Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Life gardeners

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 1:13-25

TO CHEW ON: "Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible through the word of God which lives and abides forever." 1 Peter 1:23

It is soon planting time in the part of the world where I live. Gardeners are planning their plots. They are buying seed. They are readying the soil. Though they can't accomplish the mysterious process of germination, they will do all they can to get the soil just right and plant high quality seed so that their garden will be a success.

The Bible talks a lot about our lives in terms of seed, new life, growing a good crop. Our focus verse today tells us that God's word is the guaranteed seed of new life in us. Other places also talk about God's word as being unable to fail (Isaiah 55:10-11). So why does it not always produce a good harvest?

Because in our lives there is another variable — the soil. And that part is up to us. Jesus told a parable about the possible soils of life in Matthew 13:3-9. He talked about wayside soil, shallow soil, weedy soil, and good soil.

Later He explained to His disciples what each soil signified in a person's life (Matthew 13:18-23).

  • We discover that wayside soil where the birds snatch the seed away is the person who doesn't understand God's word. 
  • Stony soil in which the seed germinates but never gets established is the person who doesn't let this new life get rooted in new habits and lifestyle changes. 
  • The weedy, thorny soil is the life that is cluttered with other interests, agendas and goals. If the seed germinates, it is soon crowded out and starved for water by competing weeds. 
  • And then there is the good soil, which is the receptive life where the word germinates and grows to produce an increase of thirty, sixty or one-hundred percent.

If you're a person who is new to these ideas, you may be like the wayside soil — bewildered and confused about what Jesus and His life and death mean to you. You can read Jesus' explanation of new life to someone for whom this was a new idea in John 3:1-16. You can ask God to help you understand.

Even after God's word has germinated into new life in us, we still need to keep an eye on soil conditions. Just like a gardener doesn't forget about a plant once it has poked through the soil but weeds, fertilizes, cultivates and aerates around it, so we need to be vigilant to nurture the new life in us.

If our new life is in danger from shallow roots in stony soil conditions, we can encourage them to grow deeper. Joshua 1:8 has some good advice on how to do that:

"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."

If our plot us full of the weeds and cares of everyday life, Jesus tells us how to tackle those things in Matthew 6:25 and 33:

"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body....Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met  - MSG paraphrase.

Let's be vigilant to care for and nurture the soil of our lives so that God's word will realize its potential of a good harvest in us.

PRAYER: Dear God, Thank You for the Bible which is the seed of new life. Please show me where the seed of Your word has competition from other things in my life. Help me to care for my life plot with the dedication of a successful gardener. Amen.

MORE: Gardening advice

These articles have practical ideas for your natural garden. As you read them can you find ways that natural gardening parallels establishing and maintaining life's spiritual garden? 

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.

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

Monday, April 28, 2014


"The songs of Joy" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 15:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Fear and dread will fall on them;
By the greatness of Your arm
They will be as still as stone,
Till Your people pass over, O Lord,
Till the people pass over
Whom You have purchased." Exodus 15:16

Couldn't these ancients compose songs on the spur of the moment! Moses' song in Exodus 15 is full of story, theology, and praise for what has just happened.

I am intrigued by his mention of God purchasing His people and thus able to claim ownership of them in that regard. What purchase was Moses referring to here? Was it the Passover when the blood of the sacrificed lamb painted on the door frame signified God's claim to that household?

God's claims of ownership are found in other places too.
  • The Levites were an Israelite tribe separated to God for the activity of worship - Numbers 8:14.
  • Moses reminds the Israelite nation again of how God owns them because He purchased them in Deuteronomy 32:6.
  • Paul reassures the Roman Christians that God's owns them and will take care of them through life to death - Romans 14:8.
  • He repeats this ownership claim to the church in Corinth, telling them that it must affect how they live their lives - 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

And so the truth of Moses' lyric about God purchasing His people echoes down to us today. Its application in our lives is double-sided.
1]We can take comfort that as God's possession we are in His care through whatever comes along (Romans 14:8; Matthew 6:33).
2] But if He owns us, we no longer own ourselves. This has implications for how we spend our hours, days, months, and years on earth:
"Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you, Whom you have received [as a Gift] from God? You are not your own,
    You were bought with a price [purchased with a preciousness and paid for, made His own]. So then, honor God and bring glory to Him in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 AMP - emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for buying me with Your blood. As a purchased one, and one of Your possessions, help me to glorify You with my body and life. Amen.

