Monday, September 30, 2013


woman carrying a giant question mark
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 1:1-2:4

TO CHEW ON: "Why do you show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble?
....Why do you look on those who deal treacherously and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?
Why do you make men like fish of the sea, like creeping things that have no ruler over them?" Habakkuk 1:3, 13, 14

The prophet Habakkuk lived during a critical period in Judah's history. Josiah's reforms had eroded so that Judah's citizens were now vulnerable to violence and oppression with little hope of help from a just legal system.The nation was also threatened from outside as Egypt and rising Babylon lusted after her. (Scholars date Habakkuk at about 600 B.C., the interval between the fall of Nineveh in 612 and the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.)

As Habakkuk (who may have been a Levite or temple worker) views the state of his country and the world, all he has is questions. Why, God? Why this violence (to which God's reply, 'You haven't seen anything yet!' seems hardly satisfactory: Habakkuk 1:5-11)? Why, if You're so pure and just, do You allow the treachery I see all around me? Why do you allow the wicked person to triumph over the righteous one? Why do you allow men who act as brutish as animals, flourish in their mistreatment of others?

Who of us hasn't asked questions about the things we see around us?
- Why does God allow nation-crippling natural disasters?
- Why do some people seem to get all the bad breaks?
- Why do babies and children have to suffer with birth malformations and sickness?
- Why am I sick?
- Why can't my husband find a job?

And on and on...

My Bible's introduction to Habakkuk makes this observation about the book and how it relates to us:
"Habakkuk reminds us that the question "Why?" can, should and must be asked. His circumstances demanded that he ask God about the apparent reign of unrighteousness around him. Because he believed in God, he believed that God had an answer to his problem. His questions demonstrated the presence of faith, not the lack of it. For an atheist the question, "Why?" has no meaning; for a believer the question "Why?" finds its ultimate answer in God." - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1223.

So, as Habakkuk did, let's bring our hard questions to God.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be honest with you, acknowledging when I am confused and frustrated. Thank You for inviting my questions. Help me to hear and understand Your answers. Amen.

MORE: Sing your questions and answers

A genre of music — Negro Spirituals — came out of the questions and dark times of the African slaves brought to America to work for white masters on plantations or in town. An article about the history of this music says:
"The lyrics of negro spirituals were tightly linked with the lives of their authors: slaves. While work songs dealt only with their daily life, spirituals were inspired by the message of Jesus Christ and his Good News (Gospel) of the Bible, “You can be saved”. They are different from hymns and psalms, because they were a way of sharing the hard condition of being a slave." (Read entire...)

Find out more about Negro Spirituals.

Negro Spirituals - what the music meant to the people who sang the songs.

Acapella Spirituals - "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen"

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

The comfort of angels

Window - St. Michale and All Angels - Chemainus B.C.
St. Michael and All Angels Church - Chemainus B.C.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 12:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer." Revelation 12:7-8

Angels are a fascinating study. They're mentioned often in the Bible. From those mentions we can pick up facts about them. (The below is compiled from the section on angels in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology pages 397-405.)

Angels (also called "sons of God" - Job 1:6; "holy ones" - Psalm 89:5,7; "spirits" - Hebrews 1:14; "watchers" - Daniel 4:13, 17; "thrones," "dominions," "principalities," and "authorities" - Colossians 1;16) are created beings - Nehemiah 9:6. Three types of angels are referred to specifically in the Bible: Cherubim, Seraphim and Living Creatures. Scripture indicates there is rank and order among angels. Daniel calls Michael (the angel in today's reading) "one of the chief princes" - Daniel 10:13. Though only two angels are mentioned by name in the Bible (Michael and Gabriel) Scripture tells us there are multitudes - Deuteronomy 33:2, Psalm 68:17. Angels have great power that is used to battle evil demonic forces - Daniel 10:13; Revelation 12:7-8.

We can't help but feel encouraged as we view the role of angels in the plans of God.
1. They show the greatness of God's love and plan for us humans. For example, though many angels sinned, we never read that any repent (2 Peter 2:4). In fact, someday God will give us authority over angels to judge them (1 Corinthians 6:13).

