Sunday, August 31, 2014

What's the point?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?" Ecclesiastes 1:3

'What's the point" Solomon seems to be saying as he begins the little book of Ecclesiastes. This collection of only twelve chapters discusses the purpose of human endeavor. Scholars believe that Solomon wrote it at the end of his life, when he may have returned to God from the state that is described in 1 Kings 11.

Our reading today seems like the ruminations of an old man, or if not old, surely jaded:

- What's the purpose of all one's work, he asks. The next generation comes along and it's all forgotten anyway. (Ecclesiastes 1:4)

- Nature carries on in it its cycles uninterrupted (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7).

- Work is never done (Ecclesiastes 1:8a).

- Desire is never satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:8b).

- Mankind really has no control over anything; what will be, will be (Ecclesiastes 1:9a).

- Everything supposedly new is really a rehash of something old (Ecclesiastes 1:9b-10).

- We forget the past, refusing to learn from or be changed by it (Ecclesiastes 1:11).

- Even what I (Solomon) learned in the quest for wisdom didn't satisfy (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18).

He seems, in all this, to be driving toward the conclusion that there is no point to anything.

I must admit, especially as I've grown older, that I have had some of the same thoughts. Witnessing loved ones die and seeing how quickly their memory and influence fade from this earth underlines the truth of what the preacher is implying. Does the perspective of increasing age doom one to adopt such a pessimistic outlook? Not at all.

As the writer of the Introduction to Ecclesiastes in my Bible says:

"The Preacher's constant probing of all existence for meaning shows him to be an optimist, not a pessimist, and his failure to discover any absolute, abiding value in this life ("under the sun") does not mean his quest is a failure. Instead, he finds himself compelled (by his observation that God placed order in the universe at the time of its creation, Ecclesiastes 3:1-14) to seek the value he seeks in the world to come (not "under the sun" but "above the sun" so to speak)....
The Preacher's failure to find real value in earthly things and comfortable lifestyles challenges the Christian who lives in this age of greed and materialism to concentrate on the things that are above (Colossians 3:1-2) and not to glorify greed and possessions." William C. Williams, "Introduction to Ecclesiastes," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p, 844.

Before we succumb to the Preacher's negativity, let's remind ourselves, there is a point. But it's not to be found in this world.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to view this life and human endeavor as ends in themselves. Help me, instead, to view all of life within the context of eternity. Amen.

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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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Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Zipporah spirit

Moses, Zipporah and her sisters
by James Tissot

Moses, Zipporah and her sisters by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 4:18-31

TO CHEW ON: "Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses' feet, and said, 'Surely you are a husband of blood to me!'" Exodus 4:25


In a curious little side story we read of Moses, his wife Zipporah, and their two sons Gershom and Eliezer on their way to Egypt. But something serious happened to Moses along the way. He was at death's door, having apparently roused God's wrath. Zipporah remedied the situation by circumcising their son.

Male circumcision was the sign of God's covenant. We don't know why Moses omitted doing this when Eliezer was a baby (it was to be done at eight days old - Genesis 17:10-12). Herbert Lockyer, author of  All the Women of the Bible* suggests: "Zipporah as a woman of Midian, did not share the spiritual values of her notable husband who found himself acting against the sacred tradition of Israel. … To keep the peace, Moses compromised with his unbelieving wife and withheld circumcision, the sign of God's covenant, from Eliezer."

However, Zipporah was not gracious about this, as she exclaimed (in abhorrence, anger?) "You are a husband of blood!" It would seem at that point relations between them were so strained, Zipporah and the boys turned around and went home to dad (Jethro) while Moses traveled on alone.

Zipporah appears only one more time in the Bible when she, her sons, and father meet Moses during the Israelites' wanderings (Exodus 18:2-5). After that "She disappears without comment from the history of the Jewish people in which her husband figured so prominently. … Neither as the wife of her husband nor as the mother of her children did she leave behind her a legacy of spiritual riches" - Ibid.

