Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wait!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 40:18-31

TO CHEW ON: "But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles;
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31

If there's anything we moderns find hard to do, it's wait. Computers have made waiting — for some things at least — almost obsolete. Want to read a book? Buy it online and if you have an e-reader you can be reading it in minutes. Call or text your friends any time and from anywhere on your cell phone. Access your bank online 24/7.

The way we're accustomed to expect instant action on getting our desires satisfied may make Isaiah's advice to wait on the Lord harder than ever to follow. But it is something we need to do, no matter how jumpy and impatient technology has made us. For God has His own agenda, and is on His own timetable — something we ignore at our peril.

Isaiah has been talking about that agenda for Israel in Isaiah 40. He has predicted the coming of Messiah, and reminded the people of how big and all-powerful God is when compared with earth's nations. Here at the chapter's end, he calls the people back to trust in Him, concluding with verse 31 about how waiting on God renews strength and gives energy for the long haul.

Waiting in that way is something we need to do as we face life's evils, injustices and unresolved issues. The Bible tells us to wait on, or for, or in God because:

  • He is our salvation (Psalm 25:5).
  • He is our source of mercy (Psalm 123:2).
  • He is our defense (Psalm 59:9).
  • He is our revenge (Proverbs 20:22).
  • Waiting for Him and His timing is the way we achieve our destiny (Psalm 37:9, 34).
  • We are to wait for him alone (Psalm 62:5) and continually (Hosea 12:6).

A footnote in my Bible referring to Isaiah 40:27-31 says:

"A proper understanding of God's dealings in life comes only by knowing His perspective and ways. This calls for great patience (v. 31). Wait on the Lord means to go about the routines of life with a fervent, patient hope that He will consummate His rule in His time; He will deal with evil. Such an inner attitude gives one strength to mount up above the moment with vigor to go on. See Romans 8:18-30." - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 919.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to resist the urge to act impatiently and take matters into my own hands. Instead help me to wait on, for, and in You to bring resolution to issues I face. Amen.

MORE: The tragedy of impatience

King Saul is someone who refused to wait. Read the tragic results of his impatience in 1 Samuel 13:1-14.


(From the archives)


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Monday, January 30, 2012

Our tough and tender shepherd

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 40:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Behold the Lord God shall come with a strong hand ...
He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arms,
And carry them in His bosom
And gently lead those who are with young." Isaiah 40:10,11

I love seeing news footage of tough Vancouver Canuck hockey players interacting with kids from the Vancouver Children's Hospital, or watch my strong, capable son-in-law take care of his baby daughter. There is something compelling about strength combined with tenderness. In Isaiah 40 we see that aspect of God.

Though He governs with a strong hand and a ruling arm, He rules His own with the utmost of gentleness:
  • He feeds His flock. [Feed - ra 'ah  means to shepherd, tend, pasture, cause one's herd or flock to graze, care for one's animals, providing them with good pasture - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 919.]
  • He carries the lambs—the young and immature—in His arms and carries them close to His heart.
  • He takes special care of the mothers: "gently leads those who are with young."

This passage from Isaiah reminds us of other God-as-shepherd passages.

* Psalm 80:1-2 also combines God's tenderness with strength: "Give ear O Shepherd of Israel / You who lead Joseph like a flock .... Stir up Your strength, / And come and save us."

* So does Micah 5:4: "He shall stand and feed His flock / In the strength of the Lord .." Here "He" refers to Jesus. Two verses earlier in the same passage, Micah predicts His birth in Bethlehem.

* Psalm 23:1-6 shows God shepherding the individual by bringing him to the best pasture and to still water, comforting him in a brush with death, and exalting him before enemies.

* And of course we can't forget the words of Jesus Himself as He expands on His role as our shepherd in John 10. There He talks about how His sheep know His voice (John 10:4), how entry into the sheepfold through Him (the door - John 10:7) assures them safety and an abundant life (John 10:9,10), how He is so committed to the sheep He lays down His life for them (John 10:15), and how no one has power to take the sheep away from Him (John 10:28).

What comfort and security we know in the care of our shepherd who is both strong and tender. I have put myself in His care. Have you?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your power, which so often shows itself in gentleness. Help me to recognize Your voice and always follow You. Amen.


