Friday, February 28, 2014

A double portion

Elisha & Elijah - Artist Unknown
Elisha & Elijah - Artist Unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 2:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, 'Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?" Elisha said, 'Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.'" 2 Kings 2:9

After spending days, weeks, months together with him 24/7, all Elisha wants is to be like his mentor—only more so. What a tribute to Elijah! Would people say that about you or me after spending hours, days, weeks with us?

Of course Elisha's request is rooted in spiritual desire. For I believe he sees in Elijah more than a magnetic personality, unusual insight, or signs-and-wonders power. He recognizes that the spirit of Yahweh is in him, working through his teacher and that's what he really wants.

Expressions of spiritual desire are found all through the Bible.

  • Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge to rule the people well - 2 Chronicles 1:10.
  • Israel is described as seeking God with all their hearts at a time of revival in 2 Chronicles 15:15.
  • The psalmist talked about living full-time in God's house, admiring HIs beauty, and inquiring in His temple - Psalm 27:4.
  • Isaiah spoke of longing for God during the night and seeking Him early as a means to putting the land he loves right - Isaiah 26:9.
  • Jesus talked about our  hunger and thirst for righteousness as a condition for blessing - Luke 6:21.
  • Peter likened our spiritual appetite for the word to a newborn baby's craving for milk - 1 Peter 2:2.

If you could ask for a double portion of the spirit of some Bible character in whom you see genuine spiritual desire, who would you choose?

Perhaps Moses of whom it was said, "So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" - Exodus 33:11.

Perhaps Joshua who faithfully led Israel first as Moses' understudy, then as its leader for generations, and who said: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" - Joshua 24:15.

Perhaps you'd want to be like Peter and John, of whom the religious leaders noted "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John … They realized the had been with Jesus"- Acts 4:13.

Or deacon Stephen "… a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit and power" who "… did great signs among the people" - Acts 6:5,8

Or…?


PRAYER: Dear God, help me to see these Bible characters as examples and models of what you can do through me as I give myself to You and Your indwelling Spirit. 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, February 27, 2014

God's contempt

"Ask of Me and I will give you
the nations for your inheritance."
by F. Hanfstaengl - 1894

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 2:1-12

TO CHEW ON:"He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision." Psalm 2:4

If there is one thing we dislike, it is to be laughed at and viewed with contempt.

[contempt: 1] the act or feeling of one who views something as mean, vile, worthless; disdain; scorn. 2] The state of being despised, disgrace, to be held in contempt.]

Thus the label "Divine Contempt" beside Psalm 2:4 in my Thompson Chain Bible  caught my attention. Here are some of the things, I discovered, that evoke God's contempt:

National rulers or political systems that despise God and Messiah.
  • David invoked God's scorn on godless nations threatening Israel, her king and the seat of power in Psalm 59:5-8
"But You, O Lord, shall laugh at them;
You shall have all the nations in derision."
  • In a similar vein, Isaiah said to King Hezekiah when he was threatened by Assyria:
"Because you have prayed to Me against Sennarcherib king of Assyria, this is the word which the Lord has spoken concerning him:
'The virgin, the daughter of Zion
Has despised you, laughter you to scorn...
has shaken her head behind your back...'" see Isaiah 37:18-22
  • Our focus verse widens the net to include any nation or king that sets itself against the Lord and His anointed.
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
         "The Lord shall hold them ("the nations"..."the kings of the earth") in derision"- Psalm 2:4.


Rulers who refuse to acknowledge God.
"He pours contempt on princes
And causes them to wander in the wilderness
where there is no way" Psalm 107:40.

The wicked who appear to prosper despite their godless ways.
In the end, they will experience God's scorn as opposed to those who appeared in their lifetimes to be the underdog. Psalm 73:
"Until I went into the sanctuary of God and understood their end..."
"As a dream when one awakes, so Lord, when you awake, You shall despise their image" - in the context of Psalm 73 especially verse 20 (Psalm 73:20).

His own people who forsake Him.
In case we're getting complacent thinking God's scorn is only visited on those bad guys, here is the sobering warning of Moses to God's own people, who had forgotten God:
"He spurned them ..." Deuteronomy 32:18-19

I ask, do I ever, do we ever put ourselves in a place to be objects of God's contempt? Let's let Proverbs 3:34 be our plumb line in this:

"Surely He scorns the scornful
But gives grace to the humble."

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live humbly under You, always acknowledging Your ultimate sovereignty in the affairs of this earth — both largely in its kingdoms and particularly in my own 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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Be with Me

Moses sees God's glory - Artist unknown
Moses sees God's glory
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 24:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Come up to Me on the mountain and be there…'" Exodus 24:12,13


What an invitation from God: "'Come up to Me … and be there.'" In our casual talk we might phrase it 'Come and hang out with Me. Be here with Me—be fully here with no wandering thought or gaze.'

