Thursday, January 31, 2013

Three things to remember

little girl pondering the road aheadTODAY’S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 1:1-19

TO CHEW ON: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew and approved of you as My chosen instrument, and before you were born I separated and set you apart, consecrating you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 Amplified

It’s reassuring to see behind the scenes into the lives of people we consider spiritual giants – like Jeremiah. According to our passage today, he wasn’t exactly low maintenance when he got started. To help him get over his worries and misgivings, God made three things clear to him at the beginning of his prophet-ship:

1. He was picked for this specific assignment. Before he ever existed, God knew him, set him apart, and appointed him.

2. God had one answer to all his objections: “I am with you…”

3. His effectiveness was guaranteed. His power would be above that of earthly kings and rulers. His word and influence would root things out, pull things down. He would have authority to destroy, throw down, build and plant.


Though on some level this passage is specific to Jeremiah, on another these three principles apply to us too.

  • God knew each of us before we physically existed. From before time He had our destiny planned. (See also Psalm 139:13-16; Ephesians 2:10.)
  • Though we may feel inadequate to do the assignments He gives us, God’s words to Jeremiah are also His words to us: "I am with you" (See also Isaiah 43:1-3; Matthew 28:19-20.)
  • As God works through us we will have influence and authority far beyond anything that could be expected in the natural. (See also Matthew 18:18-20.)

So be encouraged. God has a specific plan for your life. He is with you. Your life will make a bigger difference than you ever imagined!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me grasp Your potential for me and to bring it into reality in my life today. Amen.

MORE: On God’s call:
“It is easier to serve God without a vision, easier to work for God without a call, because then you are not bothered by what God requires; common sense is your guide, veneered over with Christian sentiment. You will be more prosperous, successful and leisure-hearted if you never realize the call of God. But if once you receive a commission from Jesus Christ, the memory of what God wants will always come like a goad; you will no longer be able to work for Him on the common-sense basis…. Never consider whether you are of use; but ever consider that you are not your own but His.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (March 4 reading - emphasis added)
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Monday, January 28, 2013

"Ask! What shall I give you?"

Solomon's Dream - 1 Kings 3:5-15
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 3:1-15

TO CHEW ON:
"At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, 'Ask! What shall I give you?'" 1 Kings 3:5

I love this story! How can one help but be drawn to a king who has the humility to admit, 'I don't know how to do this'? How many times hasn't a similar cry come from my lips, perhaps yours too?

We can learn some lessons for our lives from Solomon's encounter with God.

1. We see at the beginning of our reading that Solomon wasn't perfect. He was busy making an expedient political alliance with Egypt by marrying an Egyptian princess and a few verses farther on we see that though he loved the Lord and followed His laws he also sacrificed at the pagan high places (1 Kings 3:1,3). Yet still God came through to help him.
  • Similarly, we don't need to wait until we're perfect to ask for God's help.

2. God brought Solomon to a point of articulating his deepest thoughts, feelings, and anxieties. Perhaps God chose to come to Solomon in a dream because of how uninhibited we are while dreaming. 
  • God can also help us come to a place of understanding where, exactly, we need His help. (Although we might also ask, where don't we need His help, we just don't realize it.)

3. Solomon asked for help to do his job—ruling Israel—in a just way.
  • Though none of us has this assignment, we can ask God for help with the jobs we do have—raising our kids, performing at work as bosses or underlings, serving in church, perhaps leading a committee or as a member of a board or executive where things can get contentious...

4. On waking Solomon probably felt no different than on any other morning. But he went straight to Jerusalem and to 'church,'  "stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord," sacrificed offerings and feasted with his servants. By faith he celebrated God's answer to his request (1 Kings 3:15). 
  • We too can expect God to answer our deepest requests. To solidify what these are, it helps if we write them down. Then in faith we can begin thanking God for His answers even as we watch how over the weeks, months, and years they become reality. We will see the proof in the feedback others give us and the fruit of our own lives!

PRAYER: Dear God, I need Your wisdom for ____. Please work in my life to help me do the tasks and shoulder the responsibilities You have given me. Amen.

