Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wrap yourself in praise

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 61:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me ....
To console those who mourn in Zion
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called the trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." Isaiah 61:1,3


Praising God is an important and powerful attitude and action. Note some of its occurrences throughout the Bible:
  • David appointed a whole section of priests to "minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise" - 1 Chronicles 16:4. (One of them—Asaph—is responsible for writing many psalms in the Book of Psalms.)
  • Praise brought down the glory of God when Solomon moved the ark from the Tabernacle to the Temple (with a glory-cloud so thick, the priests couldn't do their work or stay inside) 2 Chronicles 5:13,14.
  • When the people of Israel began to sing and praise "the Lord set ambushes" against their enemies - 2 Chronicles 20:22.
  • The psalm-writers repeatedly encouraged themselves and others to praise God - Psalm 35:28; 51:15; 119:64.
  • Praise surrounded the life of Jesus on earth:
- Angels announced His birth with praise - Luke 2:13,14.
- Shepherds returned from seeing Jesus full of praise - Luke 2:20.
- The Father praised Jesus at His baptism - Luke 3:22.
- The crowds praised Jesus when He entered Jerusalem in the manner of a king (Luke 19:37,38).
  • The early church and its leaders were characterized by praise - Acts 2:47; 16:25.

In our focus verse, Isaiah calls praise a piece of clothing—a garment. A sidebar article in my Bible explains it well:
"The Hebrew root for "garment" ('atah) shows praise as more than a piece of clothing casually thrown over our shoulders. It literally teaches us "to wrap" or "cover' ourselves—that the garment of praise is to leave no openings through which hostile elements can penetrate. This garment of praise repels and replaces the heavy spirit. This special message of instruction and hope is for those oppressed by fear or doubt. "Put on" this garment. A warm coat from our closet only resists the cold when when it is "put on." When distressed, be dressed—with praise! Act according to God's Word!" - Charles Green, "The Glorious Garment of Praise," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 946 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, how powerful it is to focus on You. Help me to learn the essence of praise—voicing my admiration of You and Your excellencies—not to get something for myself because You are worthy of every compliment. Amen.

MORE: "Yet I Will Praise You" - Vineyard Music





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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Groaning intercession

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 8:18-39

TO CHEW ON: "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered." Romans 8:26

Has there ever been a time in your life when need has so overwhelmed you that you couldn't even form words to pray? This is the situation Paul addresses in the latter part of Romans 8.

So how did he get from the picture of wholeness in God we saw yesterday to such brokenness and raw need? He comes via the realization that the ideal and the actual are still far apart. For the glory that will someday be revealed in the universe and in the sons of God (us) is still in the future. And just like creation "groans and labours with birth pangs together until now" (Romans 8:22), we can be puzzled, frightened, overwhelmed, freaked out, scared wordless by the things that come our way.

At this very moment I can think of a handful of people who may be feeling just this way. In one case cancer treatments have almost been exhausted. It is time for a decision -- do they try one more possible life-lengthener, or let nature take its course? In another there has been cancer, surgery, a painful complication, more surgery, and now waiting for the body to strengthen so treatments can resume.

It is, I believe, in just such a context that the type of prayer Paul talks about would fit. And such prayer may be the privilege and responsibility of those of us who are bystanders. For when one is weak and sick oneself, it's hard to pray, to focus, even to stay awake long enough to think the words.

It is prayer that starts out not sure what it wants or should ask for. As a sidebar article in my Bible explains it:

"Presumption -- supposing we already know how to intercede for others -- will not only hinder maximum effectiveness, it will also cause us to miss the thrilling sense of adventure God wants to bless us with as we receive His insight and enablement for intercessory prayer. How do we know without infinite minds whether God wants to move through us with weeping, travailing, wrestling, fasting, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, dreams, visions, mental pictures, impressions, verses of Scripture quickened to us, or silence? Only by waiting on God and giving Him time to move on and through us. Psalm 62:5 teaches this wisdom: 'My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.'"
- A. Joy Dawson from "The Spirit's Direction" - pp. 1562-3, in the New Spirit Filled Life Bible.


"…thrilling sense of adventure"? Wow, that's a new way of looking at intercessory prayer! Maybe it's time for me, and you, to set out on such an adventure for our beleaguered friends and family members.

PRAYER: Dear God, please teach me about prayer, and to pray with the help of Your Spirit. Help me to be willing to give my time, energy and emotions for such intercession. Amen.

MORE: O.C. says:
"Worship and intercession must go together, the one is impossible without the other. Intercession means that we rouse ourselves up to get the mind of Christ about the one for whom we pray? Too often instead of worshiping God, we construct statements as to how prayer works. Are we worshiping or are we in dispute with God -- "I don't see how You are going to do it." This is a sure sign that we are not worshiping. When we lose sight of God we become hard and dogmatic. We hurl our own petitions at God's throne and dictate to Him as to what we wish Him to do. We do not worship God, nor do we seek to form the mind of Christ."
- Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, (March 30th reading).
(From the archives)

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Monday, May 28, 2012

How to live as Abba's child

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 8:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "...you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out Abba, Father." Romans 8:15

Chances are if you come across an article or a book that promises to teach you the secrets of success in your chosen occupation, you'll read it. If your primary job is mothering, an article titled "Six Things You Must Know to Be a Successful Mother" would pull you in, as would "Decor Tips that Make Your Home Sing" if you are an interior decorator. For the Christian, Romans 8, our reading today, would be such an article. (Thus the title "How to live as Abba's child.")

