Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The importance of timing

God's timing
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Esther 5:1-14

TO CHEW ON:
"So Esther answered, 'If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.' .... Let the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.'" - Esther 5:4,8

Marriage experts stress the importance of good timing. It's a good idea, they say for example, to make sure your husband is well fed and comfortable before you introduce him to the kitchen reno you're dreaming of.

I don't know how much of Esther's double banquet plan was Persian custom or wife's intuition but it is obvious that God used the extra day to get more things into place. Haman's gallows, and Ahasuerus's sleepless night both played important parts in the event's outcome.

Ecclesiastes says, "...a wise man's heart discerns both time and judgment, because for every matter there is a time and judgment" - Ecclesiastes 8:5,6.

Do we have the wisdom to discern, and the faith and patience to use the powerful principle of good timing and, even more important, to wait for God's timing?

PRAYER: Dear God, as someone who lives in a fast-paced culture, I easily give in to impulse and impatience. Please give me discernment about timing and the patience and faith to wait for You to work when I'm not sure about what to do. Amen.
 

MORE:  Wisdom about timing

"To everything there is a season
A time for every purpose under heaven ....
A time to keep silence
And a time to speak..." Ecclesiastes 3:1,7.
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Friday, September 21, 2012

Unlikely disciple

"St. Matthew" by Pompeo Batoni

St. Matthew by Pompeo Batoni
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 2:13-22


TO CHEW ON: "As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, 'Follow Me.' So he arose and followed Him." Mark 2:14

I love Levi's (Matthew's) uncomplicated faith, shown when he dropped everything and followed Jesus (here and in Luke, Matthew is called called Levi). Didn't he even have to give this career change some thought? Apparently not. Or maybe he had given it thought, had become increasingly discontented with his job, was aware of Jesus, secretly longed to get to know Him better, and here was his opportunity.

Matthew is an interesting choice as a disciple. The Bible tells us he was a tax collector—one of a class of people who worked for the hated Romans. Tax collectors made their living by charging slightly higher fees than the Romans for general, agricultural, census, and traveler taxes. Licensed tax collectors often hired publicans to do the actual collecting. Publicans, who tacked on additional fees, were usually Jews and doubly despised as tax collectors and traitors.

Matthew was one of these publicans whose booth was beside the road outside Capernaum. In addition to collecting the road tax, he may also have collected taxes from fishermen. Imagine how the career fishermen (Andrew, Peter, James and John) must have felt when this loathed publican joined their band!

However, Jesus knew what He was doing when He chose Matthew. He was probably good with numbers and could read and write. He was well educated in the Scriptures, judging by how much of the Old Testament he had at his fingertips to quote in the Gospel of  Matthew.

He also had a missionary bent, shown when he shared his new Rabbi with his friends. For shortly after accepting Jesus' call, he hosted a dinner for his "tax collector and sinner" friends.

That desire to share Jesus eventually led to his writing of the history of the life of Christ we know as The Gospel According to Matthew. What a legacy!

  • It contains the only account of the wisemen visit.
  • Its detailed account of the Jesus' teachings (called the Sermon on the Mount) is three chapters long (Matthew 5, 6 & 7) versus Luke's 29 verses (Luke 6:20-49).
  • It contains parables of the Day of Judgement found in no other gospel (Matthew 24)
  • It emphasizes Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
  • It stresses that Jesus was Messiah.
  • It depicts Him as King.
What an amazing contribution from someone who came from the most despised category of people, "tax collectors and sinners," whom Jesus Himself characterized as sick: "Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick" - Mark 2:17 (and Matthew 9:12).

The story of Matthew should give all of us hope. For when Jesus calls us, He sees right through our family and job categories. He is not influenced by the labels others put on us or we put on ourselves. When He says "Follow Me" and we jump up and follow Him, we set out on the road to discover a potential and a destiny we never dreamed possible.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Matthew (Levi), a tax collector who became the writer of a history that has influenced millions. Help me to trust You with my future like he trusted You with his. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. Matthew

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthew. The liturgy for the day begins with the following collect:

"We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

Sources:
(From the archives)

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Intelligent obedience

notebook,  pen, understanding
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:25-40

TO CHEW ON:
"Make me to understand the way of Your precepts;
So shall I meditate on Your wonderful works." Psalm 119:25-26.