I take this as a cautionary tale. We too can become infected with the Zipporah spirit that would resist spiritual expression, growth, and obedience in our husbands. Rather than doing that, let's support and encourage them in their biblical role as the head of the home (Ephesians 5:23).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to uphold Your pattern in marriage and in supporting and encouraging my husband in spiritual things. Amen.

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All the Women of the Bible  by Herbert Lockyer, Zondervan, 1988, one of the Related Resources available for this passage on BibleGateway.com

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, August 27, 2014

The downside of arguing with God

Moses and the Burning Bush - Isaac's Cathedral - St. Peterburg
Moses and the Burning Bush - Isaac's Cathedral - St. Peterburg
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 3:18-4:17

TO CHEW ON: "' Now therefore, go and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.' But he said, 'O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else you may send.'" Exodus 4:12,13


In this portion of the conversation between God and Moses, God gives Moses the job of confronting Pharaoh and leading the Israelites out of Egypt. He promises to be everything Moses needs for the job.

But Moses argues back. He doesn't want the assignment, or at least he doesn't want to do it alone. He is a bad speaker, he says, so thus ill-equipped (even though God, the maker of his equipment says He will tell Moses what to say).  At Moses' insistence God gives him his older brother Aaron. Aaron will be his mouth.

I wonder if Moses ever had regrets later about bringing on Aaron as such a close ministry partner.
  • Think about how cumbersome the speaking sessions must have been—like talking through a translator.
  • They were men of different personalities. Moses was made of the stuff of a leader. He often stood alone against the multitude while Aaron buckled under their demands.
  • This dual leadership may also have been confusing for the Israelites when Aaron was the voice giving them instructions and commands. Who was the real leader here?

When we feel inadequate for tasks God gives us do we similarly argue and bargain with God? Do we ask Him to send someone else, or make job adjustments so we don't have to depend on Him so completely?

Let's learn a lesson from Moses. If God asks us to do something, let's take His word that He will give us the tools to do it (Exodus 4:11). For when we insist on changes, we might be adding needless complications for later.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to learn the lesson of depending on you completely to do the assignments You give. Amen.

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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, August 26, 2014

God sees, hears, and knows

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 3:1-17


TO CHEW ON: "And the Lord said, 'I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.'" Exodus 3:7

How the Israelites back in Egypt must have wept with relief and celebrated with joy when Moses came with these words straight from the Almighty:

"I have seen
I have heard
I know"

We too may feel despairing if God has been silent and seemingly indifferent to whatever hard circumstance we're in. But His knowledge of our hard time and His action behind the scenes again and again in the Bible demonstrates the kind of aware and compassionate God He is.

  • He saw and came to the outcast slave/concubine Hagar - Genesis 16:7-13.
  • In today's reading He saw the enslaved and beleaguered Israelites.
  • He heard the cry of the Israelites oppressed by the Philistines and sent Samuel to anoint King Saul to be their leader and conqueror of their enemy - 1 Samuel 9:16.
  • He showed Himself patient and compassionate when He sent prophet after prophet to warn the sinning Israelites - 2 Chronicles 36:15-16.
  • Psalm writers Asaph (Psalm 78:38; 79:11) and David (Psalm 86:15) declared and praised His patience toward wrongdoers and His graciousness toward all humans.
  • Jesus' description of the Father in the Prodigal Son story pictures our heavenly Father, waiting and watching for us if we have 'left home' - Luke 15:20.

So whatever oppression we're under (physical illness, suffering at the hands of individuals, groups of people, the society we live in, or our government), let's take with us the assurance that God sees, God hears, God knows.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to trust You even when You are silent. Help me too, to be patient as You untangle my circumstances in Your time. Amen.

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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, August 25, 2014

Antidotes to evil

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 12:9-21


TO CHEW ON: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21

What a rich list we have in today's reading. Let's look at it as a list of evils (implied or stated) and the antidotes to them that Paul suggests.