In it Paul sets up life as a choice between two options. We can choose to live according to the flesh, i.e. governed by our physical and emotional life. Or we can choose to live according to the Spirit - governed by the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

Found in this passage are clues on how to live that Spirit-governed life.
1. First, we need to be "In Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). That means we've accepted Him as Saviour (from the law's demands - Romans 8:2-4) and Lord.

2. We need to "set our minds" on the things of the Spirit. How does this look practically?
  • We submit our thoughts to God's scrutiny (Psalm 19:14).
  • We fill our minds with worthy things. One way to do this is to read, memorize, and meditate on Scripture (Joshua 1:8).
  • We direct our minds to God's goodness to us (Psalm 48:9) .
  • We take to heart the advice of Bible writers on how else to direct our thoughts (Philippians 4:6-8).

3. We even entrust our physical health and well-being to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).

4. We get and follow God's leading (Romans 8:14).

5. We have the assurance that God is our Father (our Abba "Daddy" Father) and we are His children and heirs (inheriting both suffering and glory - Romans 8:15-17).

Now to put all that into practice!

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, I pray that You will direct and govern my life today. Help me to set my thoughts on the right things. Father God, I want to experience Your leading and tender care as my Abba Father. Amen.

MORE: "Abba Father" by Hillsong



(From the archives)


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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Why serving fulfills us

The white trillium is a symbol of beauty, 
purity, healing, and is often associated 
with the Trinity.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 16:4-15

TO CHEW ON: "He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you." John 16:14,15

In a recent talk, local speaker Kimberley Morrison reminded our women's group of how we're most fulfilled when we live in fellowship with God and others, preoccupied with how to serve them. Why is this? Because we're made in the image of God and that's His nature.

He is trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we observe these three persons of the godhead throughout the Bible, we discover they are continually in fellowship with, mentioning, praising, uplifting, and serving each other. That's what is happening in our focus verses:

"He (Holy Spirit) will glorify Me (Jesus) for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father (God the Father) has are Mine (Jesus's) . Therefore I say that He (Holy Spirit) will take of Mine (Jesus's and God the Father's) and declare it to you."

A sidebar article in my Bible completes the circle for us as it explains how the Holy Spirit helps us serve others by ministering the things of God (the Father, Son and Spirit) to them. The Holy Spirit enables us to: 

1. Have a righteousness that goes beyond and is deeper than traditional religion (see Matthew 5:1-7:29, especially 5:20). 

2. Teach the things Jesus taught, in the way He taught them, always staying in tune with the Father (John 5:19; 6:38; 7:16; 8:28).

3. Do the things He did in the manner in which He did them. Jesus...
  • treated people with dignity (Luke 7:36-50) 
  • was motivated by compassion (Matthew 9:35-38).  
  • never did anything to selfishly draw attention to Himself (Matthew 8:4)  
  • never performed based on others' agendas (Matthew 16:1-4).\
 4. Work with Jesus to see all nations (groups of people) become His followers (Matthew 28:19,20) - Todd Hunter,  "Relaying the Ministry of Jesus," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1473.

PRAYER: Dear God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, please help me to open myself to You in surrender, worship, fellowship, and service. Help me to be true to Your image in me by relating to and serving You and people by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

MORE: Day of Pentecost (Whitsunday)

Today is the day the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples assembled in the Jerusalem upper room. Read the story in Acts 2:1-21.

Here is the Collect prayer that begins the Day of Pentecost liturgy:

"O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."



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Friday, May 25, 2012

Angels 101

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 104:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Who makes His angels spirits
His ministers a flame of fire." Psalm 104:4

I have noticed a fascination with angels in the last few years. Perhaps the TV show "Touched by an Angel" is partly responsible. People wear angel jewelry pieces almost as amulets of good luck or protection. Some speak of their dead loved ones as now existing as angels. Of course all kinds of angel lore has been around for ages (plug "angel lore" into Google and you'll come up with a hodgepodge of facts and hearsay from Christianity, Judaism, Islam and New Age).

The Bible talks about angels—more than I realized before I did today's little study. If anything, it has increased the mystery and the wonder. Here are some things I discovered:

Creation:
- Angels are created beings. But they were created before humans, because they are described as present with God when the world was created (Genesis 2:1; Job 38:4-7).

- Angels were created with a free will. But Lucifer and others rebelled against God (Isaiah 14:12-15). Thus angels are responsible for the origin of evil. As my trusty old Lectures in Systematic Theology puts it: "Here is the place where we should discuss the problem of the origin of evil; for evil originated in heaven and not on earth" (H.C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1963 - p. 194).

What angels are like:
- They have discernment and wisdom (2 Samuel 14:17,20)
- They have unusual strength (Matthew 28:2, 2 Peter 2:11)
- They can show themselves (Genesis 19:1-3; Hebrews 13:2)
- They have the ability to transcend the physical limitations of earth (Revelation 10:1-3).

