Monday, August 29, 2011

Women of influence

"Dance of Salome" by Louis Chalon

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 14:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "...the daughter of Herodias danced ... and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, 'Give me John the Baptist's head on a platter.'" Matthew 14:6-8

Doesn't this grisly scenario give you chills? Here we have a beautiful young girl, dancing for her mother's new husband. When she "pleases" him and he asks her what he can give her as a gift, she requests not royal stuff or pretty things but a head on a platter.

Herodias, the young girl's mother and the woman behind that macabre idea of a reward, is Herod's niece and former wife of his brother Philip. Herod has seduced her, then persuaded her to divorce Philip and marry him instead.

I can just see Herodias rubbing her hands in delight at this turn of events that gives her an opportunity to get back at the man (John the Baptist) who makes her new husband squirm. I hate to think what kind of woman Herodias' daughter grows up to become!

Herodias is just one of many women in the Bible who use their influence for evil:
  • Eve persuades Adam to join her in giving in to temptation - Genesis 3:6.
  • Samson's wife Delilah nags at him till he finally divulges the secret of his strength, which she then tells his enemies and Samson is captured, jailed, and eventually killed - Judges 16:1-20.
  • Jezebel suggests murder to King Ahab so he can have the garden of his desire - 1 Kings 21:7,25.
  • Haman's wife Zeresh has the idea to build a backyard gallows to execute Mordecai - Esther 5:14.
  • Job's wife suggests to him that he curse God after he is pummeled with problems and then gets afflicted with boils - Job 2:9-10.

Contrast these women with the women who use their influence for good:
  • Deborah's strength of character and personality elevate her to become a judge in Israel -- and one of the few women political leaders in the Bible - Judges 4:4.
  • Ruth leaves her native country and gods to stay with her Hebrew mother-in-law - Ruth 1:16. She becomes part of Jesus' lineage.
  • Hannah is a mother who prays for a son, promises him to God, and keeps her promise - 1 Samuel 1:20; 2:18-20.
  • Abigail's quick thinking keeps David from reacting in anger against Abigail's foolish husband - 1 Samuel 25:32-35.
  • Esther is a queen who is willing to risk her own life for her people - Esther 4:16.

As women, and men, let's be careful who influences us, realizing our own potential to influence our families, our churches, our communities, and the wider world for bad or good.


PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be a woman whose influence is good, in my family, my church, my community and wherever my presence is felt. Amen.

MORE: Bad girls have their own books

Liz Curtis Higgs has written several books  (Bad Girls of the Bible and Really Bad Girls of the Bible) that focus on some of the Bible's darker female characters. Her website describes the first book:

In Bad Girls of the Bible, Liz offers a clear-sighted, life-changing approach to understanding those "other women" in Scripture—Delilah,  Jezebel, Rahab, Lot's wife, and six more.  Liz combines a contemporary fictional retelling of their stories with a solid, verse-by-verse study of their lives and the lessons we can learn from them.


I haven't read these books, but they do sound interesting!

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Integrity

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 26:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Vindicate me O Lord,
For I have walked in my integrity ....
But as for me, I will walk in my integrity ...." Psalm 26:1, 11

In this psalm David twice uses the word integrity—a word we don't run across often in the Bible. He uses it to describe his own life and lifetyle.


[Integrity means (according to my Funk and Wagnalls)
1. Uprightness of character, honesty, probity (virtue or integrity tested and confirmed; strict honesty).
2. The condition or quality of being unimpaired or sound.
3. The state of being complete or undivided.]

The first definition (uprightness of character, honesty, probity) is most likely the meaning we would think of when we describe someone's life. However, I would suggest that a life lived that way leads to a life and reputation that would embody the other aspects of integrity as well (i.e. a life unimpaired, sound, complete, and undivided).

David gives us some clues in this psalm about how he conducted his life so it would have integrity. Perhaps we can pick up some pointers from him about how we too can live that way.


1. David lived with the consciousness that God sees everything. 
David, it seems, had dealt with secret and public matters in his life to the extent that he was confident in inviting God's scrutiny (Psalm 26:1-3). This is surely the attitude of someone with no skeletons in his closet.

Have we cultivated such a clear conscience before God and people?

