Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Living with integrity

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 15:1-5

TO CHEW ON: "Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?
Who may dwell in Your holy hill?" Psalm 15:1

Though none of us can ever earn God's love and favour with our goodness—and we know that—striving to please Him has its place. Perhaps striving is the wrong word, for when we become His children, our relationship takes on a Father-child dimension, where wanting His approval is as natural as the longing to hear the "well done" of our earthly dads.

In Psalm 15 David asks, "Lord, who may abide...who may dwell with You" and then lists 11 attitudes and actions God's kids cultivate to live in sweet harmony with their heavenly Father.

God's child:

1. "Walks uprightly" ("those whose walk is blameless" - NIV). Does this mean we have to be perfect? I don't think so. What it does mean, I believe, is that our consciences are clear. We don't habitually commit or cover over known sin.

2. "Works righteousness" ("works rightness and justice" - Amp).

3. "Speaks truth in his heart" ("speaks and thinks the truth in his heart" - Amp; "speaking the truth from sincere hearts" - NLT).

4. "Does not backbite with his tongue ("does not slander" - Amp; "refuses to gossip" - NLT).

5."Nor does evil to his neighbour" ("Nor does evil to his friend" - AMP).

6. "Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend" ("casts no slur on others" - NIV 2010).

7. "In whose eyes a vile person is despised" ("those who despise flagrant sinners" - NLT).

8. "He honours those who fear the Lord" ("honours the faithful followers of the Lord" - NLT).

In regard to 7 & 8, I can't help but think how we, even us followers of Jesus, are influenced by the star worship of our society. Oh to rather be starstruck with the people who impress God!

9. "He swears to his own hurt and does not change" ("keep their promises even when it hurts" NLT).

10. "Does not put out his money at usury" ("lends money without charging interest" NLT). Footnote: "Usury - The Levitcal law prohibited demanding interest on loans to the poor (Leviticus 25:36)" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 695.

11. "Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent" ("who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent" - NLT).

Such a list speaks for itself. Note how it impacts every part of life from our thoughts to how we do business. Depending on our circumstances, we'll notice different items on it. What jumps out at you today?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help grow in me the qualities of integrity, authenticity, fear of You, and compassion. I want to be a woman of godly character. Amen.

MORE: "Maker's Handbook"

Another reason we adopt the principles and standards of the Bible to direct our living is because by doing so, we live life the way God designed it to work best. Theologian J. I. Packer says:

"The Christian accepts the moral standards which are set forth in the Bible, acknowledging them as standing in a ‘maker’s handbook’ relation to his own nature and as circumscribing the only way of life that can lead him to ultimate fulfilment and felicity" - J. I. Packer in "Conscience, Choice and Character"

Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Can I have a witness?

Paul before King Agrippa - Artist unknown
Paul before King Agrippa
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 26:1-23

TO CHEW ON: “Therefore having obtained help from God to this day I stand witnessing both to small and great.” Acts 26: 22

[Witness comes from the word martureo (mar-too-reh-oh). It means to give evidence, attest, confirm, confess, bear record, speak well of, give a good report, testify, affirm that one has seen, heard or experienced something. (Interestingly, the word martyr has the same root.)]

Witnessing is the part of our faith life where we speak of (or write about) who God is to us and what our experience with Him has been like. Each person’s witness is different because we all experience God in different ways.

I love the Samaritan woman’s witness, “Come see a Man who told me all things that I ever did” John 4:29.  She experienced God, through Jesus, as someone who knew her completely.

Paul experienced God as the changer of his life mission. After his blinding introduction to Jesus, Paul realized that everything he had based his life on was wrong. In that instant he turned 180ยบ and became a defender of Christians instead of a killer of them.

Whatever our experience with God – whether miracle-fraught or subtle and unspectacular, we can witness about it. And just as our stories are different, so will be the reaction to them. Some will discount what we say as Agrippa discounted Paul’s witness. Others will respond. When that response is immediate, our witness can lead to giving us the privilege of introducing someone to Jesus. Often the response will come later though. We may not be around to see or even know that our witness was a contributing factor in someone’s coming to faith.

PRAYER: Lord, how can I witness about You and what You’ve done for me today? Please open my mouth, and the ears of those who will hear. Amen

“The primary means through which the Lord Jesus Christ transmits His life and love is through His people. There are probably few whose experience of finding Christ did not begin with an appetite created in their hearts through seeing the reality of Jesus Christ in other people. God will do it with you, however unwittingly on your part, for this is our privilege, this is our task, and this must be our confident expectation as we allow Christ to live His life in us and pour through us as “a river of living water.” – Charles Price in Our Journey – A daily walk in the Word, December 2009.

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

The power of story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 1:11-24

TO CHEW ON: "And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, 'He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.' And they glorified God in me." Galatians 1:22-24

Each one of us has a story of how we came to Jesus (if we have come to Him). In Galatians 1, Paul reminds the members of the churches in Galatia of his.

