Thursday, June 28, 2012

The upside-down grace of giving

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "...they gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God." 2  Corinthians 8:5

Giving could be considered one of those upside-down realities of the Kingdom of Heaven. Though it seems contradictory to think our enjoyment of life will increase when we give away the things that we own (supposedly meant to enhance our enjoyment in life), that's what Paul seems to be implying here.

I see six aspects of giving in our reading today:

1. Giving can be a powerful movement.
The Macedonian Christians, though persecuted and poor, gave willingly and beyond their means to be a part of the churches' generosity to the Jerusalem churches (2 Corinthians 8:1-4).

2. Carefree giving is rooted in belonging to God (2 Corinthians 8:5).

3. Giving is a "grace" that proves mere words of loyalty and love (2 Corinthians 8:6,7).

4. Jesus was our shining example of giving when He left behind the riches of heaven to give us the most valuable thing He had—His life—so we could be rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

5. Good intentions and yesterday's promises are not enough. We need to finish the giving we've begun (2 Corinthians 8:10-11).

6. Giving should be realistic (2 Corinthians 8:12-14).

I can relate to several of these.
  • I know how good it feels to be part of a 'giving' event. There is something uplifting, energizing and unifying in participating with others to support a noble cause.
  • It's no surprise that giving is called a grace. Don't we call generous people 'gracious'?
  • I easily fall into the category of giver with mere good intentions, or the one who doesn't give because my small gift doesn't seem important.
  • But Paul's point about the Macedonians being able to give so generously because they gave themselves to God first resonates with me the most. The thought of me being God's dependent takes away the anxiety of fending for myself. It changes my outlook so that I can go from being a collector of things to a distributor of them—from a dam to a channel if you will. I need more of this attitude in my life. What about you?  

Dear God, help me to see that as Your dependent, you will take care of my needs. Help me to be open-handed with not only my money and possessions, but also with my time, energy and love. Amen.  

MORE: Hoarders

The opposite of givers are hoarders. If you've ever watched the depressing reality show called Hoarders: Buried Alive, you will have seen the pathological end of someone who can't bear to get rid of stuff or give anything away. It proves the deceitfulness of the lie we so often live by—that life consists in the abundance of things we have.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tough-love letter

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 7:2-16

: "For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it, though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing." 2 Corinthians 7:8,9

Paul speaks in today's reading  of feeling troubled, conflicted, downcast, sorry, and regretful. What brought on these feelings? It was a letter or letters that he had written to the Christians in Corinth.

It appears he wrote an earlier letter than 1 Corinthians, which has been lost to us (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). In the letter we do have—1 Corinthians—he speaks to them sharply about their sectarianism (1 Corinthians 3:1-4), a case of tolerated sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1), their tendency to sue each other (1 Corinthians 6:1-11), their undisciplined commemoration of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-22), and more.

Even though Paul wrote his letter in the context of a society accepting of authority, he felt stressed about how the Corinthians would perceive his rebuke. I think this shows the necessary soft underside of effective rebuke, correction and discipline. It comes from a heart of love. But it's tough love.

Paul expresses that tough love in today's focus verses. It's a love that dares to confront and hurt the sinner for his ultimate good. It takes risks, knowing that such expression may cause havoc in the relationship as the sinner works through the issue to repentance.

This is a challenge to us in our time when, if anything, the practice confronting people with their sin and enacting church discipline is rarer than ever. In our tolerant society rebuking someone is likely to be met with "Who are you to tell me what to do and how to live my life?" Churches and Christian organizations attempting to uphold standards of moral purity in the lives of members or employees by excommunication or firing are more likely to be met with litigation than repentance. Are we loving enough to risk that reaction for the sake of another person's eternal well-being?

Flip side—do we welcome rebuke and correction given in the spirit of tough love?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Paul's tender heart toward the people he rebuked. Help me to give and accept rebuke with the right attitude. Amen.

MORE: Repentance

"Repentance always brings a man to this point; I have sinned. The surest sign that God is at work is when a man says that and means it. Anything less than this is a remorse for having made blunders, the reflex action of disgust at himself.

The entrance into the Kingdom is through the panging pains of repentance crashing into a man's respectable goodness; then the Holy Ghost, who produces these agonies, begins the formation of the Son of God in the life. The new life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness, never the other way about." 
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, December 7th reading.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are you like David or Abner?