[Antidote: Anything that will counteract or remove the effects of poison, disease or any evil.]


Hypocrisy  
Antidote: Kindness; affection; brotherly love, i.e. that looking-out-for-each-other kind of love that siblings show each other; giving others preference above yourself.

Indifference 
Antidote: Diligence; cultivating a "fervent spirit" i.e. warmth, showing intensity of emotion or enthusiasm, ardent; serve the Lord with this attitude.

Depression 
Antidote: Rejoice in (focus on) hope.

Tribulation 
Antidote: Patience (perseverance); prayer.


Lack 
Antidote: Look for needs and fill them; extend hospitality.

Persecution
Antidote: Bless your persecutor.

Isolation
Antidote: Empathy - "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."

Pride
Antidote: Treat everyone the same way; refrain from acknowledging class or status and associate with everyone; be humble yourself.

Quarrelling
Antidote: Be the peaceful one, not the instigator of quarrels.

Wrongs done to you
Antidote: Refuse to repay in kind; let God be your avenger, treat your enemy with kindness.

Can you relate to any of these evils and their antidotes? I certainly can! Though the words are straightforward and the concepts simple, there's a lifetime of sanctification implied here.


PRAYER: Dear God, please show me how, and help me to work these excellent antidotes to evil into the fabric of my life. May they become my lifestyle. Amen.

MORE: Overcoming evil with good

John Piper:

 "Don’t be overcome by evil means. Don’t be overcome by his evil. Don’t let another person’s evil make you evil. Oh, how crucial that is.


"[...] When you let your adversary make you evil he is the victor. If you let a person’s sin govern your emotions so that your sinful anger or your misery or your depression is owing to their evil, then you are being overcome by evil. And Paul says, You don’t have to be overcome that way.
"[...] When someone does evil to you, you should say, “You are not my Lord. I will not be controlled by you. I will not have my attitudes and thoughts and actions dictated by your evil. Christ is my Lord. Christ dictates my attitudes and thoughts and actions..."
Read all of "Christ Overcame Evil with Good—Do the Same" By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

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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, August 23, 2014

Very early training

"Jochebed Returns Moses"
Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 2:1-25


TO CHEW ON: "Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens" - Exodus 2:11

Moses grew up as an adopted son and thus a prince in Pharaoh's household. How did he even know that the Hebrews were his brothers?

I think we can blame—or credit—Jochebed, Moses' mother. As his official hired nurse (Exodus 2:7-9) who may even have raised him in her home ("And the child grew; and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter...") she had a window of three to five years of undiluted influence. As my Bible's footnotes explain:

"A nurse was a hired woman who breast-fed an infant or helped to raise a child. She usually became a respected member of the household she served. Children were not weaned until they were three to five years of age, which allowed ample time for religious training about God and the Hebrews" - James Carroll Tollett, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 78.

That early training must have made an indelible impression on Moses, willing as he was, when grown, to defend his people to the point of murder (Exodus 2:12).

"Give me a child till he is seven and I will give you the man," is a saying attributed to Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuits. The effectiveness of early training is used by terrorist organizations when they recruit the young, and by anti-Christian societies when they pass laws against teaching children about God and the Bible.

In our society, where many mothers clamor to have their little ones off their hands ASAP so they can get back to work (and yes, often getting back to work is an economic necessity), we appear to have forgotten this, or are ignoring it, or think that someone other than parents should be giving this early training, or perhaps don't really believe very early training makes that kind of a lifelong imprint. But the Bible is not shy in stating its importance.

  • Moses himself instructed it, telling parents and grandparents to tell their offspring about their encounters with God (Deuteronomy 4:9), and to teach them Godly principles in the midst of daily living Deuteronomy 6:7, 11:19, 31:13).
  • Solomon promised lifelong results from early training (Proverbs 22:6).
  • Jesus commissioned Peter to not only feed the sheep but also the lambs (John 22:15), putting some of the responsibility for early training onto the Christian community.

