Monday, April 29, 2013

Our mess-ups and church growth

Mark, Barnabas & Paul - Artist unknown
Mark, Barnabas & Paul - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 15:36-16:5

TO CHEW ON: "So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily." Acts 16:5

If you've ever been part of a church split, you know how devastating it can be when 'family members' don't get along. In today's reading we see Paul parting ways with Barnabas because Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them on their missionary trip and Paul didn't.

Later, when Paul invited half-Gentile Timothy to join him, he insisted Timothy be circumcised not because he believed Timothy still needed to follow the ceremonial law but because that was the only way the practicing Jews would accept him.

I think we can rightly conclude that New Testament Christians grappled with some of the same things we do. Paul and Barnabas parted ways over a difference of opinion. Paul was concerned about what others would think.

Still the church grew. Doesn't the verse: "So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily" fill you with hope for our churches too? God can use even the seemingly negative things for His purposes. A split of teams meant that there were now two missionary teams. Paul's care to not give offense meant that a whole group of conscience-ruled Jews wouldn't stumble because of Timothy's presence.

The church continues to grow despite all of our differences. Of course we shouldn't take our mess-ups lightly. But it is wonderful to know that they do not befuddle God or stymie His plan.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for growing the church despite our mess-ups. Amen.

MORE: Leaders on the pedestal
It's easy to put our leaders on a pedestal as people who don't experience the same temptations we do. I recently heard this talk by popular writer and speaker Francis Chan, where he exposes his struggles after the success of his book Crazy Love.

Francis Chan "The Pressures of Ministry and the Promise of Making Disciplemakers"


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Praise from everything

clouds reflected in water
"Praise the Lord from the earth, You ... clouds" - Psalm 148:7-8

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 148:1-14

"Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For His name alone is exalted;
His glory is above the earth and heaven." - Psalm 148:13

Where do you see God's glory? What brings praise to your lips? The psalmist sees God's praiseworthiness everywhere.

Heaven: He directs the hosts of angels and heavenly bodies to pour out praise (Psalm 148:1-4).

Nature: He sees praise emanating from the natural world— from the sea creatures in the ocean depths to the weather ("fire and hail, snow and clouds"), from geography ("mountains and all hills") to all living things (plants, beasts, creeping critters and flying fowls) (Psalm 148:5-10).

People: He admonishes all people on earth—from kings to judges, from young to old of both men and women to praise the LORD (Psalm 148:11-13).

I ask myself, do I see God as praiseworthy in all those places? Yes, His power and ability to create the visually beautiful in scene, the mind-bendingly incredible in design inspires my worship for sure. But do I also praise and worship when I don't understand? When 'acts of God' bring human lives into shambles, when earth's inhabitants seem to be entirely out of His control?

The psalmist ends with a reason to praise: "He has exalted the horn of His people" - Psalm 148:14.

I would suggest that that is also my reason, our reason, to praise. For He will work all the apparent chaos (in nature and among people) into a final picture that will make sense and show Him to be the just, holy, righteous, loving God He claims to be (Revelation 15:3-4;  21:23-27;  22:12-15).

Dear God, how my perspective changes when I recognize that Your fingerprints are on every created thing and that You are never absent from the affairs of nature or people. Help me to see life through the lens of Your immanence. Amen.

MORE: God's transcendance, immanence and pantheism

When we consider God and creation, we need to keep several concepts in mind:

1. God is separate from and much greater than creation. The word used to describe this is transcendent. Wayne Grudem explains the word in his Systematic Theology:
"Very simply, this means that God is far 'above' the creation in the sense that he is greater than the creation and he is independent of it" p. 267.

2. God is also involved in creation. we say He is immanent or "remaining in" creation. Grudem again:
"The God of the Bible is no abstract deity removed from, and uninterested in his creation. The Bible is the story of God's involvement with his creation, and particularly the people in it" - Ibid.

3. However, God is not equal to creation—what we call pantheism.
"The scriptural account of God's relation to his creation is also distinct from pantheism. The Greek word pan means 'all' or 'every,' and pantheism is the idea that everything, the whole universe, is God, or is part of God." - Grudem, p. 268.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Saturday, April 27, 2013

When you're down, look up

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 145:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised." Psalm 145:3

What is getting you down today? Whether you are battling vague discontents or outright threats to you life and well-being, a positive outlook can make a difference.

David's thoughts in Psalm 145 can be a template of how you and I can strengthen our hope and brighten our outlook. Such an attitude change basically involves shifting our focus from ourselves to God.

In this acrostic psalm David names the ways he talks with and about God. A good chicken-and-egg-type question here may be - Which comes first, the feelings or the praise? Many wise people speak of how our feelings often follow our acted-upon decisions. You have no doubt heard relationship counselors advise us to speak words of love to our spouse even when we're not feeling the love.

