Saturday, May 31, 2014

God of the impossible

Mary and Elizabeth
by Harold Copping - 1927

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:39-56

TO CHEW ON: "He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away." Luke 1:51-53 ESV

Wow - could Bible women pray! The prayer of Hanna, another young mother (1 Samuel 2:1-10), and Mary's prayer in our reading today show that these godly women had keen insights about God and His ways.

A thought that occurs in both of these prayers is that the unlikely person will triumph because God comes to his or her aid.

Hannah prays that God will weigh and evaluate the unworthy actions that are masked by proud and arrogant speech. She boasts about Him giving strength to the feeble as He breaks the weaponry of the mighty. He feeds the hungry while those who were always full before end up hiring themselves out for bread. He gives he barren woman a complete family (seven children!) even as the mother of many is forlorn. She speaks of Him making the poor rich, exalting the lowly, raising the poor and needy to sit with princes - 1 Samuel 2:3-8.

Mary thanks God for raising her, a humble woman, to a position where all people will call her blessed. She boasts about God frustrating those with proud thoughts, bringing down the mighty from their thrones, sending the rich away empty while filling the hungry with good things - Luke 1:51-53.

These aren't selfish, vindictive prayers of needy women who want the tables turned for self-serving reasons. Rather, they are prayers of women for whom God has shown Himself strong in amazing ways (Hannah has borne a son after years of barrenness, Mary has recently become pregnant with Jesus—God in the flesh).

They are also pronouncements of faith saying, in effect, if God has done this for me, He can do this in any and every situation.

They are above all, prayers that proclaim trust in God over riches, position, power or natural ability, to change impossible situations.

What is my impossible situation today? What is yours? From personal needs involving ourselves, our families and friends, to big requests for our nation and the world, let's let the faith of Hannah and Mary inspire us to bring our impossible circumstances to God, who has the power and resources to turn them on their heads.

PRAYER: Dear God, than You for the faith and inspiration of Hannah and Mary, simple women who trusted You to do the impossible. Help me to trust You for my impossible thing (___) today. Amen

MORE: Feast of Visitation

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin.

The liturgy for this day begins with this collect:

"Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

All Authority

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 28:16-20

TO CHEW ON: "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...'" Matthew 28:18-19a

When Jesus declared "'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth'" He was tapping into and adding onto a rich vein of truth that runs through the Bible.

  • Daniel had had a vision of this authority years earlier - Daniel 7:13-14.
  • Mary, Jesus' mother, heard about it from the angel - Luke 1:32.
  • Jesus talked about it here and in other places - Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 3:35.
  • The Apostle Peter preached it - Acts 2:36.
  • Paul wrote about it - Romans 14:9; 1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:10,21.
  • Peter did too - 1 Peter 3:22.

It is an authority given to Jesus by God the Father. It is called a "Kingdom" that is described as eternal and indestructible. It is made up of all sorts of people, nations and languages, from those alive now and those already dead. Jesus, the King of it, administers it from heaven. And since this authority is an eternal fact, if we follow the logic of this passage ("Go therefore and make disciples...") we have the privilege of enlarging and affirming it in our time and space—of being part of the gathering in of the people in our generation whom Jesus has already bought and paid for with His blood and so are rightfully His.

Here are the stirring words of my Bible's commentary notes on verses 19 and 20:
"While Jesus' ministry had been to Israel (Matthew 10:5-6), proclamation of and adherence to His lordship is extended to all the nations through the Spirit-empowered ministry of His church. Disciples are to acknowledge openly their allegiance to Christ by the seal of water baptism, which is ministered under the authority of the entire Godhead" - J. Lyle Story - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1345.

What an honor - to be tapped on the shoulder to serve the King of Kings. Let's not lose sight of the eternal significance of our lives and how God can and wants to use us to further His glorious plan.

PRAYER: Great God in heaven, it is so good for me to be reminded of the majesty, eternity and indestructibility of Your Kingdom. Help me to be a worthy and useful foot soldier in it. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

No cares

TODAY’S SPECIAL: I Peter 4:12-5:11

TO CHEW ON: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

It’s Wednesday. We're right in the middle of the cares of life – that sticky situation at work, that issue with our child’s teacher, looming commitments, deadlines, and due dates.

[care: merimna (mer-im-nah) – from meiro: “to divide,” and noos: “the mind.” It denotes distractions, anxieties, burdens and worries. Merimna means to be anxious beforehand about daily life. (“Word Wealth” The Spirit-Filled Life Bible – p. 1769)]

In today’s verse we’re told to cast those things on Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 puts it another way. I love it in the Amplified:

6 Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God.
7And God's peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7 AMP
So, what to do if your mind is buzzing with anxieties and cares?
  • “Cast” those concerns on God. Imagine you are carrying them in a backpack. Take off that backpack and give it to Jesus in prayer, thanking Him for the answer/solution He will send.
  • Now let peace flood your whole being as you grasp tightly onto His promise: “He cares for you.”

PRAYER: Dear God, I give You my cares of ____ (name them) today. I choose to leave them with you in exchange for the peace of living in Your care. Thank You for your second-by-second care for me. Amen.

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

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sing, you kingdoms!