Do you remember student days and studying for tests? For me, rote memorization of concepts rarely worked. I had to have an outline—a framework—of facts in order for me to remember them. I needed a certain level of understanding to ensure recall.

The writer of this psalm requests in several ways that God help him know and understand His will and ways (called statutes, precepts, commandments, testimonies, judgments, word, works, and law). I appreciate his emphasis on intelligent obedience.

We can see by what he says that he has already given a good deal of thought to what keeping God's ways will do for him, for he:
- asks to be revived and strengthened by them (Psalm 119:25, 28, 40).
- expects them to help him resist the temptation to lie (Psalm 119:29).
- prays that they keep him from shame and reproach (Psalm 119:31, 39).
- assumes that running the course of life by God's ways will give him the spirit to persist ("enlarge my heart ... I shall keep it to the end" - Psalm 119:32,33).
- wants to live for God whole-heartedly (Psalm 119:34).
- assumes that living by God's ways will keep him focused on worthwhile things (versus having a covetous attitude that looks longingly at "worthless things" - Psalm 119:36, 37).

Do we likewise have such a thoughtful approach to how we live? Have we, for example, considered the various sinful options that we face, taking them, in our imaginations, to their logical conclusions so that we understand why God has forbidden them? If we have, we may find that some temptations lose their lustre because we understand that God has put them off-limits for very good reasons.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me understand You and Your ways better, as I meditate on the benefits of keeping them, and the downside of breaking them. Amen.

MORE: "All the Way My Saviour Leads Me" - Chris Tomlin




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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Eat this scroll"

God's word is sweet - Ezekiel 3:3
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 1:28-3:11

TO CHEW ON:
"Moreover He said to me, 'Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go speak to the house of Israel.' ... Moreover He said to me: 'Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears.'" Ezekiel 3:1,10

I love this food/eating metaphor of how we are to relate to God's word. I think of many ways it applies:

  • We eat by taking a bite of something.
Similarly we assimilate God's word in small portions.

  • We chew our food, mixing it with a part of us (saliva) to make it digestible.
In the same way we think about and meditate on Bible words, mixing them with aspects of our lives to make them our own.

  • We swallow food, taking it into our inner beings. In the stomach the assimilation continues, unseen, unfelt but but very real as our bodies change the food  we have eaten into energy, body parts, and fat.
Hopefully God's word gets into us energizing, restoring, and changing us in the same DNA-changing way. As God told Ezekiel, "...receive into your heart all my words..."

  • Physically we fill our stomachs, eating until our hunger is assuaged. God tells Ezekiel here "...fill your stomach with this scroll..."
[Fill - male - means fill, fill up, be full. Male is the source of Hebrew words relating to fullness and fulfillment: filling something to the brim, causing something to be thoroughly saturated... Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 992]
Would this filling imply that there is room for nothing else in Ezekiel's stomach / heart? Maybe part of why we're spiritually malnourished is because we view God's word as a snack or appetizer instead of the main course.

  • Of course our appetite and eating is not an end in itself but a means to an end. We eat so we have energy to live, work, and raise families.
Spiritually our eating has a similar purpose. God told Ezekiel, "eat this scroll and go speak to the house of Israel."  How do we use the spiritual energy we get from Bible study?  Is it just to satisfy ourselves? Or does it fuel testimony, witness, and kingdom work?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to ingest Your words into my life so that my very self is changed. Then help me to use that stored word as the energy for testimony, witness, and work. Amen.

MORE: More eating of God's words

Ezekiel wasn't the only person told to eat God's word.
An angel told John: "Take and eat it" of the little book. For John, like Ezekiel, it tasted sweet though later it gave him stomach troubles (Revelation 10:9,10).

