Monday, April 30, 2012

The 'greater works'

"He who has seen me has seen the Father"
by James Tissot




TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 14:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father." John 14:12

We often call the great works Jesus did miracles. His promise that "greater works" would flow from our lives can easily cause stress when we see no such works. Then it is easy to either abandon the possibility of miracles altogether (rationalizing that their era has passed and thus our signless lives are the normal Christian experience) or to beg God for miracles (interpreting their presence or absence as indicators of God's approval or disapproval of us).

Steven Stiles in his book Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles weighs in on this. Though in his ministry to street people he and others saw more than a few miracles happen, he cautions against seeking them for their own sake:

"The greatest danger in seeking miracles outside of God's will is that we become intrigued by miracles themselves and thereby disregard the One who did the miracle in the first place.


Another danger arises in seeking miracles that are outside of God's purpose. God knows what we need before we do, and he likewise knows when we need a miracle. Our first responsibility is to seek God's will.


Yet another danger in pursuing miracles outside of God's will is that we may begin to look for miracles where they do not exist or even try to discover strategies for making them happen....


Knowing God's faithful care for us is sufficient reason for gratitude, whether we ever see a special miracle or not, God is already watching over us, and he is already providing for us in countless ways we do not see. If the Shepherd never leaves us and never fails to give us our daily bread to eat, and if he always provides us with the water of life to drink so that our thirst is forever gone, why should we ask for more? John 6:35." - Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, pp. 152, 153.

PRAYER: Dear God help me to be available for You to do whatever is Your will in my life, whether through natural or miraculous means. Amen.

MORE: More on the why of miracles

"I have come to believe that those special miracles that shake our preconceived realities, and even those quiet miracles we may see day by day, are not for entertainment purposes. They are memories to be cherished, lessons to be learned, and counsel to receive.

They cause our knees to bend and our hearts to yield. They are a privilege to see, and they tell us, sometimes when we need to hear it most, that nothing can or ever will happen in our lives unless it is allowed by the Good Shepherd." - Steven Stiles, p. 10 (emphasis added).

"His miracles are not designed in the way that we might ever think to put them together. They are not always designed for us to understand. They are designed to teach us to trust him" - Steven Stiles, p. 124 (emphasis added).

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Anti-shepherds

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 34:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment." Ezekiel 34:16

I am in the middle of a fascinating book. Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles by Dr. Steven Stiles is an account of one California church's youth group during the Hippie era.

Stiles, the youth pastor at a small church in Santa Cruz had a heart for youth, the homeless, street people, and the addicted. His passion for street ministry led to the purchase of several old school buses that the youth used for outreach. Under his leadership the youth department grew till it rivaled the size of the main congregation. Not surprisingly, though, the edginess of the ministry led to conflict.

Eventually the senior pastor who was solidly behind Stiles and his evangelistic style was replaced by a man who was much more traditional. He had the ear of the old guard.  One day a board meeting changed everything for Stiles and his band of Jesus People. Here's what happened in Stiles' own words:

"As the end game developed, a final squeeze was put on the youth group. A formal demand was made requiring change in the ministry's basic identity. 'Too Christ-centred,' some critics said. Others voiced their opinions as well: 'Too much time doing worship and devotions, and not enough recreation.' 'Too much use of the Bible and not enough use of denominational material.' 'Too much time together.' 'There's a problem with undesirables.'


Having been unable to jettison the flood of young people that were arriving for help and fellowship, the new church board decided to let us know with final clarity that the youth ministry as it then existed was not wanted" -  Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, p. 90.

I see this story as a cautionary tale. It's easy to give verbal support to reaching the lost. But if your church has ever had a ministry to street people, addicts, and those in recovery, you will know that it is messy and does threaten the status quo.

How do we react when we find derelicts, former or current addicts, and those living in halfway houses sitting next to us in church, sometimes in loud conversation during the service, taking numerous trips outside for smokes, ourselves aware that we have to watch our purses because valuables have been known to go missing?