The apparent impact of Moses' mother's early influence is a lesson to me of the importance of our kids' and grandkids' beginnings. I can't go back and redo the things I didn't do well when I was a young mom. But I can do all in my power of babysitting, helping in the church nursery, buying gifts (like faith-building books and videos), to help my kids and the parents of young children in my church raise their little ones today.


PRAYER: Dear God, help me to understand and acknowledge the importance of a child's early years. Show me where I can help the young moms in my life in this task. Amen.

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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, August 22, 2014

Who do we fear?

Shiphrah & Puah - Artist unknown
Shiphrah & Puah - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 1:1-22

TO CHEW ON:
"The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live." Exodus 1:17


These Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, were doing a brave, maybe even foolhardy thing by saving the lives of newborn boys in the face of Pharaoh's command. But then, as we see the God they feared in action, we realize they were doing a very sensible thing (remarkable about their respect for God: they spared these babies even before God showed His power in the plagues of Egypt and the miracles of the desert).

I think about their stand and I see a lesson in it for me, perhaps for all of us. As our society drifts ever farther from Christian principles, I can imagine scenarios where we might need to take similar stands against our society's laws and social pressures.

For example, a few weeks ago a same-sex couple made local news when they broadcast the fact that the extended family of the baby they were set to adopt withdrew their consent for the baby's adoption because the family didn't want it to be raised by a same-sex couple. Though the family was legally allowed to do this, their actions were labelled homophobic. One of the rejected partners mused about solving such situations with legislation.

The family's stand made me ask myself, what would I have done? It's a valid question, for I believe it will be just a matter of time before the rights of Canadians (and other western, supposedly freedom-of-religion cultures) to express religious convictions in ways that go against the grain of culture, will be illegal.

I submit the answer to how we would react will always be based on who we fear more—God, who has expressed His attitude toward homosexuality and a myriad other things in His word, or the society in which we live?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me live my life for Your eyes, respecting and lining up my life with what You approve more than what society approves. Amen.

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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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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Our own todah psalm

David playing the harp - Artist unknown
David playing the harp - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 124:1-8

TO CHEW ON:
"Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth." Psalm 124:6

Psalm 124 is David's joyful poem about how God has saved Israel in the past. It is one of the Psalms of Thanksgiving or todah that Bible scholars have grouped together as psalms written to:

"...praise God for something He has done for the Psalmist, to offer thanksgiving in the form of worship. There are three main aspects to todah Psalms: 1) praise for a deed God has done or an experience of God by the Psalmist; 2) it is an immediate response evoked by God’s action; 3) the tone is one of joy" - Dennis Bratcher, "Patterns for Life; Structure, Genre and Theology in Psalms").

Some things these thanksgiving psalms celebrate:
  •    God hears (Psalm 18:6; 66:19).
  •    God heals (Psalm 30:2-3).
  •    God forgives (Psalm 32:5).
  •    God delivers from the enemy.Our reading today is a great example of a deliverance story as David recalls Israel's escape from the Egyptians through the Red Sea (Psalm 124:2-5).
(See Psalm 124 on Bible Gateway - Related Resources - Asbury Bible Commentary for more examples.)

As we read Psalm 124 with its references to the Israelites' history, we might think of our own. Has God lately answered a specific prayer of ours? Has He brought healing? Are we grateful for His forgiveness? Has He delivered us from an enemy?  If you or I wrote a todah psalm of thanksgiving what stories would it tell?

Let's live today with Psalm 124's attitude of gratitude, praise, and hope because God has also been on our side. We too have escaped and "Our help is in the name of the Lord, / Who made heaven and earth" - Psalm 124:8.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for Your presence and help in my personal history. Amen.

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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, August 20, 2014

Conformed / Transformed

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 12:1-8

TO CHEW ON: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." - Romans 12:2

Two words jump out at me from the above verse: Conformed and Transformed.