"Glory of the Lamb - Revelation 5:13" by David van der Plaats
"Glory of the Lamb - Revelation 5:13" by David van der Plaats (The Bible and Its Story Vol 10)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 68:19-35

 TO CHEW ON: "Sing to God you kingdoms of the earth;
O sing praise to the Lord.  - Psalm 68:32

In the second half of this psalm (Psalm 68:19-35) David shifts his sites from victory and praise to the battle.

There is blood (Psalm 68:21-23).

There is a procession (Psalm 68:24-27).

And there is the obeisance of earth's rulers (Psalm 68:28-31):

"Sing to God you kingdoms of the earth;
O sing praises to the Lord."

David's words suggest a voluntary—not a forced—praise. They bring to mind the wonderful scene from Revelation:
"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” - Revelation 7:9-10.

I see the last half of this psalm as a picture of life.
  • Life on earth is our battlefield.
  • We anticipate the final victory that we know is coming:
 "So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
'Death is swallowed up in victory.'
 'O Death, where is your sting?
 O Hades, where is your victory?'
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" - 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.

Then will come the time when all on earth will acknowledge God for who He is:
“As I live, says the Lord. 
Every knee shall bow to Me, 
And every tongue shall confess to God”- Romans 14:11 (quoting Isaiah 45:23).

PRAYER: Dear God, in a world that doesn't even acknowledge Your existence, the sight of the kingdoms of earth singing Your praises seems almost unimaginable. Help me to cling to this hope with unwavering faith. Amen.

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

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Company of proclaimers

magnifying glass focuses on 'communication'
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 68:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "The Lord gave the word;
Great was the company of those who proclaimed it." Psalm 68:11

Some verses in the Bible remind me of icebergs—relatively small and seemingly simple. But below the surface they are huge. Psalm 68:11 is one such verse.

It seems a little out of place, sandwiched between words of praise to God and a poetic description of battle. It feels almost like David's thoughts in parenthesis—an aside: 

"The Lord gave the word; Great was the company of those who proclaimed it."

What word?

We may think of creation. The Genesis account is that—God creating with words: "Then God said 'Let there be light …' Then God said, 'Let there be a firmament…' Then God said, 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered…'" Genesis 1 3,6,9.

Paul writes to the Romans about how this creation communicates or spreads the word about God: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and God head" - Romans 1:20.

But there's more. For word also brings to mind the beautiful passage in John 1 that links creation with Jesus God's Son: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. … All things were made through Him. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" - John 1:1,3,14.

So aspects of word are God's creation and Jesus (including all that He did and is)—two ways we come to know God. They are proclaimed by a company.

Who is that company?

  • It is the hosts of heaven—the stars, planets, black holes, galaxies, nebulae - Psalm 33:6.
  • It is the hosts of earth - Genesis 2:1.
  • It was Israel's leaders like Moses - Numbers 11:24.
  • It was individuals like the prophets and apostles - Ezekiel 2:7; Acts 18:9.
  • It was a couple of disciples set free from prison by angels - Acts 5:20.
  • It was bands of persecuted Christians - Acts 8:4; 1 Peter 4:9.10.
  • It was ministers in training - Titus 2:15
  • Someday it will be the armies of heaven - Revelation 19:11-14.
  • And today it is us, communicating the gospel using the written word (Bible) and our words - Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14; Acts 1:8.

I ask myself, am I being faithful as part of that company of proclaimers? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the word—Your creative power, Jesus the Word come in the flesh, the words of good news that His life accomplished as recorded in the Bible. Help me to be faithful as part of the company who proclaims this word. Amen. 

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

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Prepare for Sunday worship

Family posing in front of a church
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 66:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows. … Oh bless our God you peoples! And make the voice of His praise be heard." Psalm 66:13,8

Today is Sunday. Are you ready for church? Are you looking forward to meeting with fellow believers? Or is Sunday morning at your house typically a hassle—a blur of leaping out of bed too late, a quick shower, scramble for breakfast, what to wear?? get in the car, coffee in hand, to make the hurried drive? If you have young children, it's probably even more complicated!

I know the details of your Sunday morning are none of my business. But if you feel yours could use some help—like I do mine— this psalm has embedded in it some things we can all do to get ourselves ready (Psalm 66:13-20) for a rich and satisfying time of corporate worship (Psalm 66:1-12).

To get ready for "church" the psalmist:

1. Prepares his offering and makes sure he's keeping his promises to God (Psalm 66:13,14). We don't come with animal sacrifices and having made vows we must keep, but we do usually put something in the offering plate. We could, say, write our tithe check Saturday night.

2. Cultivates thoughts of gratitude
(Psalm 66:16,17). The psalmist is so full of what God has done for him, he can't wait to tell others. We could spend some time Saturday, or earlier in the week, reviewing God's goodnesses to us. We could even keep a running list of things for which we give thanks.

3. Examines his heart and confesses known sin (Psalm 66:18). This verse: "If I regard iniquity in my heart / The Lord will not hear" reminds us of Jesus' advice to make things right with our brother before we come to God's house with our offering (Matthew 5:23,24) and Paul's warning about preparing ourselves before we take communion (1 Corinthians 11:27-34).  How wonderful to deal with these sinful impediments before we come to God's house so our worship can be unhindered by guilt and regret.

4. Prays (Psalm 66:19). Perhaps the psalmist unloads all his worries and concerns on God. Perhaps he asks God to reveal Himself during the time of worship. We too can unload before we go to church, bringing our worries to God in spoken prayer. And we can ask Him to meet us in deep meaningful ways as we assemble with others.

