Friday, October 31, 2014

How to live free

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 8:23-47

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" John 8:31-32

The Bible connects the ability to discern truth with obedience in several places. Paul does it in Romans 1 when he talks about sinful people "who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (or wickedness)" (Romans 1:18). Their refusal to acknowledge God as God and glorify Him (which surely includes obedience), results in foolish darkened hearts and lives that are enslaved to physical lusts, passions and outright rebellion (Romans 1:18-32).

In our focus verse today Jesus states the same idea only coming at it positively, maybe because of the sympathetic crowd ("Those Jews who believed Him"):

"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 
And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

Let's look closely at Jesus' words to see how He connects obedience, to  knowing truth, to freedom.

"If you abide in My word..." Abide (Meno) means to remain as one, not to become another or different. A cross-reference to this verse in my margin is John 14:23-24: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word." The NIV says "If anyone loves Me he will obey My word" (NIV).

"...You are My disciples indeed..." Disciple (Mathetes) comes from the root "math" which means thought with effort. My Bible defines disciple as "a learner, one who follows both the teaching and the teacher" (Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1307).

"...And you shall know the truth..." Know (Ginosko ) means to perceive, understand, recognize, gain knowledge, realize, come to know. "Ginosko is the knowledge that has inception, a progress and an attainment. It is the recognition of truth by personal experience" (Word Wealth - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1459).

"...and the truth shall make you free." Made free (Eleuthero) means to make free; set at liberty from the dominion of sin.

What does this mean for you and me? We could say that obedience to God and what He tells us of His will in the Bible is key to us being  disciples and to understanding truth in a way that is only possible once we've actually lived it. Oswald Chambers expresses the connection between obedience and understanding truth so well:

"The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark to me, then I may be sure there is something I will not do. Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 27th reading (emphasis added).
A corollary of living this way is that I'm set free from sin being the boss in my life. Ironic, isn't it, that freedom comes through putting oneself under the will of Another.

It sounds great in theory... now to consistently put it into practice!

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live free. Help me to identify where I am still in bondage because of disobedience that keeps me blind to the truth about You and myself. Amen.

MORE: Halloween

Today is Halloween. It is a secular holiday that has sacred roots. It is still listed in the Lectionary as a holy day: Vigil of All Saints.

An All Saints Vigil Liturgy (found on an ecumenical liturgy site) includes a renewal of Baptism. The leader begins that part of the service with the invitation: "I invite you (to stand) to affirm your commitment to Christ and your rejection of all that is evil."

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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.

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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Thursday, October 30, 2014

You pastor's words

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-3:5

TO CHEW ON: "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it, not as the word of men but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe." 1 Thessalonians 2:13

Do we consider the message our pastor preaches each Sunday the actual "word of God" to us? Do we welcome it as Paul's readers did? Or do we hear it with a critical ear and the intention to obey only the comfortable bits?

It might be a good idea to keep Paul's words in mind next Sunday as we listen to our pastor preach.
  • We can ask ourselves is there something we need to hear?
  • If pastor's sermon sounds like a repeat of other messages he's preached, we can examine our lives for disobedience. Maybe the reason God is impressing the same message on our pastor's heart week after week is because we aren't obeying.
  • If we find it hard to concentrate, taking notes may help. We could write down his main points, statements that grab our attention, and Scriptures that he refers to so we can reread them later.
  • We can listen with the goal of taking something practical home with us. We could look for a truth or principle to apply to everyday life or one change we could make.
  • And one more thing: why don't we pray for our pastor throughout the week that he will hear from God for us, and have the freedom and liberty to speak what God impresses on him to preach. Let's not take lightly God's choice and anointing of our pastor as a means of building us up (His body the church).

PRAYER: Dear God, I thank You for my pastor. Please help him to hear from You this week, and to preach with confidence and conviction next Sunday. Amen.

MORE: Understanding your pastor's challenges

For us in the pews, it's easy to think a pastor's job is a piece of cake. After all, doesn't he just have to get his sermon ready each week and preach on Sunday? What can be so hard about that?