MORE: Covenant prayerSolomon's prayer here is another of the great prayers of the Old Testament. Walter Bruegemann, in his chapter on this prayer alludes to how the teachings of Jesus and Paul echo the fact that God is generous to those in a covenant relationship with Him (Matthew 7:9-10; Ephesians 3:12-20). If Solomon will keep his end of the covenant with God, God will come through for him with lavish gifts that he hasn't even asked for. Bruegemann concludes:


"The two cannot be separated. If we take only the generosity of YHWH, we destroy the context for viable communion. If we take only uncompromising requirements, we miss the readiness of God to give. Mature prayer is the capacity to enter the dream communion with God who gives and summons" - Walter Bruegemann, Great Prayers of the Old Testament, p. 57” (emphasis added).


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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Who is Jesus?

"Jesus rejected at Nazareth"by Andre Bida - 1874 
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 4:16-30

TO CHEW ON: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind
To set at liberty those who are oppressed
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord….
Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing
- Luke 4:18-19,21

If you ask people who Jesus is (or was) you will get a variety of answers:
- a great teacher
- just one of many prophets
- a good moral example.

Here we find out what He thought of himself. The things He said He would do by claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1,2 were only things that Israel’s promised Messiah could do. He clearly claimed to be that Messiah.

Of course His hearers, completely familiar with what He had read and savvy as to what His claims implied, were enraged. When He lumped them in with all the prophet-rejecters of the past, their wrath exploded. They dragged Jesus out of the synagogue, took Him to a hilltop, and intended to throw him to His death. But it wasn’t His time and He walked away.

The reaction of these people to Jesus’ claims about Himself show us that they knew exactly what He was saying. They viewed it as blasphemy.

People who refuse to accept Jesus’ claims as God, yet insist He was a noble character must not have read passages like this. For it’s clear that either Jesus was who He clamed to be or something far less honorable – a liar perhaps, or deluded, or mentally ill?

I believe He is who He claims to be (John 8:58). As such, I believe the things He said carry a lot of weight – like:
- how we come to God (John 14:6).
- the fate of those who believe in Him  (John 11:25-26).
- the fate of those who don’t (John 3:16-18).

Who do you think Jesus was? Why do you believe the way you do? Has it made any difference in the way you live?

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me who Jesus is. And may it be more than just an intellectual knowing. Amen.

MORE: Other answers to "Who is Jesus?"

C. S. Lewis’s take on ‘Who is Jesus?’

C. S. Lewis’s statement ‘refuted’ – are you swayed?

Phil Johnson lays out a systematic theology-type answer to ‘Who is Jesus?’


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Friday, January 25, 2013

Go!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 9:1-19a

TO CHEW ON: “Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem…’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go…’” Acts 9:13, 15a

While Peter’s restoration occurred during a quiet conversation with Jesus, Saul’s (later Paul) was a dramatic encounter. God knew that Saul’s zeal was rooted in the belief he was doing the right thing and what it would take to change his mind. When the light, the power and the voice of Jesus stopped him on the Damascus road, he converted in an instant.

In this story I sympathize with Ananias. Imagine being told to visit Christianity’s most vocal and influential opponent (to us Richard Dawkins,  say, or Sam Harris). Even compliant Ananias raised objections…'Lord, do You know who this man is and what he has authority to do?' (Acts 9:13-14). To Ananias’ credit, he went anyway, found the now blind, helpless, and hungry Saul and helped onto his feet the man who became the church’s most articulate champion.

Are you and I as quick to obey – even when obedience seems like non-sense? Oswald Chambers says about obedience:

“There is no moral virtue in obedience unless there is a recognition of a higher authority in the one who dictates…. a man is a slave for obeying unless behind his obedience there is a recognition of a holy God.


But woe be to me if when I see Him, I say I will not. He will never insist I do it but I have begun to sign the death warrant of the Son of God in my soul. When I stand face to face with Jesus Christ and say – I will not, He will never insist; but I am backing away from the recreating power of His redemption.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 18th reading.

To whom or about what is God saying “Go” to us today? Will I? Will you?


