Tuesday, November 29, 2011

God: Ruler of rulers

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 40:18-31

TO CHEW ON: "He brings the princes to nothing;
He makes the judges of the earth useless." Isaiah 40:23

A few weeks ago Vancouver was in the throes of an "Occupy" demonstration. Every news report and talk show was buzzing with what to do about the tent city set up on the grass near the public library. These malcontents were determined to change the order of society. One proclaimed, stoutly, "I am not leaving until the rich are poor and the poor are rich."

They will probably not succeed, at least not to that extent. Though such demonstrations may have short-term effects, their long-term impact on history will probably be minimal.

Contrast that with God, pictured here as looking down on our earth globe and seeing its inhabitants as grasshoppers. He has the ultimate say-so over earth's rulers. Like short-lived plants, no sooner are they established than they feel His frosty breath and wither away.

We have the dissection of one such God-intervention in 2 Chronicles 20. There King Jehoshaphat, threatened by the Ammonites and Moabites, took his problem to God: "We have no power against this great multitude...nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You" - 2 Chronicles 20:12.

God's solution came via the words of the prophet Jahaziel, who said, "You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord" - 2 Chronicles 20:17.

The next day the army entered battle in a very unconventional way, behind the singers and worshipers. Even as the praise began "...the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir ... and they were defeated" - 2 Chronicles 20:22.

As people of faith, I think we put too little stock in God's ability to manipulate the course of history. We need to spend less time criticizing and scheming how to make political changes, and more time acknowledging "We have no power, nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You," and then praise Him for the victory He is accomplishing.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your sovereignty over nations and their rulers. Help me not to be dismayed by what I see, but to keep praying for the leaders of my country and the countries of the world. Amen.

MORE: Warfare with singing

One way to wage spiritual battle in whatever sphere, is through singing, as the people did under Jehoshaphat. John Piper, in a sermon called "Ambushing Satan with Song" says:

"Spiritual worship and spiritual warfare should be carried out with singing....the enemies of God are thrown into confusion by the songs of God's people. Or to put it another way, God has appointed the use of spiritual songs as an effective weapon against his archenemy Satan." By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Read all of "Ambushing Satan with Song"


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Sunday, November 27, 2011

An empty space is a place*

"The Pharisees and Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus" by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 12:43-50


TO CHEW ON: "Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it be also with this wicked generation." Matthew 12:45

The man in Jesus' little story to the scribes and Pharisees was set free from an unclean spirit. But he put no one in its place. When the spirit which had been driven out did a drive-by and found no one had moved in, he decided to take possession again along with "seven other spirits more wicked than himself." Seven, the number of completion, tells us this second enslavement was complete.

Taken in context (Matthew 12:39-42) it seems Jesus is referring to the state of the nation of Israel. An explanatory note in my Bible says, "Jesus' teaching specifically applies to the emptiness of Judaism in substituting reformation for regeneration. Israel will be in a worse state than before. Once the nation rejects Jesus, nothing is left to replace the vacuum except satanic deception" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1313.

I believe this applies to us as individuals too. Our minds and hearts don't tolerate a vacuum. We seek someone or something to love, serve and be loyal to. When we're set free from some sin or addiction, we need to put someone or something in its place or we may find the old bondage soon enslaves us again:

"Be warned that returning to a past bondage from which you were once delivered results in deeper bondage" - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through the Synoptics," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1440.

So it's a good idea to fill the tidied, set-free dwelling of our minds and hearts with a good tenant. Jesus would be an excellent choice. We can invite His presence to fill the house of our lives so that when old temptations and bondages come calling, they will find no vacancies.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends" - Revelation 3:20 NLT.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please teach me what it means to fill my life with Your presence. Amen.


MORE: More on the vacuum principle

John Piper applies the principle of spontaneous vacuum-filling to the church and what happens when leaders and theologians tinker with the gospel message in order to make it more palatable to the world.

"There are thousands of pastors and churches today that do not think that clear, Biblical, doctrinal views are vital in the life of the church or the believer. They believe it is possible to grow a healthy church while leaving the people with few and fuzzy thoughts about what God is like. But ignorance about God is never a mere vacuum. The cavity created by ignorance fills up with something else." Read all of "My Anguish: My Kinsmen are Accursed" - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org (emphasis added).
*The catchy phrase "An empty space is a place" appears in the book The Battlefield of the Mind, by Joyce Meyer.


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Saturday, November 26, 2011

A reconditioned heart

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 9:18-39

TO CHEW ON: "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." Matthew 9:36.

Jesus' reaction to the multitudes that gathered around Him is worth noting. He appeared not to be intimidated by the size of the crowds or their energy-sapping needs. Neither was He absorbed with Himself—His effect on the crowds or His success. He wasn't annoyed at how individuals from those crowds interrupted His day. We've just seen him handle one such interruption. Enroute to the house of the ruler whose daughter had just died, He stopped to talk to the woman with the twelve-year bleeding problem after she touched the hem of His robe and was healed.