MORE: He gathers with His arm of power

"He shall gather the lambs with his arm; the weaklings of the flock; the same with babes and sucklings, newly born souls, weak believers, mean and low in their own eyes, the smoking flax, and bruised reed, the day of small things, the poor of the flock; these he gathers with his arm of power, and by the ministry of the Gospel, both to himself, his person ... and to his church, to partake of the word and ordinances of it, and to nearer communion with him in them" Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible


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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jesus: the One with authority to make things happen

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:21-28


TO CHEW ON: "... for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes .... 'What is this? What new doctrine is this?For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him.'" Mark 1:22,27

We know that in order to get action on an issue—from better service in a store to a change in the laws of the land—we need to appeal to the people who have the authority to make or implement the changes we desire [authority = the right to command and to enforce obedience; the delegated right or power, authorization; the official or group having administrative control in a specific area"].

In our reading today, Mark uses the word authority twice in telling about how the people of Jesus' time described His ministry.

  • He taught with authority - Mark 1:2.
  • He commanded evil spirits with authority - Mark 1:27.

[The Greek word for authority used here is exousia.  It 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.]

As we look at more of the stories of Jesus' time on earth, we see His authority in evidence all over the place.

  • He took authority over crowds - Mark 14:9.
  • He took authority over activities in the temple - Matthew 21:12.
  • He took authority over nature by stilling storms (Mark 4:37-39), multiplying food (Matthew 14:19-21), healing people from sickness (Mark 2:8-12), even raising them from the dead (Luke 7:11-15).
  • He was aware of and declared His authority (Matthew 28:18), as did God the Father (Mark 9:7).
  • The exciting part in all this is that we are implicated in Jesus' authority. On the basis of His authority, He sends us out to fulfill His great and final assignment (Matthew 28:18-20).

Two questions come to mind:

1. Do you and I recognize His authority over all the areas in which He demonstrated and declared that He had/has it? Do we really believe He has authority over nature, sickness, death? Do we claim His authority over sin and dark spiritual forces?

2. Do we let His authority operate in and through us? Do we speak, pray, and minister with authority?


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You have all authority in heaven and earth. Help me to live every day under Your authority and as an agent of Your authority. Amen.


More: Gaither Vocal Band - On the Authority




(Written with help from the archives.)


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Monday, January 23, 2012

An ancient 'Occupy' complaint

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Nehemiah 5:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "I also with my brethren and my servants am lending them money and grain. Please let us stop this usury!" Nehemiah 5:10

The complaints of the people to Nehemiah in today's reading remind me of the modern Occupy Movement that began in the fall of 2011. It is a protest against unfairnesses in society. Rooted in the financial collapse of 2008, people are protesting many things including the use of tax money to bail out big businesses and banks. While executives of the companies (who many perceive to be the cause of the problem) get huge bonuses and severance packages, the little guy loses his job and then his house because he can no longer pay his debt.

It appears that an economic crisis had also hit Jerusalem and its surroundings just prior to Nehemiah's arrival. A footnote in my Bible explains, "A famine along with the need to pay taxes had forced many families into insolvency. Nehemiah's presence emboldened the dispossessed to cry out for justice" - Study notes, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 618.

The confidence of the poor people in Nehemiah was well placed. Outraged by conditions, he took up their cause. He assembled the nobles and rulers and:

  • Rebuked them (Nehemiah 5:7).
  • Reasoned with them, showing how it didn't make sense that they had freed Jewish citizens held captives by other nations but were holding their own people to ransom with debt (Nehemiah 5:8).
  • Told them to stop charging interest (Nehemiah 5:10). Actually what they were doing to their brothers was against Moses' law (Leviticus 25:35-38).
  • Commanded them to restore absconded property along with some of the interest that had been paid to them (Nehemiah 5:11).
He himself was a good example, in that he lent the poor people money and grain (Nehemiah 5:10) and refused to live the customary high lifestyle of a governor himself (Nehemiah 5:15).

There is a place for us to be champions of justice in our society too. Though I don't personally endorse the occupy movement and don't suggest aligning oneself with their cause, there are things we can do. For starters, we can treat others fairly, lend or give money when we see a need, and live modestly and within our means, like Nehemiah did.

PRAYER: Dear God, please grow in me an attitude of justice for the poor and the generosity and willingness to help when I can with what I have. Amen.

MORE: Your gift to the poor: a gift to God?

