Thursday, May 30, 2013

Faith showdown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 18:20-46

TO CHEW ON: "And Elijah came to all the people and said, 'How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' But the people answered him not a word." 1 Kings 18:21

After three long years of rain, Elijah was determined to make its return as dramatic an event as he could. He challenged the 400 prophets of Baal to a prayer duel on Mount Carmel. The citizens came in droves to observe. Before they got started Elijah threw out the challenge: whichever god would answer the prepared sacrifice by sending fire would be the one worthy of worship.

We know the story—how the Baal prophets carried on all day, beseeching, dancing, even cutting themselves. All for nothing. And then, how Elijah made the task even harder by dousing his offering with water. (He had his nerve—or maybe it was his faith in action— using 12 pots of such precious stuff in this way!)

We can learn a lot from Elijah about faith and prayer as we watch him.

1. All or nothing: Elijah made the stakes clear. Either God would answer and prove Himself real or He wouldn't and show Himself a sham (1 Kings 18: 21, 24). There was no third option. Elijah gave himself no way to save face should God not answer.

2. God's representative: Elijah made sure the people knew Who was behind the last three years of misery and that he had been a mere spokesman for God. He told them the purpose behind the exercise: to turn them back to God (1 Kings 18: 36-37). Thus when God did send fire, the people worshiped Him, not Elijah (1 Kings 18: 38-39).

3. Finish the job: Elijah completed the unsavoury task of destroying the Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:40).

4. Unwavering faith: Elijah's faith was so certain, he spoke to Ahab as if the rain could start falling any moment even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky (1 Kings 18:41).

5. Humble prayer: Elijah "bowed down on the ground and put his face between his knees" (1 Kings 18:42).

6. Persistent prayer: Do you suppose Elijah felt a niggle of doubt when God didn't answer after his first prayer, then his second, his third… We don't know how much time passed between when Elijah started praying and the clouds appeared (1 Kings 18:43-44). Perhaps several hours. At least enough for Ahab to have a decent picnic.

7. Supernatural ending: As if the whole fire-throwing, rain-sending demonstration wasn't spectacular enough, God gave Elijah strength at the end of this grueling day to outrun Ahab's horses. He beat the king to the Jezreel gate.

One thing seems clear from all this: Elijah had a mighty tight and intimate relationship with God to enable him to act with such confidence. It brings to mind the verse: "…the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits" Daniel 11:32.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to know You better. I want to be a person to whom You entrust "exploits." Amen.

MORE: Twila Paris sings "Days of Elijah"


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

God's covert operators

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 18:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "And Ahab had called Obadiah, who was in charge of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. For so it was, while Jezebel massacred the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets, and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water.)" 1 Kings 18:3-4

Here's an interesting scenario. Ahab marries Jezebel, a Sidonian princess. Fanatical in following the religion of her homeland—Baal worship—she commands the massacre of all Israel's prophets of God.

But one of Ahab's chief servants (the one in charge of his house) is a dedicated servant of Yahweh. He secretly hides 100 of those prophets from Jezebel. Tucked away in a couple of caves, he makes sure that these God-followers get bread and water for the duration of the famine.

This way of operating is not untypical. Some other instances of God placing His person in the top echelons of government are Joseph, Esther, and Nehemiah. In each case the person stays loyal to God and wields unusual power and influence for good.

God still works in this way. Right now in Canada our Prime Minister is a born-again Christian. The mayor of my city is too, as is the city manager of Surrey (the second-largest city in BC). I know there are many others. I think of these folks are covert operators, undercover agents for the Kingdom. They are working on the side of all that is good for the benefit of all of us.

We're told to pray for our leaders in any case (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  How much more should we do this for those leaders who are also part of the "household of faith" (Galatians 6:9-10)?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for putting people who love and fear You in positions of power in my country and city. I pray for the ones I know ______ (name them) today. When I am critical of government, please remind me to pray for leaders instead of complaining. Amen.

MORE: William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) is another example of a person of faith in a position of influence. He worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery and saw his dream come true just weeks before he died. The Abolition Project website describes how he got involved in politics and why he decided to stay there after his conversion:

"He enrolled at Cambridge University and became friends with William Pitt. At the age of 21, Wilberforce was elected to Parliament.  He was well suited to politics as he was an extremely eloquent speaker and very witty. In 1783, he met James Ramsay and, for the first time, discussed slavery. Around 1884-6, he underwent a gradual but 'intense religious conversion' whilst traveling with a friend. He considered leaving Parliament but his friend and mentor, John Newton, advised him against this, so, instead, he decided to serve God in public life."