In fact, on reading Matthew 9:35-38, it seems that making Himself available to the people was what His ministry was all about. And what He saw in the crowds awoke a deep sympathy and love in Him. A sidebar article in my Bible comments on this and suggests how we can become more like Him:

"Truest compassion is only found in the nature of God, because only God knows the full depth of an individual's pain, need, or suffering. Jesus is seen in the essence of His feeling human weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) fully sensing the ravaged condition of human brokenness.


Christ-likeness calls us to learn Jesus' heart of compassion, a depth of sensitivity that can be worked in us through the Holy Spirit reconditioning our hearts to be able to sense the pain of human bondage, and to weep with those who weep (Hebrews 13:3; Romans 12:15)" - Fuchsia Pickett, "Compassion," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1306 (emphasis added).

I sure need such heart reconditioning that sees beyond my plans and agendas to realize the actual outworking of God's compassion for people through me!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I love Your tenderheartedness to people. The way You wept over the death of a friend and over a city  gives me a glimpse into God's love for us humans. Please grow Your compassion in me. Amen.

MORE: Not whiners but athletes

"May God not find the whine in us any more, but may He find us full of spiritual pluck and athleticism, ready to face anything He brings. We have to exercise ourselves in order that the Son of God may be manifested in our mortal flesh. God never has museums. The only aim of the life is that the Son of God may be manifested, and all dictation to God vanishes. Our Lord never dictated to His Father, and we are not here to dictate to God; we are here to submit to His will so that He may work through us what He wants. When we realize this, He will make us broken bread and poured out wine to feed and nourish others" - Oswald Chambers, May 15th reading, My Utmost for His Highest.


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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thoughts on following Jesus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 8:14-34

TO CHEW ON: "Then a certain scribe came to Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.'" Matthew 8:19

There are three mentions of following Jesus in our reading today, and another in a different version of one of the stories. Each has something to teach us about following Jesus.

1. The first is a "certain scribe" who came to Jesus all gung-ho, eager to join the disciples. But Jesus appeared cool to his offer. What He said in reply ("Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head") seems meant to dampen the scribe's fervour. Jesus told him, in effect, there was a cost to following Him.

2. Another man, called a disciple, asked for some time off to attend to family responsibilities. Jesus' answer to him ("Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead") underlined to him and to us that following Jesus is urgent and will probably interfere with life as we know it.

3. A little later when Jesus got into a boat, "His disciples followed Him..." Matthew 8:23. That act drew them right into the middle of a storm, which shows that following Jesus may not be easy or feel safe. But Jesus rebuked the storm and that "great calm" that followed illustrates that when Jesus is with us, we're actually in the safest place on earth. (As someone has said, "I'd rather be in a storm with Jesus in my boat, than on the calmest seas without Him.")

4. Jesus and the disciples made it over to the other side where they encountered two demon-possessed men. He exorcised the demons and allowed them to enter a herd of swine. Mark and Luke also tell this story. In both their accounts (Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39) there is just one man. That man, after his deliverance, asked Jesus if he could "be with Him." But Jesus said no. Instead He told him "Go home to your friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you..." Mark 5:19. For this man following Jesus meant spreading the good news about Him at home instead of trekking with Him around the country. And so we see that following Jesus doesn't look the same for everybody.

Let's keep these aspects of following Jesus in mind today as we live disciple lives each in our own unique circumstances.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You are so worth following! Help me to understand what following You means in my life today. Amen.

MORE: To be a disciple...

"To be a disciple is to be a devoted love-slave to the Lord Jesus .... The Christian life is stamped by 'moral spontaneous originality,' consequently the disciple is open to the same charge that Jesus Christ was, viz., that of inconsistency. But Jesus Christ was always consistent to God, and the Christian must be consistent to the life of the Son of God in him, not consistent to hard and fast creeds. Men pour them selves into creeds, and God has to blast them out of their prejudices before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ.
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 2nd reading.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jesus' authority

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 7:21-8:13

TO CHEW ON: "For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.... 'But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, "Go," and he goes; and to another "Come," and he comes, and to my servant "Do this," and he does it.'" Matthew 8:8-9.

The word "authority" is used twice in today's reading.

[Authority = exousia  means: 1) power of choice, liberty; 2) physical and mental power; 3) the power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege); and 4) the power of rule or government—the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed.]

In the first place (Matthew 7:29) Matthew observes that Jesus taught with authority. The Scribes didn't teach that way. Though they did a wonderful thing when they, with meticulous precision, preserved the Scriptures, they also developed a complicated system of oral law that interpreted the Scripture. They regarded that oral law higher than the written law. They spent a lot of time quibbling over details and splitting hairs over things like hand and cup washing, paying tithes, what was grounds for divorce etc.. Their teachings were peppered with the support of authorities other than their own: "This Rabbi Hillel says this..." "Rabbi Shammai says that..."