These things have happened in our church. I can understand the reaction of those California traditionalists trying to take back control. However, it is so against the heart of the Good Shepherd as Ezekiel describes him:

"I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment." Ezekiel 34:16

PRAYER: Dear God, please preserve me from being such a stuffy, self-righteous, self-protective anti-shepherd. I need Your compassionate shepherd-heart for the lost, hurting, bruised and sick. Amen.

MORE: Parking lot sadness
"On the night of the church board's final meeting to decide the fate of the youth ministry, a large group of young people came and waited patiently in the darkness outside. Standing in the parking lot of the church where they had come to know Jesus, they prayed and struggled to understand what was going on.


The decision of the board was finally passed on to those outside, and when the group heard the news that they were not wanted, they stood and wept. Their tears were not of rejection but of loss, for they deeply loved that church" - Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, p. 91.

(At the time of writing this, the Kindle version of this book is free!)
 

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ointment for the soul

D is for David - By unknown illustrator of Bible ABC

 TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 23:1-6


TO CHEW ON: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6

I am a fan of lotion and skin cream. I rub St. Ives Vanilla onto arms, legs and trunk summer or winter. I love to catch the fragrance of orange or almond cream on my hands. I treat itchy insect bites with Calomine and guard against infection by putting Polysporin on nicks and cuts. Psalm 23 is like a lotion psalm to me, with its ability to comfort, soothe, and protect against the irritation of anxiety and the poison of fear.

We can view this psalm in at least two ways. We can read it as praise – a boasting about God and all the ways we have found Him to adequate for all our needs. Or we can read it as a declaration of faith – a psalm of promise. It is in this sense that I have found it most effective as a balm.

When I am in need I claim the promise that He will care for me, to the extent of supplying my physical needs: “I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” His presence can refresh my mind and emotions: “He restores my soul.” When I am confused about direction, I have His promise to “lead me in the paths of righteousness.

When I anticipate tragedy and death “I will fear no evil; for you are with me.” Though at such times I can expect the instruments of his shepherding (his rod and staff) to inflict pain and limitation, I can be sure that they contribute to my security and comfort.


When I am confronted by enemies “You prepare a table before me. In other words, instead of dreading embarrassment, I can claim God’s honor.

When I feel insignificant, “You anoint my head with oil” showing me favor and hospitality.

When I’m tempted to look with concern on the future, I remind myself “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

If you’re a seasoned Christian who has had the Lord as your shepherd for a long time, no doubt you’ll be reciting this psalm as praise to God. But if your experience with the Shepherd is limited, and you haven’t yet found these things true in your experience, recite the psalm as a prayer of faith. Let it soothe your soul and butter your spirit.


PRAYER: Dear Lord, I love being one of Your sheep. Help me to claim and experience Your shepherding through each incident and season of my life. Amen.


MORE: “Reflections on Psalm 23 – For People With Cancer” is a movie by Ken Curtis.

Ken Curtis was diagnosed with advanced cancer with little prospect for survival. He pursued a combination of traditional and alternative medicine, undergirded by a strong spiritual dimension and prayer support team.


Psalm 23 was a vital part of his spiritual component, and for this video Curtis went to Israel, home of David and the Psalm, to be with the shepherds, travel "through the valley of the shadow of death," and explore and enjoy the healing powers of the green pastures and still waters. The resulting meditations provide a combination of candid personal experience of what it means to battle cancer and some of the spiritual resources available through this time-honored Psalm…

This 45-minute movie is available for $.49 one-day rental here.  It will so bless you and give you a new appreciation for this beautiful psalm.


(From the archives)


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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Transformed by expectation

"The Vision of Christ" by William Blake

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 3:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "Beloved, now are we children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him, purifies himself for He is pure." 1 John 3:2-3

What do we do to prepare for the "hope" of a holiday?
- We begin by applying for and updating our travel documents.
- We service the car, or book our transportation.
- We reserve our accommodation.
- We plan activities and things to do once we get there.
- We pack suitable clothes (which may involve researching what kind of weather we can expect to find at our destination).


