Sunday, March 31, 2013

This can't be happening!

He Is Risen - banner from The Children's Friend - Part 5
Banner from The Children's Friend - Part 5
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 24:1-12

TO CHEW ON: “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” Luke 24:11

Joanna  woke before it was light. Her first moments in the sweet forgetfulness of just-waking were pleasant. But then the heavy sense of something wrong returned. Oh yes. Jesus, her rabbi, friend and hero, was dead.

Ugly scenes replayed in her memory: Word that Jesus had been arrested. The terrifying bloodthirsty shouts of the mob. Jesus bruised, bloody and half-naked, dragging His cross through the city. Soldiers nailing Him to the wood and hoisting the structure upright on Golgotha. Hours hanging there. The uncanny darkness. His last agony-filled cries. His last labored breath. Dead.

Now she untangled herself from her coverings. It was early but their errand demanded the cover of pre-dawn darkness. She dressed then picked up the bundle of embalming spices and hurried out to meet the others at the appointed place.

Their discussion of their oversight to bring someone to roll away the heavy stone from the tomb entrance stopped as the site came into view. The mouth of the grave was black–open. What? Who?

They went in. No body. Instead, two men in shining clothes. Their words–“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen!”– t took a while for them to sink in. It couldn’t be, could it?

Incredulous and filled with questions they returned to the others with the news of what they had seen and heard. Some recalled His predictions of just this happening. Others were suspicious of the Jews and the Romans. It took hours, days and numerous post-death appearances by Jesus before they were all convinced He really had risen.

The disciples’ reluctance to accept this incredible good news shouldn’t surprise us. For Jesus’ death and resurrection had changed everything – and it takes a while to recast paradigms and rebuild frames of reference. Now His teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven took on a new significance. His explanations of who He was and what He had come to accomplish began to make sense. He was a triumphant king, but in an altogether different way than they had expected Him to be. He had paid the price for sin. He had conquered death.

Joanna probably awoke the next morning – and the next and the next – with the sense you and I would feel on the morning after our favorite team had won the Stanley Cup, or the World Series, or the Brier or the Scotties, or we had just successfully birthed (after months of anticipation, and hours of painful labor) a baby!

PRAYER: Thank You, Jesus, for all that Your death and resurrection accomplished for the world – and for me. Please give me a greater appreciation for their meaning and significance. Amen.

MORE:  See What a Morning (Resurrection Hymn)” Stuart Townend





Today the church celebrates Easter. Ponder and enjoy the liturgy for Easter.


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

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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Friday, March 29, 2013

Yes / No reactions to Jesus

"Woman Onlooker at the Cross" - still shot from The Passion of the Christ movie
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 23:26-56

TO CHEW ON:
"Now as they led Him away … " Luke 23:26

Jesus' steady progress through the events of His last hours reminds me of words from Isaiah:
 "Therefore I have set My face like a flint
And I know I will not be ashamed" - Isaiah 50:7.

What I notice today is how this flinty life affects those it touches as it carves its way through the little bit of history in today's reading.

Simon a Cyrenian, a seemingly innocent passerby, is pressed into service to carry Jesus' cross. Out of the blue he gets pulled into this eternal story.

The multitude that follows consists of mostly the curious who, by the end of the day leave, 'beating their breasts.' I'm not sure what that means. Obviously something they see amazes, puzzles, even troubles them.

Within that multitude are women who were Jesus' close friends and followers. They have made their commitment to Him long ago and never falter in it. Jesus, even in His weakness, talks to them one last time. They stand at a distance watching everything. They see where Joseph buries Him and go home to prepare spices to give Him a proper embalming.

The 'rulers' in the crowd (presumably scribes, Pharisees, and council members) have their victim where they want him at last. They gloat and hurl sarcastic insults.

The Roman soldiers are mostly a rough, uncouth bunch. They too mock Him, gamble for His clothes, and torment Him with sour wine. However, the centurion, after he observes how things play out—the unnatural darkness and Jesus' final cry—has a change of mind, concluding, "Certainly this was a righteous Man!"

Jesus' cross is planted between the crosses of two thieves. One curses Jesus to his death but the other proves himself a believer.

Joseph of Arimathea, the Jewish council member
who hasn't been in on the council's decision to kill Jesus, plucks up his courage and asks Pilate for Jesus' body. Then he buries it in a new tomb.

These Yes / No reactions to the touch of Jesus' life, even in death, remind me of His words in other places. On one occasion He describes His presence as a sword, dividing even close family members (Matthew 10:34-39). Talking about what will happen at His second coming He says, "Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Then two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left …. He will separate one from the other, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats" - Matthew 24:40,41; 25:32).

I ask myself, if I had been a player in this story, how would I have reacted to Jesus? What about you?