2. David was intentional about the company he kept.
He avoided spending time with hypocrites, evildoers, the wicked, and people who worshiped idols (Psalm 26:4-5). He was not naive about his own susceptibility to corruption and didn't want to end up with the corrupters (Psalm 26:9-10).

Though Jesus' great assignment gives us a reason to spend time with non-believers, and He Himself was a loving example of this, I believe we need to be as intentional about the company we keep as David was. The company we keep also includes the movies and TV we watch, the books, magazines, and online content we read.

3. He voiced his praise and thanksgiving.
David's guilt-free living ("I will wash my hands in innocence"  - Psalm 26:6) expressed itself in praise and thanksgiving to God (Psalm 26:7). 

What we express in words and song, even if at first half-hearted, is bolstered even as we speak and sing the words.


4. David loved to spend time in God's house and with fellow believers.
The fact that David loved God's presence is another witness to his integrity. He would not have been able to bask in God's glory (Psalm 26:8) if his life had been full of known sin. The "congregation" gave him a safe place to identify with like-minded people and encourage them with his presence and the aroma of his relationship with God (Psalm 26:12).

Our desire to attend church (whether that's going to a building or just being with fellow believers wherever) and spend time with other Christians can be both an evidence of our integrity and a way to reinforce it (with mutual encouragement and example).

Can we say with David, "I have walked in integrity .... I will walk in my integrity"? If not, let's make the integrity of our lives a matter of attention today.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for David and his articulate transparency that helps me find ways to examine my own life. I pray with him, "Search me, O God .... Try me .... see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24). Amen.


MORE: More about integrity


"Keeping your word is the essence of integrity," says Michael Hyatt (former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing) in the blog post "Keeping Your Word." He goes on, "As Stephen Covey points out, 'honesty is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.' It is essential to leadership. Without it, you cannot be an effective leader."

Read all of "Keeping Your Word" to discover the organic link between integrity and leadership.



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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Enticers

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 16:21-28

TO CHEW ON: "Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him saying, 'Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!' 

But He turned aside and said to Peter, 'Get behind Me Satan! You are an offense to Me for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.'" Matthew 16:22-23

I feel the vicarious sting on Peter's behalf when Jesus calls him "Satan." Yikes! Jesus also calls him an offense.

[Offense - skandalon: Originally a trapstick, a bent sapling, or a movable stick with bait used to catch animals. The word then came to denote a snare or stumbling block. Metaphorically it signifies that which causes error or sin" - Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1321.]

The source of the temptation or snare Satan laid for Jesus through Peter here is listed in my Thompson Chain Bible under "Enticers." (Other temptation sources are Worldly Snares, Seducers, and Evil Companions.) A quick jog through the Bible looking at some other enticing situations show us how ubiquitous and subtle such temptation is.

  • Deuteronomy 13:6 warns against enticement by someone close (brother, child, spouse, friend) to serve other gods.
  • Proverbs 1:10 names sinners as potential enticers.
  • Proverbs 16:29 warns against being enticed by a neighbour.
  • Proverbs 28:10 is a caution to people who cause the upright to go astray, and predicts that they (the tempters) will fall into their own pit.
  • Amos 2:12 identifies enticing the Nazirite to drink wine and the prophet to stop prophesying as acts that will provoke God's judgment (Amos 2:14-16).
  • Matthew 4:6 is the account of Satan trying to entice Jesus to a rash act of supernatural bravado to prove His deity. Satan even quotes scripture to make his temptation sound legitimate.
  • Matthew 24:26 is Jesus' warning against the enticement of identifying other people as Christ on earth after He ascended into heaven.
  • Acts 13:8 - identifies Elymas the sorcerer as someone who tried to entice pro-consul Sergius Paulus from believing the truth of Paul and Barnabas's testimony.
  • Our example of Peter's words to Jesus show how subtle this temptation is—the words of a friend insisting: Surely it's not going to be as bad as you say. God wouldn't have that in His plan for you.

I ask myself, am I ever an enticer? Do I try to downplay the costs of discipleship in others' lives, encouraging them to magnify self-interest, ease, or common sense above God's claims on them?

Are there enticers in my life? People who would try to make me dilute my loyalty to Jesus?