I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea. Our holiday hope is preceded by a lot of intentional activities.

In our reading today John suggests that our hope of seeing Jesus is also preceded by something intentional: pure living. A footnote in my Bible sums it up concisely: "The prospect of being transformed into the likeness of Christ motivates Christians to live righteously" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1786.

I learned a lot from how Jerry Bridges describes the Christian's efforts to live a God-pleasing life (and its delicate balance between our effort and God's work) in his book The Transforming Power of the Gospel. His baby-Christian resolve ("I prayed a simple prayer: 'God, starting tonight, would You use the Bible to guide my conduct?'") was followed with frustration as he tried to live out the Bible's morality using his willpower. During the process he learned to rely on the Holy Spirit to help him apply Scripture to his life. But he learned that he couldn't be totally passive either. He sums up three conclusions he came to about living the transformed life during his years of struggle:

"1. The internal warfare between the flesh and the Spirit that Paul described in Galatians 5:17 is the normal Christian life ...


2. The more we grow in Christlikeness, the more sin we will see in our lives. It isn't that we are sinning more; rather we are growing m ore aware of and sensitive to sin that has been there all along ...


3. Spiritual transformation requires of us what I call dependent responsibility. All the moral commands and exhortations of Scripture assume our responsibility. We cannot 'just let Jesus live His life through me.' No, we are responsible. At the same time, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to both do His own work and enable us through His power to do the work we must do" - Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Kindle Location 193.

May these insights encourage us as we prepare for the day we see Jesus face to face!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus I do look forward to the day I will see You. May this hope inspire holy living in me. Amen.


MORE: "We Shall Behold Him" by Dottie Rambo






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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is this the last hour?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 2:18-29

TO CHEW ON: "Little Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour." 1 John 2:18

John thought it was "the last hour." that was over 2000 years ago. He's sounding a lot like some of us who also believe we're living in the last days.

Jack Hayford, commenting on this passage says:

"In this text, John describes the times in which he wrote as 'the last hour,' evidencing that he, as vital Christians in every generation, both lived in immediate anticipation of Christ's Second Coming and saw his era as one in which the present evidence seemed to argue that his was possibly the concluding generation. This is not an unhealthy attitude. Christ Jesus desires that people expectantly anticipate His return (Matthew 25:1-13; 2 Timothy 4:8)" - Jack Hayford, "The Prophecies of Last Things," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1785.

Though we don't know whether we're living in "the last hour," we do know a couple of things:

1. We are closer now than ever to Jesus' Second Coming.

2. Some of us will meet Him face to face sooner than we realize, for life is short.

Jacob's lifespan was 130 years (Genesis 47:9). The Psalm 90:10 life expectancy number of 70 to 80 years is closer to ours.

Our lives are described as:
  • a shadow - 1 Chronicles 29:15; Job 8:9.
  • passing as swiftly as a weaver's shuttle (Job 7:6), a runner (Job 9:25).
  • a fading flower - Job 14:2.
  • a handbreadth - Psalm 39:5
  • a sigh - Psalm 90:9
  • smoke - Psalm 102:3
  • a shepherd's tent - Isaiah 38:2
  • a vapor - James 4:14

It is interesting to speculate which events on the world's stage make up fulfilled prophecies, suggesting Jesus' Second Coming may be soon. But let's not get distracted from the fact of our own brief lifespan and imminent meeting with Him: "As for me .... I shall be fully satisfied when I awake to find myself beholding Your form and having sweet communion with You" - Psalm 17:15 (Amplified).


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to live with the sober expectation of seeing You soon, when You return or at my death, whichever comes first. Amen.

MORE: Misgivings about pinpointing Second Coming events

In a 1974 article that responds to Hal Lindsays' book The Late Great Planet Earth (a book that sought to make a correlation with then-current events and Jesus' imminent return), John Piper lists four problems with trying to line up Jesus' promised return with specific current events.