2. They remind us that the unseen world is real. In this regard, I love Bible stories that tell of people's eyes being opened to that reality (like Elisha's servant was in 2 Kings 6:17).

3. They are examples to us of obedience (Jesus prayed "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" - Matthew 6:10) and worship (note the Seraphim worshiping God in Isaiah 6:3).

4. Angels carry out some of God's plans by:
  • bringing messages to people - Luke 1:11-19.
  • carrying out some of God's judgments - 2 Samuel 24:16-17.
  • patrolling the earth as God's representatives - Zechariah 10:11.
  • warring against demonic forces - our focus verse today  as well as Daniel 10:13.

What a comfort to know there is a parallel reality operating and fulfilling God's plans all around us!

Dear God, thank You that Your creation includes angels. I would love for my eyes to be opened to their activity around me. As I observe them in the Bible, I realize again how truly great and worship-worthy You are. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels

Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:
"Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

A year ago on holiday we visited a Church named Saint Michael and All Angels. It's the Anglican church our friends in Chemainus B.C. attend Here is a collage of photos from that beautiful building.

St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Churcn - Chemainus B.C.

 St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church, Chemainus B.C. 
(You've got to love a church where the fig tree on the grounds is healthy and full of figs!)

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Monday, September 23, 2013

That "great gulf"

The Rich Man and Lazarus - Artist unknown
The Rich Man and Lazarus - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 16:19-31

"'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'" Luke 16:26

There is an aversion in our western society to the idea that some will miss eternity with God. The thought that they will instead spend time without end on the other side of that "great gulf," "tormented in this flame" is out of vogue. Even some who label themselves followers of Jesus have gone soft on the idea of what we call heaven and hell and that some will be in and others out.

Jesus Himself was clear on the subject.

  • He compared people to  wheat and weeds growing in the same field. Those who believe to salvation and those who don't will ripen side by side "until the harvest" when the weeds will be burned, the wheat put in the granary - Matthew 13:30.
  • Angels are the reapers of that harvest - Matthew 13:49.
  • Entire nations will stand before God for His separation judgment - Matthew 25:32,46.
  • And for those who are alive when Jesus returns to earth, the separation will happen right before their eyes - Matthew 24:40; Luke 17:34.

The plea of the rich man in Jesus' story, to send Lazarus to tell his unaware family members, shakes me. For I am still on this side of that "great gulf" with the ability to speak to my family and friends of the reality of what I believe is on the other side. Have I been clear? Or will I enter eternity with blood on my hands (Ezekiel 33:7-9)?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, the thought of eternal separation from You is unimaginable. I need a sense of urgency to warn others—especially those in my close circle—about the possibility of this. Amen.


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

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Faithfulness test

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 16:1-18

 TO CHEW ON:"'He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?'" Luke 16:10-11

Has it ever occurred to you that your current material plenty may be a test? Jesus' teaching here indicates that how we handle "unrighteous mammon" may set the stage for how much of the "true riches" we become responsible.

["Unrighteous mammon" is translated: deceitful riches, money, possessions [Amplified], worldly wealth [NIV & NLT], unrighteous wealth [NASB].

"True riches" - is translated true riches in each version I checked. It comes from the Greek word "Alethinos" - Strong's #228:
"1. that which has not only the name and resemblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real, true genuine

2. true, veracious, sincere.]

The goal for such stewardship is "faithfulness" [Pistos - one who keeps his plighted faith, worthy of trust, someone who can be relied on].

It is interesting to look up some of the Bible passages that use this word.
- Paul describes God as faithful. We get our standard and resources for faithfulness from Him.
- Paul also describes Timothy as faithful.
- Faithfulness precedes promotion.
- It is our goal as servants of Christ.

So, what does faithfulness in the area of material wealth consist of? Does it mean we give everything away? Or lavish our extra on what we considered to be "true riches" projects and causes? What about going into debt? (Verse 12 might be considered an indirect reference to it: "And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?")

A sidebar article in my Bible suggests a simple formula for faithful stewardship:
"Pay God (give), pay yourself (save), pay your bills. Being trustworthy in these matters opens the door to greater spiritual wealth." Clark Whitten "Stewardship and Debt," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1420.

