Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Are you an unmarked grave?

Women talking over coffee
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 11:37-54

TO CHEW ON: "'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like graves which are not seen, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them'" - Luke 11:44

My Bible's footnote explains the cultural context of this macabre picture:
"Since stepping on a grave was defiling to a Jew (Numbers 19:16) unmarked graves were a menace. Usually tombs were whitewashed in order to identify them (see Matthew 23:27). The attractive outward display of religion concealed the deadness within the hearts of the hypocrites" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Luke, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1412.

What Jesus was saying, in effect, was that people who allowed themselves to come under the teaching and authority of the scribes and Pharisees were exposing themselves to defilement. Ouch! No wonder these religious leaders "… began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him … lying in wait … seeking to catch Him … that they might accuse Him (Luke 11:53, 54).

We would never be guilty of such a thing as these scribes and Pharisees were, would we? But we often are, maintains Michael D. Sedler, author of Stopping Words that Hurt. His thesis is that we defile our listeners when we gossip and say slanderous, hurtful things about others. But he goes even further, insisting that we contribute to our own defilement when we so much as stand by as silent listeners to such words. Here's a bit from his introduction:
"The Bible refers to negative comments or stories regarding other people as 'evil reports' …. A careful search through the Scriptures shows that our gossip and truth stretching … carries with it far-reaching ramifications that affect not only the life of the speaker but the life of the listener …. It is not only 'speaking evil' that fosters sin in our lives, listening to evil reports defiles our spirits and creates a wedge between friends, family and colleagues" - Michael D. Sedler, Stopping Words that Hurt, Kindle Location 42.

Let's be on guard about letting our mouths, or our ears, become unmarked graves of defilement to others and ourselves!

Dear Jesus, what a sobering thought—that I might be the cause of someone else's defilement. Please help me to guard my mouth and my ears against giving and hearing 'evil reports' about others. Amen.


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

Expand the Lord's Prayer for your situation

Jesus Prays for His Disciples - Alexandre Bida
"Jesus Prays for His Disciples" - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 11:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "So He said to them, 'When you pray say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'" - Luke 11:2

"This prayer is not a formula for repetition so much as it is an outline for expansion," says Jack Hayford in a sidebar article in my Bible.*

Let's separate Jesus' model prayer into its different sorts of praying and look at how we might expand what He said:

"Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name…"

To expand our worship we could:
- Praise God for who He is as portrayed by the various names He is called in the Bible.
- Recite or read praise passages and psalms back to Him.
- Sing praise songs that draw our attention to His excellence.
- Recall specific things God has done for us, then praise and thank Him for them.

"Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven."

Hayford explains, "Jesus' words 'Your kingdom come' are more than a suggestion to pray for a distant millennial day …. The verb, mood, and tense of 'Your kingdom come' essentially says, 'Father, let your kingdom come here and now!'"*

It shouldn't be hard for us to expand on this. All we need ask ourselves is:
- Where, to whom, in what situations are we burdened to see the kingdom of God come? People with illness, troubled relationships, money and job problems, away from the Lord, overcome by trauma of any kind will come to mind. Regions and whole countries caught in the throes of unrest and war also need our intercession.

"Give us this day our daily bread…"

Most of us, in North America at least, probably have all the bread we need and more. But this part of Jesus' prayer is an invitation to bring to Him the specifics of what we do need, whether it's physical or mental, ministry-related or personal. Do we need help in finding a new car to replace our old jalopy?  Wisdom to know how to deal with a rebellious child? Help in finding volunteers for the church nursery? Whatever it is, we can bring these specifics to God in petition.

"And forgive us our sins
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us."

That was easy! Not so quick. Asking for forgiveness also needs to be in specifics. As we search our consciences before God, He can bring to mind sins of commission (bad things we've done) and omission (things we should have done but didn't). By naming and confessing them, we not only empty our hearts of guilt and shame, but alert ourselves the wrongness of our actions and in this way set a guard against committing them again.

Hayford again:

"…the praying is ours to do: unless we ask for the intervention of His kingdom and obey His prayer lessons, nothing will change. All kingdom ministry begins with and is sustained by, and will triumph through prayer."*

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to not only learn how to pray but to spend more time in sincere, effective, kingdom-invoking prayer as it relates to my life. Amen.

*All Hayford quotes taken from the article "Prayer and Intercession," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1409.

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

Hosea - object lesson life

"Hosea and his family"
Woodcut - 1552, artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hosea 1:1-2:1

TO CHEW ON: "When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea:
'Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry
and children of harlotry
for the land has committed great harlotry
by departing form the Lord.'
So he went..." Hosea 1:2,3

Imagine being told to embark on marriage, one of life's most challenging relationships even in ideal circumstances, knowing your partner has a habit of being unfaithful. That's what God told Hosea to do—marry a prostitute. He did it without argument.

Later, when children came along (and my Bible's notes indicate that Hosea may not even have been their father), God told Hosea to name them odd, doom-filled names:

His firstborn son was to be called Jezreel
It  meant "God scatters, or "God Sows."
"Jezreel was the name of the place where Jehu had killed 70 sons of Ahab (2 Kings 10:11). As Jehu brought an end to the line of Ahab, so now God will bring an end to the whole dynasty of Israel. By 722 B.C. the northern kingdom and its capital will fall." - endnotes to Hosea 1:4 New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1144.

