts to spiritual maturity. To build with perishable material [wood, hay, stubble] is to provide inadequate or unsound teaching or to compromise the truth by demonstrating a lifestyle that contradicts or fails to model it" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1583.)

How easy it is to give a mental nod to the fact of Earth's impermanence while we continue to live as if it is a lasting reality.

May God grip my heart (yours too?) with His reality, so that "The things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace."

PRAYER: Dear God, I'm guilty of living as if life on Earth is the real thing. Help me to grasp, at a heart level, how brief and impermanent this life is, and to change my focus and give my energy to what is real and lasting. Amen.

MORE: "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" - Cynthia Clawson








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