David anointed king over Judah
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 2:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "'Now that Saul is dead, I ask you to be my strong loyal subjects like the people of Judah, who have anointed me as their new king.'
But Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul's army, had already gone to Mahanaim with Saul's son Ishbosheth. There he proclaimed Ishbosheth king over Gilead ... and all the rest of Israel." 2 Samuel 2:7-8 NLT

After years of running from Saul, David is free of his persecutor at last. Samuel had anointed David king years earlier so we might expect him to now make a play for the throne. But instead of acting on his own initiative, he keeps depending on God as much as ever.

Our reading starts out with him asking God about two rather small practical matters: "Should I move  back to the towns of Judah?" and "Which town should I go to?" Then he does exactly what God tells him.

After he is crowned king by Judah, he offers his kingly services to the rest of Israel. Abner, Saul's army commander, takes it upon himself to answer by crowning Saul's 40-year-old son Ishbosheth king at Mahanaim.

What does David do about that? Nothing. He doesn't challenge Abner's action and insist that they crown him king, even though he knows he is God's anointed.

David and his dependence on God is quite a contrast to Abner whose claim to power is rooted in family (his father Ner was Saul's uncle, he was Saul's cousin - 1 Samuel 14:50) and his own manipulations. As a result it takes seven and a half more years and many more people coming to grief before the remaining tribes approach David and ask him to be their king (2 Samuel 5:1-3).

I love David's dependence on God, especially as it contrasts with Abner's self-reliance. We would do well to copy David's example, praying about the minutest details of life, listening for and taking God's advice, and exercising patience as we wait for events to take their course (even as we cling to God-given dreams and promises made long ago). It's a course of action described so well by James: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up." James 4:10.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these examples of David's dependence on You. Help me to translate his attitude to the details of my life. Amen.

MORE: Not what He is going to do, but who He is

"Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you Who He is. Do you believe in a miracle-working God, and will you go out in surrender to Him until you are not surprised an atom at anything He does? Suppose God is the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him—what an impertinence worry is! Let the attitude of the life be a continual "going out" in dependence upon God, and your life will have an ineffable charm about it which is a satisfaction to Jesus" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest - January 2 reading.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Scripture Praying

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:57-80

TO CHEW ON: "'And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people …. To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.' So the child grew and became strong in spirit. Luke 1:76-77; 79-80

I love the prayers of prophetic blessing in the Bible, especially the ones that fathers prayed over their children. Our reading today is the powerful prayer / prophecy that Zacharias prayed the day he and his wife brought their eight-day-old baby to the temple to be named and circumcised. And isn't the outcome of Zacharias's prayer exactly what we want for our kids and grandkids - physical growth and spiritual strength?

So why not pray the same way for our kids? We may not have the original Holy Spirit inspiration that Zacharias did on the day he prayed this prayer (Luke 1:67), but we do have all of inspired scripture on which to base our prayers. Why not pray it for and over our kids?

Dick Eastman in his book The Hour That Changes the World gives a three-part plan for devising scripture prayers.

1. Listen to or read a passage from the Bible.

2. Stop listening or reading the moment you discover a verse or two that impress truth on your heart:
- Meditate on what the verse is saying to you.
- Ponder every aspect of the passage.
- Evaluate how the passage might be transformed into a specific petition.
  • Does this verse prompt me to pray for something specific?
  •  How can this passage be directly applied to my petition?
  • Can I use some of the words of the passage verbatim as I pray?

3. Using your meditation "form a personal prayer 'enriched' by that promise from God."

- Dick Eastman, The Hour That Changes the World, pp. 59-60.

Here are a couple of my favorite passages on which to base prayers for the babies and children in our lives:

"So Samuel grew and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground." 1 Samuel 3:19

"And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was on Him." Luke 2:40

"And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man." Luke 2:52

PRAYER: Dear God, please bless (___insert names of loved ones) and keep them. May You make Your face shine upon them and be gracious to them. May You turn Your face toward them and give them peace. Amen (prayer based on Numbers 6:22-27).

MORE: Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Today the church celebrates the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

Here is the collect that begins the day's liturgy:
"Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

"Birth of St.John the Baptist" by Luca Signorelli (1445-1523)

(From the archives.)

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Times of trouble

Hohenzollern Castle - Stuttgart, Germany
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 9:1-20

"The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed,
A refuge in times of trouble." Psalm 9:9

The young man we read about yesterday—the one who killed Goliath, gained popularity with the people, and roused King Saul's jealousy—wrote this psalm. I'm sure you know how our story continues. A short time later Saul, who could no longer contain his feelings went after David to kill him. It drove David into years of exile and hiding—one of those "times of trouble" he referred to here.