Jesus, on the other hand, delivered truths about Himself without qualification, saying simply, "I say to you..." He was secure in His identity as the Son of God and knew that He came from God the Father. That authority rang through His words.

Later, when the Roman centurion came to Jesus with the request that Jesus heal his son, he acknowledged that Jesus had authority over sickness:

"But only speak a word and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority having soldiers under me..." He went on to say, in my words, 'Just like my soldiers obey me, sickness will obey You (because You have authority over it).'

How do we relate to Jesus' authority?
- Do we take the simple but authoritative words of Jesus and the Bible at face value? Do we let them be the authority in our lives, i.e. do we build our lives on their truths (Matthew 7:24-27)?

Do we believe that Jesus has authority over sickness (as our story shows), and the demonic (Mark 1:23-28), and nature (Mark 5:39-40)? If we say we do, do we live our lives as if His authority were real? Are we bolder, more hopeful, more positive, more powerful in prayer as a result?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus I bow to Your authority in my life. Please grow my faith in Your authority over all of life so that I will not only say I believe this, but know it in experience. Amen.

MORE: At Your Name by Tim Hughes and Phil Wickham




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Monday, November 21, 2011

Is your mind a cluttered desktop of needs?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 7:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8

We are a needy people. I am a needy person—high maintenance. It doesn't take much to get me flying to God again, upset, worried, hurt, anxious, burdened...

Because of my need and dependence, verses like Matthew 7:7-8 are a great comfort. Of course this isn't the only place in the Bible that God promises to respond to our requests. A dozen or so parallel passages give us a fuller understanding of what Jesus is talking about. Let's do a little explore of Bible passages that talk, first about us seeking God, and then about His response (incomplete lists for sure, but a start).

We can ask/seek/knock:
  • To find God (Jeremiah 29:13).
  • To get His help (Isaiah 30:19).
  • For deliverance from fears (Psalm 34:4).
  • About anything that springs from anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7).
  • For our daily food (Matthew 5:11).
  • To be kept from temptation (Matthew 5:13).
  • For wisdom (James 1:5).
  • For the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).

God will respond when:
  • We believe He will answer (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24).
  • Our requests line up with His word (John 15:7).
  • Our requests line up with His will (1 John 5:14).
  • We are obedient (1 John 3:22).
  • Our answered prayer will bring glory to God (John 14:13).
  • Our answered prayer will result in lasting fruit (John 15:16).
  • Our petitions include thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7).

We don't need to be preoccupied or mesmerized by the needs weighing on our minds and hearts today. Instead we can take them to God, and so minimize them from the desktop of our minds to the dock of His care.

PRAYER: Dear God, what welcome words these are. Help me to put them into practice in my life today today, believing that You are at work in the circumstances and people that concern me. May peace reign in my mind as I transfer my burdens to You. Amen.

MORE: Ask...Seek...Knock

"The terms are here used with reference to prayer, and these constitute a climax.
- Ask implies a simple petition.
- Seek indicates an earnest search.
- Knock shows perseverance in spite of hindrances.
The three represent earnest prayer"
~ People's New Testament.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Healing sun

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Malachi 3:16-4:6

TO CHEW ON: "But to you who fear My name
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise
With healing in His wings..." Malachi 4:2

Here we have a picture of Jesus as a sunrise. What a stunning image. Watch Him as He breaks over the horizon, His rays like wings that spread radiant light, warmth and healing.

[The word for healing used here is marpe'. It means restoration of health, remedy, cure, medicine, tranquility, deliverance, refreshing. Marpe' comes from the verb rapha' - to heal, cure, repair - "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1273.]

An article in my Bible explains further, "Salvation is God's rescue of the entire person, and healing is His complete repair of that person as marpe' illustrates."

Note some instances of rapha healing in the Bible:
- It refers to the healing of a soul that has sinned in Psalm 41:4.
- It refers to the healing of a broken heart in Psalm 147:3.
- It speaks of just plain healing (physical, emotional and spiritual) through "His stripes" in Isaiah 53:5.

I love Clarke's commentary on our healing Sun verse:

"With healing in his wings - As the sun, by the rays of light and heat, revives, cheers, and fructifies the whole creation, giving, through God, light and life everywhere; so Jesus Christ, by the influences of his grace and Spirit, shall quicken, awaken, enlighten, warm, invigorate heal, purify, and refine every soul that believes in him, and, by his wings or rays, diffuse these blessings from one end of heaven to another; everywhere invigorating the seeds of righteousness, and withering and drying up the seeds of sin. The rays of this Sun are the truths of his Gospel, and the influences of his Spirit. And at present these are universally diffused" - (read entire commentary plus more here).

 Let's claim that healing today for broken bodies, and sin-sorry and sad hearts while we anticipate the day when we see this Jesus-Sun face to face, and all healing will be complete:
"Your sun will never set;
      your moon will not go down.
   For the Lord will be your everlasting light.
      Your days of mourning will come to an end." - Isaiah 60:20 NLT

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for healing that characterized Your ministry on earth and for how the Gospel made alive by Your Spirit brings healing to lives and bodies still today. Help me to be an instrument of Your healing to others. Amen.