David speaks of eating God's words (statues, commandments, judgments): "More to be desired are they than gold... Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb" - Psalm 19:10.

and

"How sweet are Your words to my taste
Sweeter than honey in my mouth"
- Psalm 119:103.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Let God be your promoter

TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 4:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." James 4:10

In his book Make Love, Make War: Now is the Time to Worship Brian Doerksen tells the story of how he came to write "Father, I want You to Hold Me." The moment the song was conceived was one of special connection to his baby daughter.

"The first of our six children, Rachel, arrived on August 8, 1988 (8/8/88!). I was both delighted and scared to death. There was a moment that I shared with Rachel on the west coast of Vancouver Island that changed everything for me. She looked up at me with those big brown eyes and held her arms out, and without words she said, 'Daddy...I want you to hold me.' This is what I always wanted to say to my earthly father...and ultimately to my heavenly father: Father, I Want You to hold me'" (p. 73).

He went on to write "Father I Want You to Hold Me." He called it "my secret song to God" (p. 74).

It was sometime later that Andy Park, the worship leader of the church he attended, asked him to share an appropriate song after someone had talked about the Father-heart of God. Brian says of that moment, "I sensed it was time for my secret song to become public (at last with those twenty people), and so I shared it" (p. 74).

A few months after that, this time at a John Wimber and Vineyard Ministries Conference, Andy asked him to play that specific song again. John Wimber came up to Brian after the meeting and asked, "Can we publish this song?" Later that year, Wimber did just that — published Brian's "private song." It was his first song to be published.

What I love about this story is how it illustrates today's verse about God lifting us up.

The concept of waiting for God to promote us gets little traction amongst even Christians in our competitive culture. Within the world of writing and publishing words, with which I am most familiar, it's all about getting seen and being active on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, the blogs). It's about creating buzz around your name, your product, your brand, about gathering followers,  and building a platform. Where is God in all this promotion, I sometimes wonder. Brian's story is a refreshing reminder that He can and does have a marketing plan for the things that honour Him. He is very able to lift us up if that's where we belong.

As Brian Doerksen says in his "Songwriting Tips" at the end of this chapter:

"Let God bring you forward. Don't promote yourself and your own songs. This is a really challenging area. You could move through seasons when it is time to be bold and share what God has given you. But don't start there. Start in a place of hiddenness and service. God knows what you have written, and He is fully able to call it forward at the right time and in the right place." p. 83.

PRAYER: Dear God, You know my own struggles in this area. Today again I commit to You the things I write. Help me to never lose sight of the fact that my first and main goal is to honour and bless You — my Audience of One — with and in all I do. Amen.

MORE: "Father I Want You to Hold Me" by Brian Doerksen




(From the archives)

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Godly wisom vs. the other kind

TODAY'S SPECIAL:  James 3:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy." James 3:17

For anyone pursuing godly wisdom, James 3 is a little goldmine.

This passage, with its lists of words begs for a word study. Rather than look at the modern definition of the words used by translators, we're going to look at what the Greek words used in the original text mean — for they are eloquent.

First, James tells us what godly wisdom isn't (vs. 14-16).

Godly wisdom isn't:

Jealous* (#2205 - zelos):  an envious, contentious rivalry.

Characterized by selfish ambition (#2052 - eritheia): electioneering or intriguing for office; a desire to put oneself forward, a partisan fractious spirit.

Earthly (#1919 epigeios): existing upon earth, earthly, terrestrial.

Sensual (#5591 - psuchikos): of or belonging to breath; the principle of animal life which men have in common with the brutes;  the sensuous nature with its subjection to appetites and passions.

Demonic (#1141 daimoniodes): resembling or proceeding from an evil spirit, demon-like.


Godly wisdom is:

Pure (#53 - hagnos): exciting reverence, venerable, sacred, pure from every fault, immaculate, clean.

Peaceable (#1515 - eirene): harmony, concord, peace between individuals, security, safety, prosperity (because peace and harmony make and keep things safe and prosperous).

Gentle (#1933 - epieikes): equitable, fair, mild.

Reasonable (#2138 - eupeithes): easily obeying, compliant.