He starts out by expressing shock that some of them are turning away from faith in Christ to "a different gospel." How can you turn from something so obviously divinely inspired, he asks. Then he reminds them of how he first encountered Christ, stopped in his tracks by a light and a voice right in the middle of one of his church persecution trips.

I love hearing people's stories. No two are alike. And each one helps us understand more about the God who has won us too.

I recently attended the funeral of a cousin who accepted Christ as a child in Sunday School and never strayed from her faith. Her story is an illustration of God's ability to keep and satisfy someone through a whole lifetime.

My story shows I wasn't as steadfast. But the way God lovingly brought me back to Himself and spared me consequences I could have suffered is evidence of His goodness, and how that is as powerful a force in bringing us to Himself as is fear of judgment (Romans 2:4).

The story of Jungleman  (quoted under sections #1 and 3 within the review of the book  Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman's Story) shows how God can reach people in the remotest places and speak to them in ways they understand.

The story Cornelius Smith's conversion (father of Gypsy Smith) illustrates the Holy Spirit's power to convict.

What is your story? Do you willingly share it? Whether it's simple or dramatic, God can use your story, as He used Paul's, to bring glory to Himself.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the many ways You draw people to Yourself. Help me to share my experience with others. May it bring glory to You. Amen.


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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 8:11-9:7

TO CHEW ON: "...And His name shall be called...Counselor" Isaiah 9:6

When we set out on a trip we make sure that we take along a means of finding our way to our destination. Hubby and I still use an old-fashioned map, though for many that has been replaced with a GPS, where an ever-patient invisible voice is the counselor. Whatever means we use, it's essential and comforting to have more counsel about the road ahead than just our own instincts or memory.

As we embark on the journey through 2014, it's similarly comforting to know that one of the names of our Lord Jesus is Counselor. A look at a few Bible references that speak of counsel help shed some light on the heavenly guidance He gives us.

What is the counsel we need?
It is knowledge of the end from the beginning and what pleases God in all that (Isaiah 46:10). It is the stuff of purity, truth and insight (Revelation 3:18). It is advice and insight about lasting, eternal things (Psalm 33:11).

Where do we find it?
Though Proverbs talks about getting input from more than one human counselor (Proverbs 24:6), and Jeremiah implies that prophets can be counselors (though these were false ones - Jeremiah 23:22), God is always acknowledged as the One with the best, reliable counsel: "The Lord of hosts...is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance" (Isaiah 28:29).

In today's focus verse, a "Child" and "Son" is named Counselor. There is a similar reference to a counselor coming from the "Stem of Jesse" in Isaiah 11:2. We believe Isaiah's prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus, who distinguished Himself with wisdom even as a young boy (Luke 2:52).

How do we access this counsel?
If Jesus is our counselor, we can get His counsel by finding out how He lived and what He taught in the Bible. The Gospels are a good place to start. Though they weren't written by Jesus, they are eyewitness accounts of His life and teachings. For a condensed and challenging summary of things He taught, read His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 / Luke 6:20-49). Of course not only Jesus' reported words and life, but the entire Bible is our guide and life-map (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

This life-map is illuminated to us further by the Spirit of Jesus (the Holy Spirit). Jesus promised that He would bring with Him guidance into truth (John 16:13). We see how the Holy Spirit operated in the New Testament, controlling the movements of disciples like Peter (Acts 10:19,20), directing in the selection of leaders (Acts 13:2), and helping early disciples choose places to bring the Gospel (Acts 16:6)

When we saturate ourselves in Jesus' counsel, God can use other ways of guiding us too. The Psalm-writer speaks of God's counsel coming through his heart instructing him in the night (Psalm 16:7) and of God guiding him with His eye (Psalm 32:8). Do you notice the intimacy of relationship implied? God comes to the counsel-seeker in the quiet hours of the night. He recognizes God's "body language" catching His signals in something as subtle as a shift of eye focus.

Finally, how wonderful to know that God's counsel will keep us on the road that leads to our desired destination: "You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" Psalm 73:24. 

As we travel through the days of 2014, let's make good use of God's counsel in the Bible and nourish our relationship with the Counselor. As my Bible footnote to Isaiah 9:6 says about "Counsellor":

"Counselor is the name that expresses His ability as a political guide and leader. He is the living Word, the infallible Source of guidance, the inexhaustible Wisdom, the Truth and the Way" - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 885 (emphasis mine).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being my Counselor. Through this year, help me to hear and adjust my life to Your counsel. Amen.

MORE: "Jesus Draw Me Ever Nearer" - by Keith and Kristyn Getty

(From the album "In Christ Alone: New Hymns of Worship and Praise.")

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Monday, January 20, 2014

Capernaum gets the light

Capernaum Ruins
"Capernaum Ruins" by Alex Bruda (RGB Stock Photos)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 4:12-25

 TO CHEW ON: "And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali." - Matthew 4:13.

Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee, became the headquarters for Jesus' ministry. It was the hometown of His disciples Peter and Andrew. It was in Capernaum that Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law as well as many others (Mark 1:30-31).

Jesus gave more than one sermon in its synagogue where His hearers "… were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes" - Mark 1:21,22. It was also in the Capernaum synagogue He gave His "I Am the Bread of Life" sermon, in which He spoke the controversial (to the scribes and Pharisees) words:  "… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…" - read the whole incident in John 6:53-59.

I love how Matthew sees Jesus' arrival and sojourn in Capernaum as the fulfillment of Isaiah's ancient prophecies (compare Matthew 4;15 with Isaiah 9:1,2 and Matthew 4:16 with Isaiah 42:7).

I love the connection of Jesus' arrival with light ("The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned" - Matthew 5:16)  It reminds me of another apostle, John, and how he depicted Jesus' coming and presence: "In Him (the Word who was with God in the beginning and who became flesh and dwelt among us - John 1:1,2,14) was life and the life was the light of men" - John 1:4.

But the grace of Jesus' light on Capernaum didn't freeze-frame it as forever blessed. For when His teachings along with His "mighty works" didn't bring its inhabitants to repentance, He "woe"d them along with other unbelieving cities (Luke 10:13-16).

In her book Pilgrimage, Lynn Austin describes current-day Capernaum: "The town rests on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the sun seems brighter here as it reflects off the water. … There's no longer a village of any kind here, only Israel's typical tourist combination of archaeological ruins and a Christian church commemorating the site. … The village from Jesus' day, like so many other sites in Israel, was destroyed during the Roman invasion in A.D.70 that also demolished the Temple and Jerusalem" - Pilgrimage, Kindle Locations 1929, 1934, 1938.

Two things stay with me from this story of Jesus and Capernaum:

1. Jesus' presence brings light. Just as it brought light to seaside Capernaum in Jesus' day, it still brings light to our lives today (John 8:12). And is it possible that when the Spirit of Jesus lives in us, we too are light bringers? Not only possible but what is to be expected (Matthew 5:14-16)?

2. The presence of that light and its blessing on our lives depends on how we receive it. Like the people in Capernaum, we too can quench that light with stiff-necked unbelief if we refuse to repent and acknowledge that Jesus is right about who we are and what we must do to have a relationship with God.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You that Your light continues to shine through the centuries. Help me to be a light-bearer today. Amen.


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

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Andrew - bit player

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:29-42

TO CHEW ON: "One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, 'We have found the Messiah' (which is translated the Christ)." John 1:40-41

Andrew is one of those mid-list disciples — not a spotlight one like Peter, John, or Judas, but neither known only by his name, like Bartholomew or Simon the Canaanite.

Here are some things the Bible tells us about Andrew:

1. He was a fisherman and Simon Peter's brother (in fact, his relationship with his brother is usually tagged onto his name, seemingly becoming part of his identity). (Matthew 4:18).

2. He was a seeker. Originally he was a disciple of John the Baptist—apparently one activity he didn't share with his brother (John 1:40).

3. When John pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, Andrew left John and followed Jesus, spending a day in His home (John 1:39).

4. That day must have made quite an impression on him, for shortly after he brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus (John 1:42).

5. Later, after John was put in prison and Simon and Andrew were back fishing, Jesus' simple invitation "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men," prompted the response: "They immediately left their nets and followed Him" (Matthew 4:19-20).

6. It was Andrew who brought the boy with the five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus (John 6:8-9).

7. Andrew was also instrumental in introducing some curious Greek seekers to Jesus (John 12:21-22).

8. He is named with the other disciples as one of those gathered in the upper room after Jesus' ascension, waiting the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:13).

I like this simple fisherman, keen for truth, with his helpful ways. He was a natural at networking, introducing people to Jesus, taking note of significant details, helping the outsiders, seamlessly playing his part within the body of believers.

Paul likens the part we each play in the church to the variety of parts in our physical bodies (1 Corinthians 12). We can't all be the most prominent ones—the mouths, the feet, the hands. Some of us are parts that are less showy. Andrew seems to have got that. I see him as someone who wasn't at all bothered about not being like his more outspoken and influential brother Peter. He was satisfied to be just who he was. May we all be as content fulfill our roles in Christ's body, whether hidden or high profile.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank You for the amazing organism that is the church. Help me to find my place and live it without jealousy or fear. Amen.

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Confession of faith

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 16:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the son of the living God.'" - Matthew 16:15,16

Peter's statement here is called a "confession" ("Peter confessed Jesus as both the promised Messiah and divine" - J. Lyle Story, notes on Matthew, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1320).

Though in our everyday usage of the word we think of confession as admitting we are guilty of a crime or misdeed, its religious meaning is far richer. An Encyclopedia of the Bible* article on confession tells us these interesting things about a biblical confession:

"A Biblical confession … involves one or more of three elements: God is praised, or sin is acknowledged, or faith is declared."

