Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Prayer for children

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 17:15-27

TO CHEW ON: "And Abraham said to God, 'Oh that Ishmael might live before You!' .... 'As for Ishmael, I have heard you.'" Genesis 17:18,20

Abraham, not daring to believe the promise that God would give him a son through Sarah, prays, "Oh that Ishmael would live before You."

I'm not sure I understand all that meant to Abraham. It probably meant that he desired Ishmael to acknowledge God as his God and honour Him as Abraham did. God also took it as Abraham requesting that the promises He had made for his not-yet-born son would be for Ishmael.

God's reply to Abraham was "No" to that last. For His covenant was to be with Sarah and her son Isaac. But then God added these reassuring words: "As for Ishmael, I have heard you," and He tells Abraham how he will answer prayer for Ishmael.

Isn't Abraham's prayer: "Oh that Ishmael would live before you" the prayer of every Christian parent for our sons and daughters? We want more than anything for our kids to acknowledge Him as Lord and Saviour and honour Him with their lifestyle and choices.

Let's not give up praying for them, knowing that just as God heard Abraham's prayer for Ishmael, God hears our prayers for the Ishmaels and the Isaacs in our lives.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that You hear my prayers for my children and grandchildren. Please bless them with Your favour. Amen.

MORE: Prayers for children

Praying scripture for and over children is powerful. "Praying for the Children" is a compilation of Bible verses (including references) we can use in prayer for our Isaacs and Ishmaels, Sarahs and Rebekahs.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Plot points in God's story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 17:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you." Genesis 17:11

You probably own a few things that signify watershed moments in your life — the Bible you were given at your baptism perhaps, a wedding ring, maybe the clothes your daughter wore when she was dedicated. As people we benefit from such tangible reminders of our history, the things we've experienced, and the promises we've made.

God has sealed His dealings with humanity with signs and markers too. We have the record of them in the Bible:

1. Rainbow — a sign marking God's promise to never again destroy all humanity by flood (Genesis 9:12-15).

2. Circumcision — "...an external sign which showed that Abraham and his descendants were God's covenant people" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p.27.

3. Blood, painted on the lintel and door frames of the house — a sign that the death angel should pass over that house (Exodus 12:13).

4. Unleavened bread — to remind the Israelites that God had brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 13:6-10).

5. Sacrifice of firstborn animals —  a reminder of God sparing Israel's firstborn sons the night the death angel visited (Exodus 13:16).

6. Scarlet cord draped from the window of a house —  a sign that marked Rahab and her family for rescue from Jericho (Joshua 2:12, 17-18).

7. Altar of 12 stones — a sign to remind the Israelites of how God helped them cross the Jordan River to Canaan (Joshua 4:1-7).

8. Dove as the Holy Spirit, ascending and alighting on Jesus at His baptism — a sign of God's favour on Him (Matthew 3:16).

Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God, says this about the way God works — the actions behind the list of signs, above:

"God works in sequence to accomplish His divine purpose. What He did in the past was accomplished with a kingdom purpose in mind. What He is doing in the present is in sequence with the past and with the same kingdom purpose. Every act of God builds on the past, with a view toward the future" Experiencing God Workbook, p. 124.

If you look back over the signs I've listed (and there are many more), can you see a thread? Are they not all part of God's history of salvation—from God's promise to never again destroy all humanity by flood, to His establishing His covenant of nationhood with Abraham, to His keeping of that nation through Egypt's slavery and their wilderness wanderings to, finally, the coming of Jesus, the lamb that would save us all?

God's message of love to us through these markers and signs is just another reason for awe and worship.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your plan of salvation and how you have threaded signs of it through the Bible story. Help me to be alert to the signs of Your working in my life. I pray, with David, "Show me a sign for good...." Amen.

MORE: Personal markers

It is good to reflect on the signs, objects or markers that tell the story of God at work in our lives. For me those include significant Bible verses, certain books, a special song...

If we read the accounts of God giving His people signs, one of the reasons He gave the sign, in almost every case, was to help parents explain God's ways their children and grandchildren.

Could you use the signs, objects or markers you recalled to tell to your children and grandchildren the story of how God has worked in your life?

(From the archives)

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Irresistible temptation?

"Christ in the Desert" by Ivan Kramskoy - 1872

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 4:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “’Therefore if you will worship me all will be yours’” – the Devil. Luke 4:7

Who of us can’t empathize with Jesus in His temptation? At the moment of His greatest vulnerability Satan came to Him, whispering--You need this. You deserve this. Here’s a way to prove how really great You are. 

Satan uses the same tactics with us. The Apostle John, in 1 John 2:16 puts easy-to-recognize labels on Satan's three most-used modes of temptation:

1. “The lust of the flesh.” Your physical self craves this. You’ve got to have it. Satan tried it on Eve in Eden (“the tree was good for food”–Genesis 3:15), and here on Jesus (“Command this stone to become bread”).