What good angels do* (this is where it gets exciting):
- They stand before God and worship Him (Matthew 18:10; Revelation 5:11).
- They protect and deliver God's people (Psalm 91:11; Acts 12:11).
- They guide and encourage God's servants (Matthew 28:5-7; Acts 8:26).
- They interpret God's will to men (Daniel 10:5,11; Zechariah 1).
- They are the executors of judgment toward individuals and toward nations (Ezekiel 9:1,5,7; Genesis 19:12-13).
- They carry the saved home when they fall asleep in Jesus (Luke 16:22).

The actual words "guardian angel" don't appear in scripture, but the concept of a personal angel assigned to each one of us probably comes from Matthew 18:10, where Jesus speaks in defense of children whose angels have continual access to God, and Psalm 91:11-12 which promises:
"For He shall give His angels charge over you,
         To keep you in all your ways.
 In their hands they shall bear you up,
         Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

As to their activity in our lives - we may or may not ever be aware of their presence. But they are definitely one of the means by which God accomplishes His will on earth regarding us: Hebrews 1:13-14.

PRAYER: Dear God thank You for the angelic part of creation—which I do not understand and have never seen, but gladly accept. Thank You for help You have sent my way at their hands. Amen.

MORE: Angel Tracks?

It was late when they reached Falcon Lake and snowing hard. My husband and his parents decided to stop at the local motel that December 1978 night before pressing on to Thunder Bay. Trouble was, try as they might, they couldn't rouse anyone. So there was nothing to do but go on.

"The road was white from shoulder to shoulder," my husband remembers, "and the snow wasn't letting up." Then he noticed tire tracks on the road ahead. Despite the heavy snow, they were fresh. As they drove on those tracks guided them for the next hour or so, until they left the storm behind. Never once, though, did anyone in the car see any sign of taillights or the vehicle. Hubby says of that night: "I said at the time and I still think today, those tracks were made by an angel, leading us through the storm."

Have you ever had an experience with an angel?

* I took these points from H. C. Thiessen's Lectures in Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1963) pp. 205-206.

(From the archives.)

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Power for ALL

Stained glass window from 
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church,
Moorhead MN.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 2:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:4

When someone gives you a job, in order for you to be successful it is important that you have the capability to carry it out. Thus Jesus gave the large assignment—to spread around the world the good news of what He had done—with a proviso. The disciples were to refrain from doing anything about it until God gave them the enabling. His instructions: "And you are witnesses of these things….but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" Luke 24:49.

And so the disciples gathered in Jerusalem to wait—for what? I'm sure they didn't know exactly. But when it came, they did know this was it. An interesting fact to note is that the Holy Spirit came, He came on all.

Holy Spirit was no stranger to the Jews. He had come upon and indwelt numerous people in the Old Testament.

The Holy Spirit came upon or lived in:

- Bezalel to give him wisdom and skill to design and create the Tabernacle and its furnishings (Exodus 31:1-5).


- Balaam, Ezekiel, and other Old Testament prophets to enable them to prophecy—bless, curse, give the people messages from God, and predict future events (Numbers 24:2, Ezekiel 11:24,25, 2 Peter 1:21).

- Gideon giving him courage and a plan by which to lead the people into battle (Judges 6:33-35).


- Samson  for exploits of physical strength needed to challenge and defeat the Philistines (Judges 14:6).


- King Saul giving him a new heart and a prophetic gift to prove it (1 Samuel 10:6,9).

- Simeon to enable him to wait with hope, and then recognize, announce and prophecy over Jesus (Luke 2:25-32).

Each of these indwellings was  given to accomplish a specific task. The people in general were not so empowered. But here, on the Day of Pentecost, all were filled. And the Holy Spirit's filling is still available to all.

That filling is not to give us spiritual thrills or make us feel good. It is empowerment for service just as it was in the Old Testament. And I would suggest that such infilling can enable in the same ways it did then, depending on the need of the task and of the moment. We can claim the Holy Spirit's infilling to give us a new heart. We can claim it for wisdom and skill in the arts. We can claim it for help in leading and governing, for words to say, for courage, even for exploits of physical strength. Let's claim the Holy Spirit's presence and empowering afresh for our life, work, and ministry today!

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, thank You for Your availability to all. Help me to allow You to work in and through me today. Amen.

MORE: "Holy Spirit Rain Down" sung by Hillsong



(From the archives)

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Times and reasons to celebrate

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Deuteronomy 16:9-12


TO CHEW ON: "You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger, and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide." Deuteronomy 16:11.

Moses reminded the Israelites of three yearly feasts in Deuteronomy 16:
  • the Feast of Passover.
  • the Feast of Pentecost (here called Feast of Weeks, i.e. seven weeks = 7 x 7 = 49 days + the next [feast] day = 50 days).
  • the Feast of Tabernacles.

As described here, the Feast of Pentecost was an annual harvest festival. It was also called Feast of Harvest - Exodus 23:16, the Day of Firstfruits - Numbers 28:26, and Pentecost in Leviticus 23:16. (Pentecost is based on the Greek translation of fifty days.)