Whatever David was feeling on the day he wrote this Psalm, he left no stone unturned in his praise. Look at all the ways he draws his own attention and the attention of his observers to God. He says he will extol, bless, praise, search (implied by "His greatness is unsearchable" - Psalm 145:3), declare, meditate on, speak, sing, remember (implied by "utter the memory of" - Psalm 145:7), talk, make known, call upon.

David's boasts about God are rich in content:
  • He praises God for who He is; His person and identity: "I will bless Your name; I will praise Your mouth shall speak praise of the Lord" - Psalm 145:1-2, 21.
In the preface to his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer says, "Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives ....The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you" p. 15.
  • He praises God for what He has done in history: "One generation shall praise Your works to another....Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts..." Psalm 145:4,6.
We can start on this by reviewing God's actions in Bible stories. We can keep our ears open whenever Christians gather to hear how God is at work in their lives. We can read the biographies of others. And of course, we can review our own histories to refresh our minds about how God has worked in our lives in the past.
  • He praises God for His "wondrous works" - Psalm 145:5,10. I interpret this as praising God for creation. A study of any aspect of creation from the galaxies of outer space to the intricate workings of our bodies reveals an organized creativity that is simply awe-inspiring.
  • He praises God for His kingdom: "Your saints...shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom....Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations" - Psalm 145:11-13.
This is praising God for His interactions with us, His sin-tainted, fallen race of humanity, as revealed in the Old and New Testaments. It's really the whole story of redemption and the possibility of being reconciled to God through Jesus and thus to become subjects in that kingdom.

After considering all that, who can stay down in the dumps? David's focus on God in Psalm 145 has certainly lifted my spirit. I hope it has yours too.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to get into the habit of looking at You when I am feeling down. Amen.

MORE: Praise is rising - by Paul Baloche


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Friday, April 26, 2013

Unifying love

women friends leaving restaurant
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 13:31-38

TO CHEW ON: “‘A new commandment I give to you that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’” John 13:34-35

The issue of unity is love,” begins a sidebar article in my Bible commenting on this passage. We can learn a lot about this unifying love by unpacking these two verses.

1. “A new commandment…”
“Wait a minute,” I hear you say, “isn’t love a feeling? How can I produce this on command?”
This love goes beyond feeling. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s by obeying the command to love, by acting out our kindness, consideration, self-control etc. before we ever feel like it that the feelings will be manufactured.

2. “that you love…”
The Greek word used for love here is agape – the same love Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13.

3. “…as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Just before giving this teaching, Jesus demonstrated this very love to His betrayer, Judas. Note Jesus' interaction with him (John 13:18-28). He pointed out Judas' coming betrayal so without guile even the disciples who were present and witnessed the conversation didn’t pick up on the significance (John 13:28-30). Of course Jesus’ death for the very people who killed Him is love beyond comprehension. This is the kind of love – a love that goes beyond pretty sentiment to actual sacrifice – that we are to demonstrate for each other.

4. “By this all will know…”
It is this kind of love that should distinguish Christians to the world – as it did in Acts.

5. “…that you are My disciples.”
Disciple (mathetes translated disciples, pupils). Jesus is our model or teacher in this. We are to learn and take instruction from, copy Him. This quality of love in our lives will prove that we are His followers.

The article I began quoting above, ends, “If we are to love in this way, we will have to take seriously that in John 14:14 we are told we must ask for it and in John 14:16 we learn that the Holy Spirit must give us the power. In a world of quid pro quo bartered manipulation and facsimiles of love based on symbiosis, unity is not possible without Christ’s commandment and our willingness to receive His love for others." Lloyd John Ogilvie, New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1468.

PRAYER: If anyone needs Your empowering to love this way, Lord, I do. Please work in me the will to release grudges, forget wrongs, forgo revenge, overlook offenses and on and on… I want to be a disciple image of You. Amen.

One of the times our unifying love gets displayed – and tested – is when we meet in church on Sundays. Carolyn Arends’ song “Any Given Sunday” does a good job of expressing our unity and diversity. (Listen to a snippet of it here on iTunes)


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Thursday, April 25, 2013


"Jesus appears to the eleven"
Artist unknown

Jesus appears to the eleven - artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 16:9-20

TO CHEW ON: "He appeared to the eleven as they sat at table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen." Mark 16:14

How sobering to be the object of Jesus' rebuke. This stern passage had me wondering about other times Jesus rebuked people. On doing a little study, I found at least six categories of rebukes (oneidizo: reproach, revile, suffer reproach, upbraid) that Jesus issued:

1. He rebuked the demonic. When a demon speaking through a demon-possessed man in the synagogue exposed and opposed Him, Jesus said, "Be quiet and come out of Him" - Mark 1:25.

