Saturday, November 30, 2013

The "Fear not" of God's meetings with us

Miraculous catch of fishes - Artist unknown
"Miraculous catch of fishes" - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 5:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "... And Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.'" Luke 5:10

"Where are you?"

When Adam and Eve came out from hiding, Adam's first words were, "'I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid'" (Genesis 3:9).

This was the first of many divine-human intersections where, when God broke through, terror struck the hearts of the people He appeared to.  "Fear not," God said to Isaiah and David (Isaiah 6:7; Daniel 10:12).

"Fear not,"
He said to Simon here, before giving him a new life assignment, and destiny.

I love how Jesus' miracle involved the stuff of Simon's everyday life: the lake, the fish, the job he knew like the back of his hand. Matthew Henry comments on Simon and his fearful reaction:

    "The very fish of his native lake, then, were subject to this strange holy Man! This was no mortal, thought the fisherman, and he fell at the Master's feet. 'Finding as it does its parallel in almost all manifestations of a Divine or even an angelic presence, it (this awful fear) must be owned to contain a mighty, because an instructive, witness for the sinfulness of man's nature, out of which it comes to pass that any near revelation from the heavenly world fills the children of men, even the holiest among them, with terror and amazement, yea, sometimes with the expectation of death itself' (Archbishop Trench, 'Introduction to the Epistles to the Seven Churches')" - Matthew Henry Commentary on Luke 5.
    
But Jesus didn't slay Simon with His presence. Instead, He gave him a new reason to live.

Does God ever come to you and me in breakthrough ways that tell us our circumstance is no fluke or coincidence? Perhaps it is the supply of exactly the amount of money we need and were praying for. Or our pastor's message on Sunday is based on the verse that's been on our mind all week. Or we read something in the Bible or another book that is the precise answer to a question someone asks. Or...?

Whatever it is, after we've got over that holy shiver of awe, even fear—God is here; He sees me, knows me, is intimately acquainted with the details of my life—we need to keep listening and paying attention. For it is through exactly such fearful interactions that God steers and affirms us in the "...good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" - Ephesians 2:10.


PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You that though Your presence is awesome, it is also accompanied by a "fear not." Help me to be tuned to what You are saying in these "patches of God-light" moments. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Andrew


Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Andrew (who was a brother to the Simon in our story - Matthew 4:18-22). The liturgy of the day begins with this collect:

   "Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your Holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

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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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Friday, November 29, 2013

Avoid the fate of the worship judge

"David dancing before the ark with all his might" by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Chronicles 15:25-16:8

TO CHEW ON: "And it happened, as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the city of David, that Michal, Saul's daughter, looked through a window and saw King David whirling and playing music; and she despised him in her heart." 1 Chronicles 15:29

Michal is an interesting Bible character. Here's what we know about her:

  • She is Saul's younger daughter (1 Samuel 14:49).
  • She loves David and David pays the grisly bride price to get her as a wife (1 Samuel 18:20, 27).
  • She helps David escape from Saul's murderous rage (1 Samuel 19:12).
  • After David leaves the city to live on-the-run, Saul gives Michal in marriage to another man (1 Samuel 25:44).
  • When David becomes king in Hebron he demands Michal be returned to him (2 Samuel 3:3).
  • On bringing the ark to Jerusalem David celebrates "leaping and whirling before the Lord." Michal watches and despises him (2 Samuel 6:16; 1 Chronicles 15:29). 
  • She goes to meet David, and accosts him with scorn and sarcasm: "How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellow shamelessly uncovers himself!" (2 Samuel 6:20).
  • But David doesn't give an inch. He tells her, "'It was before the Lord … Therefore I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this…" (2 Samuel 6:21-22).
  • Michal is doomed to barrenness (2 Samuel 6:23).

Why is Michal so critical of David's worship? There may be many reasons.

Maybe she is a prisoner of her own undemonstrative personality. Perhaps her palace upbringing has engrained in her a sense of how royalty should act. She is obviously hung up on appearances and what others will think. Perhaps too, her own spiritual life is lacking and so she has no category for the passion David feels and exhibits when he worships.  Whatever it is, her scornful reaction to David and his worship seals her fate of barrenness.

I think of this story when I hear people criticize the worship of others. Oh, I know there are guidelines laid down in the New Testament about church decorum. And I believe we should follow these. But in the area of how my Christian brothers and sisters personally interact with God, who am I, who are we to criticize how much emotion they display, whether they kneel or raise their hands, dance or lie face down, weep or whirl? They are, after all, presenting their worship to God, not us. It's for Him to read their hearts. And don't we want to stay out of the realm of spiritual Michal-barrenness?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to worship You with the abandon that David shows, and to keep from judging others for their worship. Amen.

