Monday, December 31, 2012

Human temples

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Chronicles 6:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "But will God indeed dwell with men on earth? Behold heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!" 2 Chronicles 6:18

Picture the scene: all of Israel is gathered in Jerusalem for the dedication of a magnificent structure - the temple David began with an idea, plan, materials, and Solomon built.

On this day of the temple's dedication Solomon stands before the assembled crowd, probably in the temple's outer courtyard, blesses them, then ascends a bronze platform, kneels, raises his hands toward heaven and prays the eloquent prayer recorded in 2 Chronicles 6:12-42.

Within it he asks the question of our today's focus verse: "Will God indeed dwell with men on earth?"

He answers: "Behold heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!" Solomon grasped God's bigness and the impossibility of only one location ever holding Him.

He's right, of course. No place on earth can contain God, as in become a boundary or edge past which He cannot go, or contain His sum-total so that He is no where else. But God will dwell with men on earth — will and does.

1. In Israel's case, God responded to Solomon's prayer by sending fire which consumed the prepared sacrifices and glory so awesome, the priests couldn't enter the temple to complete their duties (2 Chronicles 7:14). From that time forward, God's presence dwelt in the temple's Holy of Holies room, as it had the ark.

2. Centuries later God sent Jesus to dwell with us in human flesh (John 1:1-5,14)

3. Now, since the day of Pentecost  and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), God dwells in us:

"Do you not discern and understand that you [the whole church at Corinth] are God's temple (His sanctuary), and that God's Spirit has His permanent dwelling in you [to be at home in you, collectively as a church and also individually]?" 1 Corinthians 3:16 Amplified
"Or didn't you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Message

What a thought to take with us into the new year!

PRAYER: Dear God, please teach me what it means to be Your dwelling in practical day-to-day ways. May Your glory shine through my life in 2013 more than it ever has before. Amen.

MORE: The Holy Spirit in us — insights from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest

"It is very easy to quench the Spirit; we do it by despising the chastening of the Lord, by fainting when we are rebuked by Him....Never quench the Spirit..."  (August 14 reading).
"Never discard a conviction. If it is important enough for the Spirit of God to have brought it to your mind, it is that thing He is detecting." (September 24th reading)
"Obey God in the thing He shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened up. One reads tomes on the work of the Holy Spirit, when one five minutes of drastic obedience would make things as clear as a sunbeam." (October 10th reading)


Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Father's business

St. Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de la Tour
St. Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de la Tour
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 2:41-52

TO CHEW ON: “And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’” Luke 2:49

I wonder if these words of Jesus, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ sent a pang through His earthly father Joseph’s heart. Did they drive home again the fact that, even at this early age, Jesus was not truly ‘his’ – even as our kids aren’t ‘ours’?

The reaction of Jesus to His parents reminds me of something Oswald Chambers says


"Are we going to remain loyal in our obedience to God and go through the humiliation of refusing to be independent, or are we going to take the other line and say--I will not cost other people suffering? .... if we obey God, He will look after those who have been pressed into the consequences of our obedience. We have simply to obey and to leave all consequences to Him. Beware of the inclination to dictate to God as to what you will allow to happen if you obey Him" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, January 11th reading.

So much for others’ obedience resulting in our inconvenience. What about the personal cost of being about the Father’s business? It is wide-ranging. Jesus’ words, “I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father Who sent me” (John 5:30), reverberate all the way down to us: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21

A sidebar article in my Bible says:
"Yielding to His call in the pragmatics of daily living means that we recognize His purpose for us during times we would otherwise seek indulgence for our self-interests or run from the demanding implications of His leading at a given moment (ouch!)… it is not ours to excuse ourselves from our places of service but to choose His choice, that is to say, His choice is my choice, my consecration to Him.”- Fuchsia Pickett, New Spirit Filled Life Bible page 1390.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me understand what a privilege it is to be busy doing Father-God business. I pray with the psalm-writer, “Take my eyes away from looking at worthless things and revive me in Your way” (Psalm 119:37) today. Amen.