2. He rebuked those who criticized the extravagant love showed to Him by others.
  • During the incident of Mary anointing His head with oil at Simon's dinner, Jesus rebuked Simon and all those critical to Mary's lavish demonstration of love. (Mark 14:6-9, also Luke 7:44 and John 12:7).
  • When Martha hosted Jesus in their Bethany home and complained that Mary wasn't helping, Jesus rebuked her for having chosen the wrong priorities  (Luke 10:41).

3. Jesus rebuked those who followed Him for selfish reasons:
  • He rebuked the people who followed Him simply because He had fed them (Luke 6:26).
  • He also rebuked a man who came to him trying to get his inheritance by having Jesus intervene on his behalf (Luke 12:14).

4. Jesus rebuked those (and these were His followers) whose weak faith made them powerless.
  • He scolded the disciples, calling them a "faithless and perverse generation" when they couldn't cast out a demon from an oppressed boy (Luke 9:41).
  • He also rebuked them when, in Gethsemane, they slept instead of watching and praying (Luke 22:46).

5. Jesus had many rebukes for those who didn't understand the part He played in God's plan. He rebuked His opponents for this:
  • The Scribes and Pharisees because they couldn't read the signs of the times (Matthew 16:3).
  • Those who questioned His authority to say, "Your sins are forgiven you..." to the paralyzed man (Mark 2:8).
  • The synagogue ruler for being more concerned with following man-made Sabbath-keeping than the well-being of a woman He healed (Luke 13:15).
But His disciples didn't understand His role either. He was no less harsh in rebuking them.
  • When Jesus prophesied His torture and death and Peter took Him aside, rebuking Jesus for saying those things, Jesus rebuked him right back, identifying the spirit behind Satan's words as satanic (Matthew 16:23, also Mark 8:33).
  • Jesus rebuked His followers for not getting the connection between His life and fulfilled prophecy in Luke 24:25.
  • Later when Peter tried to defend Him with a sword, Jesus rebuked Peter and healed the damaged ear (John 18:11).
  • Our focus verse today (Mark 16:14) would be another rebuke in this category. His eleven disciples, who had been with Him for almost three years, and who had heard what He taught and been eye-witnesses to all that He did, still remained cynical of the reports of those who had seen Him after His resurrection.

In Revelation when the resurrected Jesus gives John messages for the early churches, He gives a reason for His rebukes. It's because of His love: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Revelation 3:19).

I ask myself, am I in any of the above categories? Haven't I been guilty of criticizing the extravagant worship of some?  Haven't I been weak-faithed and powerless to do the things Jesus said His disciples would do? Haven't I sometimes been a cynic when it comes to believing eye-witness miracle testimonies?

What about you?

Let's welcome Jesus' love shown through constructive rebuke, and ask Him for faith and courage to change our ways.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus I know that I am as vulnerable to rebuke as were the people in Bible days. Please forgive me and show me my real self so I can grow as Your disciple. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Mark

Today the church celebrates the writer of the Gospel of Mark, known as St. Mark the Evangelist. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:

Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tabernacle thoughts

Recreational vehicle camped under trees
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 21:1-21

TO CHEW ON: “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people, God Himself will be with them and be their God.’” Revelation 21:3

Portable homes range from pup tents that weigh ounces to grand motorized coaches that are all but castles on wheels. However, even the grandest doesn’t compare to the tabernacle (skene – tent) of God, shown to John in his Revelation vision.

Throughout the Bible the tabernacle signifies God’s dwelling place. He gave Moses instructions on how to make the first physical tabernacle on Mount Sinai – an elaborate tent made with specific materials and completely dis-assemblable. The Israelites carried it with them during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, putting it up at each stop. God’s glory hovered over it and so possessed the Holy of Holies, no unsanctioned person could go into it and remain alive.

When Solomon built the temple, the physical portable tabernacle was retired. But Bible writers continue to refer to it:
  • David talks about being hidden in God’s tabernacle in the time of trouble (Psalm 27:5).
  • The writer to the Hebrews explains how Christ’s sacrifice on the cross brought an end to the need for the High Priest’s yearly foray into the Holy of Holies. No longer did he need to go into that room of the tabernacle (or temple) with a blood sacrifice to atone for sins. (Hebrews 9:6-15)
  • God spreads his tabernacle over the saints who come out of the tribulation in Revelation 7:15.
  • The beast blasphemes it in Revelation 13:6.
  • And in Revelation 15:5 “the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.”
In our reading today, a heavenly voice declares to John that God’s tabernacle is with men. Then John sees an indescribably beautiful city – the New Jerusalem – also called His bride, descending from heaven. It’s an amazing sight to picture and it's even more incredible to think that we will someday be a part of such an event!