However, the reality is quite different. Kevin DeYoung, an author, blogger and pastor writes of the challenges of being a pastor:

"Ask any pastor who really takes his work seriously and he will tell you of the pressures he feels in ministry—people in crisis, people leaving, people coming, people falling through the cracks, people disappointed by the pastor, people disappointing to the pastor. In the midst of this work the pastor is trying to find time for study, prayer, preparation, and family. He’s trying to improve himself, train up new leaders, meet the budget, get to know a few missionaries, champion important program, manage staff, take care of administrative details, provide for deep, accessible worship and preaching, be responsive to new ideas, listen to new concerns, be ready to help when people are in trouble."
Read all of "Pastoral Pressure and Apostolic Anxiety."

May this insight into pastoral life add to our incentive to pray for our church's pastors and leaders.

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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, October 28, 2014

Spirit of antichrist

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 4:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is from God is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist, which you heard was coming, and now is in the world already." 1 John 4:2-3

Professor Albert Mohler writes of a Rev. Klaas Hendrikse and new developments in the PKN, a mainstream Protestant denomination in the Netherlands:

"Pastor Hendrikse doesn’t believe in life after death, nor even in God as a supernatural being. He told the BBC that he has 'no talent' for believing historic and orthodox doctrines. 'God is not a being at all,' he says, 'but just an experience.'
Furthermore, as Pigott (the BBC reporter who broke this story) reports, 'Mr. Hendrikse describes the Bible’s account of Jesus’s life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.'”

According to 1 John 4:2-3, such views are not new. They were present in the early church, persist to this day, and shouldn't confuse us. John labels the spirit from which they come the "spirit of antichrist."

And how can we inoculate ourselves from becoming infected with this spirit? By becoming familiar with God's word and what it says about Jesus. Because beliefs not founded on God's word become something other than Christianity entirely.

Professor Hijme Stoffels of the Free University of Amsterdam called the new approach to Christianity in the Netherlands “somethingism.” The majority of Dutch citizens, he explains, desire some form of spirituality, but not the God of the Bible: “There must be something between heaven and earth, but to call it ‘God’ and even ‘a personal God,’ for the majority of Dutch is a bridge too far” - Hijme Stoffels,  quoted in "Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world."

Let's get to know what the Bible says and cling to it. Or we are apt to find ourselves taken in by this antichrist spirit, which is alive and well all around us.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to learn Your Word so I can detect this antichrist spirit. Help me not to become infected by it. Amen.

MORE: Today is the Feast of St. Simon and Saint Jude

The liturgy for this day begins with the following collect:

"O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Read Dr. Albert Mohler's article "A Laboratory for Christianity's Destruction."
Read Robert Pigott's "Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world."


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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, October 27, 2014

Who is your audience?

man on stage in front of an audience
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:1-12

TO CHEW ON: " 'But all their works they do to be seen by men.' " Matthew 23:5


In his book The Call, Os Guinness tells a story about the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and his mother. The Carnegies started out in Pittsburgh as a poor family. One day Andrew found his mother weeping in despair. Trying to console her, he said:

"Someday I'll be rich. We'll ride in a fine coach driven by four horses."

"That will do no good over here," his mother snorted, "if no one in Dunfermline (Scotland) can see us" - Os Guinness, The Call, p. 69.

Have you ever felt that way? What good is this accomplishment if  __x___ (my boss, my family, my Facebook friends, my colleagues, the people in my church, my city) don't see it?

Guinness says:
"Only madmen, geniuses, and supreme egoists do things purely for themselves. … Most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, do things with an eye to the approval of some audience or other. The question is not whether we have an audience but which audience we have" - Ibid, p. 70.

Here Jesus revealed to the crowds and the disciples who the audience of the sanctimonious scribes and Pharisees was: other people ("men"). The irony of this is that they posed their religious observances as done for God. But their actions—exaggerating the religious parts of their clothing (phylacteries and borders), loving the best places at feasts, insisting they be addressed as "Rabbi" demonstrated who they were really trying to impress.

I ask myself, who is my main audience? Whose opinion do I value most? What about you? If it's Jesus, as we say it is, then we will do the things that He values. Several of them are named here:
  • Serve.
  • Humble ourselves.