1. The more detailed one attempts to map out the future, the more inferences one must make which are not explicit in the Scripture. Therefore, the tendency of the imagination to fill the gaps increases and the probability of erroneous calculation grows.

2. The stress on the present course of events attracts a great deal of attention from fascinated Christians .... The description of a particular sequence of current events as a manifestation of God’s faithfulness to his predictions creates an emotional and intellectual connection between the Christian’s faith and the events around him. The result, too often, is that the ups and downs of his life of faith are caused by the fluctuations of world affairs and his ability or inability to fit these into a complex eschatological pattern.

3. When a person thinks he knows exactly what role a nation is going to play in God’s battle plan ... then he tends to think less responsibly as a citizen who is to pray for all rulers (1 Timothy 2:2) and seek peace with all men (Romans 12:18). He loses interest in such things as trade agreements, arms talks, currency stability, world food problems, etc.

4. This is the most important: among those who calculate about the time and sequence of the coming events and who try to give detailed descriptions of how it will be, there is, I think, a fundamentally wrong focus, a dislocation of our “blessed hope.” Throughout the New Testament the all-important focus of our hope is personal fellowship with God and our Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 21:3; 1 Peter 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Philippians 1:23; John 14:3).

Read all of "Misgivings About Hal Lindsay's 'Planet Earth" - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Insomnia

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 4:1-8


TO CHEW ON: "I will both lie down in peace and sleep;
For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." Psalm 4:8

Are you ever troubled with insomnia? I certainly am. I think perhaps David was too. For in this psalm he reminds himself (and us, the readers/listeners) that he should be able to sleep:

"Meditate within your heart on your bed and be still ...
I will both lie down in peace and sleep ..."

The Bible speaks of peaceful sleep coming as a result of:

  • Doing a hard day's physical work - Ecclesiastes 5:12.
  • Entrusting the final outcome of our work to God - Psalm 127:2
  • Trusting God for general well-being and protection - Psalm 3:5; Proverbs 3:24 and our focus verse,Psalm 4:8.
  • Trusting God in even extreme circumstances, like Jesus did in the storm-tossed boat (Mark 4:38) and Peter did in prison (Acts 12:6).

I would submit that often 'trust' is the secret to our ability to sleep well:

"... put your trust in the Lord ... For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety."



PRAYER: Dear God, it is so easy to take the responsibility for my life on my shoulders and with it a load of fear and anxiety that keep me awake. Help me to trust You to the extent that I can relax in sleep. Amen.


MORE: Insomniac prayers

One thing many of us do at night when we can't sleep is pray. (David mentions communication with God four times in this short psalm.)

I love how Donna Farley writes of nighttime prayers in her poem "The Geography of Prayer." Here is a sampling:


THE GEOGRAPHY OF PRAYER

my midnight wakeful prayers
the gift of insomnia
I hold a globe cradled in my hands
and the wave of prayer begins:

a slingshot drawn back to the west coast
then as if the daylight terminator reversed itself
sweeping eastward with mercy, healing,
over the homes of people I know
and people I don't
mission in Comox, monks on the Sunshine Coast

members of our parish asleep in their homes
awake with a sick child
worried about losing a job
waiting for labour pains

....

But I can't be the only one who lies
awake nights like this.
Like lines of magnetic force
caressing the world I imagine prayers
emanating from the faithful
wrapping the world up like string
wound around the core of a baseball....

Faster than the internet they go
not at the speed of light
but at the speed of love...

© 1999 by Donna Farley (Used with permission)

Read the entire peom here.

(If you are interested in purchasing Donna's Book, The Geography of Prayer, please contact her by email.)

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Breath-born

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:19-31

TO CHEW ON: "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" John 20:22

Way back in Genesis we read, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" - Genesis 2:7.

Here, as we see Jesus breathing on His disciples, we can't help but notice the parallel and ask, what is happening? A footnote in my Bible explains:

"The old creation began with the breath of God; now the new creation begins with the breath of God the Son" - Siegfried Schatzmann,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1480.