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for examples like Paul and Ananias who illustrate how the lives of people in Your kingdom interlock. Help me to cooperate with You in this by going whenever you say the word. Amen

MORE: The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Today the church celebrates the Conversion of St. Paul. The liturgy for this day begins with this collect:

"O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."


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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Praying before giving your answer

"The Word of the Lord came to Nathan" 
by C. J. Staniland

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 7:1-17

TO CHEW ON:
"Then Nathan said to the king, 'Go and do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.'
But it happened that night that the word of the Lord came to Nathan saying, 'Go and tell my servant David, "Thus says the Lord: 'Would you build a house for Me to dwell in?"'" 2 Samuel 7:3-5.


As we read on from the focus verse above, we see that God said no to David's idea of building Him a house. Rather, David's seed (his son Solomon) was the one God had picked to do this (2 Samuel 7:12-13). And poor Nathan had to go back the next day and burst David's bubble, so to speak.

Nathan's quick, off-the-cuff reaction to David's question reminds me of how I so often respond to ideas and opportunities that come my way: 'Oh, that sounds like a good idea, interesting, fun! Yes. I'll get involved.' Or my reaction may be 'No. I don't want to take on another commitment right now.' But I neglect to consult with God first just like Nathan. Then later, usually during my quiet time, God and I revisit the thing I've just committed to. More than once I've sensed I should pull back, or pull out.

That's why I'm trying to make it a habit to defer making decisions on opportunities, or projects, or new commitments until I've had a chance to check with the Boss. For what seems like a great idea to me may not be what God has in mind at all.

Even Jesus adopted this policy. He said: "... I do nothing of Myself but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things" - John 8:28.


PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to subject my opportunities and involvements to Your scrutiny and to be obedient to Your directions. Amen.

MORE: Prayer and work

"It is not prayer in addition to work, but prayer simultaneous with work. We precede, enfold and follow all our work with prayer." - Richard Foster (quoted in Prayer Points p. 54).

"There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle reception to divine breathings."  - Thomas Kelly (Quoted in Prayer Points p. 55-56).


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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Our actions seen and weighed

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 2:1-11

TO CHEW ON: “Talk no more so very proudly;
Let no arrogance come from your mouth,
For the Lord is the God of knowledge;
And by Him actions are weighed." - 1 Samuel 2:3


Tim Challies in his book The Next Story reminds us of how the internet and wireless technology has made much of our lives traceable. Search engine data, email, telephone and text message records, our twitter stream, not to speak of what we write on blogs and comment on web pages can all be cobbled together to form a picture of who we are. Of course, if we have nothing to hide, we don't worry a lot about this, relying on the improbability that anyone will actually take the time and effort to sleuth it all out and join the dots.

However, there is One who doesn't need Google's search engine records to know what kind of person we are: "The Lord, the God of knowledge." He is the One who knows us in an all-inclusive Psalm 139 way and will eventually weigh our actions.

Our focus verse today is part of a prayer, offered by Hannah after keeping her promise that if she would have a son, she would give him back to the Lord.  It's interesting that later in the chapter of today's reading, after Hannah has finished praying and gone home, probably in blissful ignorance of the tainted environment in which she's left Samuel (barely out of toddlerhood) the writer begins  the story of Eli's sons. They turn out to be a living illustration of what she has just prayed.

He begins the story about them: "Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord" - 1 Samuel 2:12. Then he describes how they were flaunting the rules of handling the sacrifices, and ends: "Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord" - 1 Samuel 2:17.

Whether the people knew Eli's sons were sinning or not isn't clear, and isn't the issue. What mattered was that God saw and His evaluation counted.

I take two challenges from today's passage.

1. I need to realize that God knows even my most private moments. Despite the digital trail I leave with my daily actions, I may be able to maintain a comfortable degree of privacy from others. But I can't hide anything from Him. He not only sees my actions, but knows how to weigh them — interpret the motivations from which they come.

2. I want to live in such a way that if someone actually took the time to piece together the digital bits I leave behind, that trail would glorify Jesus.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live each moment with the consciousness that You see. And help me to gain the wisdom to weigh my actions with the scales that You use. Amen.