This invitation to be with God brings to mind other such invites. The Bible has many. They came on a variety of occasions:

  • To Israel when they were bitter and complaining. Moses told the Israelites, "'Come near before the Lord for He has heard your complaints'" on the occasion of the Israelites' bitter complaints about food just before God gave the first manna (Exodus 16:9).
  • To a king who needed advice for battle. The priest advised Saul to "'Draw near to God,'" when he was uncertain as to whether or not he should go into battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:36).
  • To a worship leader who felt envious of and intimidated by the wicked. The psalmist Asaph expressed his resolve to draw near to God at such a time (Psalm 73:28).
  • To all us needy mortals. Jesus extended the invitation to come again and again (Matthew 11:28; 22:4; Revelation 22:17).
  • To us who believe in the new covenant and want to approach God. The writer of Hebrews invites: "'Draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" because we've been washed of our sins (Hebrews 10:22).
  • To us when we feel humbled and lacking in esteem and wisdom. James says, "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8).

Another thing that I notice about Moses' encounter with God in our reading is that God took His time in showing up: " … and on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud" - Exodus 24:16.

In drawing near we must always keep in mind, He is God. If we want to be with Him, we'll be adjusting to His timetable, not He to ours.

PRAYER: Dear God, what an invitation to "be" with you. Help me to know and practice this state in my 21st century 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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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Promises never claimed

Israel at Mt. Sinai - artist unknown
Israel at Mt. Sinai - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 23:20-35

TO CHEW ON:
"'And I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.'" Exodus 23:27.

In exchange for obedience and a thoroughness in destroying idol worship in Canaan, God made a covenant with Israel at the foot of Sinai to:
  • Lead them with His Angel (the cloud by day, pillar of fire by night) to the land He had promised them (Exodus 23:23).
  • Bless their food and water (Exodus 23:25).
  • Take sickness away (Exodus 23:25).
  • Keep them from miscarrying (Exodus 23:26).
  • Cause the people in the land to which they were going to be filled with fear and confusion (Exodus 23:27).
  • Drive the inhabitants out before them, though slowly and in manageable amounts (Exodus 23:29,30).

What an exciting future of possibilities God painted for them. And they eagerly signed on:
"So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, 'All the words which the Lord has said we will do'" - Exodus 24:3.

How sad to read then, perhaps a year or so later, the reaction of these same people to the report of the spies Moses had sent out to view Canaan before they began to enter it. The first ones who failed the faith test were ten of the spies themselves. They reported back what they tasted, heard, and saw but without taking into account any part of God's earlier promise. After talking about the land's agricultural wealth the conclusion of ten of the spies was:
"'Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong, the cities fortified and very large …'" - Number 13:28.

When Caleb, one of the two spies who saw things differently, said, "'Let us go up at once and take possession for we are well able to overcome it,'" the others argued him down with negativism, fear and doubt: "'The land … is a land that devours its inhabitants. … and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight'" - Numbers 13: 30-33.

But men, what did God tell you? Just the opposite—that these people are full of fear and confusion over you, not confidence. They are conquerable. Didn't you hear? Didn't you believe?

What a tragic consequence these Israelites were about to suffer. Because of their unbelief, they were doomed to spend forty more years wandering in the wilderness.

Let's remember this tragic example of unbelief next time we're tempted to face a life challenge with fear and negativism. In their places, let's review God's promises and put our faith in Him—not ourselves and what we see.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have a long memory for Your promises and the wisdom to apply them to the challenges 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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Monday, February 24, 2014

Keeping feasts

Booth for the Feast of Tabernacles celebration
Feast of Tabernacles - still celebrated today
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 23:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year."  Exodus 23:14



What did it mean to "keep a feast"? My Bible has a word meaning article about that.

[To keep a feast, chagag: To celebrate, keep a feast, be festive, dance, assemble for rejoicing. This verb occurs 15 times. It is translated as 'Dancing' in 1 Samuel 30:16 and 'kept a pilgrim feast' in Psalm 42:4. An important derivative is chag, 'feast,' especially referring to the seven feasts God gave Israel. … The OT abounds in feasts and celebrations ordained by God and resulting in human happiness" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 106.]

The three feasts mentioned in our reading combined the natural, the historical, and the spiritual in celebration.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread commemorated the Israelites coming out of Egypt and slavery. It was mainly of historical and spiritual significance.

The Feast of Harvest (also called the Feast of Weeks or the Day of Pentecost) was held in the third month (our May to June) 50 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It commemorated the early harvest. (For us, of course, the Day of Pentecost also has significance as the day the Holy Spirit fell on the church - Acts 2:1).

The Feast of Ingathering (also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths) happened in the autumn of the year (our September to October) and commemorated the end of the harvest as well as their years of tent living in the wilderness, reminding them of how God had kept them through that time.

Notice how God's directive continues: "… keep a feast to Me …"

These feasts were to celebrate God—His goodness, faithfulness, generosity, grace—more than to entertain and please the people, though they did that too.

I think about our big celebrations—Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas—and how we tend to focus most of the attention on ourselves: the candy, the food, the presents, and the folk characters  that we've connected with these days (the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus). Yes, somewhere in there we give God a quick wave and prayer of thanks. But our celebrations are not primarily to "Me."