[Conformed: suschematizo: Compare to "schema" and "schematic." It refers to conforming oneself to the outer fashion or outward appearance, accommodating oneself to a model or pattern....Even apparent or superficial conformity to the present world system or any accommodation to its ways would be fatal to the Christian life" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1569.]

I can think of at least three levels of relationship where we are tempted to conform.


1. We are tempted to conform to the world and its systems. We should resist conforming to aspects of society that are against what the Bible teaches. The society in which I live, for example, is pro-abortion and has reinvented the definition of marriage. There is great pressure on Canadian citizens (by the media and forces of political correctness) to conform and get with the program in these areas — and others.

2. We will be tempted to conform when we are with our non-Christian friends. Do you ever find you edit yourself when you are with yours? Leaving out things that you would share freely with fellow Christians may not always be a bad thing. However, it may be a symptom of you conforming to expectations of your non-believing friends because you fear they will think you're weird or fanatical.

3. We may even be tempted to conform when we are with fellow Christians. Sam Storms in his testimony in the "Why I am / not a Charismatic" series on the Credo House Ministries blog (accessed in 2011*) describes the peer pressure he felt from fellow believers after he experienced praying in tongues when he was a teenager. He concludes:
"My early opposition to spiritual gifts was also energized by fear .... the fear of rejection by those whose respect I cherished and whose friendship I did not want to forfeit; .... the fear of losing what little status in the evangelical community my hard work had attained."

So how do we resist conformity to the world wherever it raises its head? By being "transformed by the renewing of your mind."

And how do we renew our minds? One way is to soak them in God's word. As Joyce Meyer puts it: "....we must know the Word of God well enough to be able to compare what is in our minds [and, I would add, able to recognize and compare the thinking that is behind those outside ideas and forces that tempt us to conform to them] with what is in the mind of God" - Battlefield of the Mind, p. 4.


PRAYER: Dear God, please alert me to areas where I am tempted to be conformed to this world, regardless of how subtle. Please transform my mind as I yield myself to You and give Your words the final say in my life. Amen.


*Though I can no longer find Storms' quoted article online, he talks about the same fear on his blog: "Are Miraculous Gifts For Today - Part II" (under point 6.)

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unsearchable

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 11:25-36

TO CHEW ON: "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" Romans 11:33

The verse above concludes what a footnote in my Bible calls "the longest extended theological argument in the New Testament (Romans 1:16-11:33)" - Wayne Grudem,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1568. It's as if Paul is throwing up his hands and saying—"With all I've just explained about God's ways, I've merely exposed the first layer of God's wisdom and knowledge...there's so much more to find!"

[The word unsearchable means just that — unsearchable. When we search for something we seek or look for it diligently, we investigate it and give it a critical and probing inquiry. God's unsearchable wisdom and knowledge cannot be plumbed even when we subject it to such extensive investigation.]

Other Bible writers bear out the unsearchableness of God's ways. There is mystery in every category.
  • In the reasons for evil:
In Job, the Bible book that wrestles most openly with the why and wherefore of evil, the conversants draw the conclusion that God's ways are unsearchable: Job 5:9; 11:7; 33:13; 37:23.

  • In nature and the whys and wherefores of life:
"...no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end," declares Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:11. See also Ecclesiastes 8:17

  • In God's extending of grace and mercy to people:
God expresses this mystery of grace to Moses when He says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy" Exodus 33:19. He gives no reason for why He is merciful to some and not to others. And yet, when we look at our lives we see the fingerprints of His mercy and grace all over them. If you're having trouble recognizing them, read Psalm 107:1-43 for the myriad of ways God visits His grace on people.

Paul ends his musing about God's unsearchable ways with praise: "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever."

I feel the same way. I'm glad that the more we search to understand God and His dealings the more we find. I'm glad that the Bible can stand close inspection, in fact, flourishes under it opening up new treasure as we drill down.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that You are bigger than our human minds can comprehend, and that Your plans and ways can withstand our closest scrutiny. Please help me to have faith where I don't understand You and Your ways. Amen.