MORE: Our Master takes responsibility

I have always loved Jesus' promise of provision and care in Matthew 6:33: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." However, I never noticed till today how that whole section (Matthew 6:25-34) begins with "Therefore" alerting us to the fact that these promises rest on something.

That something is expressed in verse 24:
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

"Therefore I say to you do not worry..."

Implicit in Jesus' promise that God will take responsibility for us, it seems, is our decision to choose Him as our master and to be loyal to Him over mammon (money, riches, treasure).


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.

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

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dichotomy within the gospel

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 14:10-31

TO CHEW ON: "And the Angel of God who went before the camp of Israel moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. … Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night." Exodus 14:19-20

The Egyptians were in hot pursuit of Israel after their exit from Egypt. But when the Egyptian army was about to pounce, God cut them off. His miraculous cloud served double duty, darkening the night for the Egyptians while it illuminated the journey through the sea for Israel.

This cloud reminds me of the way God's plan works double duty in other parts of the Bible.

The prophets (Isaiah 28:16; Zechariah 10:4), Jesus (Mark 12:10), and the apostles (Ephesians 2:20-22) use imagery of a cornerstone to describe Jesus and His work. But not everyone accepts Him as this. Peter describes how to those who don't believe  in Jesus, He is a "stone of stumbling and rock of offence" (1 Peter 2:8).

Paul talks about the knowledge of Christ as a fragrance. To those being saved it's the fragrance of life but to unbelievers it is the "aroma of death" - 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.

"'Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth,'" Jesus says in another instance. "'I did not come to bring peace but a sword.'" He goes on to say how belief in Him may cause a rift between people in the closest relationships (Matthew 10:34-38).

From earliest installments of the story (like our reading in Exodus) we have seeds of the gospel's potential to divide. So let's not be caught off guard when our faith offends, when our beliefs cause arguments, when even our closest relationships are affected by our loyalty to Jesus and the gospel.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be uncompromising in my loyalty to You and the gospel, regardless of the reaction of those around me. 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.

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Equipped to work

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 4:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-12

What is your perception of your pastor's purpose? Do you see him as someone whose job it is to entertain, educate and challenge you in his Sunday sermons, to encourage you, to visit you when you're sick and generally cater to you? Or in your mind, does his job description also include getting you ready to do some of those things for others?

Paul talks about the role of leadership in this passage in terms of equipping. Jack Hayford in his notes on Ephesians, comments: "Equipping implies: 1) a recovered wholeness as when a broken limb is set and mended; 2) a discovered function as when a physical member is properly operating" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1650.

Paul's language here is quite clear about the role of church leaders. While one of their jobs is to care for us as in help us recover wholeness, another is to help us to discover our ministry role and equip us to care for others.

What others?

I would suggest all those whose lives touch ours in some way. This would include people we live with (family), the people we live beside, the people we interact with not only face-to-face but virtually through Facebook, and email. Even the writing I'm doing here is the fruit of my pastor's equipping in my life.

I see a couple of implications for everyday living:

1. If we're leaders (one of those apostles,* prophets, evangelists or teachers) one of our goals should be to equip our 'disciples' to do ministry.

2. As disciples / parishioners / church members, we need to realize that our pastor's role is not all about us—how entertaining he is as a speaker, how often he visits us when we're sick, how wise he is as a counselor, etc. Rather, it is to prepare us to take on some of those ministry responsibilities as we share the burden for the well-being of the body of Christ.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be a giver, not just a taker when it comes to responsibility in the body of Christ. And help my pastor and other church leaders as they work in their many roles. Amen.

MORE: Spiritual leadership

Bob Hamp, in a guest post on Michael Hyatt's blog says, "Not all leaders in religious organizations are spiritual leaders. This is not a criticism as much as a distinction. Distinguishing spiritual leadership from other forms of leadership can free people from unrealistic expectations of some leaders.

At the same time, making this distinction can help identify who the spiritual leaders in your organization are..." 