(That would be in about 28 years from when Hosea penned this if the date of the book's writing—750 B.C.—is accurate.)

His second child—a daughter—was to be named Lo-Ruhamah.
It meant "No Mercy," and 'indicated a lifting of the Lord's compassion from the rebellious nation" (source as above).

A third child—another son—got the name Lo-Ammi.
It meant "Not My People" and "indicated the end of the relationship" (p. 1145 - source above).

Through all this we never hear a whisper of objection from Hosea. He simply listened and complied. Which tells us at least two things about him:

1. He recognized God's voice. Why else would a devout man do such outlandish, even morally questionable things?

2. He trusted God and obeyed with a simplicity of heart that is quite beautiful.

God has never asked me to do such things—probably not you either. But, to my shame, I even argue and try to talk Him out of things that make sense, things like finishing a hard job, making contact with certain people, how I spend my time... Oh for Hosea's jump-to-it attitude whenever God speaks!

PRAYER: Dear God, Hosea's unquestioning obedience is refreshing to see. Help me to follow that pattern of hearing and immediately obeying. Amen.

MORE: "No religious singles in God's eyes"

John Piper on Hosea:

"...God made him (Hosea) live the tragedy of Israel's unfaithfulness by marrying a harlot.... Some Christians who would never dream of marrying a pimp or a prostitute will fall in love with a well-bred unbeliever. But in God's eyes, everyone who forsakes the Lord is a whore. There are no religious singles in God's eyes. Everyone is either faithfully married to God or is a prostitute. God made you (not just Israel) for himself. If you get your kicks from somewhere else, you commit great harlotry against God. That was Israel's condition. And so God took Hosea and said, as it were, "Before I give you a word of judgment and grace, I am going to make you know what it's like to be married to an unfaithful wife. Go, marry a harlot!" Hosea obeys and has a son. His marriage is an acted-out parable of God's relation to Israel.
Read all of "Call Me Husband, Not Baal"
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

God—the best defender

Shimei threw stones at David - Artist unknown
Shimei threw stones at David - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 7:1-17

"My defense is of God
Who saves the upright in heart." Psalm 7:10

There is a story behind this psalm. It's in 2 Samuel 16:5-14. David was running away from Jerusalem and his son Absalom. Absalom had had himself crowned king in David's stead and was moving toward the capital with an army, intending to take the throne.

On David's flight from the city he met Shimei, a relative of former king Saul. "'Come out! Come out!  You bloodthirsty man, you rogue!' Shimei yelled at David while throwing stones and kicking up dust at him and his men. He went on to accuse David of  taking the throne from the house of Saul and declared that Absalom coming against him was his deserved punishment.

We read David's mild response to Shimei in 2 Samuel 16:11-13. Psalm 7 is David's reflection before God about this event. It obviously troubled him more than he let on.

In the psalm he pleads his innocence. Indeed, his innocence in his treatment of Saul is brought out in the Bible record where, several times, Saul was within David's physical reach and each time David refused to kill him. So he could honestly say, "If I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me, or have plundered my enemy without cause, let the enemy pursue me and overtake me" (Psalm 7:4-5).

With his conscience clear, David depended on God to defend him.

We too sometimes find ourselves in unfair situations, the target of accusations that are lies, the subjects of mean pettiness and hatred for who we are or what we stand for. At such times David's Psalm 7 response is a good example for us.

1. He invited God to search his heart.
"But establish the just;
For the righteous God tests the hearts and the minds" - Psalm 7:9.

To the best of David's knowledge, he was innocent. However, in our heart-search, if we find that we're at fault, we need to take ownership, make amends to the best of our ability, and  accept that some of our present grief may be a consequence of past actions.

2. He depended on God to defend him.
"My defense is of God
Who saves the upright in heart" - Psalm 7:10.
I love David's refusal to defend himself, both here and in 2 Samuel,  insisting, instead, that God would defend him.

Will I, will you, have such faith in God as our defender?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to resist the temptation to defend myself in the face of undeserved accusations, persecutions, and abuse. Help me to trust You to clarify who and what is right and true in Your own time. Amen. 


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

Four steps out of discouragement

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

TO CHEW ON: "…and after the fire a still small voice. So it was when Elijah heard it that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'" 1 Kings 19:12-13

I love this tender story of how God dealt with the ├╝ber-discouraged Elijah.

He had just experienced his finest hour—defeated the Baal prophets in a power showdown and prayed down rain after a three-year drought. I wonder what he fantasized would happen next. He probably saw the people turning to God en masse. Perhaps he imagined Ahab getting rid of Queen Jezebel. Whatever he expected, none of it came about. Instead, one threat from the vicious queen had him running again, and for his life.

His complete and utter discouragement is clear: "And he prayed that he might die" (vs. 4). How God picked him up from depression to continued usefulness can be instructive for us when we're dealing with ourselves or others during down times.

1. Elijah was physically exhausted. He set out on the road to recovery by sleeping and eating (verses 5-7).

Exhaustion and physical illness, weakness or hunger are fertilizers to depression and discouragement. Rest, nourishment and health can do wonders for our attitude.

2. Elijah sought out a sacred place—Mount Horeb (also called Mount Sinai and the "mountain of God" - verse 8). That was the place where God had met face-to-face with Moses numerous times.