Perhaps we can change this, for ourselves and our families at least, so that our "feasts" focus first on God and then on our festivities with each other. Any practical ideas of how we could do this?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the balance between work and play that You mandate here. Thank You, too, for this model of regular remembering. Help me to give much space in my life to celebrating 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, February 23, 2014

Indiscriminate love

"Give to him who asks you."
Published in 1899 - Artist unknown.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 5:38-48

TO CHEW ON: "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven..." Matthew 5:44,45

How do I handle people stepping on my toes, not literally, but figuratively? That's the question I'm asking myself as I read the list of personal rights infractions with which Jesus challenges His listeners (Matthew 5:38-42). I realize, as I read the way Jesus told His disciples to react, that I'm pretty entrenched in the modern I-have-my-rights way of thinking. I would never naturally turn the other cheek for another slap, give my sweater to a thief who has just taken my jacket, volunteer to work extra hours of forced labour, or willingly lend to the neighbourhood mooch who never returns things.

The behaviour Jesus taught is love that goes way beyond the usual tit-for-tat. It's me and you loving:
- By choice. It takes a firm act of the will to react in such an anti-intuitive way.
- Indiscriminately. Everybody is a candidate for this kind of love, no matter what their behaviour.
- Practically. Besides giving in, it blesses, does good and prays for the loved one.

The point is not to be a pushover but to prove that we are children of God, whose very DNA is love, and who went to the greatest length to prove His love to us (John 3:16).

So how do I change from an I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine type of lover to the indiscriminate lover Jesus describes? A sidebar article in my Bible sheds some light on this:
"A major emphasis of Jesus' teaching is how to build and maintain right relationships with God and others. He views these relationships as neither unimportant nor extraneous, but as vital components of our Christian lives. Knowing God is our highest priority, but this pursuit should not replace or diminish our interpersonal relationships with others. Rather, our personal interaction with God should produce within us the qualities of character that build and sustain all our relationships" - Leslyn Musch, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1439 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, I read these things and realize how little family likeness is in me. Help me to get to know You so well, to be so much Your daughter, that demonstrating Your love to others will become second nature. 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, February 20, 2014

God likes integrity

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Leviticus 19:1-19

TO CHEW ON:
"You shall not … deal falsely, nor lie to one another." Leviticus 19:11

In this chapter where God elaborates through Moses on the things that please and displease Him, He repeatedly refers to things we might lump under the heading "Integrity."

[Integrity: 1) Uprightness of character, probity (which means virtue or integrity tested and confirmed; strict honesty). 2) The condition or quality of being unimpaired, sound. 3) The state of being complete or undivided. - Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary.]

In addition to not dealing falsely or lying to each other generally (Leviticus 19:11), the Israelites are to carry this integrity into the various relationships of their lives. Integrity is needed when they deal with:

Neighbours: No cheating or robbing them (Leviticus 19:13); no going about behind their backs slandering them or taking a stand against their lives ("… secure yourself by false testimony or by silence and endanger the life of your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:16 AMP).

Employees: No holding back a worker's wages then they have the ability to pay (Leviticus 19:13).

Family:
No secret hatred (Leviticus 19:17), no holding grudges (Leviticus 19:18).

Do these principles still apply in our time?  Do we ever speak out of both sides of our mouths as we interact with friends, neighbors, and family members? Do we pay employees fairly and on time? Do we use our own names online in places like Twitter? Or do we use pseudonyms so we can say things that we'd be embarrassed to own in real life?  Do we project our lives honestly on Facebook?

I'm not suggesting we endanger our safety by giving too much information, especially online. But don't we run the risk of being found out and losing our credibility with people if we're being intentionally deceptive? Of course we know that we can't pull the wool over God's eyes even if we tried—and He has some pretty strong words to say about liars (Revelation 21:8).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see areas in my life where I'm tempted to be less than honest. Help me to be a person of integrity in all my relationships. 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 AMP 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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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Law and liberty

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:33-48

TO CHEW ON: "And I will walk at liberty (Lit. "in a wide place")
For I seek Your precepts." Psalm 119:45

Does it not seem strange that in the middle of a psalm that is all about keeping laws, commandments, precepts, and statues, the writer talks about liberty? Don't laws keep us hedged in by boundaries thus taking our liberty away?

A brief pass through the Bible to look at other places it speaks of liberty may shed some light on this seeming contradiction.

- Psalm 107:14 talks about liberty from darkness and the shadow of death. It's a reminder that we're prisoners of our decaying disintegrating bodies.

- Isaiah 61:1 quoted by Jesus as a reference to Himself in Luke 4:18 tells us liberty comes through Jesus:
"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
       Because He has anointed Me
      To preach the gospel to the poor;
      He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
      To proclaim liberty to the captives
      And recovery of sight to the blind,
      To set at liberty those who are oppressed;"

With a little imagination we can relate to our lives the liberties Jesus declared. Who doesn't need liberty from disappointment, destructive habits and addictions, ignorance, and the oppression of others?

- In John 8:32 Jesus reminds us of the power of truth to set us free. And don't we remember the claims of Christ in this regard: "I am the way the truth and the life..." Freedom points back to Jesus.

- 2 Corinthians 3:17 tells us this liberty is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit and His presence in us. But we can lose it if we let our focus drift from trusting in Jesus to anything else for our liberty. As Paul warns the Galatians.