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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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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Haughtiness and a lofty look

Nebuchadnezzar by William Blake (Daniel 4:30-33)
"Nebuchadnezzar" by William Blake (Daniel 4:30-33)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 2:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "
The lofty looks of men shall be humbled
The haughtiness of men shall be bowed down,
And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.
For the day of the Lord of hosts
Shall come upon everything proud and lofty
Upon everything lifted up—
And it shall be brought low—"  Isaiah 2:11,12

 Our tendency, encouraged by our humanistic culture, is to get the credit, desire prominence, be the successful, beautiful, wealthy ones that everyone admires. Our word for it is pride: An undue sense of one's own superiority; inordinate self-esteem, arrogance, conceit.

In today's reading in Isaiah and many other places in the Bible we find reasons to pause, though. For the way of pride is not God's way.

Some of the things the Bible says about pride and the proud:
  • Pride is listed among the things that God hates and is called sin - Proverbs 6:17; 21:4.
  • The writer of Proverbs identifies pride with shame and strife, humility with wisdom - Proverbs 11:2; 13:10.
  • The proud set themselves up for a fall - Proverbs 16:18.
  • Habakkuk depicts the person with a proud outlook as a contrast to the person who lives by faith - Habakkuk 2:14.
  • Pride is one of the possessions of this world that is passing away - 1 John 2:16,17.

If we're still not convinced of the wrong-headedness and danger of pride, we need only look at a few Bible characters and see pride's consequences:
  • Pharaoh's scorn of God and Moses led to his ultimate defeat - Exodus 5:2; 14:26-28.
  • Naaman nearly missed being healed because of pride - 2 Kings 5:11.
  • King Uzziah entered the holy place of the temple where only the priests were to go and became infected with leprosy - 2 Chronicles 26:16-20.
  • Haman's pride of position and wrath when Mordecai wouldn't bow to him began a chain of events that ended in his own death - Esther 3:5; 7:9,10.
  • Nebuchadnezzar was full of pride over building Babylon. As a result he was, for a time, inflicted with insanity - Daniel 4:30-33.
  • King Herod refused to give glory to God and suffered the bizarre consequences of death by parasites - Acts 12:23.

A commentary article on this passage in my Bible makes a good application for our lives:

"How often are we wise to be reminded of two things, especially when fruitfulness or blessing attends our work in Jesus' name. First be reminded of the amazing things God did to bring us to a place of blessing; and second be reminded to give Him the glory unswervingly. … Let every inclination to think highly of our work become an occasion for prostration in the presence of God, 'that no flesh should glory in His presence' - 1 Corinthians 1:29" - Paul F. Crouch, "Give God the Glory," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 877 (emphasis added).

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for this clear warning against pride. Help me to take it to heart and practice a mindset and lifestyle of humility and gratitude. Amen.

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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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Monday, November 25, 2013

Two kinds of blindness

Jesus heals a blind man
Jesus heals a blind man
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 18:28-43

TO CHEW ON: "But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken. … Then Jesus said to him, 'Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.'" Luke 18:34,42

When poets arrange their poems to be published in a book they give much thought to which pieces they put next to each other. The sequence is the result of asking questions like, do these two poems illuminate or add to, contradict, flow from, have the same or contrasting mood as each other? The order of poems is a carefully considered element of the book. In our reading today, I'd suggest that the two stories we see side by side are next to each other with the same Author intention.

In the first one (Luke 18:31-34) Jesus delivers some sobering news. He says (and I paraphrase) - We are going to Jerusalem. The prophecies about the Son of Man (Me) will be fulfilled. I will be delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, insulted, spit upon, scourged, killed and on the third day rise again. The disciples, though, understand none of it. They are blind: "This saying was hidden from them."

In the next story we have a blind beggar beside the road (Luke 18:34-43). He hears the crowd, discovers Jesus is in it and cries out. Jesus stops, asks that they bring the man to Him and when he arrives asks, "'What do you want me to do for you?'" "'Receive my sight'" the man replies. Then Jesus makes this profound statement: "'Receive your sight; your faith has made you well'" and heals his eyesight (emphasis added).

Two cases of blindness. Could it be that the root of healing for the man's physical blindness—faith—is also the root of healing for spiritual blindness?