2. “The lust of the eyes.” You see, crave, and covet. Satan drew Eve’s attention to the forbidden fruit which was “pleasant to the eyes.” To Jesus the devil pointed out “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

3. “The pride of life.” Here’s a way to realize or prove your human potential. To Eve it was “a tree desirable to make one wise.” Satan challenged Jesus: “throw yourself down from here.” The arrival of angels to rescue Him would prove His identity as the fulfillment of a prophecy about Messiah (Psalm 91:11-12).

When dealing with temptation, first we need to recognize it. Look for the satanic fingerprints of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life on temptations that come our way.

After recognizing temptation, we need to deal with it. To each temptation Jesus replied with truth–the Scripture. He knew that Satan’s stated or implied promises were only as good as their author–full of deceit and a pack of lies. There are other ways to respond. Sometimes we need to flee the situation (push away from the table, turn off the TV or computer). At other times we need to face the situation (you’ve just got to your car and realized there is a bag of flour, unnoticed and unpaid-for, on the bottom of your grocery cart, so you turn around and head back into the store).

I love 1 Corinthians 10:13–the classic dealing-with-temptation verse: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Next time we recognize temptation, let's breathe an SOS prayer and then take the "way of escape" that God shows us.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your example of how to deal with temptation. Help me to recognize temptation and discover Your way of escape. Amen.

MORE: Oswald Chambers on temptation:

"The word 'temptation' has come down in the world; we are apt to use it wrongly. Temptation is not sin, it is the thing we are bound to meet if we are men....

A man's disposition on the inside, i.e., what he possesses in his personality, determines what he is tempted by on the outside. The temptation fits the nature of the one tempted, and reveals the possibilities of the nature. Every man has the setting of his own temptation, and the temptation will come along the line of the ruling disposition. " (From My Utmost For His Highest)
(From the archives)

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fear and friendship

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 25:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way he should choose.... The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he will teach him in the way he chooses." PSALM 25:12,14 ESV

It's interesting that this psalm promises God's guidance and friendship to those who fear Him.

The word fear (yare') here doesn't only mean to be afraid in its usual English sense. It also means to "Stand in awe of, be awed, reverence, honour and respect." The Amplified translation includes those shades of meaning: "Who is the man who reverently fears and worships the Lord? ....The secret [of the sweet satisfying companionship] of the Lord have they who fear (revere and worship) Him and He will show them His covenant and reveal to them its [deep inner] meaning."

The words worship and revere imply that our relationship with God is not one of equals. It is similar in some ways to the relationship of subjects to a monarch. Even a king's son or daughter must treat him with special deference observing protocol, at least in public.

When we fear God we become good candidates for His instruction and guidance. It means we will pay attention to what pleases Him. We will accept His correction and discipline. We will obey Him when He tells us what to do and how to do it.

The wonderful thing is God is not some cold distant sovereign ordering us around, but a God who, in response to our fear (respect, reverence, worship), extends (amazing thought) "sweet, satisfying companionship" i.e. "friendship."

PRAYER: Dear God, when I think about You and all Your power, authority, wisdom, creativity, and compassion, the only appropriate response is fear.  I am amazed and incredibly grateful that in response to my fear, You offer friendship. Amen.

MORE: "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 1:7). Happy the soul that has been awed by a view of God's majesty, that has had a vision of God's awful greatness, His ineffable holiness, His perfect righteousness, His irresistible power, His sovereign grace. Does someone say, "But it is only the unsaved, those outside of Christ, who need to fear God"? Then the sufficient answer is that the saved, those who are in Christ, are admonished to work out their own salvation with "fear and trembling" - by A. W. Pink. Read all of "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
(From the archives)

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Who is the boss in your heart?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 3:8-22

TO CHEW ON: "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. 'And do not be afraid of their threats nor be troubled.' But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." 1 Peter 3:14-15a

The fact of God actually living in people is a concept that spans the Old and New Testaments. However, Jesus sheds new light on it ("new" at least to the people of His time) when He explains the role of the Holy Spirit in the process.
  • Jesus calls Him the "Helper" whom He has petitioned the Father to send. This Helper will live with, indeed, in them - John 14:15-18. 
  • He will give them assurance of eternal life, interaction with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He is the assurance of God's love - John 14:19-21.

Paul talks often about this life of Christ within people. Some of the things he tells us about it:
  • It is a life of faith that begins when we accept Christ's substitutionary death for our sin as our means of salvation (not our own works) - Galatians 2:20.
  • It helps us know the love of God - Ephesians 3:17-19.
  • It is the hope of a wonderful future beyond this life - Colossians 1:27.
Peter's words in our reading today talk about this life to believers who are in the middle of persecution. His short statement, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts" comes right after he addresses their apparent puzzlement over bad treatment. They are righteous but they are suffering. Why? He reminds that this suffering is, in the Kingdom of God's upside-down way, a blessing (Matthew 5:10), and not to fear but rather to "sanctify (or set apart) the Lord God in your hearts."