Viewed as a whole, God instituted these feasts to help the Israelites remember their history with Him. Through them they recalled their time of slavery in Egypt, God's miraculous deliverance, their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness in tents, and the fact that God was the source of their blessing.

It's a good thing for us too, to regularly remind ourselves of these things and rejoice, like people did in the Old Testament. Matthew Henry says:

"Never should a believer forget his low estate of guilt and misery, his deliverance, and the price it cost the Redeemer; that gratitude and joy in the Lord may be mingled with sorrow for sin, and patience under the tribulations in his way to the kingdom of heaven. They must rejoice in their receivings from God, and in their returns of service and sacrifice to him; our duty must be our delight, as well as our enjoyment. If those who were under the law must rejoice before God, much more we that are under the grace of the gospel; which makes it our duty to rejoice evermore, to rejoice in the Lord always" - Matthew Henry, Commentary on Deuteronomy 16.
We can celebrate:
  • Our unique story of freedom from 'slavery' and our salvation, whether it occurred when we were youngsters or later.
  • How God has blessed us in the meantime with family, a home, the family of God.
  • How God has seen us through wilderness experiences (death of loved ones, times of sickness like cancer or depression, financial straits, unemployment...).
  • How God continues to provide for us through the produce of our own gardens, or the salary from our workplace, or our pensions if we are retired.
PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Israelite example of regular, repeating celebrations that helped them review their history with You. Help me to remember in a similar way, and weave an attitude of rejoicing and thanksgiving into the fabric of my life. Amen.

MORE: Help others rejoice
"When we rejoice in God ourselves, we should do what we can to assist others also to rejoice in him, by comforting the mourners, and supplying those who are in want. All who make God their joy, may rejoice in hope, for He is faithful that has promised" — Matthew Henry, Commentary on Deuteronomy 16.


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Monday, May 21, 2012

Ancient food bank

"Gleaning" by Arthur Hughes
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Leviticus 23:15-22

TO CHEW ON: "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor: I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 23:22

God makes no secret of the fact He is for the poor, pities the poor, and wants those that identify with Him to defend and help the poor. In today's reading we have one way people could do that: by harvesting carelessly, making sure there was something left for gleaners. Then, one year in every seven, they were to let fields lie fallow, leaving the entire volunteer crop for the poor (Exodus 23:11).

Here are a few other pro-poor policies and attitudes found in the Bible:
  • A relative should be allowed to redeem a poor person's possession (Leviticus 25:25).
  • The rich were not to turn away as in ignore or grow calloused toward the poor person's plight (Deuteronomy 15:7).
  • The person holding the poor person's pledge (or down-payment) was not to keep it overnight (Deuteronomy 24:12). (Perhaps because the pledge would be something the person needed for their very health or well-being, like their cloak for warmth).

The results and rewards of helping the poor also show God's sympathetic heart. toward them. The person helping the poor:

  1. is called "blessed" (Psalm 41:1) and "happy" (Proverbs 14:21).
  2. is loaning to the Lord (Proverbs 19:17).
  3. will get the wealth of those who take advantage of the poor (Proverbs 28:7).
  4. won't lack (Proverbs 28:27).
  5. will find their generosity helps them to follow Jesus in discipleship that readily abandons all to Him (Matthew 19:21).

God's attitude toward the poor prompts us to take a long hard look at our own attitudes. Do we avoid going to places where the poor will approach us? Do we "hide our eyes" from the panhandler, the raggy man seated outside Safeway beside his coin pot, the dusty woman pushing her grocery cart of blankets and bottles (Proverbs 28:27)?

It might be a good idea to settle on a strategy of sharing with the poor. Some ways that come to mind:
  • Give regularly to organizations that help the poor and homeless.
  • I read of someone who, when approached by a beggar, empties his pockets, giving him/her all the cash he is carrying at the time.
  • I heard of someone else who designates a monthly sum of money to give away to the poor. He gives it as the needs/requests come.

How do you help the poor?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your tender heart toward the poor. Help me to have Your attitude. Amen.


MORE: The flip side.

The flip side of being a helper of the poor is being a helpee, that is, the poor person needing help. Most of the poor are not lazy deadbeats at all, but people who for one reason or another are needy.

Todd Burpo, author of Heaven is for Real found himself in that position when his four-year-old son became deathly ill. Here are his words describing what it felt like to need help:

"... pastors and their families are usually most comfortable in the role of 'helper,' not 'helpee.' Sonja and I had always been the ones who visited the sick, brought the meals, cared for others' kids in times of need. We were adamantly self-reliant—maybe in retrospect, to the point of being prideful. But that gruelling stint in the hospital snapped our pride like a dry twig and taught us how to be humble enough to accept help from other people, physically, emotionally, and financially" - Todd Burpo, Heaven is for Real, p. 153.



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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Glory-worthy

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 17:1-26

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus spoke these words, and lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: 'Father the hour has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son may glorify You…. And now, O Father, glorify Me together together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.'" John 17:1, 5

How do you feel about someone who is constantly shifting attention to herself, directing the conversation to be about her, her family, her accomplishments? Hard to like, right? Yet isn't that just what Jesus is doing here—praying that He and God will get glory?