I love how Guinness concludes this chapter in his book:
"Do you wish to be inner-directed rather than other-directed and truly make one Audience decisive, the Audience of One? Listen to Jesus of Nazareth; answer His call" - Ibid p. 74.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, how often I get distracted from living first and foremost for You, letting my thirst for the praise and attention of people dictate my actions. Help me to value Your opinion more than any person's so that my life will show that my audience truly is 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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Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's your heart's condition?

sick heart
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 22:34-46

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus said to him, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." ' " Matthew 22:37

Here Jesus quotes the great commandment (from Deuteronomy 6:5). The word "heart" is, of course, a metaphor. We don't love God with the literal physical organ that circulates blood through our bodies. So what is Jesus talking about when He refers to the "heart"?

Easton's Bible Dictionary describes the heart: "…the center not only of spiritual activity but of all the operations of human life" - Easton's Bible Dictionary accessed through Biblegateway.com.

Some things the Bible teaches about the human "heart."
  • It is naturally wicked; we're born with sin-diseased hearts (Genesis 8:21).
  • Our evil hearts contaminate our thoughts and words (Matthew 12:34; 15:18).
  • Our hearts must be changed before we can willingly obey God (Ezekiel 36:26).
  • They are changed by repentance, i.e. by turning from our natural sinful tendencies to seek God (Joel 2:12) and accept His way of salvation (Acts 8:36-38).
  • The heart's attitude and direction are under our will. David, when he commissioned Solomon to build the temple, summed up all his detailed instructions with "Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God (1 Chronicles 22:19) emphasis added.
  • Our changed hearts are characterized by attitudes like belief (Acts 8:36-38), obedience (Psalm 119:2,34), trust (Proverbs 3:5), and loyalty (2 Chronicles 19:9).

The condition of the human heart hasn't changed since Jesus spoke these words. His command to love God and neighbor wholeheartedly are as impossible to fulfill as they ever were, with unchanged hearts. Wherever we are on this continuum of heart change, let's press forward (with all our hearts) in our lifelong quest of a spiritually healthy heart.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to evaluate my heart's condition by Your word, allowing it and Your Spirit to point out areas of heart disease. 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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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fruit Test

apple on an apple tree
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 7:15-29

TO CHEW ON:
" 'You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit but a bad tree bears bad fruit.' " Matthew 7:16,17

Comparing a life to fruit-bearing plants, Jesus points out how ludicrous it is to expect edible fruit from weeds. And by the fruit, He suggests, one evaluates a life.

Good fruit—what is it?
What is the fruit of a life? Surely Jesus isn't talking about how many physical children we have, or the multitude of things with which we surround ourselves? Most likely not. There is a fruit list in Galatians 5. Paul says there is no law against these Spirit-fruits: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control Galatians 5:22.

Good fruit—how do we bear it?
How do we find it within ourselves to produce such crops? Well, we don't. In John 15 Jesus gives instructions about fruit-bearing as a metaphor where God is the Vine, and individuals are branches. To bear good fruit it is necessary for us individuals to "abide" or live in the Vine. Abiding in the Vine will line up our will with the Vinedresser's so that prayers will be answered, because they are what He wants too. The branch's  abundance will glorify God even as it brings the branch joy.

Fruit-bearing—it's serious business.

In John 15:6 Jesus also alludes to something sobering which He mentions in our passage as well—that non-fruit-bearing branches and plants will eventually be "cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 7:19, see also Matthew 13:7).

What can fruit-bearing branches expect?

Pruning (John 15:2). But pruning is cutting! Ouch! Indeed, pruning may come in many ways: through circumstances, through people that challenge, irritate, and sand us to smoothness. We may do some pruning ourselves as we cut extraneous, non-fruit-bearing activities out of our lives.

As we go into today, let's reflect on what kind of fruit our life-plant is bearing. If it's not good, let's examine our attachment to the Vine; do we need re-attaching? If we're producing a measly crop, let's ask ourselves what we might do to increase that yield.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be an abiding branch that allows Your fruit-producing activities of prayer and obedience flow through me even as I submit to Your pruning.  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, October 22, 2014

The gift of a leader

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 78:56-72

TO CHEW ON: "So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands" - Psalm 78:72.