Full of mercy (#1656 - eleos): kindness or goodwill towards the miserable or the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them.

Full of...good fruits (#2590 - karpos): 1) fruit of a tree or one's progeny— descendants; 2) that which originates or comes from something, an effect, result, work, act or deed.

Unwavering (#87 - adiakritos): without dubiousness, ambiguity, uncertainty. The NKJV translates this "without partiality" - which was the topic of our meditation yesterday.

 Without hypocrisy (#505 - anupokritos): unfeigned, undisguised, sincere.

Oh my - what convicting lists! Do you find yourself in any of the words that describe what godly wisdom isn't? Sadly, I do.

Let's set our hearts on seeking after and fleshing out in our lives true godly wisdom.

*I used words from the NASB translation, because that's the translation of my concordance which has the Strong's Concordance numbers.


PRAYER:
Dear God, I so easily pursue the methods of earthly wisdom. By Your Spirit, please point out places where I do that, then help me grow the attitudes and actions of godly wisdom in my life. Amen.

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

(From the archives)

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shame and hiding

Eve and Adam - painting by Phillip Ratner

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 3:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "And they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden." Genesis 3:8

Adam and Eve in sweet companionship with each other and God  (Genesis 2:23-25) is ripped apart by sin. Adam and Eve's eating the fruit of the Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil tree did a lot more than set them in the direction of death. One thing that happened was an immediate urge to hide.

This urge grew out of guilt and shame.
[guilt: The fact or condition of having committed an offense, especially a willful violation of a legal or moral code,
shame: a painful sense of guilt or degradation caused by consciousness of guilt or of anything degrading, unworthy or immodest...a state or condition of regret, dishonour or disgrace."]

So they went from "naked and unashamed" (Genesis 2:25) to hiding their bodies from each other and hiding themselves from God.

Throughout the Bible we discover a similar urge to hide in the presence of guilt over having committed sin. It was often accompanied by drastic results which impacted more people than just the ones who sinned:
  • Achan took spoil from Jericho, hid it in his tent and as a result 36 men were killed in the battle with Ai before he was discovered. Then he and his family paid the price (Joshua 7).
  • Gehazi, Elisha's servant, tried to hide the fact that he had taken Naaman's gift, offered earlier to his boss. He ended up with leprosy (2 Kings 5:20-27).
  • We smile at the irony of the Israelites secretly building "high places" for idol worship. "High places"! And they thought God couldn't see? (2 Kings 17:9).

David, whose hiding episode included adultery and murder, got it right when he asked, rhetorically in Psalm 139, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?" and answered, in effect, nowhere (Psalm 139:7-12).

I ask myself, am I keeping secrets from God? One sign that I am may be is a reluctance to meet with Him (just like Adam and Eve). For I have found that when such is the case and we do get together, He invariably puts His finger on my supposed secret.

If we're not sure, we can pray the prayer David prayed at the end of Psalm 139:
"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
         Try me, and know my anxieties;
 And see if there is any wicked way in me,
         And lead me in the way everlasting."

If God exposes concealed sins, Psalm 32:5 is the perfect way to deal with them:
"I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.  Selah  

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to realize the futility of trying to hide things from You. Help me to recognize "secret sins," to acknowledge and confess them, and to deal with any interpersonal fallout. Amen.

MORE: Shame versus guilt
Mark Yarhouse in his book Homosexuality and the Christian, makes a distinction between guilt and shame:
"Guilt is about feeling bad for something you've done. Shame is about feeling bad for who you are" - p. 158.

Keeping that in mind, shame would be the appropriate response to humanity's (and thus our own) reluctance to appear before God caused by Adam and Eve's sin. But through belief in Jesus and His death on the cross, the shame of our inherent sinfulness is no longer necessary (see Revelation 3:18-20).