MORE: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" - Keith and Kristyn Getty




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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lessons from washing feet

A foot-washing ceremony was
part of my daughter's wedding.

wedding foot-washing ceremony
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 13:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "If I then your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." - John 13:14.


There are layers of meaning captured in this beautiful story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet—told only by John.

Jesus meant for this act to puzzle the disciples—to provoke them to being alert to its meaning. He said, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this" John 13:7.

  • Jesus' answer to Peter's "You shall never wash my feet""If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me,"—implies a more thorough washing than feet is necessary for Peter and any disciple. Other Bible verses come to mind, verses like:
"Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin....
Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean
Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow" - Psalm 51:2,7
and
"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols" - Ezekiel 36:25.

  • But Jesus' insistence that their feet did need washing (John 13:10) suggests that even after we are cleansed by Jesus' atoning blood we continue to need cleansing from the defilement we pick up as we walk through life.
  • Jesus' words: "... you also ought to wash one another's feet" and His entire sum-up of the significance of what He did (John 13:14-17) has given rise to a foot-washing custom in some churches. I like the way my Bible's commenter on John explains this:
"Jesus was probably not seeking to institute a literal practice to be observed continually in the church, although some feel this to be the case. But He shows great concern that the meaning of true servanthood be well understood that no one deem it beneath his dignity to perform the most menial of tasks for others. Ultimately servanthood is a disposition of the heart and spirit, which expresses itself in concrete actions" - Siegfried Shatzmann, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1467 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to understand Your example of washing feet and how that translates into action in my life. Thank You for Your cleansing blood. Help me to wash my feet every day as I repent of the sins that dirty me along the way. Amen.


MORE: The Feast of St. John
Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. John, the writer of today's Scripture reading. He served us well with his contribution to the Bible—the Gospel of John and the three epistles, 1, 2 & 3 John.

The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

"Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; 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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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In with the new!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 6:8-7:2a

TO CHEW ON: "For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us." Acts 6:14

Less than 40 years have passed between today's story and the event we celebrated yesterday (Jesus' birth). It's a relatively short span of time, yet long enough to change the course of history. The council of priests here accused Stephen of the same thing they had accused the adult Jesus of — wanting to change the temple order of worship (Matthew 26:59-61). And though the witnesses against Jesus misrepresented what He said, the coming of Christ did mean the end of the temple order of worship, the foundation of Judaism.

I can understand the resistance of these leaders when confronted with claims that were so earth-shaking. We naturally fear and resist change, especially when it shatters the lens through which we view life. And that's the kind of change Jesus brings:

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new" 2 Corinthians 5:17

What new things does Christ bring?

1. A new sensitivity (Ezekiel 36:26).
2. A new Master (1 Corinthians 8:6)
3. A new mind (Romans 12:1-2)
4. A new reason for living (Philippians 1:21).
5. A new guidebook (1 Peter 1:23).
6. A new interest (Colossians 3:1).
7. A new freedom (Romans 7:6).
8. New strength (Isaiah 40:31).
9. A new love (1 John 4:7).
10. A new song (Psalm 40:3).
11. A new destiny (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Reviewing all these new things that Jesus brings gets me all excited again about the privilege of being His child.

Have you invited Him to bring this newness into your life? Such a decision won't be without its discomforts, as you deal with the old: mindsets, values, priorities and allegiances. But it's so worth it!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, again, thank You for coming to earth to bring change and make things new. Help me to embrace and incorporate all these new things into my life today. Amen. 

MORE: Feast of Saint Stephen

The "new" for the disciples also brought martyrdom. Today the church commemorates its first martyr, in the Feast of Saint Stephen. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:
We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

See His glory!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 97:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "His lightnings light the world;
The earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax
at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
The heavens declare His righteousness
And all the peoples see His glory."
- Psalm 97:4-6


Today's description of God's awesomeness as He sets foot on planet Earth scarcely fits with the quiet events of the first Christmas that were witnessed by a few shepherds, a few astrologers, maybe the innkeeper's wife (if we believe the Christmas plays!). So why this reading about God coming with brilliance and terror? Didn't our reading guide writer make a mistake in assigning Psalm 97 for Christmas day?