And what about now? As we encounter the sword of Jesus' claims now, do we find ourselves falling on the Yes side, or the No?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your claims and how they sift me. I want my life to be a continual Yes to You. Amen.

MORE: Good Friday

Today the church celebrates the death of Jesus. The liturgy for Good Friday begins with this collect:

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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

The silence of Jesus

Christ Before Caiaphas - Matthias Stom
"Christ Before Caiaphas" -  Matthias Stom

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 23:1-25

TO CHEW ON: "Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing." Luke 23:9

I always marvel at Jesus's silence. His silences really, for quite a few times He remained silent when I know I would have babbled on and on.

Isaiah predicted this silence:

"He was oppressed and He was afflicted.
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth" - Isaiah 53:7 (see also Isaiah 42:4).

Jesus sometimes ministered without words.
  • When a herd of Jewish men brought to Him a woman caught in adultery, "… Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He didn't hear" - John 8:6.
  • In the closing days of His life, He announced to His disciples: "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me" - John 14:30.
The story of His arrest and trials are taut with the tension of His silence:
  • He was silent before the High Priest (Caiaphas) - Matthew 26:62-63.
  • He answered Pilate's question: "Are you the King of the Jews?" with "It is as you say." But when the chief priests continued to level accusations at Him, He remained silent so that Pilate was amazed (Mark 15:2-5).
  • He was silent in front of Herod - Luke 23:9.

Does the explanation of His silence to the disciples carry a clue about His wisdom in this, especially at the end of his life? Here is John 14:30 again, this time from the Amplified Bible:

 "I will not talk with you much more, for the prince (evil genius, ruler) of the world is coming. And he has no claim on Me. [He has nothing in common with Me; there is nothing in Me that belongs to him, and he has no power over Me" (emphasis added).

Amos 5:13 speaks similar wisdom: "Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, for it is an evil time."

Perhaps we should consider silence more often. After we have explained ourselves, defended our position, made clear where we stand, instead of arguing and getting into verbal fisticuffs—silence? It is a form of passive resistance that is hard to counteract and may shield us from giving the devil that foothold that comes with self-justifying, angry and sometimes abusive words.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I need the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent. Please give me insights into this. Amen.

MORE: Maundy Thursday
Today the church celebrates Maundy Thursday, also called Holy Thursday or the Thursday before Easter. It is a day of special emphasis on the Last Supper. It may have got its name from the English king's practice of distributing "maundsor baskets" or "maundy purses" to the poor before attending the evening service.

["the term 'Maundy' comes in fact from the Latin mendicare, Old French mendier, and English maund, which as a verb means to beg and as a noun refers to a small basket held out by maunders as they maunded" - Wikipedia on Maundy Thursday]


Here is the collect that begins the Maundy Thursday liturgy

"Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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Amplified Bible (Amp) - Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation  - Used with permission.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Necessary denials

Detail of "St. Peter Weeping Before the Virgin"
Guercino (1591-1666)

Detail of "St. Peter Weeping Before the Virgin" - Guercino (1591-1666)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 22:47-71

TO CHEW ON:
"And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord and how He had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.' So Peter went out and wept bitterly." - Luke 22:62

I am always moved by the story of Peter denying Jesus. Perhaps one of the reasons is because I know in my heart of hearts this could so easily have been me.

Could Peter have avoided this denial by, say, staying away from the fire of his 'enemies'? He was, after all, in the high priest's courtyard, the leader of the band that felt threatened by Jesus' popularity, saw Him as a liability to their cause, and wanted Him dead.

Perhaps. But in the end, I believe Peter needed to confront his cowardice (or whatever it was). He needed to see inside himself in the way that only such an incident would make possible.

The same can often be said about the denials we make that surprise us. We think we are way past giving in to the temptation to fudge the truth, or slander someone, or turn tail and run. And then we do it and see this bent toward sin is still in us and, like Peter, we "weep bitterly."

But now we can also deal with our misplaced self-confidence. No more Peter-like bravado: "Lord I am ready to go with You both to prison and to death" (Luke 22:33). Rather, we can have hope for our increased Kingdom usefulness when we return to Jesus with the lessons of our detour burned deep into our spirits.

May it be for us as Jesus predicted it would be for Peter: "… when you have returned to Me, strengthen the brethren" - Luke 22:32.

PRAYER:
Dear God, it is a bitter experience to see my own soft spots and sinful tendencies. When I fall into sin, please help me to quickly return to You and then use my experience to strengthen others. Amen.

MORE: Despair
Oswald Chambers, speaking of other disciples failing during Passion Week, says:
"There are experiences like this in each of our lives. We are in despair, the despair that comes from actualities, and we cannot lift ourselves out of it. The disciples in this instance had done a downright unforgivable thing; they had gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus, but He came with a spiritual initiative against their despair and said - 'Arise and do the next thing.' If we are inspired of God, what is the next thing? To trust Him absolutely and to pray on the ground of His Redemption.