Hamp's observation alerts us to the possibility that we, as laypeople, can be spiritual leaders. His article goes on to give six characteristics of spiritual leaders:

1. They lead others into their own encounters with God.
2. They lead others to discover their own purpose and identity.
3. They lead others into transformation—not just production.
4. They impact their atmosphere.
5. They help people see old things in new ways.
6. They gain a following because of who they are—not because of a position they hold.

Read all of "6 Characteristics of Spiritual Leaders."

* Apostles: Are there still apostles today? Many insist that office ended in the New Testament era. Jack Hayford, in his notes on Ephesians says:
"Beyond the distinct role filled by the original founding apostles, the NT mentions enough additional apostles to indicate that this office, with that of prophets, is as continuing a ministry in the church as the more commonly acknowledged offices of evangelist, pastors and teachers" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1650.

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.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Signs will follow

"Carry this Gospel to all the world"
by Harold Copping

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 16:9-20

TO CHEW ON: "'And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.'.... And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs." Mark 16:17-18, 20.

Christianity has divided itself roughly into two camps.
- Those who believe that these signs Jesus spoke of, which were promised to "confirm" the word have ceased (Cessasionists).

- Those who believe that signs legitimately continue till this day (Continuationists).

A footnote on this passage in my Bible defends the Continuationist position:

"The signs accredit the gospel message and cannot be limited to the apostolic age, any more than the Lord's commission to carry the gospel throughout the world. The signs, therefore, confirm the ministries of Christ's ambassadors in every generation" - J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1380.

This latter is what I believe (in other words, I am a continuationist). But if this promise applies to us, why don't we see more signs accompanying the preaching of the gospel?

Perhaps one reason is that we don't really desire them and so we don't ask (as the disciples did in Acts 4:29-30). John Piper, in an article on this topic, makes this observation (he is referring specifically to the spiritual gift signs referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10):

"I wonder how many of us have said for years that we are open to God's moving in spiritual gifts, but have been disobedient to this command to earnestly desire them... I would ask all of us: are we so sure of our hermeneutical procedure for diminishing the gifts that we would risk walking in disobedience to a plain command of Scripture? "Earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy."

I have come to the point of seeing that the risk lies in the other direction. It would be a risk not to seek spiritual gifts for myself and my church. It would be a risk not to pray with the early church, "Grant your servants to speak your word with boldness while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through your holy servant Jesus." Disobedience is always a greater risk than obedience" - John Piper "Signs and Wonders: Then and Now."

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for breaking through natural laws with supernatural acts when You were on earth, and since then throughout history. Help me to be more open to You working in and through my life in supernatural ways. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Mark

Today the church celebrates the Gospel writer Mark in the Feast of St. Mark. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:

Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

More on the two views mentioned above: 


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.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Receive the Spirit

"... look at My hands" - Jesus - Artist unknown
"Look at My hands" - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:19-31

TO CHEW ON: So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to You!' As the Father has sent me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" John 20:20-21

This quiet scene of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit into His disciples shortly after His resurrection is quite a contrast to the pandemonium of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-13). An article in my Bible talks about the differences:

"Jesus' words 'Receive the Holy Spirit' help to set in context two different works of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life. First, here on Easter night the disciples do, in fact 'receive the Spirit' as the 'Spirit of life' - Romans 8:2. … Second, however, on Pentecost the work of God's Spirit as the Spirit of power (Isaiah 11:2 "might") is to enable Jesus' disciples for ministry—witness and service—to fulfill their mission to the world" - Scott G. Bauer, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1481.

Just as God the Father breathed the breath of physical life into the nostrils of the first man (Genesis 2:7), here Jesus—God the Son—breathes spiritual life into the disciples (Romans 8:11-17). Then, later, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit empowers them for this new-life ministry.

Both works of the Spirit are necessary in our lives too—the new birth and the Spirit's empowering for what we are left on earth to do.

Dear Jesus, thank You for giving us new spiritual life through Your Spirit and for also giving us the power for ministry through Him. 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.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Fighting against God

The sealed tomb - artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 27:57-66

TO CHEW ON: "'Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away and say to the people, "He has risen from the dead."' … So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard."  Matthew 27:64,66

How futile to fight against God this way, we say in hindsight, as we read about the precautions the religious leaders of Jesus' day took to guarantee His influence would come to an end. The days and weeks after Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit have more examples of fighting against God.