Another article says:
 "...here on Easter night the disciples do, in fact, receive the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2). Jesus' word is direct and unequivocal: 'Receive" and in doing so the disciples are 'born again' by the Holy Spirit's regenerating work in them (Romans 8:11-17) - Scott G.Bauer, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1481.

Doesn't this 'breath' reference also bring to mind John 3, where Jesus talks to Nicodemus about the new birth?  

"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit" - John 3:8.

Have you felt that breath on your nostrils? Have you breathed it in? Are you spiritually alive, so that you can say "The Spirit Himself bears witness with my spirit that I am the child of God'? (Paraphrased from Romans 8:16)


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your breath of spiritual life. Please nourish that life in me by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

MORE: Made alive = regenerated = born again
"When we were dead God made us alive. How did He do this? Jesus' answer in John 3:5-8 is that we are born again by the Spirit. And Paul wrote that God saved us 'by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit' - Titus 3:5. The word regeneration means 'born again,' so our new birth is again ascribed to the Holy Spirit." - Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Kindle Location 1354 (emphasis added).


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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Great grace

"The community of the first Christians" by Laurent de La Hire

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 4:23-37

TO CHEW ON: "And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all." Acts 4:33

This Acts 4 glimpse into the life of the early church makes me jealous.

- Their preaching was powerful and accompanied by signs and wonders.
- Their prayer meeting was rocked by the palpable presence of God the Holy Spirit.
- Their words were characterized by boldness.
- The gospel had an impact in everything including their lifestyle when the wealthy sold property and brought the proceeds to the apostles to help care for the poor among them.

Luke sums it up by saying "great grace was upon them all."

What does "great grace" on a life look like? Here is a small sampling:
  • It is on display in the various ways God gifts us to serve - Romans 12:6-8.
  • We see it in the fact that we have church leaders with different abilities and roles - 1 Corinthians 3:5-10.
  • It is evident in God's help when we are weak - 2 Corinthians 12:9.
  • It is visible in generous giving of things (money and goods) - 2 Corinthians 8:1-7.

But how easily that grace-filled life is marred by sin. If we read on in Acts, we see that the "great grace" picture of Acts 4 is defaced in Acts 5 when Ananias and Sapphira try to twist a grace-act to their advantage (Acts 5:1-11).


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your greatest grace—the gift of eternal life through Jesus, and all the grace blessings you give me through the Bible, my church and Your kindness to me in my life. Help me to never be presumptuous of this grace but to accept it with humble gratitude. Amen.

MORE: Definitions of grace

[Grace: charis: "From the same root as chara - joy and chairo - to rejoice. "Charis" causes rejoicing. It is the word for God's grace as extended to sinful man. It signifies unmerited favour, undeserved blessing, a free gift. It is unmerited favour available to the sinner for salvation and the redeemed for victorious living.]

"...a biblical definition of grace is 'God's blessings through Christ to people who deserve His curse.' It is because of Christ and His sinless life and sin-bearing death that we do not receive the curse we deserve but instead receive the blessings from God that we do not deserve" - Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Kindle location 1194.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Blood: a cleanser?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 John 1:1-2:2

TO CHEW ON: “…and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7b

I used to think it strange that blood was called a cleansing agent. We’ve all dealt with the aftermath of a bleed and know that blood dirties. Unless tackled immediately it leaves a stain that is hard to ever get out.

Then I did a little research and discovered that blood is indeed a cleanser–a powerful one which our bodies can’t do without. Besides doing many other things, like carrying nourishment, regulating body temperature and aiding in healing, blood cleanses. It cleans out waste made through body processes by picking up carbon dioxide from our cells and carrying it to our lungs to be exhaled. It also cleans out invaders like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that get in through our orifices or broken skin.