He is telling them, in effect, Let God be the Lord (boss) in these things. Accept even persecution as from Someone who knows about it, who has power over it, yet is allowing it. 

The Message puts it this way:
"Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master" - 1 Peter 3:15
As Paul explains in Romans "...all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." That purpose includes being conformed to the image of Jesus. Persecution may be a part of it. But the end of the story is good. It is glory - Romans 8:27-30.

Whatever we are facing, have we done this — set apart Jesus as Lord? Settled once and for all that He is in charge of our lives and is working His good purposes in them even through negative circumstances? Let's put this into practice:
  • By faith accept that Jesus lives in us by the Holy Spirit.
  • Believe that He loves us.
  • Sanctify Him as Lord — our hands off; He's in charge.
  • Let the good and bad things (at least 'bad' according to how we feel about them) He sends our way conform us to Jesus' image.
  • Live in hope not of this world's rewards but of glory in eternity.
PRAYER: Dear God, how often I take the steering wheel of my life back into my hands. How easily I question whether You know what You're doing when unpleasant things come my way. Help me to enthrone You as Lord in a moment-by-moment way today. Amen.

MORE: "Father of My Heart" - Fernando Ortega

Fernando Ortega - Father Of My Heart from church-ca-auburn-sierra-grace-fellowship on GodTube.

(From the archives)

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The unequal yoke

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

TO CHEW ON: "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?" 2 Corinthians 6:14

What is an unequal yoke? [The "yoke" (n.) referred to here is a farming tool—a curved wooden contraption with attachments that coupled draft animals, such as oxen, so that they worked together. To "yoke" (v.) is to put a yoke upon, or to join with a yoke.]

To be unequally yoked is a coupling that is not compatible. It is rooted in the Old Testament law prohibition to yoke different kinds of animals together (Deuteronomy 22:10 and Leviticus 19:19). We can speculate on why God made this a no-no. Perhaps it was based on the physical differences of the animals. One was bigger and stronger, and thus could pull harder and move faster. Or worse, they might pull in opposite directions instead of working together.

In the spiritual sense this is often what happens in situations where people with different loyalties (one has Christ as Lord and Master, the other self or money or fame or success or status...) are linked in a covenant way (marriage, business partnership, even a close friendship).

A footnote in my Bible explains, "Unequally yoked refers to both Christians joining pagans (in idolatrous practice), and so closely yoking themselves (in any close relationship) with unbelievers that they compromise integrity of faith" - Arden Conrad Autrey, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1617.

In cases of unequal yokes so often the discussion in the church focuses on how to handle an unequal yoke situation after the union has been established. This is especially challenging when the covenant is marriage.

That is an understandable concern when one of the people in the covenant switches loyalties after the covenant was entered into. Paul addresses the situation of believing and non-believing marriage partners in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 where he says they should stay together if possible. Peter talks about believing wives winning their unbelieving husbands to faith by their winsome behaviour (1 Peter 3:1,2) .

But often we enter into unequal yokes with our eyes wide open, and so plunge ourselves into distress of our own making. How much better to take Paul's advice and not entangle ourselves in an unequal yoke in the first place. It would save us a lot of confusion, conflict, and regret.

PRAYER: Dear God, please check me with Your Spirit when I am on dangerous ground here. Help me not to be bound together with anyone who would influence me to compromise my allegiance to You. Amen.

MORE: The unequal yoke and marriage
"Many Christians have ignored that (2 Corinthians 6:14-16) to their own detriment by intermarrying with others of a different faith. They have thereby so undermined their own faith that evil in many ways has ultimately crept in and destroyed their marriages.

There is no guarantee that if you marry a Christian you are going to have a happy marriage, because there are other principles involved. But it is much more likely that two Christians will be happy together because there are principles and practices taught to us in the Word that make for happiness in marriage.

It is certain that if you disobey this command, however, you are opening the door to much heartache, struggle, and misery. There are passages designed to help people who have disobeyed this principle because God is very practical and merciful. He recognizes that for various reasons, intermarriage may occur. There are guidelines to help handle those situations. But by and large this is practical wisdom that needs to be adhered to today. Marry those who share the same faith you have, because faith is the basis for all of life" - Ray Stedman. (Read all of "The Unequal Yoke." - emphasis added.)

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Softer blue, sweeter green

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:13

TO CHEW ON: “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

Do you remember the first time you went to the church you now attend, or first saw the house in which you now live? Chances are on that first visit your senses picked up things to which you’ve since become oblivious. A church we once attended was plagued with a water seepage problem and a chronic musty smell. Over time I got used to it so that I never even noticed. But when a new pastor came, he mentioned that smell as making a bad first impression.

In our focus verse today Paul talks about first impressions of the Christian life. They’re good. Everything seems new and changed. I’ve heard people describe how even colors and smells seem brighter and sharper.