The early verses of this psalm show how enthusiastic, joyful, and energetic corporate worship can be: "Make a joyful shout to God all the earth! Sing out the honour of His name; make His praise glorious. … Come and see the works of God . … O bless our God you peoples! And make the voice of His praise be heard…" - Psalm 66:1,2,5, 8.

Perhaps a little ground work before we drive ourselves to church on Sunday morning (or Saturday night, or whenever we meet with others)  could ready us to worship with the same joyful abandon.

PRAYER: Dear God, I confess I often come to church on Sunday unprepared. Please help me to make a habit of readying my heart and life for corporate worship. Amen.

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

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Our Helper

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 15:18-16:4

TO CHEW ON: "'But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.'" John 15:26.

Here Jesus predicts that practically everyone will hate His followers. The world will hate them just as it hated Him (John 15:18-25). Fellow Hebrews will hate them, throwing them out of the synagogue and killing them, believing that by doing this they are serving God (John 16:2-4).

Sandwiched between these grim predictions is a comforting one: "'But the Helper comes whom I will send to you…'"

Helper - parakletos comes from para - beside and kaleo - to call—meaning called to one's side. "The word signifies an intercessor, comforter, helper, advocate, counselor. In non-biblical literature parakletos had the technical meaning of an attorney who appears in court in another's behalf" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth article - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1472.

Bible writers mention the Holy Spirit's help in many places. Below are several. In each one the Spirit's way of helping is a little different:
  • In John 14:16 we have the Helper that abides (lives) with us forever.
  • In John 14:26 the Helper is a teacher and the One who helps us recall what we have learned.
  • In John 15:26—our focus verse—the Helper testifies of Jesus. In this promise, placed between two predictions of persecution, is also the implication that the Holy Spirit will help Jesus' followers with strength to endure the world's hostilities.
  • In John 16:7,8 the Helper convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.
  • In John 16:13 He is called the Spirit of truth who guides us into truth and a knowledge of the future as He speaks what He hears from the Ones who know—the Son and the Father (John 16:15,15).
  • Finally, in Acts 9:31, author Luke connects the early Christians' Spirit-comforted lifestyle with church growth.

What a comfort for us to know that this Comforter/Helper is still available to us. Let's step out in faith as Jesus' modern disciples, knowing that He is beside us and in us, like a wise, knowledgeable lawyer, ready to help when we need Him.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for sending Comforter, Helper Holy Spirit. Help me to know His presence in a practical way through the different situations of my life. Amen.

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

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Friday, May 23, 2014

What is spiritual fruit?

cluster of grapes growing on a fence
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 15:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "'By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.'" John 15:8

In today's reading Jesus, using the metaphor of vine and branches, teaches the importance of His followers bearing fruit. What fruit is He talking about? The many people one has won to Christ? Good works one has done, as in the number of people fed, poor helped, orphans parented, prisoners visited?

I believe it could include these things. But a brief Bible overview of spiritual fruit and fruitfulness shows that its presence in one's life encompasses more than that,

Spiritual fruit:

  • Needs good receptive soil - Matthew 13:8. We could say that the person who wants to be spiritually fruitful must be spiritually receptive.
  • Is the product of heavenly wisdom. James describes it as "… pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" - James 3:17.
  • Comes in many varieties. The "fruit of the Spirit" is listed in Galatians 5:22-23: "… love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control…" Paul calls them the "fruits of righteousness" - Ephesians 5:9.
  • Is meant to glorify God - Philippians 1:11 and our focus verse (John 15:8) explicitly state that. 
  • Is perennial (Ezekiel 47:12) and those who bear it have no age limit: "…They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing" - Psalm 92;13,14.

Our John 15 reading shows four more things about spiritual fruitfulness:

  • When we are "in" Jesus the vine, we're expected to bear fruit. If we don't we'll be removed  - John 15:2,6.
  • We may experience pruning (ouch!) but that is so we will bear more fruit - John 15:2.
  • We don't produce this fruit on our own initiative or through our own resources. In fact we can't. It develops in us as Jesus lives His life and and through us - John 15:4,5.
  • This abiding-in-Jesus-the-vine life guarantees us answered prayers. Jesus says: "'… ask what you desire and it shall be done for you'" - John 15:7. Of course under such intimate conditions we'll be asking for things that are in line with His will.

I ask myself, what sort of branch am I? Does my life fall in line with the conditions of fruitfulness? Am I attached to the Vine?  Have I recognized God's pruning in the difficulties and setbacks of life? Do I welcome it for what it is?  Am I producing fruit? What about you?

Dear Jesus, please teach me more of what it means to abide n You and allow You to bear fruit through me. Amen.

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

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

A home for God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 14:15-31

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him.'" John 14:23

What a delightful possibility—to make a home with God, to have God make His home with us. This is what we have when we have the Holy Spirit. Our passage today gives us some ideas of what God at home with us is like.

