Monday, December 30, 2013

Blood-stained King

"The Rider on the White Horse" by GĂ©rard JOLLAIN,

 TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 63:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "'Why is your apparel red,
And Your garments like one who treads in the wine press?'

'I have trodden the winepress alone,
And from the peoples no one was with Me.
For I have trodden them in my anger,
And trampled them in My fury
Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,
And I have stained all My robes.'" - Isaiah 63:2,3

What a startling picture Isaiah paints of God, in glorious robes, returning from battle. It is as if the writer first sees Him approaching from a distance and all he notices are the gorgeous "dyed garments of Bozrah."

But when the warrior King gets nearer, the writer sees the red stains. Has he been trampling grapes in His kingly clothes?

The returning victor explains. He has raided the enemy. It is not the spatter of grape juice but blood on His robes.

The symbolism in this scene points to Jesus.

  • He speaks of conquering the enemy—Satan—in Matthew 12:22-29 when the Pharisees accuse Him of casting out a demon from a man by Satan's power. Jesus insists He is fighting satan by the Spirit of God and asks, "How can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house" - Matthew 12:29.
  • Paul, in describing all the benefits of trusting Christ, describes Jesus' victory of Satan and the hosts of evil: "Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it" Colossians 2:15.
  • But the Apostle John witnesses the closest likeness to this scene in Revelation: "Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse... He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God" - Revelation  19:11-21; see also John 1:1,14.

Se we see that the baby Jesus "meek and mild" whose birth we have just celebrated, is really a conquering warrior, involved in serious battle. We conquer through Him, as Paul reminds us, because through Him the requirements of the law are satisfied, our sins are forgiven, we are made alive, and our enemy is left weaponless  (Colossians 2:13-15).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for this scene of victory, for which You paid the ultimate price. Help me to live in victory because Satan is a defeated foe. Amen.

MORE: "Ride on King Jesus" by Steve Bell

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Friday, December 27, 2013

Captain Jesus

Jesus and a sailor  facing a storm
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 2:1-18

"For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering." Hebrews 2:10

Jesus, the Son, Creator ("for whom…and by whom are all thing") became part of His own creation (see also John 1:1-3,14) . It bends the mind to contemplate such a thing.

Our passage names three things He was subject to as a human creature:

1. Sufferings (Hebrews 2:10): He felt hunger (Mark 11:12), weariness (John 4:6), social rejection (Luke 4:28-30), sadness (Luke 19:41-44), and grief (John 11:35) like we do, not to mention the suffering—physical, psychological and spiritual—He went through during His passion.

2. Temptations (Hebrews 2:18): The temptation incident that leaps to mind is of Jesus wilderness temptation during His 40-day fast (Matthew 4:1-11). Who knows what other incidents tempted Him during His life? Was He, for example, wrestling with the temptation of not going through with the Plan when He prayed in agony: "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me…"? (though if it was a temptation, He quickly quelled it with "… nevertheless not as I will, but as You will" - Matthew 26:39).

3. Death (Hebrews 2:14): His death was genuine and seemingly final. Until the resurrection "… that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" - Hebrews 2:14.

In all these things Jesus identifies with us. He is, as verse 10 puts it, the "Captain" of our salvation.

"Only by suffering temptation and death did He qualify as our captain or leader who has gone ahead of us to open the way of salvation" - Guy P. Duffield, commentary on Hebrews, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1732.

How does this help us today?
  • When we suffer, we are comforted by the fact that He knows what we're going through, understands our limitations firsthand - Hebrews 4:15.
  • When tempted, we can follow His example, that is throw the book—the word of God, the "thus says the Lord" at Satan and find the way out - 1 Corinthians 10:13.
  • We can view death without fear. Yesterday we read about Stephen, a young man whose life was, in our estimation, cut short. We think in terms of a full lifespan as our due, expect to live our three-score years and ten. But that's not God's view. He can take any one of us at any time. We have no guarantees except one: if we have accepted Him, we have an eternal life to look forward to - John 3:16.   

Dear Jesus, thank You for stooping to inhabit human flesh. Help me to follow You as the Captain of my life and salvation. 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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Monday, December 23, 2013

Prince of Peace

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 8:19-9:7

TO CHEW ON: "For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon HIs shoulder
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end." Isaiah 9:6-7a

Peace is one of those states we don't fully appreciate until it's gone, i.e. we notice it more by its absence than its presence.

The word has a rich dictionary definition:
1] A state of mental of physical quiet or tranquility.
2] The absence or cessation of war.
3] Public order and tranquility — freedom from riot or violence.
4] A state of reconciliation after strife or enmity.
5] Freedom from mental agitation or anxiety.