When life no longer seem worth living, it's well worth our time to seek God. The place we go to may or may not be a significant physical location. But intentionally seeking God and getting still before Him is vital to our recovery.

3. Elijah and God had it out. Elijah listened while God spoke. Then he poured out his frustration and named his fears. God's reply was no scold or rant of unmet expectations. Instead, He talked to Elijah gently, reassuring him he wasn't the only prophet left. And God still had work for him to do (verses 9-18).

Sometimes I think we avoid baring our hearts to God because we think He will respond to us like a disapproving parent or disappointed school teacher. But I have found that God often deals with me a lot more gently than I think I deserve or expect. Time and time again I have found Romans 2:4 ("Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?") to be true in God's dealings with me.

4. Elijah got back to work (verses 19-21). God's new assignment was probably nothing like what he had imagined for himself after the Baal prophet fiasco. But God's confidence in him was enough to get him back on-track.

If you are discouraged, disheartened and ready to give up, put yourself in the hands of the God who dealt so tenderly with Elijah. Face His quiet but probing "What are you doing here?" Talk to Him. Listen to Him. And let Him nurse you back to hope.

PRAYER: Dear God, please forgive me for becoming so easily discouraged. Sometimes that happens because I have been making my own plans and following my own path. Help me to place myself at Your disposal for Your plans. Amen.

MORE:  The stranger

One of my favourite songs about hope is "Hope Like A Stranger" by Bob Bennett. You've got to love the way it starts:

"Hope, like a stranger, came to my door
I was afraid, I was rude
"What are you coming here for?
Have you come to stay
Or are you just passing through?
I've seen your face
But I do not know you."

It's nowhere to be found as a YouTube on the web, though the rest of the lyrics are here. It's from Bob's 2003 re-release Songs from Bright Avenue (my fav of his albums). If you like ballady songs, great guitar playing and thoughtful lyrics you should consider getting it!

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

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Treating the Martha Syndrome

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 10:38-42

TO CHEW ON: "But Martha was distracted with much serving and she approached Him and said, 'Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.'" Luke 10:40

I have on my bookshelf a thoughtful book that makes me want to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. Embracing Your Second Calling by Dale Hanson Bourke helps women, specifically women in the second half of life, find direction and purpose for the rest of the journey. She makes a statement in a chapter on idols that I think is relevant to this little Mary-Martha vignette:

"I have come to believe that leaving false idols is at the heart of our ability to hear and obey our second callings" (p. 85).

Luke describes Martha as "distracted with much serving." But that is merely the outer symptom of obedience to a dictator in her heart which, I think, we could call an idol. Because there is nothing wrong with serving. But Martha's petulance at being left to do it alone shows that something besides serving is at stake here. There's an agenda (idol) that she's finding hard to satisfy.

Perhaps the motive for her dedicated service is to maintain her reputation as a good hostess and cook. On this of all days, she can't risk a shoddy or late meal. Or maybe she's fussing because this just isn't how you entertain guests—sit around listening to them while neglecting to do the usual. Tradition isn't being served. Or perhaps this is the Mary she's lived with all her life—the one who always slipped away from chores to do the interesting stuff. Today she's had enough. She is simply wanting Jesus, who would know what's fair if anyone would, to recognize and uphold her right to have help.

I've been all three of these Marthas. My sympathy is with her all the way. Mostly, I'd like to help her / myself get to the bottom of this and any dis-ease in my spirit that shows me some little demigod isn't happy. Sniffing out those idols is, I think, the key.

PRAYER: Dear God, You can have the full run of my heart today. Please help me identify and root out idols that keep me from hearing and following You. Amen.

MORE: Other thoughts on this passage

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World is a twelve week devotional by Joanna Weaver that delves into this little story in depth. Here is a reader's guide to the book (which gives a taste of what it's about).

Weaver has since come out with another book exploring the topic in even more depth. Janet Sketchley reviews Having a Mary Spirit (2006) on her blog here.

I've written about this Martha/Mary story previously before in a poem, which begins:

The Martha In Me

Too often Martha takes charge–
I schedule service with conditions,
workboots clomp on everything
threatening my control –
I curse the one who’s late,
ignore the longing in my daughter’s eyes to chat,
dismiss women with Watchtower at my door –
not aware I’ve stamped out
embers of His presence.

Read entire

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Character exposed

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 15:1-5

TO CHEW ON: "Lord, who shall dwell [temporarily] in Your tabernacle? Who shall dwell [permanently] in Your holy hill?" Psalm 15:1 (Amplified)

Years ago when I had a cigarette smoking habit, I remember coming home to the farm, opening my suitcase and feeling shocked at how rank my clothes smelled. In my town apartment I never noticed because the smell of cigarette smoke was everywhere. But in my farm bedroom where the air was clean, that foul smell was impossible to miss.

David begins Psalm 15 with a question: 'Who can live with God?' His readers know God's presence is pure, holy and sinless. They expect a meditation on what it means to live in a way that won't offend God's holiness. David delivers by drawing attention to character traits. These are showcased by actions (actually, he speaks of them here as a lack of actions). As I read through them I find myself asking - am I like this, or the opposite?