[Times - 'et  means a particular time or period of time. 'Et describes a small space of time. It can be a season such as Passover, the rainy or harvest season. It may refer to a portion of a lifetime, such as "time of old age" - Psalm 71:9. It is also used with "time or times of trouble" (as it occurs here), "time of love" and "evil time" - Psalm 37:39; Ezekiel 16:8; Amos 5:13. - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 911.]

But in this psalm David doesn't dwell on the trouble aspect, but rather that God is a refuge to him in that time. "Refuge" is literally a secure height. David pictures God as his secure height, like a castle-fort, perched on a mountain.

As I write this, I think of my cousin's wife who was plunged into such a time of trouble last Sunday when her husband died in his sleep (with no acute illness, no warning). Yesterday when talking with a mutual friend, the pain of widowhood came up. It is one of those "times of trouble" indeed.

Of course there are many other times of trouble—extended illness, family discord, financial stress, unemployment, wayward children... Whatever our time of trouble, we too can find a refuge in God. How?

Helen Lescheid in her book Prayer: When Answers Aren't Enough gives some ways:

1. By learning about God's character (through the Bible of course and other books. One great little volume for that is Knowing God by J. I. Packer).

2. By acting on what God tells us to do—obedience.

3. By being persistent in prayer.

4. By responding correctly to hardships (those "times" we've talked about). This includes clinging to God, reminding ourselves about what's true of Him (those things we've learned in #1, and in finding and reviewing things for which to be grateful  - Helen Lescheid, Prayer: When Answers Aren't Enough, paraphrased from pp. 147-149).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your promise to help me in times of trouble. May I stay close to You in good times as well so that we will be well acquainted when the rough patches come. Amen.

MORE: The refuge of gratitude.

"When we give thanks to God in every situation, change happens. Perhaps the greatest change is inside of us. We begin to notice our blessings—even the small ones. Hope flourishes. Perspective sharpens. we can see more clearly what needs to be done. We give God an opportunity to work His miracles within us and through us" - Helen Lescheid, Prayer: When Answers Aren't Enough, p. 151.

Read my review of Helen Lescheid's book in Maranatha News

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Fighting God's anointed

"Triumph of David" by Matteo Rosselli
TODAY'S SPECIAL:  1 Samuel 18:1-30

"Thus Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, Saul's daughter, loved him; and Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul became David's enemy continually." 1 Samuel 18:28,29

Saul's admiration of David quickly turned to jealousy as the people expressed their preference for this youthful, brave, and spirited shepherd over him.

In a pretense of rewarding David, Saul tried to trap him with marriage to his daughters. But instead of getting killed in battle and later in the slaughter Philistines to obtain a gory dowry for Michal, David succeeded in not only  defeating the enemy and delivering the dowry, but also in winning the love and loyalty of Saul's own daughter Michal. With each victory David endeared himself to the people more. Saul was right to fear him, for his successes were evidence of God's Spirit on him.

Saul's actions remind me of how we too sometimes fight the "Lord's anointed."  When we gossip about our pastor or resist God-given leadership in other ways (grumble and complain, divide into factions, try to figure out ways to get rid of one or the other) aren't we engaging in a Saul-type battle—a battle we're sure to eventually lose?

I am reminded of Jesus' words to another Saul who was fighting the people God had anointed: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? .... I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads" Acts 9:4,5.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to recognize those You have anointed for leadership in my life. Help me not to rebel against them, but to accept Your authority over me through them. Amen.
MORE: Pray for leaders
Instead of resisting God-given leadership, we could pray for our leaders. John Piper lists eight prayer points:

1. Ask God to give them an inclination to His word versus money, fame, or power.
2. Pray for their purity.
3. Pray for their biblical and doctrinal purity.
4. Pray for their solid, joyful, Christ-exalting marriages.
5. Pray for their boldness in witnessing.
6. Pray for visionary creative energy for them.
7. Pray for converting power, i.e. that the Lord will open hearts and save people through their ministry.
8. Pray that they would be a small part of a global spiritual awakening.

Read all of "How to Pray for the Pastoral Staff"  - by John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website:

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Kingdom vignettes

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 4:21-41

TO CHEW ON: "And He said, 'The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow and he himself does not know how.'" Mark 4:26-27

I love the parable descriptions Jesus gives of the kingdom of God (also called the kingdom of heaven). There are many sprinkled throughout the gospels. Let's look at a few today to discover more about this realm which Jesus mentioned so often.