Michael Hyatt in a recent blog post "5 Ways You Can Become an Everyday Hero" writes:
"I have an author friend who has a policy about giving to homeless people. He told me, 'Every time I used to encounter a homeless person, I would go through all kinds of mental gyrations. If I give money to this person, will they just use it to buy alcohol or drugs? Why don’t they just get a job? Maybe it would be better if I offered them some work rather than just give them money?'
Then he read the words of Matthew 5:42, 'Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.' He then decided to make a deal with God.

Now, whenever he encounters a homeless person or a beggar, he gives them all the cash in his pocket. Sometimes that’s two dollars. Sometimes it’s a hundred. Regardless, he decided to stop over-thinking it and start living the Gospel. The money he gives is his gift to God."
Read all of "5 Ways You can Become an Everyday Hero"



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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wait for God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 62:1-12


TO CHEW ON: "Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him.
God is a refuge for us. Selah" Psalm 62:8.

It would be interesting to know the story behind this psalm. One senses betrayal. David, in a kind of aside says (perhaps in reference to backstabbers?), "How long will you attack a man? ... They only consult to cast him down from his high position; they delight in lies. They bless with their mouth, But they curse inwardly" - Psalm 62:3,4.

And so in this psalm he again plants his flag. (When you say the words it becomes all the more real and set for you.) MY TRUST IS IN GOD!

Not:
- People - for whether they are poor or wealthy, powerless or influential, in the end they are as short-lived and inconsequential as vapour.
- Oppression - forcing his will on others.
- Robbery - getting his way illegally.
- Riches - buying his way.

For God is "salvation, "defense," "rock," "my glory," "a refuge." He alone has power (Psalm 62:11). He alone dispenses perfect mercy and justice (Psalm 62:12).

As I look at the list of things David doesn't trust in, I say, Oops! Don't I tend to trust in that same lot to get my way, to advance my career, to further the fortunes of my family? Don't I tend to put my confidence in people—it's who you know, isn't it? Have I not been tempted to use even force, money or underhanded means (deceit, sneakiness)?

David's challenge to trust in God at all times and to the exclusion of all else applies as much to us as it did to him and the people of his time.


PRAYER: Dear God, help me to experience an attitude change so that I trust in, rely on, and hope for You — not other people or my own manipulations. Amen.


MORE: "Pour out your heart before Him" (Psalm 62:8).

This is an invitation to lay our concerns, worries, fears, and disappointments before God just as David did so often in the psalms. You might try that today, praying them out loud or, better yet, writing out your version of Psalm 62:3-4.


(From the archives)

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Necessary temptation

"The Temptation" by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:12-20

TO CHEW ON: "Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him." Mark 1:12,13

How interesting that Mark says the Spirit "drove" Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose of experiencing full-on temptation. One gets the sense that this was a necessary and inevitable part of Jesus' ministry. Let's do a brief study of passages that link Jesus with temptation to see if they have something to teach us about the role of temptation in our own lives.

1. Temptation can be a positive thing
Matthew 4:1 (Matthew 4:1-11 is a more detailed account of Jesus' wilderness temptation) reiterates that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. My Bible's footnote on this verse makes an interesting distinction between temptation from God's point of view and Satan's:

"To be tempted from the divine standpoint means a positive test; from the devil's standpoint it implies enticement to sin; from Jesus' standpoint it is a challenge from Satan to test God's sovereignty and plan" - J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1294
Perhaps we too should view temptations that come to us as positive tests—opportunities to resist Satan and prove to him and ourselves where we stand.

2. Temptation can come from unlikely places
In Matthew 16:23 Jesus rebukes Peter when he says, "This shall not happen to You" (referring to the suffering and death that Jesus has just predicted for Himself - Matthew 16:21). Jesus actually calls His friend "Satan"!

Similarly, we need to be aware that those close to us—family members, friends, colleagues—may inadvertently be the mouthpiece of temptation.

3. Resisting temptation can make us teflon
I think of teflon—that non-tick coating put on cooking pots and pans—when I read Jesus' words about Himself in John 14:30: "I will no longer talk much with you for the ruler of this world is coming and he has nothing in me." In other words, Jesus' consistent resisting of temptation made it so the devil had no condemnation he could throw at Jesus that would stick. There was no territory in Jesus' life to which he could lay claim. He could find no purchase (handhold or foothold) or chink by which to gain entrance

In the same way our resistance to temptation, or quick repentance and confession when we do sin, means that Satan will find no basis of accusation in us, no way to shut us up because he has something to throw back in our faces (as in 'You hypocrite—what makes you think you can speak against this sin when you do it yourself?').