On further thought, the words of this psalm in the context of Christmas do this celebration a great favour.  For though Jesus' coming was humble and quiet, it was destined to rock the planet too.  Dennis McCallum in his book Unlocking the Mysteries of Satan says:

"Although God apparently has been passive in the face Satan's evil actions, he hasn't really been. We can rest assured that he saw the whole thing coming. Before he ever created Satan or humans God knew about their future rebellion, and he formed a colossal, startling plan that suddenly and shockingly burst onto the world....

To the casual reader, it may seem like the biblical story meanders; that God was reacting to events that came up, trying this, trying that, being let down by people, blessing, judging, and eventually, after exhausting other options, sending Jesus. But this is not the case. Right from the beginning, God hinted that his plan was afoot" (Genesis 3:15) - Kindle location 96.

The Christmas chapter of God's plan is only one link—but a most vital one—in a chain of events that will culminate in God someday coming as conqueror to an awestruck, trembling world, as pictured in our reading.

We need to ask ourselves, whose side are we on in this epic clash? The choices are simple:

"You who love the Lord hate evil!
He preserves the souls of His saints
He  delivers them out of the hand of the wicked" - Psalm 97:10.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your overarching plan to defeat Satan, and for Jesus coming as part of that plan! Help me to live my life loving You and hating evil. Amen.

MORE: And the Glory of the Lord - from Handel's Messiah (London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus version)




Today the church celebrates that Feast of Christmas. The liturgy for Christmas Day begins with this collect:

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
  
Wishing a blessed Christmas to all who read here!



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Monday, December 24, 2012

Pondering God's promises

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 2:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:19

From the day the angel came to Mary with the almost incomprehensible message, "The Lord is with you; blessed are you among women .... You shall bring forth a Son .... and of His kingdom there will be no end," her life was changed (Luke 1:28-33).

When she went to visit her relative Elizabeth, she was greeted with more unusual words: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" - Luke 1:42.

The strangenesses continue in today's reading when shepherds find the new parents in their cowshed accommodation and tell them that an angel has announced their baby's birth, identified Him by His manger bed and swaddling clothes, and proclaimed Him "A Savior who is Christ the Lord."

Mary's response: "She kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." And at least three more times in Luke we find Mary puzzled and pondering things that are playing out in the life of her child Jesus - Luke 2:33,50,51.

Though our experience will never mirror Mary's we too may have promises and dreams that set us pondering. They may be dreams God has put in our hearts for our own futures. They may be things people have spoken over us. They may be the destiny we see for our kids. They may be the role we envision our church will play in the community, or our country will have on the world stage.

Joyce Meyer had such a dream. Early in her Christian life she caught a vision of a ministry she believed God had for her. In her book Battlefield of the Mind, she describes how that vision was challenged. But claiming Romans 8:26 for the things she did not understand, she confronted naysaying thoughts with a determination to believe, not doubt, God's promises. She says:
"As Christians, we need to learn to decide to believe. God often gives us faith (a product of the Spirit) for things our minds just can't always seem to come into agreement with. The mind wants to understand everything—the why, the when, and the how of it all...


I had decided long before to believe what the Word says, and to believe the rhema (the revealed Word) that God gave me (the things He spoke to me or the promises He gave me personally), even if I didn't understand why, when, or how it would come to pass in my life" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 51.
As we ponder the promises God has given us, let us too study them in the light of faith. Mary obviously did. Why else would she have told the servants, troubled at running out of wine during the wedding in Cana, "Whatever He (Jesus) says to you, do it" (John 2:5)?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to ponder Your promises to me with faith, knowing that You can do "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Amen.