PRAYER: Dear God, I have so much compared to people in many parts of the world. Help me to see my wealth in terms of eternity — and as a means of proving myself worthy to administer "true wealth" of which my money, house and car are only blurry shadows. Amen.

MORE: "Find Us Faithful" by Steve Green and the Gaither Vocal Band

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Old wine or new?

Jesus calls Matthew - Artist unknown
Jesus Calls Matthew - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 5:27-39

TO CHEW ON: "'And no one having drunk old wine immediately desires new; for he says the old is better.'" Luke 5:39

I love the story of Levi (also known as Matthew) and his quick response to Jesus' call. We can learn a lot about Levi from these few verses:
  • He was conscientious. Jesus called him from his job.
  • He was decisive. No dithering, making pro-and-con lists, or even consulting with his wife. Jesus called, "So he left all, rose up, and followed him."
  • He was hospitable in putting on a banquet for Jesus and his friends.
  • He was popular. His was a "great feast" with a "great number of tax collectors and others."
  • He was a controversial choice for a disciple—at least with the religious critics.

The latter part of our reading recounts Jesus' parable about new and old wine and wineskins. These words of Jesus at the end catch my attention: "'And no one having drunk old wine immediately desires new; for he says, the old is better.'"

Those critical scribes and Pharisees were sticking with the old wine of rigid rules about who was in and who was out. The new grace wine of Jesus had no appeal for them.

I wonder how often I am in that Pharisee camp when it comes to accepting people as fellow Christians? If they come from a different faith stream, adhere to different rituals, or their broken lives still include habits of the old life, do I put up barriers to accepting of them (while I ignore their many excellent qualities)? Instead of seeing people as Jesus saw them, do I put up walls?

Jesus said it was understandable to prefer the old wine of rules and legalism, at least in the immediate. But I think He's also saying it's possible to develop a taste for the new wine of grace.

This "new wine' may also refer to the spiritual renewals that erupt from time to time. Leslyn Musch makes this observation about the passage:

"Avoid imposing past traditional structures on present renewals. Understand that yesterday's structures and forms are often incapable of handling today's dynamic of spiritual renewal" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action through the Synoptics, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1440.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to recognize the old wine of life-sucking traditions, rules, and conditions. Help me to develop a taste for the new wine of grace. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Matthew

Today the church celebrates the disciple in our story. The liturgy for the Feast of St. Matthew, Evangelist begins with the following collect:

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

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

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why do people backslide?

ball & chain pulling a woman back
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 8:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Why has this people slidden back,
Jerusalem in a perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit,
They refuse to return." Jeremiah 8:5

The prophet sounds distraught about Israeli's continuous backsliding. His question seems more like an exclamation of exasperation than one he expects someone to answer. However, it's a good question for us to ask—with the hope of some answers.

Why do people backslide?

My Thompson Chain Bible has an item called "Backsliding: causes which tend to produce." Here are some of the reasons with their references for  backsliding, collected under that heading:

  • Absence of spiritual leaders - Exodus 32:1,8; Numbers 14:4.
Several times during their wilderness wanderings the Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt, either in their worship or literally. It happened when their leader Moses was either absent (spending time on Mt. Sinai with God) or rejected.

  • Evil Association - 1 Kings 11:4
Solomon backslid when his pagan wives turned his heart away from God to worship idols.

  • Success - 2 Chronicles 25:2,14
Amaziah obeyed God in many things and was successful  (he consolidated his kingdom and defeating the Edomites). His success may have caused him to let down his spiritual guard. For he then turned around to adopt Edomite idols.

  • Shallowness - Luke 8:13
In Jesus' story of the sower, some seed sprouted but because it fell on rocky soil and had no root, it perished under harsh conditions ("time of temptation").

  • A spiritually empty life - Luke 11:24-26
In Jesus' story of the man delivered from an evil spirit, the man was soon back in bondage because he left his spiritual house uninhabited.

  • Lack of spiritual insight - John 6:63-66
Many of Jesus' disciples left Him ("went back and walked with Him no more") when they didn't understand what He was about.

  • Love of the world - 2 Timothy 4:10
Paul's associate Demas left him simply for the love of "this present world."