 Read the entire article.

Amazing Grace  is a 2007 movie about Wilberforce's life. It's excellent. If you haven't seen it, you might want to rent or buy it.


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

Big prayers—old and new 2

Solomon's Temple
Cutaway rendering of Solomon's Temple - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 8:37-53

TO CHEW ON: "Then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive and act and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men)." 1 Kings 8:39

Solomon continues to bring to God his requests for the temple in his prayer of dedication. In our reading today he prays:

  • For the personal revival of the Israelites, and that their focus on God and His temple will help them recognize the plague of their own hearts and return to God  - 1 Kings 8:37-40.
  • That foreigners coming to pray toward the temple will come to know and fear God - 1 Kings 8:41-43.
  • That God will "maintain the cause" of the Israelites going to battle as a result of their prayers - 1 Kings 8:44-45.
  • That when the Israelites are defeated (because of their sin) and taken into captivity, they will turn from sin and God will, even in their exile, "maintain their cause" - 1 Kings 8:46-49.

Again we can adapt Solomon's prayers to our own.

As noted yesterday, we can recognize and confess our sin ("the plague of our own hearts") and pray for personal revival.

We can pray for the foreigners in our lands. The nations of the world with all their faiths have come to us. They are often our neighbours and colleagues, the parents of our kids' friends. We can reach out to them in friendship, invite them to church and pray for their salvation.

We can pray for our own battles. As Christians find themselves increasingly at odds with society—because the Bible's standards clash with the shifting sands of our country's laws—we may ourselves become exiles of a sort, scorned by our peers and even put in prison for our beliefs.

We can pray for our own prodigals, and the general lukewarmness in the church: "… Your people who have sinned against You and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You" - 1 Kings 8:50.

When we find ourselves burdened with all that that we face, instead of fretting and worrying we can, like Solomon, lay our requests before God, dedicating ourselves to His purposes. For we are each a mini-temple—people through whom God wants to share Himself with the world (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Solomon's wide-ranging prayer. Help me to take my concerns to You instead of worrying and trying to bear them myself. Amen.

MORE: "Toward this place"

Several times in this prayer, Solomon refers to the Israelites praying "toward this place." It seems they actually bowed or knelt facing Jerusalem when they prayed. Barnes' Notes on the Bible give this brief explanation of the custom:

"The choice of Jerusalem as the place seems to have been made by special revelation to David. See Psalm 78:68; Psalm 132:13; and compare 1 Chronicles 22:1.
Toward this place …. Wherever they were, the Jews always worshiped toward the temple" - Barnes' Notes on the Bible, 1 Kings 8:29


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Sunday, May 26, 2013

The mysterious work of conviction

diagram - seed to plant
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 16:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment." John 16:8

"The work of God is hidden and silent; what we do is something distinct and tangible. Conversion and faith, prayer and obedience are conscious acts of which we can give a clear account; while the spiritual quickening and strengthening that comes from above are secret and beyond the reach of human sight." Andrew Murray - Abide In Christ

I never tire of listening to the story of my husband's conversion.

He was working in Toronto for a trust company at the time and loved two things: his work and his time off. He spent the latter with friends at the bar.

Though he had grown up in a Christian home and gone to church as long as his parents could force him to, he had long since left all that behind. However, they continued to send him stuff like new translations of the Bible and Christian books. And they continued to pray even though it didn't look as if their prodigal was any closer to coming to the Lord than he had been for years. Things were happening though, and on various fronts.

It was during this time that Anita Bryant  came to Toronto. Her presence at People's Church led to demonstrations against her and the brouhaha gave my husband pause as he realized he was on the side of the controversial speaker, even though he didn't know why.

His bar life began to satisfy him less and less. He watched as his married friends spent their evenings drinking with the guys and wondered why they weren't at home with their wives and families. He realized that if he married, he wanted his wife to be someone with whom he could build a lasting relationship, preferably a Christian. But what Christian woman would want to marry him?

He started watching Christian programs on TV. In fact, before stumbling into bed after coming home liquored up late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, he'd set his alarm to wake him in time to watch People's Church.

Finally one holiday he decided that instead of going to Montreal, he'd stay home (where he had a pool and bar buddies) and read one of the books his dad had recently sent him. It was while reading that book (Born Again by Chuck Colson) that he took the final step and surrendered his life to Jesus.

His story bears out the truth of Jesus' words about the work of the Holy Spirit. While his parents and others prayed, the Holy Spirit was busy convicting him and drawing him, though, as Andrew Murray points out, it was a hidden work.