It's all a reminder that our apparent freedom when left to ourselves is not freedom at all but bondage to other things that tend toward our destruction. And we are back to our psalm writer who knew by faith that loving, studying, and adhering to all God's laws, commandments, precepts, and statues really did lead to liberty—a liberty that, hundreds of years after this psalm was written, was bought by Jesus' death and resurrection so that we, through His life in us, can live free now.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to place my will under Your dominion, for I will be captive to something or someone in any case. I want that Someone to be 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, February 17, 2014

Treasure hunt

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:17-32

TO CHEW ON: "Open my eyes that I may see
Wondrous things from Your law." Psalm 119:18

Francine Prose relates this incident in her book Reading Like A Writer:

"When I was a high school junior, our English teacher assigned us to write a term paper on the theme of blindness in Oedipus Rex and King Lear. We were supposed to go through the two tragedies and circle every reference to eyes, light, darkness, and vision, then draw some conclusion on which we would base our final essay.


It all seemed so dull, so mechanical. We felt we were way beyond it. Without this tedious time-consuming exercise, all of us knew that blindness played a starring role in both dramas.


Still, we liked our English teacher, we wanted to please him. And searching for every relevant word turned out to have an enjoyable treasure hunt aspect. ...  It was fun to trace those patterns and to make those connections. It was like cracking a code that the playwright had embedded in the text, a riddle that existed just for me to decipher. I felt as if I were engaged in some intimate communication with the writer, as if the ghosts of Sophocles and Shakespeare had been waiting patiently all those centuries for a bookish sixteen-year-old to come along and find them" - p. 4-5.

Did you catch that: "...I felt as if I were engaged in some intimate communication with the writer..." Isn't that exactly what happens when we read the Bible and begin to see the patterns, crack the code, understand the schemes of God—how all that ceremony and sacrificing in the Old Testaments culminates in Jesus, how themes like blood and water, bread and sheep, yeast and fire are woven through the Bible in a sort of "wink, wink—get it?" message?

The wonderful thing is that unlike the reading of dead playwrights, when we read the Bible we have the Writer beside us, in us, "opening our eyes" as we read. It's interesting to note Bible passages that describe moments of sight.

  • In the case of Elisha's servant, it came after Elisha's prayer for God to open the servant's eyes to the angelic army that surrounded them - 2 Kings 6:17.
  • From his pit of suffering Job declares, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You" Job 42:5.
  • Jesus pronounces the blessing of the sight of God to the pure in heart - Matthew 5:8.
  • His words "A little while longer and the world will see Me no more but you will see Me," show that such sight is the possession of believers: faith is necessary - John 14:19.
  • Jesus further taught His disciples that sight and insight would come to them through the Holy Spirit - John 16:5-15.

Let's continue to look for and expect to find treasure in the Bible as we make the psalmist's prayer our prayer:

PRAYER: Dear God, open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from Your law. 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, February 16, 2014

Instant reconciliation

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 5:21-37

TO CHEW ON: "Agree with your adversary quickly while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the office, and you be thrown into prison." Matthew 5:25

Jesus talks often about relationships and how to have good ones—with God and with people. He names one principle of good relationships in our reading today: quick reconciliation.

In the verses just before our focus verse, he gives us an example of how quick—the instant you remember your rift—even if you're doing something as important as bringing an offering to God. In fact, the reconciliation appears to be tied in with how seriously God will take your sacrifice (Matthew 5:23-24).

Paul, in 1Corinthians, alludes to similar soul-searching before we take communion. Failing to do so is serious and could result in bringing down judgment on oneself (1 Corinthians 11:18-20,28-30).

Similarly James links reconciled relationships with physical health: "Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:15-16).

In Matthew Jesus talks about another reason to reconcile speedily. If we don't our adversary may haul us before the courts where the outcome may be far worse for us than if we had pursued a peaceful resolution on our own.

Today is Sunday, the day many of us meet with fellow Christians in church. Do we do so nursing grievances and holding onto grudges? If so, let's determine that today will be the day we address them. Only good can come out of such an initiative, not only in our relationship with the other person, but with God.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to examine my interactions and connections with others in the light of reconciliation. Help me to do all in my power to forgive and forget. Amen.

MORE: Rwandan reconciliation

In the realm of injustices, the fallout from genocides such as happened in Rwanda in 1994 are some of the hardest to deal with. The video Rwandan Reconciliation (about 9 minutes long) tells the story of a Rwandan Archbishop who is teaching and modelling forgiveness, not only for the good of individuals, but for the welfare of the whole country.

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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, February 15, 2014

You shall not covet

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 20:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant or his ox or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour's." Exodus 20:17 ESV

A modern version of this verse might read: You shall not covet your neighbor's magazine cover house, her granite counter tops, or her chef-quality stainless steel kitchen. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, his home theater system, his SUV, or anything else that is your neighbor's.

Think what serious trouble the advertising industry would be in if everyone suddenly started obeying this. For isn't stimulating the desire to possess what we don't have behind most advertising whether in print, online, or TV? 