Until then, though, God has a far humbler tabernacle. Us. You and me. Though the exact word “tabernacle” isn’t used, we are plainly told in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 that we are God’s dwelling place. What an honor, privilege and responsibility!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to begin to grasp the significance of being Your dwelling place on earth. Help me to live accordingly. Amen.

MORE: Michael Card sings “The New Jerusalem

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sheep that hear

Jesus the Good Shepherd - Artist unknown
Jesus the Good Shepherd - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 10:7-30

TO CHEW ON: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know then, and they follow Me." John 10:27

I've thought a lot about what Jesus says here—that His sheep hear His voice. I've asked questions like, 'Is my thought God's voice or my own idea? When I make a decision on what I think is God's voice and things don't turn out as I had hoped they would, does that mean I wasn't hearing God's voice after all?'

Here are some of the things the Bible says about God's voice:
  • It strikes terror into the heart of sinners (Genesis 3:8), arrests them (Acts 9:3,4), and asks for entrance (Revelation 3:20).
  • Sometimes God's voice comes with power (Psalm 29:4).
  • Sometimes it is glorious (Isaiah 30:30).
  • And sometimes it is "still" and "small" (1 Kings 19:12).
  • It can be misunderstood (John 12:28,29).
  • It sifts people in relation to truth and falsehood (John 19:37).
  • In our reading it assures those who hear that when they follow Jesus, they follow a good shepherd who cares about their welfare.

There's another interesting verse about the voice of God that describes how He often works in my life. Isaiah 30:21 (NIV) says: "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, 'this is the way; walk in it.'"

I'm always wanting guidance—wanting to know what the next step is before I take it. Wanting to be sure I'm following the right voice. This verse is interesting in that it implies God sometimes guides from behind: "Your ears will hear a voice behind you..."? How does that work?

There are forks in the road. Do we go right or left? This verse seems to say we make a decision, take the steps, and listen for the 'voice behind us,' willing to make adjustments if that is what He says.

I've experienced this. Sometimes I've taken on writing assignments for the simple fact that I've finished the last project and this one came along at just that time. There were no prophetic words, voices or holy thrills—not even a scripture verse on which to hang my hat. Not uncommonly I'll question whether I've made the right decision, especially when the writing gets tough or the piece gets turned down. Later, much later sometimes, I'll get confirmation that the project was a 'God thing' (it finally gets accepted, I get an email or note from someone saying it blessed them, it wins a prize, gets republished).

As far as I can see, this hearing the voice of confirmation behind us is the way we often live the life of faith. Your thoughts?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to hear and recognize Your voice today.

MORE: More about voice recognition.

Researchers have discovered that mother goats recognize the voice of their kids shortly after birth and retain that memory for at least a year. I couldn't find any research that said the kids recognized the nanny goat's voice, or  about how sheep do in this department.

Want to read more about the spiritual implications of our focus verse? Check out "The Sheep and Their Shepherd a sermon by Charles Spurgeon.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Power evangelism

Peter heals Aenas - artist unknown
Peter heals Aenas - Artist Unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 9:32-43

TO CHEW ON: "And Peter said to him, 'Aenas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.' Then he arose immediately. So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord." Acts 2:34,35

Have you noticed how many times in the New Testament healings and miracles led to people accepting Christ?

Jesus predicted that would happen - Mark 16:14-20

And it did;
  • When the disciples did signs and wonders "multitudes of both men and women" were added to their numbers - Acts 5:12-16.
  • On Paul's first mission trip his witness to the proconsul of Paphos (Cyprus) was ineffective until Elymas the sorcerer—who had been trying to keep the proconsul from believing—was struck blind. Then the proconsul believed - Acts 13:4-12.
  • People brought clothes like hankies and aprons to Paul to touch, then laid these on sick folks and they became well. These and other miracles resulted in many believing - Acts 19:11-20.
  • In our reading today, the healing of Aenas and raising of Dorcas from the dead also resulted in many coming to faith - Acts 9:35,42.

A sidebar article in my Bible comments on this New Testament phenomenon:

"Faith in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5;4:20) or 'power evangelism' does not diminish the importance of preaching about sin, the cross or Christ's resurrection. It does affirm that seeing God act opens people's hearts" - Todd Hunter, "Power Evangelism," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1508 (emphasis added).

Do you long to see more of such things? If so, you're not the only one. Chad Norris, in explaining why he wrote Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher says, "So my point in this book is this: I simply want to explore whether or not it is possible to operate on this planet in the way that Jesus commanded His disciples to operate. It is time to put our old paradigms down for a while. Actions we consider abnormal are really quite normal to the One who spoke the world out of nothing. I want my normal to match Jesus' normal" - Chad Norris, Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher, Kindle location 143.