All in all, this is a pretty depressing psalm until we come to the last three verses. There we see that God didn't give up on these people despite their long history of unfaithfulness. Instead, he gave them what they needed, though they didn't deserve it: a chosen leader in David, whose leadership was characterized by integrity and skill.

The people God chose for leadership and prominence are characterized in many ways in the Bible.
  • God called the tribe of Levi—the Israelites separated to serve Him in the worship service of the tabernacle and temple—as "Mine" and a "gift" (Numbers 3:12; 8:19; 18:6).
  • The prophet Haggai named Zerubbabel as God's "servant" who was "like a signet ring," i.e. His very stamp of authority (Haggai 2:23).
  • God called Paul a "chosen vessel" (Acts 9:15).
  • But God's leader choices are not always the obvious ones. Paul, in Colossians tells us how upside-down they sometimes look: "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world ... and the base things and the things which are despised ... and the things which are not to bring to nothing the things that are" - Colossians 1:27-29.

Actually David was an example of that. He had no royal upbringing but apprenticed for the job as king in the fields  as a shepherd. Yet it was the perfect preparation for his role as Israel's shepherd.

Two things come to mind:
1. Do I, do we, value and support our leaders, viewing them as God's gift, His hand of authority, His choice vessels for us?

2. Maybe some of us are leaders in training but don't even realize it. The Colossians verses remind us that sometimes God's choices are not the obvious ones. We may not feel like leadership material, but that doesn't mean we aren't. Are we ready to lead should God put His hand on our shoulder for the job?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the leaders—the pastors, deacons, board members, small group leaders etc.— You provide. Help me to respect and listen to them, regarding them as Your gifts to me. Amen.

MORE: Leadership journey


Eleanor Clitheroe's leadership journey was not smooth. A profile article about her begins:
"She was one of the most powerful women in Ontario, controlling not only every light switch in every home, but also the huge industrial machines and every computer in the financial district on Bay Street. Today she is simply an Anglican curate."

Her firing from Ontario's Hydro One in 2002 plunged her into turmoil and stress, but also put her on the path to a different kind of leadership. Read Christianity.ca's story of this remarkable Canadian leader: "The Winding Road of Faith"

10-minute 100 Huntley Street video profile of Eleanor Clitheroe

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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, October 21, 2014

Guises of unbelief

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 78:40-55

TO CHEW ON: "How often they provoked Him in the wilderness and grieved Him in the desert! Yet again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel" - Psalm 78:40,41

The beginning of today's reading strikes me with its list of ways the Israelites demonstrated their unbelief: "provoked ... grieved ... tempted ... limited." The trouble is we find even more ways than this if we go through the psalm's 72 verses:

  • Broke covenant and were lawbreakers (Psalm 78:10).
  • Forgot His word and His power (Psalm 78:11, 42).
  • Sinned and rebelled (Psalm 78:17).
  • Spoke against God (Psalm 78:19).
  • Disbelieved God and didn't trust Him (Psalm 78:22,32).
  • Were insincere, i.e. flattered and lied to Him (Psalm 78:36).
  • Were disloyal and unfaithful (Psalm 78:37).
  • Provoked and grieved Him (Psalm 78:40, 56, 58).
  • Tempted and limited Him (Psalm 78:41).
  • Backslid and turned aside from Him (Psalm 78:57).

Unbelief has many guises. What a checklist for our own lives! Is there any chance we have some of these outfits hanging in the closets of our hearts?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize unbelief in my heart, no matter what form it takes. Help me to know You better and experience You at every level, so that it becomes second-nature for me to exchange unbelief for faith. Amen.

MORE: Covenant

The hurt and outraged tone in God's voice—as rendered by Asaph—brings us to the question, what did/does God expect? This passage speaks of the expressions of God's expectation they had violated, calling them covenant and law (vs. 10), salvation (vs. 22), and testimonies (vs. 56).

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology speaks of God's agreements with man in a section titled "The Covenants Between God and Man." This bit from his introduction to that section helps us understand what they were and meant—to the Israelites and to us:
"How does God relate to man? Since the creation of the world, God's relationship to man has been defined by specific requirements and promises. God tells people how he wants them to act and also makes promises about how he will act toward them in various circumstances. The Bible contains several summaries of the provisions that define the different relationships between God and man that occur in Scripture, and it often calls these summaries 'covenants.' With respect to covenants between God and man in Scripture, we may give the following definition: A covenant is an unchangeable divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship.