On the surface the sin of coveting may seem insignificant when compared to the other sins on this list We are tempted to ask, is covetousness—a sin so endemic to our culture we hardly notice it in ourselves or others—really as serious as murder, or stealing, or adultery? It's not even an action, just an attitude.

Yes, it is only an attitude, but what an attitude!
  • It whispers to us that what we have is not enough or good enough and plants a seed of dissatisfaction with God and His provision in our lives.
  • It can be a gateway sin—the first step down the road to committing a more "serious" sin, such as stealing or adultery.
  • Covetousness was the active ingredient in Satan's temptation of Eve (Genesis 3:1-6) and continues to appear first on the ingredient list of temptation through the centuries (James 1:13-15).
What is the best way to overcome covetousness? Perhaps it's not a head-on offensive at all but the oblique defense of distraction and replacement. Today let's  distract our covetous tendencies with an attitude of thankfulness, and replace the list of things we want with the things we have. Instead of covetousness, let's nurture contentment,

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for highlighting the dangerous attitude of covetousness. Help me to detect it and then defeat it with gratitude and contentment. Amen.


MORE: Practicing contentment
Paul’s relationship with God superseded whatever he did or did not have. His contentment was not based on his circumstances, but on his relationship with Christ.

Paul reminds us that contentment doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that we learn. As our relationship with God develops over time and through experiences, we learn to trust God more and ourselves less" - Albert Lee, "Contentment," Our Daily Bread Devotional for August 24, 2010.
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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, February 13, 2014

Signs of spiritual malnutrition

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" 1 Corinthians 3:3

A few days ago we talked about the way Paul divides people into three categories: natural (1 Corinthians 2:14), spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:15-16) and carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). Today we're going to take a closer look at what it means to be carnal.  A footnote in my Bible defines it:


"The carnal man, regenerate but living much like an unregenerate is a believer with childish ways, as seen in a jealous and sectarian spirit. An immature Christian lives more for human opinion than for Christ" - Donald Pickerill,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1582 (emphasis added).
Paul points out attitudes of envy, quarreling and division in his readers as signs of their carnal bent. Other scriptures that talk about the carnal / earthly / natural / governed-by-human-nature outlook describe it as:
  • Living without regard to its mortality (Psalm 49:11).
  • Anti-God, refusing to be governed by His laws and principles (Romans 8:7).
  • Living dependent on human intelligence and insight alone (Ephesians 4:17). 
  •  Alienated from God because if its own wicked deeds and actions (Colossians 1:21).
  • Proud of its humanly imagined belief systems (Colossians 2:18).
  • In a tug-of-war with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:17).
  • Controlled by lust (Ephesians 2:3).
  • Controlled by physical appetites (Philippians 3:19).
  • Opportunistic, looking at godliness as a means of making money (1 Timothy 6:5).

Some of the above are references to out-and-out non-believers. But the disturbing thing is that in some cases the people Paul is talking to are supposedly Christ-followers—part of the church family. How did they get to such a state?

Malnutrition (1 Corinthians 3:2). They are stunted babies, not growing because they won't eat anything but the mildest of spiritual milk. They can't handle hearty spiritual food.

And let's not let ourselves get smug in thinking that we are immune from carnality in all its manifestations. A sidebar article in my Bible sums it up so well:

"The demanding truth of this passage is that no amount of supposed spiritual insight or experience reflects genuine spiritual growth if it is separated from our basic growth in the knowledge of God's Word in the Bible. Without this rootedness in the Word, we may be deluded about our growth. Such "rootedness" is in truth and love, not merely in learning knowledge or accomplished study. In order to experience true spiritual growth, we must spend time in the Word and separate ourselves from the hindrances of lovelessness and competitiveness and strife" - Jack W. Hayford, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1583.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to read and apply Your truths to my life. Help me to deal with sin where You by Your Word and Spirit convict me. I want my "spiritual man" to win over my "carnal man" tendencies. Amen.


MORE: A difference of degree
"The difference between the spiritual Christian and the carnal Christian is one of degree. Becoming spiritual (= mature) is a gradual process in which the enthroned Christ subdues more and more of our remaining corruption, and we become more and more in tune with his Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit pervades more and more of our lives, and the old sins lose more and more of their hold. This comes to pass as we trust Christ more and more fully as the all-satisfying friend and guide of our daily lives" - from  "Rethinking the Carnal Christian"  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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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Word lover

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "I will meditate on Your precepts,
And contemplate (look into) Your ways." Psalm 119:15

The writer of Psalm 119 — the longest chapter in the Bible — contemplated in more ways than one. A footnote in my Bible about the literary aspects of this psalm explains:

"This skilfully written psalm is an alphabet (acrostic) masterpiece divided into 22 stanzas with eight couplets (set of two lines) in each stanza. All the couplets in the first stanza begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 'aleph,' the couplets in the second stanza begin with the second letter 'beth' and so on to the end of the poem" - Dick Iverson,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 779.

Of course all that literary finesse is lost in translation. Something that isn't lost, though, is the love for God's words (variously called "the law,""commandments," "testimonies," "statutes," "precepts," "judgments," "word," "ordinances," and "way").