MORE: Mary, Did you Know? - Gaither Vocal Band



 
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Come Thou Long-expected Jesus

The prophet Isaiah - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 5:19-47

TO CHEW ON: "'You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and these are they which testify of Me.'" - John 5:39

Jesus knew who He was, and that He was the fulfillment of prophecy. Let's take up His challenge to the Jews, and search the scriptures to see how they testify of Him.

  • The first prophecies begin in the first book of the Bible, the opening scenes of God's dealings with humanity when God cursed the serpent and declared the woman's seed would triumph - Genesis 3:15.
  • Genesis 49:10 prophesies that the triumphant ruler will come from the tribe of Judah. More specifically, Psalm 132:11, Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 11:10 and Jeremiah 23:5 all predict this King will be a descendant of David.
  • Isaiah predicts that a virgin will conceive and bear a Son—Emmanuel (God with us) - Isaiah 7:14.
  • Micah predicts His birthplace—Bethlehem - Micah 5:2.
  • Malachi predicts a messenger preparing the way for Jesus' ministry - Malachi 3:1.
  • God's Servant is characterized as having God's Spirit upon Him and being the Saviour of the Gentiles as well as the Jews - Isaiah 42:1; 49:6. He preaches good tidings to all who are bound - Isaiah 61:1.
  • Furthermore, this promised Son (Isaiah 9:6) will bring light - Isaiah 9:2.
  • Psalm 118:22 speaks of builders rejecting a stone which would become the chief cornerstone. Isaiah 28:16 refers to that stone as well.
  • Zechariah predicts His entry into Jerusalem on a donkey - Zechariah 9:9.
  • Isaiah predicts His marred body and appearance in Isaiah 52:14 and 53:2-7.
  • Psalm 69:21 names details of Jesus' experience on the cross, predicting He would be offered vinegar to drink.
  • His atonement and resurrection are predicted in Psalm 68:18.
  • We read about His eventual triumph, sitting at the right hand of the King with His enemies His footstool in Psalm 110:1. Isaiah predicts He will conquer death - Isaiah 25:8, and Daniel tells of His indestructible kingdom - Daniel 2:44; 7:13,14.

And there are many others!

As we celebrate His birth, let's do so with an appreciation of the rich story of which it is a part—a story that is threaded through the Old Testament in prophetic predictions, comes to pass in the New,  and of which we are a part if we have been born again into His kingdom


PRAYER: Dear God, I am amazed at the consistency of the writings about Jesus in the Old Testament. Thank You for these prophetic scriptures which bring home the foresight and intricacy of your plan of salvation. Amen.

MORE: "Come Though Long-Expected Jesus" - Chris Tomlin




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Friday, December 21, 2012

God's three requirements

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 6:1-16

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



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

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

But the next item is no grinning matter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE: It's practical

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


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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

God's heart for the poor

homeless shopping cart
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 2:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "You who are named the house of Jacob,
Is the Spirit of the Lord restricted?
Are these His doings?
Do not my words do good
To him who walks uprightly?" - Micah 2:7


From Micah's scoldings we begin to understand the extent of Judah's sin. Not only were the people guilty of idolatry but also injustice.

Micah paints the picture of someone lying awake at night, conniving how he can add to his property and in the morning enacting that plan (Micah 2:1,2). Instead of protecting society's most vulnerable, the powerful act like returning warriors as they ruthlessly strip their trusting neighbours of life's essentials and evict women (probably widows) and their children from their homes (Micah 2:8,9).

If there's one thing God hates, it's injustice to the poor, the alien, and the helpless. His passion for the vulnerable comes out again and again in the Bible, no less here in Micah's condemning words: "Arise and depart for this is not your rest." In plain English: "Those who had removed others from a restful life would be removed themselves because they had defiled God's land with their sinfulness" - Willard S. Elijahson's commentary on Micah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1206.