Although this definition includes the word agreement in order to show that there are two parties, God and man, who must enter into the provisions of the relationship, the phrase divinely imposed is also included to show that man can never negotiate with God or change the terms of the covenant obligations or reject them ....

This definition also notes that covenants are unchangeable. They may be superseded or replaced by a different covenant, but they may not be changed once they are established. .... the essential element at the heart of all of them is the promise, 'I will be their God, and they shall be my people' (Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 6:16, et al.)" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 515, 516 (emphasis added).
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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, October 19, 2014

Available wisdom

Jesus teaches about paying taxes - Artist unknown
Jesus teaches about paying taxes - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 22:15-33

TO CHEW ON: "When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. … And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching." Matthew 22:22,33

The Pharisees were determined to trip up and silence Jesus. And they had the perfect way to do it. They would out Him as an enemy of Rome by getting him to declare Himself on the contentious issue of taxes.

To add clout and witnesses they took along their disciples—probably the brightest minds in Jerusalem—and some Herodians. The Herodians were a political party that sympathized with the Herods in their policies of governing and introducing new social customs into Jewish society.

But when the troupe got to Jesus and confronted Him, He saw right through their little scheme. Those pharisaic wolves, who had circled their prey and were licking their chops in anticipation of the take-down, were disappointed, while the surrounding crowd marveled at the wisdom of Jesus' answer (Matthew 22:17-21). The same thing happened to the Sadducees who tried to trap Him later (Matthew 22:23-32). For Jesus was wise.

  • Isaiah prophesied Jesus' wisdom - Isaiah 11:2; 53:11.
  • He was wise from childhood - Luke 2:40.
  • He astonished all who heard Him, especially His neighbours - Matthew 13:54.
  • The amazing thing is that His wisdom can be ours! In Colossians 2:3, Paul describes Christ as the One: "… in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Paul goes on to encourage his readers, "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in him … For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him" - Colossians 2:3-9.

Let's ask to receive His wisdom for all kinds of situations. And then let's move ahead in faith, acting on the answers He gives - James 1:5-8.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I need the spirit of wisdom and revelation for everyday living as much as for special problems. I ask for Your wisdom today. Help me to trust and act on what You tell me through Your word and in prayer. 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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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Leaders are human too

Luke the Evangelist (detail from the Saint Luke Alterpiece, Andrea Mantegna
Luke the Evangelist - by Andrea Mantegna
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 4:9-22

TO CHEW ON: "Only Luke is with me…" 2 Timothy 4:11

Demas, attracted by worldly things, has left for Thessalonica, Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. I could use Mark. I'm cold, bring my cloak. I'd love the books and parchments. Alexander the coppersmith has done a lot of damage to me. At my trial, everyone deserted me… (my paraphrase of 2 Timothy 4:10-16)

This is hardly a list we would expect to read from the pen of the man who wrote: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13); "Take up the whole armour of God" (Ephesians 6:13); and "For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power" (1 Corinthians 4:20).

It shows us that even our strongest and seemingly most invincible leaders have down days. They are not immune from feeling forsaken, lonely, persecuted, physically and mentally needy, and generally discouraged.

But there is a bright spot for Paul. "Luke is with me." Luke, the doctor who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles stood by his beleaguered friend and leader, apparently unaffected by his downturn in fortune, his unpopularity and beaten-up spirit.

Our leaders have their ups and downs too. Do we realize this? Or do we put them on some sort of pedestal, expecting them to be always cheerful, upbeat, encouraging, energetic?

What do we do when someone bends our ear with a complaint about our pastor? Do we listen, sympathize and pass it on? Or do we defend him or her, and make sure the complaint stops with us?

Let's be Lukes who support and are loyal to our leaders through the good times and the bad.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to resist any temptation to criticize and gossip about my pastor. Help me to remember that he is as human as I am, and to pray for him and his family regularly. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

Today the church celebrates Luke in the Feast of St. Luke.

Today's liturgy begins with this Collect:

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; 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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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Do you have an "outside the camp" place?