How does Jesus fulfill His role as Prince of Peace? I love how a sidebar article in my Bible explains it (note how many definitions of the word "peace" Jesus fulfills as Prince of Peace):
"Peace comes from God (Romans 1:7) and is an evidence of the rule of the Messiah—whose character as the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) waits to instill the settledness of His own rule in our souls. 
Just as the saving power of His death and resurrection makes it possible for us to have peace with God (being reconciled to Him, Romans 5:1), the indwelling of His life and character through the Holy Spirit's work in our lives is intended to help us learn to abide in the peace of God
Jesus said to His disciples, 'Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you' John 14:27). Surrender to His will and submission to His Word will bring inner rest, as we allow the peace of God to 'rule' in our hearts (Colossians 3:15) that is to let God's peace act as umpire 1] over decisions that would trouble you, 2] overruling doubts that would disturb you, and 3] overthrowing the Adversary's lies that would defeat or deter you. Perfect peace is available when the heart and mind keep focused on God's promise, power and presence. Trust Him (Isaiah 26:3)." - "Christlikeness," by Fuchsia Pickett,  New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 885 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Please be the Prince of Peace in my life and circumstances today. Help me to be sensitive to un-peace in my heart as a warning (umpire) that all is not well. Amen.

MORE: Handel's Messiah alert!
Words from our reading today (Isaiah 9:6) are lyrics in Handel's Messiah, Here is Tafelmusik's rendition of it.'

Handel's Messiah Chorus: "For Unto Us a Child is Born"

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jesus: rock of offense

brick wall resting on the cornerstone of the cross
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 8:5-18

TO CHEW ON: "The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow;
Let Him be your fear
And let Him be your dread.
He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense
To both the houses of Israel…" Isaiah 8:13,14

Here Isaiah's prophecy of near events morphs into a prediction of the Messiah's coming. We see the "stone of stumbling and a rock of offense" images and immediately our thoughts flit to the words of Jesus and New Testament writers:

"Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected
 has become the chief cornerstone.'" - Mark 12:10.

"…they (Israel) stumbled at the stumbling stone. As it is written: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame"  Romans 9:32,33.

"But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness but to those who are called … the power of God and the wisdom of God" - 1 Corinthians 1:23,24.

"Therefore to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense" - 1 Peter 2:7,8.

Jesus is no less an offense to our culture than He was to the Jewish culture of His time. They couldn't conceive of their neighbor boy being Messiah, and the mainstream wisdom of our time and place is that His claims of being the one and only way to God are outrageous. Still hidden in the beautiful and seemingly harmless celebration of His birth is the time-bomb of a question: "What will we do with Jesus?"

Will He be the precious object of our belief?

Or will He stumble us so that we suffer the fate of Jesus' own words:
"Have you never read the Scriptures? 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. …' And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder" - Matthew 21:42,44.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus may the world, including my unbelieving family and friends, see and believe in You for who You are before it is too late. 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, December 19, 2013

Life reno

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Titus 3:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." Titus 3:5

I like to watch home renovation shows on TV. I'm always amazed by the reveal, especially if the show included scenes of how the rooms looked as the work progressed.

Renovation is one meaning of the word renewing (anakainosis - #342) Paul uses to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in us — along with restoration, and "complete change for the better."

Bible writers mention renewal in other places.

  • One of the most intriguing is Samuel's promise to Saul after Samuel anointed him king of Israel: "Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man" (1 Samuel 10:6). It seems that God's empowering of Saul for his new job included an instantaneous renovation.
  • David asked God for a clean heart and renewed spirit after Nathan confronted him with the Bathsheba fiasco (Psalm 51:10).
  • Renewed strength comes, Isaiah promises, by waiting on the Lord (Isaiah 40:31).
  • Such renovation can involve the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23) and our whole inner persons (2 Corinthians 4:16).
  • The final result of this renewal will be a reveal of people who resemble Jesus: "...and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him" (Colossians 3:10).

Picture your life as a house. Does it need a renovation? Does it need to be cleared of clutter—stuff that you're hanging onto from the past like old grudges, bitter memories, unforgiveness? Does it need walls knocked out to let in more light and improve the traffic flow—walls of prejudice, perhaps, or hurt? Does it need a new coat of paint in the colours of joy, hope, peace, and love, applied as you read God's word and take it to heart? Don't let the messiness of your inner renovation discourage you. The Holy Spirit is good at renovations. The reveal will show a life that reminds people of Jesus.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, help me to cooperate with Your renovation, restoration and transformation work in my life. Amen.

MORE: House reno tips

Kelvin Browne lists and expands on "The Five Biggest Reno Mistakes" in a National Post article reprinted on His article is full of good common sense  about some of the pitfalls of house renos. His points also remind me of parallels in the spiritual realm. Can you think of more?

1. Not appreciating a house has a unique DNA and when you renovate, you must respond to it. (God doesn't make that mistake: see Psalm 139.)

2. Believing that good, big windows don't matter is a mistake. (Light: God is big on that! See John 8:12 and 2 Corinthians 4:6).

3a. You renovate too much. (I don't know if that's possible spiritually because the renovation needs to be complete: Romans 7:18).

3b. A related mistake is when renovations are uneven .... In other words, you renovate too much in one place and not enough in another. (God's renovations are always deep and thorough: Ezekiel 11:19).

4. You have no idea why you're renovating. (Spiritually, the need for renovation is painfully apparent: Romans 7:18-25)

5. Not enjoying the process of renovation. (We can enjoy the newness—even as we're still in process: 2 Corinthians 5:17).