MORE: "Even So Lord Jesus Come" - by Steve Bell (link is to this song on Grooveshark Radio)


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

God of reversal

"Jesus Teaching" by Gustave Dore

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 19:16-30


TO CHEW ON: "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." Matthew 19:30

The kingdom of heaven, by Jesus' account, will be full of surprises. Perhaps some of the biggest He tells His disciples to expect are who they will find in and who out, who will be honoured and who humbled. Over and over He says, in effect, 'You're in for a shock. It will be just the opposite of what you expect.'

My Thompson Chain Bible puts today's focus verse in the category of "Reversals: changes in position because of God's intervention." Examples of reversals at God's hand span all of Scripture.

  • God is the mover and shaker behind rulers coming to power and losing it (see Psalm 75:7; Isaiah 40:22-23; Ezekiel 21:26, and who could forget the dramatic story of Nebuchadnezzar's descent into madness after he makes his prideful pronouncement in Daniel 4: 29-33).
  • God is also active in reversing the fortunes of ordinary people (see Psalm 107:41; Psalm 147:6).
  • And, as mentioned, Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom of God is full of warnings to expect such reversals. In our Matthew reading today Jesus clearly states that riches, instead of being an asset to entering the Kingdom, can be a liability, and that those who have no earthly status, having impoverished themselves for Kingdom pursuits, will be honoured (Matthew 19:27-28).

We are wise to pay attention to the kingdom reversals Jesus tells us to expect (see also Luke 6:25; Luke 13:24-30 and Luke 16:25). We do well to tune our hearts and set our sites on the lifestyle that promises a kingdom future: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.... Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" - Matthew 5:3, 10.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to understand what is important to You and to expend my life on those things. Amen.

MORE: The Beatitudes and the kingdom of God 
"...the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10) .... are an announcement of how fortunate people are who already possess, as it were, the power of the kingdom. You might say: "Blessed! Blessed! And fortunate are you who have the kingdom power at work within you, for you will inherit the kingdom with all its infinite pleasures forever and ever."....

But that is not all. The beatitudes also contain an implicit invitation to become this kind of person....

"... the beatitudes are words of celebration for disciples—people who have been awakened by the present power of the age to come. And they are words of invitation for the crowds—the people who come to worship out of tradition or curiosity or skepticism. And for some they are words of transformation—by the power and mercy of God" excerpts from "The Beatitudes and the Gospel of the Kingdom," by John Piper © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org (emphasis added).


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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are you attacking your own marriage?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 19:1-15


TO CHEW ON: "So then they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." Matthew 19:6

A few weeks ago I watched a documentary about the life of Canadian singer Shania Twain. In it she told the heartbreaking story of the breakup of her marriage. She felt doubly betrayed when the "other woman' turned out to be her best friend and confidante.

However, the sanctity and unity of the marriage relationship can have another enemy that's even closer. We ourselves, one of the partners, can be culprits in separating "what God has joined together." A sidebar article in my Bible explains how"

"Every marriage involves two imperfect people. It not only is personally challenging to work out our difficulties within marriage, but it is a spiritual contest since the Adversary is always seeking points of vulnerability to work his destruction in our lives (1 Peter 5:8). Our temptation to self-interest and self-defense in our marriage relationship is a prime target. The Enemy (our accuser) will point out and exaggerate our spouse's shortcomings and will foster anger and unforgiveness growing in our hearts towards one another.


Jesus warned that disintegration attacks the marriage where hardness of heart is allowed to grow (Mark 19:4-5; Proverbs 28:14). Let us be warned against giving this place toward our spouse, seeing how Scripture links hardness of heart to unbelief (Mark 16:14), lack of understanding (Mark 5:32), pride (Daniel 5:20), and stubbornness (2 Chronicles 36:13)" - Rebecca Bauer, "Husbands and Wives Need to Keep Their Hearts Soft Toward One Another," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1325.

Have you experienced the temptation to be hard-hearted toward your spouse? I have. Let's be alert to the devil's schemes in this area so we can guard our hearts against being caught up in such self-inflicted attacks on this most sacred of relationships.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be alert and on guard against the devil's schemes that would draw me in to attack my own marriage. Amen.


MORE: Mental Critics

As with most attitudes and actions, hard-heartedness toward one's spouse begins in the mind. Joyce Meyer in her book Battlefield of the Mind (Chapter: "A Judgmental, Critical, Suspicious Mind") refers to Matthew 7:6:

"Do not give that which is holy (the sacred thing) to the dogs, and do not throw your pearls before hogs, lest they trample upon them with their feet and turn and tear you in pieces."
She makes this observation:
"I believe this Scripture is referring to our God-given ability to love each other.


If you and I have an ability and a command from God to love others but instead of doing that we judge and criticize them, we have taken the holy thing (love) and cast it before dogs and hogs (demon spirits). We have opened a door for them to trample on holy things and turn and tear us to pieces" - Battlefield of the Mind, p. 130.