David's conclusions about the man (or woman) who may dwell with God. He/she:
  • Lives a life of "uprightness" - honesty, goodness, blamelessness and truth, even in his thoughts (Psalm 15:2).
  • Watches what he says, taking care to avoid the smart comeback (sarcastic? cruel? - called a "backbite") and slander (Psalm 15:3).
  • Doesn't take up a reproach (Psalm 15:3). I understand this as refraining to take up my friend's cause thus making a rift between me and someone who hasn't hurt me but has hurt my friend. I have heard of situations where the wronged person and the perpetrator have long settled their quarrel, but the reproach-taker still carries a grudge.
  • Is a good judge of the character of others (Psalm 15:4). In our day of hero and star worship, we need more of this.
  • Keeps his promises even when he loses money by doing it (Psalm 15:4).
  • Refuses to take advantage of someone when they're down (Psalm 15:5).
  • Doesn't use underhanded methods to get his own way (Psalm 15:5).

The clothes in my bag looked just fine. They smelled okay to me too - until, exposed to clean air, I discovered they were impregnated with something that smelled bad.

In the same way we may think our lives are just fine - until we spend time in God's pure, sinless presence. Let's let His word and Spirit deal with the hidden aspects of our characters today (the ones mentioned above, and any others).

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me anything within that displeases You. "I acknowledge my sin to You and my iniquity I have not hidden….I confess my transgressions to the Lord and You forgave the iniquity of my sin" Psalm 32:5.

Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc - www.reverendfun.com

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The silent treatment

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 8:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "'Behold the days are coming,' says the Lord God, 'that I will send a famine on the land. Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it.'" Amos 8:11-12

Getting the silent treatment can be devastating. When a person who is a family member or friend refuses to talk to you, it doesn't take a lot of insight to know something is wrong. Such silences  over long periods of time almost ensure a broken relationship, or at least one that needs work.

In Amos 8, God warns that unless Israel changes her ways, she will soon get the silent treatment from Him. Though there were times when Bible characters felt God was silent for no reason they understood (like Job  and David) most of the time God's silences came as a result of sin.

God was silent, for example, when King Saul (who had been rejected as king because of his disobedience and rebellion) sought Him, after the death of Samuel. Saul became so desperate to hear from God, he went to a medium to raise Samuel's spirit so he would inquire of God for him (1 Samuel 28).

The Bible gives reasons why God is silent. He is silent when:
- we accommodate sin in our lives -- we are "cosy with evil" - Message (Psalm 66:18).
- we spurn wisdom and the fear of God (Proverbs 1:25-28).
- we ignore the needs of the poor (Proverbs 21:13)
- we serve other gods (idols) (Isaiah 57:13;  Ezekiel 14:3).
- we refuse to believe (James 1:6-7)
- we ask with selfish motives (James 4:3)

In Amos, God gave the people fair warning. He told them the reasons He would stop responding to them. They did business on the Sabbath, their trade was dishonest, and they continued to oppress the poor.

God's silence is not an end in itself, though. It is one way God uses to get us to come back to Him. Notice how desperate the people are when God is silent: they "run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord." I don't think it's a coincidence that it is a famine that eventually drives the prodigal son back home (Luke 15:14-19).

If God seems uncommunicative, let's search our hearts to see if they hold reasons for God's apparent silence. May that silence drive us back to Him.

PRAYER: Dear God, when You are silent, help me to search my heart. Point out things that offend You. Please speak to me again. Amen.

MORE: "Psalm 13 (How Long O Lord)" by Brian Doerksen

This song reminds us that even Jesus got God's silent treatment (when He became sin for us).

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The hard things

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 18:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "'Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son." Genesis 18:14

The Lord's question here is rhetorical. We hear, in our imaginations, a resounding, "No, nothing is too hard for the Lord." But why does God so often insist on doing things the "hard" way? Could it be for some of these reasons?

- To get our attention.
It's not big deal when a 26- or 36-year-old woman has a baby. But someone past menopause is another thing altogether. It's amazing. We ask how can this be, and realize a God-thing is going on here.

- To sharpen our desire and test our faith.
Though Sarah and even Abraham seem to have given up on God keeping His promise to them, Hannah kept begging God for a baby. She never gave up praying. When God answered her prayer, she demonstrated her trust even more by keeping her promise and giving her little boy back to God.

- To alert us to the significance of certain lives and events.
More than one important Bible character was born to an apparently barren woman (Isaac, Joseph, Samuel, John the Baptist).

- To reflect glory back on God
I am reminded of Paul's words to the Corinthians: "However, we possess this precious treasure [the divine Light of the Gospel] in [frail, human] vessels of earth, that the grandeur and exceeding greatness of the power may be shown to be from God and not from ourselves" (2 Corinthians 4:7 Amplified). That says to me that whenever God demonstrates the "precious treasure" of His message and presence in our lives by accomplishing anything—easy or hard—the glory goes to Him.

What hard things are we facing today of health issues, barrenness, wayward kids, broken relationships...? As we bring them to God, let's remember: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this reminder that nothing is too hard for You. I bring you the hard things in my life ____. I believe they are not too hard for You to handle. Amen.