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Are you one of the peculiar?

Artist A.P.s sketch of "That they (the older women)
may teach the younger women" - Titus 2:3-4

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Titus 2:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works." Titus 2:14

Paul gives Titus instructions on what to teach the various people in his congregations about lifestyle and attitude. I don't know if following his teaching would have set them apart from their unbelieving peers. Probably. For in the second half of Titus 2, when Paul is explaining why they should live this way (because they are looking forward to the return of Jesus - vs. 13), he calls them "His (God's) own special people." He is reminding Titus and all the Christ-followers that though they may no longer fit in with their neighbours, they fit in with God.

These days, when our everyday contact with the world through personal interaction, TV, the internet, and radio may far exceed our contact with people of faith, we may also feel like misfits. At such times it is good to remember that we too are "God's own special people." As such we are:

1. His special treasure (Exodus 19:5).
2. Chosen and holy (Deuteronomy 14:2).
3. Exalted (Deuteronomy 26:19).
4. Blessed with strength and peace (Psalm 29:11).
5. Guided as a flock (Psalm 78:52).
6. Included, even though we're Gentiles (Acts 15:14).
7. Characterized by zeal (Titus 2:14 - today's focus verse).
8. A people with God's law written on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10).
9. Called "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9).
10. A people with whom God chooses to live (Revelation 21:3).

If you're feeling isolated, odd, "peculiar"—the word the King James Version translators use to describe the people of God in 1 Peter 2:9—encourage yourself today as you review how God looks at you. As Bible teacher Dr. Dan Hayden says in an article called "A Peculiar People":
"Christian friend, I hope that you are encouraged to know that you really are 'peculiar'. You belong to a special group of people who are the unique possession of God. You are a member of His eternal family. And that means, of course, that you are the special object of His love and care. It also means however, that we are to live consistent with who we are."  - Read all of "A Peculiar People."

PRAYER: Dear God, I'm so encouraged to review what it means to be part of the company of Your people. Help me to live in such a way that I will bring credit to You and my fellow citizens of this "holy nation." Amen.

MORE: God's goal for His people
"What is He after, then? What is His goal? What does He aim at? When He made man, His purpose was that man should love and honor Him, praising Him for the wonderfully ordered complexity and variety of His world, using it according to His will, and so enjoying both it and Him. And though man has fallen, God has not abandoned His first purpose.

Still He plans that a great host of mankind should come to love and honor Him. His ultimate objective is to bring them to a state in which they please Him entirely and praise Him adequately, a state in which He is all in all to them, and He and they rejoice continually in the knowledge of each others love—men rejoicing in the saving love of God, set upon them from all eternity, and God rejoicing in the responsive love of men, drawn out of them by grace through the gospel."
- J. I Packer, Knowing God, p. 97-98 (1975 edition).

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Monday, December 16, 2013

How to get on the right path

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 3:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6

Most of us have probably memorized this reassuring passage. These verses tell us how to find the right way, path, or road in life. They imply that there may be several to choose from and we're not sure which one to take. The instructions consist of two things to do, one not to do, and a promise.

Two things to do:

1. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart."
Trust (batach - #982) means to have confidence in, be bold, secure, feel safe in, be free of care (careless) in.
  • Psalm 37:3-5 enlarges on this trust, describing it as: "Trust...dwell...feed on His faithfulness...delight yourself in the Lord...commit your way to Him."
  • Proverbs 22:17-19 speaks of how the "words of the wise"—for us Bible words—grow our trust in God. We are to listen to them, keep them within us (memorize them), and fix them on our lips (recite them) so our trust will be in the Lord—nothing else.

2. "In all your ways acknowledge Him."
Acknowledge (yada #3045) means to know by observation, investigation and firsthand experience. A sidebar article in my Bible explains: "But the highest level of yada is in 'direct, intimate contact.' This refers to life-giving intimacy as in marriage. Applied to a spiritual context, it suggests an intimacy with God in prayer that conceives and births blessings and victories" - Dick Eastman, "Intimacy and Spiritual Breakthrough," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 807. It is bringing God into every detail of life.
  • 1 Chronicles 28:9 gives David's instructions to Solomon in this regard. He tells his son how to acknowledge of God in his life: "know the God of your father...serve Him with a loyal heart and willing mind." God, David promises, will then reveal Himself to Solomon.
  • Proverbs 16:3 tells us: "Commit your works to the Lord ("roll your works upon the Lord" - Amp; "put God in charge of your work" - Message) and your thoughts will be established."
  • Philippians 4:6 says to replace anxiety with constant communication with God in prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, as you present our every request to Him.

One thing not to do:

"And lean not on your own understanding"
Lean (sha 'an #8172) means to trust in, support oneself on, lean upon.
Understanding (biynah #998) means discernment.

We're not to put our confidence in our own human-centered discernment, insights, wits, common sense, or evaluation of the situation. Why? Because they don't factor God, with His overarching plans and often supernatural ways, into the equation.
  • Jeremiah 9:23-24: God's message to the Israelites through Jeremiah in this regard was don't boast, praise, or put your glory in your own wisdom, might or wealth. Rather, boast that you know God.