Closet
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 33:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the Lord went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp." Exodus 33:7

This is a story of the exodus, when the people of Israel lived in portable houses—tents. "Outside the camp"—beyond the boundaries of their tent city—was a place that always seemed negative to me. But on checking references to it in the Bible, I discover it had a mixed connotation. It was:

Neutral:
"Outside the camp" was a necessary and frequently visited place because it was the desert's bathroom facilities - Deuteronomy 23:12.

Negative:
- For the person with a contagious disease like leprosy, or for someone who was unclean because of  having touched a dead body for example, "outside the camp" was a place they were sent to live in short- or long-term isolation - Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:3.
- Capital punishments, like stonings, happened outside the camp - Numbers 15:35.

Positive:
- Parts of offerings were performed "outside the camp" - Leviticus 4:12,26.  (The writer of Hebrews likened Jesus' death outside the Jerusalem gates to the animal sacrifices killed outside the camp of Israel - Hebrews 13:11-13)
- A clean place outside the camp was where the priests were to store the ashes of the purification ceremony, for example (Numbers 9: 3,9).
- In our reading, we see Moses going outside the camp to meet with God.

Why do you suppose he chose that place?

  • My Bible's commenter says: "Moses placed it (the tabernacle of meeting) a great distance from the camp because of the desecration by the moulded calf" - J. C. Tollett commentary on Exodus, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 119.

I can think of other advantages to having this meeting place outside the camp:
  • It forced a break in Moses' day-to-day routine.
  • It gave him some distance from the immediacy and urgency of his problems and the problems in the camp.
  • It was a buffer against distractions and interruptions.
  • In Moses' case, the distance may also have been protection for the people from God's glory cloud.

I, perhaps you too, would do well to have a place where we meet with God "outside the camp." No, we may not be able to literally leave our houses for this but we can find our own "outside the camp" place. Jesus talks about going into one's closet and shutting the door to pray - Matthew 6:6 KJV. Susannah Wesley threw her apron over her head and prayed behind it. David Wilkerson went to a place in the woods near his home. Sometimes we may feel the need to do more and also break our eating routine with a fast.

However we do it, let's meet with God outside the camp. You've got to love Joshua in this. He enjoyed God's presence so much he "did not depart from the tabernacle" (though he probably didn't have crying babies or a hungry family waiting for his attention back in the camp either!).

PRAYER: Dear God, what a powerful place Moses' prayer tabernacle must have been! Help me to establish my own tabernacle of meeting "outside the camp" where I regularly meet with 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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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Clay backtalk

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 45:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Woe to him who strives with his Maker!
Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth!
Shall the clay say to him who forms it
'What are you making?'
Or shall your handiwork say, 'He has no hands'?" Isaiah 45:9

Included in today's amazing prophecy about Cyrus (the Persian king whom Isaiah predicted would free Israel from captivity 100 years before it happened) is a warning. It begins "Woe to him..." signalling that all who find themselves described in the words should pay attention. It answers the person who would take exception to God's method of using a heathen king to accomplish His work.

The warning pictures a lump of clay complaining to the potter about the way it is being shaped. I like how the NLT translates it:

"What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
Does a clay pot argue with its Maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it,
saying 'Stop, you're doing it wrong!'
Does the pot exclaim, 'How clumsy can you be'?"

Do we ever do this--find ourselves discontented with the way we were created physically, mentally, emotionally? Do we wish we were taller or more athletic? Smarter and more creative?  More expressive, or less?

Accepting how God has made us is an aspect of belief or unbelief. Practicing contentment with our lot in life, including our physical appearance and the strengths and weaknesses with which we were born is part of the fabric of our confidence in God.

I love how the idea that God knew what He was doing when he intentionally created each one of us is echoed in Ephesians 2:10. Here it is in the Amplified:

"For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live]."

How amazing to be His handiwork. [The NLT translates it "masterpiece." The Greek word for "handiwork" is poiema - get it—poem.] What an adventure to discover and then do those "good works which God prepared beforehand" and find those works a perfect fit for us because we were made just for them.


PRAYER: Dear God, I so readily question and talk back to you about the way I am and my apparent weaknesses and lacks. Help me to have the uttermost confidence in Your wisdom when forming me. Help me to find and do those "works" that are my destiny. 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.