If you are at all familiar with the Bible, you will recognize this as one of its themes—God's preoccupation with His own glory. I've pondered this: How does it make sense that the God who values humility in us gets away with praising Himself? Thus I was delighted when I discovered that John Piper dealt with this very subject in the first chapter of his book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.

First he defines what God's glory is and involves:
"God's glory is the beauty of His manifold perfections….God's ultimate goal is to preserve and display His infinite and awesome greatness and worth, that is, His glory" (Desiring God, p. 42).
Then Piper goes on to explain why God is justifiably intent on His own glory. Here is his argument in my own words: We would all agree that a good, righteous, pure, etc. God would only admire what was the ultimate in goodness, righteousness, purity. And what or Who is the embodiment of these things? Why it is He, Himself of course. Therefore He must glorify Himself.

As Piper puts it:
"…He loves himself infinitely. Or: He Himself is uppermost in His own affections. A moment's reflection reveals the inexorable justice of this fact. God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if He valued anything more than what is supremely valuable. But He Himself is supremely valuable. If He did not take infinite delight in the worth of His own glory, He would be unrighteous. For it is right to take delight in a person in proportion to the excellence of that person's glory." p. 42-43

That's why Jesus here prays that He and His Father will be glorified. As the embodiment of all that is admirable, They are worthy.

The amazing thing is that we can add to this glory. We do this by aligning ourselves with God and all that He stands for. In His prayer Jesus lists some practical ways. We give God glory when we stay true to Jesus (John 17:11), refuse to be seduced by the world (John 17:14-15), let God's word sanctify us (John 17:17),  and live in unity with other Christians (John 17:21).

And of course we can also voice our praise. As we gather with other Christians in church today, we can raise our voices knowing we are secure in admiring and praising the most admirable and praiseworthy One worthy of all glory!


PRAYER: Praise the LORD!
         
 Praise God in His sanctuary;
         Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
         
 Praise Him for His mighty acts;
         Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!….


Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
         
         Praise the LORD! - Psalm 150: 1,2 & 6

MORE: One more quote from Desiring God:
"Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally self-sufficient Being, He must be for Himself if He is to be for us. The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator. If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry" p. 47.


(From the archives)

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Christ's Ascension


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 103:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "The Lord has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all." Psalm 103:19

Today is Ascension Day—the day we as Christians remember the ascension of Christ into heaven. So that's it, isn't it? Jesus ascended, straight and simple.

It is simple, and yet not. I love reading books on theology because they open my eyes to what various God-activities mean. When we read the writings of godly learned men who have made it their life's work to study such things we get an enlarged appreciation of the meaning and significance of events like the ascension.

Join me today as we peer into Jesus' ascension through the eyes of one such man to answer the questions what is Jesus' ascension and what does it mean to us? (Quotes taken from Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, pages 617-620).

1. Christ ascended to a place. ...
These narratives (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11) describe an event that is clearly designed to show the disciples that Jesus went to a place ....
Of course we cannot now say exactly where heaven is. Scripture often pictures people as ascending up into heaven or coming down from heaven (as the angels did in Jacob's dream - Genesis 28:12), so we are justified in thinking of heaven as somewhere 'above' earth ....
The repeated emphasis on the fact that Jesus went somewhere (as did Elijah, 2 Kings 2:11) and the fact that the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:2) all indicate that there is clearly a localization of heaven in the space-time universe.


2. Christ received glory and honour that had not been his before as the God-Man. (Scriptures cited: John 17:5; Acts 2:33) ....
Christ is now in heaven with the angelic choirs singing praise to him with the words, 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!' (Revelation 5:12).


3. Christ was seated at God's right hand.
  • This welcoming into the presence of God and sitting at God's right hand is a dramatic indication of the completion of Christ's work of redemption... (Hebrews 1:3)
  • In addition ... the act of sitting at God's right hand is an indication that he received authority over the universe... (Ephesians 1:20-21).;
  • One additional aspect of the authority that Christ received from the Father when he sat at his right hand was the authority to pour out the Holy Spirit on the church (Acts 2:33).


4. Christ's ascension has doctrinal significance for our lives
  • Christ's going up into heaven foreshadows our future ascension into heaven with him (1 Thessalonians 4:17)...
  • Jesus' ascension gives us assurance that our final home will be in heaven with him (John 14:2-3)....
  • Because of our union with Christ in his ascension, we are able to share now (in part) in Christ's authority over the universe, and we will later share in it more fully (Ephesians 2:6)

Isn't God's plan amazingly rich? Perhaps our best response is with the closing words of our Psalm:

"Bless the Lord, all His works.
In all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your plan, which included the brief stay of Jesus on earth and His ascension back to heaven. Please give me spiritual understanding of its significance to my everyday life. Amen.

MORE: Ascension Day

The Ascension Day liturgy begins with this prayer:

"Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Applause

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 47:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "Oh clap your hands all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!" Psalm 47:1

Clapping hands is an action we commonly associate with applause. We clap in appreciation and admiration after an artistic or athletic performance. We clap because we want more. It's a gesture of approval and support.