Never let the sense of failure corrupt your new action. Matthew 26:46" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, February 18th reading

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

Satan bested at his own game

Satan deceived Eve
Satan tempts Eve
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

TO CHEW ON: "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see HIs seed, and He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall proper in His hand" - Isaiah 53:10


In this one verse we have a sum-up of what we celebrate this coming weekend. It is the ultimate defeat of Satan in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The opening line of our focus verse reminds us of the ancient prophecy that God spoke to the snake-incarnated Satan in Eden:

"And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise your head
And you shall bruise His heel" - Genesis 3:15 (emphasis added).


We may wonder why, in the face of such a prediction of his own demise, did Satan pursue Jesus' death? In his book Unlocking the Mysteries of Satan (Ebook Shorts), Dennis McCallum suggests that God deliberately hid the connection between Jesus the predicted Messiah and Jesus the Suffering Servant. He notes that in all the Suffering Servant Songs (Isaiah 42-53) there is not one reference to Messiah. Satan, with his fixation on confounding Jesus the Messiah (King), missed that He was also the Suffering Servant.

"Satan … thought Jesus had come to rule immediately. Indeed, he tried to kill Jesus when he was a baby. Jesus' self-effacing behaviour must have been confusing, but most people thought he would reveal his power any day (Luke 17:20; 19:11; Acts 1:6) and Satan may have thought this as well ….

If Satan were mistaken about Jesus' intentions, he naturally would have concluded that arranging to kill him would short-circuit the planned kingdom …. too late he realized that he had facilitated not the destruction of God's everlasting reign but the salvation of the human race!" - Dennis McCallum, Unlocking the Mysteries of Satan,  Kindle Locations 253-259.

It was after Jesus' resurrection ("…and He shall see His seed, and He shall prolong His days") that the disciples' (and no doubt Satan's) eyes were opened (Luke 24:45-47). Imagine the disciples' euphoria on realizing God had had the whole matter in control the whole time.

This outworking of God's cleverness in the face of all Satan's scheming prompts reactions in me, perhaps you too?

1. Admiration at God's wisdom in giving Satan the slip.

2. Gratitude for God's sacrificial love as He allowed Jesus to die in our stead.

3. Confidence in God's ability to keep us from getting snagged in Satan's schemes as we entrust ourselves to Him.


PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for Your plan which included Jesus' death for me, but also the resurrection and the final defeat of Satan's destructiveness. Help me to live in that victory now. Amen. 

MORE: Handel's Messiah Alert

G. F. Handel used words from today's reading in five Messiah choruses:

Chorus 23: "He was despised" - Isaiah 53:3.

Chorus 24: "Surely He hath borne our griefs" - Isaiah 53:4,5.

Chorus 25: "And with His stripes we are healed" - Isaiah 53:5b.

Chorus 26: "All we like sheep" - Isaiah 53:6.



Chorus 31: "He was cut off out of the land of the living" - Isaiah 53:8b.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pray!

"Sleep of the Disciples" - Alexandre Bida (1813-1895)
"Sleep of the Disciples" - Alexandre Bida (1813-1895)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 22:24-53

TO CHEW ON: “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail…’” Luke 22:31-32

If we look at the Bible as the story of the fight between good and evil, God and Satan, is it any wonder that Satan’s tracks run all through the account of Jesus’ passion, when the time of bruising heels and heads had come (Genesis 3:15)? Yesterday we saw how Satan entered Judas’ heart. In today’s reading that cagey serpent is working behind the scenes to “sift” Peter. Later on in the Garden, his wiles are in evidence again. Jesus finds the disciples sleeping while he has been agonizing in prayer and He warns them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray lest you enter into temptation.”

I sometimes wonder if we would be so nonchalant about our faith if we saw what was happening behind the scenes in the realm of the spirit. We can’t – and that’s probably a good thing. But we know there is a battle going on. And we have been given a means of attack and resistance. It is prayer. Telling of Satan’s request for Peter, Jesus said, “But I prayed for you that your faith should not fail.” When He finds the disciples sleeping, Jesus urges them, “Rise and pray…”

How do our prayers work to deflect, weaken, or hinder Satan’s attacks and keep him from victory in our lives and the lives of others? I don’t know. But I do know that we have our orders.

Luke 21:36
Ephesians 6:18
Philippians 4:6
Colossians 4:2
1 Thessalonians 5:17


PRAYER: Dear God, forgive my casual attitude toward prayer. Please remind and help me to use this weapon more faithfully and intentionally. Amen.