Are you praying for a loved one but getting discouraged because you see no evident change, no progress toward God? Stay the course. The Holy Spirit is still in the business of convicting. Though that process is often hidden with no exterior signs that much is going on, in the fullness of time it will come out.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the convicting work of Holy Spirit. Help me to trust that You are working in the spiritual lives of people I'm praying for even when I don't see outward evidence. Amen.

MORE: A sense of particular sin

"When I get into the presence of God, I do not realize that I am a sinner in an indefinite sense; I realize the concentration of sin in a particular feature of my life .... This is always the sign that a man or woman is in the presence of God. There is never any vague sense of sin, but the concentration of sin in some personal particular. God begins by convicting us of the one thing fixed on in the mind that is prompted by His Spirit; if we will yield to His conviction on that point, He will lead us down to the great disposition of sin underneath" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, July 3 reading. 

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

The offense and the gift

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 5:6-21

TO CHEW ON: "But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man Jesus Christ, abounded to many." Romans 5:15

In a rich part of today's reading Paul draws an analogy between Adam's offense —a deliberate choice to disobey God in Eden—and Christ's free gift—our salvation through His death for us.

These two things are similar in that both acts affected and continue to affect all of mankind. But they are also different:

1. They are moral opposites - Romans 5:15-16.
  • Adam's act is called an "offense." A margin note in my Bible gives synonyms: "trespass or false step." It was sin,  a deliberate act which missed the mark.
  • Christ's act is called a "free gift" and described as "grace." 

2. Their results are different - Romans 5:17-18.
  • Adam's sin resulted in death—condemnation.
  • Accepting the gift results in receiving God's lavish graces of justification, righteousness, and the ability to "reign as kings in life" (Amplified), i.e. victory - Romans 5:17-18.

3. They spring from different attitudes - Romans 5:19.
  • Adam's act was one of disobedience ("… failing to hear, heedlessness and carelessness" - Amplified).
  • Christ's  gift came from His obedience  resulting in "the many ... constituted righteous—made acceptable to God; brought into right standing with Him" - Romans 5:19 Amplified.

What have we done with Christ's gift? Have we accepted it? Are we living in the truth and power of it, resisting Satan's attempts to make us feel we have to do more and thus put ourselves in the chains of having to earn/pay for our salvation? What is the attitude of our lives? Are we disobedient—deaf, heedless, careless? Or is your life, is mine characterized by yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, moment-by-moment 'Yes's to Jesus?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your free gift! Please help me to begin to understand its implications for my life—and to live those out in habitual obedience. Amen.

MORE: "My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness"  - Keith and Kristyn Getty


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


TODAY'S SPECIAL:  Romans 4:16-5:5

TO CHEW ON: "… our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand…" Romans 5:2

There is much theological meat in this part of Romans. But instead of taking a wide-angle view, today I want to focus on one little word: grace.

My dictionary devotes an inch and a half to grace definitions. Here are the theological ones: 1] The unmerited but freely given love and favour of God toward man. 2] The divine influence operating in man to regenerate, sanctify or strengthen him. 3] The state or condition of being pleasing and acceptable to God. 4] Any divinely inspired spiritual virtue or excellence."

Keeping these definitions in mind, let's probe what Paul is saying here about grace. As I read it, he declares that Jesus' death has made possible mankind's reconciliation with God. Through faith in Jesus this grace is our basis of assurance in this life ("this grace in which we stand") and hope of glory, in this life and the next ("and rejoice in hope of the glory of God").

I like how the J. B. Phillips New Testament paraphrases it:
"Since then it is by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future" - Romans 5:1,2 - J. B. Phillips.

A sidebar article in my Bible points out how freeing is the result as we obey God, not to get His favor, but because we already have His favor. The writer goes on:
"Within His unconditional acceptance given us because of what Christ has done, we are freed from the need to monitor our behavior and loosed into the joy of knowing His friendship …. Grace underscores the generosity of God's love, highlighting the truth that God does not coerce change by threatening us, but instead he conquers by lavishing His love upon us" Steven Fry "The Grace of God," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1556 (emphasis added).

What a great way of looking at obedience and living the Christian life!

An understanding of His love-lavishing ways can also give a new angle to our prayers for and relationships with the unsaved. Maybe we can be the feet and hands of His grace to them.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your unmerited favor to me in sending Jesus to take the penalty I deserved. Help me to grasp the truth of Your grace at a deep level, to live in it and to extend it to others. Amen.