I don't know what kind of faith the disciples would have needed to open their eyes at that time. In some way they would have had to grasp the big picture of who Jesus was, and that His coming and death were a fulfillment of prophecy. They just weren't thinking that large.

The risen Jesus Himself elaborates on the faith necessary when He talks to the Emmaus disciples—two more who were blinded (Luke 24:16): "Then He said to them, 'O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!'" - Luke 24:25.

Let's apply this principle of the necessity of faith to gain spiritual sight and insight. We can do it when we introduce people to Jesus. And we can do it in our own lives when the spiritual meaning of circumstances is hidden from us.

Oswald Chambers explains it:

"For every detail of common sense in life, there is a truth God has revealed by which we can prove in our practical experience what we believe God to be. Faith is a tremendously active principle that always puts Jesus Christ first. The life of faith says, “Lord, You have said it, it appears to be irrational, but I’m going to step out boldly, trusting in Your Word” (for example, see Matthew 6:33). Turning intellectual faith into our personal possession is always a fight, not just sometimes.

God brings us into particular circumstances to educate our faith, because the nature of faith is to make the object of our faith very real to us. Until we know Jesus, God is merely a concept, and we can’t have faith in Him. But once we hear Jesus say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) we immediately have something that is real, and our faith is limitless. Faith is the entire person in the right relationship with God through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 30th reading.  


PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, please help me to apply the antidote of faith in You and who You are to every circumstance, especially those which I don't understand. Amen.

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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, November 24, 2013

Majesty

St. Edward's Crown. It was last 
used to crown Queen Elizabeth II 
on 2 June 1953. 

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 93:1-5

TO CHEW ON: "The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty." Psalm 93:1a

The word majesty takes my mind to royalty and royal occasions. I was a very little girl when Queen Elizabeth was crowned queen of England and the Commonwealth. Though we didn't watch the coronation on TV (didn't even have a TV then), I do remember poring over a glossy commemorative magazine that came to our house sometime later. I studied the photos of the white horses pulling the golden coach, was fascinated by the queen's ermine-lined cape, and spellbound by the crown of gold, jewels, and purple velvet.

The clothes and ceremony of royalty display human majesty. However, for the psalmist God's majesty is evidenced not in physical robes or pomp, not even in the majesty of creation, but in His essence and attributes. Let's take a close look at what the psalmist finds majestic about God.

He begins by talking about God's clothes: "The Lord is clothed, He has girded Himself with strength" (vs. 1b). He describes God's strength as mightier than the noise and power of the sea (vs.3-4). The theological word for God's strength or power is omnipotence. I love my old systematic theology textbook's definition:

"By the omnipotence of God we mean that He is able to do whatever He wills; but since His will is limited by His nature, this means that God can do everything that is in harmony with His perfections" H. C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 126.

Next, the psalmist describes God's throne: "Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting." God's everlastingness is part of His being or essence. Theologians refer to it as eternity. Thiessen describes the eternity of God:

"By the eternity of God we mean His infinity in relation to time; we mean that He is without beginning or end; that He is free from all succession of time; and that he is the cause of time" - Thiessen (Lectures...) p. 122.

Finally, the psalmist speaks of what decorates the palace of this great King: "Holiness adorns Your house" (vs. 5). Consider this mind-stretching definition of God's holiness:

"By the holiness of God we mean that He is absolutely separate from and exalted above all His creatures, and that He is equally separate from moral evil and sin. In the first sense His holiness ... denotes the perfection of God in all that He is. In the second sense it is viewed as the eternal conformity of His being and His will. In God we have purity of being before purity of willing. God does not will the good because it is good, nor is the good good because God wills it; else there would be a good above God or the good would be arbitrary and changeable. Instead, God's will is the expression of His nature, which is holy" - Thiessen, (Lectures...) p. 128-129.

We ponder these things, trying to grasp the majesty of God as displayed in His strength, eternity and holiness. There is, finally, only one appropriate response: Worship.


PRAYER: Dear God, You are mind-bendingly awesome! Thank You for Your power. Thank You that You are forever, transcending time. Thank You that You are holy. Thank You for sending Jesus, to make a way for measly me to have a relationship with You. Amen.

MORE: "Majesty" by Jack Hayford




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Saturday, November 23, 2013

It's Saturday, but Sunday's coming!

Stained glass window from St.
George's Anglican Church,
Fort Langley, B.C.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 122: 1-9

TO CHEW ON: "I was glad when they said to me
'Let us go into the house of the Lord.'" Psalm 122:1

Today is Saturday. Do your thoughts flit ahead toward tomorrow with anticipation because then you can again "go into the house of the Lord"?