MORE: Palm Sunday

Today the church celebrates the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.  This beautiful prayer is part of the service:

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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Friday, March 22, 2013

Coming!

Triumphal Entry - Nicolas Fontaine
 Pitts Digital Theology Library

Triumphal Entry - Nicolas Fontaine
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 19:28-48

TO CHEW ON: “Then as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.’” Luke 19:37-38

Imagine being part of this crowd, cheering the arrival of your king. Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey was well understood by the Jewish people. They recognized Him as their long-anticipated Messiah. Their shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” was from prophetic Psalm 118 (Psalm 118:26).

The second part of their welcome, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest" sounds familiar too. It's the praise of the angels as they announced Jesus' birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:14).

There is another coming. It hasn’t happened yet. Two men “in white apparel” (angels? prophets or patriarchs in a heavenly form?) predicted it the day Jesus’ ascended into heaven: “This same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” Acts 1:11.

Are we expecting His return as some were looking for His first coming (Luke 2:24-32)?  Are we awake and alert, scanning the horizon for signs that it may be soon (Matthew 25:13; 24:3-14)? Do we love the thought of His return  to the extent we would celebrate it as the crowds celebrated His entry into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday (2 Timothy 4:8)? Am I ready? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be ready for Your return, should You come again before I die. Even so come Lord Jesus. Amen.

MORE: “Jesus is Coming Soon” sung by the Oakridge Boys




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Thursday, March 21, 2013

The low road, the small place

Child playing under a table
Our grandson in a favorite small place
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Philippians 2:1-18

TO CHEW ON: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:5-7

Jesus’ humility didn’t come the way ours often does, through being humiliated - though the religious leaders tried often enough to humiliate Him. Rather, it was demonstrated as He freely chose to make Himself low.

We can’t imagine the extent of His plunge. The prophet Daniel’s description of His place of origin gives us a vocabulary-limited idea. The scene is indescribably grand. He has unlimited power (Daniel 7:9-14).

He chose to leave all that and join us, small-minded, self-centered creatures on this sin-pocked planet. It’s mind-boggling really.

That’s why Jesus’ example of humility is so instructive to us. For none of us will ever have the reasons to be proud and uppity that He had. I love how a sidebar article in my bible describes it:
“Christ-like humility is manifested in the freedom of God’s Son to affirm the fullness of all God has placed in Him, without needing to flaunt or prove or push it through self-advancement. Jesus’ complete absence of any need to “clutch” for power or attention is manifest humility” - Fuchsia Pickett in the New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1662.

Don’t you just love that kind of humility – and want it in your life?

Here are some other facets of humility gleaned from the Bible:

1. It is one of three things God requires of us (Micah 6:8).
2. Humility on our part shows we are in touch with reality (Luke 14:10;  also Romans 12:3).
3. It makes us teachable (1 Peter 5:5).
4. It is demonstrated through service (Luke 22:26).
5. Humility is the foundation of a gracious, others-centered life (Romans 12:10).
6. It is through humility that Jesus attained His ultimate destiny (Philippians 2:5-11).
7. Humility will also lead us to attain the highest purpose for our lives (James 4:10).
8. Childlike humility is the route to true greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:4).


PRAYER: Dear God, please forgive me my proud, overweening spirit that longs for attention, glory and praise. Give me the desire to be humble and the will to choose the low road, the humble way, the small place. Amen.


MORE: Childlike

Converting To Childhood
Jesus: “... unless you are converted and become as little children
you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 18:3

You lose sophistication and veneer
and become clear
sing, skip and play
easily laugh and cry
then fall asleep without a care
for Daddy is nearby.

No longer do you worry
about whether there will be
food to eat, clothes to wear
how to get from here to there.

.
You’re malleable clay again
learning your family’s ways and graces.
And once again you fit
into small places.

© 2007 by V. Nesdoly

(First published in 2007 at Utmost Christian Writers)

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jesus' wisdom

"Consolator" - Carl Heinrich Bloch
"Consolator" - Carl Heinrich Bloch
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 50:4-11

TO CHEW ON: "The Lord God has given Me
The tongue of the learned,
That I should know how to speak
A word in season to him who is weary.
He awakens me morning by morning
He awakens My ear
to hear as the learned." Isaiah 50:6


It's easy to identify the Servant in Isaiah 50 as Jesus. Compare today's focus verse with this bit from yesterday's reading about the 12-year-old Jesus: "And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers" - Luke 2:47. He  already had 'the tongue of the learned' at 12.  His wisdom  was above and beyond what someone His age would usually have. It was God's wisdom.

Isaiah 50:6 contains at least four aspects of God's wisdom evident in Jesus:

1. His wisdom was from God, a manifestation of deity come in flesh: "The Lord God has given Me / The tongue of the learned…"

2. Jesus' wisdom showed itself in what He communicated - "…That I should know how to speak…"

3. Wise words are words of comfort and encouragement - "… A word in season to him who is weary…"  We can't help but think of Jesus' words: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest… etc." -  Matthew 11:28-30.