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

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


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Monday, October 13, 2014

Rain cycle of blessing

Happy Thanksgiving with cornucopia

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 9:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God - 2 Corinthians 9:10,11

I love stories of financial needs being met, to the dollar and in the nick of time. The lives of Christian adventurers—like foreign and home missionaries—are full of accounts of specific sums of money prayed for and supplied, not a moment too soon or too late, often through unsolicited donations received as cheques in the mail or found in an envelope at the door.

Not only is the recipient blessed through these events. The giver us most surely blessed too when they discover that the money amount they felt impressed to tuck into an envelope was the exact sum that the person needed and for which she was praying.

Paul is referring to this cycle of generosity when he prays blessing and multiplication on the sower's seed. That physical multiplication can morph to "… increase the fruits if your righteousness" as they bless others with this increase.

This results in thanksgiving. Paul expresses it as "thanksgiving through us to God," that is, through the person receiving the gift. But I would suggest it also becomes thanksgiving to God through the giver, as they realize they are part of this divine "rain cycle" of blessing.

On this Canadian Thanksgiving Monday, whether we are recipients or givers of generosity, let's give thanks!

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for connecting us to others' needs and them to ours, by Your Holy Spirit. Help us to bring our needs to You and open ourselves—our homes and wallets—in generosity when we are moved by the needs of others. 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, October 09, 2014

Unpopular restraint

Celebration around the Golden Calf - Artist unknown
Celebration around the Golden Calf - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 32:19-35

TO CHEW ON: "…Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them…)." Exodus 32:25

If a royal commission had been struck to get to the bottom of how the golden calf incident could happen, a conclusion like Exodus 32:25 may well have been in the report.

[Restraint means to hold back from acting, proceeding or advancing; to keep in check, repress; to deprive of freedom or liberty; to restrict or limit - Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary.]

People-pleasing, want-to-be-liked Aaron would have found that hard to do. He wasn't the only one. The priest Eli didn't restrain his sons and this brought a sobering judgment on his family and eventually the whole nation (1 Samuel 3:13; 4:15-22). King David was another indulgent parent with at least one of his sons—Adonijah: "And his father had not rebuked him at any time by saying, 'Why have you done so?' " (1 Kings 1:6). Adonijah ended up trying to become king behind his father's back.

In our time, when the trend in parenting (and leadership in general) is to give more freedom than less, a parent or leader who disciplines and enforces restraint needs to be resolute to go against the grain. But the Bible supports parents and leaders in this.
  • Discipline is really a manifestation of love - Proverbs 3:12; 13:24.
  • Lack of early discipline leads toward destruction - Proverbs 19:18.
  • Discipliners (fathers, parents) also need to be disciplined in the way they train their children- Ephesians 6:4.
  • Paul tells Timothy that the ideal leader acts "… in humility, correcting those who are in opposition" - 2 Timothy 2:25.

Restraint—self-restraint, parental and leadership enforcement of restraint—may not be fashionable with our society but it is something God values and rewards. Let's take up our courage to buck the trend as we practice restraint in our own lives and teach it to those for whom we're responsible.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me first to restrain myself in thoughts, speech and actions. 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, October 05, 2014

Do you need a lens adjustment?

TODAY'S SPECIAL Philippians 3:1-11


TO CHEW ON: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed, I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:7-8

So much of our satisfaction with life depends on our perspective. If we look at life mainly as an opportunity to get rich and collect things, we’ll grow bitter and disappointed when we don't get rich or that wealth doesn’t last. The results will be the same if we set our sites on pleasure, happiness, fame, influence, prestige and a whole lot of other things. Though all of these things bring transitory pleasure for sure, the satisfaction is fleeting and leaves us with a thirst for more.

In our reading today Paul tells his readers why he has joy despite the fact that he’s in prison and has lost all the things that formerly give his life significance. It’s because when he became a Christ-follower his perspective changed. The passion of his life shifted from keeping the law and all that went with it—prestige and power as a leader, reputation as a scholar, the satisfaction of being a self-made man—to knowing Jesus. That’s why he could wave off all the terrible things that happened to him as if they were nothing. Even his suffering benefited him because it helped him know the God who gave His life to save him.