He goes on to tell how God has worked in his life, healing him and performing miracles and healings through his ministry.

Our Bible commenter carries on discussing how we can correlate what we see in the Bible and our own experience:
"As we are available to be used of God in this way, we need to be aware that the words and works of God  function together (John 14:8-11); we cannot 'use' God to make Him act for us, and seeing signs and wonders does not convince everyone (Matthew 11:20-24)" - Todd Hunter, Op. Cit.

PRAYER: Dear God, I would love to see more of Your power in my life, so that the sick are healed, the blind see, the crippled walk. Help me to be completely open to be used by You in such ways amd that people will believe in You and be saved as a result. Amen.

MORE: 'Christianity with demonstration'
"Heaven is yearning for Christianity with demonstration. Deep theology with no experience is like a museum—big, beautiful and fun to explore, but at the end of the day it is just a building full of artifacts. I want more than that. I want a theology that leads me to believe that the dead can be raised and that atheists will come to Jesus" - Chad Norris, Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher, Kindle Location 984.
My review of Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Thursday, April 18, 2013

What do you know?

dandelion seeds in the wind
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 42:1-17

TO CHEW ON: " … I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."  Job 42:3

I wonder if most of us couldn't say the same thing Job did: "I have uttered what I did not understand"—in misjudging someone's actions or motives, in giving a solution to a problem, in predicting how something would turn out…

Our knowledge is limited in so many ways. The Bible writers remind us:
  • We don't know what a day will bring - Proverbs 27:1.
  • We don't know how long we will live - Ecclesiastes 9:12.
  • We don't understand life's mysteries. Though man has made progress Ecclesiastes 11:5 is still true in that we're still a long way from knowing how to duplicate a wind storm or the gestation of a babe within a womb.
  • And just like we don't know many things about the natural world, we don't know many things about the spiritual world. For example, Jesus speaks of how God's grace comes to a human soul as mysteriously as the coming and going of the wind - John 3:8.

But Job did know one thing. He told God: "I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You."

Do we have the same knowing? If we do, our anxiety about all the things we don't know can be put to rest as we trust the One who spoke through Isaiah:

"'For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord.
'For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts'" - Isaiah 55:8.

Dear God, thank You for Your omniscience and omnipotence. Help me to trust You when I don't understand. Amen.

MORE: Another Great Prayer of the Old Testament

Job's prayer here (Job 42:2-6) is considered another one of the Great Prayers of the Old Testament.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"O Lord … for Your own sake"

Daniel Praying - Daniel 9
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 9:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "O Lord hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name."  Daniel 9:19

Apologies that start out, "I'm sorry," then turn at "but…" into self-justification ring hollow. There is not a whisper of such an attitude in Daniel's prayer.

Though he was devout in his own life, in this prayer he includes himself with his countrymen: "We have sinned and committed iniquity, … done wickedly … rebelled …. Neither have we heeded the prophets …. We have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God" (emphasis added).

He recognizes that their current state of exile is a consequence of the nation's rebellion and begs for God's mercy: "To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him …. we do not present our supplication before You because of our righteous deeds but because of Your great mercies" (Daniel 9:9,18 - emphasis added).

His main concern is God's glory and not his or his people's restoration. It's important, Daniel reasons, that the people return to their land and the city ("Jerusalem" - vs. 16) and its temple ("sanctuary" - vs 17) be rebuilt because they are attached to God's name and reputation.

There is much we can apply to our own prayers from Daniel's example.

1. We can come to God without excuses, owning our sins and the sins of our families, churches, and nation.

2.We can accept the fact that the law of consequences, of "sowing and reaping," is still in effect for us. The sins we have turned a blind eye to in society are entering the church and she will suffer the consequences unless she repents. Now, like Daniel, we depend on God's mercy and not what we do.

3. We can raise the goal of our prayers to go from praying for our successes   to the enhancement of God's reputation and glory
: "… Do not delay for your own sake, my God, for your city (the church?) and Your people are called by Your name" Daniel 9:19.

PRAYER: Dear God, may I catch the spirit of Daniel in my prayer—that of owning and admitting my sins, repenting, and relying on Your mercy. I want Your good reputation and glory to be enhanced, not hindered, by my life. Amen.

