Friday, March 30, 2012

The Gospel according to Isaiah

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 61:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And opening of the prison to those who are bound." Isaiah 61:1

In my Bible, this chapter is titled "The Good News of Salvation" If good news means gospel, we might subtitle it, "The Gospel according to Isaiah."

That Jesus is the "Me" speaking in verse 2 is easy to establish. For He turned to this very passage at the beginning of His ministry in Nazareth, read from it and then said, "Today is this Scripture fulfilled in Your hearing" (Luke 4:16-21).

I tend to equate the Gospel of Salvation as the good news that I can be saved from judgement and reconciled with God through faith in Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Of course it is that. But this chapter reveals that salvation is so much more. See the many facets of salvation that make up this good news? It includes:

- Healing - Isaiah 61:1
- Liberty - Isaiah 61:1
- Comfort and consolation - Isaiah 61:2,3a
- New life - Isaiah 61:3b
- Renewal and rebuilding - Isaiah 61:4
- Exaltation before enemies - Isaiah 61:5,6.
- New career of service - Psalm 61:6
- Honor - Isaiah 61:7,10.
- Justice - Isaiah 61:8 (and an aspect of this is the 'vengeance' mentioned in Isaiah 61:2).
- Joy and celebration—especially celebration of God Himself - Isaiah 61:3,10.
- Fruitfulness - Isaiah 61:3,11.

I ask myself, what aspect of salvation do I need and trust God for today? What about you?
  • Are we grieving? We can trust Him for comfort.
  • Have we been treated unfairly? He will make it right.
  • Are there broken things (relationships, dreams, even physical wreckages) in our lives? He can rebuild those destroyed things.
We could go on...

There is a sense in which Jesus is all these things to us today by faith. There is also a sense in which we need to trust Him for the full revelation of this multi-faceted salvation in the future.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, the many-sided salvation You bought with Your life, death and resurrection stretches my hope and challenges my faith. Help me to live in this salvation by faith now, even when my life is far from ideal, as I cling to the hope that someday I will experience it in its entirety. Amen.

MORE: The Gospel—perfect for your needs
"...the Bible is so thick—because there are so many different needs that you have. And there are suitable places where the gospel is unfolded for you, so that if you immerse yourself in the whole book, always with an eye for what Christ has wrought for you and purchased for you in this thick, glorious history of God’s interaction with people, he will give you what you need.


Therefore, everything in me says, and I hope to say until the day I die, “Now, to him who is able to strengthen me, according to Paul’s gospel, to him—to that God—be glory forever and ever.”


God came into history in Jesus Christ; he died in order to destroy the power of hell and death and Satan and sin; and he did it through the gospel of Jesus Christ" - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org, excerpt from "The Gospel in Six Minutes."


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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WWJD?

Jesus in the Midst of the Doctors - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 50:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "The Lord God has given Me
The tongue of the learned,
That I should know how to speak
A word in season to him who is weary.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear
To hear as the learned
The Lord God has opened My ear
And I was not rebellious
Nor did I turn away." Isaiah 50:4-5

By the context it's easy to identify the Servant in this Song as Jesus (Just go on to Isaiah 50:6 and compare to Matthew 27:30). We have in Isaiah's words a wonderful Jesus-template on which to pattern our lives.

  • Wisdom
We see Jesus' wisdom on display already when He is 12 and talking with the temple rulers. We acknowledge our own need for wisdom, praying along with young king Solomon: "But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties..." (1 Kings 3:7 NIV). But do we take James seriously when he tells us what godly wisdom consists of: "...pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy..." (James 3:13-17)?

  • Appropriate speech
Jesus' speech wasn't always meek and mild. He could be fiery and funny, probing and gentle. Of course His speech was tied to His wisdom (Matthew 13:34) and ours needs to be too (Matthew 5:37; Colossians 4:6; James 3:2).

  • A disciplined spirit
Have you noticed how many times Jesus sneaked away from His disciples to be with His Father? Sometimes he got up early. Sometimes He went off by Himself after a long day of teaching and doing miracles. Sometimes He stayed up all night. His words to His disciples about disciplined prayer are a warning to us too: "...Stay here and watch ... Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation" (Matthew 26:38,41).