[The Hebrew word taqa, here  translated "clap" means to make all kinds of noise: "... clatter, clang, sound blow (trumpets), clap, strike. Taqa describes pitching a tent or fastening a nail probably due to the striking of the hammer used for both tasks .... Taqa indicates energy and enthusiasm. Here all nations are commanded to clap their hands and shout triumphantly to God ... God has built into the human being an almost instinctive urge to clap and shout when victory is experienced" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 724.]

My Bible's notes tell me that Psalm 47 was quoted at the Hebrew New Year. It expressed the Hebrews' hope and prayer that God would rule over the nations in the coming year.

Christians have applied Psalm 47 to Jesus' resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:9-10). The church celebrates this event as a special day tomorrow (Ascension Day).

Compare Psalm 47:5 "The Lord has gone up with a shout, / The Lord with the sound of a trumpet..."

with

"...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 the heavenly places" - Ephesians 1:19, 20.

I ask myself, does my exuberance over these things (Jesus' victory over death, His presence in heaven now, His promise of eventual victory) bring me to a place of spontaneous taqa, as in clapping banging noisemakers, blowing trumpets, stamping feet (think of the type of noise at a hockey, football or basketball game)? It could. It should. For:

"God has gone up with a shout ...
God is the King of all the earth...
God reigns over the nations
God sits on His holy throne" Psalm 47:5,7,8.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for sending Jesus to conquer death. Thank You that He lives in heaven now. Help me to applaud Your victory in faith as I wait for the day You triumph over nations and the systems of earth as we know them. Amen.

MORE: "Crown Him with Many Crowns" sung by Robin Mark



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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Walks-stands-sits

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 1:1-6

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly
Nor stands in the path of sinners
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord..." Psalm 1:1,2a

It's easy to pick up the movement here. As my Bible's commenter points out:
"The walks-stands-sits seems to suggest a progression of influence that results from initially turning one's attention in this wrong direction" K. R. "Dick" Iverson, commentary on Psalms, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 686.

How is our attention attracted, then turned to the "counsel of the ungodly, the path of sinners, the seat of the scornful"? In our multisensory world it happens in dozens of ways:
  • through what we read on the internet, the papers, books...
  • through what we watch on TV, movies, the internet.
  • through the people we interact with, from family to strangers.

Trouble is what surrounds us seems so normal, natural, safe. Do we even recognize the threats to our spiritual well-being? The 'everywhere' presence of the secular is why it's so important to guard our spiritual lives. How do we do that?

  • by regularly spending time in the 'law of the Lord' — the Bible.
  • by spending time with godly people who love, respect and live by this law.
  • by attending church where we immerse ourselves in an atmosphere of worship and physically identify with fellow believers.
  • by intentionally filling our homes and our heads with sounds of worship and instruction. (For example, next time you're making dinner or cleaning the house, or doing anything that doesn't demand silence for concentration, try putting on a worship CD or podcast message by a favourite speaker.)

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" goes the old saying (attributed to Confucius). I would submit that that first step is usually taken in our minds. Let's be watchful over the thought steps we take in our minds so we don't inexplicably find ourselves one day following ungodly counsel, walking in the path of sinners, sitting in the seat of the scornful.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize the ungodly counsel, the sinner's path, and the scornful seat imbedded in the stimuli around me. I want to be a genuine lover and follower of Your words. Amen.

MORE: The mind is the leader
"The mind is the leader or forerunner of all actions. Romans 8:5 makes it clear .... Our actions are a direct result of our thoughts. If we have a negative mind, we will have a negative life. If, on the other hand, we renew our minds according to God's Word, we will as Romans 12:2 promises, prove out in our experience 'the good and acceptable and perfect will of God for our lives'" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 3


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Monday, May 14, 2012

Coming again!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 1:1-11

TO CHEW ON: ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’” Acts 1:11

The giddy, wonderful, too-good-to-be-true days of Jesus with them again didn’t last. One day when he was with His disciples He had His last face-to-face conversation with them. “Go to Jerusalem and wait to be baptized by the Holy Spirit,” He said.

Some still didn’t get it. “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus put them off with typical grace. “It is not for you to know times or seasons…” Then He gave them their assignment (Acts 1:8) and was gone, drifting up from their sight, soon obliterated by clouds.

I wonder if they realized at the time it really was the last time they would see Him. I can just imagine them berating themselves and each other for not asking more questions, listening more closely. They hadn’t realized that Jesus would leave them again so soon. No doubt in those first days they looked up a lot.

We’re still looking up, awaiting His return. The Bible writers don’t say much about it. But what various ones do say from across time help us understand that Jesus return will be:
  • Bodily, in space and time, from the sky (“with clouds”): Daniel 7:13; Acts 1:11.
  • With power: Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27.
  • As a judge: Psalm 98:9.
  • Delayed and unexpected, though when it comes, it will be a catalyst for massive upheaval and destruction on earth and throughout the universe: 2 Peter 3:3-13.
  • Eagerly awaited” by some: Hebrews 9:28.

How do you feel about His second coming? Do you give it much thought? If He comes during your lifetime, will it catch you off guard? I want to be one of those who “eagerly await” it! Don't you?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your promise to return. Help me to be ready, expectant and eagerly awaiting it.