I find this list soberingly relevant. For couldn't we too could be in danger of backsliding for any one of these reasons?

PRAYER: Dear God, shine Your light on my heart and expose it to me. Please alert me to my own tendencies to backslide. Amen.


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

Family worship

family in front of a cross
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 7:16-34

TO CHEW ON: "The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead the dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven, and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger." Jeremiah 7:18

The kids gather wood. Dad lights the fire. Mom kneads the dough. The whole family is involved in preparing offering cakes for the "queen of heaven"*

Compare this to the picture Moses draws of the family united in worship of Yahweh. Parents use teachable moments throughout the day to instruct. They surround themselves with reminders of God's laws, wearing them on their persons and writing them on their walls and doorposts (Deuteronomy 6:9).

Both are sweet scenes of family togetherness. But how different the outcomes!

The worship of God will result, Moses promises, in national well-being (Deuteronomy 6:3), and, Joshua promises, prosperity and success (Joshua 1:8). But  for the idol-worshiping families, Jeremiah predicts the Valley of Tophet (a high place where children are sacrificed to Molech - Jeremiah 7:31) becomes the "Valley of Slaughter" and the whole land is desolate - Jeremiah 7:34.

What kind of worship are we modelling for our children? What sorts of pursuits are we involving them in? Are we consumed with things that demonstrate obedience to God and His ways? Things for which God's word promises a blessing and well-being? Or do we live and model preoccupation with other things?

Sure, sports and the arts are worthwhile. Filling our time with Netflix and social media—what else is there? Going on holidays to entertainment meccas—well, everybody does it.

But where is God in this? Do our kids ever find us on our knees? Interrupt us while we're reading our Bibles? Overhear Christian music or Bible teaching coming from our radios and TVs?

No, we don't involve them in preparing sacrifices to idol statues of silver and gold. But could we be dragging them into the worship of other idols—the idols of achievement, glory, entertainment, fun, self-indulgence? And what will be the final chapter of our worship? Well-being or desolation (Jeremiah 7:23, 34)?

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me the idols of my own heart. Help me to model obedient, faithful, passionate worship of You to my children and grandchildren. Amen.

*The "queen of heaven" is probably Ishtar, also known as Ashtaroth and Ashtoreth-Astarte. She was  a Canaanite deity which the Israelites had begun worshiping soon after arriving in Canaan (Judges 2:13; 10:6). Involvement with Ashtoreth was common in the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:3,4). Solomon pursued her (1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:13.


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

False hope

Jesus cleansing the temple
"Jesus Cleansing the Temple" - Artist unknown
(Jesus quotes Jeremiah 7:11 when He cleanses the temple - Matthew  21:13)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 7:1-15

"Behold you trust in lying words that cannot profit." Jeremiah 7:8

In today's reading God tells Jeremiah to deliver an unpleasant message to the citizens of Jerusalem as they enter church ("the gate of the Lord's house" - Jeremiah 7:2). They apparently believed that they could live any way they liked and still be secure in Jerusalem because the temple was there. This belief, based on a 100-year-old prophecy of Isaiah, predicted that the Assyrian king Sennacherib would not take the city (Isaiah 37:6,7,29).*

Here God tells Jeremiah to set them straight. Unless they amend their ways, Jerusalem will fall like Shiloh—the original home of the ark and center of worship.

Amending their ways includes:
  • Dealing justly with the fatherless and widows.
  • Refraining from shedding innocent blood.
  • Ending their flirtations with idols.

I wonder how much double-think, like the Israelites indulged in here, has crept into our worship and practice.
  • Are we trusting in some religious routine, practice, or establishment to save us like these people were trusting in the presence of the temple (Jeremiah 7:4)?
  • Are we habitually offending God's will and standards by ignoring those things close to His heart (here providing justice for the poor and unfortunate) while bowing down to idols (Jeremiah 7:5,6)?
  • Do we separate our Sunday worship from our weekly lifestyle, doing things during the week that we'd be loath to acknowledge when we go to church on Sunday (Jeremiah 7:9,10)?