Do you remember that time for you? Though I don’t have vivid memories of the day of my childhood conversion, I do recall the day I recommitted my life to Christ as an adult. I felt a great sense of relief: I didn’t have to be the boss of my life any more.

It’s natural for the sense of newness and novelty of our first days as a Christian to abate. But it’s also good to remember that time. It gives us a renewed appreciation for what happened to us that day and how life-shaking the decision to give one’s life to Jesus is. Here are some ways to revisit those days when everything seemed new:

1. Recall the time of your salvation or recommitment to Christ, and read the stories of others.

2. Spend time with new Christians. There’s nothing like the perspective of a baby Christian to help you remember what it was like when you first came to Jesus.

3. Spend time with people or books that promote a world view that’s different from yours. When I do this (and I often just stumble on this more than intentionally pursue it) I get a sense of dis-ease. I think through why I feel that way and realize again how my life in Christ has changed everything.

A footnote in my Bible says: “Christ’s death and Resurrection for us and our identification with Him by faith make existence as a new creation possible…. Our relationship with Christ affects every aspect of life.New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1616, emphasis added).

It sure does!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Thank You for making possible this new life. Help me never to forget or take for granted the immensity of the change Your death and resurrection made for me. Amen.

MORE: The words of this old hymn talk about first impressions of this new life:
Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
Christ-less eyes have never seen!
Birds in song His glories show,
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His and He is mine.
I Am His and He is Mine” by George W. Robinson, 1876
Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the day that begins Lent on the church calendar. The Ash Wednesday liturgy starts with these moving words from the Collect:
"Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Read more liturgy for this day…

(From the archives)

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Illusion of the seen

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:15

TO CHEW ON: "... we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18

You are no doubt familiar with optical illusions where your eyes see an object two ways. For example, there is a figure of a girl that rotates clockwise, and then counterclockwise. Or the black-and-white sketch (pictured) where your eye picks out a crone face with a hawk nose, or the profile of a young woman wearing a fancy hat.

Paul here is talking about the optical illusion of life, in that we can also view it two ways. There is the view that sees only the obvious, tangible, day-to-day stuff as real. And there is the view that sees the invisible things of eternity as real.

This eternal view is what we as followers of Jesus aspire to. It's the view that forgives one's enemies, is okay with being low instead of exalted, stores treasures in heaven, gives away one's coat to one's enemy, values and aspires to childlikeness (for lots more examples read Jesus' Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 5, 6,7).

Picking out the alternate picture in an optical illusion needs focus and concentration. So does living life from the perspective of eternity. As a sidebar article in my Bible explains it:

"We must learn that trials and difficulties will seem light and temporary when viewed from the perspective of the immeasurable glory that awaits us in eternity. We must learn to live by faith and not by what we can or cannot see with our natural eyes.... Set your focus and faith on unseen and eternal things. See the present from the perspective of the future. Look forward to God's great and eternal glory" - Leslyn Musch, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1627 (emphasis added).
PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that this life isn't all there is. Help me to see the things and people around me with an eternal perspective.

MORE: Christian vision
"Christian vision ... is an act of imaginative seeing that combines the insight of faith, which goes to the heart of things below the surface, and the foresight of faith, which soars beyond the present with the power of a possible future. This combining of the not-yet-combined is the secret of visionary faith. Vision and reality, word and fulfillment, present and future, situation and possibility, restlessness and reaching out, anger at what is wrong and an aim for what is better—whatever the contrast between the pair, visionary faith is out to close the gap" - Os Guinness, The Call, p. 177.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Do I want a powerful prayer life?

"Jesus about to heal a boy"
William Brassey Hole

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 9:14-29

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus said to him, 'If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.'" Mark 9:23

The demon-possessed youth was a particularly difficult case. His problem was long-standing and the disciples' attempts at exorcism had failed. We find two clues about how to get prayers answered in this story of the man and his unfortunate son.

1. Believe
"If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes," Jesus told the father. The dad was quick to ask for help in this department: "Lord, help my unbelief." I am reminded of Jesus' experience in Nazareth where Matthew 13:58 says, "He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief." I don't think that means their unbelief limited His power, but it did impact His willingness to work miracles in that place. Jesus chose not to in an atmosphere of doubt.

2. Pray and fast
"Why could we not cast it out?" the disciples asked. Jesus replied, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting."

But when did Jesus pray and fast for this? He didn't check out for an hour or so between hearing the man's request and healing the boy. One can only assume that He meant we can live a life of such earnest waiting on God (with regular prayer and fasting) that we are constantly prayed up and ready for any difficult case that comes our way.

It's so simple: Believe and live a life of prayer-and-fasting readiness. But it's also so hard. I have a long way to go!

PRAYER: Dear God, I have some longstanding requests in with You. My prayer today is, "Lord, help my unbelief." And are you telling me that some fasting may also be in order? Amen.