MORE:  Food for thought

"Grace is indeed needed to turn a man into a saint, and he who doubts it does not know what a saint or a man is." Pascal

"Be faithful in the little practices of love which will build in you the life of holiness and make you Christlike." Mother Teresa


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Thursday, May 23, 2013

God's ledger and faith

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 4:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Now to Him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." Romans 4:4-5

Paul is here trying to convince the Christians at Rome (his readers) that the gospel is really a matter of faith not works. He does it by using Abraham (their genetic and faith father) as an example. Quoting Genesis 15:6 ("Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness") he pictures God as a paymaster who keeps accounts.

["Accounted" = "logidzomai" which means numerically to count, compute, calculate, sum up. Metaphorically to consider, reckon, reason, deem evaluate, value. Logidzomai finalizes thought, judges matters, draws logical conclusions, decides outcomes, and puts every action into a debit or credit position - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1554]

Paul says it was Abraham's belief that was accounted (reckoned, computed) to him for righteousness. If it had been his works (keeping the law) God would have owed him. But that's not what "accounted" in Genesis implies. Rather, it says that Abraham's righteous standing came purely because God extended grace, calculating him righteous on the basis of his faith. It was a deposit made, not on the basis of anything Abraham did but solely on the basis of his faith.

That's why circumcision (the physical sign of God's covenant, complied with in obedience to Moses' law) wasn't/isn't the determining factor (vs. 9-12). And it's also why Paul says later (much to the consternation of those who trust in their standing as Abraham's offspring) that Abraham is "the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also" (vs. 11b). In other words, Abraham is the faith father of believing Gentiles too.

What does this have to do with you and me? Everything if we're at any level trying to earn our way into God's favour. Oh, it's easy to give head assent to the fact that salvation is a gift we don't deserve and can't earn. But how easily, too, the barter ethic that says there must be something we can or should do to earn God's favour takes over, at least in our hearts.

A footnote commentary on this passage sums it up so well:
"Many human attitudes such as love, joy, patience, courage and mercy can be somewhat worked up by our own effort. But faith occurs when we cease trying to do something by our own efforts and trust someone else to do it for us. Faith is the one attitude that is exactly the opposite of trusting ourselves. Apparently this is why God decided that faith should be the attitude of heart by which we obtain salvation" - Wayne Grudem, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1555.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live in the truth of my helplessness to save myself by anything I do. Thank You for the free gift of salvation that I get by simple faith. Amen.

MORE: "My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness" by Keith and Kristyn Getty


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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Weak instruments in God's hands

Watoto Children's Choir - January 2013
Watoto Children's Choir - January 2013 (Photo ©V. Nesdoly)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 8:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength
Because of Your enemies
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger." Psalm 8:2

I wonder what experience in David's life prompted the profound statement "Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength." Perhaps one of his toddlers joined him in song while he was playing his harp, or sang the accompaniment of an instrument improvised out of twigs and yarn?

David draws our attention to something God does quite a lot in the Bible—use weak instruments and people to get things done:

  • He empowered Moses' rod - Exodus 4:2
  • He had Gideon trim his army to a mere 300 men and take into battle with them only trumpets, flares and pitchers - Judges 7:16-22.
  • Samson killed 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey - Judges 15:15.
  • Saul, Israel's first king, came from the smallest family of the smallest tribe of Benjamin - 1 Samuel 9:21.
  • Jonathan witnessed to God's ability to get victory "by many or by few" - 1 Samuel 14:6.
  • David used five stones to go against Goliath - 1 Samuel 17:40.
  • God preserved His prophet with the widow's handful of flour and a little oil - 1 Kings 17:12.
  • Paul reminds us:
 "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are  that no flesh should glory in His presence" - 1 Corinthians 1:27-28.

So if you and I feel small, insignificant, weak, we may be just the improbable vessels God will use to accomplish what He wants done in His kingdom.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for using weak, unlikely instruments and people to do Your work. Thank you for reminding me of that through the praises of children. Help me to remember that Your presence in me is the secret of success in everything I do. Amen.

MORE: Watoto Children's Choir
- "I Am Not Forgotten"

The Watoto choir made up of orphans from Uganda shows how God uses the praise of children. (Read the Watoto story.)


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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lessons from confusion

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 11:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "'Come, let us go down and confuse their language that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city." Genesis 11:7,8

This story of Babel and the confusion of languages is only the first time in the Bible God uses confusion to achieve His purposes. Join me on a short trip through scripture to track some of the other times confusion is mentioned (I used an NASB concordance so the actual words 'confuse, confused, and confusion occur in that translation, but maybe not in others).