MORE: Hannah's prayer
You would imagine that at such a wrenching time for a mother,  Hannah's thoughts could have been of self-pity or wishing she could go back on her promise. But no. Her prayer is anything but selfish. It is a grand peon of praise to God and considered one of the twelve great prayers of the Old Testament. Walter Brueggemann says of her prayer:

"She sings of a surprise in gratitude. She sings that her family will continue. She sings that her people will have a future. She sings that through this little boy named 'asked' there will soon be newness for the poor and needy and hungry and feeble. She sings in the way singing is possible only among those who have felt the powerful invasiveness of YHWH's newness where no newness was possible. She sings of the God who 'brings life' She sings to the God who raises up. This is the God who lifts the needy. Hannah is the voice of all those who still have ashes in their hair and in their throats, who find themselves on the way to royal banquets and safe places" - Walter Brueggemann, Great Prayers of the Old Testament,  p. 32.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Weep at the Word

Ezra reading the law (Nehemiah 8:1-12)
Ezra reading the law (Artist unknown)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Nehemiah 8:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, 'This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.' For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law." Nehemiah 8:9

If you are familiar with Moses' law—that part of the Bible we find in sections of Exodus and Leviticus—you may well be surprised to see people weeping when it is read. Why would they weep on hearing a bunch of rules?

On thinking about it, I can come up with several reasons;
  • It may have been the emotion they felt as they again connected with their religious and cultural roots. It seems that these people were unschooled in the law. We can assume that because of the way they needed a lot of explanation when it was read (Nehemiah 8:7). Even so, they probably had glimmerings of it, passed down through generations. But on this momentous day, as they respectfully stood for its reading, they were hearing the real thing for the first time in their lives. No wonder they got choked up.
  • They were saddened by how far they had strayed from the law's requirements. But their teachers urged them—don't look at yourselves; focus on God. Make this day holy or separate to God. Let the joy of who God is and what He is doing now, energize you (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
  • They were under conviction and their tears were evidence that God was at work in their lives. I love how this incident is the climax of their wall-repair project—an experience that had been both exhilarating and stressful. But they had completed it
Fresh from the victory of re-establishing the integrity of their city, they were primed for the victory of returning to God in spirit. Their sensitivity to God's will and eagerness to obey is on display as they jumped to obey the instructions to keep the Feast of Booths—something that had apparently not been done since the time of Joshua (Nehemiah 8:13-18).

What is our reaction to God's word? We have not only the Law, but the stories, the prophets, the New Testament, much of it plain and easy to understand.
  • Do we respect it (to the extent of willingly standing for its reading when our pastors instruct us to, of course) as these people did?
  • Do we hear it with the sense that it applies to us personally?
  • Do we focus on how badly we've messed up, or on God and His goodness to us, His plan of salvation, and the hopeful outlook that trust in Him brings?
  • Are we quick to change our ways when we see where we have been disobedient?
May our lives be evidence of us going from one obedience to the next (like these people did), as we let the hammer / fire / lamp / sword of God's word do its work.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your word which tells me about You and educates me in Your ways. May I take it as personally as these people who, on hearing, wept, repented, and obeyed. Amen.

MORE: "Hear with the greatest devotion"
"The second duty of piety wherein we must provoke ourselves, is, in HEARING of the Word. We may bring our bodies to the preaching of the Word with ease—but not our hearts, without offering violence to ourselves. When we come to the Word preached, we come to a business of the highest importance, therefore should stir up ourselves and hear with the greatest devotion. Luke 19:48. "All the people were very attentive to hear him." In the Greek it is "they hung upon his lip."—When the Word is dispensed, we are to lift up the everlasting doors of our hearts, that the King of glory may enter in!"-Thomas Watson (a quote from The Old Guys) emphasis added.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cooperation, not competition

Teamwork in spreading the light of the Gospel
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." 1 Corinthians 12:7

We usually think of gifts in terms of how they will please us, how they will be of use to us, how they will enhance our ease or magnify our image. But spiritual gifts (also referred to here as manifestations, ministries and activities) are not like that. They are not primarily about us as individuals but about "all."