MORE: "A Way to See in the Dark" by Jason Gray

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

The will of God

iphone GPS
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 1:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "For this reason we also since the day we heard it do not cease to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." Colossians 1:9

Charles Price, the speaker on the TV program Living Truth a while ago preached a series on God's will. In the first message he made the point that we tend to look at God's will for our lives as sort of spiritual GPS (Global Positioning System). He fantasized it going something like: "And so you get up in the morning and (hear), 'Go to the university and study this subject. See that girl over there; marry her. Go and get this job. Live at that address. Live happily ever after. Amen.'"

But it's not like that. Instead, Dr. Price said, "'What is the will of God for my life?' isn't even the best question. It is a valid question. But the first question is what is the will of God? Period. Not what is the will of God for me; what is the will of God for God? What is the big picture of what God is doing in the world of which I, as an individual, can have a part?"

So what is the will of God? Here is a quick look at some Bible verses that mention God's will:

Jesus spelled it out as: "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:39-40).

Jesus prayed that God's will be done on earth (Matthew 6:10). Doing God the Father's will was the obsession of His life (John 4:34). Despite that, He struggled with it at least once (Mark 14:36) but did always subject Himself to the will of "the Father who sent Me." (John 5:30).

The psalmist spoke of God and His Spirit teaching him to do God's will (Psalm 143:10), of the impetus for doing it as coming from within, and obeying it as delightful (Psalm 40:8). Men like David did God's will by serving their generation (Acts 13:36).

For us it involves accepting Jesus' payment for our sins. That sets us free from the influence of "this present evil age"(Galatians 1:3-4). We know what God's will is  through obedience and compliance with it (Romans 12:1-2). Actually doing it gives us a ticket into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21) and makes us part of God's family (Matthew 12:50).

Charles Price summed it up so beautifully:
"So if you want the will of God for your life, it is a lot deeper than a spiritual GPS; it’s a life that is surrendered. We are the objects of His love; therefore we can trust Him because He loves us.... We are the subjects of His lordship and therefore we obey Him. And these two things – obedience and trust – are the two essential ingredients of leading the Christian life" - Charles Price from "Living in the Will of God" message.

PRAYER: Dear God, I pray that I will be filled with the knowledge of Your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that I may walk worthy of You, fully pleasing You, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Amen.

MORE: "Will of God" sermon series

Pastor Charles Price's series "Living in the Will of God" is available transcribed as pdf documents on the Living Truth website. Go HERE, click on "Living In The Will of God" series, download the zip file which, when opened, contains nine pdf sermon files. They are long, so you might want to save them on your computer for reading later.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Choose life!

"Moses speaks to Israel"
by Paul Hardy

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Deuteronomy 30:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life that both you and your descendants may live." Deuteronomy 30:19

The book of Deuteronomy is a series of farewell talks that  Moses gave to the Israelites just before they entered Canaan. Our reading today is the end of his third message where he begs the people, who will inevitably wander away from God,  to return to Him and choose life.

Look at how he persuades, instructs, and pleads:

1. They can come home (Deuteronomy 30:1-5):
They will wander. But God's call for them to return is mighty appealing. It's a call from captivity to freedom, from separation to togetherness. It's an invitation to come HOME!

2. God will change them at the deepest level (Deuteronomy 30:6):
How will God keep them from wandering away again? He will circumcise their hearts. We know how male circumcision was a physical sign of God's covenant with the Israelites. Here God promises to carve that same incision of covenant into their hearts. It's a mark that will, like physical circumcision, affect them spiritually at the deepest most private place. And like physical circumcision is irreversible, so this heart circumcision will help them stay the course.

3. God is for them (Deuteronomy 30:7, 9):
When they choose God, the tables will be turned on their persecutors while God blesses them in quantifiable ways—more kids, more cows, more crops!

4. The choice is clear (Deuteronomy:11-14):
This is no new, hidden, mysterious, distant or confusing matter. It's a choice they've faced before. It's near them, in them. What is it?
- A choice to love God (vs. 6).
- A choice to obey God (vs. 10).

5. The choice is important (Deuteronomy 30:15-20):
It's important because it's a choice between good and evil, life and death. "Choose life," Moses begs, "so that you and your children will live."

Imagine Moses preaching this sermon in my church or yours. It would be fitting, wouldn't it — his plea for backsliders to return with the assurance that God can permanently change hearts. His confronting us with the challenge to love and obey God in the context of all the things that clamour for our allegiance. His plea that we make the right decision because it will impact our eternal destiny.

I ask myself have I chosen life? Or have I, in my heart, wandered away, even set up some idolatrous outposts? What about you?

PRAYER: Father God, help me in today's every decision to understand what's at stake and to choose life. Amen.

MORE: The Prodigal Son

Moses' plea for wanderers to come home reminds me of the story of the prodigal son, told with true storytelling skill in this YouTube video: "Jesus of Nazareth: The Prodigal Son."


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Monday, July 08, 2013

Tested by circumstances - 2

"Naaman's Gifts Refused"- 1728 engraving
by Bernard Picart and Abraham de Blois

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 5:15-27

TO CHEW ON: "But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, the man of God, said, 'Look, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian, while not receiving from his hands what he brought; but as the Lord lives, I will run after him and take something from him." 2 Kings 5:20.

The last character in the Naaman story is Elisha's servant Gehazi. He isn't confronted with Naaman's leprosy, as the characters in the earlier instalment were, but with his boss's reaction to Naaman's offer of gifts.