MORE: Fasting

John Piper began his 1991 sermon "Do You Ever Fast for More of God's Power?":
"Loren Cunningham, general director of Youth With a Mission, described his experience in praying and fasting for three days with 12 co-workers in 1973. As they prayed, the Lord revealed that they should pray for the downfall of a demonic force identified to them as the “prince of Greece.” The same day in New Zealand and Europe, YWAM groups received a similar word from God. All three groups obeyed and came against this principality. Within 24 hours, a political coup changed the government of Greece, bringing greater freedom for mission activity in the country.

If this seems foreign to our experience, could part of the reason be that fasting is foreign to our experience? And could fasting be foreign to us because we are so far from the whole New Testament pattern of living in and by the supernatural power of the Spirit of God?" © John Piper, DesiringGod.org. Read all of "Do You Ever Fast for More of God's Power?  (emphasis added).

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Beyond a buddy God

 "Psalm 50 - The Lord Summons the Earth" by Moshe Tzvi HaLevi Berger
View the entire Psalm series by Berger

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 50:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "You sit and speak against your brother;
You slander your own mother's son.
These things you have done, and I kept silent;
You thought that I was altogether like you;
but I will rebuke you,
And set them in order before your eyes" - 50:20,21

We put ourselves in danger of making some of the most serious errors about God when we think of Him as being just like us.

How could a God who is all-loving and all-powerful allow evil, we ask,  and manufacture a God who is either not all-powerful or not love.

How can a God who tells us to be humble, demand that we praise Him, we wonder, and manufacture a God who is all ego or so meek and mild as to be of no consequence.

In Psalm 50, Asaph challenges the misconception that God is altogether like us. He points out that:
- God is the creator (Psalm 50:1,2).
- God's presence is mysterious and awe-inspiring (Psalm 50:3).
- He is an altogether capable, righteous judge (Psalm 50:4-6).
- He doesn't need us or our possessions (Psalm 50:7-13).
- Rather, we need Him (Psalm 50:14-15).
- His silence and lack of reaction to our rebellion don't mean that He doesn't see or care (Psalm 50:16-21).

Our human minds and imaginations, limited as they are by time and space, find it hard to conceive of a God who encompasses all the descriptions of Him in the Bible. There comes a time when we need to throw up the hands of our human understanding and opt for a different response. It is a response of faith. It expresses itself in an attitude of praise,  thanksgiving, and compliance to the rules and principles-of-living given to us by this God who is beyond our understanding. It's how Asaph responds in verse Psalm 50:23:

"Whoever offers praise glorifies Me;
And to him who orders his conduct aright
I will show the salvation of God."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that You are beyond my imagining. When I don't understand You, I choose faith. Help me to resist the temptation to keep You in the box of my human ability to figure You out. Amen.

MORE: More thoughts on Psalm 50

Our view of God affects how we live our whole lives. John Piper preached from Psalm 50 on October 15, 1989. Though his sermon was delivered to a specific congregation (Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minneapolis) to address a congregation-specific need, the insights he arrives at are relevant to us all. His message, "Call upon Me in the Day of Trouble and I Will Deliver You" begins:

"This psalm is a word from the Lord about a wrong view of God leading to a wrong way of sacrificing to God. It has something very crucial to say about how our view of God relates to our money and our giving to God's cause ....
"Beware of a mindset that belittles and insults God. God is an absolutely unstoppable, unfailing, constant, volcano of power and fire and joy and help. He never wearies in the slightest and is omnipotently enthusiastic about his gracious purposes in your life. Never let a weak or miserly or tightfisted or weary or boring God enter your mind. He owns all and loves to glorify his power and grace by delivering people who call on him. Keep God great in your eyes for the rest of this year.") By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org emphasis added.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

If you had one wish

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 2:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "And so it was when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, 'Ask! What may I do for you before I am taken away from you?' Elisha said, 'Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.'" 2 Kings 2:9

I have always loved folktales where the characters are given wishes. "You can have three wishes…" fires up my imagination: What would I say if someone offered that to me? In the stories, usually the characters' choices have a hidden twist, showing the characters as foolish (e.g. "King Midas and the Golden Touch") or wise in what they wished for.

The Bible has its own brand of wish stories. Solomon and Esther were given the opportunity to make wishes. Another is in today's reading where Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for him before Elijah is taken into heaven. Elisha's answer: "Please let a double portion of your spirit be on me," is interesting. A footnote explanation in my Bible says:

"Since the double portion was the privilege of the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:17), it has been suggested that Elisha is asking to be Elijah's successor. Yet this is more than just a petition to be Elijah's successor because that had already been established (1 Kings 19:16-21).