MORE: Grace in story

The Watcher, a novel by Sara Davison has a character, David, who does some very bad things. He eventually gives his heart to Jesus but isn't completely honest regarding his past with his wife or the church he pastors. There comes a point in the story when that past comes back to bite him and he steels himself for the worst to happen. What does happen, as expressed through David's thoughts, is a great example of God's extravagant and undeservable grace:

"He had never forgotten how he'd felt that day in the cabin, like God was so real, and so present that he could reach out his hand and touch him. Kathryn had showed him God that day, in the midst of her own terror and pain. Then in prison, the darkest place he'd ever been, he'd come to him through Tiny and the boys. Now, in the face of his betrayal, the people of his church were revealing God to him once more. What have I ever done to deserve these gifts?


It's not what you've done; it's who you are. You are mine and I'll never let you go" - The Watcher, Kindle Location 5195 (emphasis mine).
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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, August 18, 2014

Grafted branch

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 11:13-24


TO CHEW ON: "And if some of the branches were broken off, and you being a wild olive tree were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you." - Romans 11:17,18.

I am a Gentile and eternally grateful that there is a place in God's olive tree for grafted-in branches.

In an article in my Bible, Shira Sorko-Ram says of Romans 11:
"One of the most remarkable passages in the Bible states that the Gentiles were made rich because of Israel's fall (Romans 11:11-12). Because they were cast away for a season the world is being touched with the message of salvation and reconciliation to God. ...The great revelation Paul enunciates in Romans 11 stands as a towering statement to God's sovereign workings in redemption. Through Israel's sin, God provided the whole world with a Savior! 'Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! ....His ways are past finding out!' (Romans 11:33)"
- Shira Sorko-Ram, "Understanding Messianic Jewish Ministry," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1881-1882.
Paul calls God's plan "severity" and "goodness." He is severe in lopping off the unbelieving branches, but good in grafting in believing ones. It is not a matter of race with God, but a matter of belief, for He will again graft in those Jewish branches when they turn back to Him in belief (Romans 11:23).

We need to keep in mind that God's choice and acceptance of us is not due to our goodness, our race, or our heritage. We do not inherit a spot in His family because we come from a long line of believers and our parents believed in Him. Rather each person comes individually and is accepted because he or she has put personal faith in Christ for salvation. God is color blind when it comes to salvation and we should be too.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your sovereign, wise plan, in which I as a Gentile can have a part. Amen.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

An effective ransom

Charles Lindbergh Kidnapping poster
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 4:1-20

TO CHEW ON:
"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." Galatians 4:4,5

Kidnapping is a crime that strikes fear into a parent's heart. Though the demands for ransom that sometimes accompany kidnappings give a glimmer of hope, the stories of abduction victims never redeemed but found dead even after ransom was paid, are chilling (10 Unsolved Ransom Kidnappings).

God is a parent whose human children were, in a sense, abducted—kidnapped by Satan. As such they (we) were in bondage, not tied up in the trunk of a car or hidden in an out-building, but prisoners to Satan and his workings in circumstances and through our enemies, captive to our default setting of sin, to our inability to keep God's law, to the curse of sin on creation, and to death.

But, praise the Lord, our kidnapping has a happy ending. The ransom paid—Jesus' death on the cross—was effective. Because of it we are or can be redeemed from:
  • circumstances - Psalm 34:19-22.
  • enemies - Psalm 69:18.
  • the bondage and guilt of sin - Psalm 130:7,8.
  • the need to keep the law - Galatians 4:5.
  • And we look forward to a time when this ransom will effect the release of nature from the curse of sin (Romans 8:19-23), including death (Psalm 103:2-4).