Perhaps we too need to seek out the "lying words" in which we've put our confidence and "amend (y)our ways and (y)our doings."

PRAYER: Dear God, I know the tendency of my heart to believe and live by the way of least resistance. Sometimes that means living by the 'truth' of the culture instead of the truth of Your Word. Help me to see areas of my life where I have put my trust in lying words and have false hope. Amen.

* Background information is from the commentary on Jeremiah by Roy Edmund Hayden, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 970.


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

Spirit wind

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 3:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8

Jesus' description of the born-again life reminds me of Philip the Samaritan evangelist. In the midst of his meetings, the Spirit impressed him to go to the Gaza road. There he met an Ethiopian eunuch, servant of Queen Candace and a spiritual seeker. He happened to be reading the prophet Isaiah.

After Philip explained the Scriptures and their fulfillment in Jesus to the man, he believed and asked to be baptized. Then, "The Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more...But Philip was found at Azotus...." (entire story: Acts 8:26-40).

Such wind-like encounters still take place today. What happened to my niece Brenda is an example (names have been changed).

Several years ago Brenda's daughter Kayla was found to have a rare type of paediatric brain cancer. She went through the treatments and today lives cancer-free. While Kayla was getting treatment, Brenda took part in an internet support forum for parents of cancer victims. Recently she hadn't been frequenting that forum but after she got an update she checked in again.

While there, she read a plea for information from a mom (Lou) whose little boy (Tevyan) had the exact same cancer as Kayla's. Brenda contacted the woman and they began an email correspondence.

Some weeks later Brenda and her family were on vacation in a U.S. city. They had decided on a whim to do a little shopping so picked a hotel as one does (swimming pool - ✔, wi-fi - ✔, restaurant - ✔ etc.). In the hotel lobby the first morning she noticed a little bald boy and thought Cancer. I know what they're going through.

The second day at breakfast she overheard a conversation between the little boy and his mother, and heard the mother distinctly called the little guy "Tevyan."

Corey, Brenda's husband said of that moment: "Brenda's face went white and she said to me, 'That must be Tevyan and Lou who I've been emailing.'"

Brenda went over, introduced herself and discovered they were indeed the people she had met on the forum. Kayla was even able to encourage little Tevyan in person.

I know this meeting didn't have overt spiritual overtones. Maybe that part is still to come. However, who but God the Holy Spirit could orchestrate such an encounter to encourage two mothers' hearts?

Have you seen evidence of the Spirit's wind in your life? Watch for it today!

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit. Please make my life as sensitive to Your moving as dandelion fluff. Amen.

MORE: Holy Cross Day

Today is Holy Cross Day on the church calendar. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."

Complete liturgy for the day.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Foolish or wise?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 4:19-31

TO CHEW ON: "'For My people are foolish,
They have not known Me.
They are silly children,
And they have no understanding.
They are wise to do evil,
But to do good they have no knowledge.'" Jeremiah 4:22

Bible writers didn't hesitate to label certain folks fools or foolish, describing them as being without understanding. Some of the people who earned that description were (linked words lead to four versions of the passage on Bible Gateway):
- The person who spent his time on frivolous pursuits instead of work (Proverbs 12:11).
- The lazy person (Proverbs 24:30).
- The haughty person (Proverbs 18:12).
- The oppressive ruler (Proverbs 28:16).
- The person who made an idol and fuel out of the same block of wood (Isaiah 44:19).
- And those people who did not have the sense to seek after and know God (our focus verse today).

Isn't that a little harsh, we ask. We humans have knowledge that spans the disciplines from Archeology to Zoology and know lots about the human body, mind, and psyche. Does none of this count as wisdom?

God's word tells us it doesn't count for much. In God's economy, the vast sum of things we know is of little account - I Corinthians 1:25. But what we do with the things of wisdom matters a great deal.

So when we hear God's voice (through His word or His servants) teaching, correcting, scolding, advising, chiding, we have a choice. We can refuse to listen (Zechariah 7:11-13) and become confirmed and stuck in our foolish ways (Romans 1:28), or we can take what we hear to heart, letting it root and fruit in our lives (Matthew 13:23).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to put more stock in what You say than what so-called wise but godless people say. I want to be wise in Your ways. Amen.