Jesus' reaction to Peter's enticement to avoid the cross show that this is no insignificant or frivolous temptation

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize the sly voice of enticement to avoid the cross-life. Help me to avoid enticing others. Amen

MORE: Enticement: a shortcut and a shifted point of view

"... Temptation is a suggested short-cut to the realization of the highest at which I aim—not towards what I understand as evil, but towards what I understand as good ..."


"... Satan does not tempt us to do wrong things; he tempts us in order to make us lose what God has put into us by regeneration, viz., the possibility of being of value to God. He does not come on the line of tempting us to sin, but on the line of shifting the point of view, and only the Spirit of God can detect this as a temptation of the devil" - Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest, September 17 &18 readings.


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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Discipleship challenge

Jesus appointing His disciples
- by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 10:1-25

TO CHEW ON: "'And you will be hated by all for My sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.'" Matthew 10:22


Imagine you are one of the disciples getting these instructions and warnings from Jesus. You are to go on a mission trip but take no money and no extra clothes. Whether or not you have a roof over your head will depend on the hospitality of someone you pick as a "worthy" person (i.e. your ability to judge human nature?).

The ultimate outcome of this foray into the world will be arrest and public scourging by religious leaders. There will be trials for which you are to prepare no defence but depend instead on the moment-by-moment inspiration of the Holy Spirit for what to say. Further, you are to expect betrayal from your own family and hatred from all, simply because of your association with Jesus and all He stands for.

If you had been one of the twelve hearing these things, would you have stuck with Jesus, let alone gone on that mission?

Though the Bible details the death of only two these disciples (Judas by suicide, James put to death by Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD), tradition substantiates the fulfillment of Jesus grim prediction for most of them.

Persecution of Jesus' followers has continued over the centuries. The relative lack of persecution in North America in our generation may well be a blip in history. Even here, ambivalence, tending toward hatred of Christians simmers just below the surface in many places. We should not be surprised or taken off-guard when it erupts. Jesus has warned us. Will we stick with Him like these twelve (later minus one) did?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I confess I am soft. Your list of things that disciples should expect chills me. Help me to stay loyal to You one day at a time, as unencumbered by this world's stuff and loyalties as the disciples were to be. Amen.


MORE: Feast of St. Bartholomew

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Bartholomew. He is mentioned in the Bible only in lists of the disciples' names. (Bartholomew also goes by the name Nathaniel, according to some Bible scholars)

Tradition tells of him taking the gospel to Armenia and India. Some say that he came to a painful end. The artist Michelangelo's depiction of him on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel shows him holding his own flayed skin; the face is Michelangelo's self-portrait.

Here is the collect that begins the liturgy for the Feast of Saint Bartholomew:

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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Sunday, August 21, 2011

It costs to fight for life

Shiphrah and Puah allow male
children to live

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 1:1-22


TO CHEW ON: "But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive." - Exodus 1:17

Imagine the anguish and soul-searching these women must have wrestled with when they heard Pharaoh's command to kill each male Israelite baby on delivery. With all their instincts and training shouting "Live!" I wonder if they, for even a moment, considered obeying Pharaoh's demonic order?

There's no doubt Pharaoh and his law sparked a smoulder of fear within them. But there was One they feared more: "... the midwives feared God..."

["Feared - yare'means to fear, be afraid of someone or something, to stand in awe of something or someone possessing great power; to revere someone. ... The fear of God is not a terror that He is against us or will strike without cause or warning. Rather, the fear of the Lord produces wise, healthy actions, as in the present reference; the midwives were more afraid of angering God by destroying innocent babies than they were of disobeying Pharaoh" - Dick Mills & David Michaels, "Word Wealth - Feared," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 78.]

I can't help but see the similarities between the situations of these midwives and people who work in the medical profession in Canada. Here the practice of abortion is widespread with no law against it regardless of how far along the mother is. In many hospitals nurses and doctors have the option of refusing to perform abortions, but not in all. Additionally, with state-paid-for medical costs rising, it's easy to foresee the day when it will be the law to abort any child that could be a potential drain on the medical system.

And so the question comes to us who are in these situations, indeed, to people in any place where convictions clash with the state's rules: Who do we fear more, Pharaoh or God?


