Saturday, August 25, 2012

The real thing

"Church at Auvers" 1890 by Vincent Van Gogh

 

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

TO CHEW ON: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13


With the invention of the printing press and photography, the world is full of copies. Years ago I visited the Van Gogh museum. After studying Van Gogh in history of art class, I was excited to see his actual paintings. There was one in particular that caught my eye. The colors, especially the red roof, of the “Church at Auvers” were stunning. Later in the gift shop, I flipped through the poster bin, eager to own a red roof of my own. But what a disappointment. None of the representations came even close to the brilliance and liveliness of the actual painting.

The real painting of love is what we see in 1 Corinthians 13. Study its perfection. See what it is and does. It is long-lasting, rejoices when truth and right prevail, bears up under anything and everything that comes along, believes the best about people, keeps hoping under all circumstances, endures without weakening.

Look at what it isn’t and doesn’t do. It’s not envious, jealous, boastful, or full of itself. It doesn’t parade its accomplishments, isn’t conceited, arrogant, proud, rude, inappropriate, self-seeking, touchy, fretful, or resentful. It doesn’t pay attention to evil done to it, remember a wrong, or rejoice at injustice or unrighteousness.

No matter what personality type you are or what your love weakness is, it’s probably addressed in 1 Corinthians 13. I know mine are and then some! Can I ever love like that? Can you? Only with God’s help!

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please change my inner self to love in the 1 Corinthians 13 way.

MORE: How does it work?

Is the Christian life a lifestyle of supernatural enabling or of try-harder in order to live up to the ideal? I believe it’s a little of both.

If we never saw the detailed picture of love painted in 1 Corinthians 13, we might think we were doing pretty well – especially when we compare ourselves to our gossiping neighbor, our jealous cousin or our self-centered star and starlet pop heroes. It’s when we come up against the real thing – as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13 (and fleshed out in the life of Jesus) that we see what a tawdry representation of genuine agape love is portrayed in our lives.

And so we come to God and pray for help – to see our fellowman differently, to let go of hurts, to be kind to annoying people, to trust Him with our future and reputation, to give up the right to manipulate it by boasting, and on and on …

We see the standard. We realize we can’t live up to it. We ask for His help – and slowly we change to become more like 1 Corinthians 13 lovers. Of course we don’t do this to earn heaven but because it’s the way of the One Who loves us and wants only our best. At least that’s the way I see it.

How about you?

(From the Archives)

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Friday, August 24, 2012

It's not a competition

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

TO CHEW ON: “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” 1 Corinthians 12:18

It’s a rare person who doesn’t sometimes look at him- or herself and wish to be different. I’ve had such thoughts: If only I were funnier, more flexible, less serious, had a talent for drawing, found it easier to make small talk… Even being part of a church, where we know we should have a realistic view of ourselves, doesn’t do away with the tendency to compare ourselves with others – and feel we come up short.

But those are not God’s thoughts about us. Rick Warren says it so well:

“You are not an accident.
Your birth was no mistake or mishap, and your life is no fluke of nature. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did…..
God prescribed every single detail of your body. He deliberately chose your race, the color of your skin, your hair and every other feature. He custom-made your body just the way he wanted it. He also determined the natural talents you would possess and the uniqueness of your personality. The Bible says, ‘You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.’” The Purpose-Driven Life – pp. 22-23

What is true of you in general is also true of you in the church. Whether you are most comfortable hidden away working with the babies in the nursery or heading up some high profile ministry, you don't have to justify yourself or compete with others. Rather do your job, whether hidden or public, without apology. In this way you will fulfill your own destiny and God’s destiny for earth and its people as He accomplishes it through His body, the church.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me find my place in Your body. Help me to be content with who I am, knowing that someday I will need to account for what I’ve done with the strengths and talents you actually gave me – not the ones I wished I had. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Bartholomew

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Bartholomew. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:

"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."

(From the archives)
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Plagued hearts

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 8:22-45

TO CHEW ON: "...when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple, then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men)." 1 Kings 8:38,39

In his prayer at the dedication of the temple, Solomon covered a myriad of scenarios for when the Israelites would need God's answered prayers from that building. He prayed that:
  • when someone was forced to take an oath before the altar because of an accusation, God would hear and judge rightly.
  • when Israel was defeated because of backsliding, God would hear, forgive and bring her back.
  • when the consequences of their sin led to drought, God would forgive sin and send rain.
  • when there was famine, blight, mildew, locusts, grasshoppers, enemy oppression ...

It's as if Solomon was trying to think of every instance and reason they could need God, and he lands finally on the picturesque: "when each one knows the plague of his own heart..."