4. Finally, Jesus' temptation reassures us that He understands
His temptation along all the lines we are tempted (Hebrews 4:15) means that He, through His Spirit, can come to our aid (Hebrews 2;18) even suggesting the way out of temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus' use of Scripture during His temptation in the wilderness is one tactic that readily comes to mind.

How wonderful that God had temptation in the plan for Jesus' life. Let's regard it as a necessary and strengthening aspect of our life on earth as God prepares us for our destiny with Him.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to understand that temptation is not sin. Help me to avail myself of Your Spirit's help when I am tempted, so Satan will have nothing in me. Amen.

MORE: Temptation support
"Temptation is not something we may escape, it is essential to the full-orbed life of a man. Beware lest you think you are tempted as no one else is tempted; what you go through is the common inheritance of the race, not something no one ever went through before. God does not save us from temptations; He succours us in the midst of them (Hebrews 2:18)" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 17th reading (emphasis added).

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Would people say we've been with Jesus?

"Peter and John before the Sanhedrin"
- Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 4:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus." Acts 4:13

Peter and John have just got into their first scrap with the Jewish religious leaders. The lame man healed at the temple gate has opened the door to Peter's presentation of Jesus—who He was and is—and the receptivity of the audience galls the temple officials. They arrest Peter and John and, after a night in jail, these two appear before the high priest who asks, "By what power or by what name have you done this?"

Peter, with his post-Pentecost boldness declares, "...by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth .... Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved" - Acts 4:10,12.

It is then these rulers make their telling observation: "... they realized they had been with Jesus." I like how Barnes Notes on the Bible enlarges on this moment:

"It is not said in what way they obtained this evidence, but the connection leads us to suppose it was by the miracle which they had performed, by their firm and bold declaration of the doctrines of Jesus, and perhaps by the irresistible conviction that none would be thus bold who had not been personally with him, and who had not the firmest conviction that he was the Messiah.


They had not been trained in their schools, and their boldness could not be attributed to the arts of rhetoric, but was the native, ingenuous, and manly exhibition of a deep conviction of the truth of what they spoke, and that conviction could have been obtained only by their having been with him..." Barnes Notes on the Bible.
This passage always pricks me, and leaves me with the question: Would people interacting with me, talking to me, reading me, detect that I have been with Jesus? What about you? Do we have that boldness of rock-solid faith in Him who said, "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)? Is there about our lives the perfume of His presence (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)?.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I want people to say of me, She has been with Jesus. Perhaps, in order for that to happen, I need to rearrange my priorities so that I actually spend more time with You. Amen.

MORE: The confession of Peter

Today the church celebrates Peter's bold confession of faith in the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:

"Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."


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Monday, January 16, 2012

A life of integrity

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 5:16-27


TO CHEW ON: "I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savour your sacred assemblies ....
But let justice run down like water
And righteousness like a mighty stream." Amos 5:21-24

Here and in many other places, God stresses the importance (to Him) of justice and righteousness. How do these qualities look in real life? Here are a few examples from the Bible:

  • In Israel it was fairness to women in a society that considered them ineligible to inherit land (Numbers 24:1-8).
  • It was also expressed in defending the poor, orphans, afflicted, and needy (Psalm 82:3).
  • The Queen of Sheba saw King Solomon and his just, righteous rule as God's loving provision for Israel (2 Chronicles 9:8).
  • The psalmist, having lived by standards of righteousness and justice, was bold to ask for God's help (Psalm 119:121)
  • The writer of Proverbs considered living a life of righteousness and justice more acceptable to God than sacrifice (Proverbs 21:3).
  • In the New Testament, it included paying ruling authorities their due—whether that was taxes, customs, respect, or honour (Romans 13:7).
  • Paul interpreted it as paying fair wages to one's workers (Colossians 4:1)
God still wants us to live lives of integrity, that is, lives characterized by justice and righteousness and from which these qualities overflow: "Let justice run down like water / And righteousness like a mighty stream." As a comment in my Bible expresses it:

"Outward religious forms have no value unless faith is lived out daily. Love and honor God in every way so that the life flow of the holy Spirit will pour out to those around you." - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through Amos," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 185 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live a life of integrity, characterized by the justice and righteousness that are part of Your very essence. Amen.