The promise:

"He shall direct your paths."
Direct (yashar #3474) means to make straight, right, level, smooth, straightforward. That's what God will do with our path -- make it straight, right, level, smooth, obvious...

Need more reassurance? Psalm 32:8; Psalm 139:9-10; Isaiah 30:21; Isaiah 42:16 are four of a multitude of verses that reiterate God's promise to put us on, direct, straighten, clarify and smooth the road in front of us.

What a wonderful reminder of how to live this Monday in the middle of one of the busiest seasons of the year. Let's put these verses into action this week. Let's really trust and acknowledge God for, and in, the big and little issues of life, and watch Him simplify and clarify the path.

PRAYER: Dear God, these instructions are so straightforward. They sound so easy. Please remind me of them this week when I will, I'm sure, be tempted to lean on my own understanding. Amen.

MORE: When your guide is your Lord

In the book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says this about confusing circumstances:

"When you face confusing circumstances, don't blame God. Don't give up following Him. Go to God. Ask Him to reveal the truth of your circumstances. Ask Him to show you His perspective. Then wait on the Lord.

Radically reorient your life to God. The most difficult thing you will ever have to do is deny self, take up God's will, and follow Him. The most challenging part of your relationship with God is being God-centered. If you recorded a day in your life, you might find that your prayers, your attitudes, your thoughts, and your actions are intensely self-centered. You may not see things from God's perspective; rather you may try to explain to God what your perspective is.

When He becomes the Lord of your life, He alone has the right to be: the Focus of your life, the Initiator in your life, the Director of your life. That is what it means for him to be Lord." - Experiencing God Workbook page 121 (emphases mine).

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Simple, careful, truthful speech

Pinky swear
Pinky swear
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 5:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No,' lest you fall into judgment." James 5:12

James is nothing if not practical. Here he gives more instructions about speech, addressing even the details of how we reinforce our promises. We might be tempted to ask, "Really, James, is it any of your business?"

On closer examination, though, several implications of his advice in verse 12 tell us there might be a deeper problem than just loose lips when we promise something and tie up that promise with the words, "I swear by…"

1. Swearing besmirches God's name.

Swearing by "heaven" suggests God or His name is involved in the oath.  A footnote in my Bible gives a brief history of swearing:
"Originally swearing was an attempt to involve the character and authority of God to support a claim or promise (Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy 23:23). Then as often is the case today, the Lord's name was debased by using it to excessively emphasize a trivial point. James cites Jesus (Matthew 5:37)…" Jon Mark Ruthven (commentary on James), New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1757.

2. Swearing implies we've considered lying.

Doesn't the need we feel to strengthen our word with an oath telegraph the idea that without invoking a person or thing in this way, we might lie? When we connect God's name to a promise we make, we are in a way scaring ourselves into speaking the truth for fear of the consequences He would bring down on us if we don't tell the truth.

James's instructions to speak simply, carefully, and with integrity are consistent with the Bible's admonitions about speech in other places.

  • "He who has knowledge spares his words," says Proverbs 17:27.
  • "Let your speech always be with grace seasoned with salt," Paul tells the Colossians (Colossians 4:6). And by salty speech, I'm sure he doesn't mean speech that's seasoned with profanity (how Jesus used "salt" - Matthew 5:13-16).
  • "Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me in faith and love, which are in Christ Jesus," Paul tells Timothy (2 Timothy 1:13).
  • "Likewise exhort the young men to be sober-minded in all things, showing yourself to be a pattern of good works in … sound speech that cannot be condemned" - Paul to Titus (Titus 2:6-8).

The challenge still today is to say what we mean and mean what we say in speech that is so honest  no "I swear by…" or "for … sake"  is ever necessary.

PRAYER: Dear God, please forgive me for times I've spoken carelessly, using by-words and minced oaths that add nothing good to my speech. 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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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tongue clinic

TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 3:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things out not to be so." James 3:10

In this chapter James gives us a little clinic on the tongue—that is, what rolls off it in speech. What can we learn from James about this vital part of our 'anatomy'?

  • The tongue is a huge challenge.
James begins his discourse by declaring that the person who uses his tongue well ("does not stumble in word"—and by "stumble" he means more than just a smooth delivery—is a "perfect man" ["perfect" is teleios: complete, finished, perfect, mature]) James 3:2.

  • But it's so small.
James compares it to a ship's rudder or the bit of a horse's harness.

  • However, its size contrasts with the effect it can have.
Rudders and bits are used to steer and set a course. James seems to be implying that the direction of our lives can be changed by what slips off our tongue (James 3:3-4).

  • Its smallness doesn't limit the largeness of its boasts or the damage it can do.
It can begin and spread destruction in forest fire style and is as lethal as poison (James 3:5, 6, 8).

  • Words can pollute the whole body (James 3:6).

  • Its destructiveness originates in hell (James 3:6).

  • It is virtually impossible to tame (James 3:7).

  • It demonstrates our inconsistency.
Or perhaps better said, it illustrates our hypocrisy as we bless God and curse our brother, speak sometimes sweetly, sometimes bitterly with the same tongue (James 3:9-12).