For David going into the house of the Lord meant gathering together with fellow Israelites in Jerusalem. It was celebrating the feast days and festivals — and they were celebrations! It meant going up to the tabernacle (the temple had not yet been built) where resided the "Testimony" — the ark with the tablets containing the ten commandments. It meant witnessing the various sacrifices, performed only by the priests, but heavy with the symbolism of God's plan of atonement, redemption and salvation for all.

What we mean when we say we go into the house of the Lord is, of course, different from David's meaning for him. But it has similarities in its regularity, the way its celebrations provide the bones of our year (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas), and the way each visit again directs our attention God-ward.

Would you miss it if it were gone — if Sunday were just another workday? If you never had to make an appearance at church again? Sometimes the way to realize how much we appreciate a thing is to imagine it gone — indeed put ourselves through actual withdrawal for a whlie.

I don't advise doing that with church attendance (stopping to see how much you miss it). But I do think it's a valuable exercise to, once in a while, think about what it would be like if church weren't there to attend.

Today, make a list of things you would miss if your church disappeared off the face of your town and you never met with your brothers and sisters in a corporate, church-gathering way. Here is the beginning of my list:

I would miss:
1. Worshiping, loudly and heartily, with others.
2. Pastor's teaching and how it focuses me on eternal things.
3. Hearing the stories of God working in the lives of others.
4. Seeing people baptized.
5. Hearing reports from missionaries about what God is doing in other parts of the world...

Would you be sorry to see it gone? I know I would!

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me a new appreciation for my church and its role in my life. I want to say with David, "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord.'" Amen.


MORE: Songs of Ascent

Psalm 122 is one of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (they are Psalms 120-134). Eugene Peterson writes about these psalms in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. In Chapter 1 of the book he explains their origin and use:

"These fifteen psalms were likely sung, possibly in sequence, by Hebrew pilgrims as they went up to Jerusalem to the great worship festivals.

[...] Three times a year faithful Hebrews made that trip (Exodus 23:14-17; 34:22-24). The Hebrews were a people whose salvation had been accomplished in the exodus, whose identity had been defined at Sinai, and whose preservation had been assured in the forty years of wilderness wandering.
As such a people they regularly climbed the road to Jerusalem to worship. They refreshed their memories of God's saving ways at the Feast of Passover in the spring; they renewed their commitments as God's covenanted people at the Feast of Pentecost in the early summer; they responded as a blessed community to the best that God had for them at the Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn. They were a redeemed people, a commanded people, a blessed people."
- Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. pp. 18-19.


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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cleaning the temple

Hezekiah cleanses the temple
Hezekiah cleanses the temple
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Chronicles 29:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "'Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place.'"  2 Chronicles 29:5

In Old Testament times decisions about faith and religious practice were usually made by political leaders and not individuals.  Kings Ahaz and Hezekiah are examples of this.

King Ahaz, Hezekiah's father, determinedly, pointedly, and openly turned away from God. When he was defeated by the Syrians he decided to start worshiping their gods: "'Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me'" - 2 Chronicles 28:23.

And so he destroyed worship objects of God Jehovah, locked the temple, made altars throughout Jerusalem, and high places to sacrifice to "other gods" throughout Judah (2 Chronicles 28:24-25). It was no secret who he was worshiping and I can only imagine the trouble his subjects would have got into had he discovered they were clinging to Yahweh.

When his son Hezekiah became king, he reversed those practices. Immediately on ascending to the throne, this 25-year-old opened the temple doors, gathered the priests, and put them to work cleansing the temple in the hope of restoring God-honoring worship. Soon the lamps would again burn and the smell of incense and the smoke of offerings would again fill the air.

Though our faith and practice may not have the public component of a central worship place with open (or locked) doors, lit (or unlit) lamps, pungent incense and smoky offerings, the principles of opening, cleansing and sanctifying still apply to our worship. Now, however, each one of us administers our own temple—the temple of our heart and physical body.

King Hezekiah's directive to his priests is an excellent place to start with this: "Now sanctify the house of the Lord … and carry out the rubbish from the holy place."

In New Testament terms:

"Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" - 1 Corinthians 3:16,17.

and

"Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God's" - 1 Corinthians 6:19,20.