MORE: A great OT prayer
Daniel's prayer here is counted with the great prayers of the Old Testament. Walter Brueggemann ends his chapter on Daniel's prayer with three great questions we might want to ask ourselves:

1. How can we pray when we feel lost or dislocated?
2. What are the worldly and imperial powers about which we need to pray?
3. How can we call God to faithfulness? - Walter Brueggemann, Great Prayers of the Old Testament, p. 121.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Template for trouble

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 30:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness." Psalm 30:11

I remember when my kids were little and how often they got sick. It seems all it took was  one little exposure to the church nursery or a friend's visit for one of my little ones to come down with the virus du jour. That meant a week to ten days of sitting at home nursing cranky babies--and sometimes hubby or myself--while the bug made its rounds. The ceiling seemed low, the walls tight and confining, the days ahead long and uninviting during such a bout.

David may have written Psalm 30 under such a cloud, only worse. Several times he even recalls being at death's door. What does he do in the middle of his dark time?

He doesn't pretend it isn't happening or that it isn't hard. He cries to God for healing (vs. 3), weeps (vs. 5), is troubled (vs. 7). But in each instance he also reminds himself of Who he trusts above all. And he recalls how God helped him in the past: "You healed me…" (vs. 2); "…joy comes in the morning" (vs. 5); "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing" (vs. 11).

Whatever circumstance is causing the pall you are under today, let this psalm be a template for how to react. Give vent to your emotions, yes, but don't stay in despair. Remember God's help to you in the past and let those memories boost your faith. Trust in God's goodness and love toward you for the future. And express thanks for the outcome you hope for in a prayer of faith.

PRAYER: Thank You, God, that You will turn my mourning into dancing; You will put off my sackcloth (for us moderns, black clothes signifying grief) and clothe me with gladness. I will praise and give thanks to You forever. Amen.

MORE: "His Eye is on the Sparrow" by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount (from the movie "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit")


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Angels—seen and unseen

"The Temptation" by Alexandre Bida
depicting Satan, the prince of fallen angels,
tempting Jesus. 

"The Temptation" - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 5:17-42

TO CHEW ON: "But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out and said, 'Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.'" Acts 5:19,20

I've told the story here before of how my husband and his parents, on a late night drive through a snowstorm in northern Ontario, followed tire tracks through the snow. Though these were fresh tracks—had to be because the wind and snow would have obliterated them in minutes—they never saw the back lights or any other sign of the vehicle leaving them. Once out of the storm the tracks disappeared. Was an angel guiding them?

The apostles never had to ask such a question. The angel that came to them not only opened the prison doors and led them to freedom but talked to them, telling them what to do next.

There are more references to angels in the New Testament than the Old, states a sidebar article in my Bible. Perhaps their ramped-up activity had to do with who they announced. Jesus' arrival buzzed with angel activity:
  • An angel told Zacharias he would have a son who would be God's forerunner (Luke 1:11-17).
  • An angel told Mary she would be Jesus' mother (Luke 1:26,27).
  • An angel reassured Joseph about Mary and told him not to divorce her but to take her as his wife (Matthew 1:20).
  • A single angel, accompanied later by a host announced Jesus' birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:9,13).
  • An angel warned Joseph to flee Bethlehem so Jesus' life would be spared from jealous Herod (Matthew 2:13).
  • Angels ministered to Jesus after His temptation (Matthew 4:110.

Here are some Bible details about the origin, nature, presence and function of good and bad (fallen) angels:
  1. Angels are beings created by and for God - Colossians 1:16. 
  2. Jesus has authority over angels in heaven - 1 Peter 3:22. 
  3. Angels spend much time there praising and worshiping God and Jesus - Revelation 5:11,12.
  4. Angels desire to "look into" prophecy about Jesus and its fulfillment - 1 Peter 1:12. This tells us that they don't have full knowledge of these things.  
  5. Good angels are called "ministering spirits." At least one of their jobs is to minister to (help, serve) those who will "inherit salvation" - Hebrews 16:14. 
  6. Some angels sinned and will be judged - 2 Peter 2:4. 
  7. Fallen angels are a believer's enemies. We need to resist them—something we can only do with the proper spiritual armor - Ephesians 6:12,13.

I love it that God's plan and design includes these mysterious beings, and look forward to the time in eternity when their presence will be visible and understood.

Dear Lord, help me to be as obedient, adoring, and worshipful as angels. Amen.

MORE: I'd love to see an angel.

This piece I wrote a few years ago expresses how I feel about angels. (It includes some details I gathered from the Bible about their appearance and what they did.)

And suddenly an angel host …

(Luke 2:13)

I’d be content with one
wings and eyes
swords and shining
clothed in linen
belted with gold
body like beryl
face like lightning
eyes like torches
feet of brass
voice like a multitude
calling from heaven
“Arise and eat”
opening prison doors
touching me
taking charge of me
taking my hand
to drag me to safety
bringing me out
keeping me in the way
moving ahead, behind
a fire, a cloud
shutting the mouths of lions
bringing me to the place
carrying me to Abraham’s bosom
surrounded by heaven’s host
where angels will no longer
be a big deal.