MORE: Keeping your word

Living with integrity (with justice and righteousness) may not always come cheap. Michael Hyatt discovered that when a client confronted him with an expensive promise made by a former colleague on behalf of the company for which he worked:

"Several months ago, a former executive at our company made a commitment to a third-party via email. It is obvious that he didn’t research the cost of his promise, nor did he get anyone else’s approval. I was not aware of the obligation until the other party brought it to our attention. When I learned that the commitment was north of six figures, I gasped ..."

What would you have done in this situation? Find out what Michael Hyatt did, and why, in "Keeping Your Word."



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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thoughts on seeking God

"They take a bribe and they turn aside
the poor in the gate" Amos 5:12 - Artist unknown

 TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 5:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Seek Me and live;
But do not seek Bethel
Nor enter Gilgal
Nor pass over to Beersheba;
For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity,
And Bethel shall come to nothing
Seek the Lord and live ... "(Amos 5:4-6)

Amos, speaking to a backslidden Israel, warns her people to stop their frantic religious activity and start actually looking for God. The three cities of pilgrimage he names—Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba— all had significance in Israel's faith story.

Bethel:
Jacob first attached the name Bethel to the place where he dreamed of angels ascending and descending from heaven (Genesis 28:16, 17, 19). But Jeroboam 1 corrupted it when he set up an idol calf there. Bethel's reputation continued to go downhill so that Hosea named it not Bethel (House of God) but Beth-Aven—House of Nothing (Hosea 4:15). Amos reinforces that name when he says here, "Bethel shall come to nothing."

Gilgal:
Gilgal was the place the Israelites camped just after crossing the Jordan River from their wilderness wanderings. There Joshua had them set up twelve stones of remembrance taken from the Jordan's riverbed, signifying God's faithfulness to the twelve tribes of Israel (Joshua 4:19-20). Since then it had become an idol shrine: "Gilgal was a place where high places and altars were erected, and idols worshiped as it had formerly been a place of worship of the true God. The ten tribes made use of it in the times of their apostasy for idolatrous worship" - Hosea 4:15" - Gill's commentary on Amos 4:4.

Beersheba:
The patriarchs—Abraham (Genesis 21:31-33), Isaac (Genesis 26:23-25), and Jacob (Genesis 46:11)—had worshiped God in Beersheba. Now, however, it was associated with the "sin of Samaria" and linked, along with the city of Dan, to idol shrines (Amos 8:14).

There is a lesson for us in Amos's plea to the Israelites to seek the Lord as opposed to going to Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba. Three aspects of this seeking come to mind:

1. We need to guard against trying to duplicate the past. When we have met God in a place or time, like the Israelites had in these three cities, it's tempting to make a shrine there, hoping that we will relive what happened if we go back.

2. We need to be vigilant against syncretism, i.e. molding our experience into something it wasn't or isn't by adding in elements, like Israel added idols. Meshing our worship of God with the practices of other religions is always dangerous.

3. We need to follow Amos's simple instructions on how to find God. It is not by going to a sacred place or enacting a religious ritual, but by nurturing an awareness of who God is, and by doing what He values. In simple words, He meets us when we are obedient.

"Seek good and not evil
That you may live;
So the Lord God of hosts will be with you..." Amos 5:14.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to keep my relationship with You fresh and alive with my obedience. Amen.

MORE: One Master

"A man is a slave for obeying unless behind his obedience there is a recognition of a holy God. Many a soul begins to come to God when he flings off being religious because there is only one Master of the human heart, and that is not religion but Jesus Christ" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 18 reading.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Jesus sees you under your fig tree

"Nathaneal Under the Fig Tree" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:43-51

TO CHEW ON: "Nathaneal said to Him, 'How do you know me?' Jesus answered and said to him; 'Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.'" John 1:48

Jesus' picking of His disciples appears an easy, random process though it wasn't random at all, based as it was on His x-ray vision of each potential disciple's heart. Simon, Andrew, James and John came at His simple invitation. So did Matthew  and Philip.

Philip found Nathaneal and invited him to follow too. He wasn't such an easy sell.