PRAYER: Dear God, help me to keep my temple clean, myself set apart for You and Your purposes, as I administer my body, soul, and spirit—the temple of Your Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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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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Monday, November 18, 2013

Opportunities for testimony

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 21:7-24

TO CHEW ON: "'But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.'" Luke 2:13

As part of His grim prediction of the future, Jesus tells his disciples things will not go well with them. They will be persecuted and brought  before synagogue brass and jailers, kings and other secular rulers. But there is a bright ray in connection with this. Their inquisition will turn out as an occasion for testimony—the declaration of their personal experience with God.

Of course opportunities for testimony aren't limited to times of conflict with the spiritual-belief police.
  • Some lepers in the Old Testament felt compelled to give the good news of the food they had discovered to those starving in the city. This reminds us that we must give our testimony of how we found the spiritual food of salvation to those starving spiritually - 2 Kings 7:9.
  • The psalmist reminds us who have been "redeemed form the hand of the enemy" (Satan) to "say so" - Psalm 107:2.
  • We testify to God's deeds and working in our lives - Isaiah 12:4.
  • We testify with the unceasing alertness of watchmen on city walls - Isaiah 62:6.
  • We testify at home - Mark 6:18, 19.
  • We testify around the world - Acts 1:8.
  • We testify to each other at church - Ephesians 5:19.
  • We testify without embarrassment or shame - 2 Timothy 1:18.
  • We're always ready to explain the reason for the hope that is in us - 1 Peter 3:15.
  • But we shouldn't be overly concerned about what we're going to say, even when brought before the harshest judges. For in this passage Jesus reminds us: "'Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist'" - Luke 21:14,15.

I wonder, what occasion for testimony will come our way today! Let's be alert and sensitive to promptings and opportunities to testify.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, please help me to be alert to openings to speak of my experience with You, what You've done for me and Your love and forgiveness available to everyone who trusts You. 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, November 17, 2013

How would Jesus describe you?

Jesus with scribes and Pharisees by James Tissot
Jesus with scribes and Pharisees by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 20:41-21:6

TO CHEW ON: "Them, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, 'Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts. …'" Luke 20:45,46

I wonder how the scribes felt about Jesus' public "Beware the scribes..." So who were these people that Jesus spoke of so negatively?

The Victor Handbook of Bible Knowledge says of scribes:
"Reading and writing were skills learned by only a select few in Bible times. Scribes were the writers of the ancient world, and an Israelite man was usually trained for 15-20 years to become one."

And of New Testament scribes it says:
"All three (chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people) were religious leaders of the Jews. … The scribes were scholars who knew the Jewish law. They could be either Pharisees or sadducees. Some of them later became rabbis" - V. Gilbert Beers, Victor Handbook of Bible Knowledge pp. 281 & 479.

It wasn't for their work as Scripture scholars Jesus criticized them though. Rather it was for their attitudes, which they showed in various ways.
  • They were showy - "they desire to go around in long robes …" Luke 20:46.
  • They loved attention and deference - "…love greetings in the marketplaces."
  • They loved prominence - "…the best seats in the synagogues and the best places at feasts."
  • They were greedy, stooping to prey on the poorest and most vulnerable - "…who devour widows' houses" - Luke 20:47.
  • They were sanctimonious, praying long showy prayers meant to impress onlookers with their piety - "…and for  pretense make long prayers."

Jesus declared them false—a sham. In his lengthy denunciation of them in Matthew 23, He describes their fate: "'Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?'" - Matthew 23:33.

Chilling words. They make us pause and examine our own lives. Do we have some of their ambitions—the desire to be seen and noticed, the love of attention and prominence? What's our attitude toward the poor and vulnerable? Do we ever pray with the secret desire to be thought pious and spiritually mature?

How would Jesus view us? Let's ask for His perspective and then repent of and clear out the rubble of sinful attitude and action. For we would never want to hear the words "Beware ___" with our names in the blank!


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, it's easy to feel superior as I read about these religious hypocrites. But help me to view my own attitudes and life through Your eyes and deal with the sin You show me. Amen. 

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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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Friday, November 15, 2013

The anchored life

House built on sand versus house built on rock - Luke 6:47,48
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 6:37-49

TO CHEW ON:
"'Whoever comes to Me and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood rose, the stream beat vehemently against that house and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.'" Luke 6:47,48.


In picturesque language Jesus describes a life that is stable (Luke 6:46-48) vs. one that is unstable (Luke 6:49). Three thoughts jump out at me from this passage.

1. The "sayings" Jesus says we are to HEAR, what are they? His sayings: the words we have recorded in the Bible of His life and teaching. For His hearers then they were the residue of what they remembered of His public talks. We are immensely blessed to have these sayings in permanent form in the Bible and are able to "hear" them over and over as we read, re-read, and study them.