  • Jesus described the kingdom of God as rooted in God's generosity and forgiveness (Matthew 18:23-35) with its own divine fairness - Matthew 20:1-16.
  • He called it "hidden treasure" and a "pearl of great price." These descriptions imply a search (we dig for hidden treasure, dive deep for pearl-bearing oysters), and great value —"treasure," and "pearls" worth trading everything for - Matthew 13:44-46.
  • This kingdom is available to all who will accept the invitation and fulfill the requirements for entry (put on the wedding garment—the free gift of salvation) - Matthew 22:2-14.
  • Surprisingly, riches may prove to be a hindrance to entry (not on the part of God, but on our part) - Matthew 18:24-25.
  • Our reading today talks about this kingdom's mysterious and inexplicable expansion. The man scattered kingdom seed and without him doing anything more, it took root and grew - Mark 4:26-27.
  • We also read how from small beginnings (a mustard seed) it grows hugetree-sized - Mark 4:30-32.
  • The kingdom of heaven flourishes in the midst of other 'kingdoms' just like wheat and weeds grow together. Only "at the time of harvest" will the two be separated - Matthew 13:24-30.
  • It's as subversive and pervasive as leaven. Just as yeast introduced to a lump of dough eventually disseminates to every part of the lump, so the kingdom of heaven will spread around the world - Matthew 13:33.
  • God expects stewardship and accountability from His subjects - Matthew 25:14-29.
  • He also expects us to live in a state of readiness, waiting for the return of the bridegroom (Jesus' second coming) - Matthew 25:1-13.
  • To sum up, the kingdom of heaven is powerful - 1 Corinthians 4:20.

Some things to think of today in the light of what we've seen about the kingdom of God:

1. Are we a part of it?

2. Is it that valuable treasure to us that prompts us to give up everything else to gain it?

3. Are we involved in inviting others to be part of it, and helping it expand?

4. Are we behaving like stewards, realizing that someday we will need to give an account of how we have used our talents and opportunities?

5. Are we ready if our Bridegroom should return today?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for these wonderful parables of the kingdom of heaven. Help me to know how to transpose what I read in them into attitudes and actions that affect my everyday life. Amen.

MORE: Thank You for Giving to the Lord

The parable in our focus verse today reminds me of this song. It tells the story of someone arriving in heaven and discovering the impact of the life he or she has lived. May that be you and me someday!

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

A heritage of wisdom

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 4:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Hear my children, the instruction of a father
And give attention to know understanding." - Proverbs 4:1

Happy Father's Day to all fathers reading!

On this day when we celebrate fathers, we think of them in two ways: as children of fathers and as fathers of children. Solomon, the writer of Proverbs, has skilfully woven both viewpoints into our reading.

First he urges his kids to listen to his advice like he listened to his own father's words. His was a father who made a passionate case for his son's careful attention. Sample David's words as his son Solomon remembers them (New Living Translation):

“Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live.....Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you. Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!....If you prize wisdom, she will make you great....She will place a lovely wreath on your head; she will present you with a beautiful crown” (excerpts from Proverbs 4:1-9)

Following that in verses 10-13 Solomon urges his children to follow this advice themselves. He names three reasons why:

1. Their lives will be prolonged (Proverbs 4:10).

2. Their journey will be swifter and smoother (Proverbs 4:11-12).

3. This instruction will be their life (Proverbs 4:13).

"Instruction" is an interesting word and not completely pleasant.

[Instruction (muwcar) means correction, chastisement, instruction, discipline, an admonition, rebuke or warning. Muwcar comes from the word yacar - "to reform, chastise, discipline, instruct." It encompasses chastening both by words and punishments (Proverbs 1:1-3; 22:15). Muwcar includes all forms of discipline intended to lead to a transformed life. - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 809.]

Words of correction, rebuke, warning, or admonishment are harder for a child to take than words of praise, encouragement or affirmation. However, for fathers, they may be the easier, more natural words to give. Paul acknowledges this when he talks about fathers not discouraging their children:

"Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or fret your children [do not be hard on them or harass them], lest they become discouraged and sullen and morose and feel inferior and frustrated. [Do not break their spirit.]" - Colossians 3:21 - Amplified

And so fathers (and mothers) need a balance. For if correcting words are a child's life, a loving parent would not ever want to withhold them. But neither would that parent want to discourage, frustrate, or break the child's spirit.