1. We live with a Helper - John 14:16, 26
[Helper - parakletos 3875. Para = beside. Kaleo = to call. Called to one's side, intercessor, comforter, helper, advocate, counsellor. In nonbiblical literature parakletos had the technical meaning of an attorney who appears in court in another's behalf. The Holy Spirit leads believers to a greater apprehension of gospel truth. In addition to general help and guidance, He gives the strength to endure the hostility of the world system. - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1472.]
What are some of the ways He helps us? He will teach all things and bring Jesus' sayings to mind. For the disciples one way this promise was fulfilled was by the Holy Spirit bringing to mind the sayings of Jesus so Matthew, Mark, Luke and John could write them down in the Gospels. For us, it is words, ideas, songs, and memorized Scriptures that come to mind to encourage us in everyday life.

2. We live with truth - John 14:17
When the Holy Spirit lives with us we have within us a spiritual and moral compass based on what is real, true and unchanging. No longer is there any question about whether it's okay to lie, cheat, spread gossip, or nurture jealousy and unforgiveness.

3. We live with family - John 14:19-20
Jesus said, "I will not leave you orphans," implying that when He imparts the Holy Spirit, He comes with an aspect of family—of parenting. He also said, "I am in My Father and you in Me and I in you." This reminds us of how we carry the characteristics of our ancestors in our very DNA. Oh that we would carry God's characteristics in our makeup to that extent!

4. We live in a mutual relationship - John 14:21, 23-24
Our mutual relationship with God is characterized by revelation and love on the Father's part, obedience and love on our part. Revelation comes through His commandments (God's word - the Bible) and His promise to "manifest" Himself to us. We keep our end of the relationship when we become familiar with and obey His words, and thus demonstrate that we really do love Him.

A home is not made in a day. It is something that lasts and can endure a lifetime of day-to-days, of experiences, of walking through life together. That's what God wants to do with us—make a home with us, do life with us.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Holy Spirit — in a way the oxygen, blood and synapses of my life with You. Help me to be a worthy, compliant and obedient host for Your life in me. Amen.

MORE: My Heart Christ's Home

I have in my packrat collections, a little booklet called "My Heart Christ's Home" by Robert Boyd Munger. A few years ago, I posted several sections of it on my personal blog promptings. Munger has done a wonderful job of extending the metaphor of our life being a home for God. The booklet is longer than these two sections, but they will give you an idea:

Heart cleaning — the library

Heart cleaning — the dining room


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, May 21, 2014

The ready Christian

alter to the unknown god
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 17:16-34

"Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols." Acts 17:16.

Paul is such a good example of the ready Christian: "… always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…" - 1 Peter 3:15. Here, in new-to-him Athens, watch how he does it:

1. He starts by observing his surroundings (Acts 17:16).

2. He goes to the hotbeds of thought and discussion—the synagogue and the marketplace to listen and talk. (Acts 17:17-18).

3. He accepts an invitation to speak at the Areopagus, even though the invite is hardly given in a  complimentary way. (They call him a babbler - Acts 17:18. According to my Bible's footnotes, a babbler was one who picked up scraps of learning here and there and peddled them. It seems this is a better description of those who "… spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing" - Acts 17:21).

4. He grabs their interest with something from their own culture—an inscription to an Unknown God seen on an altar. He dangles this need for something they haven't yet found in front of them: "Wouldn't you like to know Him?" (Acts 17:22-23)

5. He's a good closer. At the end of his message he urges them to take action: repent because judgment is coming (Acts 17:30-31).

6. He does all this while killing time in Athens—waiting for ministry partners to join him.

I ask myself, what would I have done if I had been in Paul's shoes? Sightsee? Probably. But with a view to giving my testimony and sharing the gospel? I don't know. I'd probably have viewed this as time off from ministry.

But for Paul—really for all of us—there is no time off. This story shows us that all kinds of situations can be a springboard for the gospel.

Though the fruit of Paul's ministry here is minimal ("For reasons Luke does not explain, results here were meagre—no baptisms, no new church, and no letter to the Athenians in the New Testament" - Gary Kinnaman, notes on Acts, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1524), some believed. But Luke/Paul don't dwell on the low numbers. Paul has been faithful, and now it's time to move on (Act 18:1).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to become a ready Christian—alert to any and all opportunities to tell about and defend my faith in You, and not discouraged by small results. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The fair-minded Christian

Bible study
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 17:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." Acts 17:11

"These" were the members of the Jewish synagogue in Berea. Though not necessarily believers (yet), they reacted differently to Paul's teaching than "those."

"Those" were a segment of the synagogue attenders in Thessalonica. Paul reasoned with them for three weeks using the Old Testament writings to prove that Jesus was the Christ—the Messiah. There were two reactions. Some were persuaded so that "…a great multitude of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women joined Paul and Silas" (Acts 17:4). Others—"those"—became jealous, sparked a riot and ran Paul and Silas out of town.

"These" Bereans, on the other hand, "received the word with all readiness." They probably followed along (if they had their own copies) and read the passages around those Paul quoted to make sure he was using them in context. Perhaps they asked questions. They didn't let personal insecurity, jealousy and fear interfere with how they read and understood scripture.

The Bereans are a good example for us to follow when we hear Bible teaching of any kind, but especially when it clashes with what we believe. J. Norton Sterrett in his book How To Understand Your Bible talks about  Bible study principles that can guide us as we interpret any passage of scripture.  (Below is his bare bones list; he devotes a chapter to each item.)

1. Interpret a passage in the light of its context - p. 49. This means to read the verses before and after the verse you're focusing on.