That is still the heart of the matter for us. The plague of our hearts is the sinful condition into which we're born. It evidences itself in rebellion against God and friction between us and others as we give in to our self-centered bent. Want to diagnose it in yourself? Just compare your life to the ideal in Matthew 5, 6 & 7, or 1 Corinthians 13.

There is only one cure for our chronic, terminal heart condition. It's Jesus:

Isaiah: "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed" - Isaiah 53:5.

Peter: "Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed" - 1 Peter 2:24.

Jesus: "'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. to set at liberty those who are oppressed'" - Luke 4:18.

PRAYER: Dear God, with Solomon I bring to You the plague of my heart. Thank You for making me healed and clean in Your sight because of Jesus, who paid  my sins' penalty. Help me to deal with my sin-sick heart practically every day, as I bend my will and actions to Your Spirit. Amen.

MORE: Original pollution

Wayne Grudem talks about the plague of our hearts in the Sin chapter of his Systematic Theology.

He defines sin: "Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude or nature" - p. 490.

He makes two points in the section called "The Doctrine of Inherited Sin," stating and discussing in detail how we are born with:
"1. Inherited Guilt: we are counted guilty because of Adam's sin - Romans 5:12-21... 
2. Inherited corruption: we have a sinful nature because of Adam's sin. ...This inherited sinful nature is sometimes simply called 'original sin,' and sometimes more precisely called 'original pollution (Psalm 51:5)'" which Grudem  calls "inherited corruption."

Mr. Grudem comes to this sobering conclusion:

"But if we have a total inability to do any spiritual good in God's sight, then do we still have any freedom of choice? Certainly, those who are outside of Christ do still make voluntary choices—that is, they decide what they want to do, then they do it. ... Yet because of their inability to do good and to escape from their fundamental rebellion against God and their fundamental preference for sin, unbelievers do not have freedom in the most important sense of freedom—that is freedom to do right, and to do what is pleasing to God.

The application to our lives is quite evident: if God gives anyone a desire to repent and trust in Christ, he or she should not delay and should not harden his or heart heart (cf. Hebrews 3:7-8; 12:17). This ability to repent and desire to trust in God is not naturally ours but is given by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and it will not last forever. 'Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts' - Hebrews 3:15"
  - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 494, 496, 498 (emphasis added).  
***********

June 2012 release from Word Alive Press: Destiny's Hands.

Order yours today!

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wisdom for what you don't know

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 2:26-3:15

TO CHEW ON: "'Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.'" 1 Kings 3:7

One of my favourite TV reality shows is Undercover Boss. In it the CEO or president of a company goes undercover to observe the works of their organization firsthand. Disguised and given another identity for a week or so, they travel around visiting the company's various branches to experience its workings as an entry-level employee.

I have seen these bosses muck out stables, work on assembly lines, make courier deliveries, clean hotel rooms, look after kids and lead a fitness class. In this way they interact with employee-mentors and discover weak spots in their company and its workings so they can make it better. Their undercover quest is to discover what they could never know by only working in their head office suite.

Solomon, as a brand-new leader, didn't need to go undercover to know what he didn't know. The question God posed to him in his dream: "Ask! What shall I give you?" had him laying bare his greatest insecurity. It was with himself: "I don't know how to do this job!" (my paraphrase).

I think we are attracted to the humility in these undercover bosses and Solomon because we so often feel the same way. We don't understand the situation and when we do, we're not sure how to respond or do the job.

God promises to hear our cry for help and give us wisdom just as He did for Solomon:

"For the Lord gives wisdom. From His mouth come knowledge and understanding" - Proverbs 2:6.

and

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach and it will be given to him" - James 1:5.

Let's claim this promise for whatever we need wisdom today!

PRAYER: Dear God, so often I feel like Solomon: I don't know how to parent my kids, love my neighbour, make the best use of my life and opportunities (fill in your personal challenge _____). I need Your wisdom today. Amen.

MORE: Advice from a former CEO

"Early in my career, I was the marketing director for a book publishing company. Because of my workload and the on-going pressure to produce results, I felt overwhelmed. I was certain that it was only a matter of time before my boss discovered that I was in over my head.

This produced uncertainty. I was afraid to act. Instead, I worried and spent an inordinate amount of time thinking through worst-case scenarios—something I am pretty good at. Frustrated, I went to a wise, older colleague and poured out my soul. He listened patiently, then said something I will never forget:..."

Read the rest of "What to do when you don't know what to do" by Michael Hyatt.


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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Communion

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 6:41-59

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.'" John 6:53-55


Communion

"Communion Service,
next Sunday morning at 10:00,"
church bulletin said.