MORE: Foolish or wise foundation?

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells this little story (Matthew 7:24-27):

Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Backsliding—not a terminal illness

Girl propped in bed, taking her temperature
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 3:19-4:12

"'Return, you backsliding children,
And I will heal your backslidings.'" Jeremiah 3:22

Jeremiah talks a lot about backsliding. In the verse I've chosen to focus on today, he calls it "backslidings."

[Backsliding - meshubah means turning back, turning away; defecting, faithlessness, apostasy, disloyalty; reverting. It comes from the root word shub that means turn or repent.

But backslide is subtly different from repent. While repent means to turn around, when you backslide you turn back (to a state you were in previously). "To return to wrong or sinful ways" - definitions from from Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 967 & Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary. ]

Jeremiah refers to backsliding as a condition that needs healing. When someone needs healing they are either sick or injured and their ability to help themselves is compromised. Perhaps this gives us insight into how we can pray for loved ones who were once loyal to Jesus but have since turned their backs on Him—backsliders. We can pray for their spiritual healing.

More aspects of spiritual healing are sprinkled throughout the Bible. From them we learn:

1. God may allow, even seem to initiate pain during our times of backsliding to urge us back to Him - Hosea 6:1.

2. We can pray for ourselves when we sense we're in danger of backsliding or in a backslidden condition - Psalm 41:4; Jeremiah 17:14.

3. God is the one who does the healing - Psalm 147:3.

4. Healing from backsliding and all spiritual illness is available only through Christ and His substitutionary death on the cross - Luke 4:18; Isaiah 53:5.

5. Someday our healing will be complete - Revelation 22:2.

It's wonderful to know that backsliding doesn't have to be a terminal illness!

Dear God, I pray for the backsliders I love. I also pray that I will have the sense to know when I am infected with the germs of backsliding. Amen.


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

Shepherds with God's heart

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 3:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "'Return, O backsliding children,' says the Lord; for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.'" Jeremiah 3:14,15

It's hard to find a ray of hope in this description of Israel's unfaithfulness. But here is one—God's promise to give returning backsliders shepherds according to His heart. (David is called such a shepherd - 1 Samuel 13:14.)

It will be a good shepherd that will feed them with "knowledge and understanding."

[Understanding (sachal) means "to be wise, behave wisely, to understand, be instructed, wisely consider, be prudent and intelligent. Sachal describes the complex intelligent thinking process that occurs when one observes, ponders, reasons, learns, and reaches a conclusion."

A word derived from sachal is maschil (give instructions, make wise and skilful). Thirteen psalms are called "Maschil" psalms: 32; 42; 44; 45; 52; 53; 54; 55; 74; 78; 88; 89; 142 (the NKJV translates "Maschil" "a Contemplation") from Word Wealth by Dick Mills, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 963-4.]

I ask myself, what shepherd am I following? These days the chorus of want-to-be shepherds is overwhelming. They come to us via TV, the radio, and internet. A plethora of ministries offer broadcasts, podcasts, books, CDs, and DVDs.  All compete for our attention, loyalty, and financial support.

But the most reliable shepherd, I believe, is still God's word. As we read, ponder, reason, learn, and apply it to our lives we will be fed with knowledge and understanding. The Lord will be our shepherd (Psalm 23:1-6). And as we follow our heavenly shepherd, we will have the ear-sense to recognize the voice of good earthly shepherds (John 10:4).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be hungry for Your knowledge and understanding, leadable and able to recognize Your voice in the voice of earthly shepherds.  Amen.

MORE: We need to know the God's word

"2 Corinthians 10:4,5 clearly indicates that we must know the Word of God well enough to be able to compare what is in our mind (and, I would add, what we're hearing /reading) with what is in the mind of God; any thought (or teaching) that attempts to exalt itself above the Word of God we are to cast down and bring into captivity to Jesus Christ" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 4.