(From the archives)

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Implicated

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 19:1-16

TO CHEW ON:
"Therefore when the chief priests and officers saw Him they cried out saying, 'Crucify Him, crucify Him!'" - John 19:16

Here we see enacted what we read about in Proverbs yesterday. The Jews' rejection of Jesus was the coming true of:
"...scorners delight in their scorning
And fools hate knowledge ...
...I have called you and you refused
I have stretched out my hand no no one regarded
... you disdained my counsel
And would have none of my rebuke
... they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the Lord  - Proverbs 1:22, 24,25,29.

It's easy for me to shake my head and think, I would never do those things. But then I am reminded of the list of sin's fruits (yesterday's devo) and how I have tolerated them in my own life. Why all I need to do is think back to yesterday to find contention, dissension, selfishness, an 'outburst of wrath.' What Isaiah said is so true:

"All we like sheep have gone astray
We have turned every one to his own way
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" - Isaiah 53:6

So I find myself—we all find ourselves—in the scene of Jesus before Pilate and feel a pang when He says, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." For we are all implicated as "the one who delivered Me to you."

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for letting Yourself be put in Pilate's hands and paying the death penalty for my sin.

More: Above All - Michael W. Smith



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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The fruit of one's own way

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 1:20-33

TO CHEW ON:
"They would have none of my counsel
And despised my every rebuke.
Therefore they shall eat of the fruit of their own way,
And be filled to the full with their own fancies." Proverbs 1:30,31


One of the things that persuaded me to give my life back to the Lord when I was backslidden was this principle of fruit. For the fruit of even a few years of living away from the Lord was not that good!

The Bible speaks often of sin's fruit. It is:

Bitter
- Moses prophesied that Israel would rebel against God and in rebellion her fruit would be "...the vine of Sodom and the fields of Gomorrah / Their grapes are gall" - Deuteronomy 32:32.

Disappointing
: Just like the vineyard owner was disappointed by his workers' efforts in Isaiah's vineyard song, targeted to Israel's leaders who had become unjust and oppressive  - Isaiah 5:2.

Selfish: According to Hosea, talking about Israel in her backslidden state - Hosea 10:1.

Deceitful: Another fruit of going one's own way that Hosea mentions - Hosea 10:13.

Corrupt:
Giving evidence of the kind of tree (life) really on display (Jesus in Matthew 7:17).

Diverse and plentiful: Paul contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 where he lists some of the fruits in sin's fruit bowl: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, cursing, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, "and the like" (just in case he's missed any) - Galatians 5:19,20..

It sure makes one want to have the other kind of fruit—wisdom's fruit—doesn't it?


PRAYER: Dear God, this list of sin's fruits shows me again how important it is to give You—the source of all wisdom—the control of my life. Help me to do that day by day. Amen.

MORE: The fruit of the Spirit

"The the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." - Galatians 5:22,23

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wisdom's lens

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 1:1-19

TO CHEW ON:
"The fear of the lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction." Proverbs 1:7


My first thought as I read this key verse at the beginning of Proverbs is 'worldview.' It seems that Solomon is saying that the knowledgeable, wise, educated-in-what-is-true person sees life through what we call a worldview of the fear of the Lord.

What is a worldview? Nancy Pearcey talks about it in her book Total Truth:

"... understanding how worldviews are formed, and how they guide or confine thought, is the essential step toward understanding everything else. Understanding worldview is a bit like trying to see the lens of one's own eye. we do not ordinarily see our own worldview, but we see everything else by looking through it. Put simply, our worldview is the window by which we view the world and decide, often subconsciously, what is real and important or unreal and unimportant" - Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, Kindle Location 425.

What does it mean to have a 'fear of the Lord' worldview? Leslyn Musch describes it well in her "Truth-In-Action-Through Proverbs" article:

"Learning to walk in the fear of the Lord is learning to live in awe and reverence of God. It is foundational to our walk of faith. God is loving and full of grace and mercy, but He is also all-powerful, awesome, holy, righteous and sovereign over all things" - Leslyn Musch, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 842.

We can test whether or not we have a fear-of-the-Lord worldview by looking at the way we live our lives, and answering questions like:
- Who are we more concerned about pleasing, the people around us, or God?
- Which road do we choose when the path of following God splits from the path of pleasing self or others?
- On what do we spend our time and money?