After Peter healed the lame man and the city was all a-chatter about that miracle, the rulers made another pronouncement: "But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them that from now on they speak no more in this name." To that Peter and John answered: "… we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" - Acts 4:17,20.

A short while later Peter and John made a miraculous angel-aided break from prison and the leaders found them again teaching in the temple. Again the high priest forbade them to teach in Jesus' name, to which Peter they replied: "We ought to obey God rather than men" - Acts 5:22-29.

Finally, the Pharisee Gamaliel came to this rather profound conclusion: "'… keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of man, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God you cannot overthrow it—lest you be found to be fighting against God'" - Acts 5:38,39.

I sometimes wonder what side some of Christendom's current leaders would have found themselves on if they had lived in Jesus' day. What about us? When God works in ways that are biblical but new to us, what do we do? Are we quick to defend our tradition, labeling what we haven't seen before out-of-line, wrong, even demonic? Or do we take a wait-and-see attitude, careful to avoid being in the dangerous position of fighting against God?

PRAYER:  Dear God, help me to be in tune with You and what You are doing. May neither my human skepticism, the fear of man, nor any other thing take me to a place of fighting against You. 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.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The stumble trap

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 26:31-56

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to them, 'All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: "I will strike the Shepherd
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered."'
" - Matthew 26:31

Jesus predicts a sobering thing when He says that the disciples will stumble that night.

The Greek word translated stumble here is scandalizo. It means: 1] To put a stumbling block or impediment in the way to entice to sin; 2] To cause a person to begin to distrust one whom he ought to trust and obey so that he falls away, is offended, judges another unfavourably 3] To feel annoyed, displeased, indignant.

Matthew uses the same word:
  • When he quotes Jesus on plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand that makes us stumble (Matthew 5:29,30; 18:8,9).
  • In the parable of the sower as Jesus describes the shallow-rooted person as one who stumbles as a result of tribulation and persecution (Matthew 13:21).
  • As a description of the scribes and Pharisees' reaction to Jesus' teachings: Disciples: "'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended (scandalizo) when they heard this saying…" (Matthew 15:12; also 13:57).
  • To describe what people do who cause children to sin and lose their faith. Jesus: "… but whoever causes one of these little ones to believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck …'" (Matthew 18:6).

It's easy for us to fault the disciples for stumbling after the years they had spent with Jesus and especially after He told them to be alert to this happening. But we are hardly different.

A few weeks ago I broke my hip in a fall down some stairs. My reaction to this was not happy and faith-filled. In fact, I sensed in me some of the reaction of stumbling of the shallow-rooted person who falls away because of trial.

I see several applications for life here:

1. It is important that we are steeped in the truth about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and what our life on earth is about, so we don't have unrealistic expectations and thus stumble when they're not met—like the disciples did; like we so easily do when things don't go our way.

2. We can stumble others—children, our fellow church members, unbelievers—by our reaction to God's dealings with us and with others.

PRAYER: Dear God, I feel warned about having an attitude that causes me to stumble when you allow less-than-pleasant things in my life. Help me to be alert to times when I could stumble or when my attitude could stumble others. 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.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Who is this?

Jesus' Triumphal Entry 
by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 21:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying 'Who is this?'" Matthew 21:10

I sometimes wish that I could strip away all familiarity with the Bible stories and read them again for the first time. Wouldn't it be a thrill, here, to see Jesus triumphant at last, and enjoy the exultation of the moment untainted with the knowledge that this incident was just a blip and that a few hours from now, a crowd (maybe some from that crowd( would be shouting something altogether different?

I love the way all Jerusalem reverberates with the question: "Who is this?" So many answers jump off the page:

- This was a Man who had unusual knowledge: "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied and a colt with her..." Jesus tells His disciples (Matthew 21:1-3).

- This was a Man who knew His role in history: "All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet..." (Matthew 21:4-7).

- This was a man who was humble, yet accepted worship (Matthew 21:8-9).

Was this only a man?

J. I. Packer in his book Knowing God says:

"If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man, the difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about His life and work would be truly mountainous. But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father's agent in creation, 'through whom also He made the worlds' (Hebrews 1:2 RV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked His coming into this world and His life in it, and His exit from it. It is not strange that He, the author of life, should rise from the dead.

If He was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that He should die than that He should rise again. 'Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies,' wrote Wesley; but there is no comparable mystery in the Immortal's resurrection.