  • A personal relationship with God
"He awakens me... He awakens My ear" are the words of Christ through Isaiah. We get the sense of not dutiful but joyous voluntary meetings. Jesus' heart for us is to have such a relationship with Him and the Father (John 17:20-26).

  • A compliant heart
Who can forget the scene of Jesus praying in Gethsemane and how He battled through to pray "Not as I will but as You will" (Matthew 26:39)? He brought home to Peter the necessity of such total surrender when they met after Jesus' resurrection when He accepted Peter back into ministry with the simple "Follow Me" (John 21:19,22). They are the same words He says to us (Luke 9:23).

What would Jesus do (WWJD)? We have many answers to that question in this Servant Song. Will we follow His lead?

PRAYER: Dear God, Jesus' example life is beautiful but impossible for me to copy without the activity of the Holy Spirit in my life. Help me to live out these qualities of wisdom, good speech, a teachable spirit, and a compliant heart. May my relationship with You be personal, honest, and strong. Amen.

MORE: "Lily of the Valley" - David Ruis and Kelly McMechan




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Monday, March 26, 2012

Of bruised reeds

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 42:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "A bruised reed He will not break
And smoking flax He will not quench." Isaiah 42:3

It is Sabbath. Jesus enters the synagogue in Galilee, and it is as if the Pharisees have been lying in wait for just this moment. Almost immediately they approach Jesus with a man in tow — a man with his right hand skinny as a bird claw and clenched against his chest.

Look at their eager eyes. They have the net, now to haul in the catch!

Their spokesman parks the man right in front of Jesus and asks, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"

The challenge in his voice together with his station and authority are enough to cow anyone, and Jesus' companions hold their collective breaths. What will their Rabbi say to this?

He answers with His usual thoughtful wisdom and clever turning of the question back on them: "What man is there among you who has one sheep and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

And then, with a Creator's compassion for a bit of His broken creation, He heals the man's hand.

The Pharisees leave the crowd that has gathered, humiliated and incensed and plotting "how they might destroy Him."

Jesus quietly gets out of town. When the multitudes find Him, He "heals them all," but also warns them not to make Him known...

All of which proves, says Matthew, the teller of this story (Matthew 12:9-17) that Jesus is the one Isaiah spoke of when he said (and he quotes the first part of today's reading verbatim):
"Behold! My servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
....A bruised reed he will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench..." Matthew 12:18-21.

The story of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand seems the perfect illustration of "a bruised reed He will not break..."

How often we too are bruised reeds, damaged, hurt and paralyzed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Or we're smoking flax with just a spark of fire left in us.  How wonderful it is to know that Jesus understands and deals with us gently and justly ("He will bring forth justice for truth - Isaiah 42:3) and successfully ("He will not fail nor be discouraged" - Isaiah 42:4).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for being the example of compassionate servanthood. I need such treatment from You, and pray for Your Spirit to help me to be compassionate and gentle when dealing with the hurt and almost extinguished people around me. Amen.

MORE: "Tender Reed" by Lisa Bevill

The years leave their marks
Like wounds on the heart
An aching where once there was none
The bitter winds blow
So where does one go
To heal when the damage is done


CHORUS:
Oh tender reed
Although you're so fragile
Tender reed
Although you've been bruised
The gentle hand that grew you from a seed
Will be all the strength that you need


I know that it seems
You're feeling more grief
Before the last heartache could mend
But one thing is sure
God knows you'll endure
He won't let you break, only bend


CHORUS


So hold fast
Even if it takes awhile
God the Father
Will not forsake His child



(From the archives)


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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Great leaders use the servant entrance

TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 12:20-36a


TO CHEW ON: “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me, and where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him will My Father honor.” John 12:26

“Servanthood is the time-tested entrance prerequisite for trustworthy ministry,” begins a sidebar article in my Bible. “Since God’s Word seems to reveal such service as the basis for any advancement in leadership, we are wise to be cautious if such credentials are not found in a rising leader today.” – Joseph Garlington Sr. New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1466

Have you noticed how many Bible leaders first served?
- Moses served Jethro - Exodus 3:1.
- Joshua served Moses - Exodus 24:13.
- Elisha served Elijah - 2 Kings 3:11.
- David served Saul - 1 Samuel 16:21.