I can just see Gehazi as Naaman returns to Elisha, loitering in the background,  eyes glittering as Naaman's servants unpack the beautiful clothes and the sacks of coin. Then watch his expression change when Elisha refuses them all.

He wants that stuff, oh, how he wants it! And so he makes a plan. He runs after Naaman and tells him that Elisha has received guests, now needs some things, and asks for a modest two outfits and a sack of silver.

After stashing them safely in his quarters he stands before Elisha as usual to wait on him. In answer to Elisha's, "Where did you go, Gehazi?" he replies with the brazen, "Your servant did not go anywhere."

Foolish Gehazi. Do you not know that your master is in touch with the One who can not only see your motives and actions, but can reveal them to him? Elisha confronts Gehazi with what he has done and bequeaths on him and his family the leprosy that had infected Naaman.

What can we learn from how this sly prophet's assistant handled his test? Three things come to mind.

1. Being around the things of God and the people of God doesn't change our hearts. Gehazi served the man of God but he wasn't a godly man. Each of us needs to come to God personally and have a personal relationship with Him.

2. God has a way of revealing knowledge about people and situations to those who are close to Him.

3. Like Gehazi's response to Naaman's beautiful stuff revealed his covetousness, greed, deceit, and sneakiness, so our response to temptation can show us what's inside us.

Let's observe our responses to today's circumstances and the temptations they bring. Then let's allow these tests to educate us about ourselves, our weaknesses, and our need for repentance and a change of heart.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to kid myself that I can fool You in any way. I pray with the psalm writer: "Search me O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxieties. And see if there is any wicked way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

MORE: Lying to the Holy Spirit

This story reminds me of one from the New Testament. The couple Ananias and Sapphira gave a generous gift to the early church but in a deceptive way. Read what happened to them in Acts 5:1-11.


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

Tested by circumstances - 1

"Naaman comes to see Elisha"
Illustrator of Henry Davenport Northrop's
'Treasures of the Bible' - 1894

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 5:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, 'Indeed, I said to myself, "He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and heal the leprosy."'" 2 Kings 5:12.

One of the reasons stories fascinate us is because they contain conflict that reveals character. In Part 1 of the Naaman story, we see five main players. Their reactions to the conflict of a big problem—Naaman's leprosy—is interesting.

The unnamed slave girl, captured in a raid by the Syrians, didn't keep the good news of Elisha's healing power to herself. She could have thought, It serves my captor right that he is sick. But no, she told her mistress that healing was possible.

Israel's king saw the Syrian king's letter on behalf of Naaman as a threat. He interpreted Naaman's request for healing as a means of provoking war.

Naaman, the Syrian general, was quite willing to go for help. But he had ideas of how that help would come. His expectations weren't met. Elisha didn't even talk to him in person. The cure, to bathe in the muddy Jordan River, wounded his pride even more. He was offended and set off for home in a huff.

Naaman's servants cared about the well-being of their master and begged him to change his mind. They built up his faith and encouraged him to do what Elisha had said. They persuaded him to go to the Jordan where he took the seven-dip bath and received his healing.

Elisha the prophet had all the characteristics of someone living for God alone. He sent a message to the king, telling him to send Naaman to him. When Naaman came, Elisha directed his servant to speak to Naaman instead of going himself. Later, when Naaman wanted to reward him, he refused to take anything.

Do we see ourselves in any of these characters? What can we learn from them about facing our own conflicts or tests of circumstance?

1. The little servant girl teaches us to share God's goodness with our enemies as well as our friends. From her we learn that God's goodness is for all.

2.  Israel's king missed that and as a result lived in suspicion and fear. Like him, we need to realize that God is in every circumstance.

3. Naaman expected a little respect and some healing theatrics. From him we can learn that pride can get in the way of receiving from God.

4.  Naaman's servants showed themselves loyal friends as they bolstered his faith when he had little. We too need to remember that faith sometimes needs encouragement.

5.   Elisha's concern with pleasing his Boss—God—meant that ego-stroking (his own or his client's) and personal advancement played no part. He shows us what it looks like to live for the Audience of One.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that even bad circumstances can draw me closer to You. Help me to pass the circumstance tests I will face today. Amen.

MORE: The Audience of One
"The more one sees of life ... the more one feels, in order to keep from shipwreck, the necessity of steering by the Polar Star, i.e. in a word leave to God alone, and never pay attention to the favors or smiles of man; if He smiles on you, neither the smile or frown of men can affect you" - General Charles Gordon, quoted by Os Guinness in The Call.


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

Expect to be surprised

Modern ruins of Capernaum
"Synagogue ruins in the town of Capernaum"

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 10:13-24

TO CHEW ON: "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, 'I thank You Father Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things form the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes.''" Luke 10:21

Our reading today is a study in Kingdom of God contrasts.

Jesus denounced the flourishing cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for their lack of faith. His prediction of Capernaum "…brought down to Hades" is graphically illustrated in the June photo of our Living Truth Calendar with its picture of Capernaum ruins.

When the seventy returned amazed at their effectiveness over evil spirits, Jesus said, in effect, 'That's nothing. The real reason you should have joy is that your names are written in heaven.' He was pointing out  how incredible was God's grace, even more amazing than His power, in that it extended to even them, undeserving as they were.