Is it possible that we don't fear God as much as we think or say that we do?

PRAYER:
Dear God, please open my eyes and inform my understanding in the things that offend You and please You. Help me to see where I am kidding myself, saying I fear You but living differently. Then help me to line up my attitudes and actions with the truths in the Bible. Amen.

MORE: Examples of Bible characters who feared / didn't fear God.
  • DID: Nathan the prophet feared God as shown by his obedience to turn around and change his message to David when God told him he had said the wrong thing - 1 Chronicles 17:1-15.
  • DIDN'T: David neglected to follow God's instructions when moving the ark, putting it on a cart instead of having the priests carry it on their shoulders in the way God had said. When a man touched the ark to steady it, he was killed - 2 Samuel 6:1-9
  • DID: When the Jewish leaders told Peter and John to stop talking about Jesus and preaching in His name, they expressed their fear-of-God worldview clearly: "'We ought to obey God rather than man'" - Acts 5:29.

Can you think of more?



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Monday, September 10, 2012

Muddy vision

Jesus heals a blind man
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 8:1-26

TO CHEW ON: "'Having eyes do you not see? And having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?' .... Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him." Mark 8:18, 22

Have you noticed how in several stories of Jesus, what He was trying to teach His disciples and the miracles he did went hand-in-hand? Here for example, he was troubled that they didn't get it when He said "watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees" and called them blind. Then a little later He healed a blind man.

What was Jesus calling leaven, and what did He want them to understand?

He had just performed a miraculous feeding of 4000 people, then crossed Galilee. No sooner had he touched land than He was met by a group of argumentative Pharisees asking for a sign. Jesus refused. I can think of several reasons why:
  • His miracles weren't crowd-wowing magic tricks, but divine interventions to fulfill real needs.
  • It appeared the Pharisees were suspect of anything that they hadn't experienced or seen themselves. Surely the news of Jesus' miracle feeding had reached them but the word of others about Jesus' signs wasn't enough.
  • Jesus knew their hearts, which were determined to doubt Him no matter what. They inevitably twisted His miracles into something bad (e.g. Matthew 12:24).

I believe it was this skeptical, rigid view of life that refused to see God breaking through that was the leaven Jesus was warning the disciples about. For it was in the setting of them worrying about their own lack of bread that He said, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees."

And then a few verses further on, He healed the blind man—though in stages. Does this tell us anything about the healing of our spiritual blindness? Two lessons come to mind: 
1. Jesus needs to touch our eyes. We can ask / beg Him to do that like the blind man's friends implored Jesus for their friend.

2. Sometimes sight / insight is gradual. It took several washings for the blind man's vision to clear up completely and so with us it might take repeated washings of the mud of naturalism, skepticism, and our rigid explanations of how God works before we see.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to wash away the debris of skepticism and doubt that continues to cloud my vision. Amen.


MORE: He Touched Me (an oldie but a goodie)






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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Test of faith

"Woman of Canaan" by Harold Copping
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 7:24-37

TO CHEW ON:
"And she answered and said to Him, 'Yes Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children's crumbs.' Then He said to her, 'For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter'" Mark 7:28,29

Jesus had made a little trip into non-Jewish territory—the only time He did that, according to my Bible's footnotes. Perhaps He needed a break from the crowds that pressed close day and night when he was in Galilee or Judea. But if He expected to escape into anonymity, He was disappointed.

The Syro-Phoeneician mother was despairing and desperate. Jesus' response seems calculated to add to that despair when He chides her—a Gentile—in a seemingly prejudiced way, for asking for a miracle.

But she has nothing to lose.

She turns His insult inside out. I may be a Gentile dog, but even dogs get table scraps (my paraphrase of  Mark 7:28).

My Bible's footnotes again: "Actually assuming the appearance of traditional Jewish prejudice, Jesus was drawing from her a confession of triumphant faith" - Notes on Mark, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1363.

And then Jesus pronounces her daughter healed!

This story makes me ask, am I too easily discouraged in my prayers? When the answer is "No," do I give up, or persevere?