If we dream of having ministries and being leaders, we’d better get used to the idea of being servants.

How comfortable are you with serving? I often watch the Customer Service clerks at our local Superstore with admiration. The best ones handle grouchy, complaining customers with  a humility, grace and willingness to help that puts me to shame. Personally, volunteering in our church’s Alpha program has made me even more aware of some of the hang-ups about serving that I have. It has shown me I have a lot to learn about this unlikely, Kingdom of God route to greatness - Mark 9:33-35.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to have a servant’s heart in everything I do – not to prove my greatness, but because You were a servant, and I follow You. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Annunciation
Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. This is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. 

The liturgy for today begins with this collect:
"Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(From the archives)
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Saturday, March 24, 2012

God's writing on our minds and hearts

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 31:23-37

TO CHEW ON: "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people." Jeremiah 31:33

If you've ever raised kids you'll know how much easier it is to get their cooperation and compliance if they are motivated from within by love, respect, and a desire to please. Such inner motivation is more effective than the threat of punishment.

Here God tells the people of a day when the nation will be in such an inner-motivated state spiritually. The drive to obey will come from within. Pleasing God will be so uppermost that it will be as if His laws are written on their minds and hearts.

Interestingly, the writer of Hebrews quotes this very passage in Hebrews 8:8-12 and again in 10:16,17. He tells us this compliant state comes about as a result of the "new covenant."

This new covenant came about through Jesus. His death in our stead, paying the penalty for our sins, is the transaction with God that brings this it into effect.

How are our minds and hears so radically changed under it? Through the Holy Spirit living inside us. An endnote to my Bible's Hebrew's 8 passage says:

"Jesus' ministry is performed under the covenant of God's grace, wrought within the minds and hearts of believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus God established a new personal covenant relationship with His people, based not on a compelling force from without, but on an impelling power from within." New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1738 (emphasis added).
This is all well and good on paper. But how does it work in practical everyday living? We still have the choice to resist the Holy Spirit or yield to Him (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Even under this new covenant God never takes over life's controls against my will or yours. But He does promise to come to each of us and live in us if we let Him. His presence is that inner drive toward obedience and compliance, stronger than the threat of punishment, proving us His children (Galatians 5:18; Romans 8:14).

PRAYER: Dear God, I love the picture of Your principles and ways written on my mind and heart — so much a part of me that it's easier to obey than not. May it be so. Amen.

MORE: Holy Spirit: more than a guest
The Holy Spirit cannot be located as a Guest in a house, He invades everything. When once I decide that my "old man" (i.e., the heredity of sin) should be identified with the death of Jesus, then the Holy Spirit invades me. He takes charge of everything, my part is to walk in the light and to obey all that He reveals.- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 11 reading.
(From the archives)


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Friday, March 23, 2012

Watery test

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

TO CHEW ON: "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:15,16

I am, at the time of writing this (February 9, 2012), going through a "temptation."

[Tempted - peirazo: To explore, test, try, assay, examine, prove, attempt, tempt. The word describes the testing of the believer's loyalty, strength, opinions, disposition, condition, faith, patience, and character. Peirazo determines which way one is going and what one is made of" - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1820.] (Emphasis added.)

You see, yesterday the water main that supplies water to our townhouse complex burst at a point right beside our unit. By the time we noticed it, water was already pouring into our storage area and the downstairs den.

Today we are using precious water from a store-bought jug to take sponge baths and make coffee while waiting for the plumbers to do something about the water and a restoration company to cart away our stuff so they can rip up wrecked flooring, decontaminate, and fix. Life won't be back to normal for weeks. It doesn't help that this is the second time this has happened.

My default is to feel sorry for myself and whine, even though I know that in the scheme of things, this is peanuts. People are losing their houses due to floods, fires, storms and accidents all the time and generally facing far worse in the "test" department.

And so it is a comfort to read that Jesus was "tempted" in all the ways that we are - Hebrews 4:15. Whether the temptation/test is little or big Hebrews 4:16, is also significant. Because it tells us that because Jesus was tempted/tested as we are, we can count on His understanding us in our temptation. It follows ("Therefore...") that we can "come boldly to the throne of grace" for help."