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of these Hebrew women who feared You to the extent of putting their careers and lives in jeopardy. Help me to fear You above any human custom or law. Amen.

MORE: Civil disobedience

The fallout for civil disobedience for these Hebrew midwives was good: Exodus 1:21. But that is not the fate of all such actions. Whenever we disobey the law of the land in adherence to a higher law we risk consequences. Mary-Lynn McPherson describes the situation for pro-life nurses in Canada:

"Some hospitals require nurses to agree to 'perform any health service' as a requirement of hiring. Across Canada, nurses do not have the legal right to refuse to participate in procedures to which they are morally or religiously opposed. Some have been disciplined, and even fired, for discussing options to abortion with patients." (Read all of "Freedom of Conscience.")

Our willingness to suffer these consequences in the here and now tests our faith in many areas including our faith in God, the rightness of His standards, and His ability to bring about ultimate justice.

For those of us not on the front lines in these battles, let's pray for the people who are. In this particular battle in Canada they include physicians and pharmacists as well as nurses.


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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Finishing well

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 49:29-50:26

TO CHEW ON: "'But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.'" Genesis 50:20

Joseph's brothers' reaction to him after their father's death reminds me of Jesus' wisdom when He said, "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" - Matthew 7:2 (NIV). The fact that these brothers feared Joseph would look for retribution after their father died speaks more about the condition of their own hearts and minds than Joseph's. They were obviously not accustomed to dealing with someone as guileless as he was.

Joseph for his part, though grieved, stuck with the conviction that he had expressed when he first revealed his identity to them (compare Genesis 45:7-8 and Genesis 50:20). He never did take revenge on those brothers. Unlike so many Bible characters, Joseph not only started and middled well, but he also ended well.

A sidebar article in my Bible sums up Joseph's life and suggests applications we can make for ours:

"The life of Joseph powerfully displays God's sovereign ability to bring to pass His destiny for an obedient individual. In his youth, Joseph received a vision of God's plan for his life. Shortly thereafter, it appeared that not only had the vision died, but that his life would be wasted away in slavery and prison. Nevertheless, Joseph remained faithful to God. That which had been meant for evil, God used to prepare and position His servant to realize the fulfillment of His vision for Joseph's life.


  • Ponder God's vision (Genesis 37:5-11). Do not share it prematurely but ask for His timing.
  • Expect God's favour in the sight of others (Genesis 39:4,21). God is able to make a way even when it seems impossible.
  • Remain faithful to God in all you do (Genesis 39:9). Do not compromise, especially when the vision is slow in coming.
  • Believe that God is sufficient (Genesis 41:14-57). He has given you the gifts you need to realize His purpose through you.
  • Trust in God's sovereign providence (Genesis 45:7; 50:20). He causes all thing to work for your good as you remain faithful to His calling and purpose for you."
by  Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action through Genesis," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 74.



PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the story of Joseph. Help me to trust Your sovereignty in my life in a similar way. Amen.

MORE: "Through It All" by Andrae Crouch (Sung by CeCe Winans, Andrae Crouch and the Gaither gang




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Friday, August 19, 2011

Sometimes the way leads down

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 46:1-34


TO CHEW ON: "'I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again....'" - Genesis 46:4

It's moving time for Jacob. At last he has received the word that Joseph is alive and has in fact invited him and the clan to move to Egypt where food is plentiful. This is a momentous occasion. It means uprooting many families. It means arduous travel, and Jacob is old. It means exposing his family to the idolatrous culture of Egypt.

His first impulse is to take the matter to God. At Beersheba, where Abraham had called on God (Genesis 21:33) as had Isaac (Genesis 26:25), Jacob "offered sacrifices to God" - Genesis 46:1. Matthew Henry comments:

"He had an eye to God as the God of his father Isaac, that is, a God in covenant with him. He offered sacrifices:
1] By way of thanksgiving for the late blessed change of the face of his family, for the good news he had received concurring Joseph and for the hopes of seeing him.
2] By way of petition for the presence of God with him in his intended journey.
3] By way of consultation. The heathen consulted their oracles by sacrifice. Jacob would not go till he had asked God's leave" - Matthew Henry - Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 65.