It goes on to name eight ways in which a confession can be viewed:
1. Antithetically: "It is the believing 'Yes' which stands over against every unbelieving 'No,' the negation of denial" (e.g. Matthew 10:32).

2. Doxologically "… a testimony to God's goodness and mercy, an expression of thanksgiving for His deliverance or help, a celebration of unmerited faithfulness" (e.g. Romans 15:9, quoting Psalm 18:49).

3. Soteriologically - as it relates to our experience of sin and forgiveness (e.g. Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:9).

4. Pneumatologically - "It is the Spirit who reveals Jesus Christ and produces faith in His Person and Work" (e.g. 1 John 4:2; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

5. Eschatologically - i.e. from the perspective of the future  (e.g. Matthew 7:23; 25:12).

6. Ecclesiologically - as in "the corporate and public attestation of the Christian community" (e.g. Hebrews 4:14; 10:23). This is probably where the confessions, statements of faith and creeds of church history would fit in.

7. Existentially - A confession is more than an affirmation in words; it must be backed up with one's life (e.g. Titus 1:16).

8. Therapeutically - As we confess our sins and beliefs we experience a form of therapy that leads to healing (e.g. James 5:16).

What does all this mean for you and me?

For one thing, we see that a confession can be as simple as Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah and divine, and as complex as some of the church creeds.

It's likely that each one of us has a confession of our own—perhaps unwritten but still a set of things we claim to believe and by which we seek to live.

Writing out a personal confession of faith, using the eight ways of viewing confession as a guideline, might be a good exercise.

What is your favourite confession or creed? (Is there a difference between the two? Yes. No.)

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the gospel which stands up under scrutiny from so many angles. Help me to live what I believe.

MORE: The Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter

Today the church celebrates the Confession of Saint Peter. The liturgy for the day begins with this 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."

*To access the "Confessions" article, type the reference  Matthew 15:16 in the search line of BibleGateway.com, click on "Show Resources," and in the text box that opens, scroll down to "Confession" under Encyclopedia of the Bible.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) Used with permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Double-edged temptation

Frowning woman holding phone away from her ear.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 10:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape that you may be able to bear it." 1 Corinthians 10:13

I bet you've seen this verse before! It's one I've quoted to myself and others to remind us that temptation—provocation to do evil, to sin—is not irresistible. But the writer of my Bible's notes on 1 Corinthians reminds me that  "temptation" has two meanings;
1] Enticement to sin
2] Testing in general.

He suggests that here "The word should probably be understood in the broad sense with the further understanding that while God permits testing for the purpose of strengthening faith and character, Satan entices to evil for the purpose of destruction" Donald Pickerell, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1592.

James speaks of the second kind of character-producing tests: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. …Blessed is the man who endures temptation for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life" - James 1:2-4, 12.

It's interesting to note Paul's conclusion here in verse 13 in the light of what he has just reminded us of—the Israelites and how they failed their wilderness tests. Those certainly served that dual purpose of enticing them to sin and strengthening them if and when they resisted (Deuteronomy 8:2,16; 13:3).

Let's take Paul's words to the Corinthians to heart for ourselves today as we keep in mind:

1. Our temptations aren't unique either. They are also "common to man."

2. We must be on the lookout for temptation's escape route, that chink in temptation's armour. Some ideas:
  • Leave the room.
  • Close the laptop; shut down the tablet; exit the smartphone.
  • Stop reading the book or magazine (destroy it if need be).
  • Quote a memorized verse of Scripture (Jesus' method - Matthew 4:4,7,10).
  • If the temptation is to grumble, criticize etc., change focus. Think of things for which you're grateful, ways in which you appreciate the person you're tempted to criticize.
  • Recall how bad, guilty, and remorseful you felt last time you gave in to this temptation.
Can you think of more?

3. As we resist Satan's temptations to sin, we show what we're made of—what's really in our hearts
(Deuteronomy 8:2,16) even as our spiritual muscles are toned for temptation's next onslaught.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize temptation when it comes, and to have the presence of mind to look for a way out. Thank You that temptations and testings serve a purpose in Your plan. Amen. 


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

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Are the Holy Spirit's gifts for today?

"Saul Stricken" by Peter Paul Rubens
Saul/Paul's salvation through a "sign" - Acts 9 - "Saul Stricken" by Peter Paul Rubens

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

"I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Jesus Christ … so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 1:4,7.

In 2013 a prominent American minister held a conference in his church called Strange Fire (at which event he launched a book by the same name). During the conference he and many speakers claimed and attempted to prove that the miracle-working signs-and-wonders era of the Holy Spirit's gifts was / is a thing of the past. I wonder what Paul would say about that—Paul the writer of today's reading whose prayer for the Corinthians is "that you come short in no gift."

[Gift - charisma means gift of grace, a free divine gratuity, spiritual endowment, miraculous faculty … especially used to designate the gifts of the Spirit - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 5486.]

From the word charisma comes the word charismatic, used in our times to describe the person who has one or more of these gifts functioning in his or her life, or who believes these gifts are for today's church.