4. Jesus got His wisdom by spending time with His Father
- "…He awakens me morning by morning / He awakens My ear / To hear as the learned." The gospels are full of examples. He met with God early in the morning (Mark 1:35), through the night (Luke 6:12), after a full day (Mark 6:46), off by Himself (Luke 5:26). And I love how He left Himself open to interruption (Luke 9:18).

There is much about godly wisdom here for us to apply:
  • We can ask for wisdom - James 1:5.
  • Whether or not we are wise shows by what we communicate, in word and action - James 3:13-18.
  • We can grow in wisdom as we consistently meet with God, in the same way that Jesus did, having ears that are awake to listen and learn. We do this "morning by morning" (or whenever we schedule that meeting time), assimilating into our lives His "Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, / Line upon line, line upon line, / Here a little, there a little…" - Isaiah 28:13.  

PRAYER:
Dear God, how desperately I need Your wisdom. Help me to really listen and put into practice what You tell me. I especially need the wisdom of tender-heartedness toward the discouraged and broken. Amen.


MORE: Handel's Messiah Alert


Words from Isaiah 50:6 are part of  Chorus 23 from Handel's Messiah. This video includes a graphic modern interpretation of that bloody scene.

He Gave His Back to the Smiters


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Monday, March 18, 2013

Spiritual dullness

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 12:12-33

TO CHEW ON: "His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him." John 12:16

What 'things' is John talking about?

They are the events that played out, with Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem in fulfillment of the prophecy:
"Fear not, daughter of Zion:
Behold your king is coming.
Sitting on a donkey's colt"  - John 12:15
(alluding to Isaiah 40:9 and Zechariah 9:9).

At the time this happened, the event all by itself didn't have the big-picture significance to John that it did after Jesus was glorified. John had obviously mulled over what this all meant between its occurrence and writing it down. He had grasped how Jesus riding into Jerusalem, along with many other things, made Him the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies.

This is not the first time the disciples were dull. Repeatedly throughout the gospels we see Jesus chiding them for their lack of understanding (Matthew 15:16, 16:11; Luke 24:25; John 14:9).

What causes lack of spiritual comprehension? Could we be similarly dull? Many causes are implied in Bible verses that speak of not understanding spiritual truth:

1. An unwillingness to admit the obvious
is implied about the misplaced faith of the person worshiping an idol carved out of the same block of wood used to fuel a cooking fire - Isaiah 44:19.
2. A lack of obedience and resistance to correction - Jeremiah 7:28.
3. Rebelliousness - Ezekiel 12:2.
4. Lack of spiritual discernment - Luke 12:56.
5. Lack of spiritual sensitivity - John 8:43; Hebrews 5:11.
6. Adopting the shallow worldview of those around us - Romans 3:11.
7. Unfamiliarity with the Scripture - Matthew 22:29; John 5:39.
8. Fatigue - Matthew 26:40-45.

Before we're too hard on the disciples for not understanding what seems obvious to us now, we should put ourselves in their shoes. I'm not sure I would have grasped any more than they did.

Of course we should strive for spiritual understanding now. Something that was key to the disciples' eventual comprehension of Jesus and His significance was their familiarity with the Old Testament scriptures. We have both the Old and New Testaments to help us understand our times and God working out His plan through history. Let's take advantage of these treasure stores to become spiritually sharp.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please sharpen my spiritual awareness as I read the Bible and match up what it says with what I see happening around me. Amen.

MORE: The Sons of Issachar model:

An obscure verse in 2 Chronicles talks about the Sons of Issachar and describes them as having "… understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do" (2 Chronicles 12:32). We can make that our prayer too—that we will understand our times and know what to do in them.

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

New things

Desert streams
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 43:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Do not remember the former things
Nor consider the things of old
Behold I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:18-19



"A road in the wilderness … rivers in the desert"? Highly unusual. Even impossible?

That's what God is saying here: I can and will do the unusual, the impossible in the process of buying you back—redeeming you.

Israel has lots of impossible already in her history. Isaiah alludes to some of those things.
  • "When you pass through the waters … through the rivers…" the people might recall their miraculous passages through the Red Sea and the Jordan River (Exodus 14:10-30; Joshua 3&4).
  • "I gave Egypt for your ransom…" would remind them of the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt (Exodus 12:13,23-28).
  • "Who brings forth the chariot and horse … they are quenched … extinguished" would bring back the story of the Egyptians coming to reclaim their once-slaves and how they drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:23-30).

Some of the things Isaiah speaks were certainly prophetic to the people of his time.