Notice the actions the psalmist applies to this precious commodity:

walk in - Psalm 119:1
keep - Psalm 119:4, 5, 8
look into - Psalm 119:6
learn - Psalm 119:7.
heed - Psalm 119:9.
hide (in one's heart) - Psalm 119:11.
declare - Psalm 119:13
rejoice in - Psalm 119:14.
meditate on - Psalm 119:15.
contemplate - Psalm 119:15.
delight in - Psalm 119:16
not forget - Psalm 119:16.

We mustn't lose sight of the fact that this was the law of Moses the psalmist was talking about — not the easy-to-understand psalms (because they were in the process of being written), nor the stories of Samuel, Kings, or Chronicles, nor the passionate poetry of the prophets, nor the stories of Jesus, nor the epistles or Revelation. These were the ten commandments and the rules and regulations about offerings and feasts and food prohibitions and hygiene and how to deal with leprosy and a moldy house.

How could the psalmist love these words so much? I'd suggest it's for the same reason you and I love the words of our Bibles—because they reveal the mind, the personality, and the character of the God that is behind the words. They show us His justice, righteousness, creativity, and care for humanity in the prohibitions about the things that will harm us.

Finally, they were to the psalmist, as they are to us, God's means of re-establishing our broken relationship with Him. In the Old Testament it was through ceremonies and sacrifices foreshadowing the death and resurrection of Jesus as it unfolds in the New.

If the psalmist could be so enthusiastic about the parts of the Bible we can scarcely force ourselves to read, how much easier should it be for us to walk in, keep, look into, learn, heed, hide, declare, rejoice in, meditate on, contemplate, and not forget God's communication to us as we have it in the Bible today.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your precious word. Help me to love it as passionately, study it as closely, and follow it as carefully as the psalm writer loved, studied and obeyed the bit of Your word that he had. 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, February 10, 2014

Calamities and spiritual warfare

Job and his three friends
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 6:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "'Oh that I might have my request,
That God would grant me the thing that I long for!
That it would please God to crush me,
that He would loose His hand and cut me off!'" Job 6:8,9


Does Job sound depressed or what?

You will recall the beginning of the story, how in one day Job's life falls apart when calamity strikes from all directions. And then he gets sick (Job 1-2:10). His friends come to comfort him. Here he responds to the speech of his friend Eliphaz.

Job sounds like he feels betrayed, double-crossed, and attacked by the God he has been trying to please: "'For the arrows of the Almighty are within me; My spirit drinks their poison; The terrors of God are arrayed against me'" - Job 6:4.

He feels physically unable to bear the agony: "'Is my strength the strength of stones? Or is my flesh bronze?'" - Job 6:12.

He begs to die: "'Oh that I would have my request … That it would please God to crush me, That He would loose HIs hand and cut me off.'" - Job 6:8,9.

Is there a reply to what Job has said that isn't shallow and trite? Job's friends certainly don't have it for they keep insisting Job is responsible for the horrible scenario. We, however, have information that Job and his friends didn't have about what was happening behind the scenes. Charles E. Blair, my Bible's commenter on Job says:

"Job's criticisms of God that appear in chapters 6 and 7 as well as in his other responses to his friends can best be understood as a man's feeble attempts to make sense of a scenario for which he is missing an essential piece of information, namely that there is something happening between God and Satan—that there are spiritual purposes overriding earthly circumstances. Because he is unaware of this dimension of the spiritual realm, his understanding is severely impaired" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 652.

Could unseen spiritual battles also be a part of the troubles, illnesses, calamities, and disasters that come to us? I believe they could. When we feel puzzled, let down, even betrayed by God, let's remember this aspect of Job's story. Let's pray over and into the activities in the spiritual realm, of which we're unaware, and let's keep despair and bitterness toward God from creeping into our hearts.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see troubles that come to me and those around me with insight into spiritual warfare. 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, February 09, 2014

A salty life

Salt being added to a pot of food
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 5:13-20

TO CHEW ON: "'You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.'" Matthew 5:13


Jesus' metaphors of how kingdom citizens penetrate secular society by being salt and light ignite the imagination. Let's take a close look at SALT.
  • We know how as a seasoning it enhances flavours.
  • We are familiar with its antiseptic properties that make it a preservative and a germ killer. No doubt many of us have  gargled salt water when we're fighting a cold.
An article titled "Over 60 Ways to Use Salt" includes these additional diverse uses of salt, many of which I was not aware.
Salt:
  • relieves insect bites.
  • removes mineral deposits from glass.
  • helps lift stuck food from baking dishes.
  • speeds up the cooking time of boiling water.
  • stops cut fruit from browning. And on… *

Salt is a pretty useful compound!

About salt, we also know that:
  • A little goes a long way. One of the easiest ways to spoil the edibility of food is to over salt it.
  • It's invisible. The way salt dissolves in liquids means that its presence is difficult to detect except by taste. So it can easily penetrate all kinds of places without us even knowing it.
  • Once salt is in something, it's virtually impossible to remove it.

How might these properties of salt correlate to the influence of our lives in the world around us?

* By our lives and speech we can be an antiseptic against evil and a preservative of God's ways—the righteous principles of holy living found in the Bible.