In keeping with His word picture, Jesus compares these words to a rock—that foundation on which we can safely anchor and build our life-house.

2. To effectively anchor a life to those sayings requires more than just hearing, for the wise builder "does them."  That's  OBEDIENCE. Jesus spoke often of obedience to His words. He said:
  • Obedience draws people into the relationship of God's family - Matthew 12:50.
  • Obedience sharpens spiritual discernment - John 7:17.
  • Obedience softens God's heart toward us and He and Jesus come to live within us - John 15:23.
  • John speaks of how obedience helps set us apart for eternal life - 1 John 2:17.

3. Finally, we see that we will be TESTED: "the flood rose, the stream beat vehemently against that house..." It is in the test of the floods and swollen, swift-flowing streams of life that the integrity of our life's foundation becomes clear.

So we need to ask ourselves:
  • Have we built our lives on Jesus and His sayings?
  • Are we giving more than intellectual assent to these things?
We'd better get that house firmly anchored before the stormy season!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for this clear picture of how to build my life on rock. Help me to go deep now so that I will be anchored when trouble comes. Amen. 


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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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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

City mayhem

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18



TO CHEW ON: "Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you." 2 Thessalonians 3:1


How was it with the "you" in this letter—the Thessalonians? Luke tells the story of the gospel coming to Thessalonica in Acts 17. There we see Paul on his second missionary journey, reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jews in the synagogue for three successive Sabbaths. He convinces "a great multitude of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women"  about Jesus' claims.

But there is opposition. The unpersuaded Jews start a riot that results in the mob lynching Paul's supporter Jason and dragging him to the city officials. Their accusation: "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too" - Acts 17:6.

The Bible has stories of other city-wide revivals and movements:

Sychar (in Samaria): Many believe in Jesus after the Samaritan woman meets Him at the well and goes back to the city to tell of His prophetic powers. These Samaritans are so welcoming that Jesus spends two days with them and "many more believed because of His word" - John 4:41.

Jerusalem: On the occasion of the coming of the Holy Spirit "… fear came upon every soul" (Acts 2:43). This results in the people being "highly esteemed" (Acts 5:13), a clash with the Jewish authorities (Acts 5:2829), the escalation of persecution, and the eventual scattering of the Christians (Acts 8:1).

Antioch (in Syria): This city sees a "great number" believing when two missionaries break with tradition and preach Jesus to the Gentile Hellenists (Acts 11:19-24). They are in Antioch, incidentally, because of being being driven from Jerusalem because of persecution.

Lystra: After a man is healed, Paul is praised as a god and the people want to make a sacrifice to him and his companion. But a Jewish delegation from neighboring Iconium changes the crowd's mind, stones Paul, and drags him from the city thinking he is dead (Acts 14:19-20).

Philippi:
Paul's exorcism of a slave girl causes a city-wide uprising. Paul and Silas are imprisoned and that results in the conversion of the jailer and his family (Acts 16:16-22).

We can learn some interesting things about city-wide impact from these stories:

1. One person can make a difference.

2. Crowd dynamics are volatile and popularity can quickly change to persecution. 


3. Persecution can cause the gospel to be spread to places it might not otherwise go.

4. Breaking with custom and preaching to people not considered candidates for belief can be a God-thing.

5. Sometimes it's not the large numbers of the city that are impacted but one individual or family.

A sidebar article in my Bible suggests:
"We have the authority of the Scriptures to pray for the gospel to 'run swiftly and be glorified' just as it was in that city long ago … To pray for this: 1] base your prayer requests for your city on biblical cases of cities being impacted by faith and the gospel … and 2] pray for a full activation of God's love among believers in your community" - David Bryant, "How to Pray for Your Community or City" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1695.

PRAYER: Dear God, we need many city-wide revivals! Help me to keep praying for my city and showing love to my neighburs. Amen. 


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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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Saturday, November 09, 2013

What comes after death?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 20:19-40

TO CHEW ON: "
'He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.'" Luke 20:38


Through the Sadducees' attempts to entrap Jesus with a trick question we have, reported from Jesus' own lips, a fascinating exposé of life after death. In answer to the hypothetical situation they invented, which included a question about whose wife someone would be in heaven, Jesus tells them:
- There will be no marriage in heaven.
- There will be no death.
- Those who attain that state will be "equal to the angels" and are "sons of God."
- They will have experienced the resurrection (Luke 20:34-36).