He thanked God for revealing spiritual truth to "babes", i.e. the naive, simple, and trusting, versus the sophisticated "wise and prudent," no doubt referring to the scribes who considered themselves wise in religious matters.

He pointed out to the disciples how privileged they were to be witnessing "the things you see," and reminded them  of the prophets and kings who "…have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it" - Luke 10:24.

These contrasts are a fresh reminder to us that in the Kingdom of God:
  • Things may not be as they appear. What flourishes on earth may really be doomed.
  • Real amazement is due, not to the power God gives but to the grace He extends.
  • God has His own standard of wisdom and knowledge, and it's available to the simplest person by faith.
  • God's timing is often not our timing. The ancients longed to see the coming of Messiah but were denied while these ordinary unsuspecting folks—fishermen, tax collectors and labourers—were the privileged ones.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your kingdom. Help me to understand it and line up my life with its principles. Amen.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Friday, July 05, 2013

Undemanding workers

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 10:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the labourer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you." Luke 10:7-8

In talking about the nitty gritty of the mission on which He was sending seventy disciples, Jesus gets right down to details about practical things.
  • They were to go in twos.
  • When they went from town to town, they were to:
- Bless their host house with peace.
- Stay in one house, not house-hop from place to place.
- Eat the food they were given. In fact He gives the food instruction twice.
Bible scholars suggest that these disciples were giving some unspoken signals as they followed Jesus' instructions:

1. Contentment with their accommodations: "…avoiding even the appearance of caring or wishing for dainties" (*Pulpit Commentary).

2. Their accommodations were not a freebie or a "beggar's alms"* but like earned wages.

3. They were to eat what was set before them. For these Jewish men, did this include carelessness about whether or not the food was ceremonially clean or unclean? Was this the beginning of Jesus breaking down their repugnance toward the Gentiles? Our commenter again: "There seems a quiet recommendation not to be rigid in inquiring as to the cleanness or uncleanness of the viands…. It seems probable that extreme rigidness in this particular, now that mission work on a broad scale had commenced, here began to be relaxed."* Of course this relaxation came out clearly in Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:27).

Although these instructions may not seem relevant to us, especially if we're not involved in foreign missions, there are things in them we can apply wherever we spread the good news. (On the other hand, with the world coming to us, they may be absolutely relevant as we interact with immigrant neighbours.)  
1. It's good to go out with a buddy (it could be a spouse). Matthew Henry says: "Christ sent the seventy disciples as two and two that they might strengthen and encourage one another." 

2. Contentment with our surroundings, and eating what is put before us, takes the focus off the comfort and aesthetic of the surroundings, the food and drink so the gospel can be the main feature.

3. Our contentment with whatever the setting in which we spread the gospel demonstrates God's acceptance of the people with whom we interact.
(Of course these days we host most of our itinerant speakers, evangelists, workshop leaders etc. in hotels. I wonder whether we don't lose something by no longer hosting these leaders in our homes… just thinking out loud.)

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live by principles of contentment and acceptance in my everyday life. Amen.

MORE: Your home—a tool of ministry?

"Each of us can participate in some way in evangelism through hospitality—the use of the home as a tool of ministry. The genius of the home is that it is universal to each Christian. We all abide somewhere—in a room or a dormitory or an apartment or a bungalow. In this inhospitable world a Christian home is a miracle to be shared. Perhaps a child needs shelter from her mother's shrieks by resting on our stairs. Maybe someone will knock on our door with tears in her eyes looking for peace. There's not one of us who can't say, 'Come in. Why don't you come in?'" - Karen Burton Mains, Open Heart, Open Home, p. 137

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

Whose stars are we working for?

Four stars

 TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 6:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another." Galatians 6:4

A year ago my novel Destiny's Hands came out. I remember the trepidation with which I mailed the first copies to readers. Would people like it? Would they give it good reviews? Five stars, four stars, three…?

Predictably, I felt great when readers liked it, crushed when they didn't, elated when they "couldn't put it down," ashamed when they pointed out things I could have done better. I think of my reaction to these reviews and criticisms when I read my Bible's footnotes to today's verse:
"Self-conceit leads to pride in one's own accomplishments when compared to those of someone else. Such comparisons are out of order, since each person will be accountable on Judgment Day for his own actions..." - Jerry Horner, commentary on Galatians, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1639.

What will I, what will we be accountable for?

I believe we will be held accountable to whether or not we were obedient in doing the job He laid on our hearts. In my case, I felt it was to communicate to the best of my ability the thoughts, ideas, and concepts He had impressed on me through the fictional retelling of a Bible story, and to steward my capabilities and the opportunities He had provided by publishing my efforts as a book.

So I asked myself, did I feel crushed and ashamed before Him about that?

Not really. I can honestly say I was obedient to what I thought He was telling me to do and I did the best I could.

What has God asked you to do? In the light of that, from where does your sense of worth come--your obedience or how people are responding to your efforts?

The world of comparison won't be going away any time soon. And, human as I am, I'm sure I will continue to be affected by the comparisons of me and my work with others, not only in writing but in a variety of fields. However, I believe I, we, must all learn to live most intentionally for the audience of One, to examine our motives and the sincerity and quality of our efforts before Him, to strive for His "Well done, good and faithful servant," and leave the earthly results with Him. After all, His stars are the ones that will last for eternity.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live and work for Your approval above that of people. Amen.