Of course I am aware of the cleansing aspect of Jesus’ blood in the way He died as our substitute – taking the punishment for our sin. The shed blood of an animal sacrifice was vital because it proved that animal had given its life. When Jesus’ side was pierced and blood poured out, it was proof that He was indeed dead. The punishment for sin was paid. You and I are now pure before God because the sinless Jesus shed His blood in our stead.

But maybe we could look at His blood giving life another way too. For it is His presence or life force within us (and “the life...is in the blood”) that cleanses our everyday lives, just like our human blood cleanses our bodies. As we give Him control over all the aspects of our living, we become aware of unworthy thoughts, attitudes and actions. As we live in obedience, changing our ways and conforming ourselves to His standards, His life in us (His blood) is cleansing us from sin.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for my blood – so vital to health and life. Thank You for Your blood, poured out in death for me and cleansing me as You live in me now. Amen.


MORE: Did you know…

  • Blood makes up about 7% of your body's weight.
  • An average adult has about 14 to 18 pints of Blood.
  • One standard unit or pint of Blood equals about two cups.
  • There are about one billion red Blood cells in a few drops of whole Blood.
  • Red Blood cells live about 120 days in our bodies.
  • Red Blood cells can be stored under normal conditions for up to 42 days.
  • Frozen red Blood cells can be stored for ten years, and more.
  • Platelets must be used within five days.

Many more blood facts here.



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Thursday, April 12, 2012

A new body

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 15:39-58


TO CHEW ON: “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death where is your sting?
O Hades where is your victory?’
1 Corinthians 15:54-55

Today’s reading continues on in 1 Corinthians 15 – where we began reading yesterday. Then Paul declared that as someone with ultimate authority Jesus will one day conquer death.

Today Paul talks about the fact that because Jesus conquered death, we too will rise from the dead and live on in new bodies. What will these bodies be like?

Paul explains the difference between  our physical and eternal bodies by using a comparison from the plant world. He argues that just like we have no way of predicting what a grown plant will look like when we see it as a seed, similarly we don’t know how our bodies will look or how they will function when they rise. Because our earthly body is a mere seed of our resurrected body.

Jesus’ body after He rose from the dead may give us some clues. His appearances in the forty days between His resurrection and ascension show us:
- He looked like an ordinary person.
- His body had the nail prints of His crucifixion.
- He ate food.
- He could appear at will, even passing through locked doors.
- He had command over creation.

And I’m sure there will be so much more! No wonder Paul erupts by exclaiming, "Oh death, where is your sting?" implying it's gone


As we contemplate these things, doesn’t death already seem less terrible? I’ve often thought if we had even an inkling about how wonderful our life in eternity with God will be, we would cease feeling bad for those who, according to us, die prematurely. It’s us, stuck on earth, who are to be pitied.

PRAYER: Dear God thank You for defeating death. Help me to live my life, knowing that it is a mere seed of what is to come. Amen.

MORE: Glimpses of heaven
Plane crash victim Mickey Robinson was horribly burned and experienced all kinds of complications. He kept getting worse instead of better. The doctors knew that it was just a matter of time before he died. That’s when God stepped in, complete with a preview of heaven.

YouTube of Mickey Robinson’s testimony (10 minutes)




Another three-part interview of Mickey Robinson’s by Moira Brown, recorded on 100 Huntley Street

Part 1: (10 minutes)

Part 2: (7 minutes)

Part 3: (7 minutes)

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The final authority

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 15:20-38

TO CHEW ON: “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” 1 Corinthians 15:24-26

When you have a problem with the service you get in a store, you don’t lodge your complaint with the janitor, the boy who stocks shelves, or even the cashier. If you want action on your issue, you go to the person who has the authority or power to make a difference – the supervisor, manager or, if it’s serious enough, the president of the company.

The verses we’re looking at today talk about who has ultimate authority over the universe. They speak of a time in the future – a “Then…” telling us it’s not yet so.

For reasons known to God, He has for a time allowed Satan some authority on earth. When we witness sickness, chaos, confusion, hatred, and death, we see evidences of that authority. But Satan's authority won't last forever. Our verses speak of a time when God rescinds or puts an end to all other rule but His on the earth.