"Come boldly," writes my Bible's commenter, "literally means 'without reservation, with frankness, with full and open speech.' We approach a throne of grace obtaining mercy for the past and grace for the present and future" - Guy P. Duffield commentary on Hebrews, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1734.

I love that invitation to come "without reservation and with full and open speech." No request is too big or too small. God is big enough for me to pound His chest in my frustration over my relatively small problem.

A double-duty of such tests is the way they show us (me, at least) how far we still have to go to reach maturity. It's easy to talk about trusting God and having a good attitude when things are going well, but quite another thing to live these things when life goes sideways.

I need mercy for the way I've reacted to this and other tests, and grace to be sweet and unruffled today as I trust God in my present circumstances, and tomorrow, for whatever that will bring.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for understanding me and for inviting me to bring the stresses of life to You. I bring to You the situation in my home. I need grace for whatever this day holds. Amen.

MORE: Whatever Comes - Brian Doerksen




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Monday, March 19, 2012

Bore deep into God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 89:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Mercy and truth go before Your face." Psalm 89:14

Who of us hasn't set some person on a pedestal only to find, when we get to know them better (or if they are a historical figure, we read about them), there are, running through the strata of their lives, veins of unrighteousness, injustice, falsehood, selfishness, or other failings? We will never experience such disillusionment with God!

God is righteous and justice at the deepest level: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne" is expressed in the Message as, "The Right and Justice are the roots of your rule."

The result and evidence of His rule is love and truth: "Mercy and truth go before Your face" (NKJV) is translated "Unfailing love and truth walk before You as attendants" - NLT, and "Love and truth are its fruits" - Message.

Psalm 89:18 uses the adjective "holy" to encapsulate all God's good, sinless, peerless, authentic, above reproach qualities. He is called "The Holy One of Israel."
[holy - qudosh: set apart, dedicated to sacred purposes; holy, sacred, clean, morally or ceremonially pure...Holiness is separation from everything profane and defiling; and at the same time dedication to everything holy and pure" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 155.]
A commentary note in my Bible gives some ways to work the holiness of God, into our lives:
"Holiness is understood and learned by going directly to its source, the Holy One of Israel.
  • Search the scriptures to learn the truth of God's holiness.
  • Spend time worshiping God to be transformed by His holiness (2 Corinthians 3:18).
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to walk in holiness (1 Peter 1:13-19) - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 756.
PRAYER: Dear God, I am so glad that You are holy through and through, that in You there is no hint of injustice or unrighteousness, no whiff of hatred or lies. I revel in Your name (vs. 16) — Your essence and reputation. Amen.

MORE: Thoughts on knowing God
"What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God (Jeremiah 9:23 ff). What of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him most pleasure? Knowledge of God (Hosea 6:6).


In these few sentences we have said a very great deal.... What we have said provides at once a foundation, shape, and goal for our lives, plus a principle of priorities and a scale of values. Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life's problems fall into place of their own accord" - J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 31.

(From the archives)

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Color trouble good

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 107:1-22


TO CHEW ON: “Oh that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men.” Psalm 107:8,15,21

When we take today’s verse (a refrain that is occurs three times in this psalm) out of its context, we could assume the psalmist is drawing our attention to God’s general character of goodness and His amazing creation. But when we pay attention to the verses around we see the writer is looking at quite a different side of God’s goodness. Each repetition of the refrain comes after the memory of a nasty situation.

1. A time of loss and homeless (Psalm 107:2-7)
The Israelites wandered around in the wilderness after Egypt, hungry, discouraged, lost and homeless. But this bad scene became good when it caused them to look to God for direction. Then He settled them in a land they could call home.

2. A time of rebellion (Psalm 107:10-14)
Israel was often in a state of rebellion. God’s remedy – hard labor – didn’t look like a blessing on the surface. But it was, because it sent them running back to God for help.

3. A time of foolishness (Psalm 107:17-20)
The picture here is of trouble brought on oneself because of dissipation, addiction, or any kind of self-destructive behavior. Not a good thing. But again it is, when such a thing draws us to God.