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

Rebuked by an old seer

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo
The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 2:14-37

TO CHEW ON: "'Your own wickedness will correct you
And your backsliding will rebuke you.
Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing
That you have forsaken the Lord your God,
And the fear of Me is not in you,'
Says the Lord God of hosts."  Jeremiah 14:19

Jeremiah was not a popular man. "Partly this was because of the message of doom proclaimed by Jeremiah, a message contrary to the hope of the people…" explains Roy E. Hayden, in my Bible's introduction to Jeremiah (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 956).

As we see in our reading today, Jeremiah used strong language to describe the state of Judah during his time (the reigns of Josiah, Jehoidah, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah - 626-586 B.C.). It's easy to see why his message was unpopular. How would you like to hear yourself:
  • described as a slave (Jeremiah 2:14) and told that you are responsible for this enslavement (Jeremiah 2:17)?
  • compared to a prostitute (Jeremiah 2:20)?
  • called a "degenerate plant of an alien vine" (Jeremiah 2:21)?
  • described as permanently stained by sin (Jeremiah 2:22)?
  • likened to a wild dromedary or donkey in heat (Jeremiah 2:23-25)?
  • depicted as utterly stupid for trusting in rocks and trees instead of God (Jeremiah 2:27-28)?
  • compared to children who don't learn from correction (Jeremiah 2:30)?
  • likened to an unfaithful bride who preens herself for illicit love while her skirts are stained, for all to see, with the blood of the innocents (Jeremiah 2:32-34)?

But does all this have anything to do with us? Perhaps more than we care to admit. For we too readily forsake Jesus, our first love.

We let ourselves become enslaved, if not to addictive substances, then to things we think we need to live in ease and comfort.

We go after idols, not of wood and stone but wealth, talent, and position.

Instead of finding the solution to our problems in God's word, we look to the world's wisdom and keep repeating the same mistakes.

Meanwhile, we turn a blind eye to injustices happening right under our noses.

I am not scolding you, dear reader, but myself.

The solution: "God calls for obedience to His commands in a pure covenantal relationship. Sin requires repentance and restoration; obedience leads to blessing and joy" - Roy E. Hayden, Introduction to Jeremiah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 958.

Or we will suffer the consequences, as our wickedness corrects us and our blacksliding rebukes us.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to deal with my own tendencies toward idolatry, compromise, and backsliding. Amen.

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

What kind of clay are you?

clay and sculpting tools
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 18:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And they said, 'This is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.'" Jeremiah 18:12

God tells Jeremiah to go to the potter's shop to get a message from Him.  There Jeremiah sees the potter forming a pot. When the clay doesn't cooperate and the thing he's attempting to make is marred, the potter doesn't give up. Instead he makes something else.

Though the potter is capable of forming all kinds of pots, his skill isn't the only variable in making pots. My Bible's commentary says: "What the potter makes depends on the quality of the clay; what God makes of His people depends on their response." Roy Edmund Hayden, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 985.

What makes good clay for forming pots? An article about the characteristics of good throwing clay names three things that determine how useful a clay will be to a potter:

  • Plasticity: "Without a very high level of flexibility the clay simply won't be workable on the wheel."
  • Strength: "Throwing clays must … retain enough strength to stand upright when thrown into thin-walled, tall forms."
  • Water absorption: "Clay absorbs water while it is being formed on the potter's wheel, which is why the longer a clay is worked on the wheel, the softer it becomes. Water absorption, then, can become a problem."

If we continue on with the metaphor of our lives as potter's clay, we might say that our lives also need to be

Plastic or moldable:
"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, Which have no understanding, Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, Else they will not come near you." - Psalm 32:8,9.

See also  Romans 12:1.

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might…" Ephesians 6:10,11.
"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit." - Romans 8:5.

See also Romans 6:12-13

Able to absorb water: I would compare this to how we are softened and changed by tests and trials, yet not overcome by them:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" - Romans 8:35,37.
See also Romans 5:3-5.

Our commenter continues:

 "As the quality of the clay limits what the potter can do with it, so the quality of a people limits what God will do with it."

If you and I are feeling as dizzy and confused about what God is doing with us as a lump of clay on a potter's wheel, instead of declaring, like the people of Jeremiah's time: "This is hopeless. We will walk according to our own plans…" and jumping off, let's stay put. And let's work on improving the quality of our clay, so our Potter can complete the useful thing He has in mind:

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do" - Ephesians 2:10.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be good clay in Your hands, willing to take whatever shape You can use. Amen.