"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" he asked, when he heard that was where Jesus was from. He knew — astute scripture scholar that he was — that Nazareth wasn't the prophesied birthplace of Messiah.

Philip, confident he had found the Real One, said simply, "Come and see."

Jesus didn't disappoint. On meeting Nathaneal He exclaimed, "Behold an Israelite in whom is no deceit."

The description obviously resonated with Nathaneal because he responded, "How do you know me?"

Jesus' mysterious answer made sense to Nathaneal alone" "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."

Jesus had apparently put his finger on a significant moment in Nathaneal's life. Perhaps it was a time when he was in crisis or facing a fork in the road. Maybe it was a moment he had been praying for direction, or that he would be shown truth. Whatever it was, Jesus' mention of that moment under the fig tree arrested Nathaneal right where he lived. I can see his eyes get big, his jaw drop in surprise. Then, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"

Has God ever shown you that He sees you in the same private way? From the pastor speaking on the exact text you read in your quiet time on a Sunday morning to you hearing from a person shortly after memories of them cross your mind (perhaps for the first time in a long while), recognize these 'coincidences' as Him watching you under your fig tree.

Respond as Nathaneal did — with worship.  And then become His modern disciple.  Who else would you want to follow after meeting someone who sees, knows, and loves you in such an intimate way?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for your all-seeing knowledge of me. Help me to respond to Your invitation to follow You with the abandon that Nathaneal did. Amen.

MORE: God orchestrates my life
"God has an over-arching purpose for all believers: to conform us to the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ (see Ephesians2:10). And God will fulfill that purpose. As Psalm 138:8 says, 'The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.' Because we know God is directing our lives to an ultimate end and because we know He is sovereignly able to orchestrate the events of our lives toward that end, we can trust Him. We can commit to Him not only the ultimate outcome of our lives, but also all the intermediate events and circumstances that will bring us to that outcome" - Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts,  Kindle Edition, p. 48 (emphasis added).

(From the archives)

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Monday, January 09, 2012

God's voice in the key of nature

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 29:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty." - Psalm 29:4

I loved thunderstorms when I was growing up on a Saskatchewan farm (loved with just a tinge of fear). My parents treated them with respect. If one rolled in overnight, they herded us all from our upstairs bedrooms into the living-room to sleep on pullout couches, so I knew they could be dangerous. (In fact, some tall prairie houses were built with a lightning rod. Ours didn't have one so perhaps our parents' fear for our safety on the upper story was well founded).

I remember not being able to keep my eyes from the window as I waited for the next burst of light followed by the crack-crash-rumble of thunder. I felt safe and secure, like an onlooker, curious, even excited to see how bad this would get. (The wind, with its ability to knock things down and rattle them around, scared me more than the thunder.)

David in this psalm seems to write from a similar vantage point of safety, even detachment. With poetic details he word-paints cataclysmic acts of nature:
  • Storm: "The God of glory thunders / The Lord is over many waters" (vs. 3).
  • Earthquake: "The Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon / He makes them also skip like a calf" (vs. 5-6).
  • Wildfire: "The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire" (vs. 7).

However, nowhere in this Psalm does David attribute God-like qualities to nature in a pantheistic way. A footnote in my Bible comments:

"There is no evidence of superstitious fears as in pagan cultures (Jonah 1:4-6), nor is God equated with the storm and thunder as polytheistic religious depict; but here God is above and over nature commanding it with His spoken word as at creation (Genesis 1)" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 707.

We all know that natural events can bring with them devastation and death to believers and nonbelievers alike. The note of peace on which this psalm ends ("The Lord will give strength to His people; / The Lord will bless His people with peace.") reminds us that we can ultimately trust God who is behind and allows both the calm and the storm. They are part of His conforming us into the people of His destiny:
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son" - Romans 8:28, 29.


PRAYER: Dear God, Your power in nature can be fearful. I have only to see the after effects of an earthquake or tsunami to remind me of how puny I am. Help me to face whatever You allow into my life with peace, knowing that Your purposes for me in going through it are good and constructive. Amen.


MORE: Nature's power in pictures

The website Boston.com runs a feature called "The Big Picture: The News in Photographs." It contains sets of newsworthy photos. Below are links to some of the natural disasters our world has seen within the last few years (be patient; these are large files which take a little longer to load than some):

"Massive earthquake hits Japan" - photos of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the east coast of Japan.