If you haven't already picked up on it, I'm on the charismatic side of the fence. And I thank God for that Strange Fire conference and how it confirmed me in that position!

If you're grappling with whether or not you should take the Bible's teaching at face value here, the book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere will give you lots of food for thought. In it Deere says:

"If you were to lock a brand-new Christian in a room with a Bible and tell him to study what Scripture has to say about healing and miracles, he would never come out of the room a cessationist. … This is not a system of doctrine that I would have ever come up with on my own. I had to be taught that the gifts of the Spirit had passed away. … There is one basic reason why Bible-believing Christians do not believe in the miraculous gifts of the Spirit today. It is simply this: they have not seen them" - Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, pp. 54, 55 (emphasis in the original).

I believe we need these miraculous gifts as much as ever. Deere names some reasons why God continues to heal and work miracles even though His revelation in Scripture is complete (cessationists teach that miracles were mainly to confirm the legitimacy of Jesus and Bible writers):

1. God heals because He is asked to heal.
2. God heals to remove hindrances to ministry.
3. God does miracles in order to teach us (about Jesus, His nature, His ministry).
4. God does miracles to bring people to salvation.
5. Miracles manifest the Kingdom of God.
6. God heals for sovereign purposes.
Points taken (and elaborated on) from Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, Appendix A, pp. 219-227.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that the Bible is clear on the availability and necessity of Your Spirit's gifts for me today. May I not quench the Spirit or commit the sin of unbelief in order to rationalize why I don't see more of those gifts in my life and the life of my church. Amen. 



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

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You are a string around God's finger

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 49:14-26

TO CHEW ON: "See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands." Isaiah 49:16a

In today's tender reading from Isaiah, God reminds Israel of His unending remembrance of them. "See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands," He says. Notice, it's plural. Both hands. There's no way He'll forget!

"This alludes to the custom of those who tie a string upon their hands or fingers to put them in mind of things which they are afraid they shall forget, or to the wearing of signet or locket rings in remembrance of some dear friend," explains Matthew Henry's Commentary. "His setting them thus as a seal upon his arm denotes his setting them as a seal upon his heart, and his being ever mindful of them and their interests" - Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 901.

As those who have been "grafted in" to inherit God's promises to Israel (Romans 11:1-36), we can hug this promise to ourselves, along with others that remind us of how precious and important we are to God:

1. He has found, encircled and instructed us (Deuteronomy 32:10).
2. We are His crown and royal diadem (Isaiah 62:3).
3. We are the apple of HIs eye (Zechariah 2:8).
4. We are lifted up as His banner (Zechariah 9:16).
5. We are spared as sons (Malachi 3:17)
6. Jesus, God the Son, loved us and gave His life for us (Ephesians 5:25).
7. We are purchased with His blood (Acts 29:28).

If you are feeling like God has forgotten you, He has not. You are a string around his finger. He watches, listens to, and thinks of you constantly (Psalm 139:3,4, 17-18).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these reminders of how intimately You know me. Today please remind my family and friends, who feel forsaken, of Your awareness of and tenderness toward them. Amen.

MORE: "Whisper His Name" by Jonathan Stockstill

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Monday, January 13, 2014


"The Visions of Isaiah" 1851-1860
by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 49:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Indeed He says, 'It is too small a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel. I will give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.'" Isaiah 49:6

Simeon awoke this day with one pressing impression: He must go to the temple. Exactly why he wasn't sure, he just knew it was important.

At the temple courtyard he surveyed the scene. All was as usual—people clustered around the perimeter booths of animal sellers and money changers transacting business, in the centre the customary milling around as people led just-purchased sheep and goats to the sacrifice area while temple workers scurried about their business.

A young couple caught his attention. The man was inspecting the turtle doves just purchased for sacrifice while the woman quieted an infant. Something stirred in Simeon.

As he waited for them to return to the courtyard from the sacrifice area, he let his mind caress the promise that had kept the will to live in him even after all his friends had passed on: "You will not see death before you have seen the Lord's Christ." Would it be today?

The reappearance of the young family broke his reverie. He studied the protective man, the young woman with the baby. The Baby! His heart leaped and his whole body tingled like a harp string vibrating in sympathy with a divine note, and he knew. This Baby was the one!

Simeon found himself before the couple, reaching for the baby, taking Him in his arms and from the storehouse of memorized Scripture, words spilled out: "...For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel."*

Look at all the promises wrapped into this story:
  • Simeon was reciting the promise given to Isaiah hundreds of years before (our reading today).
  • This day it spilled from his lips in inspiration as he realized the fulfillment of the Holy Spirit's promise to him.
  • It is a promise that flows down to us Gentiles today. Because Baby Jesus became our Salvation. By coming to His light, we are grafted into His family.

Have you put yourself in this lineage of promises made and kept?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your marvelous plan, braided through history in incidents like this. Thank You that through Jesus, salvation is available for everyone on earth. Amen.