God often used confusion to defeat Israel's enemies
  • The Egyptians became confused by the rising Red Sea when they followed the Israelites into the desert to take them back into slavery - Exodus 14:24.
  • God promised to bring confusion on the people of Canaan and thus make them an easy prey for the Israelites when they were to conquer -  Exodus 23:27;  Deuteronomy 7:23.
  • The presence of the Ark of the Covenant often brought confusion among enemy ranks especially the Philistines - 1 Samuel 5:9,11; 14:20.
  • David prays for this type of confusion on his enemies - Psalm 55:9; 144:6.

However, God also warned the Israelites that if they forsook His laws and disobeyed, they too would be vulnerable to confusion:  "… the Lord will send upon you curses and confusion, and rebuke in all you undertake to do until you are destroyed." - Deuteronomy 28:20, also, Isaiah 22:5; 59:4.

Confusion sometimes comes as a result of bad leaders - Isaiah 3:12; 9:16, Esther 3:15.

Being under the influence of wine can cause confusion - Isaiah 28:7.

In the New Testament Paul's aggressive evangelism sometimes resulted in the confusion of his offended listeners—even riots. But in almost every case he turned the riot into an opportunity to preach - Acts 16:20; 19:29,32; 21:31, 22:1-22.

Finally, Paul reminds us that God is not the God of confusion, but the God of peace - 1 Corinthians 14:33

How can we apply this study of confusion to our lives? I can think of three ways:

1. We need to avoid things that will cause us to become confused like living in sin and disobedience, and being mastered by substances, e.g. wine, drugs etc. God's peace in our hearts can be an umpire and guard - Philippians 4:7. 

2. We should pray for clear-sightedness for our rulers as they often determine the tone of the city, region and country under them.

3. God's presence (e.g. the Ark in the Old Testament, Paul's witness in the New) brought about confusion in enemy ranks—something God used and can use  to prove He is real, and  to defeat Satan. We can ask for wisdom about how to use such confusion to spread the gospel message of peace.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being a God of peace and order. Help me to be alert to confusion in my life as a symptom that things aren't right. May I be open to Your insights as to how to make them right. Amen.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

All-night prayer

Jesus praying - Artist unknown
Jesus praying - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 6:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles." Luke 6:12-13

Two interesting facts about Jesus stand out from today's reading:

1. He had unusual insight into people.

Of His interaction with the scribes and Pharisees we read "But He knew their thoughts…" vs. 8. However Jesus was truly human with a human's limitations of mind. In his Systematic Theology Wayne Grudem speaks of Jesus' human mind:

"The fact that Jesus 'increased in wisdom' (Luke 2:52) says that he went through a learning process just as all other children do …. This ordinary learning process was part of the genuine humanity of Christ. We also see that Jesus had a human mind like ours when he speaks of the day on which he will return to earth: 'But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son but only the Father' Mark 13:32" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 533.

2. He felt the need to pray, and prayed all night, before He chose the twelve disciples.

I wonder what He prayed about. No doubt He prayed about who He should pick. Did His insight help to guide His decisions? Perhaps He prayed for them. Luke mentions specifically that He picked Judas "who also became a traitor." Did Jesus have insight to the extent of knowing or intuiting who would betray Him at this early time in His ministry? He certainly knew later.

This passage underlines the importance of prayer for us too, especially before making pivotal, potentially live-altering decisions. If Jesus, with His insight, felt the need to pray all night at such a time, how much more do we need the direction, assurance, conviction, and power such times with God yield.

PRAYER: Dear God, how foolish I am  as I so often try to do life on my own. Help me to follow Jesus' example and bathe my decisions in prayer, recognizing how dependent I am on You. Amen.

MORE: "Cover Me" by Bebo Norman

Cover Me lyrics


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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Another Lord's Prayer

Jesus prays with His disciples - Alexandre Bida
Jesus prays with His disciples - by Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 17:1-26

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven and said: 'Father the hour has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son also may glorify You.'" John 17:1.

Someone has suggested that John 17, our passage today, should be called the Lord's Prayer more than Matthew 6:9-13. If the contents of a person's prayer are an indication of their preoccupations, we can tell a lot about the things Jesus was interested in, that were at the very heart of His thoughts, by these verses.

His prayer contained a three main requests:

1. He prayed that He would be glorified (John 17:1-5).
But, we ask, isn't that self-serving? And then we realize who is making the request, and of whom. He is the God the Son, praying to God the Father who is the sum-total of all that is right, true, beautiful, glorious, excellent... Where else should glory go if not to Him?