© 2013 - Violet Nesdoly

The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Angels to the rescue!

"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego"
by Simeon Solomon 1863
Image from Wikipedia

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego by Simeon Solomon - 1863
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 1:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "But to which of the angels has He ever said: 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool'? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?" Hebrews 1:13,14

Of all the creatures God has created, angels are among the most fascinating but least understood. Perhaps one reason is that they are elusive, becoming visible on rare occasions, briefly, and to a select few. I can't say I've ever seen an angel.

But the Bible talks often of them, most frequently in their ministering role:
In the Old Testament:
  • An angel encouraged Hagar in the wilderness after she fled from Sarai - Genesis 16:7.
  • Angels helped Lot and his wife flee doomed Sodom - Genesis 19:16.
  • The Angel of the Lord stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac - Genesis 22:11,12.
  • An Angel of the Lord was present when the Israelites set out from Egypt and accompanied them through the wilderness, sometimes going before them, sometimes behind them - Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20; Isaiah 63:9.
  • An angel took care of exhausted Elijah after he fled from Jezebel - 1 Kings 19:5.
  • Psalm 91 promises angel protection for those who trust in God - Psalm 91:11. Satan reminded Jesus of this promise when he tempted Him to throw Himself off the temple - Matthew 4:5.
  • An angel walked with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego in the fiery furnace and shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was in the den with them - Daniel 3:28; 6:22.

In the New Testament:
  • Angels ministered to Jesus after His temptation - Mark 1:13.
  • Angels were active in several prison breaks. One opened the prison doors for Peter and John shortly after Pentecost  and another helped Peter escape sometime later - Acts 5:19; 12:7.
  • An angel encouraged Paul during the storm on his disastrous voyage to Rome - Acts 27:23.

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology's discussion of angels, names five ways they serve God's purposes:

1. They show the greatness of God's love and plan for us.
2. They remind us that the unseen world is real.
3. They are examples for us in both their obedience and their worship.
4. They carry out some of God's plans.
5. Angels directly glorify God

- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 402-404. 

I'm so glad God's plan includes these mysterious creatures. Do we have guardian angels? Psalm 91:11 would support that:

 "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."

as would what Jesus said about children and angels in Matthew 18:10:

"Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven."

But we are never to worship angels or pray to them. For they are creatures like us. I'm looking forward to the time when I will know and appreciate the role that angels have had in my life.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for angels, those beings You have created to accomplish Your will, including ministry to us vulnerable humans. Amen.

MORE: Modern Angel Encounters

Author James Stuart Bell has compiled a book of modern stories of angelic encounters. Angels, Miracles, and Heavenly Encounters: Real-Life Stories of Supernatural Events is a an interesting and encouraging read!


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Our authority through Jesus

John writing to the churches

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 1:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace … from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." - Revelation 1:4-6

What a lot of information about Jesus and what His life, death, and resurrection have accomplished for us is crammed into this greeting from John to his readers.

John begins by calling Jesus a witness [martus - our word martyr comes from martus. It means one who testifies to the truth he has experienced.] Though martus doesn't in itself imply death, many first-century  witnesses gave their lives for what they had witnessed. May some of us be called to do the same?

John calls Jesus "the firstborn from the dead" reminding his readers of how Christ defeated death at the resurrection. "Firstborn" tells us that He was only the first and that others will also be triumphant over death.

Now Jesus is exalted the "rulers offer the kings of the earth." We recall the martyr Stephen's view of him: "'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'" - Acts 7:56.

The next line of John's greeting brings Jesus close and personal to each one of us who accepts Him: "To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood." We are clean and accepted!

But our life with Him doesn't stop there. John addresses our future (or is it also our present?): "Jesus Christ … has made us kings and priests to His God and Father." Jack Hayford sums it up well in my Bible's sidebar article:

"In prefacing the broad arenas of prophecy about to be unfolded, John addresses two very important present truths: 1] We, Christ's redeemed, are loved and are washed from our sins—a present state. 2] We, through His glorious dominion have been designated 'kings and priests' to God—also a present calling. Thus these dual offers give perspective on our authority and duty and how we most effectively may advance the kingdom of God" - Jack Hayford, "Worship and the Kingdom" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1816, 1817).

I don't know about you, but on most days I don't feel like a king or priest. By faith I want to believe and live in this fact, praying that Jesus' life in mine will give it such kingly, priestly authority.

From a book I've been reading:

"The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk; it is a matter of power. This is not arrogance, as though you and I did something to deserve this authority. It is about Jesus, for Jesus and with Jesus …. Praying with authority is not about being cocky, it is about exercising His power. The authority to do so is cultivated through deep and consistent intimacy with Him" - Chad Norris, Signs and Wonders and a Baptist Preacher, Kindle Locations 1195, 1247.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for these reminders that I am a witness, that I am clean, and that I now have authority. Help me to exercise that authority in my day-to-day life. Amen.