MORE: Personal promises

Before I was married or even dating my now-husband, God knew my deep desire to have a family. I remember the day at a singles retreat in Saskatchewan (Arlington Beach) where I was outdoors sitting under a tree having my quiet time when God gave me this promise from Psalm 128:6: "Yes, may you see your children's children." I claimed it as a promise that I would someday marry, have a family and even grandchildren.

I was reminded of that promise nearly six years ago, when I held my first grandbaby in my arms.

What personal promises has God given you? Have any of them come to pass? Are you hanging onto the unfulfilled ones like Simeon hung onto the promise that he would see God's salvation?

*My fictionalized version of Luke 2:25-35

Saturday, January 11, 2014

God—an Author who planned His story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 2:13-23

TO CHEW ON: "…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet … then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet … that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets…" Matthew 2:15,17, 23

In fiction writing there are at least two kinds of writers—pantsers (those who make up the plot of their story as they go along, i.e. write by the seat of their pants) and outliners (those who plan their entire story before they start writing). God, in writing His story—the story of redemption—was not a pantser! The way Jesus fulfilled Prophecies made hundreds of years earlier shows how well-planned this story was—and is.

One of the preoccupations of Matthew in writing his gospel was to show how Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. "Matthew's aim is to present Jesus, not only as the Messiah but as the Son of David and to elaborate this truth in such a way that it would aid the Christians in their controversies with the Jews. He shows how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, and how the Law is filled with new meaning and supplemented in the Person, words and work of Christ" says J. Lyle Story in his Introduction to Matthew, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1287.

In our reading today, Matthew forsakes all subtlety as he says three times, in effect, this segment of Jesus' life was a fulfillment of a specific prediction:

  • Matthew 2:5 - "Out of Egypt I called my Son…" was a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1.
  • Matthew 2:8 - "A voice was heard in Ramah… etc." was a fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15.
  • Matthew 2:23 - "He shall be called a Nazarene …" echoes the words of the angel to Samson's mother in Judges 13:5.

Several thoughts rise from seeing how well-planned God's story is:
1. Evidence of God's planning goes back even further than the prophets quoted here. We can see it from the earliest moments of man's history when God says to Satan after he has lured Eve and Adam to sin: "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.

2. We do well to know and pay attention to Bible prophecies not yet fulfilled. Maybe we will be the witnesses to their coming to pass!

3. Each one of us who is born again (John 3:1-16) is also part of God's story—a part He has planned just as carefully: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" - Ephesians 2:20 (emphasis added).

Dear God, again I am in awe of Your plan and how through writers You give us glimpses into Your mind and heart. Help me to be faithful to do the good works You have planned for me to do. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV) Used by permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Is God in the storm?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 29:1-11

TO CHEW ON: “The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood,
And the Lord sits as King forever.
The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace.” Psalm 29:10-11

If you have ever been inconvenienced or endangered by a storm, fire, earthquake or other natural disaster, you’ll know it can be a terrifying, life-changing event. Who can forget the devastation of the Boxing Day Tsunami of December 2004 when entire seaside villages were swept away and whole nations traumatized, the Haiti earthquake of 2010, or the tornadoes that struck parts of the United States in November, 2013?

These kinds of disasters happen every day somewhere on earth. So how can the psalmist David say, at the end of a recitation of times the “voice of the Lord” breaks through with devastation, “The Lord will bless His people with peace”?

Some things being blessed with peace in the face of natural disasters doesn’t mean:
- That those who love God will be spared these “acts of God.”
- That such events, when they hit us, won’t cause physical and emotional pain. Look at Job. After news of one calamitous event after another climaxed by the death of all of his children in a wind storm, he tore his robe and shaved his head – signs of extreme grief (Job 1:13-22).

One of the things it does mean is that even in our tragedy, God will stand with us, helping us cope and put together the pieces of our lives again. It’s all part of the process of maturing us for the destiny He has planned for us (Ephesians 2:10; Romans 8:28-29, 35-36). And should it mean that the worst that could happen does, and He takes my life or yours, then our earthly assignment is done and our heavenly one can begin!

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I pray for Your perspective on the disasters of nature. Whether it’s a storm that simply knocks out electricity for a few hours, or a flood, earthquake, or fire that takes my home or my loved one’s life, please give me Your peace. Amen.

MORE: If God allows weather which devastates and destroys homes and lives, though He has the power to stop it, isn’t He then the author of evil? It’s a question that has troubled thinkers for a very long time. That’s one of the questions author Mike Mason grapples with in his children’s fantasy The Blue Umbrella – (link goes to my review of the book, which I recommend as a good read).

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Led through 2014

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 42:14-25

TO CHEW ON: "I will bring the blind by a way they did not know;
I will lead them in paths they have not known.
I will make darkness light before them,
And crooked places straight." Isaiah 42:16

Though the lists of goals and resolutions we customarily make at this time of year may give us a sense of control over the future, we don't know what will happen to us even later today, let alone for this week or this year. We face the future blind.