In this every godly father and mother can be goaded and guided by the principal of love God applies when He scolds us. It's in Proverbs too - Proverbs 3:11-12

"My son, do not despise or shrink from the chastening of the Lord [His correction by punishment or by subjection to suffering or trial]; neither be weary of or impatient about or loathe or abhor His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He corrects, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights" - Amplified.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for my godly father. Though he has been gone a long time, his example still lights my life. As the wife of a father, help me to support my husband's fathering of our children. Amen.

MORE: Words from a wise father

John Piper elaborated on Colossians 3:21 in a 1986 Father's Day sermon. Here is the takeaway from that sermon. Good perspective, wouldn't you say?

The Opposite of Discouragement
Now what is that? I would sum it up in three characteristics.
  1. The opposite of being discouraged is being hopeful.
  2. The opposite of being discouraged is being happy.
  3. The opposite of being discouraged is being confident and courageous.
So I would say that the negative form of verse 21 really implies a positive command as well. It says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." But it means not only avoid one kind of fatherhood; it also means pursue another kind, namely, the kind of fatherhood which gives hope instead of discouragement; and gives happiness instead of discouragement; and gives confidence and courage.
Read all of "Fathers Who Give Hope"...

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website:

From the archives.
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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Technology Word-snatch

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 4:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "'The sower sows the word. And there are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts'" Mark 4:14,15

Jesus' parable describes the ancient practice of sowing but the modern process of snatching. On reading Jesus' explanation of the Sower Parable, something inside me says, the things He's describing—the sown word immediately taken away, the no-root, the preoccupation with the cares of this world, riches and other things—is very familiar. It is how I often feel especially since the coming of the Internet, email, Facebook blogging, twitter, and the smart phone. Something is always vying for my attention—and it isn't usually the Word!

Tim Challies writes about technology and a Christian's response to it in The Next Story. He says:
"Here is one of the greatest dangers we face as Christians: With the ever-present distractions in our lives, we are quickly becoming a people of shallow thoughts and shallow thoughts will lead to shallow living. There is a simple and inevitable progression at work here:

Distraction —> Shallow Thinking —> Shallow Living

All of this distraction is reshaping us in two dangerous ways. First we are tempted to forsake quality for quantity, believing the lie that virtue comes through speed, productivity and efficiency ... Second, as this happens, we lose our ability to engage in deeper ways of thinking—concentrated, focused thought requires time and cannot be rushed" - Tim Challies, The Next Story, Kindle Location 2037.

Isn't that what Jesus is talking about here—letting God's words, thoughts and principles land, penetrate, germinate, sprout, grow, and produce fruit in our lives? We do that as we think deeply and at length about what the Bible says, relating its teachings to our ways of being and acting.

Though our outward ways of relating Jesus' teachings and the Bible to our lives may be different from how people would have done it in the first century, our motivations and trip-ups are so similar. God's word snatched away, shallowly rooted, and choked is something of which we need to be vigilant more than ever!

PRAYER: Dear God, this ancient warning about distracted living is modern. Help me to discipline myself to turn off my devices and listen to You and let Your words preoccupy me. Amen.

MORE: An Undistracted Life

In an application section, Challies makes the following suggestions about how to simplify and remove technological distractions from our lives. (Of course he goes into detail, explaining and enlarging on each point... you'll have to get the book!):

Discover Distraction
- Identify your distractions.
- Measure your use of media.
- Find the beeps (i.e. the things you are responding to, that draw you from one realm to another).
- Find what dulls.

Destroy Distraction
- Delete and unsubscribe.
- Focus on substance.

Cultivate Concentration
- Focus.
- Write (journal).

Seek Solitude
- Take a digital fast.
- Take a digital vacation.
- Carve digital-free times.

Tim Challies, The Next Story, Kindle Location 2328-2376.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Does God like the look of your heart?

"The youngest one was out keeping the herd"
From "L'ancien testament",  Lucile Butel illustrator

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 16:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'" 1 Samuel 16:7

Our society's fascination with award ceremonies for entertainers intrigues me. There is a huge media buzz around the Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, Grammys and, in Canada, the Junos. The list of winners tells us who has impressed the judges with performance. News reporting on such evenings is full of red carpet gossip about appearances--who made a splash, wearing what, on the arm of whom.  I'm sure God's evaluation of the people in these events would be quite different from what we read in the paper or online.

Actually, Samuel was himself prone to judge by appearances, thinking surely handsome Eliab must be God's choice, or Abinadab, or Shammah. But no. Each good-looking man was passed over until there were none left and Samuel had to get Jesse to call young David from sheep-herding.