2. Interpret according to the correct meaning of the words - p. 55. This could include looking up a word in the dictionary, noting the word's context, and using a concordance and lexicon.

3. Interpret according to the grammar of the sentence … the form of words and the relationship of words - p. 61.

4. Interpret according to the author's purpose and plan. … The purpose of the author is the object he has in mind for writing (e.g. 1 John 5:13). … The plan of the author is the way he structures the writing in order to carry out his purpose - p. 71.

5. Interpret in the light of the historical, geographical, and cultural background as far as that can be known - p. 77.

6. Interpret each passage in the light of the Bible's teaching as a whole"- p. 85.
As we follow these principles, perhaps we'll also gain the reputation of being fair-minded ("better disposed and more noble" - Amplified) Christians.

Dear God, thank You for the Bible and those who teach it. Help me to dig into it in a fair-minded way for myself. Please teach me by Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Powerful weapon of forgiveness

man holding sword & shield
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 3:8-22

TO CHEW ON: "Finally, all of you be of one mind having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing." 1 Peter 3:8,9

Peter's idealistic instructions (especially "… not returning evil for evil, or reviling for reviling…") become all the more weighty as we recall that he wrote them to people who were suffering. And their suffering was because of their faith in Christ.

Do we even consider following his advice (that was also Jesus's) when we are wronged, stolen from, slandered, taken advantage of? What if someone took a dearest possession—say a child?

That's what happened to Cliff and Wilma Derksen in 1984. On November 30th of that year their 13-year-old daughter Candace didn't come home. About six weeks later police found her frozen body in a shed near their Winnipeg home, bound hand and feet. At the news conference following the discovery of Candace's body, when asked how they felt about the killer, Cliff said: "We would like to know who the person or persons are so we could show, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these peoples lives."

Wilma said, "I can't say at this point I forgive this person. But we have all done something dreadful in our lives or felt the urge to."

Writer and speaker Malcolm Gladwell contacted the Derksens while writing his book David and Goliath. He describes his visit with Wilma in an article in Relevant Magazine. She had, in the intervening years, not only forgiven the perpetrator, but also dealt with her feelings of wanting retribution over the police's suspicions that Cliff was suspect. She explained how she and Cliff got the courage from their Mennonite tradition, refined by years of persecution in Russia,  to forgive and move on.

Gladwell attributes people like the Derksens with his return to faith: "…something happened to me when I sat in Wilma Derksen's garden. It is one thing to read in a history book about people empowered by their faith. But it is quite another to meet an otherwise very ordinary person in the back yard of a very ordinary house who has managed to do something utterly extraordinary" - Malcolm Gladwell, "How I Re-discovered Faith" - Relevant Magazine, January/February 2014.

I ask myself, have I taken up weapon of forgiveness against the (by contrast, small) evils and revilings that come against me? Have you? It is another powerful weapon of the Spirit that God uses to accomplish His purposes on earth through us.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You who know the cost of forgiveness, please help me to forgive people who have wronged me in both small and big ways. Amen.

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

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Is Jesus the only way to God?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 14:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "And Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" John 14:6

I am glad that Thomas was as honest as he was in this vignette of Jesus interacting with His disciples. Jesus had just given them a glimpse of the afterlife: the Father's house, mansions (or rooms), "'I go to prepare a place for you...where I go you know and the way you know.'"

But we don't know where you're going, Thomas objected, so how can we know the way?

Jesus replied with one of the most pivotal statements in the Bible. What He said that day is more controversial now than it ever was.

He answered the HOW part of Thomas's question first: "I am the way, the truth and the life" and then the WHERE: "No one comes to the Father except through Me."

He was saying, your destination is God and the place He lives, and you'll only get there through Me.

He had said something similar before when He talked picturesquely of being the door and the only way into the sheepfold (John 10:1-10).

His disciples and the early church leaders understood Jesus' claims of being the only way to God. The writer of Hebrews interpreted Jesus' death in terms of how it satisfied God's sacrifice law requirement. In the temple a curtain or veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holiest room. Only a designated priest was allowed behind that curtain to make a yearly sacrifice for the people. Remember how that curtain ripped at the moment of Jesus' death (Matthew 27:50-51)?

 In Hebrews 10:19-20 the writer says the "new and living way" into the Holiest of Holies comes by the blood of Jesus "through the veil that is His flesh." His body was torn so we can each go directly to God with, as it were, Jesus' blood in a bowl proving to God that the penalty for our sin has been paid.

In Ephesians Paul told the Ephesus Christians then (and us today) that Jesus' death wasn't only for people living at the time, but also for the ones far off, i.e. those living before and after Christ ("for through Him we both [those who were afar off and those who were near - vs. 17] have access by one Spirit to the Father" - Ephesians 2:17-18).

In our culture it's much more comfortable to believe, with the masses, that there are as many ways to God as there are sincere seekers (religious pluralism). But that's not what Jesus said. Let's not compromise on His clear and beautiful message: "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me." Its urgency is underlined as we keep in mind the destination of those other ways: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it" - Matthew 7:13.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for being clear about You being the only way to God. Help me to be just as uncompromising as I face the religious pluralism in my culture. Amen.