But we go into it with a Guide who can see. God can:

  • Obliterate barriers: "break gates of bronze and cut bars of iron (Isaiah 45:2).
  • Remove stumbling blocks (Isaiah 57:14).
  • Lead us into new territory as he will: "Get the road ready for the people. Build the highway....Clear the debris, hoist high a flag" (Isaiah 62:10 - MSG).
  • Lead us on this year's unfamiliar path:
But I'll take the hand of those who don't know the way,
   who can't see where they're going.
I'll be a personal guide to them,
   directing them through unknown country.
I'll be right there to show them what roads to take,
   make sure they don't fall into the ditch.
These are the things I'll be doing for them—
   sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute"  (Today's focus verse  - Isaiah 42:16 - from MSG)

    Let's trust our Guide through the days, weeks, and months of 2014.

    PRAYER: Dear God, You see the future ahead of me. I put my hand in Yours. Please lead me down this year's unfamiliar path. Amen

    MORE: "Lead Kindly Light" by John Newton (sung by Aled Jones).


    Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

    Scripture taken from The Message are labelled MSG. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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    Monday, January 06, 2014

    Epiphany in the workplace

    TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 2:1-12

    TO CHEW ON: “…wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:1, 2

    For years Brian Stewart was a foreign correspondent. Canadians will recognize him from the CBC where he worked on "The National" and hosted the foreign affairs show “CBC News: Our World.” He covered wars in El Salvador, Beirut, Sudan and was instrumental in breaking the news of the great famine in Ethiopia (1984-1985). It was in that hellish situation in Ethiopia that something began to dawn on him:

    “I noticed that the first groups I ran into when I went to Ethiopia were these small Christian groups that were working on the ground. It was these people who had been warning the outside world all along that this was coming. They were there in the beginning, and they stayed long after all the celebrities and international media had left.

    “This also caused a chain reaction. It began to connect, in my mind, all the other times I had been to remote places where you would not expect to find any human being doing anything to help anyone, yet the first person you run into is a Christian – a Christian activist or a Christian aid worker on what I began to see as the frontlines of humanity. The more I saw of the church doing good in the field, and in thankless areas without any notice of the media, this began to draw me into the church in a more spiritual way” (from “Faith on the Frontlines”).

    Brian Stewart came to Jesus through his work. The wise men came to Jesus through their work too. They were astrologers, students of the stars. It was during their studies that the miraculous star that led them to Jesus came to their attention.

    God can come to all of us through the activities and routines of work. He can come to you. He knows you completely, understands your very essence, is privy to precisely what will catch your attention and speak to your innermost being. I know. I am a lover of words and books. I spend a lot of time reading. More times than I can count, God has come to me through what I read.

    Whether you are a store clerk or a nurse, a librarian or a cook, a banker, farmer or a stay-at-home mom, watch for God’s presence in your place of vocation and duty.

    GRACE: Dear God, please come to me at my place of work this week. I too would worship You.

    MORE: The Feast of the Epiphany.

    Today the church celebrates that Jesus came to the Gentiles too, as represented by the Magi. The celebration is called the Feast of the Epiphany.

    British poet Malcolm Guite has published a collection of sonnets on the feasts throughout the church year (Sounding the Seasons). Here are the first four lines of his sonnet for Epiphany:

    "It might have been just someone else’s story,
    Some chosen people get a special king.
    We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
    We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing..." 
    Read entire...
    Listen to the poet read "Epiphany"... 


    Saturday, January 04, 2014

    A prophecy to fuel hope

    "Who are these who fly like a cloud
    And like doves to their roosts?"
    - Isaiah 60:8

    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 60:1-22

    TO CHEW ON: "The Gentiles shall come to your light
    And kings to the brightness of your rising." - Isaiah 60:3

    We see in Isaiah's prophecy the prediction of the wise men who came from the east (we'll read the account from Matthew tomorrow in two days from now when we commemorate Epiphany). The "your" in the verse speaks of Zion, the City of the Lord (Isaiah 60:14).

    This passage is crammed with other things that distinguish Zion as a special place.

    • She attracts the wealth of nations (Isaiah 60:5-10) where only the best of gold, silver and bronze is collected (Isaiah 60:17).
    • She is a welcoming, bustling place (Isaiah 60:11).
    • She will rule over her former detractors and persecutors and they will bring her homage (Isaiah 60:14).
    • Her fortunes, once bad, have turned around (Isaiah 60:15-16).
    • She is no longer a city of violence and poverty but of salvation and praise (Isaiah 60:18).

    And it's all because of Zion's main attraction—the Lord God. He is her inhabitants' everlasting light and glory (Isaiah 60:19-20). Days of sadness are over for her citizens. Her insignificant people have became great to bring God glory (Isaiah 60:21-22).