2. He prayed that the apostles would be sanctified (John 17:6-19).
In His prayer, Jesus gives us a glimpse of how special and unique these men were as gifts to Him from God the Father (John 17:6-7). He prayed that God would keep them, and specifically, keep them from the "evil one" (John 17:11-12;14-15). He asked that they experience His joy (John 17:13). And He requested that they be sanctified or set apart to take the Gospel — good news about Him and salvation — to the world (John 17:17-19).

[Sanctified: hagiadzo: to hallow, set apart, dedicate, consecrate, separate, sanctify, make holy. Hagiadzo as a state of holiness is opposite of koinon, common or unclean. In the OT, things, places and ceremonies were hagiadzo. In the NT the word describes a manifestation of life, produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1463.]

3. He prayed the the church would be unified (John 17:20-26).
We are included in this prayer as those "who will believe in Me through their word" - vs. 20. Jesus' great desire is that we experience and demonstrate unity. Our unity will be a sign to the world so they believe God sent Jesus (vs. 21). And this unity will eventually flower into His followers joining Him to "be with Me where I am..." (vs. 24).

I ask myself, am I working toward Jesus' prayer being answered? Are you? Is furthering His glory a priority in our lives? Though we are not the apostles, we too are hand-picked by God to fulfill a purpose on earth. Look:

"For we are God's own handiwork, His workmanship, recreated in Christ Jesus, born anew that we may do those good works which God predestined, planned before hand for us, taking paths which He prepared ahead of time — living the good life which He pre-arranged and made ready for us to live" - Ephesians 2:10 AMP.

Do we set ourselves apart for such a God-appointed destiny? And are we working toward unity? Or are we standoffish from other Christians, choosing to focus on our differences rather than the core Gospel truths that unite us?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for this prayer, straight from Your heart. Help me to answer it in my life today. Amen.

MORE: Interview with Satan about unity in the church‬


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

Singing through your stress test

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 16:16-34

TO CHEW ON: “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25

What do you do when people keep you waiting, when someone from your family is unaccountably late, when you’ve been involved in a fender-bender, when you have just received the diagnosis – and it’s cancer? Our lives are full of stress tests. They range from mere annoyances to life-threatening situations. How we handle them says a lot about the state of our faith in God.

Paul and Silas exorcised a demon spirit from a slave girl and so loosed her from spiritual and physical bondage. There was outrage from the men who had been making money by her fortune-telling. As a result the missionaries got a beating of “many stripes” and then imprisonment in the securest part of a Philippi prison with their feet immobilized by stocks. Their response to this stressful situation was to pray and sing. Pray I can understand – but sing? That seems like a whole new level of trust and relinquishment.

I can just imagine the reaction if this had happened to some of us.
  • Confusion: Maybe we didn’t get the Spirit’s leading to get to Macedonia right after all. Look at what has happened!
  • Self-pity: Why is this happening to me when I’m serving God.
  • Blame – loaded on ourselves or others: Did I or someone else sin to warrant this treatment? 
However, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the man who penned Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:6-7 trusted God without reservation in the middle of something that looked so bad and could sing to prove it.

Of course Paul and Silas’s faith in God was well placed. That day God not only sent an earthquake to spring them from prison, but the jail keeper and his family trusted in God because of their testimony.

Back to our waiting and worrying, our fender-bender and cancer. Do we believe that God is in these circumstances too? Do we believe it to the extent that we get past the place of praying desperate prayers to the place of singing hymns of praise – even while we’re still in the middle of the test?

PRAYER: Dear God, please increase my faith that You are in every circumstance of my life. Help me to live today with the settled inner peace that knows You are in charge, and that Your plans are good. Amen.

MORE: God with us in the dark--a modern story

 On August 3, 2001 twenty-four members of the Shelter Now International organization were arrested and put in prison in Afghanistan. For 105 days, including the volatile time just after the 9-11 attack, eight of them were whisked from one prison and hiding place to another, their fate always uncertain. During that time, they established a routine of daily devotions (singing, quoting Scripture, prayer) that changed the tone of their imprisonment. They tell their story in the DVD and book Kabul 24: The Story of a Taliban Kidnapping and Unwavering Faith in the Face of True Terror. Both are a compelling modern testimony of how faith in God sustains even in the darkest situation. (My review of the book is here.)

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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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Gone but not for good

"Ascension of Christ" 
Tiffany window Union Congregational Church,
Montclair, NJ, Designer unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 1:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel who also said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.'" Acts 1:10-11

Even after Jesus rose from the dead His disciples didn't grasp his plan. For when they were together they quizzed Him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

It was only after His answer and then His ascension that they finally understood that this wasn't going to be an earthly kingdom He would set up any day now. 