"Remembering Katrina, five years ago" - photos of the August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast, centered on New Orleans.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Is it time for a burning?

"Saint Paul and the burning of pagan books 
at Ephesus" by Lucio Massari (1559-1633)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 19:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them and it totalled fifty-thousand pieces of silver." Acts 19:19

I love the beginning of the year. I like starting new calendars and a new daybook. I get the urge to purge old papers from my files and junk from my closets and the garage. I want to unburden myself of the past and make a new start.

The people in Ephesus made such a new start too. However, for them it wasn't a new year thing where they rid themselves of their abundance of clutter, but a spiritual housecleaning where they gathered and destroyed their how-to-do-magic books.

At dinner with friends a few weeks ago, a couple told of how they did something similar. Shortly after they became Christians, the man burned all his masonic artifacts, the woman her astrology jewelry. No pastor or leader told them to. They just knew it was necessary to make this spiritual break with the past. Why? Because physical objects can be weighted with spiritual power for good or bad. Earlier in this chapter we see how people used handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched Paul to bring healing to the sick (Acts 19:12). And in our focus verse, they destroyed those magic books.

Perhaps we need to do more of this—physically destroy those objects in our lives that signify and bind us to our life before Christ: the CDs, books, jewelry, good luck charms, masks...whatever.

Occult expert Kurt Koch says:
"Every object of sorcery must be destroyed. In the great revival which Paul experienced in Ephesus, many of those who were now believers brought their books on magic arts and burned them in the sight of all (Acts 19:19).


In the revival in Indonesia the natives brought their fetishes and occult objects together in heaps and destroyed them in a similar way.


Magical books and occult objects carry with them a hidden ban. Anyone not prepared to rid himself of the ban will be unable to free himself from the influence of the powers of darkness" - Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, p. 90.
PRAYER: Dear God, please open my eyes to anything that is keeping me in Satan's bondage. Help me to make a break with any darkness from my past. Amen.

MORE: Collecting masks and objects of heathen worship

Kurt Koch makes this observation about collecting what some might call anthropological artifacts:

"Some missionaries are actually enthusiastic collectors of devil's masks and similar objects of heathen ritual worship. Through hanging the trophies up in their homes they burden the whole house and all who live in it .... These idols have sometimes been used for years or even decades in heathen rituals. In this way they become crystallization points for demonic powers in houses where they are displayed as works of art. The Spirit of God does not dwell with idols, even in a so-called Christian home" - Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, p. 92.




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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

If Jesus is really God...

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 2:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Colossians 2:9

There is nothing subtle in the statement Paul makes about Jesus in Colossians 2:9. He says in plain words, He is God.

This probably doesn't sound controversial to us if we're from a Christian heritage, privy as we are to the New Testament as well as the Old, the writings of scholars, theologians and apologists spanning the centuries. But it was controversial to people in the first century who had only the evidence of three years of Jesus' ministry and the word of eye witnesses. And it is a controversial statement to many moderns who lump Jesus in with founders of other religions and think of him as merely one prophet among many.

But, as H.C. Thiessen says in his Lectures in Systematic Theology: 
"The Son is recognized as God. The importance of the doctrine of the deity of Christ can scarcely be overestimated. Jesus Christ does not sustain the same relation to Christianity that other founders of religion sustain to the faiths which they have originated. Buddha (B.C. 563-484), Confucius (551-478), and Mohammed (A.D. 570?-632) are significant primarily for their teaching; but Jesus Christ is significant primarily for His person." p. 138.

There isn't room in one short devotional to list the proofs (with supporting Bible references) that Jesus is God, as theologians like Thiessen have done so ably -- proving that He:
- has the attributes of deity (is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, immutable)
- fulfills the offices of deity (as creator and sustainer of the created world).
- exercises the prerogatives of deity (forgives sins, raises the dead, will execute judgement). etc.

If you're interested in studying this, there are many great internet resources. For a start, check out John Piper's category the "Deity of Christ" (on the Desiring God site) which contains numerous links.

I, for one, am convinced. But what difference does a belief in Christ's deity make? I can think of three responses:

1. I can have confidence that Jesus IS the way to God -- as He says in John 14:6. I can proclaim this without apology, even though such audacious certainty is not politically correct in our society, which encourages tolerance of any and all opinions on how we get to God.