Looking back, do you see evidences of any of these things in your life? Did they draw you closer to God? Take a few minutes today to review how God has turned trouble into blessing in your life. You could personalize your thankfulness to God.

PRAYER: I thank You, God, for Your goodness in ___________(name the bad situation), and for Your wonderful works to me. Amen.

MORE: In “Man of the Tombs”  Bob Bennett writes of the Gadarene demoniac  – a man whose life was a mess because he was controlled by demon spirits. Even that was a blessing in disguise when his condition drew Jesus' attention and He delivered the man from those monsters. The line of Bennett’s song: “He…mistakes his freedom for being free” can be said of most of us before Jesus liberates us.

“Man of the Tombs” by Bob Bennett




(From the archives)

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Apostolic prayers

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Ephesians 1:1-23

TO CHEW ON: “I… do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.” Ephesians 1:15

Has anyone ever prayed over you things that you were inwardly longing for? Or perhaps someone prayed for you things you hadn’t thought of but when you heard them, something inside you responded ‘Yes!’

Ephesians 1:15-20 contains one of the great Apostolic Prayers of the Bible. These are prayers prayed by the Apostles (mostly Paul) over the early church. In his introduction to the chapter of Apostolic Prayers in his book Praying The Bible: The Book of Prayers, Wes Campbell describes Apostolic Prayers in general as fatherly, foundational, God-focused, positive and for the church. Elaborating on this last, Campbell says:
“This means that Apostolic Prayers are meant to be prayed with someone or someplace specifically in mind. These are not ‘God bless the whole wide world’ prayers! When praying these prayers for yourself, personalize them by changing the pronouns and ask that God would do these things in your own life. Then pray the exact same words over your friends and family, putting their names in the text.” – Wes Campbell, The Book of Prayers, pp. 190-191.

Let’s spend a minute unpacking the prayer in today’s reading.

1. Thanks
Paul begins by thanking God for the Ephesians. What a great thought – you and I can be the cause of gratitude. We can give thanks for others. Who in your life causes you to give thanks?

2. Wisdom, revelation, understanding
Paul prays that the church will understand who Jesus is. His request that the “eyes of your understanding be(ing) enlightened” implies that this understanding may come as an ‘aha’ moment, an epiphany, a sudden seeing of something we hadn’t grasped before.  Jack Hayford says of this ‘revelation’:
“Such ‘revelation’ refers to an unveiling of our hearts that we may receive insights into the way God’s word is intended to work in our lives. It may be used of teaching or preaching that is especially anointed in helping people see the glory of Christ and His purpose and power for them.” (Jack Hayford, “The Spirit of Revelation” in the New King James Version - NKJV - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1646).

3. Hope
This understanding mutates into Hope.Paul talks about the “hope of His calling.” My mind goes to some of the things we are called: children of God; joint heirs with Christ; the Bride of Christ.

This hope also has to do with being aware of “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” I think of beauty and diversity of fellow Christians – a family that spans the centuries and the globe. I call to mind my own church family.

4. Power
Paul prays that the Ephesians will grasp the immensity of the power that’s available to them. This is no mere ten-points-on-the-Richter-scale earthquake power but the very power that conquered death. And it’s available to us.

Does this prayer resonate with you? Pray it over yourself, your family, and friends today.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the people in my life. I pray that You, the God of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory will give me the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, that the eyes of my understanding being enlightened, I may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward me, who believes, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in heavenly places. Amen.

MORE: More Apostolic Prayers (titled by Wes Campbell):

“Revival Power” – Acts 4:24-31
“Outpouring of Divine Love” – Ephesians 3:14-21
“Just Say No!” – Titus 2:11-13
“A Prayer of Prosperity” – 3 John 2
“Jude’s Doxology” – Jude 24-25

(From the archives.)





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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Fireproof

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

TO CHEW ON: "Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is." 1 Corinthians 3:12-13

Who of us hasn't seen video clips on the evening news of people sifting through the charred remains and ashes of their burned homes? Each time I am chilled by their, "This was all I had. My whole life was here. I lost it all."

That's the scene these verses from 1 Corinthians bring to mind. And I just know I don't want that to be me on "the Day" (of Jesus' return). I'm sure you feel the same way. So how do we avoid this? How do we leave a life-legacy that doesn't go up in flames?