In a passage where he explains this state, Paul tells the Corinthians that because Christ was raised we too live in the hope of being resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). Our post-resurrection bodies will be as different from our natural bodies as a seed of grain is different from the plant that grows from it (1 Corinthians 15:37-38).

But to achieve these bodies we must experience the mortal, natural body state. This is true in history (Adam before Christ) as it is for each one of us (natural body before spiritual body) (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).

And if that event, that resurrection "trump of God" sounds before we die, not to worry, says Paul: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" - 1 Corinthians 15:51,52.

Though you and I probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about death and what comes after, it is sneaking up on us, coming closer every day. Thus it's a good thing to look it full in the face from time to time and to realize that because we have this hope, this expectation of life after death we have every reason to go on living now with purpose. As Paul sums it up in 1 Corinthians 15:58:
"Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."

And as Jesus concludes His speech on life after death to the Sadducees:

"'He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him'" (present tense forever!).


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this reminder that there is more to life than this life. Help me to live now with that in mind. Amen.

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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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Friday, November 08, 2013

Don't stop at reasoning

Jesus teaching at the temple - Artist unknown
Jesus teaching at the temple - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 20:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
"And they reasoned among themselves saying, 'If we  say, "From heaven," He will say, "Why then did you not believe Him?" But if we say, "From men," all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.'" Luke 20:5,6

These chief priests, scribes and elders had the mindset of the conniving politician down pat. Their reasoning showed that they were more concerned with the impression they were making on observers than about facing the answer of their own hearts.

Jesus' claims often pulled out of His hearers such a reasoning response. For example, after He said to the paralytic (whose friends lowered him to Jesus through a roof), "Your sins are forgiven," the scribes "reasoned" in their hearts that He had made a blasphemous statement (Mark 2:6-12).

When He talked about being the bread of life, the Jews "quarrelled" with His claim (John 6:52).

Though such back-and-forth conversations in a reasoning, what-might-appear-to-us-as-argumentative style was the manner of Jewish teachers, Jesus never left the discussion on the theoretical plane. He inevitably pushed for a decision and  a commitment.

In our reading today, Jesus refused to answer the leaders' insincere question (Luke 20:2,8).

After forgiving the paralytic's sins, Jesus healed him physically, challenging the onlookers' assumptions that He was an ordinary man.

After hearing the objections to His claims of being the bread of life, Jesus challenged the Jews to eat His flesh and drink His blood (a metaphorical allusion to the Last Supper and His death) - John 6:53-58.

Another time, when Jesus heard the wise answer of a scribe to His question, "Which is the greatest commandment?" He concluded, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God"  Mark 12:34) (the implication being, 'Why don't you just take that  last step and enter it?').

Paul does a good job of summing up the tension between reasoning and going farther.
"Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" - 1 Corinthians 1:20,21 (emphasis added).

It's fine for us to discuss and reason. But at the end of the day we need to take that step of admitting who He really is and, in the perfect reasonableness of believing conviction, surrender to Him the lordship of our lives.

PRAYER: Dear God, there is in our age more than ever the tendency to reason away Your claims. Help me to go beyond playing with words and ideas, and to commit myself to You in action-changing belief. Amen.

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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, November 07, 2013

Deceived?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved." 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10

Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonian Christians quickly gets to the subject of the return of Jesus. It was apparently something they had discussed when he was with them in person earlier (2 Thessalonians 2:5).

He reassures some who seem to be worried that this has already happened that no, it hasn't. And they will surely know when it is about to come, by the events that precede it: "the falling away comes first and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition" (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

Then he goes on to tell them some things to be watching for in this prominent figure (also referred to as "Antichrist" in the letters of John). The predominant danger is deception. Paul warns them repeatedly not to fall for his deceptions — ruses that originate with Satan, the father of lies.

As those who are still awaiting Jesus' return, we do well to sit up and take notice of these deceptions:

Satan first makes his Bible debut as a deceiver (Genesis 3:13).

Adam and Eve's falling for that deception means that the tendency to believe a lie has crept into the very DNA of all humankind. We are deceived:
  • when we follow our own instincts, the "way that seems right" and find it ends in death (Proverbs 16:25).
  • when we give in to sensuous living (Proverbs 20:1) and live by our lusts and hunger for pleasures (Ephesians 4:22; Titus 3:3).
  • when we persist in living in sin (Romans 1:24-25), and let its glamorous deceitfulness harden us (Hebrews 3:13).

We can see how people already confirmed in deceit could easily fall for this henchman of Satan and his "power, signs, and lying wonders." A footnote to this section in my Bible says, "Not every 'miracle' comes from God, nor are such wonders any less miraculous because of their origin" (New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1694).