The two "men who stood by them in white apparel"  promised that Jesus would be back, would actually return in the way they had seen Him go. His coming is talked about throughout the Bible. It's in the Old Testament (Psalm 98:9; Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 14:5). Jesus referred to it repeatedly (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27). And it was the hope of the Apostles (Hebrews 9:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 3:3).

The early church expected it to occur any day. There was even a wait-instead-of-work controversy that developed because, these early Christians reasoned, why bother working when Jesus will come back any day anyway.

We are still waiting. God's definition of "quickly" (Revelation 3:11) is obviously not the same as ours. But in the meantime, The Bible tells us to occupy ourselves in:

  • Readiness - because Jesus' second coming will be unexpected - Matthew 24:44.
  • Stewardship - because we will be held accountable for what God has given us - Luke 19:13.
  • Waiting - 1 Corinthians 1:7.
  • Charitableness - because God who knows things we don't about motivations behind others' actions  and will judge people by His standard of truth - 1 Corinthians 4:5.
  • Holy living - so we will be preserved blameless - 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
  • Obedience - 1 Timothy 6:14.
  • Joyful expectation - because Jesus' glorious return is a "blessed hope" - Titus 2:13.
  • Constant abiding - so that we can meet Him without shame but full of confidence - 1 John 2:28.

It's tricky living with one eye toward the sky, the other on the things of earth. But it's also very freeing as we keep in mind how transitory this life is, how we need to travel lightly (both materially and in judgment) and always keep our relationship with God clear, open, and strong - so we will be ready for His return. It could be today!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for this account of Your visible ascension into heaven and the clear promise of Your return. Help me to occupy myself productively and in ways that will please You as I wait. Amen.

MORE: Ascension Day

Today the church celebrates the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven. The liturgy for the day begins with this Collect:

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

"We Shall Behold Him" written by Dottie Rambo, sung here by Sandi Patty

(The lady Sandi Patty hugs at the end of the video is Dottie Rambo.)


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

What a teacher!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 24:36-53

TO CHEW ON: “And He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” Luke 24:45

The resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples numerous times. Their conflicted states of mind when they saw Him are evident by His words to them: “Peace to you,” “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?” He knew they needed an understanding of the meaning of His life and death. They had had the right idea of His identity (Messiah) but the wrong idea of what kind of kingdom He would establish and how He would do it.

Jesus taught them how His life and death fulfilled plans of a kingdom way bigger than any they had imagined – one that would encompass “all nations” vs. 47. He showed them how it was all there, in the prophetic Old Testament Scriptures. His explanation helped them 'get it.'

Still today we have blind spots about what God’s plan is about. Various teachers get on their hobby horses to expound their views of how it works. Emphasis on certain Bible passages can lead to beliefs that the Gospel is mainly about personal prosperity or gaining God’s favor by living a prescribed outward lifestyle. Putting faith in human ideas that seem to make more sense than God’s can lead to a lopsided gospel that focuses on God’s mercy and grace to the exclusion of His holiness, righteousness and justice.

How can we know that what we believe is truth? I would suggest three principles - two of them modeled by Jesus in this passage:

1. Jesus used the Scriptures. In His time this was the writings of the patriarchs and prophets. He frequently quoted the Psalms, Isaiah and other writers. God’s truth is based on the Scriptures and that means all of it, not just proof texts. Similarly we need to base our beliefs on what the Bible says.

2. We need God as our teacher. Here the disciples’ teacher was Jesus - God the Son. Our teacher, now that Jesus has ascended to heaven, is God the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13; John 14: 16-17, 26)

3. We need to line up our lives with what we know; the word for that would be obedience. Romans 1 gives us a sobering picture of what happens to our “understanding” when we live in disobedience.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please open my understanding to comprehend God's plan and my part in it. Then fill me with the power to share it with others.

MORE: I believe that two ways the Holy Spirit uses to teach us what the Bible means is through the use of our own common sense and  the wisdom of others. An article titled “22 Principles of Biblical Interpretation: How to Eliminate Apparent Bible Contradictions” begins:

“One of the major reasons why people have different ideas concerning what the Bible says is that they use different rules or standards for interpreting it. We believe that the following principles, called “canons of interpretation” are essential to understand and apply if there is to be any hope of Christians getting to the truth when they read the Bible.”
It suggests some excellent principles to use when interpreting the Bible.

"22 Principles of Biblical Interpretation: How to Eliminate Apparent Bible Contradictions" 

Are there any of these principles with which you disagree?