At this time of year, when we tend to focus on ourselves as we prepare for the upcoming celebration, let's not neglect to remember the poor. How might we do that?
  • Put money in the Salvation Army kettle. Or volunteer to man a kettle for a few hours.
  • Take part in church and community initiatives that help the poor (collecting toys and food for special Christmas hampers, contributing to Christmas funds like our local Christmas Bureau).
  • Donate to the local foodbank (grocery items or money).
  • Welcome the poor when they come to church and perhaps invite them for a meal to get to know them.
  • Pray for wisdom when panhandlers and beggars approach on the street asking for money. Consider buying them a meal instead of giving cash.
  • Volunteer to help out with Christmas dinner events served to the poor and homeless (locally Union Gospel Mission serves an annual Christmas dinner).
  • Give money in your loved one's name to World Vision or other organizations that offer proxy gifts to impoverished peoples in the world, instead of lavishing gifts of things we really don't need on each other.  (Browse the World Vision Gift Catalogue)

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me Your heart for the poor and unfortunate. Help me to be obedient when I sense You stirring me to love in practical ways. Amen.

MORE: A book you might like

Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams Into Your Comfortable Life
by Jeff Goins






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Monday, December 17, 2012

Do we have "high places"?

High places - Micah 1:3
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 1:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "For behold the Lord is coming out of His place;
He will come down
And tread on the high places of the earth." - Micah 1:3


"Prophecies of Christ make Micah's book glow with hope and encouragement," says Willard Elijahson in my Bible's introduction to Micah (New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1202). It's a great book to read as we look forward to Christmas (in eight days' time!).

Micah, the man, prophesied alongside Isaiah. Historians date his writings between 704-696 B.C. during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. His message is directed to inhabitants of Samaria and Jerusalem.

He begins his message by announcing the coming of the Lord. We get the picture of someone coming from elsewhere: "...the Lord is coming out of His place; He will come down..." - Micah 1:3.

The place God chooses to visit is noteworthy—the "high places of the earth." Though we might read this as elevated land masses (mountain peaks perhaps, which would give a good view of all the surrounding area) the people of that time would probably have understood high places to mean elevated pagan altars. God was coming to check out their disloyalty—the places they compromised, flirted with, and gave in to idols. Awkward! Embarrassing! Incriminating!

The picture of God coming down to check out the high places of Judah prompts me to ask, what if I applied this image to my society, my life? What would God find?

Dennis McCallum in his book Unlocking the Mysteries of Satan explains how, at the fall, Satan took charge of the world system or kosmos. He says:

"Perhaps the definitive passage on kosmos is 1 John 2:15-17.
'Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away,but the man who does the will of God lives forever.'
Accordingly the kosmos is primarily a system of values. The lust of the flesh refers to living for ungodly pleasure. The lust of the eyes refers to owning beautiful things or gaining control over beautiful people. The boastful pride of life refers to the way humans try to establish identity and importance by competing with each other for attention, power, and admiration" (Kindle Location, 871).

McCallum goes on to suggest that the church and we as individual Christians have gone easy on many of these attitudinal sins:

"Many Christians think of 'worldly' things as gross sins like wanton sex, for example .... Many of the same Christians, however, would never recognize the world-system when looking at the Harvard University green or the Sears Tower. A glossy magazine advertisement showing a family luxuriating in a hot tub in Tahiti or a shiny new SUV would not ring the kosmos bell in their minds" - KL 887.

Are we in these ways building our own high places? As I imagine God coming to me, I ask, what high places is He finding in my life? Is He finding some in yours?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to see my attitudes from Your point of view. Show me where I have bought into the world system and perspective. Amen.

MORE: Throwing down 'high place' attitudes
"Instead of arguing with Satan, Christians must learn to share the Word of God with him, like Jesus did. To match up with someone this smart, we need the help of someone even smarter, and God is infinitely smarter than Satan" - McCallum, K.L. 767.



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Sunday, December 16, 2012

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: Joy to the World & Joy Unspeakable Joy - Chris Tomlin



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Saturday, December 15, 2012

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: O Come All Ye Faithful sung by Chris Tomlin




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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Your rhema

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 3:1-22

TO CHEW ON: “While Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of the Lord came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.” Luke 3:2

I wonder if John the Baptist fit in with the other boys his age. Did he play? Was he mischievous and spunky? In every Bible mention of him he appears intense, earnest, focused – one of God’s rockets.