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Monday, November 14, 2011

Character test

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:31-46

TO CHEW ON: "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'" Matthew 25:40

In this vignette from His teaching on the Mount of Olives, Jesus paints a picture of the way things really are. He does it by describing two types of reactions to the poor and needy.

Some things that snag my attention in His parable:

1. The people Jesus talks about are definitely character testers—the hungry and thirsty (who must be losers if they can't even earn enough to feed themselves, right?), the outsiders and poorly dressed (identifying with them will surely spoil my cool image), the ill (who are also probably contagious), and the prisoners (they deserve their sorry state, don't they?).

2. The "righteous" who respond with compassion to the above, do so with no ulterior motives. Their kindnesses are delivered with no secret hope for points. In fact, they seem unaware of the connection between their actions in this life and their eternal destiny.

3. The "unrighteous" are similarly unaware that their reactions have been a test, which they have failed because of their hard-heartedness.

We will have no such excuse. For us this test is open-book. The Bible outlines in plain words the problem: the "hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, prisoner," and the solution—responding to them and their needs with soft hearts: "Inasmuch as you did it (Matthew 25:40) or did not do it (Matthew 25:45) to the least of these, you did/did not do it to Me." 

 Even though we know this, do we see "Jesus" in the needy people around us? Do we respond to them as if they truly were Him?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please open my eyes to see You in the people around me. I need a softer, more responsive heart. Amen.


MORE: A thought

"Good works do not produce good character; good character produces good works" - J. Lyle Story from the notes on Matthew, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1337.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Triple threat

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:14-30

TO CHEW ON: "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'" Matthew 25:21, 23.

Aren't the words of the lord to his multi-talented servants in this story exactly what we want to hear when we meet Jesus face to face someday? On the other hand, the harsh words of the master for the one-talent servant are words we hope never to hear. Let's look closely at that servant to see the attitudes and actions of which he was guilty so we can avoid them.

Comparison
The one-talent servant hid his talent (a denomination of money calculated by weight) in the ground (Matthew 25:25). It's almost as if he was ashamed of it. Could it be that it was the result of comparison? Perhaps he looked at the way his master entrusted him with only one talent while the others got two and five, and was ashamed.

Fear
With his own mouth he confessed fear (Matthew 25:25). But this angst resulted in the master visiting on him the very harshness he was afraid of when his attitude paralyzed him into inaction.

Laziness
The master uncovered another problem: laziness. That third servant seemingly didn't want to be bothered with all the work it took to make a profit from his one talent.

We need to beware of these three pitfalls as we steward our abilities and opportunities. Comparison is deadly to wise stewardship. Personally, God has given me a standard rhetorical question to ask myself whenever I am in comparison mode (wondering why I don't have this person's abilities, that one's successes and another's opportunities): "Did I ask you to do that?" But God will hold me responsible for times I "buried my talent in the ground" when I could have invested it.

Fear is the opposite of faith. A verse I love to quote to myself when I face the fear of failure, rejection and wasted effort is "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days" - Ecclesiastes 11:1.

Laziness is a subtle but insidious temptation that comes in words like: 'You shouldn't have to do all this work to be successful,' or 'now that you've lived a certain number of years, it's time to take things easy.' How different from the attitude of someone like Paul: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" - 2 Timothy 4:7.

As good steward of all God has given us, let's be on guard against comparison, fear, and laziness.

PRAYER: Dear God, someday I want to hear your "Well done, good and faithful servant." Help me to recognize and overcome the temptation to compare myself to others, to live paralyzed by fear and to loll about in laziness Amen.

MORE: Stewardship of money
"Godfrey Davis, who wrote a biography of the Duke of Wellington, said, 'I found an old account ledger that showed how the Duke spent his money. It was a far better clue to what he thought was really important than the reading of his letters or speeches.'

How we handle money reveals much about our priorities."
- Haddon W. Robinson, in "Money Matters," Our Daily Bread Devotions.


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Thursday, November 10, 2011

He sings over you

"Sing O Daughter of Zion"
by Charles Joseph Staniland (1838-1916).

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 3:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17

After all his doom-filled prophesying, Zephaniah ends his message on a note of hope. This too is what the Day of the Lord means.
- There will be singing, shouting and rejoicing - Zephaniah 3:14.
- There will be deliverance from enemies - Zephaniah 3:15.
- God's people will be exalted - Zephaniah 3:20.
- And God shows His love for His beloved people - Zephaniah 3:17.

Let's take a minute to dig into this promise:

"The Lord your God in your midst..."
He is not far off, but right among us.

"The Mighty One will save..."
He is a great hero who has and will come to our rescue.

"He will rejoice over you with gladness..."
[Rejoice here (sus) means to rejoice, be glad, be greatly happy.] It is a rejoicing that is the complete opposite of mourning—a pervasive, irresistible joy.