Elisha realized that he did not have the capability to fulfill the awesome responsibility of carrying on Elijah's work. As Elijah's successor, Elisha applies the principle of the firstborn to ask for a spiritual inheritance. This is described as the spirit of Elijah (2 Kings 2: 9, 15) and is either an indirect or direct reference to the Holy Spirit" p. 483, New Spirit Filled Life Bible.
You and I will probably never be asked what we wish for in such a straightforward way. However, any time we contemplate our lives in regard to goals, objectives and resolutions, we encounter a variant of this, couched in challenges like:

"If you could sum up the purpose of your life in one word, what word would you choose?

What would you want your epitaph to say?

Over the course of your life, what do you want to do? to be?

Elijah got it right. God's 'yes' to his request was so evident, the sons of the prophets remarked on the presence of Elijah's spirit visible in him even as he returned alone (2 Kings 2:15).

Likewise we need to think carefully and prayerfully about our wishes. For they may just come true!

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the wisdom to see my life realistically and to desire and pursue only Your best for me. Amen.

MORE: Noble wishes

Here are some wishes to consider as we contemplate our personal wish lists.

- A thirst for and delight in God (Psalm 27:4; Psalm 63:1).
- A knowledge of right priorities (Psalm 37:4; Matthew 6:30-33)
- A love for and knowledge of God's word (Joshua 1:8; 1 Peter 2:2).
- The opportunity to impact many people and lead them to Christ (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 4:19; Luke 5:10).

Think about (and write out if you like) what you would say if you were given one wish.

(From the archives)

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Eau de Parfum of Christ

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 2:12-3:11

TO CHEW ON: "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place." 2 Corinthians 2:14

This Christmas my husband gave me a bottle of perfume—one of my favourite gifts. I loved the fragrance he picked and soon found myself online, researching my new scent and the world of perfume in general. The metaphor of our lives being the perfume of God to the world reminds me of some of the characteristics of perfume I discovered.

  • Commercial perfumes come from a multitude of sources: barks, flowers and blossoms, fruits, roots, seeds, animal glands...
This speaks of how the scent of Christ wafts from many peoples and places.  Individuals of every tribe and nation and from all over the world will be in heaven (Revelation 7:9).

  • A perfume unfolds in stages. Its first impression is called its top or head note. When that fades the middle or heart note becomes prominent. Finally its base note is established, becoming the scent that lingers the longest.
This brings to mind the fact that the perfume of Christ pervades all our interactions from casual to intimate. Its fragrance should be evident in first encounters with people behind us at Starbucks and those we do business with on the phone. It should blossom in our relationships with people who know us better like neighbours, and friends. In fact, it should be the very stamp of our character so that even those we live with—spouse and children—will know its lingering fragrance.

  • The same perfume doesn't smell the same on every person. When perfume molecules come in contact with the unique chemical makeup of our skin, they react and unfold differently.
We can take this as a picture of how the perfume of Christ manifests uniquely through each person's blend of personality, talent and experience. It involves each of us growing the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and using our spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). Instead of describing this perfume as floral, spicy, fresh or woodsy, we could name these perfume types merciful, generous, prophetic, wise, faith-filled, instructive.

  • When putting on perfume, the advice is to apply it to pulse points. That's because perfume gets stronger as it's warmed. When our pulse increases due to exertion, excitement, or stress the scent spreads more efficiently.
Does that mean that life's stresses are good for spreading the perfume of Jesus? I think so. If we are full of Him, His scent (or lack of it) will spread more than ever when our lives heat up with trouble.

  • Another tip for perfume application is to spray it into the room and enter its mist in order to be enshrouded by scent.
This reminds us of how important it is to spend time in the perfume—reading and studying God's word, praying, meditating, and spending time with other Christians.

  • Finally, we all know that wearing perfume is forbidden in many places. That's because some people are allergic to perfume scents and actually experience physical dis-ease when in their presence.
2 Corinthians 2:16 reminds us that not everyone will appreciate or welcome the Christ fragrance that we carry. To those who have rejected Him, it is the fragrance of death. It should not surprise us that there are more and more places where sharing the good news about Jesus is forbidden. When we do it anyway, we'll probably get into trouble.

How are we doing as spreaders of the perfume of Jesus? Is this world a sweeter  place because of our presence?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to spread Your pure scent, unmixed with notes of selfishness, jealousy, anger, covetousness, lust... Amen.

MORE: Learn more about perfume
For a good introduction to the world of perfumes:

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Holy Spirit pledge

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 1:15-2:11

TO CHEW ON: "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." 2 Corinthians 1:21-22

When I read the word 'guarantee', I think of buying a new appliance or gadget and deciding on one model over another because the guarantee is better. With an appliance, the guarantee is the manufacturer's promise that our appliance will work and not break down for one, two etc. years, and if it does, they will fix it.

[Guarantee can also mean "something that assures or seems to assure a specified condition or outcome."] This slightly different definition comes close to the meaning of what guarantee means in 2 Corinthians 1:22 where the Greek word arrabon is used. It is a business term that refers to promise money. We would call it a down payment or the first installment which guarantees full possession when the whole is paid later.