John Piper in the preface to the 2003 edition of his classic Desiring God says:

“This is the great business of life – to 'put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.' I know of no other way to triumph over sin long-term than to gain a distaste for it because of a superior satisfaction in God…. God remains gloriously all-satisfying. The human heart remains a ceaseless factory of desires. Sin remains powerfully and suicidally appealing. The battle remains: Where will we drink? Where will we feast? ….Feast on God.” p. 12

Do you see your life—from its humdrum events, to the big life-defining moments—as a series of opportunities to know God better and enjoy Him more? I know I certainly need a change of perspective in that department.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to know what it means to “count all things loss” in order to know You better. 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.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

When your belly is full of tears

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 80:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts;
Look down from heaven and see,
And visit this vine." Psalm 80:14


From the vantage point of hindsight we know the "vine's" story—the ups and downs of Israel's history. It's easy for us gloss over generations of slavery in Egypt, the back-and-forth between oppression and freedom of the judges' period, the waves of invaders that led to the exile of the Jews in at the end of the Old Testament.  Our Bible reading takes us through millennia in mere hours. We readily forget how horrible it must have been to live in any one of those dark times.

This psalm, however, seems like a cry from the middle of one of them:
"O Lord God of hosts,
How long will You be angry
Against the prayer of Your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
And given them tears to drink in great measure" - Psalm 80:4,5 (emphasis added).

One of the powerful things about the psalms is how they express the experience and emotion we all go through, no matter when we live. Can't you just hear the Christians of Syria, hounded and killed by ISIS terrorists weeping these verses, or the family in Africa devastated by the  Ebola virus, or the family in North America cut apart by cancer, or…?

In this psalm there is only one resolution to whatever tragedy the pray-er is experiencing. It is God.

Our prayers can echo the psalmist's as we cry from whatever dark place we're in:
"Restore us ... Restore us ... Return we beseech You...
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts,
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved" - Psalm 80:3,7,14,19.

PRAYER: Dear God, please restore and return to those with their bellies full of tears who call on You today. 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, October 03, 2014

What our impatience says about us

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 78:21-39

TO CHEW ON: "But He, being full of compassion,
forgave their iniquity,
And did not destroy them.
Yes, many a time He turned His anger away,
And did not stir up His wrath."  Psalm 78:38


If you are a parent, are you a patient one? God, our heavenly Father is. In today's reading, after listing the ways the Israelites tried His patience, in response to which He did punish them, psalmist Asaph tells us He didn't take the ultimate action. He "… did not destroy them."

Why not?

Because He remembered their frailty: "…that they were but flesh" - Psalm 78:39.

Bible writers talk about God's patience (also called "long-suffering") in other passages. Here are a few that cast light on some aspects of God's patience.

1. Though sometimes in His long-suffering He appears forgetful, sin's consequences do ripple downstream to the third and fourth generations - Number 14:18.

2. He may sometimes defer His judgments "For My name's sake … And for My praise" -  Isaiah 48:9. In other words patience is part of His identity and His ways are typically ways of patience - Ezekiel 20:44.

3. His overarching plan calls for the right timing which means His lack of action on those who deserve punishment ("vessels of wrath") is part of His plan to reveal the ultimate "riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy" - Romans 9:22.

4. He intentionally delays judgement so that more people will repent. Peter says He is "…not willing that any should perish" - 2 Peter 3:9.

In a section on God's patience in his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem touches on the fact that we are to imitate God's patience. Of course this is not news to us as we see patience held up as a virtue in many places: James 1:19; 1 Peter 2:20; Ephesians 4:2 and Galatians 5:22. I like how Grudem pounds in the practical nails of what that patience looks like in us:

"… patience requires a moment-by-moment trust in God to fulfill his promises in our lives at his chosen time. Our confidence that the Lord will soon fulfill his purposes for our good and his glory will enable us to be patient - James 5:8" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.202 (emphasis added).

Flipped over we could say that our impatience actually speaks volumes about how much we aren't trusting God to be getting it right.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your patience with me. May my trust in You be deep and strong so that patience will be a natural fruit of my life. 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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