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


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 1:1-6

TO CHEW ON: "But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night." Psalm 1:2

Have you ever read accounts of people who have had experiences or visions of heaven? I know of several. One, Flight to Heaven, is the story of Captain Dale Black and his visit to heaven as he lay comatose in a hospital bed near death after a plane crash.

Here is his account of the perspective he got on God's Word:

"I understood in my heart that God's will was perfection and His Word was the source of all creation. As I considered all that I had seen, I understood that the Word of God was and is the foundation for everything. God was the heart of heaven, His love, His will, His order.

Somehow I recognized that Jesus, the Word, was the structure that held it all together. Like the rib cage around the heart, He was the creative power that brought everything that I saw into place and stabilized it" - Flight to Heaven, p. 104.

David (or whoever wrote Psalm 1) didn't need to go to heaven to learn the value of God's Word (law). Here he describes the blessed man as one who meditates on that word day and night.

[Meditates - hagah, means to reflect, to moan, to mutter, to ponder, to make a quiet sound such as sighing; to meditate or contemplate something as one repeats the words.]

A Word Wealth article in my Bible describes Hebrew meditation:
"In Hebrew thought to meditate upon the Scriptures is to quietly repeat them in a soft droning sound while utterly abandoning outside distractions. From this tradition comes a specialized type of prayer called "davening" that is, reciting texts, praying intense prayers, or getting lost in communion with God while bowing or rocking back and forth" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 687.

I'm not sure I could get into that kind of meditation but I can do the meditation practice that works for me: memorization.

When I memorize a piece of Scripture it becomes mine in a unique way. Memorization forces me to think about all the details—the specific words used, the order of the ideas, even the punctuation. And what a blessing later, when I'm anxious (Philippians 4:6-7), or tempted (1 Corinthians 10:13), or feeling old and useless (Isaiah 58:11), to have that Word ready, like an unsheathed sword, prepared to do battle with my thoughts and circumstances.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to love Your word as much as the psalmist did. Please give me Your perspective on its importance. May it be on my mind continually. Amen.

MORE: More about memorization

Are you interested in improving your ability and success with memorizing? Here are a few links to check out.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Our ministry of reconciliation

Onesimus begging forgiveness from Philemon
"Onesimus giving Philemon Paul's letter and begging forgiveness" by Margie Wall
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philemon 1-25

TO CHEW ON: "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains …. For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever." Philemon 10,15

The story behind this one-chapter book is that Paul has met Onesimus, a runaway slave. Onesimus has converted and is currently a help to Paul. But Paul wants Onesimus to be reconciled to his owner Philemon, who is also a Christian. The book of Philemon is the letter Paul sends with Onesimus, asking Philemon to receive him back. It's Paul doing what he has told others to and acting as a "minster of reconciliation" - 2 Corinthians 5:18.

Of course, when Paul talks of being a "minister of reconciliation" in 2 Corinthians 5, the reconciliation he is talking about is first our reconciliation to God.

God was the initiator of this reconciliation and it was accomplished through Christ's death on the cross. Our assignment as such a minister is to tell others about this good news and help them to be reconciled to God too.

But our right relationship with God is not separate from our relationship with people. Jesus' teaching on forgiveness is clear: "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses" - Mark 11:25.

And so here Paul extends his ministry of reconciliation to implore Philemon to do exactly what Jesus was talking about, and forgive Onesimus (implied by "obedience" in Philemon 21).

Paul does all he can to smooth out their relationship. He appeals to Philemon on the basis that they are now Christian brothers. He begs Philemon to take his slave back. He offers to pay for anything that Onesimus has stolen from or owes his master.

I wonder how I would have acted in this situation. What about you? When we see two Christians at odds with each other, what is our first impulse? To take sides? To carry the torch for one and condemn the other? To gossip and perhaps make the rift between them even deeper? Or is it to help them be reconciled? Let's take Paul as our example in this sensitive area. 

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be a peacemaker and reconciler, enhancing relationships between the people I know and becoming a minister of reconciliation between others and You. Amen.


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