And if the immortal Son of God did really submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed raced. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all of a piece, and hangs together completely. The incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains."
- J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 53-54.

Who is this?

The multitudes answered: "This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth of Galiliee." To them He was a man with a name, a vocation, and a place of birth on the globe.

We know, though, He was and is much more, and that this triumphant moment was bittersweet because He understood the utter desolation to death that awaited Him. Yet he went through with it. Why? Here is Paul's answer:

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich" 2 Corinthians 8:9.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, God the Son, thank You for coming to earth, taking on the humility of a human body, going through the ups and downs of human experience, then taking the punishment I deserve for my sins, so that my relationship with God can be restored. Amen.

MORE: Palm Sunday

Today the church commemorates the Sunday of the Passion or Palm Sunday. The day's liturgy contains with this collect:

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.

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.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The right that doesn't change

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 51:1-23

"Do not fear the reproach of men, nor be afraid of their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool. But My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation from generation to generation." Isaiah 51:7,8

I often listen to Ravi Zacharias's weekday radio broadcast Just Thinking. In the last while he has been talking about moral relativism. He explains how our society no longer acknowledges that there is a code of absolutes. Instead, what's considered right and wrong shifts with public opinion.

He tells of how prominent atheist Richard Dawkins illustrated this. A chef prepared human placenta using garlic, lime juice, shallots and other ingredients to make it into a gourmet pate. When served to a group of people (who didn't know what it was), all exclaimed how good it tasted.

Dawkins concluded, "Eating a placenta is eating a baby's clone. Science can't tell you whether it's right or wrong to do that but it can tell you that that's what you're doing. Then you decide for yourself whether it's right or wrong."

It brings up the question in us, 'Where does it end?' The answer implied here is, 'No where.'

 Zacharias, in his talk, shows the logical fallacy of such thinking when he says, "Would he (Dawkins) believe that, if I decided to carve up one of his children just because I liked it?"

Isaiah here tells us God's righteousness—and that includes the biblical laws that tell us what is right wrong—"will be forever."

In a culture where standards are always changing, upholding those laws may get us into ever more trouble with our fellow citizens. There may well be "reproach" and "insults," even lawsuits and jail.  But as Isaiah reminds us, the purveyors of such relativism are as vulnerable and short-lived as wool in the presence of hungry moths while God's standards "will not be abolished … will be forever … from generation to generation" - Isaiah 51:6,8.  

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to take Your standards as my own and live by them despite the changing standards of the society around me. Amen.

MORE: Listen to the whole talk

You can listen to Ravi Zacharias's entire talk referred to above HERE.

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.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

It came true

Jesus delivered to soldiers - Alexandre Bida
Jesus delivered to soldiers - Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 50:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "I gave my back to those who struck Me and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting."  Isaiah 50:6

This verse is prophetic. Matthew includes the exact details mentioned in it as happening to Jesus during His passion:
"Then they spat in His face and beat him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands. ... Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. … Then they spat on him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head." Matthew 26:67; 27:26,30.

Because Jesus endured the torture described here and went on to finish what He set out to do (pay the penalty for our sins - John 19:30), we take seriously the invitation at the end of the chapter:

"Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His servant? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon His God" - Isaiah 50:10.

Trust for what:

- That Jesus was (and is) who He said He was
- John 6:28,29.

- That in Jesus we have the resources we need to live the Christian life:
  • The shield of faith to "quench the fiery darts of the wicked one" - Ephesians 6:16.
  • The wherewithal to fight "the good fight of faith" throughout our lifetimes - 1 Timothy 6:12.
  • The argument to counteract the accusations of our consciences that tell us we're not worthy - Hebrews 10:22.
- That God hears and answers our prayers - James 1:5,6.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for enduring such vile treatment from those You came to save. Thank You for finishing what You came to do. I entrust myself to You. 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.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014


TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 12:20-43

TO CHEW ON: "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me, and where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor." John 12:26

 "Who is investing in you and who are you investing in?" asked author/speaker Joel Rosenberg in a talk I once heard him give.

Jesus talked about that kind of relationship in John 12. We call it mentoring. He was, of course the mentor, the one the disciples followed [akoloutheo: joined as His attendants, accompanied Him as disciples]. In that role they served Him [diakoneo: to be a servant, wait at table, offer food and drink, minister, attend to anything that may serve another's interests].