God replies in a vision giving Jacob all the assurance he needs: "Fear not. I will make of you a great nation."

Note the directional words in what God says next: "I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again." As well as Egypt seeming geographically down from Canaan, might their use signal to us God's awareness of one of Jacob's niggling concerns?

For by leaving Canaan for Egypt, Jacob was forsaking the land God had promised his family. He had, after all, made the trip back home from his father-in-law Laban's to inhabit it. Perhaps he was questioning, Will I slip out from under the shadow of God's protection by again leaving the land of promise? And would he ever get it back? In that nomadic culture, it wouldn't take long for the land to be inhabited by someone else. Leaving Canaan probably felt to Jacob like he was taking a step down, not up.

But down is sometimes how God directs. Matthew Henry again:

"Whatever low or darksome valley we are called into at any time, we may be confident, if God go down with us into it, that he will surely bring us up again. If he go with us down to death, he will surely bring us up again to glory" - Matthew Henry, p. 65.

The safest place to be is wherever God directs — even if it feels like down to us.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being with me in the downs as well as the ups. Thank You for Your promise of being with me always (Psalm 139:7,8). Amen.

MORE: Valley of Humiliation

"Then he began to go forward; but Discretion, Piety, Charity, and Prudence would accompany him down to the foot of the hill. So they went on together, reiterating their former discourses, till they came to go down the hill.

Then said Christian, 'As it was difficult coming up, so, so far as I can see, it is dangerous going down.'

'Yes,' said Prudence, 'so it is; for it is a hard matter for a man to go down into the valley of Humiliation, as thou art now, and to catch no slip by the way.'

'Therefore,' said they, 'we are come out to accompany thee down the hill.'

So he began to go down, but very warily; yet he caught a slip or two.'

- John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress, "The Fourth Stage — the Valley of Humiliation" - Kindle Location 1091.




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Monday, August 15, 2011

Christ formed in us

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 4:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you." Galatians 4:19

We can learn a lot about intimacy with Jesus from today's reading. Early in the chapter Paul talks about how God redeemed the Galatians (and all of us who trust Jesus) from slavery (to sin) and adopted us. As His sons and daughters we can call Him "Abba Father" or Daddy.

In our focus verse Paul expresses his desire for them to achieve even greater intimacy as Christ is "formed" in them. An article in my Bible explains "formed":

["Formed, morphoo: To form. Schema and morphoo are in bold contradistinction. Schema (English "scheme") signifies external form or outer appearance. Morphoo and morphe, its related noun, refer to internal reality. Galatians 4:19 speaks of a change in character, becoming conformed to the character of Christ in actuality, not merely in semblance" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1636.]

A brief meander through the New Testament sheds light on how Christ is formed in us:
  • This formation is connected to the Holy Spirit coming into our lives - John 14:16-20.
  • It demonstrates to the world that Christ's coming to earth was real and effective - John 17:23.
  • It is worked out in real time as we crucify (kill, ignore) the desires of our fleshly selves and use our bodies to further God's purposes - Galatians 2:20.
  • It is achieved by faith - Ephesians 3:17-19.
  • It is a mystery - Colossians 1:27.
  • It is tied to obedience - 1 John 3:24.
  • It is available to everyone - Revelation 3:20.

I ask, is Christ being formed in me today? In you?

PRAYER: Dear Daddy God, I welcome the formation of Jesus in me today through the Holy Spirit. Please bring these aspects of formation to mind as I go through my day. Amen.

MORE: Resistance to Christ being formed in us
"I think the basic reason why Christian faith meets with opposition in the world and even finds resistance in our own hearts is that true saving faith always brings with it the reshaping of our heart and mind so that it is no longer we who live but Christ in us.
There is in every human heart an intense and powerful love for the praise of men. Just as naturally as apples fall downward, human beings gravitate toward ideas and actions which make them look great, and resist ideas and actions which make them look small.
Therefore, apart from the powerful grace of God overcoming our natural disposition to pride, we would always resist the coming of faith into our lives, because by faith Christ takes such dominant control of our lives and reshapes us so much into his image that we can no longer boast in anything good that we do. It does not appeal to the natural mind to be so transformed by Christ that we must give him credit for all the good we do."
- By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org, from "O, That Christ Would be Formed In You." (Paragraphing added to make it easier to read online).