MORE: More about the challenge of pluralism

"... for those willing to receive it, our current context can be a fruitful gift. Like Paul, we will no doubt discover that the obstacles often stand taller than we realized and the words we have to offer fall short. Our pluralistic world wants very little to do with a great many of the things we profess. It is therefore all the more vital that we live the apologetic we attempt to preach among the barrage of choices before our neighbors. While we cannot profess that following Christ will bring fortune or erase hardship, or that discipleship will come easily or without cost, we can portray the coherence of the Christian worldview, the primacy of Christ beside life's inescapable questions, and the hopeful reality of forgiveness, justification, sanctification, and new life." - Jill Carattini (excerpt from the article"Pluralism as privilege") - emphasis added.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fearless times

memorial bouquet
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 31:14-24

"But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, 'You are my God! My times are in Your hand.'" Psalm 31:14,15a

On one day about a month ago I witnessed two funerals. One was the state funeral of the former Canadian Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty. He died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack less than a month after resigning from his finance minister duties. He was 64.

The evening of that same day I and my husband attended the funeral of a friend from church, a loving family man, enthusiastic and energetic gardener, gregarious, joy-filled child of God. Lack of appetite and weight loss had sent him to his doctor in January. By early April an aggressive cancer had taken his life. He was 64.

At such times our conversations are often full of expressions like, "His life was cut short," "He went before his time," "He had so much more life to live." Sentiments like this are even more common when the one who dies is a youth or child. The world treats these no-sense deaths like a cosmic "Oops." The way Christians talk could lead the listener to suspect we too believe such deaths are circumstances that have slipped out of God's control for a minute.

Here David in one breath tells God he trusts Him and in the next voices the certainty his times are in God's hands.

[Times - eth means time of an event; usual time; experiences and fortunes; occurrence, occasion.]

As I see it, saying that one's times are in God's hands pretty much includes everything: the things that happen and their timing; the time—in years, days, hours, minutes, seconds—that one has left on earth; one's experiences and fortunes; and what happens on any given occasion.

I ask myself, can I say with David that I trust God and believe my times and the times of my loved ones are in His hands? Do I believe that, even when events are painful and seem random and meaningless?

When we include the fact of God's love in this thought, it becomes more palatable. For not only is God sovereign—in charge of our times—but He is also love:
"And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in Him. … There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear" - 1 John 4:16,18.

It's as we trust God's love for us in the midst of our times (held safe in His hand)  that we can live without fear of what will happen next to us and those we love.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live without fear as I entrust my times into Your loving hands. Amen.

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

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Shades of trust

King David praying
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 31:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "In You O Lord, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed … " Psalm 31:1

I don't know what situation David was in when he wrote this psalm, but it was obviously not a good one. In it he expresses his determination to trust God through whatever. I see in it many shades of trust:

  • "In You O Lord, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed" is his flag plant. He has made up his mind he'll trust in God—not anyone or anything else (and please, God, don't let me be wrong: "Let me never be ashamed").
  • He trusts God to hear his prayers for defense and protection - Psalm 31:2.
  • He trusts God to guide him - Psalm 31:3.
  • He trusts God to outwit his enemies - Psalm 31:4.
  • He trusts God instead of other things that would compete for his trust—"idols" - Psalm 31:6.
  • He will trust God with his very self, even in death. Who of us doesn't hear David's words here echo from the cross as Jesus' last human cry: "Into Your hand I commit My spirit" - Psalm 31:5 compare Luke 23:46.

What aspects of trust are we needing to exercise today? Whether we're at the beginning of our faith journey deciding if we'll trust God at all, at the end and about to abandon our spirit to Him in death, or anywhere between, needing help, protection, guidance, smarts, or courage to trust Him above money, human wisdom, power, influence or any other 'idol,' let's make David's words of resolve to trust God our own.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to prove Your trustworthiness in the crucible of life, as I lean on You in day to day situations. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Choosing a leader

Apostles replace Judas
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 1:12-26

TO CHEW ON: "'Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.'" Acts 1:21-22

Appointing leaders is a weighty and important task. It's interesting to note all the steps these early Apostles went through to replace Judas Iscariot.
  • Their idea to do this came from Scripture. They quote words from Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 as grounds for replacing Judas.
  • They chose two from a group of Jesus' followers who had been with Him from baptism to ascension.
  • They prayed that God's will would be accomplished.
  • They cast lots between the two. A note in my Bible explains what we might think of as resorting to chance or gambling:
"Casting lots was a provision of the law (Leviticus 16:8). It may be significant that following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost there is no more mention of the practice. Notice also that on this occasion the disciples first selected the two men they judged most worthy to fill the vacancy. The final decision was left to the Lord as they prayed" Gary Kinnaman, notes on Acts in the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1490.

Casting lots is rarely done to make decisions about leadership in our day. But the other three: looking for scriptural direction, employing good judgment, and prayer are all things we can do as we seek to fill ministry and leadership vacancies.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the principles of selecting leaders demonstrated in this story. I pray for the leadership team in my church who are currently grappling with just this. Please equip them in every department to make wise decisions. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Matthias

Today is the Feast of St. Matthias, the Apostle chosen in our reading.

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, May 13, 2014

Patience to wait for God's time

Moses and the burning bush - Artist unknown
Moses and the burning bush - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 7:17-38

TO CHEW ON: "'For he (Moses) supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. …"And now come, I will send you to Egypt."'" Acts 7:25, 34

 It's fascinating to get a glimpse into how Bible characters interpret Bible events. Here we see Stephen's version of the story of Moses.