An explanatory article in my Bible explores this type of serving:
"What personal service has qualified a leader? In both OT and NT, authentic ministry presupposes a leader has a record of personal service to someone: servanthood is the time-tested entrance prerequisite for trustworthy ministry. Since God's Word seems to reveal such service as the basis for any advancement in leadership, we are wise to be cautious if such credentials are not found in a rising leader today" - Joseph Garlington - "Servant, Leader Traits," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1466 (emphasis added). 

Of course now, 2000 years since Jesus walked the earth, we can't up and literally follow or serve Him. But in the spirit of "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 21:40), let's enact this type of discipleship by:

1. Living alert for opportunities to serve "the least of these."

2. Making ourselves available to being discipled and to discipling others.

3. Following the biblical model of leader preparation. Notice how many leaders were first servants: 
  • Joshua served Moses (Exodus 24:13; Joshua 1:1).
  • Elisha served Elisha (2 Kings 3:11). 
  • David served Saul (1 Samuel 16:21, 17:32).
  • Jesus' disciples served Him. 
Time spent in service to a mentor is not an uncommon part of a leader's resume. 

PRAYER: Dear God, it seems with You the way up is usually the way down. Please help me to have the heart of a genuine servant, both as a mentor and as someone who is being mentored by others.


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.

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Monday, April 07, 2014

Crowd psychology

"Jesus Entering Jerusalem"
by William Brassey Hole

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 12:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him and cried out,
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
The King of Israel!" - John 12:12,13

Jesus was famous. News spread that He who raised Lazarus from the dead was in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. He and Lazarus attracted crowds (John 12:9,12).

The gawkers concluded, rightly, that Jesus was THE ONE—the "He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!"

The word "name" in the phrase "name of the Lord" is loaded with meaning.

Name - onoma in general signifies the name or term by which a person or thing is called (Matthew 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 1:63).
However, it was quite common both in Hebrew and Hellenistic Greek to use onoma for all that the name implies such as:
rank or authority (Matthew 7:22; John 14:13; Acts 3:6, 4:7),
character (Luke 1:49; 11:2; Acts 26:9),
reputation (Mark 6:14; Luke 6:22),
representative (Matthew 7:22; Mark 9:37)" - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1465.

This crowd was telling the truth about Jesus. They were acknowledging that He was the Lord's representative with the Lord's rank, authority, character, and reputation.  It is a truth that still sounds a worship summons to our hearts.

The sobering thing is that a few days later another crowd shouted, "Crucify Him!" Were the same people involved? I hope not. I hate to face the fact that the human heart—my heart—could be, and often is, so fickle.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming as God's representative with His authority, character, and reputation. Help me to stay loyal to You, no matter what the crowd says or does. 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.


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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Believe to see

"The Raising of Lazarus"
By Rembrandt - 1630

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 11:38-57

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus said to her, 'Did I not say that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?'" John 11:40

Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was not primarily to ease the sorrow of Martha and Mary. Rather, it was to draw attention to God—His glory in victory over death, His creativity in restoring that smelly four-day-rotting body, His love for humanity played out in microcosm to this Bethany family. And it was to establish Jesus' credibility as One in whom they could put their faith.

People responded in two ways:

"Many of the Jews...believed in Him" (vs. 45).

"But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did" (vs. 46).

The chief priests and Pharisees reacted like we have come to expect. They saw in Jesus and His power a reason for fear. They said they were scared this kind of thing would spook their Roman overlords, causing them to take away the Pharisees' own power and what little freedom the nation had. I think they were also hugely jealous of the attention Jesus was getting. It took the focus off them and their own power and influence. They set in motion a plan to arrest and kill Jesus and He had to leave town.

Still today God's working among us is a great polarizer. Our choice is similar to the people of Jesus' time. When someone witnesses to a changed life, experiences a physical healing,  gets miraculously set free from drug addiction, or whatever their testimony, we have a choice. We can choose to believe and see in these things the glory of God. Or we can be like those religious leaders and rationalize it away, even saying it is a bad thing ("The world will think we're all kooks").

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to miss Your glory because of an attitude of skepticism and unbelief. Amen.