The Greek word for authority used here is exousia. One meaning for exousia is the right to use dunamis – another authority word that means “strength.” We could paraphrase “He puts an end to all rule, and all authority and power” by saying “He (Jesus) puts an end to all rule and all the right / permission to use strength and power.

I love how my Bible’s footnote to verse 28 expands on this: “The goal of history and the consummation of the covenant will occur when the kingdom is delivered up to God. When creation will be completely free of all dissident antilife forces.” (The New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1603 - emphasis mine)

Nice thoughts. But how do they impact you and me today? Here are three ways:


1. We can choose to live under Kingdom of God authority now. (Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels are full of the ‘laws of physics and gravity’ of that kingdom.)

2. We can appeal, in prayer, to the One with the highest authority.

3. We can live with hope and expectation, knowing that someday God’s authority will be established in real time on earth over everything and everyone.

PRAYER: Dear God, I acknowledge Your ultimate authority over my life, over history, over the earth. Help me to live out this belief today. Amen.




(From the archives)
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Friday, April 06, 2012

Abandoned

"The Crucifixion" by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 15:21-39

TO CHEW ON: "And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani" which is translated 'My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?'" Mark 15:34

No matter how often I read the story of Jesus' death, these words from the cross (the echo of Psalm 22:1) wrench at my heart. They carry the tones of utter despair and abandonment.

A footnote in my Bible describes them as a "...cry of dereliction from Jesus that reflects the burden of humanity's sin, complete identification with sinners and a real abandonment by God" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1379.

Wayne Grudem names four aspects of the pain of the cross:
1. Physical pain and death ... death by crucifixion was one of the most horrible forms of execution ever devised by men...


2. The pain of bearing sin: More awful than the pain of physical suffering that Jesus endured was the psychological pain of bearing the guilt of our sin (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13).


3. Abandonment ... Jesus faced this pain alone (Mark 15:34; Matthew 26:56).


4. Bearing the wrath of God ... As Jesus bore the guilt of our sins alone, God the Father, the mighty Creator, the Lord of the universe, poured out on Jesus the fury of his wrath: Jesus became the object of the intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world (Romans 3:24-25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2). - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 573-575.

Which makes that desolate cry from the cross all the more impacting. It has something to do with me. My sin—my pride, jealousy, anger, greed, covetousness etc. etc. were part of that black burden that not only separated Jesus from His Father but made Jesus (instead of me) the object of the Father's wrath.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for not turning away from the terrible "cup." I am forever grateful that You became sin, a curse, for me. Amen.

MORE: Good Friday

Today (Good Friday) Christians around the world commemorate Jesus' death. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

The wisdom of silence

"Jesus brought before Pilate"
- William Brassey Hole

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 14:66-15:20

TO CHEW ON: "And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing ... But still Jesus answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled." Mark 15:3,5

A few weeks ago I let myself get drawn into a war of comments on a book review I wrote. When a commenter posted, under a review of a book of children's Bible stories, "... my wish would be that no child is exposed to this propaganda ... it is based on falsehood. At the very least the book should be marketed as fiction," I jumped in. What a pointless exercise! I made of myself a good example of what not to do.

Jesus, here, shows us the power and dignity of silence in the face of accusation and attack. Of course He wasn't completely silent to his accusers.

- In Matthew we see His inquisition before Caiaphas, where He answered once (Matthew 26:65).

- When He faced the Sanhedrin, He also spoke briefly in His own defense (Luke 22:67-70).

- Here before Pilate, both Luke and Mark's accounts record His answer to Pilate's question, "Are you the King of the Jews?" with "It is as you say" (while John gives a bit more of His speech - John 18:37). But then He refused to say more.

Why the silence? Jesus gives one answer. "If I tell you, you will by no means believe" - Luke 22:67.