Do we appreciate God's ransom—His Son Jesus become human for us, dying for us? Have we applied it personally to our own lives? Do we live by faith, as freed sons and daughters of the Father who has redeemed us?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for sending Jesus who laid down His life as a ransom for me. I no longer belong to Satan but to You. When I forget this, please remind me by Your Spirit that I am Your daughter—that You are my "Abba" - Daddy. Amen.
 

MORE: Feast of the Virgin Mary

Today the church celebrates Jesus' earthly mother Mary, the "woman" of whom Jesus was born.

Today's liturgy begins with this collect:

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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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, August 12, 2014

Send them away?

Canaanite woman and Jesus - Artist unknown
Canaanite woman and Jesus - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 15:21-39

TO CHEW ON: "And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, 'Send her away, for she cries out after us.'" Matthew 15:23


How awkward, to be traveling around in a foreign country and have someone—a woman no less—begin following you around, shouting stuff. The disciples can only take so much of "'Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! …'" until they urge Jesus to send this Canaanite woman away.

This isn't the only time we find the disciples suggesting Jesus dismiss someone. We've just encountered something similar when, after a long  day of preaching, the disciples tell Jesus to " 'Send the multitudes away…' " to get food (Matthew 14:15).

And a few chapters further on, the disciples rebuke parents who are bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing (Matthew 19:13).

But how does Jesus react to these potential irritants and interruptions?

He doesn't let the Canaanite woman's irritating cry get to Him. Instead, He starts up a conversation, probes her faith and then sends her home to a miracle (Matthew 15:24-28).

He doesn't ignore the need of the hungry crowd, but feeds them.

He doesn't send away those parents and their children, but blesses them and rebukes the disciples.

We too may be tempted to "send her away," "send the multitudes away" when people:

  • embarrass us—the awkward, unusual, mentally challenged, people who dress differently, act inappropriately, those looked down on by society.
  • have big needs we can't possibly meet.
  • threaten to mess with our tidy plans and agendas—children, high-maintenance, woman-at-the-well types.

Let's be alert to times when our first impulse would be to "send them away." At such times, let's pause, send up a silent "What do you want me to do in this situation, Jesus?" listen for His answer, and then do it.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, on my own I'm smart to send needy, hurting people away because I can't do anything for them. But I have You and You can. Help me to bring such people and situations to You. Amen.

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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, August 11, 2014

What your speech says about the state of your heart

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 15:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "'But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.'" Matthew 15:18

I wonder if the Pharisees ever regretted criticizing Jesus' disciples for their non-hand-washing? The hand-washing they were talking about was part of Jewish oral tradition which had developed into a set of extra rules to help preserve the integrity of the law. The hand washing here was not for cleanliness but was a religious ritual (J. Lyle Story, notes on Matthew, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1317).

Jesus, recognizing this clash as a teaching moment, went to great lengths to explain to His disciples how silly this rule was in the scheme of things. Food that was touched and brought to the mouth with unwashed hands was soon eliminated, He said. But the real defilement came from what issued out of their mouths in speech. That originated in their thoughts - Matthew 15:17-19.

And here all of us, listening in these many generations later, are implicated. Who of us hasn't entertained thoughts of one or more of:
  • murder (hatred - 1 John 3:15)?
  • adultery?
  • fornication [porneia compare pornography. Illicit sexual intercourse… The word describes both physical immorality and spiritual, signifying idolatry - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1318 -- emphasis added]?
  • thefts?
  • false witness (lying, non-verbal deception)?
  • blasphemy ("slanders" - NASB) [Blasphemia: 1. Slander, detraction, speech injurious to another's good name; 2. impious and reproachful speech injurious to divine majesty]?

And so we agree with the prophet who said: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked—who can know it?" - Jeremiah 17:9.

And we echo the confession of Paul: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" - Romans 7:24,25.

PRAYER: Dear God, before I disdain the scribes and Pharisees, I'd better examine my own heart for the defilement living in me, proved by my speech. Thank You for Jesus' blood that washes away my sins. Amen.