MORE: "On the Authority" - Gaither Vocal Band


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Can God get glory from our sickness?

ill person and visitor
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 19:13-29

"For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know
That in my flesh I shall see God
Whom I shall see for myself
And my eyes shall behold and not another
How my heart yearns within me!"  Job 19:25-27

The words of Job here are all the more poignant because he uttered them when he was sick.

Sickness is part of the evil that entered the world when Adam and Even sinned. Job is grappling with how to make sense of this illness while keeping his faith in God intact. He says (my paraphrase): 'No matter what happens to me, even if this illness kills me, I will keep trusting my Redeemer who lives beyond this world and whom I will one day see.'

A sidebar article in my Bible shines light on God as Redeemer in this passage: "The essence of 'redemption' centers on two truths: the recovery of that which is lost and the liberation of that which is bound." Focusing on the aspect of recovery of something lost, the writer goes on: "…To say that God is our Redeemer is to say that what has been lost (missed opportunity, lost time, a broken relationship) can be recovered in such a way that through His grace our ultimate destiny in Him is not jeopardized … He (Job) knew that ultimately God would restore in His way that which had been lost" Steven Fry,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 662 (emphasis in the original).

I am right now reading a book by a pastor who has an active healing, signs and wonders ministry. Though I understand his desire to see the miracles of Jesus and the New Testament church reenacted in our time and can say 'Amen' to much of what he has experienced and teaches, one idea he brings up often, troubles me. It is the thought that God is not glorified in our sicknesses (and therefore we are always justified to insist on healing).

What is God receiving if not glory from the mouth of very ill Job in our reading?  Job's example helps us soldier through times when prayers for physical wellness aren't answered. He's saying, in effect, 'This life is not all there is. God will redeem / restore ("in His way") in eternity if not on earth, all that I have lost by being sick. Meanwhile on earth my sickness may be one way God is preparing me (building character, perseverance, faith…) for my destiny in eternity (Matthew 19:28; Luke 19:17; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 5:10).

What do you think?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being a Redeemer who not only ransoms me but has the power to restore all that evil, in its various guises, steals from me. Help me to have Job's unshakeable trust in Your existence and goodness. Amen.

MORE: Handel's Messiah Alert

Handel used words from Job 19:25-26 in his Messiah: "I know that my Redeemer lives" - Chorus 45.

Lynne Dawson sings "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth"


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Jesus: cornerstone

The Cornerstone by James Tissot
"The Cornerstone' by James Tissot

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 118:17-29

TO CHEW ON: “The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.” Psalm 118:22

Psalm 118 was a part of the Hallel prayed and sung during the Feast of Tabernacles.  In the first part of the psalm (Psalm 118:1-16) the king recalls his victories and remembers how God has helped the nation through all kinds of confrontations and enemy onslaughts.

Maybe it is the sight of the impressive temple building that inspires the cornerstone imagery in the second part of the psalm. The verse we are focusing on talks about this most important stone  (“It could have been a large stone over a doorway like a lintel; a keystone holding up an arch; or a cornerstone at the base of perpendicular walls” – Quest Study Bible, p. 837). The builders neglect to put it in, or reject it. The psalmist leaves unstated what will happen to that unfortunate building, but we can imagine!

In the New Testament Jesus quotes this verse as a reference to Himself (Matthew 21:33-46).  He says that just like the king’s subjects kill the king’s son (in the story he tells), the scribes and Pharisees are rejecting Him and by doing that turning their backs on the foundation or cornerstone of God’s plan of salvation.

We have recently celebrated Easter when were reminded of how Jesus was rejected by the people of His time and crucified. We may be tempted to look with haughtiness on them, thinking we would never do that if He were with us now. But I wonder, sometimes, if we don’t do just that in subtle ways, as we try to twist the gospel  into a more socially acceptable message for the people of our time – people who don’t like to be told that God has set an objective standard of right and wrong, that on our own we can’t attain that standard, and that God sent Jesus to die and rise again so we can be reconciled to Him. He (His incarnation, death and resurrection) is still and will always remain the chief cornerstone and foundation of God’s plan.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming to earth to fulfill God’s plan to reconcile us to Himself. Help me, as Your child, to make You the cornerstone of my life. Amen

MORE: Angel of the Lord by Hillsong (sung by Miriam Webster)
 The beautiful song "Angel of the Lord" begins with words from Psalm 23. The chorus has a line of lyrics from our reading today: Psalm 118:17: "I will not die but live to tell what He has done."


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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