  • "When you walk through the fire, you shall not burn" reminds us of Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego in Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, something that hadn't yet happened when Isaiah wrote these words (Daniel 3:1-25).
  • "Bring My sons from afar, My daughters from the ends of the earth" reminds us of the Jews and their various returns from exile, as lately as Israel now resettling her land after millennia of disbursement.

All that to say, God's program of redemption is not stymied by anything.

I take this as encouragement to keep praying for straying loved ones, the spread of the gospel in my community and country, the fulfillment of God's agenda globally.

And in many ways we see 'impossible' things happening before our eyes. Who would have dreamed, fifteen to twenty years ago, of a system whereby people all over the planet could communicate almost simultaneously (the internet)? Talk about a means of fulfilling Jesus' words in Matthew 24:14 - "And this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."

I wonder what other new things God still has up His sleeve!

PRAYER:
Dear God, You made the world and its systems, so of course nothing is impossible to You. Help me to live in the truth of that. Amen.


MORE: Who Paints the Skies - Stuart Townend





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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.
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Friday, March 15, 2013

Brought back

Welcome Home
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 126:1-6

TO CHEW ON: "When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing." Psalm 126:1-2


It's doubtful whether most of us will experience the joy of a return from physical exile like the Psalm-writer describes here. But we do know other kinds of captivity—the prison of sickness, the pain of alienation from family members and friends, the feeling of being estranged from God…

When we come down to it, our times of exile are meant to drive us to God in the first place or back to Him if we have wandered away. In a little study of  what it means to be "brought back" spiritually I discovered four things:

1. Exile from God is called backsliding. Sin and neglecting to follow God's rules frequently led to actual exile in the OT. When writing about backsliding, the Bible writers often refer to it as an illness that needs healing - Isaiah 54:15, 18; Jeremiah 3:22; Hosea 14:4.

2. God is the One who instigates and does the restoring (Psalm 23:3). One of the things He does is deal with our sin (Micah 7:19) so that His anger toward us is placated (Psalm 84:5).

3. He also uses people in the restoration process. Paul, with the language of childbirth, describes his work of restoration among the Galatians (Galatians 4:19). He also enlists lay people to help restore those who have fallen into sin (Galatians 6:10).

4. Restoration is a party! Look at the story of the Prodigal Son - Luke 15:22-24;32. David prays for restored joy after confessing his sin with Bathsheba - Psalm 51:12. The people in our psalm are in a pinch-me-is-this-really-happening? state of ecstasy, their mouths filled with laughter, their tongues with singing.

Do we find ourselves in exile? If we are, let's respond to God who wants us back. He will restore us spiritually and has the power to restore to us other things as well (like health and relationships - Joel 2:12-14; 25).

PRAYER:
Dear God, the joy of restoration in these verses is palpable.  I pray that You will bring back those who read here from whatever exile they are in and restore that joy. Amen.

MORE: Vagabonds by Stuart Townend



********

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

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Enter Yahweh Sabbaoth, LORD of hosts

Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem - James Tissot
Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem - James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 24:1-10

TO CHEW ON: Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory."  Psalm 24:10


Imagine the scene. While the congregation waits inside, the King and His procession make their way to the gates. Those with Him call out to arouse the gatekeeper:

"Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in."



The gatekeeper responds:
"Who is this King of glory?"

The answer rings from the procession:
"The LORD strong and mighty
The LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in."


Gatekeeper: "Who is this king of glory?"

Procession: "The LORD of hosts
He is the king of glory."



(I think they let Him in.)

"The LORD of hosts" in Hebrew is Yahweh Sabbaoth. He is the Lord of:
  • The angelic heavenly hosts such as we see in Luke 2:13.
  • The army of Israel—the captain of which Joshua met before the assault against Jericho - Joshua 5:14.
  • The hosts of nations - Jeremiah 3:19.
  • Everything in heaven and earth "…all the host of them" - Genesis 2:1.

Have we opened the gates of our lives to Him (Revelation 3:20)? Have we willingly made Him our Lord—the One to whom we give our loyalty, obedience and worship? If we haven't let's do it now, when we can do it by our own choice and have the rest of our lives to serve Him. For we will bow before Him as Lord someday in any case (Philippians 2:9-10; Revelation 19:11-16).


PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for this glimpse of You as King. Help me to lift You up as the LORD Sabbaoth of my life. Amen.

MORE: Handel's Messiah Alert!

Handel used words from our focus verse in the chorus "Lift Up Your Heads"

Here it is sung in Korean by the Korean Students' Glee Club (wonderful!)