He delves into Moses' mind a bit, adding a layer to the Exodus account of the same events (Exodus 2:11-15): "For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand…"

We can imagine young Moses, a Hebrew, raised by Pharaoh's daughter, mulling over why his life took the direction it did. There must be a reason. It must be to save his people. And so he decided to act on that conviction and the result was a murder committed and a 40-year detour herding sheep in the land of Midian.

But he was right in one thing. It was his destiny to free his countrymen. Only it would happen in God's time when, after forty years, God came to him with "'And now come, I will send you to Egypt.'"

In the first instance he sent himself and it was a disaster. But when God sent him, it was a success.

Do you you have a sense of mission or task that your life is to fulfill, but up till now nothing has fallen into place to bring it about? Let Moses' story be a caution sign to you and me not to force the issue by taking matters into our own hands. Rather, let's wait for God's "And now come, I will send you…"

PRAYER: Dear God I am often impatient wanting my life to fall into place in my own timing. Please help me to wait for Your initiative. Amen.

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

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Cultivate a faith memory

Joseph sold by his brethren - Gustave Dore

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 7:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt, but God was with him." Acts 7:9

Here Stephen is before the Jewish council. His "… faith and power… great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 7:8) have caught the attention of the religious rulers. They are jealous (not unlike those "patriarchs"—Joseph's brothers). Trying to discredit him, they find people willing to lie and accuse him of blasphemy. So Stephen is defending himself against false accusations.

In his eloquent speech he traces how God has worked in their nation from Abraham on. No doubt he gets special comfort from remembering Joseph who was also falsely accused. "But God was with him" he reminds them—and himself.

When we're in trouble, forced to defend what we believe, or on the hot seat for something we haven't done, or even in a personal crisis of faith, Stephen's example of recalling God at work is a good one for us to follow too.
  • We can read the Old Testament stories (of Joseph, David, Daniel, Esther) and remember how He worked in Bible times.
  • We can recall how God has helped us in the past.
  • We can review faith-building verses like: "Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations…" and "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalm 90:1; 91:1).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for how You have worked throughout history. Help me to recognize Your actions in my life. Amen.

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

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Benefits of being part of the flock

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 34:17-31

TO CHEW ON: "I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their Shepherd." Ezekiel 34:23

Who is this David-shepherd? By the time Ezekiel lived and wrote, David was long dead so Ezekiel was surely not speaking of literal King David. A Bible footnote explains:

"My servant David is a messianic ruler from the line of David who will truly be a man after God's own heart. This is clearly fulfilled in Jesus Christ" - Howard M. Ervin, notes on Ezekiel, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1095.

(Doesn't this bring to mind the words of Jesus: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep" - John 10:11?)

Our Ezekiel reading goes on to list many benefits of being a sheep under this Messianic shepherd. Though these are commonly viewed as prophetic and incompletely fulfilled in our time, I think they are for us too—to pray for, claim, and identify—as we examine our lives for evidences of how God has and is working.

What are some of the benefits of being part of Jesus' flock?

  • We have a shepherd—someone who cares for us and looks after us (Ezekiel 34:23,24).
  • We are promised safety (Ezekiel 34:25).
  • We will experience blessing (Ezekiel 34:26).
  • Our efforts will be productive (Ezekiel 34:27a, 29).
  • We are slaves no more (Ezekiel 34:27b,28).

Are we praying for and claiming the benefits of membership in Jesus' flock now? And are we looking to the future with hope and expectation, knowing that our shepherd will one day return the earth and all its creatures to rightness?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for being my shepherd. When I can't understand what's happening in my life, help me to trust Your shepherding wisdom and ability. Amen.

MORE: Good Shepherd wisdom

All quotes are taken from Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles by Steven Stiles, Kindle edition.

"It can be difficult to follow the Shepherd, but it is dangerous to follow any other" p. 57.
"It is not our place to understand everything the Shepherd does. It is our place to follow" p. 86.
"No matter what our circumstances, God's help is closer than we think" p. 114
"Our spiritual growth never reaches the point where we can survive a moment without the care of the Shepherd" p. 256.
 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.

Friday, May 09, 2014

A lost sheep story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 34:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "For thus says the Lord God: 'Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.'" Ezekiel 34:11-12

Trish told her story from the baptismal tank. After getting involved in drugs, she and her husband had accepted Jesus. They got clean and began attending a church, grew a family, had a house and a business. Then one day they started using again. Soon they were separated, the kids in the care of Social Services, the house gone, business gone. That's the state Trish found herself in one evening in August 2009 when she was wandering the streets of Abbotsford. She had even lost her shoes.

Through a video, James told his part of the story. He had just finished drumming a music set as part of a Christian band and stepped outside for a few minutes before going back into the service. On a short walk he met Trish. He talked to her and, noticing she had no shoes, gave her the extra pair he carried in the trunk of his car. "I prayed for her, wished her well and thought I'd never see her again," he said.

Trish's life continued to go downhill. She got into detox but lasted only a few days. Finally, later in fall, she decided to try detox again. After phoning fifty places, she found two with openings. One was in Surrey. Hope House was in Langley. She opted for the Surrey one, but when the friend who drove her there saw people shooting up right outside but premises, she said, "I'm not leaving you here," and drove her to Hope House.