Who is this all? In one sense, it is the universal church—the worldwide body of believers who have entered the Kingdom of God or Heaven through being born again (see Jesus' explanation to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21).

But because we can't meaningfully live on such a vast plain, we connect our selves with local churches—smaller bodies of believers that we meet face to face, whom we know and who know us. It is mainly within the local church that our gifts are used, needed, and appreciated—or not.

There's the rub. For spiritual gifts don't all have equal prominence. But we mortals like prominence. And so here Paul's words hit the road of life when he reminds us, these gifts aren't about us, but about the good of "all."

We may never see the custodian who keeps the church shining and the garbage cans emptied, or the secretary who types and prints the bulletin, or the volunteer who puts the nursery worker schedule together, or the team that visits the sick in hospital, or the cooks and kitchen workers who prepare the Alpha meal. But if any of these, and a myriad others, fails in his or her job, don't we notice it!

So as we discover and use our spiritual gifts, let's remind ourselves:
  • Our gift is not about our prominence.
  • It's not about gaining a following.
  • It's not about people's compliments and well dones.
  • Rather, it's about faithfully doing our little under the head—Christ—and leaving the results with Him.

PRAYER: Dear God, I so easily forget the principle of spiritual gifts being for the profit of all. Help me to get my thinking out of the realm of competition, into the realm of cooperation. Amen.

MORE: Our corporate calling

"The call of Jesus is personal, but not purely individual; Jesus summons his followers not only to an individual calling but also to a corporate calling.

"... over against history's involuntary groupings, such as the tribe, the city-state, and the nation, there now stands a new community of God's called-out ones. These are bound together by a covenant and living out a corporate calling that both complements and transcends their calling as individuals" - Os Guinness, The Call, pp. 93, 97.




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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Kitchen Glory

The Wedding at Cana by Gustave Dore - John 2:1-12
"The Wedding at Cana" by Gustave Dore
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 2:1-12

TO CHEW ON: “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” John 2:10 (emphasis mine)


Che Ahn defines God's glory in his book When Heaven Came Down:
“God’s glory is His manifest presence by which He reveals His character of goodness and displays His power through signs and wonders.” p. 28

At the Cana wedding Jesus displayed His "character of goodness" by helping out some desperate servants. The wine had run out – a potentially humiliating experience for the groom and his family. Jesus changed the water in six water pots into wine.

Like all the things Jesus does, it was quality workmanship–wine of such high grade the master asked the bridegroom why he had kept the best for the feast’s end. This miracle also blended into everyday life–like miracles often do. The wine didn’t glow or in any way distinguish itself from ordinary wine–except that it was better–so that the onlookers probably later asked themselves, did I really see what I thought I saw?

Another thing this story teaches us is where we can expect to experience God’s glory. We’re probably not surprised when a sense of His presence invades a worship service or prayer meeting. But here it came right into the middle of a domestic crisis. You’ve probably experienced plenty of those. I know I have. Have you ever asked God for a sign of His glory when you’ve lost your keys, clogged the toilet or discovered the washing machine has broken down? Let's ask God to enter our common everyday crises with His glory.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please remind me next time I’m in a jam that Your glory is available for that situation too. Open my eyes to the possibility of signs and wonders in my kitchen. 

MORE: Author friend Bonnie Bruno has assembled an entire book of stories about God revealing himself in ordinary situations. When God Steps In will lift your gaze upward and have you looking for evidences of His fingerprints on the most unlikely parts of your life.




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Friday, January 18, 2013

Jesus' template for discipleship

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:18-27

TO CHEW ON: "'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'" Luke 9:23

Part of our reading today is Jesus' private and direct instructions to His disciples. In it He tells them plainly, about a year before the events, that things will not end well for Him (vs. 22). To those who continue following Him despite all this, He explains what such loyalty involves.

Let's look at His instructions phrase by phrase to discover more about what being a disciple means for us as well.

"If anyone desires to come after Me..." Following Jesus is not something that is forced on us. We do it out of our desire or volition — though it is a desire that is put in us, in the first place, by God Himself (John 6:44).