In today's passage he would have been 30-ish (a few months older than Jesus) and spending time, not with a wife or friends but alone in the desert. But not really alone because God was there. During his desert retreat, “the word of the Lord” came to him.

[The word used for “word” here is rhema – as opposed to logos. Rhema is the part of God’s entire word (the logos) which communicates to the reader/hearer. It is the same word used in the Ephesians 6 armor of God passage (“And take…the sword of the Spirit which is the word [rhema] of God”) where as believers are told to wield a portion of the word as a sword in the time of need.]

The rhema which came to John that day in the desert was the message of repentance. Preaching it became his destiny.

Though you are probably not as intense and serious as John, God’s rhema word can come to you too. Looking for and finding such a message every day can make your relationship with God come alive. If you are having trouble hearing God, try these things:

1. Pray that God will open your ears to His voice.

2. Keep a record of God’s rhema words to you. They may come in many ways – through reading the Bible, hearing Scripture in song lyrics, remembering Bible verses, listening to talks, lectures or podcasts of Bible teachers…

3. Obey and put into action the things God tells you.

PRAYER: Dear God, I would like to hear from You every day. Please help me to be open and receptive to Your words.

MORE: Do you have a rhema word or passage that has guided your life?

Mercy Me sings "Word of God Speak."



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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Watch!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 13:14-37


TO CHEW ON: "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" - Mark 13:37

When a word occurs multiple times in a bit of scripture, we'd better pay attention. In Mark 13:32-37 Jesus tells us four times to WATCH.

"Watch and pray," He says (Mark 13:34), "for you do not know when the time is." The time He is referring to is the time of Jesus' return (Mark 13:26). [The Greek word for watch here (agrepneo) means to be sleepless, to keep awake.]

He repeats the command: "It is like a man going to a far country who ... commanded the doorkeeper to watch.... Watch therefore .... Watch!" (Mark 13:34, 35, 37). [The Greek word for watch in these three instances is gregoreuo. As well as meaning alert and wakeful, it also signifies mental alertness and caution.]

The disciples are to be as alert as doorkeepers, guarding the house from thieves. They are to stay awake through all four watches of the night. They will find themselves in big trouble if the master finds them asleep. The picture is of the captain of the temple making his rounds. "The guards had to rise at his approach and salute him in a particular manner. Any guard found asleep on duty was beaten or his garments set on fire" - Vincent's Word Studies. (Oh my!)

The command to watch continues for us today. Though we are not to speculate about the date when Jesus will return (Mark 3:32 tells us it's pointless because only God the Father knows) we are to continue in this state of readiness and alertness.

Of course Jesus may come to some of us through death before He physically returns to earth. Here too we need to be watchful. As Matthew Henry puts it:

"We know not whether our Master will come in the days of youth, or middle age, or old age; but, as soon as we are born, we begin to die, and therefore we must expect death. Our great care must be, that, whenever our Lord comes, he may not find us secure, indulging in ease and sloth, mindless of our work and duty..." Matthew Henry's Commentary.
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be more mindful of Your anticipated return, and to live life alert to the possibility of You bursting on the scene at any moment. Of course I could meet You through death in the same sudden, unexpected way. Teach me to live a watchful lifestyle. Amen.

MORE: Watchful praying

From a 1982 sermon preaching from the text Colossians 4:2-4 John Piper makes these observations about watchful prayer.

“Be watchful in your prayers.” This means, be alert! Be mentally awake! Paul probably learned this from the story of what happened in Gethsemane. Jesus asked the disciples to pray, but found them sleeping. So he said to Peter, “Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:37f). We must be on the watch as we pray—on the watch against a wandering mind, against vain repetitions, against trite and meaningless expressions, against limited, selfish desires. And we should also watch for what is good. We should especially be alert to God’s guidance of our prayers in Scripture. It is God who works in us to will our prayers but we always experience this divine enablement as our own resolve and decision..." Read all of "Persevere in Prayer" by John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org. (Emphasis added.)