* The cleansing properties of salt may be represented by our attitudes of grace, compassion, and forgiveness.

* We need to trust the integrity of the small pinch of salt each one of us is in our surroundings. We may feel that our influence is hardly noticeable, but like a few grains of salt perk up a batch of bread or a pot of porridge, so our small but salty influence makes a difference.

* We can penetrate, practically invisibly, into many places. As part of our communities, we can be that salty presence wherever we are, from our homes to places of political office, in person to impersonally as we spread our words  through the media and online. And let them try and flush us away. It won't work. Like taking the salt out of a pot of soup, it will be virtually impossible!

PRAYER:
Dear God, help me to be that penetrating influence for good in my community that salt is in our natural world. Amen.

*Read entire article "Over 60 Ways to Use Salt"

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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, February 06, 2014

Three types of people

Pulsating spiritual symbols
The Bible—a living book.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 2:10-16

TO CHEW ON: "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one." 1 Corinthians 2:14,15

If you came to Christ as an adult, or even a teen, you may have experienced what verse 14 talks about. As a "natural man" or woman, the Bible made no sense to you. You couldn't understand its appeal.

But then, however it came about, you accepted Christ. After that perhaps almost mysteriously, the Bible came alive. You began to see that it is a story in which you have a part—and you were eager to understand that story and more fully grasp your part in it.

Those are two types of people Paul names here: natural and spiritual. Here's how Donald Pickerill, the writer of my Bible's notes on 1 Corinthians describes them:

NATURAL: "… unregenerate and devoid of the Spirit has no appreciation for the gospel" Donald Pickerill, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1582.

SPIRITUAL: "… regenerate and possessing spiritual maturity, as seen in freedom from sectarian strive (1 Corinthians 3:3,4), has a nature that responds to the truth and unbelievers find him difficult to understand" - Ibid.

There's a third type. Paul talks about it in the next chapter—the carnal. These people have accepted Christ but you'd hardly know it by their lives. Paul calls them "babes in Christ," the kind that need milk, not solids. You can tell who they are by their behaviour—characterized by envy, strife, divisions "behaving like mere men." Mr. Pickerill's description:

CARNAL: "The carnal man, regenerate but living much like an unregenerate, is a believer with childish ways, as seen in a jealous and sectarian spirit. An immature Christian lives more for human opinion than for Christ" - Ibid.

The question each of us needs to ask is—which person describes me? And if we are Christ's but find ourselves more like the carnal than the spiritual, at what point did we stop growing? 

Let's ask the Holy Spirit to do the things Paul says He does: search, impart and teach (1 Corinthians 2:10,12,13) so we can again grow and mature.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be tuned in to the deep things of the Spirit, teachable, obedient and growing. 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, February 05, 2014

Preaching—in power and demonstration

Paul Raises Dorcas - by Eustache Le Sueur
Paul Raises Dorcas - by Eustache Le Sueur

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

TO CHEW ON: "And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." 1 Corinthians 2:4,5

One person who comes to mind when I read these verses is Billy Graham. As a youth I remember watching his crusades—even attended one in person—and thinking,  Surely tonight will be different and no one will respond. His words were so simple, his message so basic, his appeal straightforward and unemotional. Yet every night when the choir began singing "Just As I Am" people would leave their seats, stream forward, clog the aisles, fill up the front-of-stage area with a milling crowd.

That is one "demonstration" but I believe Paul was speaking of even more. Remember Jesus' instructions to the first believers to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Why were they to wait? To receive "power" - Acts 1:8.

What did that power look like. The book of Acts shows us:
- There was powerful preaching that led to conviction and mass conversions (Acts 2:37,41).
- The disciples became uncharacteristically bold  (Acts 4:31).
- There were instantaneous healings (Acts 3:1-10; 9;33,34 and many more).
- There was an 'impossible' conversion (Acts 9:1-9).
- There were death resusitations (Acts 9:41).
- There were miraculous escapes (Acts 5:19; 12:6-9; 16:25,26).
- There was exquisite sensitivity to sin (Acts 19:18-20).
- and more… The book of Acts is full of "power."

Can we still ask God for such power signs to accompany modern-day preaching? Many would say "No," that this kind of power was to affirm the apostles who penned the scriptures. Now that we have those, they are all we need.

Though I would agree that the scriptures are complete and all we need of God's revelation, I disagree that God has stopped confirming His word with power signs and miracles. Let me tell you a story.

Mike and Laura began a church plant in Victoria B.C. a few years back. They teach that God has power to do modern-day miracles. Some time ago a member of their congregation was on a flight to Edmonton. In conversation with her seat mate, she discovered that the woman had a blistering migraine. Her thought: Someone should pray for her; I wish Will were here. He would pray and something would happen.

On arriving in Edmonton, passengers were delayed from exiting the plane by a frozen door. As they waited for the door to open, the young woman couldn't shake the impression that she should at least ask her seat mate if she would like prayer for her headache.

"Sure," the woman replied.

A simple prayer ended with the woman looking shocked and puzzled, pressing her head, and then exclaiming "My headache's gone! My back is sore too. Would you pray for it as well?"