What was the secret of David's heart that made it acceptable to God? Paul refers to this incident in Acts 13 where he says, "He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said 'I have found David the son of Jesse a man after my own heart, who will do all my will'" - Acts 13:22).

It was the willingness to do, the obedience factor, that God valued in David, and the disobedience in Saul that caused God to reject him (1 Samuel 15:20-23).

It is still an essential ingredient God looks for in people. Obeying God:
  • is the key to prosperity and success (Joshua 1:8).
  • is the basis on which we call God our God (Jeremiah 7:23).
  • is our pass into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21).
  • gives us the privilege of being part of God's family (Luke 8:21).
  • trumps our loyalty and obedience to people (sometimes even the laws of the land) (Acts 5:29).
  • demonstrates that we love God (2 John 1:6).

Every time I read this story, I come away asking, What would be God's verdict on my heart? What about yours?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to see myself as You see me. Also, please give me insight into others and a heart that values the things that You value above outward appearances. Amen.

MORE: "To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice" - Keith Green

(From the archives)

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012


TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 15:10-23

TO CHEW ON: “’Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the Word of the Lord, he also has rejected you from being king.’” 1 Samuel 15:22-23

Some years have passed from when Samuel anointed the handsome Saul as Israel’s first king. The monarch has changed from a shy, humble young man to a confident ruler who is full of himself (1 Samuel 15:12), looks out for his own interests, and is agile with excuses.

When Samuel confronts him with the fact that he didn’t obey God in completely destroying the Amalekites, he takes a self-defense tack that is not unfamiliar to us:

1. "What sin?" He pretends he hasn't done anything wrong and acts like everything is as it should be.
Saul: “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” vs. 13

2. He makes excuses for himself, blaming someone else.
Saul: “…the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen …” vs. 15

3. He quibbles over definitions, changing the meaning of words to suit himself.
Samuel: “Why did you not obey the voice of the Lord?” vs. 19
Saul: “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord.” vs. 20-21

4. He rationalizes his disobedience, and twists it into a good thing.
Saul: “The people took of the plunder…to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” vs. 21

Samuel exposes the root of Saul’s actions and defenses. His opposition to God’s commands is really rebellion and stubbornness, equivalent to witchcraft and idolatry. It results in God rejecting him as king.

If there is a quality that characterizes our society today, it is rebellion. Note the second definition of rebel:  “a person who resists any authority, control, or tradition.

Rebellion comes to us naturally. Our society admires defiant and rugged individualists. Criticism of authority and resistance to it is the very life-blood of the media. And though the success of a democracy depends on the ability of citizens to make wise choices about leadership (which includes critical thinking), we need to beware that such habits of critical thinking can morph into a rebellious attitude toward God.

What do I do when confronted by my disobedience? If I pretend there is no issue, make excuses, blame someone else, quibble over definitions, or rationalize my sin into a good thing, perhaps there is rebellion (witchcraft and idolatry) in my own heart.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to obey you implicitly. Point out any rebellion in my heart, then help me to deal with it. I want no God but You. Amen.

MORE:  A symptom of disobedience

“Our insistence in proving that we are right (when confronted with some aspect of Jesus’ teaching) is nearly always an indication that there has been some point of disobedience.”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest - June 30th reading
(From the archives)

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The ministering listener

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 12:20-13:12

TO CHEW ON: "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them'" Acts 13;2.

We can learn much about the Holy Spirit and His activity by studying Luke's stories of the early church. Here we discover that He spoke to the prophets and teachers of the Antioch church not only through their times of intentional religious practice (fasting), but also "as they ministered."

[Ministered (leitourgeo) means performing religious or charitable acts, fulfilling an office, discharging a function officiating as a priest, serving God with prayers and fasting (compare liturgy and liturgical) - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1515. 

The Lexicon at  says "It is used of Christians serving Christ, whether by prayer, or by instructing others concerning the way of salvation, or in some other way, as well as of those who aid others with their resources, and relieve their poverty."]

The word leitourgeo is used in two other places as well. In Hebrews 10:11 litourgeo ministry refers to the Old Testament priests ministering in the Levitical offerings. In Romans 15:27 it is used in connection with giving an offering, i.e. ministering to fellow Christians in material ways.

In other words, the disciples in today's reading were not only engaged in prayer and fasting, but were probably busy with practical ministering duties (which could have included working at the local food bank, or helping patch a widow's roof, or bringing a meal to a needy family) when the Holy Spirit communicated to them His special instructions for Barnabas and Saul.