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Thursday, December 06, 2012

Shining legacy

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Daniel 12:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3

Vancouver residents awoke November 26, 2009 to the news that a popular city attraction was on the chopping block. At a meeting the night before city councilors voted to shut down the Bloedel Conservatory – a geodesic dome that houses exotic birds and plants. It sits on donated land on top of Queen Elizabeth Park and is now considered too expensive to maintain.

The cries of outrage were predictable. One came from a descendant of the man who donated the land. In a letter to the city, Virginia Bloedel Wright pleaded with councilors to respect “my father’s legacy.”

We all understand the wish to leave a lasting legacy and hope that ours will be just that. Our verse today tells us that we do this when we “turn many to righteousness.” What does that mean?

The Amplified version expands on the phrase: “turn many to righteousness” (to uprightness and right standing with God).” The Message rephrases it to:…those who put others on the right path to life ... An expression used in many Christian circles to describe this activity is soul winning. Here are some conclusions about soul winning we can draw as we look at Bible passages that talk about it and the people who do it.

1. Soul-winning springs from the fellowship-desiring heart of God (Luke 14:16-23).
2. It flows out of a right relationship with God (Psalm 51:12-13).
3. Soul-winners are motivated by their concern for others (James 5:20).
4. The first soul-winners were trained by Christ.  He is the great soul-winning trainer Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17).
5. Soul-winners are willing to make great personal sacrifice to succeed (1 Corinthians 9:19-20).
6. They are vigilant over the authenticity of their lives and what they teach (1 Timothy 4:16).
7. Successful soul-winners realize their actions count as much as – may be more than – their words (1 Peter 3:1).
8. Soul-winners are wise (Proverbs 11:30).
9. They consider soul-winning an assignment from God (1 Thessalonians 2:1-4).
10. Soul-winners don’t need ideal circumstances to be successful (Philemon 1:10).
11. They persevere despite a lack of visible results (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
12. The legacy they leave “…will shine… like the stars forever and ever" (our focus verse today).

I ask myself, am I working on leaving such a legacy? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for entrusting me with the privilege and responsibility of influencing lives for You. Please teach me how to do this better. Amen.



MORE:
Rita Springer sings “All My Days”





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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Know your God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 11:21-45

TO CHEW ON: "... but the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits." - Daniel 11:32b

The angel Michael's prediction continues on from our reading of yesterday—a detailed prophecy of events yet to come. Here is how the writer of Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible continues with matching these predictions to history:

"... Verses 21-24 (Daniel 11:21-24) aptly portray his character and policies (talking about Antiochus IV here). Through the treachery of Ptolemy's own men, Antiochus briefly gained control of Egypt in 173.

On his return he attacked Jerusalem and slaughtered 80,000 Jews (Daniel 11:25-28). The next time he attacked Egypt he was thwarted by the Roman fleet (Daniel 11:29-30). He turned on Jerusalem again and desecrated the temple (Daniel 11:31).

He was aided and abetted by some Jews, but others reused to compromise their faith though they died for it (Daniel 11:32-33).

Judas Maccabaeus instigated a successful revolt, so helping the faithful (Daniel 11:34).

Daniel 11:36-45 does not describe actual events at the end of Antiochus' life. These verses may refer to the end of Syrian domination, at the hands of Rom, the new king from the north. Or they may anticipate events at the end of time, which the sufferings of God's people under Antiochus foreshadow" - Eerdmans Handbook p. 437.

I get a sense of inevitability as I read these predictions—the same feeling I get when I read Jesus' prophecy about end times (Matthew 24:4-31). And the question arises—What can a person do in the face of such acts of people and nature that the earth seems to be headed for?

Here is one answer.  Get to know God:
"...but the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits."

In the angel's prophecy, the folks who did this stayed strong and more (though the next verse and the history imply that some of them were killed for their efforts - Daniel 11:33).