The first few days were the hardest Trish had ever gone through. She battled constant feelings of wanting to give up and leave. How could she ever tough this out for the time it would take? "Give me a sign," she prayed.

Hope House takes a busload of people to our church for Sunday night Recovery  Church. When she got there she couldn't believe her eyes because there on stage, drumming for the worship band, was James, the guy who had given her his shoes and prayed for her a few months earlier.

That was sign enough for her. She stuck with the program and got baptized in May 2010.

I love stories like this, that remind us of God's creativity in seeking out scattered sheep. Do you have such in your family or among your acquaintances -- prodigals, backsliders, those who have till now resisted His call altogether? Claim his promise for them today: "I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick." Ezekiel 34:16a

PRAYER: Dear God, I pray for the scattered sheep in my life (by name______). Please seek them out and deliver them from all the places they are scattered. Amen.

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

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Online integrity

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 2:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby." 2 Peter 2:1-2

I love the guileless, transparent picture of the ideal Christian Peter paints for us here. It sounds so simple to live that way and probably would be if our lives weren't full of other people — people we don't like or we wish liked us; people we are trying to impress or are trying to impress us; people who bug us or bore us, intimidate us or are mean to us; people who talk too much or too little; people we think are wrong and people with whom we agree; people to whom we impute ulterior motives or whom we admire immensely. We meet up with these and how quickly the game-playing begins!

A new challenge to the integrity of our relationships is interacting with people through technology. The non face-to-face aspect of these interactions (through e-mail, cell phones, text messages, Facebook, blogs, comments, forums, etc.) makes us more vulnerable than ever to manipulate who we are and to be someone we're not to serve our own ends.

Tim Challies in his book The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion says:

"In all the ways we communicate today, we may use our technologies to destroy relationship instead of foster it, to tear down instead of build up....Through the Bible God calls us to speak truth in love. Truth and love are the twin pillars that should uphold all our communication" p. 85.

Then he goes on to give four measures to implement in our online life which will help us foster truth and love:

" Be visible. If anonymity can be an enemy and a refuge, then visibility can work to keep us from slipping into sinful patterns of living and communicating...

Be accountable....Let friends or family know what you are doing online; invite them into your digital world ....

Be real. Don't fabricate for yourself an identity online that is vastly different from your real-world identity....

Be mature. To sum it up, you will need to act like a mature Christian. Paul draws a clear connection between maturity and the ability to speak truth in love....

And always distrust yourself. It may sound harsh, but be willing to doubt your motives, your heart. Take a moment to pray before answering an antagonistic e-mail; bounce your ideas and articles off trusted friends before posting them; be slow to speak (or type) and quick to listen" - p. 86.

What great advice to us in what has become a technology-medicated generation.

Of course on top of this, we would do well to be closer followers of Peter's second bit of advice, to "desire the pure milk of the word" above all the trillions of online words.

PRAYER: Dear God, please change me at a heart level so all my relationships and communications, no matter how they are conducted, are free from malice, deceit, envy and evil speaking. Help me to feed on Your words more than the multitudes of others' words available to me. Amen.


Tim Challies, the author of The Next Story is an Ontario resident who blogs at For insightful book reviews, commentary on the Christian faith, and observations about life from a Reformed perspective, his blog is a great resource.

 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, May 06, 2014

The gospel in words

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 3:11-26

TO CHEW ON: "'Repent therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.'" Acts 3:19

"Preach the gospel always, and if necessary use words"* is a saying sometimes used to defend living by gospel principles without explaining the who, what and why of the good news. Though our lives should be consistent with the gospel for sure, just living a certain way isn't enough to fulfill Jesus' final assignment to us (Acts 1:8) (and one senses that the above little saying may sometimes be an excuse for silence out of timidity or fear that one's words will offend).

A wordless gospel was certainly not Peter's philosophy. He grabbed the opportunity here, with the eyes of the whole crowd on him after healing the lame man, to not only explain the gospel but to challenge his hearers to close the deal: "Repent, therefore, and be converted."

It is interesting to notice how Peter, Paul, and other apostles frequently turned miracles and other life happenings into mini-pulpits:
  • After a night in custody, Peter and John were hauled in front of the high priest and his family where they again challenged their hearers with the gospel (Acts 4:5-12).
  • Stephen preached the gospel when he was brought before the Jewish counsel to defend against false accusations (Acts 7).
  • Philip explained the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading Isaiah (Acts 8:30-35).
  • After healing a man, Paul and Barnabas restrained a pagan crowd from worshiping them as Hermes and Zeus, instead explaining the gospel (and getting into a lot of trouble for it ) (Acts 14).
  • Paul and Silas explained the gospel to their jailer after an earthquake sprung them from a Philippian prison (Acts 16:30-34).
  • Paul used the words of an inscription on a city monument as an opening for the gospel in Athens (Acts 17:22-32).
  • Paul turned an appearance before Roman rulers Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice into an opportunity to present the gospel (Acts 26).

I ask myself, am I as quick as these early Christians to recognize and take openings to explain the gospel in words? Peter's advice in this regard is more appropriate than ever:

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone tho asks you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." - 1 Peter 3:15

PRAYER: Dear God, what an example of ready speakers were these early Christians. Help me to recognize openings for the gospel and to have Holy Spirit boldness to take them. Amen.

*This saying is often attributed to St. Francis of Assissi.

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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