MORE: "We Shall Behold Him" by Dottie Rambo, sung by Sandi Patti



(From the archives)
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Friday, May 11, 2012

Sing!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 96:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "O sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His
salvation from day to day." Psalm 96:1-2

Do you sing? Day after tomorrow is Sunday. If you attend church somewhere, chances are you will sing there. You may sing songs that you know in a style that you enjoy, or new songs that excite you, or even be expected to sing along with music that is not to your taste.

What is singing anyway? The dictionary defines "sing":
"To produce word sounds that differ from speech in that vowels are lengthened, pitches are clearly defined, and voiceless consonants are minimized."

Wow - that sounds like a sterile activity! Though that clinical description of singing may be 'anatomically correct,' it misses the whole emotional aspect of "sing" that must be experienced to be understood. A commentary in my Bible gets much closer to capturing that meaning, especially as it relates to Christians:

"Singing is a dynamic and vital part of our devotional life with God. The Psalms refer to singing more than seventy times. Even if you feel that you do not sing well, know that your heavenly Father loves the sound of your voice (Song of Solomon 2:14). It is not important how well you sing, but simply that you sing. Praise is a pathway to joy" - "Truth-In-Action Through Psalms, Book four: Psalms 90-106," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 770-771.

Not only are the Psalms full of singing — it's all through the Bible. Here are some examples to help us understand when, why, what, and how we sing.

We sing:

- when we're victorious (Psalm 27:6).
- to celebrate the One who brought us salvation (Psalm 95:1).
- aloud and loud (Psalm 81:1).
- accompanied by instruments (Psalm 81:2).
- to the Lord (Isaiah 12:5).
- and to one another (Ephesians 5:19).
- with the mind and with the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:15).
- all kinds of songs  (Ephesians 5:19).
- arising from the overflow of God's word in us (Colossians 3:16).
- from happy hearts (James 5:13).
- a new song, finding fresh reasons and ways to sing praise (Psalm 96:1 our focus verse).

As my Bible says about this verse specifically:
"Sing a new song to the Lord. Whether you are a professional musician or simply one who has a thankful heart, put your praise into song. Offer your song to God as a sacrifice of praise. It is pleasing to the Lord." -- "Truth-In-Action through Psalms Book four: Psalms 90-106," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 771 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for songs and singing. Please "tune my heart to sing Thy grace." Amen.

MORE: "Any Given Sunday" and some songs for the road...

Carolyn Arends' song "Any Given Sunday" captures the variety of the songs we sing in church:

Any given Sunday...
... you can count on singing
There’s every kind of music
There’s hymns and Bach and folk and pop
And most of it’s in tune

Read the rest of the lyrics and Carolyn's comments here. Catch a sample of the song here (click the >| part of the player till you get to Song 4).

Jan Cox in her blog Under the Cover of Prayer has put together a singing road trip for us. Drive and sing along with her here.

(From the archives.)

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

How impartial are you?

"The Baptism of a Centurion" by Michel Corneille the Elder - 17th Century

 TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 10:23b-48

TO CHEW ON: “Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.’” Acts 10:34

Though Canadian society pays lip service to being impartial, discrimination is all around us. We make judgments about people on the basis of the color of their skin and their ability to speak English. We fawn over entertainers and sports heroes while heaping scorn on folks in other professions simply because of the career they’ve chosen. (Currently it’s fashionable to dump on the police and politicians. Of course TV evangelists are always suspect, as is anyone who speaks out against abortion, human-caused global warming and for creation science. And good luck getting a job in the Canadian civil service if you are a middle-class Caucasian male.)

Thankfully God sees through all veneers. He doesn’t give us more points if our skin is white or colored, speak perfect English or broken, dress with fashion savvy or in the dumpy clothes we’ve hung onto since the '80s. He sees past our variegated pasts, our personality quirks, and the lines, wrinkles, and gray hair that declare us past our best-before dates.

Here he saw the sincerity of Cornelius’s heart. He saw how this Gentile had acted on the knowledge that he had, proving himself a man of prayer and generosity. As a result when God sent Peter to Cornelius to explain the gospel more fully and baptized him and his household with the Holy Spirit, He gave Cornelius a gift that was probably beyond anything this Roman centurion had imagined.

 

Impartiality is a godly attitude. God is:

- Impartial to worldly rank, power and wealth (Job 34:18-19).
- Impartial in lavishing good natural gifts on all mankind (Matthew 5:44,45).
- Impartial regardless of nationality (Acts 10:34-36).
- Impartial between Jews and Gentiles (Romans 2:9-11; Romans 10:12).
- Impartial in ways we don’t always understand (Matthew 20:13-15).

 

The standard for us as God-followers is to be impartial too. We are to be:

- Impartial in the face of wealth and position (Leviticus 19:15).
- Impartial in judgment (Deuteronomy 1:17).
- Impartial in the face of the temptation to make an unjust, though popular judgment (Proverbs 18:5).
- Impartial in appointing leaders (1 Timothy 5:21-22).
- Impartial in loving and accepting our Christian brothers and sisters (James 2:1-9).