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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bulldog faith

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 16:21-39

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus answered and said to her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour." Matthew 15:28

What I find curious about the little story of Jesus healing the Canaanite woman's daughter is that Jesus was in the woman's territory.  Though it seems His intention was to take a break from the crowds (Mark 7:24) it wasn't to be. When this Canaanite woman with a demon-possessed daughter heard about His presence she wouldn't let Him alone. She was loud ("...she cried out to Him..." - Matthew 15:22). She was persistent ("...she kept asking..." Mark 7:26).

Jesus demurred at her "Lord, help me" with "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." Yikes! A footnote in my Bible states:

"The Jews insultingly referred to Gentiles as dogs. Even though Jesus softens the barb by using the word for house pets instead of wild, unclean scavengers, His response to the woman still sounds harsh. Actually in assuming the appearance of traditional Jewish prejudice, Jesus was drawing from her a confession of triumphant faith" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1363.

If she was a dog, she was a bulldog with a faith that wouldn't let go. Her quick-witted response: "Yes Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table," shows she held hope in an iron grip. Even Jesus was impressed, and His answer changed from "No" to "Yes" - Matthew 15:28.

We can learn things from this woman:
1. Her mother-love drove her to extraordinary lengths to see her daughter healed. Who has God put in our care of kids, grand-kids and friends for whom we plead to God? We might be the only prayer warriors in their lives. Let's let our love for them drive us to Jesus.

2. She went out of her way to find Jesus and was even willing to make a fool of herself to get His attention. Are we willing to go out of our way, disrupt our routine, even do something out of character in intercession for others?

3. She refused to take no for an answer. If Jesus' hesitation was a test, she got an A+ when she came up with a reason why He should grant her request instead of acquiescing to why He shouldn't. Do we give in to the reasons (of others or ourselves) as to why our prayers probably won't be, couldn't be, shouldn't be answered? Or do we keep asking?

Let's take this Canaanite woman as our example of persistent intercession for the people and circumstances that burden our hearts!


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this story of tough faith. Help me to emulate this woman's persistence. Amen.

MORE: Persevering prayer
"Whatever it takes for you to own the doctrine of God's omnipotence, do it. Until you own it, you will be a faint-hearted pray-er. You'll make a few wishes on your knees, but you won't be able to persevere in prayer until you know in your heart that God is able." - Bill Hybels


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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Choose your thoughts

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 15:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart and they defile a man." Matthew 15:18

When the scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus' disciples for neglecting the Jewish tradition of ritual washing, they were probably surprised with the swiftness and vigour of Jesus' rebuttal. He went straight for the jugular of their much more serious perversion of the law. For instead of honouring their parents by providing for them (as the law said they should), they were declaring such provision "Corban" - Mark 7:11.

"'Corban' was an offering made to God withdrawn from its originally intended use and no longer available for persons, not even those in need" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1318.

In other words, they broke the law by adhering to another law they had made up (with the seeming intention to impress others with their generosity toward God?).

Jesus didn't let the situation rest there but brought it up in front of the crowds. Then, when the disciples reported back to Him how He had upset these rulers, He went even further, declaring that their man-made traditions missed the point entirely. They were focusing on outer things, while the real problem was with what was inside them. It wasn't the wrong foods they were putting in their mouths that were making them impure, but the things that came out of their mouths and played out in their lives.

All the observable sins He speaks of in verse 19: "...murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" begin with the first evil He names: "evil thoughts."

Jesus addresses this principle of our thoughts being precursors of action in other places - for example Matthew 12:33-35:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.

Joyce Meyer elaborates:
"...thoughts bear fruit. Think good thoughts and the fruit in your life will be good. Think bad thoughts, and the fruit in your life will be bad.
Actually you can look at a person's attitude and know what kind of thinking is prevalent in his life. A sweet kind person does not have mean vindictive thoughts" - Battlefield of the Mind, p. 21.

Today let's examine our thoughts — those seedlings of action. Then let's weed out rogue, virulent, evil thoughts, replacing them with true, worthy thoughts. Memorizing Bible thoughts is a good transplant technique.