"...let him deny himself..." "Understand and accept that discipleship means forsaking all selfish personal ambition," says a study note in my Bible. To me this means submitting every plan and goal to His lordship, every decision to Him for the final say.

"...and take up his cross..." This isn't startling until we think about what a cross was in the time of Jesus — an instrument of death for criminals. Taking up His cross was what Jesus was forced to do literally as He went from Jerusalem to Golgotha. In our day we might say, pick up your gun, or noose or lethal injection as a reminder of how dead you are to yourself.

"...daily..." This rejection of the self-life happens again every morning. Though it may begin with a crisis decision, we need to renew our commitment to it every day.

"...and follow Me."
"With Jesus, righteousness no longer consists of observance of an external legal code. He likens it to an apprenticeship to Himself as Master Teacher through the Holy Spirit" (Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1439).

I like that: "apprenticeship to Himself as Master Teacher." For the life of a disciple is not turning one's back on selfish ambition toward a life of nothingness. Instead it is such a rejection so that the powerful life Jesus can have full sway in and through us.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I want to be this kind of a disciple. Please teach me what it means to take up my cross daily and follow you. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Confession of St. Peter

Today the church celebrates the confession of the apostle Simon Peter, recorded in Luke 9:20. The liturgy for today begins with the following collect:

"Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. "

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

My conscience? Yours? Or both?

'No thanks' to wine
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 10:18-11:1

TO CHEW ON: “Therefore whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

In our passage today Paul addresses a tricky cultural problem in Greece. Pagan worship (out of which many of the Christians came) involved feasts and eating. Paul warns Christians not to be a part of pagan celebrations and feasting. For just as taking part in the Lord’s Supper signified fellowship with God, taking part in pagan feasts signified fellowship with demons.

However, sometimes meat that had been part of pagan ritual found its way into the public market. What if they inadvertently bought some of that idol-consecrated meat. Were they then guilty of the same thing?

Paul advises them:
1. The meat in itself is neutral.
2. They can just not ask about the meat’s status – when it’s for sale or served in someone’s home.
3.However, if someone tells them that they are about to eat idol-consecrated meat, then they shouldn’t touch it. Why? For the sake of their own conscience, and for the sake of the person who told them and for whom eating the meat may have spiritual significance.

Of course we will probably never encounter exactly such a situation. But the principles apply to us too. We do things or refrain from doing them for two reasons:
  • Because our own conscience allows or forbids it.
  • Because we consider the conscience of our brother.

Here’s how a modern working out of those principles might look. You go to dinner with a former alcoholic. To this person alcohol means the old life of partying and bondage. For you a glass of wine with your meal is perfectly harmless. While your conscience allows you to have a drink, you’re not sure how that action will affect your friend. Therefore on this day, in deference to your friend’s conscience – considering what alcohol signifies to him and how you having a drink might actually make him feel tempted to have one too – you abstain from the wine.

As we live not only by the dictates of our own consciences, but also considering how our actions will affect others, we glorify God who is honored when every part of the Body (the Church) is healthy and pure. Can you and I be so mature that we set aside our rights in consideration of others?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live by the dictates of my own conscience and with others in mind, “not seeking my own profit but the profit of many that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:33)


MORE: Chris Tomlin sings “Give Us Clean Hands”


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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Complaining? Nip it, zip it!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 10:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “Nor (let us) complain as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” 1 Corinthians 10:10

Here, alongside grave sins like idolatry, sexual immorality, and tempting Christ we find complaining? There must be some mistake! How can this common attitude, that most of us indulge in daily, be so bad?

The story referred to here happened when Korah, Dathan and Abiram challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership during the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness. When they confronted Moses saying they were every bit as much leaders as he was, the earth opened and “swallowed them up.” Then fire from God consumed 250 others who were offering incense unlawfully. The next day the “congregation” of Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” Immediately God sent a plague to destroy the grumblers (read the entire store in Numbers 16).

In this example the complaint was against leadership–something we never complain about, right? (Ha!) The drastic action of God in defending Moses and Aaron–the leaders He had appointed–shows how seriously He views this sin.