That's why we need the Holy Spirit — our inner deception meter and alarm system — to alert us to deception, sanctify us (make us holy), and lead us into truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13) as we continue to wait for the return of Jesus.

PRAYER: Dear God, please make me aware of Satan's deceptions. May I let Your Spirit teach me and confirm me in truth. Amen.

MORE: More on 2 Thessalonians 2

In the concluding paragraph of an expository sermon on this chapter of Thessalonians, John Piper says:

"We can be sure that when the man of lawlessness comes, his signs and wonders will be used to support claims that appeal to our natural desires. Therefore the only defense against this appeal will be a deeper desire for God. If Christ is our portion and our treasure, if he satisfies our longings, and if we love the glory of his gospel, then the mystery of lawlessness will not overcome us, and our love will not grow cold and we will endure to the end and be saved. May the Lord grant us all to receive the love of the truth. Amen." (Read/listen to entire sermon). 
- By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org



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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Vindicated by God's presence

David in prayer
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 17:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Let my vindication come from Your presence." Psalm 17:2a

Here David prays from a place of total transparency before God. He invites God's very presence to be his vindication.

[Vindicate: 1] To clear of accusation, censure, suspicion etc.; 2] To support or maintain as a right or claim; 3] To serve to justify. Synonym: absolve.]

The Message Bible phrases Psalm 17:2 in a way that makes the vindication meaning clear: "Show the world I'm innocent—in your heart you know I am."

In verses 3-9 David goes into detail about some of the ways and places he has allowed God's all-seeing presence to probe him.
  • God has visited him in the night and those encounters have yielded no conviction of sin (Psalm 17:3). Who of us hasn't experienced the sense that in the dark of our room, when we'd like to be sleeping but sleep won't come, God is there, sees, all, and we can't hide anything from Him?
  • God has convicted him over his speech so that now he can say, "I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress" - Psalm 17:3.
  • He has been careful not to go to the wrong places: "I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer…" - Psalm 17:4,5.
  • He has called on God to save him (implied is that he hasn't looked for salvation in other places) - Psalm 17:7.
  • Out of all this comes his confidence to ask for God's protective hiding and covering now "when the wicked oppress and deadly enemies surround" - Psalm 17:8,9.
  • And he can look forward to that final day when he and God will actually meet face to face - Psalm 17:15.

Have we ever invited God to examine us to the depths that David did here? Do we share openly with Him in our most private moments, submit our tongues and feet to Him, trust Him (above everything else) for what we need of protection and help? Let's be challenged by David's example so we can echo his confident conclusion: "As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness, I shall be satisfied when I awake with Your likeness" - Psalm 17:15.


PRAYER:
Dear God, help me to be transparent with You so I have the confidence, in the ups and downs of daily life,  to pray along with David: "Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings." Amen. 


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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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Friday, November 01, 2013

The saintly reaction

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 6:17-36

TO CHEW ON: "But love your enemies, do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil." Luke 6:35


She (let's call her Joan) was on her way to do an errand and decided to stop en-route at a drive-through to pick up a coffee. The lineup merged from two different streams and the order of the cars was a bit confused. As Joan inched forward she saw another car angling for the opening in the line, and was about to wave the driver in when the woman rolled down her window and released a string of expletives, then did it again when Joan smiled and waved at her.

On getting to the order station, Joan put in a request before ordering her coffee: "Please, whatever that woman ahead is having, I'll pay for it."

The irate driver didn't accept Joan's offer. Though in her brief conversation with the waitress at the delivery window,  on discovering Joan's offer, she expressed deep embarrassment.

Joan, reflecting on the incident (in a blog post which I haven't been able to find again after reading it once), said, in effect, "What surprised me was the honest love and compassion I felt for this woman." She was encouraged by the unexpected progress in her ability, this once at least, to love someone who had been hateful to her.

I'm challenged by Jesus' words to be that way—to love everyone and be completely open-handed with my stuff. We have an awesome, perfect, holy model in God the Father, lived out by Jesus His Son. Let's set our minds on being like Him, on blessing all whose lives we touch, one day at a time—today—with the love and generosity of our Father, no matter how they treat us.

PRAYER:
Dear God, my instincts to defend myself and hang onto my things is strong. Please grow in me the grace of giving love and being generous with my things to all, especially the undeserving. Amen.

MORE: All-Saints Day

Today the church celebrates all the saints, past and present.  The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."
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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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