Perhaps that is also a good reason for us to stop talking. For when it becomes apparent that there is no openness and no desire to dialogue but just the need to trash beliefs and get in the last word, silence may be the best option.

The words of Amos, spoken to Israel in a dark day, is probably advice we should take more often: "Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time. For it is an evil time" - Amos 5:13.

PRAYER: Dear God when I face attacks on You and my faith in You, I need wisdom. Help me to know when to speak and when to keep silent because I have said enough. Amen.

MORE: "He gave His back to the smiters" - Handel's Messiah




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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Watch and pray

"The sleep of the disciples"
Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 14:32-65

TO CHEW ON: "'Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation. The Spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.'" Mark 14:37-38


Jesus' first request that His inner circle stay awake and watch while He has it out with His Father seems rooted in His need for their spiritual support of Him (Mark 14:34). His second request implies they needed to watch and pray for their own sakes, "...lest you enter into temptation."

Bible writers link sleep with a dangerous spiritual state in other places.
  • Isaiah talks about sleeping watchmen - Isaiah 56:10.
  • Jesus speaks of the master of the house returning to find His servants and doorkeeper asleep, implying that there will be trouble for them if this happens - Mark 13:35-36.
  • Paul warns of the "spirit of stupor" (Romans 11:8) and advises his readers to "awake out of sleep" to become aware of how how time and events are progressing (Romans 13:11). Again, he implores the Thessalonians, "Therefore let us not sleep as others do but let us watch and be sober" - 1 Thessalonians 5:6.

I have a lot of empathy for these sleepy disciples. I have been there—physically falling asleep when I meant to pray. However, this passage alerts me to the even more dangerous possibility of being asleep spiritually, even though I may be awake physically.

How easy it is in our noisy world to take a spiritual nap while we are preoccupied with  many things—family matters, the state of our finances, world events, entertainment, the need to work harder and harder, information and stimuli that bombard us through our electronic tools and gadgets. Then, because of our lack of alertness and prayer, we become ripe for temptation's picking.



PRAYER: Dear God, I confess that I am often in a spiritual stupor. Please help me to stay awake and prayerful as I view all of life through a spiritual lens. Amen.

MORE: Twila Paris - Watch and Pray




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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Our lives—a memorial

"Mary's Jar of Ointment" - James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 14:1-31

TO CHEW ON: "Assuredly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her." Mark 14:9

In the last few years I have been to several family gatherings and reunions. These often include a visit to the cemetery where our ancestors are buried. There is something fulfilling about going to the place where our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins are memorialized, even though what is written on their gravestones may be unexceptional and generic.

That's one of the purposes of a memorial—to keep in remembrance a person or event.

We have two events in our reading today that characterize two people and become their memorials.

  • Mary (named in John 12:2-8) pours perfume on Jesus' feet during a feast in Simon's house. When other guests criticize her action as wasteful, Jesus tells them that her lavish demonstration of love will become a memorial to her wherever the gospel is preached (Mark 14:9).
  • Judas Iscariot, in the very next verse (Mark 14:10), makes a decision to betray Jesus. This leads to a course of action that becomes what he has been known for forever after.
I'm sure that neither Mary nor Judas were aware, when they were living the events, that they were doing something mementous. The incidents that came to memorialize their lives were, to them, part of everyday living.

Memorials left by other Bible characters open our minds to more possibilities.
  • Dorcas (after her first death) was remembered by the collection of clothes she had made for the poor (Acts 9:37-39).
  • Cornelius's memorial was prayers and alms, of which God Himself took note (Acts 10:4).
Which brings me to the question, what kind of a memorial am I leaving? What about you? Whatever it turns out to be, a distinguished event or the general impression of our lives, it's sobering to realize I am in the process of building and reinforcing it every day—and so are you.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I want my life to be a sweet-smelling memorial, like Mary's act of pouring perfume on Your feet. Help me to know how to translate who I am and what I have into such love for You. Amen.

MORE: "I Pour My Love On You" - Philips, Craig & Dean






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