The word “complain” here doesn’t have a Greek equivalent (no number in Strong’s concordance), but its range of meaning is borne out by the various translations: Phillips–“curse the lot,”; NASB - “grumble”; Amplified - “discontentedly complain”; Message – “stir up discontent”; Good News – “complain”; Living Bible – “murmur against God.”

Complaining / grumbling is an example of an attitude leading to action that has its roots in our thoughts. A complaining, grumbling tongue starts with complaining, grumbling thoughts like: I deserve better than this; I can’t trust God with this situation; He obviously doesn’t know what He’s doing; I know better than He does. They are thoughts of rebellion toward God. When we express these thoughts, we multiply our sin by stirring up discontent in others.

So next time your thoughts toward your pastor or your church’s leadership turn in a critical, complaining direction, nip them in the bud. Replace them with thoughts and words of intercession. For sure zip your mouth from complaining and grumbling to others.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the leaders You have placed over me. Help me to remember to pray for them daily. Amen

MORE: Intercession for Pastors
Barb Billett’s wonderful book Praying With Fire has a prayer for pastors. Based on words straight from the Bible, it is a good prayer to pray regularly for our leaders. It begins:

"Father, in the name of Jesus, I confess, that the Spirit of the Lord: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, rests upon Pastor _____. I pray that as Your Spirit rests mightily upon Pastor _____, we believe he has quick understanding.
I confess and believe that You Lord, have anointed and qualified him to preach the gospel to the meek, the poor, and the afflicted. You have anointed Pastor _____ to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the physical and spiritual captives, and the opening of the prison doors and of the eyes of those who are bound..."


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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When God hates our worship

"Let justice run down like water..." Amos 5:24
"Let justice run down like water..." Amos 5:24
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Amos 5:16-27

TO CHEW ON:“I hate, I despise your feast days
And I do not savor your sacred assemblies…
Take away from me the noise of your songs
for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.
But let justice run down like water
And righteousness like a mighty stream.” Amos 5:21,23-24

Have you ever heard waitresses say that they dislike serving church groups, or people in business say Christian companies are the worst to deal with? Does this make sense? Shouldn’t a stingy, difficult-to-work-for, or hard-to-get-fair-service-and-timely-payment-from person who calls himself a Christian be an oxymoron?

In this passage God scolds Israel for putting on an outward religious show but neglecting justice and righteousness. What are justice and righteousness?
- justice: 1) The quality of being just (fair, evenhanded, impartial). 2) The rendering of what is due or merited.

- righteous: 1) Conforming in disposition and conduct to a standard of right and justice; upright, virtuous. 2) Morally right, equitable.

In plain words, justice is how we act toward others. Righteousness is our personal moral code–what we do and are even when no one is looking.

God hates it when our real self–what we are like privately and when we’re away from those we’re hoping to impress, doesn’t line up with our outward show of worship. In fact, He rejects this worship entirely. Despite our raised hands and rapturous Sunday morning faces, God’s blessing will not fill our lives if, at the same time, they are full of deceit, envy, gossip, fighting, bitterness, unforgiveness etc.

How do I measure up in the justice and righteousness departments? How do you? God can show us where and how to make changes.

PRAYER: Dear God, I want streams and justice and righteousness to run through my life. Please show me how this can happen. Amen.

MORE: A noble double-standard
“Never look for right in the other man, but never cease to be right yourself. We are always looking for justice; the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is – Never look for justice, but never cease to live it.”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
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Monday, January 14, 2013

"Seek Me"

The Hidden Treasure by James Tissot
"The Hidden Treasure" by James Tissot
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Amos 5:1-15

TO CHEW ON: “’Seek Me and live’…. Seek the Lord and live…. Seek good and not evil that you may live…” Amos 5:4, 6, 14

Like a many-faceted jewel, God’s instruction to “seek Me” has a myriad of angles.

It includes:

Prayer: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you." Jeremiah 29:11,12

An intense search: "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." - Jeremiah 29:13

Repentance: "Repent therefore and be converted so that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." - Acts 3:19

Obedience:"Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love Him, and we will come to Him and make our home with Him." - John 14:23 

In Old Testament times, obedience meant adhering to the sacrificial law. Since Jesus has fulfilled that law by His death and resurrection, we no longer need to be concerned about keeping it. But Jesus has not left us in the dark about what obedience means for us today. If you’re not sure, for starters read Matthew 5-7 (Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount).