Perhaps in getting a handle on this pesky organ, we need to take a step back to examine the engine that produces those words—our thoughts. In her book Battlefield of the Mind, Joyce Meyer says:

"Our thoughts are silent words that only we and the Lord hear, but those words affect our inner man, our health, our joy and our attitude. The things we think on often come out of our mouth" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 135.

What a challenge to tackle the "words" part of our thoughts and tongues!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me today to control my thoughts and words with the weapon of Your Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. 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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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The synergy of faith and works

Couple offers food to a homeless man
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 2:1-26

"But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works." James 2:18

Though to some James's letter opens up the possibility of contradiction (Aha—it's works that saves us, not faith!), his contrast of faith and works serves to show how they are not independent of each other but interdependent.

After naming Abraham as an example of someone who lived this interdependence "when he offered Isaac his son on the altar" (vs. 21), James asks, "Do you see that faith was working together with his works and by works faith was made perfect?"

[The words "working together" are synergeo. "Compare synergist and synergism. … There is a practical harmony or synergism between vertical faith in God and horizontal works to a needy world. Faith is both spiritual and practical" - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1754.]

Said another way:

"Faith is not simply an idea separate from real life. Rather faith is to produce in us right living, right motives, right thinking, right relationships. Our good works confirm that faith is alive and active in us. Seek to live your faith daily in practical ways" - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through James," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1760.

During the Advent season opportunities abound to live this faith in practical ways. Let's take the obvious ones—from contributing food or cash to the hampers our church hands out, to inviting the lonely single to spend Christmas day with our family, to helping out with Christmas dinner at the downtown mission. Let's also look for and welcome unexpected, unusual opportunities to live out our faith during this interlude when even the secular world is exposed to the story of the One in whom our faith is anchored.

 PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to understand at the level of living the synergy of faith and works. I want my life to be a flesh-and-blood enactment of what I claim to believe. Amen.


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

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Monday, December 09, 2013

James: Faith that works

"James" byJohann Christoph Weigel
Woodcut, 1695

TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 1:1-27

TO CHEW ON: "James, a bondservant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings." James 1:1

One of the things I do by habit when I pick up a new book is read the cover to get information about the author, the book's content, who thinks it's a good read, and why. Before I immerse myself in someone's thoughts, I want to be sure that I'm doing a wise thing by giving them access to my brain in such an intimate way.

As I look ahead on our Bible Reading Guide, I see that this week we'll be reading through the entire book of James. So today, we're going to take a quick look at the cover matter of this most practical of Bible books.

Title: The book is simply called The Epistle of James. A good subtitle might be: Faith that works. So we could call it The Epistle of James: Faith that Works.

Author: He calls himself simply James. Tradition ascribes the book's authorship to James the brother of Jesus. (And how suitable is it, to be reading a book by Jesus' brother in the month we celebrate His birth!)

James the brother of Jesus is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament as a church leader (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9). He didn't  always believe Jesus' claims, though. During Jesus' ministry, John tells us "...even His brothers did not believe in Him" (John 7:3-5). It is thought that this is the James to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection, mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:7, because "Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers" are among the people waiting in the upper room for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:12-14).

Cover blurb: My Bible's introductory study notes summarize the book's content in lovely dignified language:

"Rather than speculating or debating on religious theories, James directs his readers toward godly living. From beginning to end the mood of his letter is imperative. In 108 verses, 54 clear commands are given...The book's call for ethical living based on the gospel provides its relevance..." New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1749.

We could, of course, rephrase it in jazzed-up, 21st century, hook-the-reader style to say something like:

Tired of theories about how to live the Christian life? Want practical advice on how to live for God? Read this book! In only 108 verses you'll get 54 clear commands that will help you grow socially and spiritually. If you want to learn to walk instead of talk your way to heaven, James is your epistle!

  • J. Ligon Duncan: "Great book" (source).
  • John Piper: "...what James was trying to get across to his churches: Loveless faith is absolutely useless; and anybody that comes along and says,'We are justified by faith alone, and so you don't have to be a loving person to go to heaven' is not telling the truth." By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: (source).
  • Me: I love this book. It is greatly highlighted in my Bible.

Your takeaway today: Turn to James 1 in your physical Bible. If you have underlined or highlighted verses in it, re-read them as your devotional thought(s) for today. If you haven't underlined any verses in James 1, grab a red pencil or highlighter and go through the chapter, looking for at least one thought you can underline and take into your day.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the variety of Bible authors, especially for Your brother James and the practical book he wrote. Help me to put its principles into practice in my life today. Amen.

MORE: Sermons on James

Want to immerse yourself in some great sermons on James. This James - New Testament Sermon Index will deliver to you hours' worth of reading / listening in expository sermons from the Epistle of James.

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Weird and wise

"The Preaching of John the Baptist" Baciccio, before 1695
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 3:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!'" Matthew 3:1-2

What a fascinating character John the Baptist was! His birth ended years of prayerful childlessness for elderly Zacharias and Elizabeth. We're not told anything about the youth and upbringing of this relative of Jesus who was about six months older than He was. Here John just bursts on the scene at about 30 years of age. Our reading today gives us scope for a little study of the man, about whom the angel said to Zacharias, "He will be great in the sight of the Lord."