And in English by the MIT Concert Choir



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Monday, March 11, 2013

Camping in His presence

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 16:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Psalm 16:11

This psalm is called a Michtam — a title which, a footnote in my Bible says, refers to deliverance from death. Peter quotes from Psalm 16 on the day of Pentecost, referring to Jesus' deliverance from death in resurrection. Peter had done his memory work — note how closely his speech followed Psalm 16:8-11:

"I foresaw the LORD always before my face,
      For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
       Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
      Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
       For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
      Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
       You have made known to me the ways of life;
      You will make me full of joy in Your presence." - Acts 2:25-28

Peter then applied the message of the psalm to their current situation. My paraphrase: 'See, this is what David prophesied, that from his (David's) line Christ would come to sit on his throne. He foresaw this Christ's resurrection which God fulfilled in Jesus. And it's Jesus who is now at the right hand of God, who pours out the Holy Spirit on us today.'

And so as we now think about "the path of life" David asked God to show him, we interpret it in the light of Jesus' resurrection. When we claim this verse for ourselves, and pray it over our lives, we do it knowing Jesus has conquered death and the "path of life" winds into eternity.

But we don't have to wait till eternity to experience the joy of it. We can have it whenever we camp in His presence. A commentary article in my Bible expands on what that means:

"Radical, passionate, life-changing devotion bursts forth in our lives from one primary source: consistently being in the presence of the Lord.
  • Know that abundant life, fulfillment, delight and joy are found in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:11 - our focus verse).
  • Stay in God's presence for there you will find wisdom and protection from those who would rise up against you (Psalm 17:2-9).
  • Follow David's example by recognizing that it is in God's presence that you will find grace, honor, mercy, faithfulness, great joy, and gladness (Psalm 21:1-7).
  • Hide in God's presence. It is a place of shelter and safety (Psalm 31:20)."
- Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through Psalms" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 719.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for making the round trip from heaven to earth. Help me to absorb all that Your resurrection means and avail myself of eternal life's delights by intentionally and consistently living in Your presence now. Amen.

MORE: Handel's Messiah Alert
Words from Psalm 16:10 are the lyrics of Chorus 32 of Handel's Messiah. Bogdan Mihai  is the soloist in this live performance from the Bucharest National Radio Hall.

"But Thou Didst Not Leave His Soul in Hell"





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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The stay-at-home prodigal

 Prodigal's Brother" - woodcut by
 Johann Christoph Weigel - 1694
Prodigal's Brother - Johann Christoph WeigelTODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 15:11-32

TO CHEW ON: “’But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.’” Luke 15:30-31

I love this story for its hopefulness about prodigals – both those who leave and those who stay home. Trouble is, I find myself identifying with one of them. Maybe it’s because I too am an oldest child and tend to be duty-driven that I empathize with that older brother.

He was all work and responsibility with, no doubt, a pinch of self-pity and a dash of self-righteousness. He probably resented the fact that he was left at home to work for Dad but may have congratulated himself on his work ethic and moral lifestyle. Perhaps he even dreamed of the day his brother would return and get a tongue-lashing from Dad.

Of course Dad would hold him up as the example to follow. Thus on the day older brother returned from work to find the house alight and vibrating with celebration over the return of the scoundrel, his unmet expectations boiled over in stubborn standoffishness, and then, when Dad begged him to join the party, a heated exchange.

Their little conversation illustrates some things about stay-at-home prodigals, who can be just as distant in their relationship with God as their runaway counterparts.

1. Even though he lived with his father, the older son didn’t really know him. Surely he had seen his dad go out every day to scan the horizon for a sign of the kid returning. Yet that action never registered as yearning father-love, and big bro was surprised by his father’s delight at the prodigal’s return.

2. He didn’t communicate with his father. When he objected to Dad’s lavish celebration with “…you never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends,” father replied, “Son, you are always with me.” I read that as, ‘Why didn’t you ask? I was here all the time.’

3. He didn’t know what was at his disposal. He could have had that young goat and much more. “All that I have is yours,” his dad told him.

If we find traces of ourselves in the stay-at-home prodigal, we can change the situation by working on his three areas of lack.

  • We can get to know God. We see God the Father at work in the Old Testament. Jesus, His Son, lives out God’s father-heart of love in the New. We can get to know Him and His love for us and for everyone, deserving or irresponsible, as we read the Bible.
  • We can communicate with Him – in prayer.You do not have because you do not ask,” James says (James 4:2).
  • We can get familiar with our inheritance and begin enjoying all the wonderful things at our disposal as children of God right now.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Thank You for telling this inclusive story. We are all prodigals. Thank You for welcoming us back. Amen.