What condition or outcome does God guarantee with the down-payment of the Holy Spirit in our hearts? Several comments in my Bible shed light on what that might mean:

"God has marked us as belonging to Him. The Holy Spirit Himself serves as guarantee (Greek arrabon, "pledge," "deposit') of God's commitment to complete His work in us (2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:23), thus confirming the Yes that is in Jesus" - Arden Conrad Autry, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1612 (emphasis added).

"Arrabon" describes the Holy Spirit as the pledge of our future joy and bliss in heaven. The Holy Spirit gives us a foretaste or guarantee of things to come" - Dick Mills "Word Wealth - guarantee," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1612 (emphasis added)

The question this brings to mind is are we aware of the Holy Spirit within us? Are we enjoying what we already have of the Spirit-presenced life so that we want more? Perhaps this is a good time to review some of the work the Spirit does in our lives.

1. In addition to providing this foretaste of heaven as He completes His work in us, He also:

2. Bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16; Galatians 4:6).

3. Reveals His desires to us so that we can be led by those desires and follow them (Romans 8:4-16; Galatians 5:16-25).

4. Gives gifts that manifest His presence (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

5. From time to time works miraculous signs and wonders that strongly attest to the presence of God in the preaching of the gospel (Hebrews 2:4; 1 Corinthians 2:4; Romans 15:19). (List from Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, p. 641.)

Wow! As I review this list and realize afresh the beneficial work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I get excited for more, don't you? Let's thank God for what the Holy Spirit is to us and what His presence signifies for our future.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the work of Your Spirit in my life and the promise of even more to come. Help me to give you the run of my heart-house today. Amen.

MORE: Valentine's Day

Today is Saint Valentine's Day or Valentine's Day. Wikipedia defines it as:

"...an annual commemoration held on February 14 celebrating love and affection between intimate companions. The day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine....
Modern Valentine's Day symbols include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards." Read entire...

I'm thinking in a way the Holy Spirit's presence in our hearts is like a Valentine card from God—the pledge of His love and the promise of more.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Take comfort

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 1:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 1 Corinthians 1:13-14

Who do we choose as a comforter in times of crisis, disaster or bereavement? Chances are we will pick a person who has been through similar things. For example, I would probably not be your first choice as a comforter when you get a diagnosis of cancer or experience the death of your spouse. However, dealing with miscarriage would be another thing. I've been there. Experience has been my teacher. My ability to comfort you would come from my firsthand knowledge of what that experience was like and what I needed at the time.

Paul, in our reading today, draws attention to the comfort that's available to us when we're dealing with the hard stuff in our lives.

["Comfort: paraklesis. A calling alongside to help, to comfort, to give consolation or encouragement. The paraklete is a strengthening presence, one who upholds those appealing for assistance. Paraklesis (comfort) can come to us both by the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31) and by the Scriptures (Romans 15:4)" - "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1508.

I remember when I first became aware of these verses. Having lost my first pregnancy to miscarriage a few months earlier, I was pregnant again but again threatening to abort. "Why is this happening?" I asked God. These verses from 2 Corinthians 1 helped to answer my question:

1. To draw me closer to God as I looked to Him for comfort and answers ("...God... the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in our tribulation..."). I don't remember the exact scriptures I turned to at that time but they probably included the usual:
  • Romans 8:28-29 which assures us God is in everything and has a purpose for it all.
  • Philippians 4:6-7 which invites us to pray about everything and let our confidence that God hears and acts in our best interest relax our hearts to peacefulness.

2. To someday be a comfort to others who go through similar things ("...that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.")

Whatever we're going through today, from irritation to trauma, let's keep in mind these comfort-ministering purposes for our "tribulation." Let's look to God and Scripture for comfort, and then be willing to share our experience with those who are going through something similar.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Bible and the Holy Spirit who comforts me. Help me to be sensitive to the hurts of others and to share Your comfort when such sharing is timely. Amen.

MORE: "Nothing is Wasted" - Jason Gray

"From the ruins
From the ashes
Beauty will rise
From the wreckage
From the darkness
Glory will shine..."  All lyrics

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

How do we keep the Lord's Day?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 2:23-3:6

TO CHEW ON: "And He said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.'" Mark 2:27-28.

We don't make much of Sabbath-keeping (or Sunday-keeping) in our church culture, let alone in society at large. How much that has changed even in the last several hundred years was brought home to me when I recently read the Puritan Jonathan Edwards' 73 Resolutions and came across #38:

"Resolved never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive or matter of laughter on the Lords Day" - from "The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards in Categories."

In our reading today the Pharisees twice confront Jesus about his non-keeping of their Sabbath rules. First they butt heads over whether it is okay to do the work of harvesting heads of grain to feed themselves (Mark 2:23-28). Then later, in the synagogue when Jesus heals the man with a withered hand, that act steels the Pharisees' determination to destroy Him (Mark 3:1-6).