1. He was direct (Matthew 3:2)
No funny stories or jokes to warm up the crowd for this man. His sermons began with the toll of warning: "Repent!"

2. His message was urgent (Matthew 3:2-3)
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" was his message.
"The 'kingdom' was near because the King was here" says Jack Hayford (New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1293).

3. He was unconventional (Matthew 3:4)
The angel told his parents to raise him as a Nazirite (Luke 1:15 cf. Numbers 6:3) — but I wonder if even they didn't raise their eyebrows at their son's attraction to the wilderness, his wardrobe of camel's hair and leather, his diet of wild honey. No doubt part of his magnetism for the crowds was his weirdness.

4. He was persuasive (Matthew 3:6)
Once the people of Jerusalem, Judea, and all around the Jordan heard him, they responded with repentance, confession and requests for baptism.

5. He was fearless (Matthew 3:7-10)
Had anyone before him talked to the Pharisees and Sadducees the way he did—calling them snakes, using sarcasm, exposing their sanctimony and hypocrisy, predicting their doom. Yikes!

6. He was insightful (Matthew 3:7-12)
Not only did John have insights about the religious leaders, but He knew exactly who Jesus was, what He would do, the effect of His life. Where did this unschooled, outwardly uncouth man get such wisdom?

Let's pause here for a minute, to consider the intriguing wisdom that characterized John's life and its implications for us. About wisdom the Bible says:
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of it (Psalm 111:10).
  • God gives it (Proverbs 2:6; Daniel 2:21).
  • Isaiah predicted that Jesus (that "root of Jesse" we keep hearing about) would have the Spirit of it resting on Him (Isaiah 11:2).

As I was reading a bit about John the Baptist's beginnings this morning, I read this thing the angel said to Zachariah, before John was even born: "He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15).

That's it! That's where his wisdom came from.

  • Real wisdom is only found in God (Colossians 2:3). 
  • But we can ask for it (James 1:5). 
  • This kind of wisdom is not of the humanistic, common sense, self-seeking variety (James 3:15-16). 
  • It is not to be confused with human wisdom in the realm of philosophy or tradition that can so readily lead to deception (Colossians 2:6-10).
  • Rather, scripture is its source (2 Timothy 3:15)
  • The Holy Spirit is its teacher (1 John 2:27).

I don't know about you, but I want to be a lifelong student in this class! Wouldn't it be wonderful if God could say of us as He said about John: "He/she is great in My sight"?

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, thank You for being the teacher of true wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge about God — His methods and plans, about truth and lies, about what really matters in life. Help me to be a quick and receptive student. Amen.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 15:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour, for his good, leading to edification." Romans 15:1-2

Scruples is a word I heard my mom use from time to time. She had scruples about celebrating Halloween and wearing makeup. As a youngster I didn't like that word. It was all about things I wasn't allowed to do by reason of the fact that they violated someone else's conscience.

Here Paul is pleading with Christians in Rome to "bear with the scruples of the weak" because there were serious differences of conscience among church members. He talks about these earlier in Romans, naming specifics like what people ate and what days they celebrated (Romans 14:1-13).

At the root of these differences was the fact some of the Roman Christians were Gentiles. Their consciences had been trained by religious instruction that was different from Christ-followers brought up in Judaism. And so Paul pleads with them to all get along, adjusting themselves to each other wherever possible.

Why? Because Jesus came for everyone, the Jews (vs.8) and the Gentiles too. Paul goes to great pains to show this — quoting from four Old Testament scriptures to prove it:
verse 9: 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49
verse 10: Deuteronomy 32:43
verse 11: Psalm 117:1
verse 12 - Isaiah 11:1,1

I say, Praise God — for I am a Gentile.

So, does this Scripture have any application for us today, seeing our churches are mostly made up of Gentiles? I think it does, not in a Gentile versus Jew way but in the way people brought up in a Christian culture may need to consider the consciences and scruples of those brought up in other world religions or without any religious instruction at all. For as populations of our countries have come to include people from many nations and religious backgrounds, so have our churches.

This variety of backgrounds gives us all a chance to exercise flexibility and tolerance of each other in things that aren't commanded or forbidden in the Bible. And we should do it, not in the grudging way I honoured the scruples of my mother, but with the generosity, reasonableness, and love that Paul communicates in the gentle tone of his letter.

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me wisdom to sort out what scruples of mine are matters of real importance. Help me not to erect barriers between myself and others out of things that are non-essentials. Amen.

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

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

God's glory in your corner of Earth

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Palm 72:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "And blessed be His glorious name forever!
And let the whole earth be filled with His glory.
Amen and Amen." Psalm 72:19

The grand words "And let the whole earth be filled with His glory" may bring out two reactions in us:
1] Longing for such a time. Because the whole earth sure isn't filled with God's glory right now.

2] Cynicism that such a thing could ever be. Is there even any practicality in praying for such a state?