PRAYER: Dear God, I am guilty of having a weedy thought life. Please alert me to evil thoughts, and help me be diligent in replacing them with good thoughts. Amen.

MORE: Choose your thoughts

"A whole new world opens up to us when we learn to choose our own thoughts rather than letting the devil fill our minds full of things that will destroy us. We must learn to be responsible for our thoughts and words because they produce our actions" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. x.

"For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honourable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and loveable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]" - Philippians 4:8 (Amplified).



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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Scars

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 41:37-57


TO CHEW ON: "Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: 'For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house.'" Genesis 41:51.

Overnight Joseph's fortunes turned around completely. He went from wearing prison rags to fine linen and pure gold. He went from being a prisoner to a powerful vizier, and from responsibility for a few in prison to administering the entire land. He went from having the reputation of a would-be rapist and liar to someone who was wise and trustworthy. In the days, weeks, and years that followed, He went from being alone to having a family.

But the thirteen or so unpleasant years in Egypt left their scars. They are seen in the names he gives his sons. He calls the first Manasseh which literally means "Making Forgetful." It signifies how he can now put behind him not only his time in Pharaoh's prison but his painful family memories: "For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house" - Genesis 41:51.

He names his second son Ephraim which means "Fruitfulness": "For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction" - Genesis 41:52.

It all looks so good for you, Joseph. But beware. For inevitably God will cycle around what you haven't yet dealt with. Is there still infection festering under those scars? How will you react when God ushers those brothers back into your life? Will you be bitter and vengeful, or forgiving?

For this is what God often does — re-introduces the old unfinished business to test our growth, show us our own real selves and where we're spiritually immature, and point out to us where we still have some growing to do.


PRAYER: Dear God, I too have scars left from experiences in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Help me to deal with old issues so there is no residue of bitterness or unforgiveness in my life. Amen.

MORE: Dark Night of the Soul by Steve Bell

This song speaks to me of one way we can come to a place where we can forgive people for the way they have handled us in the past. It is by abandoning ourselves to God — the One who has loved us enough to wound us into growth.

Lyrics are here if you want to follow along.







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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Perfect timing

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 40:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "'But remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house' .... Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph but forgot him." Genesis 40:14-23

I can just imagine how overjoyed Joseph must have been at this opportunity to interpret the dream of Pharaoh's butler who would soon return to the king's service. Can't you see him in the days after the butler has been reinstated, watching the comings to the prison and thinking — One of these people will be for me. Any hour now a messenger will come from Pharaoh to give me a chance to prove my innocence.

But day after day no one came. It was soon clear that the butler had forgotten all about Joseph. In fact, he languished in prison for two more years until Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret. Then the butler remembered Joseph (Genesis 41:1,9-13).

However, as we read the remainder of the story, it's easy to see how perfect God's timing was.

Trusting God's timing is still a challenge for us today. When answers to prayer are long delayed, when nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens, even when we unaccountably forget things we have no business forgetting (as the butler did), we can remind ourselves of the story of Joseph. We can trust God's ability to orchestrate the circumstances of our lives, as He did Joseph's, with precise and perfect timing.


PRAYER: Dear God, You know the things I am eager to see change. Please help me to wait patiently for You to work in Your way and at just the right time. Amen.

MORE: In His Time
- Words and music by Diane Ball, sung by the Maranatha Singers.






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Saturday, August 06, 2011

Jesus - King of history

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 7:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "I saw in the night visions and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented to him." Daniel 7:13

"One like a son of man'..." That sounds like Jesus, doesn't it?

This is just one of a myriad of places where the Bible echoes the familiar Jesus-strain. For Jesus-talk repeats throughout the Bible like the recurring theme of a symphony. Someone has put together a list of Jesus sightings as He appears in each Bible book:

In Genesis, He is the seed of the woman. 

In Exodus, He is the passover lamb.
In Leviticus, He is our high priest. 

In Numbers, He is the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. 

In Deuteronomy, He is the prophet like unto Moses.
In Joshua, He is the captain of our salvation. 

In Judges, He is our judge and lawgiver.
In Ruth, He is our kinsman redeemer. 

In 1 and 2 Samuel, He is our trusted prophet. 