Maybe it was just for this woman that Jesus made the trip into Tyre and Sidon. Maybe faith, tested in just that way will be precisely what she will need in the days and years ahead, as other circumstances challenge her and her daughter.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for these Mark 7 stories of Your power over dark spirits, and disability. Help me to have faith for crumbs, no, whole loaves of Your power in my life. Amen.

MORE: "He Saw It All" - the Booth Brothers

The story in our reading goes on to tell how Jesus returned to Galilee where He opened the ears and loosed the tongue of a man who had been deaf and mute. The onlookers "...were astonished beyond measure..." Mark 7:37.

"He saw It All" sung by the Booth Brothers is a fabulous expression of that awe and an invitation to trust for our own miracles.




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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Secure because He is faithful

Jerusalem
Modern Jerusalem - photo by beggs
(on flickr, via everystockphoto.com - used with permission)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 125:1-5

TO CHEW ON: "As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds His people
From this time forth and forever." Psalm 125:2


Psalm 125 is a "Song of Ascent"—one of the songs Jewish pilgrims sang on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the yearly feasts (Psalms 120-134).  In this one, the writer likens the travellers' security to the security of their destination, Zion (Jerusalem).

Eugene Peterson in his book about these psalms talks about Jerusalem's physical situation and draws a spiritual parallel:

"Jerusalem was set in a saucer of hills. It was the safest of cities because of the protective fortress these hills provided. Just so is the person of faith surrounded by the Lord" - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 85 (all page numbers below from the same book).

If we are so secure ("surrounded by the Lord") why do we often feel insecure? Peterson points out three possible sources of insecurity and how God anchors us even in them.

1. We listen to our feelings which change with circumstances
. One day we're up, the next we're down.
To counter that, Peterson says, "... we learn to live not by our feelings about God but by the facts about God .... My security comes from who God is, not from how I feel" - p. 87.

2. We experience pain and suffering.
But these conditions are not permanent: "Nothing counter to God's justice has any eternity to it - 1 Corinthians 10:13" - p. 89.

3. We fear we will defect, give up, backslide.
About this insecurity Peterson says, "It is not possible to drift unconsciously from faith to perdition .... Defection requires a deliberate sustained and determined rejection.... We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us" - pp. 89,90.

Whatever life throws at us in the form of feelings, physical challenges, or self-doubts, we are secure because our security is not in ourselves but in our God who never changes!

PRAYER: Dear God, I am so glad that in You there is no "shadow of turning" and that You never change and that I can trust You to hang onto me even when I am discouraged, hurting or fearful. Amen.

MORE: Great is Thy Faithfulness sung by Chris Rice





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Friday, September 07, 2012

Some do's and don'ts for a successful life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 22:1-29

TO CHEW ON: "Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise,
And apply your heart to my knowledge;
For it is a pleasant thing if you keep them within you;
Let them all be fixed upon your lips,
So that your trust may be in the Lord..." Proverbs 22:17-19


Even though its wisdom is ancient, the advice in Proverbs is as relevant today as ever. The issues addressed in today's reading are wide-ranging—from bringing up children to having a good work ethic. Yet the theme of SUCCESS runs through them all. The writer is telling us, to have a successful life you must do some things and refrain from doing others.

DO:
  • Seek to have a good reputation - Proverbs 22:1
  • Understand your times and guard yourself against possible catastrophe - Proverbs 22:3.
  • Live humbly and fear God - Proverbs 22:4,5.
  • Train children from the earliest age - Proverbs 22:6
  • Be generous and give to the poor - Proverbs 22:9
  • Remove cynical contentious people as partners or associates - Proverbs 22:10.
  • Love purity and speak with grace - Proverbs 22:11.
  • Actively seek wisdom and knowledge - Proverbs 22:17,18.
  • Trust in the Lord - Proverbs 22:19
  • Work hard to be the best you can be - Proverbs 22:29.