    We recognize layers of prediction here. The kings who came to worship baby Jesus fulfilled it in part. But the complete fulfillment of all of these predictions is still ahead. For example when we read:

    "The sun shall no longer be your light by day,
    Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you;
    But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light,
    And your God your glory" - Isaiah 60:19

    we can't help but think of still-unrealized prediction from Revelation 22:

    "There shall be no night there. 
    They need no lamp nor light of the sun, 
    for the Lord God gives them light" - Revelation 22:5.

    So what does this prophecy have to do with us today? For me it resonates in two ways.

    1. It helps expand my view and imaginings of God. As I read this passage I see His greatness and power, His magnetism, and His raw force for good.

    2. It fuels my hope as I witness by faith the eventual triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, joy over sadness.

    PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for mind-expanding passages like Isaiah 60 that picture Zion as the seat of Your rule and home of Your people. Help me to nurture hope and expectation through Bible prophecy. Amen.

    MORE: "The Prophets" by Michael Card

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    Friday, January 03, 2014

    No More!

    New Jerusalem - Revelation 21:2
    "... New Jerusalem ... prepared as a bride..." Rev. 21:2
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 21:1-7

    TO CHEW ON: "'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.'" Revelation 21:4

    Our reading today is so rich, it's hard to pick out one idea on which to focus. But the "no more"s listed here have their hands up and are waving wildly, so let's take a minute to ponder them and a few more found in Revelation. These are things that will have no place, that are no more in the "new heaven and a new earth" that God has prepared.

    No more sea - Revelation 21:1
    Hmm, interesting. But I love the sea—from a place of safety, of course, when on land looking at its beauty and appreciating its place in the water cycle. Of course the sea is also the source of much heartache, taking the lives of sailors, sweeping coastal communities away in its storm surges and tsunamis. In God's wisdom our new home, that 'holy city," will have no more sea.

    No sorrow. No crying - Revelation 21:4
    "Sorrow" and "crying" stand in for a host of experiences and emotions from disappointment to devastation, having hurt feelings to experiencing the pain of abuse and separation. All the things that would make us sorrowful and cause us to cry will someday be NO MORE!

    No pain - Revelation 21:4
    No more physical pain that makes us grit our teeth to go on, or confines us to beds or wheelchairs. There will be no more psychological and emotional pain either—that pain that drives people to depression or to seek the bitterest of relief in addictions or obsessions.

    No curse - Revelation 22:3.
    What curse? The curse spoken of in Genesis 3:17-19, of obstacle-filled yet necessary work that seems so pointless when it leads, in the end, to us joining the ground we spent our whole lives tilling.

    No night - Revelation 22:5
    No dark to stumble around in, a cover for evil. Perhaps no more need to sleep.

    No death - Revelation 21:4
    No more untimely separations from those we love.

    What a future to contemplate!

    PRAYER: Dear God, it's hard to even imagine a future without things like sorrow, pain, crying, obstacles, death. I love Your guarantee: "I make all things new." Help me to remember this when events in my life cause me to become disheartened and weary, even distraught and panicked. Amen.

    MORE: No More Night sung by David Phelps


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

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    Wednesday, January 01, 2014

    Enter 2014 with confidence

    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

    "…And He has put eternity in their hearts…"  Ecclesiastes 3:11

    In his book Despite Doubt, Michael E. Wittmer explores the realm of belief, doubt, who or what we believe in and why. He starts out at the ground level, showing how a belief in God is embedded in our very DNA, as it were.

    He shows that without a god, two things we instinctively do would make no sense:

    1. Make judgements between right and wrong.
    Wittmer says:
    "If God does not exist, then everything is permitted. You may not like an act, and that's your preference, but that's all it is. Without God, you cannot explain why anything is ultimately good or evil" - p. 46.

    2. Trust that we are rational.
    We assume that our minds and senses function properly and correspond with the way the world is. However, if we're all a product of random chance, how can we have any such guarantee? Wittmer concludes: 
    "Here's the point: we assume God's existence every time we think, utter an intelligible sentence, or declare that some act is right or wrong. Everyone who relies on their minds and morality in this way assumes the existence of God. As even the skeptical Voltaire admitted: 'If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him'" - p. 48.

    As we enter 2014, let's reassure ourselves that God is real and His presence will be with us in the moments, days, weeks and months of 2014. The God of the Bible—who Wittmer goes on to connect to the God we instinctively "know":

    • Loves us with an everlasting love - Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 25:6; John 6:44.
    • Knows the way ahead - Job 23:20, Psalm 32:8; Psalm 33:18.
    • Has good plans for us - Jeremiah 29:11; Isaiah 55:8-12.
    • Is able to work even the seemingly bad, painful stuff together for good in our lives - Romans 8:28-30.

    We can go into 2014 with confidence and hope.


    PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for evidences of Your existence all around me, even within my own mind. Help me to grow in knowing You, trusting You and obeying You in 2014. Amen.

    MORE: Holy Name Day

    Today the church celebrates the naming of Jesus, called Feast of the Holy Name. This prayer begins the liturgy of the day:

    "Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."


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

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