In Kings and Chronicles, He is our reigning king.
In Ezra and Nehemiah, He is the rebuilder of the broken down walls of human life.
In Esther  and Job, He is our ever-living redeemer.
In Psalms, He is our shepherd. 

In Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, He is our wisdom. 

In Song of Solomon, He is our lover and bridegroom.
In Isaiah, He is the prince of peace.
In Jeremiah, He is the righteous branch. 

In Lamentations, He is our weeping prophet. 

In Ezekiel, He is our wonderful four faced man. 

In Daniel, He is the fourth man in life's fiery furnace.
In Hosea, He is the faithful husband.
In Joel, He is the baptizer with the Holy Ghost and fire.
In Amos, He is our burden-bearer.
In Obadiah, He is the mighty to save.
In Jonah, He is our great missionary. 

In Micah, He is the messenger of beautiful feet.
In Nahum, He is the avenger of God's elect. 

In Habakkuk, He is God's evangelist. 

In Zephaniah, He is our Saviour.
In Haggai, He is the restorer of God's lost heritage.
In Zechariah, He is the fountain opened in the house of David. 

In Malachi, He is the sun of righteousness, rising with healing in His wings.

In Matthew, He is the Messiah.
In Mark, He is the wonder worker. 

In Luke, He is the son of man.
In John, He is the Son of God. 

In Acts, He is the Holy Ghost. 

In Romans, He is our justifier. 

In 1 and 2 Corinthians, He is our sanctifier.
In Galatians, He is our redeemer.
In Ephesians, He is the Christ of unsearchable riches.
In Philippians, He is the God who supplies all our needs.
In Colossians, He is the fullness of God, bodily.
In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, He is our coming king.
In 1 and 2 Timothy, He is our mediator between God and man. 

In Titus, He is our faithful pastor.
In Philemon, He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. 

In Hebrews, He is the blood of the everlasting covenant.
In James, He is our great physician. 

In 1 and 2 Peter, He is our chief shepherd. 

In 1, 2 and 3 John, He is love.
In Jude, He is the Lord coming with ten thousands of His saints. 

In Revelation, He is the KING OF KINGS AND THE LORD OF LORDS!

- Author unknown - as found on the site Tentmaker org.

Jesus is also depicted as a king in our reading in Daniel: "...there came one like a son of man....and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion,which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed" - Daniel 7:13-14.
He is my king. Is He yours?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming as a man to make a way for me to be reconciled with God. Be enthroned as King in my life today.

MORE: "That's My King" by S. M. Lockridge





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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

When giving is receiving

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 33:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "'Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.' Then he urged him, and he took it." Genesis 33:11

Esau's first refusal of Jacob's gift may have been inspired by Middle East etiquette. But I believe Jacob was genuinely relieved when his brother finally accepted his present of goats, sheep, camels, cattle and donkeys (Genesis 32:13-15).

The impulse to give springs from a variety of motivations:

Sometimes we give because it is just the thing we do in our culture, as in leaving a small gift for someone after staying in their home or when celebrating someone's birthday or wedding anniversary.

At other times we give because we don't want to feel beholden or in the debt of someone.

And sometimes we give because we are so full of the generosity poured out on us, we can't help but spill it over onto others.

Esau didn't have a gift for Jacob, so perhaps one can assume this gift of Jacob's was not given to conform to custom. I'm sure there was some assuaging of guilt on Jacob's part. Maybe he saw his material gift as a sort of payback for absconding with the birthright and blessing, which were rightfully Esau's as firstborn son. However, Jacob also cites God's gracious dealings with him as a reason for his generosity.

In the end Esau's acceptance of Jacob's gift (signifying, perhaps, that he forgave Jacob?) was itself the greatest gift Jacob could have wished for.

Let's be aware of the dynamics of gift-giving, and be motivated above all by God's generosity to us. And let's also be alert to the fact that sometimes our gracious receiving a gift from someone is in itself a gift to them.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your generous gift of Jesus. Help me to give out of a heart that is full of gratefulness to You, and to be sensitive to times when giving means receiving. Amen.

MORE: Gift-giving customs

Giving gifts, especially in business, carries a different significance in the various regions of the world. The article "International Gift-giving Protocol" explains appropriate gift-giving customs in various countries and cultures in the world.




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