2. The logical response is to give Him my life. This is exactly the plea Paul makes to the Romans. After exclaiming over the excellence of God's plan and way of working in Romans 11:33-36, he goes on in Romans 12:1 to say: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."

3. I can have peace, knowing that I have the best. As the verse following today's focus verse says "…you are complete in Him…" (Colossians 2:10).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I acknowledge You as God and Lord of my life. Help me to understand all this means in everyday living. Amen.

MORE: "Fairest Lord Jesus" - Ross Parsley



(From the archives)

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The preeminent Christ

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 1:15-29

TO CHEW ON: "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence." Colossians 1:18

Don't our hearts just thrill to read Paul's deep, grand descriptions of Jesus in Colossians? Don't our imaginations get a workout as we try to understand His roles as creator, reconciler, head of the church, and more? I am so thankful for Paul who, early in the church age, not only grasped the theological implications of who Jesus was and did, but wrote these things down.

A sidebar article in my Bible is a compilation of the many ways that Paul describes Jesus as THE BEST in Colossians.

HE IS PREEMINENT:

In universal government
- the visible image of God - Colossians 1:15
- The agent of creation - Colossians 1:16
- The sustainer - Colossians 1:17
- The head of the church - Colossians 1:18

In reconciliation
- Reconciles us through His death - Colossians 1:21-22
- Lives in us as our hope of glory - Colossians 1:27

In wisdom and knowledge
- The source of all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge - Colossians 2:2-3
- Worldly philosophy does not conform to Him - Colossians 2:8

In religious observance
- We are alive in Him - Colossians 2:11-13
- No need for legalism and ritualism - Colossians 2:16-23


In Christian living
- The source of our new life is in Him - Colossians 3:1,3,4
- In Him we die to the power of sin - Colossians 3:3-5

("The Preeminent Christ" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1672.)

What a treasure we have in Jesus! He deserves all our adoration, worship and praise.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, the thought that You, in whom are all the grand things above, would come to earth and die for me is amazing and wonderful. I think and praise You for the amazing God and Saviour You are. Amen.

MORE: Jesus the Very Thought of Thee




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Sunday, January 01, 2012

Will you trust in 2012?

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end" - Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

In the last little while I have been reading A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider. The book (an anthology of writings by members of the The Word Guild) contains many first-person stories of difficulty, crisis, and just plain hard stuff.

One woman's three-year-old son dies unexpectedly just after being given a clean bill of health for a chronic illness. A mom of young kids gets a diagnosis of liver cancer. A businesswoman suffers a stroke at age 36. Another mom's 22-year-old son leaves home and hasn't been heard from since. So much pain! How can the wise man possibly say, "He has made everything beautiful..."?

Yet even in all the pain of these stories, each teller does come out with something beautiful. For example, the mother who loses her three-year-old says, "Not everyone loses a child, but at some point in our lives, most of us face something that devastates us ... We will grieve but we don't have to endure a life of continuous sorrow. 'God is close to the broken-hearted and He rescues those of us who are crushed in spirit' - Psalm 34:18. I don't know how He does it, but I've experienced it for myself" - Evangeline Inman, "Live Life to the Full," A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider, p. 63.

We know we too will face a variety of things in the year ahead. We anticipate the good stuff—babies being born, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, vacations. However, chances are good 2012 will also hold some hard stuff—storms, accidents, illnesses, deaths... Will we continue to trust God, and believe that He knows what He's doing when He allows these into our lives?

The old Bible commenter explains it well:
"God has made everything, as all things in creation are made by Him, for His pleasure and glory, and all well and wise. There is a beauty in them all. So all things in providence. He upholds all things. He governs and orders all things according to the counsel of His will .... Times of plucking up and breaking down, of weeping and mourning, of losing and casting away are all necessary and seasonable and beautiful .... All His judgments will be, when made manifest ... like a piece of tapestry. When only viewed in parts no beauty appears in it. But when all is put together it is most beautiful and harmonious" - Excerpts from Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on Ecclesiastes 3:11 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to trust You implicitly as You oversee the weaving of my life's tapestry in 2012. Amen.

MORE: "Do I Trust You Lord?" by Twila Paris




Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. The liturgy for this day begins with this collect:
"Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."



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