MORE: Lazarus

I wonder about Lazarus' reaction to all this. Was he glad to be back? Did he perhaps have a tale of his own to tell?

I have, over the last few years, come across books about people who report near-death experiences. One of them is  A Flight to Heaven. In it 19-year-old Dale Black spends three days in a coma after an airplane crash. He comes out of the coma with a changed personality but no memory of the accident and other things. Over years his memory returns, and along with it, what he recalls witnessing during the days he was comatose. Here are two paragraphs from that memory:

"I was fast approaching a magnificent city, golden and gleaming among a myriad of resplendent colors. The light I saw was the purest I had ever seen. And the music was the most majestic, enchanting, and glorious I had ever heard.

I was still approaching the city, but now I was slowing down. Like a plane making its final approach for landing. I knew instantly that this place was entirely and utterly holy. Don't ask me how I know, I just knew. I was overwhelmed by its beauty. It was breathtaking. And a strange sense of belonging filled my heart; I never wanted to leave. Somehow I knew I was made for this place and this place was made for me. Never had I felt so 'right' anywhere. For the first time in my life, I was completely 'whole'" - Captain Dale Black in A Flight to Heaven, p. 99.
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.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

An old conundrum

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 11:17-37

TO CHEW ON: "And some of them said, 'Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?' " John 11:37

For some of the Jews of Jesus' day, He couldn't do anything right. When He healed, they criticized Him because it was on the wrong day (Mark 3:1-5) or preceded by controversial pronouncement like saying sins were forgiven (gasp!) and then giving a physical healing (Mark 2:1-12). Here they grumbled because He didn't heal.

What bothers me about the Jews' reaction to Jesus is that I have heard echoes of it in my own heart. Perhaps you have too. We question, why would God allow people to go through pain and suffering when He has the power to prevent or stop it?

Jesus here seemed to anticipate this objection. He spoke to it twice. Earlier when He first got word of Lazarus' sickness, He said, " ' This sickness is … for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it' " John 11:4. And again He said to His disciples, " ' I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe' " - John 11:15.

So Jesus alerted His disciples to the fact that God had a purpose in Lazarus' sickness and temporary death. It turned out to bring glory to God through Lazarus coming to life again and to provide a bedrock reason for faith in Him—to the sisters, His disciples, indeed, all who saw it and heard about it. But that purpose didn't preclude days of grief, pain, and questioning for the disciples and especially Mary and Martha.

It's wonderful to know that God can use even the ugly, hard, bad, hurtful stuff in our lives in this way. Though we pray for the outcome that we would love to see, we can trust that if our prayers aren't answered the way we hoped, God has His reasons for working things out the way they do. His reasons are bigger than our comfort, ease and sense of well-being. For us too these puzzling trials can serve His glory while they strengthen our faith—if we let them.

PRAYER: Dear God, please strengthen my faith in Your coequal love and power when I'm in the middle of hard circumstances. 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.

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Friday, April 04, 2014

Can sickness serve God's glory?

"Jesus Comes to Bethany"
Artist unknown - Illustrator of 
Jerome Nadal's 'Evangelicae Historiae
Imagines', 1593

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 11:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "When Jesus heard that (Lazarus was sick), He said, 'This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.' " John 11:4.

Are we hearing Jesus say that sickness can sometimes be a means of glorifying God? Sickness, indeed everything that we experience as "bad," is a stumbling block for many to believe in a God whom the Bible describes as both sovereign and good. They ask, how can a God who allows bad things to happen be both all good and all powerful?

But this question is based on a wrong presupposition—that God's goodness is evidenced only in our well-being. That's not what the Bible says. Paul, in Romans, points out a different main purpose for God's goodness—indeed for everything:

Everything comes from God alone.
Everything lives by His power
And everything is for His glory." Romans 11:36 (The Living Bible).

Rick Warren, in The Purpose-Driven Life says:

"It's all for him.

The ultimate goal of the universe is to show the glory of God. It is the reason for everything that exists, including you. God made it all for his glory. Without God's glory, there would be nothing.

What is the glory of God? It is who God is. It is the essence of his nature, the weight of his importance, the radiance of his splendour, the demonstration of his power, and the atmosphere of his presence. God's glory is the expression of his goodness and all his other intrinsic qualities" - p. 53.