MORE: Judging others
"If you have been shrewd in finding out the defects in others, remember that will be exactly the measure given to you. Life serves back in the coin you pay. This law works from God's throne downwards (cf. Psalm 18:25-26)" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, June 22nd reading

The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Good Samaritan at the Inn - Alexandre Bida
Good Samaritan at the Inn - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 5:7-26

TO CHEW ON: "But the fruit of the Spirit is … kindness" - Galatians 5:22

Tucked in amongst the heady graces of love, joy, peace, and faithfulness is common, everyday kindness.

My Bible's Word Wealth article defines it:
[Kindness  - chrestotes - is goodness in action, sweetness of disposition, gentleness in dealing with others, benevolence, kindness, affability. The word describes the ability to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience.. The Holy Spirit removes abrasive qualities from the character of one under His control - Dick Mills, New Spirit-Filled life Bible, p. 1638.]

This fruit-of-the-Spirit list is not the only place that kindness is prescribed and expected of God's people:
  • The "upright" are described as "gracious and full of compassion" in Psalm 112:4.
  • "What is desired in a man is kindness…" says wise Solomon - Proverbs 19:22.
  • Paul includes kindness in several more of his instructions about the Christian life:
- "Be kindly affectionate to one another…" Romans 12:10.
- "Love … is kind …" - 1 Corinthians 13:4.
- "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another" - Ephesians 4:32.
- "… as the elect of God … put on … kindness" - Colossians 3:12.
What does kindness look like? Here are seven examples of kindness from the Bible:
  1. It is taking the needy into one's home to feed and clothe them - Isaiah 58:7.
  2. It is shown by how we ourselves speak and how we train our children. Proverbs describes the excellent wife: "She opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" - Proverbs 31:26 (NASB).
  3. It is forgiveness. Joseph showed mercy and spoke kindly to his brothers who had sold him into slavery - Genesis 50:21.
  4. It is standing up for the weak and picked on, as Moses did for the daughters of Jethro - Exodus 2:17.
  5. It is a kept promise. David was kind to Mephibosheth, a descendant of Saul keeping his promise to his friend Jonathan - 2 Samuel 9:1.
  6. It is gentleness with foreigners, shown in the way Boaz treated Ruth - Ruth 2:15,16.
  7. It is getting involved, like the Good Samaritan cared for the beat-up traveler in Jesus' story - Luke 10:34.

I'm sure you get the idea…

Let's be on the lookout for opportunities to show kindness today—as we interact with family members, talk to each other in person, on the phone or online, drive, shop, eat out—whatever we do.

Dear God, help me to forsake my brusque, demanding tendencies. I need You to keep sanding my abrasiveness of spirit to a smooth patina of kindness. Amen. 


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Monday, July 01, 2013

O Canada, we live on guard for thee

Seahorse Tugboat - flying Canadian flag - Ganges Harbor, Salt Spring Island BC
Canada's flag on Seahorse Tugboat - Ganges Harbor, Salt Spring Island, BC
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 32:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
The work of righteousness will be peace
and the effect of righteousness,
quietness and assurance forever." - Isaiah 32:16,17

Today is Canada Day—a day we Canadians focus on our country. We celebrate with parades, picnics and face painting, citizenship ceremonies and fireworks. Though our celebrations may seem superficial, they are an expression of a deep thankfulness for so many things:
- democracy.
- a country where, to a great extent, color, race, and religion don't matter.
- clean air and water and, in most places, lots of room to live, explore, hike.
- unity in diversity, of provinces, races, culture, natural resources.

My friend Satwant is an immigrant to this country. In a poem titled "Let's Celebrate Canada Day" she expresses what many of us feel. Here is the last stanza:
"Let's dream together, work together,
and keep this country safe and whole
Because this is the best country in the world
Because this is 'HOME.'"
- Satwant Kaur Pandher, from The Healing Power of Nature, p. 101.

That picture of peace and plenty is what our focus verse paints. However, it begins with the word "Then…" signifying this condition hinges on something. The verse just above it tells us what: "Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high…"

My Bible's notes explain:

"He (Isaiah) pictures the Holy Spirit as the source of all end times blessings. Here is the first time there is a connection between the ministry of the Spirit and the moral and ethical results of salvation such as justice and righteousness. The Spirit is not only involved in the ministry of judgment (Isaiah 28:6) but He is also the source of a peaceful, ethical existence" - Nathaniel Van Cleave, notes on Isaiah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 910.

This is where I see an application for myself and for all of us who claim to know and be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We can be an asset to the peace, well-being, and fruitfulness of our country as we allow the Spirit to move us in channels of peace, righteousness, justice, honesty, and integrity. He can help us live on guard for our country!

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, may Your control in my life impact how I live my life in my home, city and nation. I pray for Canada today, that we will have the justice, righteousness, peace, quietness, and fruitfulness these verses speak of. Amen.

MORE: O Canada

Our national anthem, O Canada, has four stanzas. The last one is a prayer:

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our Dominion, in thy loving care.
Help us to find, O God, in thee,
A lasting rich reward.
As waiting for the better day,
We ever stand on guard.
God keep our land, glorious and free.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!


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