As I view the rubble of the scene, I think of the warning Jesus gave:
"Don't lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" Matthew 6:20.

Expending our efforts on things that last beyond this life, pouring ourselves out for the well-being of peoples' souls instead of amassing physical stuff and building monuments to ourselves is certainly one aspect of this.

But it seems that Paul is talking about more. The implication is that these people are all busy in spiritual work, building on Jesus, the right foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). We can conclude that even in that there is a right and wrong way to build, a way to build with lasting materials or flammable ones.

Read any book describing cults and you will, I think, be struck by how many start with Jesus. He is part of their foundation. But somewhere their leaders and/or followers have used other materials than the Word of God, or stressed one part of the Bible ignoring other parts, or compromised in their lifestyles necessitating rationalization with its accompanying potential for false teaching.

A footnote in my Bible says about these building materials:

"To build on the foundation a building of durable material (gold, silver, precious stones) is to teach sound doctrine and live a life of fidelity to the truth, thus leading converts to spiritual maturity. To build with perishable material (wood, hay, straw) is to provide inadequate or unsound teaching or to compromise the truth by demonstrating a lifestyle that contradicts or fails to model it" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1583.

So how do we make sure we "teach sound doctrine and live a life of fidelity to the truth"? I would submit it's by getting very familiar with the building supply depot — the Bible (all of it, not just the red-letter parts, or the gospels, or the epistles, or the Psalms...) and by giving the Holy Spirit permission to apply it to our lives, even when it wreaks a little havoc with our current building projects.

PRAYER: Dear God, I don't want to stand before You someday next to a pile of smoking rubble, having accomplished nothing that lasts. Help me live my life with today's warning in mind. Amen.

MORE: Learning about world religions

There are thousands of belief systems in the world, hundreds of which name Jesus as part of their foundation. One book that helps the layperson through this maze is James Beverley's Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions: A Comprehensive Introduction. A part of the book that makes it useful is Beverley's evaluation of how each belief systems relates to Christian orthodoxy. This book would be a valuable addition to any home library.

(My July 2009 review of Nelson's Illustrated Guild to Religions is here).

(From the archives)
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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The mysterious life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory." 1 Corinthians 2:7

Something I love about the Bible is the way it shows itself to be increasingly interrelated and consistent, richer and more satisfying the deeper I dig into it. No matter what Bible topic I study — light, water, fire, new life — the more I mine, the purer the treasure I find. That's probably because in the Bible we're dealing with what Paul calls the "wisdom of God," truth that comes from God's pure gold, IQ-off-the-charts mind.

Paul calls God's wisdom a mystery. A footnote article in my Bible explains:

"Mystery in the New Testament does not mean mysterious or difficult to understand, but denotes a truth hidden in God's mind until He chooses to disclose it. God had the plan of redemption in mind before the creation of the world, and it would have remained unknown had He not revealed it in Christ..." New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1582.

I love how the verse that follows our focus one (1 Corinthians 2:8) tells us that no human in charge at the time or even Satan (the "god of this age" - 2 Corinthians 4:4) or the demons of hell ("principalities and powers" Colossians 2:15) had any clue about God's plan or "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." But they did so they are foiled!

The wonderful thing is that we can tap into God's "mystery" mind. How? Through the Holy Spirit:

"But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us" NLT vs. 10-12

It's as our little paragraph above finishes:

"...Believers live by a secret, the essence of which is Christ and His glorious purposes for the world" NSFLB, p. 1582.

I ask myself, am I living true to that "secret," that "mystery"? Do I set my priorities by it? Or do I let the din and clamour around me drown out that divine Pied-Piper song?

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please reveal the mind of Christ to me. I want my life to be part of Your mystery, lived in cooperation with Your plan that was "ordained before the ages." Amen.

MORE: What the above may mean:

"Never choose to be a worker, but when God has put His call on you, woe be to you if you turn to the right hand or to the left. He will do with you what He never did with you before the call came. He will do with you what He is not doing with other people. Let Him have His way."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, October 25th reading.