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Monday, May 06, 2013

God's awesome, terrifying side

Israelites at Mount Sinai - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 97:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "His lightnings light the world;
The earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth." Psalm 97:4-5.

Bible writers depict God as showing Himself in different ways. Sometimes He revealed Himself as a person. For example, the LORD, appeared to Abraham as three men (or one of the three) in Genesis 18. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar saw "four men … loose and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:25) when he looked into the fiery furnace into which he had just tossed Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego.

At other times God showed himself in a more awe-inspiring, even terrifying way. The Israelites saw this terrifying aspect of God on Mount Sinai:

"Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace and the whole mountain quaked greatly" - Exodus 19:18.

"Now all the people witnessed the thundering, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking' and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off" - Exodus 20:18.

My Bible's notes on Psalm 97:4-5 suggest that the images in this psalm are taken from that incident.

The writer of the NT book of Hebrews reflects on the reaction of the Israelites to seeing God this way: "… so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, 'I am exceeding afraid and trembling'" - Hebrews 12:21. Then Hebrews goes on to explain how we who live after Jesus come, not to that terrifying mountain but to Jesus the "Mediator of the new covenant" - Hebrews 12:24.

We know that we can now come to God without fear. But perhaps we now often come too casually with the attitude that He is our buddy and altogether like us. Perhaps a more realistic stance would be to remind ourselves, when we come running to God, or sitting, or kneeling in His presence that He is also the God of Mount Sinai's  smoke, earthquake, lightning flashes and trumpet blasts.

PRAYER: Dear God, my mind can never grasp the whole of You. Help me to approach You realistically, with the abandon of a child combined with the fear and respect of a creature approaching its creator. Amen.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Praise with understanding

Singing choir
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 47:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with understanding." - Psalm 47:6,7

The sentence "Sing praises with understanding" snags my attention. What other ways could we sing praises?
  • Perhaps with emotion, caught up in the celebratory atmosphere of those around us?
  • Perhaps in the soulful enjoyment of the music itself?
  • Perhaps in a rote way, participating in the liturgical service to which we've become so accustomed we don't give much thought to the words we're singing?

[Understanding - sachal means to be wise, behave wisely, to understand, to be instructed, wisely consider; to be prudent and intelligent. Sachal describes the complex, intelligent thinking process that occurs when one observes, ponders, reasons, learns and reaches a conclusion" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 963 - emphasis added.]

Translated into the realm of praising God in song (and using the old hymns as examples), to praise with understanding may mean:

1. We observe and pay attention to the words we sing. Though we've sung it hundreds of times, we attend to the words "Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God my Father … morning by morning new mercies I see,"* thinking about the lyrics and what they say about God and how He relates to our lives.

2. We ponder the aspects of God we don't understand: "Immortal, invisible, God only wise. In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes..."**

3. We reason these things through. We ask, how might God's faithfulness, immortality, and hiddeness play out in my life?

4. We learn how to live in new praise-filled ways: "Take my hands … feet … voice … lips … silver and gold … Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt choose." ***

5. We conclude as we sing along, saying 'yes' to God with our mindful participation, in some cases singing the words with more faith than sight: "Take my will and make it Thine—It shall be no longer mine; Take my heart—it is Thine own, It shall be Thy royal throne."***

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to praise You with understanding. Alert me to times when my mind wanders. My my praise in song give You glory, honour, and pleasure. Amen.

MORE: Frances Ridley Havergal

The powerful hymn "Take My Life and Let It Be" was written by Frances Ridley Havergal in 1874. In his book about the world's great hymns, Robert Morgan tells this story about the writing of this hymn.

"Although hymnist Frances Havergal, 36, had served the Lord for years, she felt something was missing in her Christian experience. Then one day in 1873, she received a little book called "All for Jesus" which stressed the importance of making Christ the King of every corner and cubicle of one's life. Soon thereafter she made a fresh and complete consecration of herself to Christ.

Years later when asked about it, she replied, 'Yes, it was on Advent Sunday, December 2, 1873, I first saw clearly the blessedness of true consecration. I saw it as a flash of electric light, and what you see you can never un-see. There must be full surrender before then can be full blessedness" - Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul, p. 191.

* quoted from  "Great is They Faithfulness"  by Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1923).
Hear it sung by Chris Rice.

 ** quoted from  "Immortal Invisible" by Walter Chalmers Smith (1876).
It is sung here by an unnamed choir.

*** quoted from "Take my Life and Let it Be" by Frances Ridley Havergal (1874).
Listen to it sung by Brian Doerksen.


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