"He will quiet you with His love..."
I see the picture of God as a parent, calming a fretful child, hugging, comforting, saying things like "It's okay. Everything will be alright."

"He will rejoice over you with singing."
[Rejoice here is gil. It contains the suggestion of "dancing for joy" since the verb originally meant 'to spin around with intense motion.'] A word study article in my Bible says: "This lays to rest the notion that the biblical concept of joy is only a 'quiet inner sense of well-being.' God dances for joy over Jerusalem and because of His people - Isaiah 65:9, Zephaniah 3:17." New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1228.

I can only imagine the songs accompanying that kind of rejoicing as songs of celebration, joy, and victory.

Here's a great sum-up of this verse for us to take into our day:
"Did you know that God sings, shouts for joy and dances over you because He loves you so much? Take time to think about that; let the Holy Spirit imbed this truth in your spirit. Allow this understanding to bring new joy, fresh freedom and tender love for God into your devotional life" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action Through Zephaniah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1239 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this beautiful picture of Your love, Help me to be quieted by the knowledge that you are tenderly watching over me. Help me to "hear" your songs. How can I not love you back? Amen.

MORE: A vision of Jesus

I recently read Mike Mason's book Adventures In Heaven. In it he tells of a friend, Neil, who had many visions of heaven. Mike himself had only one. In it he saw Jesus. His description of Jesus reminds me of Zephaniah 3:17:

"The first thing that struck me was His joy. He was positively beaming like ten thousand suns. And I knew it was all for me. He was so happy to see me! And that face—how full of character! I could have gazed and gazed at Him forever..." Mike Mason, Adventures in Heaven, Kindle Location 3407 (emphasis added).



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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Seek God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 2:1-15


TO CHEW ON: "Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth,
Who have upheld His justice.
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the Lord's anger." Zephaniah 2:3

After sounding the alarm about the coming Day of the Lord, Zephaniah begs Judah—both the shameless sinners ("O undesirable [shameless] nation") and those who upheld His ways all along—to seek God.

The Bible is peppered with similar advice. We are to seek God:
  • When He feels distant - Acts 17:27
  • When we're in trouble - Hosea 10:12; Amos 5:4.
  • When we're in need - Matthew 6:33; Luke 11:10.
  • Continually - Psalm 105:4.
  • Wholeheartedly - Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13
  • Before it is too late - Isaiah 55:6, Zephaniah 2:2-3.
  • Personally - Psalm 27:8
About such personal seeking, Matthew Henry in his commentary about our Zephaniah passage says:

"How careful should we all be to seek peace with God, before the Holy Spirit withdraws from us, or ceases to strive with us; before the day of grace is over, or the day of life; before our everlasting state is determined! Let the poor, despised, and afflicted, seek the Lord, and seek to understand and keep his commandments better, that they may be more humbled for their sins" (emphasis added).
  • And as a nation - 2 Chronicles 14:4; Zephaniah 2:1.
Matthew Henry on a nation seeking God in repentance:
"The prophet calls to national repentance, as the only way to prevent national ruin. A nation not desiring, that has no desires toward God, is not desirous of his favour and grace, has no mind to repent and reform....The chief hope of deliverance from national judgments rests upon prayer" (Matthew Henry's Commentary - his commentary and more study helps here - emphasis added).
I ask myself, am I seeking God with the zeal and urgency that Zephaniah begs his listeners to have? Do I pray for unsaved loved ones to seek God before it is too late? Do I have faith for my nation, and pray for a national turning to God?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Zephaniah's words of warning. Help me to be diligent about seeking You, helping others to find You, and praying for my nation to seek You before it is too late. Amen.

MORE: Seeking God's face for my nation

Recently a letter came to us from Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), asking that we pray for a case that is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada. (The case has arisen from circumstances outlined here.)  In his words:

"In November we will be in the Court to defend the rights of Evangelicals and others to speak truth—sometimes hard truth—into the public square.


The Court will decide if we can speak about a biblical understanding of sexual morality without being fined or imprisoned. This is what is at stake. This is one of the most crucial and challenging cases we have taken on. We need your prayer and your support."
The two questions the court will rule on are, again as outlined in his letter:
"1. Can Christians preach and teach against what we believe to be a sinful behaviour—a behaviour that we believe ultimately harms the person involved—but still love the person?
2. Can Christians be critical—in public—of the activities of a person or community without this criticism being understood as hatred?"
Will you join me in prayer for Canada, and the continuation of our freedom to speak God's truth?


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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

That day

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 1:1-18


TO CHEW ON: "The great day of the Lord is near;
It is near and hastens quickly,
The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter;
There the mighty men shall cry out.
That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
A day of trumpet and alarm
Against the fortified cities
And against the high towers." Zephaniah 1:14-16

"The Day of the Lord."  As we've pored over Scriptures that allude to this day in the last little while, we've had other warnings of judgment and doom—and now this graphic and oratorical prophecy of Zephaniah's.