It's a comfort to know that God speaks not only when we're sequestered in our prayer closets, but also when we're busy in practical ways. Let's be listening to hear Him through the din and clatter of our ministering today.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to keep my ears tuned to hear You through and in the sounds of my day-to-day ministering duty. Amen.

MORE: The receiving worker
"...mission is not only to go and tell others about the risen Lord, but also to receive that witness from those to whom we are sent. Often mission is thought of exclusively in terms of giving, but true mission is also receiving. If it is true that the Spirit of Jesus blows where it wants, there is no person who cannot give that Spirit. In the long run, mission is possible only when it is as much receiving as giving, as much being cared for as caring. We are sent to the sick, the dying, the handicapped, the prisoners, and the refugees to bring them the good news of the Lord's resurrection. But we will soon be burned out if we cannot receive the Spirit of the Lord from those to whom we are sent" - Henri Nouwen, With Burning Hearts, pp. 115, 116.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Big cheese or Barnabas leadership?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 11:19-30

TO CHEW ON: "When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord." Acts 11:23

In a guest blog post on Michael Hyatt's blog, Jeremie Kubicek (author of Leadership is Dead: How Influence is Reviving It) says, "To be a true influencer in the lives of those you lead, you must understand a simple but powerful question. It is one your followers are asking. It goes like this: 'Are you for me, against me, or for yourself?'"

The early Christians who started a church in Antioch with Gentile members (Hellenists) would have said Barnabas was for them. For when the Jerusalem elders found out about this unheard-of thing (Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus in great numbers) and sent Barnabas to check it out he "was glad" and "encouraged them."

In fact after spending some time with this vital and growing body, he had an idea.  He fetched the relatively new Christian Saul (Paul) to help, and in this way encouraged the launch of another apostolic career.

The writer of Acts — Luke — was so impressed with Barnabas, he interjected his own author aside: "For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith" - Acts 11:24. His short description of Barnabas is a good standard for other-centered Christian leadership of all kinds. This noteworthy leader was:

- a good man.
I read this and think — man with a clear conscience, without obvious personality flaws, someone who, after you spent time with, you would feel better, cleaner, nobler than before. His goodness ruled out jealousy, envy, personal ambition allowing him to embody the quality of love that prefers others above oneself.

- full of the Holy Spirit.
The observable difference the Holy Spirit brought to the lives of the early Christians included authority, power, and a certain nonchalance when it came to being intimidated by lesser authorities. Barnabas's life must have had that sense of moving to the beat of a different drummer.

- full of faith.
Barnabas was a "yes" man. He believed in God and others. Full-of-faith people are positive, optimistic, aware that with God things are possible that could never happen without Him.

I ask myself, how would my followers respond to Mr. Kubicek's question about my leadership. What would your followers say about yours? If they would say that we are first and foremost for ourselves or worse, against them, perhaps Barnabas and his leadership model have something to teach us.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Barnabas's example of good leadership. Please give me insights into the way I lead others. Help me to be for them. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Barnabas
Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Barnabas. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:
"Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well­being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
(From the archives)

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Saul—truly changed

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 11:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news and his anger was greatly roused." 1 Samuel 11:6

It's curious to see the newly acclaimed king of Israel out in the field behind a herd of animals. He seems a reluctant king not eager to establish a capital city or consolidate his power.

But God's anointing has truly changed him. For when he hears that the Ammonites are threatening his people he becomes outraged with a righteous anger: "Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news and his anger was greatly roused." Mimicking the actions of another riled citizen, he summons the men to war with bloody pieces of oxen.

Here again the Bible speaks of supernatural intervention: "And the fear of the Lord fell on the people and they came out with one consent" (1 Samuel 11:7).

With soldiers assembling, Saul reassures the attacked people of Jabesh, they are able to stall the enemy for another day, Saul mounts a surprise attack, and wins a decisive victory. Now there is a groundswell of support for the new king. With Samuel at his side, he establishes his headquarters at Gilgal and officially begins his reign.

This story gives us a picture of how the Holy Spirit works in and around us still.
  • He empowers and equips us for His assignments. Even though in the natural we may feel inadequate, if God has given us a job to do, the Holy Spirit can anoint us with the drive and wherewithal to do it.
  • We can also trust God to work on, in, and through the people around us, just as He brought the "fear of the Lord:" on Israel to obey Saul's summons to war.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this graphic picture of Your Spirit at work in the Old Testament. Help me to rely on the Holy Spirit's working, in me and others, to accomplish Your plans and purposes in my generation. Amen.