The Bible is full of pleas to "know the Lord."
  • From the Old Testament prophets: Jeremiah 9:24; Ezekiel 35:11; Hosea 6:3.
  • From Jesus, who intimated that obedience was the route to such knowledge (John 7:16,17), that it was the pathway to true freedom (John 8:31,32), and the means of eternal life (John 17:3).

In this vein I see the picture of the white-robed martyr overcomers from Revelation: Revelation 6:9-11 and 12:11:

"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death."

PRAYER: Dear God, help me not to be lulled into complacency by my relatively trouble-free life. Rather, help me to use this time to get to know You, so that when trouble comes, I can overcome (even if that overcoming is accomplished through death/martyrdom). Amen.

MORE: A heavenly scene:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom,
Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
 Be to our God forever and ever.
Amen.”

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?”

And I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Tomorrow's news today

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 11:2-20

TO CHEW ON: "And now I will tell you the truth: Behold three more kings will arise in Persia, and the fourth shall be far richer than them all; by his strength, through his riches, he shall stir up all against the realm of Greece..." Daniel 11:2

Our reading today seems to predict history in detail. Who are the kings of the South? The kings of the North? Did Daniel's prediction actually come true?

The writers of Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible believe it did. The author of the section on Daniel matches his prediction with history:

"This chapter claims to set out the course of future history in detail. And from our vantage-point in time we can look back on its amazingly accurate fulfillment in the history of the Greek Empire.

There are to be three more Persian kings (2 Cambyses, Gaumata and Darius I) followed by a fourth (Xerxes). Xerxes invaded Greece but was defeated at Salamis in 480 BC.

The power then passed to Greece (Daniel 11:3,4). Daniel 11:5 refers to Egypt (the 'king of the South') and to Ptolemy's one-time general Seleucus, who became 'king of the North'—the powerful kingdom of Syria and the east.

Fifty years later (Daniel 11:6) the daughter of Ptolemy II married Antiochus II of Syria. But she was divorced and murdered, and her brother avenged her by attacking Syria (Daniel 11:7). Daniel 11:9-13 reflects the struggles between the two powers at the end of the 3rd century BC.

The Jews then joined forces with Antiochus III of Syria to defeat Egypt (Daniel 11:14-15). They gained their freedom from Egypt (Daniel 11:16), and Antiochus made a marriage alliance with Ptolemy V (Daniel 11:17).

Antiochus invaded Asia Minor and Greece but was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia in 190 BC (Daniel 11:18-19).

The 'exactor of tribute' ['one who imposes taxes' - NKJV] (Daniel 11:20) was his son Seleucus IV who was shortly succeeded by his brother Antiochus IV, the persecutor of the Jews" - Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible, pp. 436,7.

Note the dates when these things happened, compared to the date Daniel was written (beginning late 400s BC compared to sometime in the 500s [540-530]). That would be like someone writing a detailed prediction of what happened in our time almost 100 years ago and more.

But the God we worship is a God who knows the end from the beginning: Isaiah 46:9-10.

Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’

And He knows not only the future of nations, but all the details about you and me - Psalm 139:15-16.

My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,

When as yet there were none of them.


PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You that You know not only about nations but about me. Please lead me by Your knowledgeable Spirit to live wisely. Amen.

MORE: The prophet's call

In the introduction the "The Prophets" section of Eerdman's  Handbook is an interesting explanation of what a biblical prophet was and did. Here are a few excerpts:
"The true prophet claimed the privilege of being in the Lord's 'council,' a word which conveys the idea of both consultation (see 1 Kings 22:19-22) and of close companionship with God ....

The word translated 'prophet' signifies 'called (by God)', with the consequent task of proclaiming the message of God to men. God's call is not an invitation but an appointment (Amos 7:15) ....

The two other Hebrew words are both translated 'seer,' meaning 'one who sees.' These words point to the fact that by God's inspiration the prophets have an altogether unique ability to 'see': both into the affairs of men and into the mind of God" - Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible, p. 371.


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