It's interesting to note the setting of his message. Zephaniah (a contemporary of Jeremiah and Nahum) lived in Judah during the reign of Josiah. The nation of Israel was no more, having been carted into exile by Assyria 100 years earlier. Those Assyrians forced Judah to pay tribute under kings Manasseh and Amon. Judah's servitude didn't affect the people only politically but spiritually too.

The pagan religion imported by the Assyrians who resettled Israel spread to Judah. King Manasseh built temples to their gods and practiced child sacrifice (2 Kings 21:3-6). But a Babylonian uprising defeated Assyria and under King Josiah the nation turned back to God.

Josiah found the Book of the Law, purged the land of idols, and again celebrated the Passover. Things were great, right? Apparently not. My Bible's introduction to Zephaniah tells us:

"In retrospect the reform was one of externals since the hearts of the people had not changed...Into this complacent atmosphere the devastating message of Zephaniah comes like a searing blast" - "Introduction to Zephaniah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1231.

But what does this ancient prophecy have to do with us? My Bible's introduction again:
"Because of the repeated use of the term 'the Day of the Lord,' the Book of Zephaniah has meaning for end times. The Day of the Lord is either the period of time or the actual day when God will bring His purposes to culmination for mankind and for the Earth. The righteous will be rewarded with eternal blessing, and the wicked will be consigned to eternal damnation" - New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1232.
So Zephaniah's over-2600-year-old clarion cry of doom is a warning to us too. Let's not be lulled into complacency by our own peace and prosperity. Rather, let's search our hearts to make sure they are right with God. And let's sound the warning of that coming day to our oblivious neighbours and friends.


PRAYER: Dear God, it's so easy for me to get mesmerized by this world and my busy life. I confess I easily lose sight of eternal things like the coming Day of the Lord. Please make these things real to me. Help me to live with the consciousness of their nearness. Amen

MORE: Fiction that brings history to life

Among the Gods (Chronicles of the Kings #5)by Lynn Austin explores the life and times of King Manasseh, the king who preceded Zephaniah's time by a few years. (Read my review of it here.)




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Sunday, November 06, 2011

A wedding parable

"The Foolish Virgins" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open up to us!' But He answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, "I do not know you"'" - Matthew 25:11-12

In this story Jesus compares His second coming to part of a wedding celebration. Barnes' Notes on the Bible explain the local customs to which this parable refers:

Lamps: "The "lamps" used on such occasions were rather "torches" or "flambeaux." They were made by winding rags around pieces of iron or earthenware, sometimes hollowed so as to contain oil, and fastened to handles of wood. These torches were dipped in oil, and gave a large light."

Marriage ceremonies: "Marriage 'ceremonies' in the East were conducted with great pomp and solemnity. The ceremony of marriage was performed commonly in the open air, on the banks of a stream. Both the bridegroom and bride were attended by friends. They were escorted in a palanquin, carried by four or more persons. After the ceremony of marriage succeeded a feast of seven days if the bride was a virgin, or three days if she was a widow. This feast was celebrated in her father's house. At the end of that time the bridegroom conducted the bride with great pomp and splendor to his own home."

Night: "This was done in the evening, or at night (Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 25:10; Jeremiah 33:11). Many friends and relations attended them; and besides those who went with them from the house of the bride, there was another company that came out from the house of the bridegroom to meet them and welcome them."

Virgins: "These were probably female friends and relatives of the bridegroom, who went out to welcome him and his new companion to their home. These are the virgins mentioned in this parable. Not knowing precisely the time when the procession would come, they probably went out early, and waited until they should see indications of its approach." (Read Barnes'  complete notes and more commentaries on this passage here.)
Five of the virgins in Jesus' story were wise in that they had taken extra oil in containers besides the oil in their lamps and were in good shape even if he was delayed. The five foolish virgins were not ready for delay. I believe this has several applications for us:

1. Live expectant. Even though we don't know His (Jesus, the bridegroom's) timing, we need to live expectant that He will return.

2. But also live in the now. While we wait, it's important that we steward our salvation and the resources to spread its good news— the "oil" of the parable. As we saw yesterday, the servants or stewards that pleased their master were the ones who kept busy doing their duty in the Master's household while He was away. Here the wise are the ones who are prepared even if the master delays his coming.

3. Accept Christ now, before it is too late. The tragedy of the story is the foolish virgins who are so busy buying oil that they miss the bridegroom's return and when they arrive at the party, are shut out (Matthew 25:12). A footnote in my Bible about verse 12 says, "At Jesus' return it is too late to receive Him as Lord and Saviour" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1336.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this picture of your coming—both as a joyous expectation fulfilled, and a time of tragedy because some are unprepared. Help me to take its cautions to heart for myself and those around me. Amen.


MORE: Wedding customs

Wedding customs around the world are colorful, interesting, and give us insightful pictures of the various aspects of marriage:

Africa: "Depending on which part of Africa you are in, wedding ceremonies can be extremely elaborate, some lasting many days. Often huge ceremonies are held during which many couples are united at the same time." Read more... 