MORE: When the Spirit comes
"When the Spirit of the Lord comes upon men, it will make them expert even without experience. When zeal for the glory of God, and the love for the brethren urge men to earnest efforts, and when God is pleased to help, great effects may speedily be produced" - Matthew Henry.

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Saturday, June 09, 2012


TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 10:1-27

TO CHEW ON: "Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man." 1 Samuel 10:6

Who of us wouldn't welcome such a transformation as happened to Saul?

The Bible speaks much of being transformed, changed, and renewed. As we study it, we discover we too can experience such a radical remake. Let's look at some other Bible passages that speak of becoming a new person (i.e. spiritual renewal) to understand what such a radical renewal involves.

It begins when we trust Christ for salvation.

  • Jesus calls this event being "born again" and "born of water and the Spirit" - John 3:1-8.
  • Paul speaks of being saved "through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" - Titus 3:5.
  • In another place he calls this being "in Christ" and describes it as a "new creation—old things have passed away; behold new things have come" - 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Our new spiritual baby selves need to grow.

  • We do this by spending time with God - Isaiah 40:31. For us this means things like reading the Bible, reflecting on how its teachings relate to our lives, and talking to God in prayer. During this time spent with Him God transforms and renews our minds - Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23.
  • God promises to stay involved in the process of renewal for our entire lives - Philippians 1:6; 2:13.
  • All is not lost if we mess up, like David did. "Create in me a clean heart ... and renew a steadfast spirit in me," he prayed (Psalm 51:10) after repenting from adultery with Bathsheba and masterminding the murder of her husband.

Empowering for special jobs. 

  • God sometimes brings about such new-person events to empower people for special jobs. That's what happened to Saul here—and to other Old Testament characters before the Holy Spirit was available to all after the day of Pentecost.
  • Throughout the New Testament we see God the Spirit assigning and empowering people:
- The Holy Spirit directs the choosing of seven men to oversee the daily distribution of food - Acts 6:1-7
- The Holy Spirit sends Ananias to pray for and baptize Saul - Acts 9:10-19
- God tells the Antioch church leaders to send out Barnabas and Saul/Paul, which they do after laying hands on them and praying.

And so we see that this renewal that happened to Saul can also take place for and in us. It will probably not happen in an instant, as it did in him, but may the change in us over time, be just as dramatic.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for the many ways You bring about change and renewal in my life. Help me today to live in cooperation with that process. Amen.

MORE: The Holy Spirit invades all of life
"The Holy Spirit cannot be accepted as a guest in merely one room of the house— He invades all of it. And once I decide that my “old man” (that is, my heredity of sin) should be identified with the death of Jesus, the Holy Spirit invades me. He takes charge of everything. My part is to walk in the light and to obey all that He reveals to me."- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest,  April 11 reading.

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Friday, June 08, 2012

Samuel's obedience

"Saul meets Samuel" - James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 9:1-27

TO CHEW ON: "And Samuel said to the cook, 'Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I said to you, "Set it apart."'" 1 Samuel 9:23

Consider all the incidents that had to dovetail in order for Saul and Samuel to come together: donkeys lost, Kish sends son Saul to look for them, no success, Saul and his servant decide to go see the prophet (Samuel), the servant finds payment for him, they come to the city just after Samuel has arrived. That's quite an impressive string of "coincidences."

However, one detail of the story at least is a matter of faith followed by obedience on Samuel's part. Our focus verse highlights it. Samuel has a special kingly portion of food ready for Saul because he has earlier instructed the cook to set aside a special cut of meat for the guest of honor, and this before he knows who that guest will be or has even met him. In fact, it appears the whole sacrificial banquet is arranged in anticipation of Samuel meeting Israel's first king before their paths ever cross (1 Samuel 9:22-24).

Such stories of the faith and obedience of biblical characters always sober me. I ask myself,
  • Do I have ears attentive to hear God's voice and discern His instructions?
  • Do I obey promptly, even when my obedient course of actions doesn't make sense?

PRAYER: Dear God, please tune my ears to Your voice and help me to respond with the faith and obedience that acts even when it does not see. Amen.

MORE: The importance of listening
"But the important thing in doing any ministry ... is to make certain that you are doing what you are supposed to do. And above all, you need to listen to the Shepherd. Never go where he does not lead, and never fail to go where he does lead" - Dr. Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, p. 179.

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