One way we serve this "goal" is to worship Him, even in the midst of bad things happening to us. Job did that. After he lost everything, he "tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped" - Job 1:20.

That's not to say we don't also pray to be healed (James 5:14-15). But if God does not heal, that doesn't necessarily mean that we don't have enough faith, or that there is too much sin in our lives, or that God doesn't like us. Even Paul asked for his "thorn" to be removed, and it wasn't.

In times of sickness (and for some, a lifetime of sickness) may our trusting faith that God knows what He is doing (and that declares with Job "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him,") only add to His glory.

PRAYER: Dear God, I defer to You in the area of how my life will best bring glory to You. Help me to view all of life through the lens of glorifying You. Amen.

MORE: Food for thought

 A bow-and-arrow life:
"A saint's life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says - "I cannot stand any more." God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God's hands. For what have you need of patience just now? Maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ by the patience of faith. "Though He slay me, yet will I wait for Him." 

Faith is not a pathetic sentiment, but robust vigorous confidence built on the fact that God is holy love. You cannot see Him just now, you cannot understand what He is doing, but you know Him. Shipwreck occurs where there is not that mental poise which comes from being established on the eternal truth that God is holy love. Faith is the heroic effort of your life, you fling yourself in reckless confidence on God" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest - May 8th reading (emphasis added).


"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." - John Piper

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.

Scriptures marked The Living Bible (or TLB) copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. The Living Bible, TLB, and the The Living Bible logo are registered trademarks of Tyndale House Publishers.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Turn the dial to "Spirit"

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 8:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit." Romans 8:5

What a lot is packed into this little verse!
  • It talks about two life orientations:
- Living (or "walking" Romans 8:4) according to the FLESH.
- Living (or walking) according to the SPIRIT.
A footnote in my Bible explains the two: "To walk according to the flesh is to follow the sinful desires of one's old life. To walk according to the Spirit is to live in a way pleasing to Him" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1561.

I would submit that this living to the flesh includes following sinful tendencies in ways that may not even appear overtly sinful. It means living as if God did not exist. That is, living by one's own resources and wits.
  • It talks about our thoughts and how they are an indicator of which direction or orientation our lives are moving in. By that measure, I think it's possible for Christians to live "according to the flesh." For when we analyze our thoughts and detect worry, fear, and anxiety, for example, don't they imply a lack of Spirit orientation and dependence? If I truly believed what Paul says later in this chapter — that I am a child of God (Romans 8:15-16) and that all things are working together for good in the process of conforming me to Jesus' image (Romans 8:28-29), would I not have greater peace in even evil-appearing circumstances?
  • It talks about taking control of our thoughts. Paul uses the little word set ("for those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit  (set their minds - implied) on the things of the Spirit.")
[Set = phroneo : means to direct one's mind to a thing, to seek, to strive for; to be of one's party, side with]

Of course it's never as simple as a one-time moving the dial of the mind to SPIRIT and then coasting through life on auto-pilot. For though we do set the dial of our mind to SPIRIT, we need to be constantly alert to its natural tendency to return to the FLESH setting. So initially at least, it takes conscious effort and alertness to live life in a SPIRIT setting — to live secure in the mindset that even when the car won't start, or someone I love is in an accident, or I am diagnosed with a deadly disease, I am God's child. He sees and knows and cares about what's happening to me. He will work it for good in the process of forming my character. I do not need to operate in fear (or envy, or anger, or lust, or any other FLESH setting with which I may struggle).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see life areas where I have a self-directed or self-dependent orientation. Please show me how to relinquish these to You and to live my whole life "according to the Spirit." Amen.

MORE: Ammunition

If we think of the mind as a battlefield where flesh thoughts and Spirit thoughts are at war, the best defense against the flesh thoughts that keep popping from their foxholes and spraying their ammo of fear, envy, hatred, lust, anger etc. all through our thoughts, is Bible truth. Memorized Bible verses are the best ammunition. Here is a resource that lists topics. Each topic is linked to Bible verses that apply to it. Choose the area that challenges you then look up and memorize the applicable verses to help set your mind on the things of the Spirit.

"If you have no Scripture memorized, you have no ammunition." - Rick Warren (paraphrased - heard in this video where John Piper interviewed Rick Warren)

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.

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