India: "In India and other countries with a Hindu culture it is considered bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other for several days before the wedding. As part of the marriage ceremony the bride’s parents wash the couple’s feet with milk and water as a symbol of purifying them for the journey of their new life together. As part of the ceremony the couple holds in their hands grains of rice and oats and green leaves, signifying wealth, good health and happiness." Read more... 

Russian Orthodox: "When a traditional Orthodox couple get married in Russia, they are crowned as royalty for the day. The bride and groom must stand on a special carpet as they recite their marriage vows, but first they race each other to it. Whoever reaches the carpet first will, presumably, be the head of the household." Read more...

Read about many more wedding traditions at World Wedding Traditions.


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Saturday, November 05, 2011

What to do while we wait

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:29-51

TO CHEW ON: "Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is the servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes." Matthew 24:45-46

In all the chaos and mayhem of tribulation, failing moon, falling stars, marrying, partying, and people snatched away as by a thief, we have one scene of normalcy: a servant doing his boring old duty. According to Jesus, he/she is the one with no reason to worry or fear the master's return.

The word for servant here is "bondservant."

[A bondservant - doulos  - was a slave, a person of servile condition. Metaphorically it signifies one who gives himself up to another's will, those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing His cause among men.]

In a parallel passage where Jesus talks similarly about a master returning unexpectedly (Luke 12:35-48), the servant is called a "steward."

[A steward - oikonomos - was a manager of a household or of household affairs. In this role the head of the house or the proprietor of the business entrusted the steward the management of his affairs, the care of receipts and expenditures, the duty of doling out the proper portion to every servant and even to the children not yet of age.]

It sounds like a pretty mundane, administrative sort of role where, in the Matthew passage, the Master valued faithfulness (as in carrying out duties in a timely and routine way - Matthew 25:45-46), fairness, and personal discipline (as in sober vs. drunken or decadent living - Matthew 25:48-51).

I love how John Gill's commentary expands on the idea of a steward's job (this man lived long ago--1697-1771; please don't let the old-fashioned language bother you):
"The post that such a person is put in, and the work he is to do, follow:
Whom his Lord hath made ruler over his household; or "family", the church of God ... in which are believers of various growths and sizes; some fathers, some young men, some children.
Over these, the ministers are, by their Lord, made and placed as rulers; not as lords and tyrants over God's heritage, to govern them in an arbitrary way, but as over them in the Lord, to rule them according to the word of God, and the laws of his house.... whose principal business it is to give them meat in due season; even "their portion" of it, as in Luke 12:42.
Not all of us are designated "ministers" as in church leaders. But I would submit that most of us are stewards or spiritually responsible for someone: our children, our spouse, our friends newer in the faith than we are, or still on the journey to accepting Jesus. We can steward God's Word in the ways Gill suggests:

"For the word of God is to be cut and rightly divided, and everyone in the family, according to his age, appetite, and digestion, is to have his proper part and portion given him: 


It must be meat, proper food, such as is solid, substantial, and nourishing; even the wholesome words of Christ Jesus, that must be given them, and not husks and empty trash; and all in due season, in its proper time, as their cases and circumstances require, and call for; as whether weary, or uncomfortable, or in the dark, or under temptations and afflictions: for a word fitly and seasonably spoken, how useful is it!" (Read all of Gill's commentary and more here.)
PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be a faithful steward to those under my care, so I can be unashamed and unembarrassed to meet You face to face. Amen.

MORE: "Find us Faithful"




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Friday, November 04, 2011

Unstoppable Gospel

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:1-28

TO CHEW ON: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:14

Jesus' teaching in this chapter touches on three topics: 1] the destruction of the temple, 2] His second coming, and 3] the END.

As is typical with prophecy, His predictions are capable of having both a near and remote fulfillment. My Bible footnotes explain about the near fulfillment:

"Jesus uses the tragic events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as a picture of conditions preceding HIs own return..." And about the reference to Daniel's mysterious "abomination of desolation": "...Jesus views the prophecy as referring ... to the arrival of the Roman army which besieged Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in A.D. 70. That event foreshadows the conditions connected with Christ's return" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, pp. 1334-5.

However, the END has not happened yet—though we would be blind not to recognize many of Jesus' predictions playing out in living colour around us right now:
- false Christs, false prophets, and deception.
- wars and rumours of wars.
- famine, pestilence, and earthquakes.
- persecution of believers in Jesus.
- lawlessness.
- people taking offense at the gospel.
- the gospel continuing to spread.

Let's pause for a minute on this last point and consider this one positive sign of the END.
  • The internet and smart phone technologies have made the spread of the gospel almost impossible to detect and to stop. (For example, readers of this little blog come from all over the world: Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Malaysia, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Viet Nam, France, India, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Germany... How cool is that!)
  •  

We are living in exciting, near-the-end times. Let's be busy doing our part to spread "this gospel of the kingdom" as we keep one eye on the sky (Matthew 24:27).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live with the expectation of Your near return. Amen.


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