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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, August 10, 2014

Adventurous discipleship

Walking on water - Artist unknown
Walking on water - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 14:22-36

TO CHEW ON: "And Peter answered Him and said, 'Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.' So He said, 'Come.' And when Peter had come out of the boat, he walked on the water to Jesus." Matthew 14:28-29


Jesus' invitation to "Come" answered a seemingly frivolous request from Peter—a sort of Gideon fleece: "Lord if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."

What was the point? It wouldn't surprise me if, at the time, even Peter couldn't have told us. But his impetuous request and what happened next probably stayed with him for life. For on Jesus' "Come" Peter, with his eyes on the Lord, stepped out of the boat and walked on water, just like his Master was doing.

And then he looked around. The wind was high. The waves were boisterous. What am I doing here? This shouldn't be happening.  This can't be happening! I'm scared! And he began to sink. Just in time Jesus rescued him.

I wonder if he thought of this incident later in life when he found himself in impossible situations. I wonder if he made the connection between looking to Jesus in faith and walking on the water versus looking at what was all around him and beginning to sink?

I believe Jesus still challenges us to adventurous discipleship. When we ask for wisdom about a particular project or thing we're facing (James 1:5) and hear His "Come," do we get out of the boat and, keeping our eyes on Him, move forward in faith and obedience even though everything around us says that what we're attempting is impossible?

Or do we get distracted by what we see around us, the winds and rough seas of common sense that say, "it can't be done!" and lose faith?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please teach me how to consistently keep my eyes on You. Help me to be an adventurous disciple. Amen.

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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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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Family strife

"Joseph Tells His Dreams"
by Rembrandt

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 37:1-20


TO CHEW ON: "Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons..." Genesis 37:3 NIV

The events in today's reading make for a great story—but not so great if they are happening to you. Joseph, son of Jacob's best-loved wife Rachel is now a teenager and out in the field with some of his brothers. The list of family frictions recorded in this story begins with his tattletale reaction to their misbehaviour (Genesis 37:2). It carries on, illustrating family dysfunctions of:

Favouritism: Joseph's father makes him a distinctive coat (Genesis 37:3).

Jealousy: This special treatment makes his brothers hate him even more so they can't even be civil to him (Genesis 37:4).

Boasting vanity: Joseph rubs in his favoured status by telling his two dreams where family members bow to him (Genesis 37:6-11).

Hatred — and murder (almost): All this bad will eventually ripen into the brothers' scheme, when the opportunity presents itself, to murder Joseph. (This plan changes when a Midianite caravan passes by. Selling Joseph to these slave traders makes it possible for the brothers to rid themselves of their sibling pest without actually killing him (Genesis 37:20, 27-28).

And in tomorrow's reading, there's more.

Of course we know how the story ends—that even in and through those dysfunctions, God works for good so that Joseph and all his scheming brothers are eventually preserved. Joseph himself understands and explains God's hand in these things years later: "...as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good in order to bring it about as it is this day to save many people alive" Genesis 50:20-21.

Most families have some dysfunction in them. Inevitably circumstances dovetail with personalities to bring about unfairness, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, deep-rooted grievances... But this story gives hope to crippled families. God is able to turn even the most unlikely family situation into something good.

PRAYER: Dear God, You know the issues in my family. I pray that You are even now transforming them into something that will work for good. Amen.

MORE: The irony of Joseph's dreams

Speaking of Joseph's dreams in a 1981 sermon, John Piper says:

"They helped produce their fulfillment. They made Joseph's brothers so angry that they sold him to some Midianite tradesmen on their way to Egypt. The irony here is terrific: by sending Joseph to Egypt to get rid of the vain dreamer, they set in motion the very events that fulfilled the dream. That's the way it is every time we try to resist the purposes of God. We always wind up fulfilling them—even when we do it like Judas" - John Piper, from a 1981 sermon "God Meant it for Good" (By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org)

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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.

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