When the young woman prayed and it too was instantly better, the woman who had been healed got loud in amazement and thanks—loud enough for a woman in the seat behind them to ask for prayer. The young woman from the Victoria church then suggested the woman she'd first prayed for do the praying… and the second woman too experienced instantaneous relief from her symptoms.

"Before the door opened, eight people had experienced a divine touch—a healing service on a West Jet plane," Mike told us. (Listen to his sermon: "Don't Forget to Remember".)

You can believe that after experiencing God's power firsthand, these folks will be softened and all ears to hear the powerful message of the gospel.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be open to the working of Your Spirit with Your persuasive word in tandem with Your power over the natural world. 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, February 02, 2014

Anna - anything but pathetic

"Presentation of Jesus in the Temple" by Rembrandt (1627-8)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 2:22-40


TO CHEW ON: "And coming in that instant she (Anna) gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." Luke 2:38

By all kinds of criteria, Anna should have been a pathetic woman:

  • She was a descendant of the insignificant tribe of Asher from Galilee. The common saying was, "No prophet can come from Galilee."
  • She was childless.
  • She was a widow, alone after only seven years of marriage.

"Even today a widow in the Middle East is practically thrown into the grave when her husband dies," says Gien Karssen in Her Name is Woman: Book 1. "The only thing a childless woman in Anna's time could do after the death of her husband was return to the house of her parents to wait for a second husband, or death" - p. 150.

But instead of letting her unenviable position define her, Anna embarked on a new course.
"She didn't flee to isolation and self-pity after the great blow in her life. She didn't become a burden to her relatives. She didn't become a lonely women to whom life has nothing to offer, nor did she become a person whom everyone pitied, but no one knew how to help. And she didn't flee into the past....Anna fled to God. She dedicated her life to serving Him in His Temple. She prayed and fasted. She was willing to give more attention to God than to herself and to give His work the highest priority" Gien Karssen p. 150-151.

Notice how, on this day, God ordered her steps, "And coming in that instant..." The fruit of her dedication and focus was sharp spiritual hearing, keen sensitivity. God had prepared, primed and polished her for this climactic moment of unveiling when she got to see Who every devout Jew longed for — Messiah! Because she was so intimate with God, she recognized. She knew!

She used the moment well, praising God ("broke into an anthem of praise to God" - MSG) and broadcasting the news of this divine Baby to all who were seekers like herself (Luke 22:38).

Maybe like Anna, you have every reason to feel disappointed and cheated by how your life has turned out. If circumstances have taken you off the rails of what you expected, take encouragement from Anna. Be like her and choose to take the focus off yourself and put it on Him. You can let Him shunt you onto a new track of worship, prayer, service and usefulness. And in this way you'll be poised to recognize and grasp all the "instants" that God still has in store for you!


PRAYER: Dear God, Anna's life reminds me of the exchange You promise: beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Please help me to cooperate with You in making these substitutions in my life today, and always. Amen.

MORE: Feast of The Presentation

Today is the day the church celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple — the Feast of The Presentation.

The liturgy for today begins with this collect:

"Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and 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.

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



Saturday, February 01, 2014

Are you afraid of death?

memorial wreath
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 2:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Hebrews 2:14,15

If there is one fear that hounds us throughout our lives, it is the fear of death. Death is a state that raises so many questions: When will I die? Will I suffer? What then? Will I be aware? Does my after-life existence (if I have one) have anything to do with how I've lived my life? And on and on.

The inevitability of death and its meaning have been woven into the belief systems of all the various religions. The book of Hebrews author's claims that Jesus has destroyed the power of death is one of the most comforting and audacious.

Our passage implies or states outright several things about death:
1. It would appear that angels don't die: "But we see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death" (Hebrews 2:9) emphasis added.

2. Death is depicted in dark terms as part of the domain of Satan. It is called "suffering of death" and the devil has the "power of death" (Hebrews 2:9,14).

3. Jesus died. Literally (Hebrews 2:9,14). But He did not stay dead "But we see Jesus … crowned with glory and honour" (Hebrews 2:9).

Christ the Messiah's power and victory over death's chains is a theme that flows through scripture.
  • Psalms speak of freedom from the bondage of this fear - Psalm 107:14.
  • So does Isaiah - Isaiah 42:7; 61:1.
  • Jesus applied the latter prophecy from Isaiah to Himself (Luke 4:18),  and during His time on earth He demonstrated His power over death repeatedly by resuscitating  dead people - Matthew 9:25; Luke 7:14,15; John 11:43,44.
  • Paul interprets Christ's death and resurrection similarly to the Hebrews writer in Romans 8:2: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death."

So how does all this impact you and me? We need to put our faith in what Christ has done, that it actually happened, that it is for us as individuals, and that when we come to the border between life and death, we will find it is so.

I like how Leslyn Musch sums it up in her Truth-In-Action Through Hebrews commentary on these verses:
"Understand that Jesus has destroyed the power of death and released you from the satanic bondage of the fear of death. In faith, take hold of freedom" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1748.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for becoming human, subjecting Your self to death, and defeating it through rising again. Through faith in You, help me to live free from the fear of death. Amen.

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




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