Though we will never have the insight into people that God has, we can cultivate His generous, fair heart of acceptance and love. Showing impartiality (like God and Peter showed to Cornelius) is another way we can fit in with His grand purpose of helping to further His kingdom on earth.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize prejudice and bias in myself. Help me to see others through Your eyes. Amen.

MORE: More about 'impartiality'
"This (the concept of 'impartiality') is such a major truth about God that the New Testament seems to invent a word for it - several words. Before the New Testament there are no instances of the word used here  (Romans 2:11-16) for "partiality" or "respecter of persons." The idea was there in the Old Testament: God does not "receive face," they would say, that is, he is "impartial" - he is not moved by irrelevant external appearances. He sees through them and goes to the heart of the matter and is not partial to appearance and circumstance. Nobody breaks the rules and gets away with it, no matter how powerful or clever or wealthy or networked. All are judged by the same measure.

In the New Testament this was so important to make clear that the writers took these two words, "receive face" and combined them into a new verb in James 2:9 - "be-a-face-receiver" (prospolempteo) - and two new nouns - "a-face-receiver" (prosopolemptes, Acts 10:34) and "face-receiving" (prosopolempsia, Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25, James 2:1). There is no "face-receiving" with God, Paul says" - John Piper.
-Read all of "There is no Partiality With God - Part 1" - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org
 (From the archives)


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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The "we know"s of John


TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 5:1-21


TO CHEW ON: "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding that we may know Him who is true..." 1 John 5:20

As we read 1 John 5, the phrase "we know" keeps popping up. What are the things John told his readers way back in the first century, and tells us now, that "we know"?

1. "We know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" (vs. 2).

[Know here and in its last appearance in vs. 20 is ginosko which means to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of, perceive, feel, understand.]

2. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life..." (vs. 13).

[Know here is oida from horao which means to see with the eyes, see with the mind, perceive, know, become acquainted with by experience, to see, look, take heed, be aware.]

3. "... we know that He hears us, whatever we ask..." (vs. 15a)

4. "...we know we have the petitions we have asked of Him" (vs. 15b).

5. "We know that whoever is born of God does not sin" (vs. 18).

6. "We know that we are of God and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (vs.19).

7. "We know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding..." (vs. 20a).

8. "...that we may know Him who is true and we are in Him who is true..." (vs. 20b).

As I read this list of certainties posed by John, I am again impressed with how the Christian life is a push-and-pull of faith and experience. Notice how our lists of knows (the know of experience) is bracketed by two knows (learning to know, getting a knowledge or perception of).

I ask myself, which of these knows can I declare with confidence? Which do I need to grow in? Most of all, am I progressively advancing in knowing Him (vs. 20b)? I do that by buttressing my faith through experience in all the ways John lists.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to have the confident knowledge of You that John expresses. Above all, help me to know You.


MORE: Everything by Brian Doerksen



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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Letting God get a word in

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 15:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "'If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you.'" John 15:7

Here we see an important part of abiding — or living — in the vine (Jesus) is prayer. And an effective way of praying, that is praying prayers that get answered, is making God's words part of our prayers.

This happens on several levels.

1. God's words change us so we ask for the right things.
As we get familiar with God's heart as expressed in the Bible and we let it change us, our desires will come into line with His will. When that happens we'll pray for things that are His will. When we and God want the same thing, His answers to our prayers will be "Yes."

2. We pray God's words back to Him.
God's word has unique power. Jeremiah describes it as a hammer and a fire(Jeremiah 23:20). Isaiah tells us it will not fail in the purpose for which God sends it out (Isaiah 55:10-11). So why not pray these powerful, unable-to-fail words back to God.

Daniel Henderson (author of Transforming Prayer) quotes Calvin Miller in this regard:

"Too often we go into God's presence with a list of pleas, trying to talk God into granting our desire. But this kind of praying makes us 'one big mouth' and God 'one grand ear.' But when we pray the Scriptures, it makes God the voice and leaves us the ear. In short, God gets His turn at getting a word in edgewise" - Calvin Miller, from The Path to Celtic Prayer, p. 57, quoted in Transforming Prayer p. 103.

Henderson tells us how he does this practically:

"On a personal level, I read the Scriptures using the Bible program on my laptop. As specific passages speak to me, I paste them into my journal program. Then I take time to allow those Bible segments to speak deeply to my heart and write out my prayers in response. This sense of Christ's presence and the substance of His Word guide my praying for that day" - Transforming Prayer, p. 105.

Let's ask God to show us ways we too can adjust our prayer times to combine Bible words and prayer.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please teach me to pray using the power of Your words. May they change me. Help me to find and recognize Bible passages that express Your will for the people and circumstances in my life. May I then be alert to use them in prayer. Amen.

MORE: Praying the Bible

There are many resources available to help us pray God's word. Some I am aware of:

Praying with Fire

Take Words With You (a pdf book you can download from this page)

You can also write your own scripture prayers for the people you love, your circumstances, your career, your city, and your country. I've posted two such prayers on the "Prayer" page of this blog. Try writing one of these for yourself and your circumstances.

(From the archives) 

NOTE: For those receiving this by email, sorry about how unreliable these have been lately. Blogger is having problems with publishing scheduled posts on time
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