However, the meaning of the word glory carries within it the avenue by which God's glory can spread to all parts of the earth even now. [Glory means, among other things, distinguished honor or praise, exalted reputation, something bringing praise or renown.] Implied is that there will be someone or something to bestow that honour and enhance that reputation. We can be those glory-spreaders.

God's glory can be reflected in us through Christlike behaviour. Here  that reflection takes on international potential as we observe God the ruler in action. What kind of ruler is He?

1] He is a just ruler, fair to the power and powerless (Psalm 72:2,4).

2] He is a compassionate ruler (Psalm 72:12).

3] He is a ruler under which even the land flourishes (Psalm 72:16).

His glory can begin to "fill the whole earth" as each one of us advances His reputation by adopting His glorious ways in our personal and public lives. We do this by being:

Just: If we are bosses or supervisors or parents, we deal fairly with our employees/underlings/children.

Compassionate: For us this may mean a variety of things from giving money to charities, to volunteering at our local mission or foodbank, to refraining from NIMBY-ism (acronym for Not In My Back Yard i.e. by supporting things like homeless shelters in our neighbourhoods).

Diligent: We have no power over the weather or rain, but in our land of adequate water, even a well-maintained hanging basket can reflect God's glory. I remember a missionary to Kazakhstan talking about how the planting of flowerbeds to beautify the outside of his apartment building was an unusual and novel thing in that stark place. Even the way we take care of ourselves and our homes can be a means of spreading God's glory.

A sidebar article in my Bible says:
"As we grow in godliness we begin to understand that God blesses us with a purpose in mind — blessing us that we might be a blessing to others and so that the nations of the Earth will come to know Him (Genesis 12:2)...Extend God's blessing in the Earth that His name will be praised among the nations" - Leslyn Musch,  "Truth-In-Action Through Psalms," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 741.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to spread Your glory through a life characterized by justice, compassion and beauty. Amen.

MORE: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" - Keith and Kristyn Getty

Hear the call of the Kingdom
To be children of light
With the mercy of heaven
The humility of Christ
Walking justly before Him
Loving all that is right
That the life of Christ may shine through us

all lyrics

*NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

New earth order

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 11:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea." Isaiah 11:9

Today's reading from Isaiah underlines the possibility—no, the inevitability, of worldwide changes that will come about during Messiah's rule. Some of the things that will characterize this time:

  • Peace in nature (vs. 6-7):
Watch any nature show and you'll see that if there is anywhere cruelty and brutality reign it's in the natural world. All man's civilizing prowess is no match for the instinctive bloodlust of the lion or the eagle. But in the kingdom Christ's reign will bring about, this inter-genus animosity will disappear (vs. 6-7).

  • Rule of innocence "And a little child shall lead them" (vs. 6):
Guile, deceit, conniving—all that cries out for a counterbalance of rulerly wisdom and craft will be absent.

  • Coexistence of man and animals (vs. 8-9):
Our shock as we view Isaiah's picture of a child playing safely near the lair of a viper or cobra underlines how deeply etched in us is fear and animosity toward some animal species. Isn't it interesting that Isaiah uses two varieties of snakes in his illustration. Could he be saying that the condition brought about by the Genesis snake is canceled?

What is the cause of this radically peaceful new earth order? It is the knowledge of the Lord, its overflow to everywhere, its influence on every part of creation.

I pick this verse to burrow into today, partly to give you and me dream fodder for that time of perfect peace and order the Bible predicts. But I also do it to buttress us in our daily living of Kingdom principles in obedience to Jesus. No, we won't be able to breach the gap between humans and animals. But the knowledge of God can make radical differences in the here and now too. Note, for example, what was the result of God's presence sweeping parts of Wales in revival in 1904:

"Alcoholism, a major social problem in southern Wales, was significantly reduced. Miners voluntarily taxed their wages to build libraries and recreation halls which would provide alternatives to the saloons. As the numbers of arrests declined drastically, the "magisterial bench" expressed "keen gratification" for the movement. Efforts to conserve its social effectiveness were launched, a popular effort being the creation of institutional churches. Many stories of repentance followed by restitution circulated. The revival manifested itself in sobriety, industry, repaid debts, and healed relationships as well as in evangelism."
- Edith Blumhofer, Paraclete, Summer of 1986 issue (article no longer online). 

If the knowledge of the Lord can bring peace, tranquility, renewal, and prosperity to towns of rough coal miners, surely it can also be oil on the stormy waters of our lives.

PRAYER: Dear God, open my eyes to areas of un-peace and conflict in my life. Show me how the knowledge of You and obedience to Your ways can change those things. Amen.

MORE: Foundations for Farming

Foundations for Farming (formerly called Farming God's Way) is a program that is used to help train farmers in Africa to grow the food they need for survival. It combines sound farming practices with adherence to Biblical principles of dependence on God, righteousness, and stewardship. My nephew is using and teaching that program in Uganda.