DON'T:
  • Live a wilfully sinful life - Proverbs 22:8.
  • Be lazy - Proverbs 22:13.
  • Ignore the foolishness that is found in your child's heart - Proverbs 22:15.
  • Take advantage of the poor and downtrodden - Proverbs 22:23.
  • Become intimate with angry people - Proverbs 22:24,25.
  • Borrow money or underwrite someone else's loan - Proverbs 22:7, 26, 27.
  • Move the borders of your property to increase the size of your plot - Proverbs 22:28

Though living by these do's and don'ts may sound like common sense, some are anti-intuitive—at least anti-intuitive to our 21st century minds. To put them into practice we need to have faith in God and that what He says through Solomon is really wise.
- Being generous makes you rich?
- Gracious speech has more impact than bullying, angry words?
- Borrowing and going into debt is bad?
- Innocent little children need correction and discipline?

Especially when God's wisdom clashes with our modern 'wisdom' we need to cling to Him as we resist going along with the crowd:
"Let them all be fixed on your lips
So that your trust may be in the Lord.
"

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to trust You and take seriously the wisdom in Your word, especially when it goes against what my peers think, believe, and live by. Amen.

MORE: Are you foolish enough?

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

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Monday, September 03, 2012

Partiality

TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 2:1-26

TO CHEW ON: "Have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?" James 2:4

I can't help but think, as I read the first part of James, how partiality-based is the culture in which I live.  On my local TV lineup is an hour-long daily news show devoted to examining the mundane minutiae of the lives of entertainment and sports personalities. It is these people who set the social and fashion trends so that years ago we all got Farah Fawcett and Beatles haircuts, while now little girls swoon for Justin Bieber and want to look like Taylor Swift.  As a society we give people acceptance and adulation because of their appearance, wealth, and how well they play sports or entertain us.

I understand partiality very well, for I struggled with it as a youngster. If a person who acted odd or dressed funny came to school or church, I sure wasn't the one to befriend her. I see now that my cold unfriendliness was based on insecurity and lack of self-confidence. They were related to the fear of being identified with or appearing to be the same kind of person as the outcast was (the flip side of befriending a popular person to gain acceptance by association). Pride and covetousness (especially when there is the hope that by fawning over the popular person, he or she will include us in his generosity) are two more roots of partiality.

James gives an easy-to-understand example of partiality in verses James 2:2-4, describing how, when his readers meet together they give special treatment to the people who look rich while ignoring the ones who look poor. He points out how nonsensical this way of acting is in the natural because the people to whom they are showing special favour are the ones who are oppressing them.

The clincher in his argument against partiality, though, is that it's not God-like. James calls these biased Christians "judges with evil thoughts" because they are judging by the world's standards, not God's. Showing special favour on the basis of appearance, wealth, popularity, performance, and status is not at all consistent with the upside-down Kingdom of God way of evaluating. James describes that in verse 5: "Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?"

Consider Jesus' standards of Kingdom greatness:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit...those who mourn...the meek...those who hunger and thirst after righteousness...the merciful...the pure in heart...the peacemakers...the persecuted...the reviled and falsely accused..." (Matthew 5:1-12).

There's not one mention in Jesus' list of physical appearance, worldly wealth, or influence mattering to God accepting us. That's the standard we need to use when we respond to others.

PRAYER: Dear God, I so easily show partiality. Help me to understand the source of this shallow way of responding to people, and to adopt Your way of looking past outward appearances to the inner person. Amen.

MORE: Seven Reasons Why We Should Not Show Partiality:

1. Partiality contradicts faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord of glory (vs.1)

2. Partiality reveals a judging heart and behind it evil thinking (vs. 2-4).

3. Partiality to the rich contradicts God's heart, because he has chosen many of the poor for himself (vs. 5).

4. Partiality dishonors people created in the image of God (vs. 6a).

5. Partiality to the rich backfires and becomes your downfall (vs. 6b,7).

6. Partiality makes you a transgressor of the law of liberty (vs. 9-11).

7. Partiality is not mercy. But if you don't show mercy, you will perish (vs. 13).
From "The Peril of Partiality" By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

(From the archives)

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