So what is appropriate Lord's Day-keeping behaviour? Should we as 21st century Christians be concerned at all with Sabbath/Sunday/Lord's Day-keeping? Here are some principles we find as we look at Scripture:

  • God set aside one day in seven as a day of rest as early as creation (Genesis 2:2).
  • God told the Israelites the Sabbath was to be a day they kept holy or separate from work (Exodus 31:15) and to Him (Deuteronomy 5:12).'
  • A heart-felt keeping of the Sabbath came with the promise of a rich reward (Isaiah 58:13,14).
  • Jesus and Paul observed the Sabbath by attending places of worship (Luke 4:16; Acts 17:2).
  • Some of the activities that happened at "church" on the Sabbath were:
- Prayer (Acts 16:13).
- Getting acquainted with fellow believers (Acts 16:13).
- Reading Scripture (Luke 4:16).
- Teaching (Matthew 6:2).
- Apologetic reasoning from the Scripture with the goal of persuading people to put their faith in Christ (Acts 17:2; 18:4).
  •  Doing good on the Sabbath is allowed. Jesus lived His statement, "Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:12) when He:
- healed a man with a withered hand.
- healed a man with a 38-year sickness (John 5:1-9).
- healed a man of blindness (John 9:6,16).

Jesus' statement here: "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath" makes me think. Perhaps it is saying, don't look at Sabbath/Sunday/Lord's Day-keeping as a burdensome, rule-generated obligation but as a privilege and benefit.
- It is permission to relax from work.
- It is a day to nourish relationships with God and people.
- It gives us an entire day to focus on God—the highest and best.
- It is an opportunity to demonstrate, by our lifestyle, our devotion and loyalty to God.

PRAYER: Dear God, I have not been strict with myself about observing one day in seven as holy to You. Help me to view doing this as a privilege and benefit. Amen.

MORE: A book about Sabbath-keeping

Canadian author Mark Buchanan has written a book about keeping the Sabbath: The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. I have not read the book but it seems like a worthwhile read, judging from this excerpt from Tim Challies' (4-star Amazon.com) review of it:

"Sabbath-keeping is grounded in a stark refusal we make to ourselves. We stand ourselves down. We resist that which six days of coming and going, pushing and pulling, dodging and weaving, fighting and defending have bred into us. What we deny ourselves is our well-trained impulses to get and to spend and to make and to master. This day, we go in a direction we're unaccustomed to, unfamiliar with, that the other six days have made seem unnatural to us." If the grass needs to be cut because you did not have a chance to do it on Saturday and you have a busy week approaching, leave the grass. But if the grass needs to be cut and this is one of your favorite, most relaxing chores, than by all means, cut the grass on the Sabbath."

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Come out singing

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 32:1-11

TO CHEW ON: “You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:7

When I hear ‘hiding place’ I think of Corrie Ten Boom’s book by that name. It was well-titled, for Corrie’s family was arrested for giving Jews a hiding place in their home when Holland was under the Nazis. Later she relates several instances of God performing feats of hiding for her and her sister. In one, they managed to smuggle a Bible into prison right under the nose of their captors.

That God’s followers would need hiding or preservation or deliverance tells us that just because God is in our lives doesn’t mean we are immune from trouble. We are just as vulnerable to calamity, sickness, accidents and natural disasters as the next person. However, in those times we have these promises: God will hide us; God will preserve us; He will surround us with songs of deliverance.

The need for “songs of deliverance” implies that we’ve been caught, or very close to it. My Bible has cross references from this phrase to Exodus 15:1 and Judges 5:1. The Exodus reference is to the song that Moses sang after Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea after pursuing the Israelites in an attempt to bring them back to slavery. The Judges song is one Deborah and Barak sang after Jael, a feisty desert woman, killed Sisera, the army commander of their enemy King Jabin (Judges 4).

Next time you’re in the thick of trouble, don’t take it as a sign of God’s displeasure or punishment. Rather, welcome it as another opportunity to strengthen your faith as you experience God’s care for you in the midst of it. He will bring you through, singing your own song of deliverance.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being with me in times of testing, threat, and sickness. Please hide me, preserve me and help me to come out the other side singing. Amen.

MORE: A quote from O.C.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Romans 8:35

“God does not keep a man immune from trouble; He says – “I will be with him in trouble.” It does not matter what actual troubles in the most extreme form get hold of a man’s life, not one of them can separate him from his relationship to God. We are “more than conquerors in all these things.” Paul is not talking of imaginary things, but of things that are desperately actual; and he says we are super-victors in the midst of them, not by our ingenuity, or by our courage, or by anything other than the fact that not one of them affects our relationship to God in Jesus Christ. Rightly or wrongly, we are where we are exactly in the condition we are in. I am sorry for the Christian who has not something in his circumstances he wishes was not there.”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, May 19th reading
(From the archives)

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