"God breaks up the private life of His saints and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on one hand and for Himself on the other.... Let Him have His way; if you do not, instead of being of the slightest use to God in His redemptive work in the world, you will be a hindrance and a clog."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost, November 1 reading.

"It is one thing to go through a crisis grandly, but another thing to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, no one paying the remotest attention to us....The test of the life of a saint is not success, but faithfulness in human life as it actually is."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost, November 16 reading.


(From the archives)

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The foolish ones

Artist's rendering of David's sling.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

TO CHEW ON: "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are." 1 Corinthians 1:27-28

The Bible is full of examples of God working through foolish, weak, base, despised things and people. Here are just a few of the many in the Bible:

  • When God wanted to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, He used Moses's shepherd rod, also called  a staff (Exodus 4:2).
  • When He was planning to defeat the Midianites, He chose a cautious leader (Gideon), and then instructed him on how to thin out his army to a mere 300 men. Their weapons consisted of trumpets, pitchers and torches (Judges 7:1-23).
  • Samson killed 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15).
  • Saul, Israel's first king, came from the small, insignificant tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:21).
  • David killed full-armoured Goliath with a stone hurled from a primitive sling (1 Samuel 17:40).
  • Jesus fed a multitude with five loaves and two fish (John 6:9).

Why does God use such un-intuitive means? Paul tells us in verse 29: "...that no flesh should glory in His presence." In other words, when God accomplishes things using people and methods that, according to human wisdom, should never be successful all the credit and glory go to Him.

We can respond in several ways:

1. With relief. There's hope for even us very ordinary, unexceptional folks. If we get out of the way and let God be in charge, He can use even us.

2. With self-searching, asking, is there within our desire to live a significant, contributing life any vestige of seeking after our own fame, our own credit, our own prominence? Perhaps within our answer lies the clue to why our efforts are so often ineffectual.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to leave my ego and its wisdom behind. Help me to be content to be one of Your foolish, weak, base, despised glory-bearers. Amen.

MORE: Foolish enough
"When looking back on the lives of men and women of God the tendency is to say - What wonderfully astute wisdom they had! How perfectly they understood all God wanted! The astute mind behind is the Mind of God, not human wisdom at all. We give credit to human wisdom when we should give credit to the Divine guidance of God through childlike people who were foolish enough to trust God's wisdom and the supernatural equipment of God."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 26th reading.
(From the archives)


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Monday, March 05, 2012

The danger of leader-worship

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 1:1-17


TO CHEW ON: "Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul, or I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for You? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" 1 Corinthians 1:12-13

Last year I read a biography of one of my spiritual heroes. I have always loved the writings of A. W. Tozer so when I discovered A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer by Lyle Dorsett, I snapped it up.

Reading it was not altogether pleasurable, however, for I discovered this man (Tozer) who came across through his writings as practically perfect had some very human qualities. My reaction illustrates what Paul is talking about in our passage today. When we put too much faith in human leaders we enter hazardous territory on several levels.

We may be setting ourselves up for disappointment (such as I felt when I read the Tozer biography). My disappointment was just over discovering some common human traits. When prominent leaders fall, as in exhibiting moral failure, their followers often find themselves in a crisis of trust. Many have abandoned faith in God as a result of disappointment in a revered leader.


We may be jeopardizing our own orthodoxy. Mindlessly following a charismatic leader (charismatic in the personality sense) has led to the development of more than one cult.

We may be fostering needless division in the church—the problem Paul is grappling with here.

We have one leader who will never let us down, however. We can always trust Jesus who, as Paul reminds us, is the One who died for us, whose life, death and resurrection is our gospel (good news), and to whom we have united ourselves in baptism.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I easily put people on a pedestal. Help me to set You up on the highest place of my heart and view human leaders with realism—respect for sure, but not worship. Amen.

MORE: Follow with caution

In his Illustrated Guide to Religions, James Beverley has a chapter called Christian Sectarian Groups. He notes three common characteristics of such groups (which include Jehovah's Witness, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Unification Church, and others):

1."They usually adopt a non-Trinitarian perspective" (i.e. they don't believe in the Trinity).

2. "Each group retains the language of the Christian faith even if the substance is not retained on particular matters."

3."Last, and most important, each group has been shaped by an authoritarian and often narcissistic leadership, particularly at inception" (emphasis added).