What does “seek Me” mean for you today? Perhaps it means calling out to Jesus for the first time and turning your self-directed life into His hands. Perhaps it means spending more time in prayer. Or maybe it means soaking in the Bible, and turning new-found insights into action in obedience.

Whatever it means to you – do it! The result – life – is worth it!

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please show me what God’s command to “seek Me” means to me. Amen.

MORE: A 'Seek Me' painting

The painting,"The Hidden Treasure" by James Tissot illustrates Jesus' stories about seeking God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46



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Sunday, January 13, 2013

The begets

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 3:15-38

TO CHEW ON: “…the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmodam, the son of Er…” Luke 3:28

When you make a puzzle, the nondescript blue pieces that fill out the sky are as important as the detailed and colorful ones that bring the picture to life. The genealogy of Jesus that traces His ancestry through Joseph to Adam contains a lot of those nondescript pieces with names mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. We know nothing more about these people other than that they’re part of Jesus’ family tree. But each name on that list is significant because each played a part in establishing Jesus as the Son of Man and a legitimate stand-in as a sacrifice for the human race.


You are also part of a human genealogy. If you had the knowledge, you could trace your physical roots back to the first man, Adam.

Did you know you have another family tree as well? If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior and been born again you have a spiritual genealogy (John 3:1-18). Whose names are on that list – your parents? Grandparents? A Sunday school teacher? A TV pastor? John or Paul from the Bible?

Let's spend some time today, thinking about and thanking God for the people who helped birth us into God’s forever family. And we might ask yourselves, have we begotten anyone?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for my spiritual parents. Help me to beget spiritual children of my own. Amen.

MORE: Children of God
11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13, New King James Version)
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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Repentance fruits

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 3:2-25

TO CHEW ON: "'Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father." For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.'" Luke 3:8

John the Baptist's message to Jews and Gentiles both was to repent. My Bible's footnote gives a concise definition of repentance: "The term here means an internal sorrow that results in 'turning'" - J. Lyle Story,  commentary on Luke, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1391.

John's repentance prescription was practical.

  • For the person who had extra it meant sharing with someone in need - Luke 3:11.
  • For the tax collector it meant collecting only what was 'appointed' or as we would think of it, as spelled out in the Tax Collector's Manual (Luke 3:13).
  • For the soldier it meant using power and station with integrity, not intimidating wrongdoers, accusing them falsely, or using brute strength and weapons to get more pay (Luke 3:14).
I wonder what John would have said repentance looked like to us homemakers. Perhaps to be content with our house and its furnishings, and to stop the lavish dinner party and entertaining competitions.

For us writers, he might have said, "Don't copy the words of others; if you quote, give credit. And stop worrying about who reads or doesn't read your words."


What do you hear John saying to you about repentance in your life or line or work?

All that to say that while repentance is an inner attitude, it also has an outer side. When we see how our lives don't line up with God's ideal, not only will we feel bad, but if we truly repent, we'll turn around and our actions will "bear fruits worthy of repentance."

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to back up my sorrow for sin with a change of actions.

MORE: Repent
The Greek word used for repent in Luke is metanoia.  It is derived from the Greek word metanoeo.  Keri Wyatt Kent explains what that word means in her book Deeper Into the Word:
"In Greek, the word is  metanoeo which means literally to perceive afterwards. Meta means after, but implies in that meaning to change; noeo means to perceive. So metanoeo is to change our perception. It happens when we are perhaps confronted—by a person or our conscience or the Holy Spirit—and think again about what we have done. We feel regret, but we don't stop there. We seek forgiveness, but also, we change our actions. We decide to go a new way, and then—this is absolutely key—we actually go that new way. We make it right. To repent is not just to feel guilty over our mistakes, but to choose a new path. It is to make a 180-degree turn, to turn around and walk in a new direction" - Keri Wyatt Kent, Deeper Into the Word: Reflections on 100 Words from the New Testament, p. 165.




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