Here is a comment from his Facebook wall some time ago:

"We continue to enjoy fruit from our garden; sweet corn, french beans, and a few strawberries. There is no season when we cannot grow any of these, yet Ugandans are suffering hunger and malnutrition on a broad scale. May God open our eyes to do things as He does them and to benefit from the bountiful life He has for us."

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

Monday, December 02, 2013

Imitate the Christ of prophecy

"Jesus riding into Jerusalem"
by Hippolyte-Jean Flandrin (1809-1864)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 9:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation
Lowly and riding on a donkey
A colt, the foal of a donkey." Zechariah 9:9

These Holy Spirit-inspired words of Zechariah were fulfilled 400 years after they were spoken, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. It's a day we will celebrate on Sunday (Palm Sunday). Matthew recognizes their fulfillment in Matthew 21:4-5.

Zechariah made at least two other predictions about Jesus.

In Zechariah 3:8 he prophesies the coming of "My Servant the Branch"—"branch" referring to how Jesus was an offshoot or descendant of the family of David.

In Zechariah 6:12-13 he prophesies that the Branch he has referred to earlier shall rule as a King-Priest. His person will be glorious and peace will characterize his rule/priesthood.

A commentary article at the end of Zechariah in my Bible discusses how the book of Zechariah helps us grow. It says:

"Growing in godliness is growing in Christ-likeness. Zechariah paints a beautiful, prophetic picture of Jesus our Messiah. Take time to focus on these prophecies, allow them to permeate your spirit, and ask the Lord to conform you into the image of His glorious Son...."

From Zechariah 3:8:
"...Follow Jesus' example of deliberate servanthood."

From Zechariah 6:12-13:
"...Understand that as part of the body of Christ, you have been made a king and priest. As such you have been called to rule and reign with Him and to carry the glory of God."

From Zechariah 9:9
"...Seek to be like Jesus; extend salvation to the world with humility and love - John 12:47)" -  Leslyn Musch "Truth-In-Action Through Zechariah" - New Spirit-filled Life Bible, p. 1264.

I have never thought of applying the prophecies about Jesus in such a personal way before. But it makes sense if we take seriously advice like Paul's to the Corinthians: "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." (see 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1).

Isn't it amazing how God's word fits together. Even remote passages like these from Zechariah become part of the "God-breathed and useful" tool for "teaching, rebuking, correcting, for training in righteousness" in our lives (2 Timothy 3:16 - NIV)!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the prophetic pictures of Jesus that Zechariah paints. Please grow in me those qualities that Jesus displayed: servanthood, humility, love, an enthusiasm to spread the good news of salvation, Your glory. Amen.

MORE: "Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of Zion" from Handel's Messiah

Handel set some of the words of Zechariah 9:9 to music into his aria "Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of Zion" from the Messiah. In the rendition below Lynne Dawson sings it, along with "He Shall Feed HIs Flock," accompanied by the Brandenburg Consort conducted by Stephen Cleobury,

"Rejoice Greatly" and "He Shall Feed His Flock" 

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Sunday, December 01, 2013

When it's wait and wait and wait...

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:1-25

TO CHEW ON: "And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and they were both well advanced in years." Luke 1:6-7

The inability to have children is psychologically painful for hopeful parents-to-be. In first century Jewish society where having children was the life mission of women and failure to conceive considered a sign that God was displeased with you, that was doubly so.

However, "well advanced in age" Zacharias and Elizabeth had, at the time of the events in our reading today, probably made peace with their childless state. That was the only sensible thing to do. So imagine their incredulity and joy over what happened the year Zacharias took his turn doing the high priest duties in Jerusalem. An angel visit telling him they would have a child was followed by Elizabeth actually getting pregnant!

Have you noticed how many other special Bible children were born after long delay? Abraham and Sarah had Isaac in their old age. Jacob waited a long time for his favourite wife to have Joseph. Hannah suffered through bitter years of infertility until Samuel was born.

I don't know why God sometimes makes us wait, and wait, and wait for the things we want most. But there is no doubt the waiting is also part of His plan of causing all things to work for good. For one thing as a result of waiting we view the answer to our prayer, when it finally comes, with a lot more appreciation and thankfulness than if there had been no delay. And the intervening wrestle with God helps to sift us and tone our faith. Stories like the miracle baby of Zacharias and Elizabeth sure help in that department.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for stories of prayer answered after long waiting. Help me to trust you about the things for which I'm waiting and praying, knowing nothing is too difficult for You -- and that if You say "no" or "wait" it's for a reason. Amen.

MORE:  O Come O Come Emmanuel
We are entering the season of Advent when one of the things we focus on is how our world waited for its Redeemer. One of the Christmas songs that embodies that sense of longing beautifully is the traditional carol "O Come O Come Emmanuel," sung here by Red Mountain Music.


Learn about the significance of the season, the history of Advent wreaths, colors, and discover some Advent traditions in this excellent article "The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope" by Dennis Bratcher.

Chapter 12 ("Learning to Trust God through Infertility") of Infertility: A Survival Guide for Couples and Those Who Love Them talks about infertility from a Christian perspective. You might also want to explore The Infertility Surivival Guide web site which has links to more of the book's content as well as other helpful insights for couples struggling with infertility.

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

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