- James Beverley, Illustrated Guide to Religions, p. 114.



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Sunday, March 04, 2012

The 'lost' life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 8:27-9:1


TO CHEW ON: "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it." Mark 8:35

This is one of those little sayings of Jesus's that roll easily off the tongue, but are quite another thing to live.

By "whoever desires to save his life" Jesus surely isn't meaning we should obliterate our inborn instinct of physical self-preservation. But I believe He is referring to our as much inborn instinct of self-pleasing and self-serving in daily life.

Rather, we are to lose our lives for His sake as in willingly give Him the right to intervene in, interrupt, manipulate every aspect of life so that He can do what He wants through us. We hear it described as letting Him take the wheel of our lives (the car metaphor) or the rudder (the ship).

It sounds romantic, even preferable to doing life on our own, until we find ourselves in the hospital instead of the beach, confronted with the need for Sunday School teachers when our patience for kids has flown the coop with our own brood, or faced with a needy neighbour when all we want to do is take a nap.

The only way losing one's life to ourselves ever gets easier, I believe, is to make a lifestyle of it. In this regard I think of the Bible character Philip. When persecution drove the disciples out of Jerusalem, he preached in Samaria. Back in Jerusalem again, when an angel interrupted his routine with "Rise and go..." he rose and went without a question and soon came face to face with the very ripe-for-the-gospel Ethiopian eunuch. After Philip baptized him "...the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away..." and he "...found himself at Azotus" from where he carried on his preaching tour.

After living like that for a while, who would want to go back to the predictable routine of self-directed living?


PRAYER: Dear God, please teach me about losing my life for Your sake and the gospel's in my setting. Help me to experience the excitement of living at Your beck-and-call. Amen.


MORE: "The Gallows and the Gift of Life" - an allegory
"As the story begins, I was in the King's prison—the prison called 'conviction.' It was a very strange prison.

.... You might be wondering how I got there. I hadn't always been in this prison, of course. For years I had lived as far away from the palace of the King as I could. Everybody knows that if you stay far enough away, you can set up your own sort of kingdom. You can write your own laws, and pretty much run your own life. So that's what we did.
We thought of all kinds of ways to keep the King's light from bothering us. There were three rules:
1. First, stay as far away from it as you can....
2. Second, use imitation light....
3. Third, find substitute pleasures.."

Read all of "The Gallows and the Gift of Life" (based on Mark 8:34-38, Galatians 6:14 and Hebrews 13:12-14). By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

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Friday, March 02, 2012

The other side of God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 2:1-12


TO CHEW ON: "'I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me, 'You are My Son
Today I have begotten You
Ask of Me and I will give You
The nations for your inheritance
And the ends of the earth for Your possession."'" Psalm 2:7,8

The Lord is speaking through David here as he makes these prophetic pronouncements about Messiah (Jesus).

"You are My Son..." brings to mind the several times we see this phrase repeated in the New Testament. We hear it:
- at Jesus' baptism - Matthew 3:17.
- at His transfiguration - Matthew 17:5.
- through the words of Paul - Acts 13:33
- and the writer of Hebrews - Hebrews 1:5

Psalm 2 goes on to describe the ferocity of this Son/King as He possesses the nations. He will break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like pottery—unless they are on His side. For they have another choice. They can choose to fear Him (Psalm 2:11) give Him obeisance (Psalm 2:12) and put their trust in Him (Psalm 2:12).

In our times we rarely portray God in such a stern, judgmental light. We like to emphasize His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. And He is gracious, merciful, and forgiving. But He is also black-and-white-holy, and will eventually come down on the black with a fury that will make us tremble in fear if we haven't trembled in awe and submission first. As the commenter Matthew Henry says it:

"The kingdom of Messiah is founded upon an eternal decree of God the Father. This our Lord often referred to as what He governed Himself by. God hath said unto Him, Thou art My Son, and it becomes each of us to say to Him, Thou art my Lord and my Sovereign."


PRAYER: Dear God, I acknowledge You as King and Sovereign in my affairs today. I long for the blessing of those who put their trust in You. Amen.

MORE: "Ride on King Jesus" by Steve Bell




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