I imagined sitting there, wafer in hand,
tiny goblet of juice in the holder,
trying hard not to think of what I'll make for lunch.
It wasn't even a prayer, just a thought,
I wish it had more meaning for me again.

Early that Communion Sunday morning
the book opened to the spot
kept by the gold crocheted cross:
"The Bread that I present to the world
so that it can eat and live
is myself,
this flesh-and-blood self."

(Ew gross!
It offended the Jews then,
'How can this man
serve up his flesh for a meal?'
People still say,'Your religion
is too bloody.')


"But Jesus didn't give an inch.
'Only insofar as you eat and drink
the flesh and blood of the Son of Man
do you have life within you.
By eating my flesh
and drinking my blood,
you enter into me
and I into you.
... bring a hearty appetite.
... make a meal of me."*

Oh God of heaven, Jesus, Lord
On your frank invitation
I'll chew the bread, imbibe the wine
Your presence my distraction.

I cannot with my literal mind
Pretend to understand
What happens when I eat and drink,
Inscrutable, heavenly plan,
It’s mystery
And intimacy,
Communion God with man.


© 2004 by Violet Nesdoly

*Quoted passages from John 6 in The Message.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, the poem above is still my prayer. Help me to come to You and to communion with an attitude of reverence, a keen spiritual receptivity, and a "hearty appetite." Then help me to live life, nourished by You. Amen. 

MORE: "...feed us Lord"

Steve Bell & Fresh I.E. in "Everything We Need"



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Sunday, August 05, 2012

Bread

 Foccacia Bread - recipe below

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 6:22-40

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and He who believes in Me shall never thirst.'" John 6:35

Bread - how many ways can we say it: buns, rolls, biscuits, foccacia, matzoh, challah, zwieback... Chances are whatever your culture, bread has been part of it.

I grew up in a large family. Mom had her hands full keeping eleven mouths fed. But she always felt easier about the meal when she had plenty of bread on hand. Because if other things ran out, we could always fill up on bread. Along with millions of others on earth, bread was our 'staff of life.'

Thus when Jesus calls Himself the "bread of life" we know He is making big claims. Let's go through John 6 (today's passage and a bit more) to see what we can learn about Jesus as bread.

At the beginning of our reading, we see a wowed crowd. Jesus has just fed 5000 people natural bread, supernaturally multiplied. He has met one of the most basic human needs with bread. We see that He understands and can supply bread for physical hunger

But when He senses that His miracle is prompting them to want to crown Him king (of a kingdom of everlasting loaves), He leaves. He has not done that miracle to get leverage for political power. Rather it is a set-up to make them aware of a different kind of hunger and how He can satisfy it.

On the next day, when they find Him, He explains this to them (John 6:26-27).

They start guessing about what He means: "Manna, right? Your bread to us is like the manna Moses gave our forefathers in the desert."

"Wrong," says Jesus. "The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world...I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger and he who believes in Me shall never thirst" (John 6:33,35).

Later in the chapter He expands even more on what ingesting Him as living bread means as He refers to the need to "...eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink HIs blood" (John 6:54). In His words we recognize the reference to the Last Supper - and our communion celebration (Matthew 26:26-28).

Then He explains the result of eating this bread, this true "staff of life": "This is the bread which came down from heaven — not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:58).

What does this mean for us? It's simple really:

Come + Believe + Eat = Live

Come: God initiates even this (John 6:44).

Believe: as in base our very lives on Jesus' death for us, trusting Him for salvation.

Eat: live by His kingdom principles. This includes trusting Him for our physical needs including bread (Matthew 6:26-33). It also means to celebrate His spiritual "breadness" by eating the communion bread (and drinking the wine), in this way reminding ourselves of His death for our sins.

Live: acknowledge and enjoy Him as enough — for this life and the next.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, what a simple yet deep concept — You my bread. Help me to eat You today and be satisfied. Amen.

MORE: Make some bread today

I love making bread! One of my favourites is foccacia. It is a slightly raised savoury Italian yeast bread that makes a wonderful companion to homemade soup. I cheat and use my bread machine to prepare the dough. Here is the recipe I use. (Of course you can use the given amounts and mix by hand).

Foccacia Bread (1 1/2 lb. loaf)

Dough
1 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/1/2 - 2 tsp. active dry yeast

Topping
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup (2 oz.) Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

- Mix dough and let rise.
- Remove dough to floured countertop or cutting board.
- Oil a cookie sheet.
- Separate dough into three even sections.
- Roll each into a ball and press flat onto the cookie sheet.
- Allow to rise 30 minutes until doubled.
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- With 2 fingers poke holes all over the dough.
- In a medium bowl combine oil and garlic, then drizzle over top of dough.
- Sprinkle with cheese and parsley
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until brown.

From Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehbeg & Lois Conway

(From the archives)
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Saturday, August 04, 2012

The fruit of unbelief

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 78:21-39

TO CHEW ON: "In spite of this they still sinned, and did not believe His wondrous works. Therefore their days He consumed in futility and their years in fear." Psalm 78:32,33

The subject of unbelief gets a lot of Bible ink.

[The dictionary defines unbelief:
1. Absence or positive belief; incredulity.
2. A refusal to believe; disbelief as in religion.
3. In Scriptural use, lack of faith in God's promises.]

  • Lot's sons-in-law perished in Sodom because they refused to believe the city would be destroyed (Genesis 19:14).
  • God prohibited Moses and Aaron from entering Canaan with the people they had led for 40 years because of unbelief (Numbers 20:12).
  • Israel was finally obliterated because of refusing to believe God. Their unbelief showed itself as idol worship and was the cause of their extinction, but for the tribe of Judah (2 Kings 17:14-18).
  • In the New testament, when Jesus' disciples couldn't exorcise a destructive demon, the reason Jesus gave was unbelief (Matthew 17:19,20).
  • Jesus' miracle working acts were dampened because of unbelief (Matthew 13:58).
  • In our reading today psalmist Asaph cites the Israelites' refusal to believe in God, despite seeing His mighty works, as the reason their lives were "consumed with futility and their years in fear."

I wonder what historians will say about believers of our generation when they look back and evaluate it like Asaph did his forefathers. Will we be characterized by faith or by unbelief and its fruit of futility and fear? Even more sobering, what about you and me personally?

I know I have a long way to go. I can identify with the father who, when Jesus asked him if he believed if his son could be made well replied: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" - Mark 9:24.

PRAYER:
Dear God, I don't want futility and fear to be the description of my life. Please help my faith to grow. Amen.

MORE: The fruit of faith

Faith also gets a lot of Bible ink. Here are some fruits of faith-filled lives:
1. We become children of God - John 1:12.
2. We are promised answers to prayer - Matthew 21:22; 1 John 5:14.
3. We will have power - John 14:12
4. Our lives will refresh others - John 7:28
5. Our lives are grounded - Colossians 1:23, 1 Peter 2:6.
6. We can look forward to a spiritual inheritance - James 2:5

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Day of rest

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 16:17-36


TO CHEW ON: "And the Lord said to Moses .... 'See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.' So the people rested on the seventh day." Exodus 16:28-30

When God told the people to set aside one day in seven as a rest day He wasn't just making a suggestion. He meant it. Our story today shows that.

God supplied manna, the mysterious sweet wafer-like rounds that covered the ground each morning, as food and a test of obedience. One rule was to gather the manna each morning and not save any of it overnight. Another was to gather double the usual amount on the morning of the sixth day.

An interesting part of today's story is the rulers coming to Moses on that sixth day morning  to accuse people of doing what they were supposed to. It's as if they hadn't heard that part of Moses' command, or thought that the rule of no-overnight-storage trumped the double-on-the-sixth-day one.

This time the people gatherers were right. For on the morning of the seventh day — surprise! No manna. And the food they had gathered the day before smelled fine and was maggot-free.

And so one day in seven became a rest day for the Jews. It is the reason we, in our society with its foundation in Judeo-Christian thought, now treat Sundays differently than other weekdays — although more and more we don't. Where I live, stores, restaurants and even some banks are open for business on Sunday. And the temptation is to take advantage of these opportunities to squeeze a little more business into the week.

But a day of rest is one of God's founding principles of life. We keep it, not because we're under the law, but because the One who designed us knows that's what we need to function best. He Himself modeled it when He rested after six days of creation. How can we think we won't do ourselves harm by ignoring this principle in our lives?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to take seriously Your principle of Sabbath — not only as a day of rest but as a day to focus on You. Amen.

MORE: Another reason for sabbath besides rest

Isaiah 58:13-14:
"If you turn away your foot from [traveling unduly on] the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a [spiritual] delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor Him and it, not going your own way or seeking or finding your own pleasure or speaking with your own [idle] words,
   
Then will you delight yourself in the Lord, and I will make you to ride on the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage [promised for you] of Jacob your father; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it" (Amplified).

Luke 4:16 (talking about Jesus):
"So He came to Nazareth, [that Nazareth] where He had been brought up, and He entered the synagogue, as was His custom on the Sabbath day. And He stood up to read" (Amplified).
(From the archives)
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