MORE: Know your inheritance:

The older brother may have saved himself a lot of grief if he had realized his father's generosity with his inheritance even while he (Dad) was still alive. We too have a grand inheritance now:
  • We have insight into God’s kingdom - Matthew 13:11
  • We have the record of Old and New Testament witnesses to Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s plan - Luke 10:23
  • Through Jesus we can be right with God and happily exist in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory”  - Romans 5:2 (latter quote from )Message.
  • We have the Holy Spirit who interprets the things of God to us (“dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along” -  1 Corinthians 2:10 (latter quote from Message).
  • Out bodies are actually Christ's home - Colossians 1:26-27
  • We are anointed by God - 1 John 2:20
  •  We still live in a time of opportunity. Even if we've strayed, it’s still possible to return and spend the rest of our days doing things that count in God’s kingdom- Revelation 3:3
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Friday, March 08, 2013

Magnify God with your gratitude

magnifying glass with pencil TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 69:19-36

TO CHEW ON: "But I am poor and sorrowful;
Let Your salvation, O God, set me up on high.
I will praise the name of God with a song,
And will magnify Him with thanksgiving." Psalm 69:29-30


David continues on with his list of negatives.

(Several of them remind us of passages from the gospels and Acts, where the writers quote the very words of this psalm.

  • Psalm 69:6 - John recalls this verse after witnessing Jesus' early cleansing of the temple in John 2:17.
  • Psalm 69:21 - Jesus is offered gall and sour vinegar while on the cross in Matthew 27:34.
  • Psalm 69:25 - Peter refers to this verse in relation to Judas when the apostles discuss finding about a replacement for him in Acts 1:16-20.)

Then notice how he changes course. At the junction of verses 29 and 30 it's as if he says to himself, Enough of this dwelling on the negative! And he begins to give God praise and thanksgiving.

He chooses to praise "with a song" getting his vocal cords involved.

He determines to "magnify Him with thanksgiving." I envision him peering at God and who He is through the magnifying lens of gratitude and appreciation. This makes Him bigger than the bad stuff that's happening to him; it magnifies Him.

Another meaning of magnify is to extol and exalt. We do that too as we direct our attention and fill our thoughts and our mouths with praise of God and thanksgiving to Him.

How can we do that practically?

You know all those blank notebooks people give as gifts? I've labelled the spine of one of them GRATITUDE. I try to write in it several things for which I'm thankful every day. As I've persisted with this, guess what? A grateful, thankful attitude is becoming my habit!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being bigger than all my problems and for loading my life with good things. Help me to look away from my troubles to You and Your good gifts. Amen.

MORE: "Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart" - Handel's Messiah, Chorus 29

Handle quotes Psalm 69:20 in the Messiah, Chrous 29.







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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Your sin hurts more than just you

"Deliverance from the flood" - Psalm 69:15
Engraver Melchior Kussell
Artist SL
From the Pitts Theology Library.

Deliverance from the flood - Psalm 69:15 - Engraving by Melchior Kussel - Artist SL
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 69:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
"Let not those who wait for You,
O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed because of me;
Let not those who seek you be confounded because of me,
O God of Israel." Psalm 69:6


What a desperate cry for help David makes in this psalm! In picturesque language he describes the feeling of drowning in trouble and being sucked into the mire of problems (Psalm 69:1-2; 14-15). His enemies seem numberless and his treatment unfair (Psalm 69:4). The message that comes through is, 'None of this is my fault!'

And then we come to verse 5: "O God you know my foolishness
And my sins are not hidden from you." Maybe he isn't as blameless as he let on at the beginning.

I really appreciate his thoughts relating to the potential fallout of his actions in verse 6:
"Let not those who wait for You
O Lord of hosts, be ashamed because of me;
Let not those who seek you be confounded because of me,
O God of Israel."


The sad truth is that we are often at least a little to blame for our own problems. And when we sin we hurt those who view us as examples and mentors—our children, young Christians, our friends and colleagues, those who look to us for instruction and inspiration etc. Our broken marriages, involvements in pornography, illegal money schemes, theft, child sexual abuse—whatever—especially if we are leaders, impact much more than just our own lives.

Let's keep that in mind before we yield to temptation. Let's let our love for the body of Christ be another reason not to sin in the first place.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to realize how my sin affects Your body (the church) and resist temptation. Help me, at the same time, to refrain from harsh judgment when my brothers and sisters sin. I want to be a restorer of the broken. Amen.

MORE: Second most-quoted psalm
The NIV Study Bible's introduction to this psalm names it the second most-quoted psalm in the New Testament:

"The authors of the NT viewed this cry of a godly sufferer as foreshadowing the sufferings of Christ; no psalm except Psalm 22 is quoted more frequently in the NT" - NIV Study Bible, p. 855.

Those quotes:

  • Psalm 69:4 - John 15:25
  • Psalm 69:9 - John 2:17; Romans 15:3
  • Psalm 69:21 - Matthew 27:34
  • Psalm 69:25 - Acts 1:20
  • Psalm 69:33 - Luke 4:18
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