Monday, June 30, 2014

What authority determines your course?

telescope observing night sky
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 4:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables." 2 Timothy 4:3,4

Such a time has come for the church, especially over the issue of blessing same sex marriages. Numerous books have lately come out by professing Christians that are pro same-sex unions (see this Publisher's Weekly article).

Writers of these books usually argue that Bible passages that speak clearly against homosexuality* have been misinterpreted and are saying something different than what they seem to say.

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has put together a book (God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines**)) refuting one of these books (God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines). In Mohler's book, Mohler and four other theologians speak to the arguments Vines makes.

In the chapter titled "What Has the Church Believed and Taught?" Denny Burk quotes liberal theologian Luke Timothy Johnson who, to his credit, is one who admits that the Bible doesn't come out favoring same-sex relationships. In fact, he names the authority that proponents of gay marriage are really following. He says:

"I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? … I think it is important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us" (quoted in God and the Gay Christian - A Response to Matthew Vines? p. 54)

More and more churches and individual Christians that hold to the traditional interpretation of the Bible on contentious issues like gay marriage are being pushed into a corner by the powers of political correctness and public opinion. In this context it's really important that we settle for ourselves (corporately and personally) who and what our authority is in these matters.

Do we set our course by the Bible's authority or are we too heaping up for ourselves fables (new authorities like experience)? We need to determine to set our course by the true North Star of God's word, not the flashy satellites of experience and public opinion that orbit the sky of our culture.

PRAYER: Dear God, in these times when the authority of Your word is being questioned, help me to stay true to it and You. Help me to live my life by Your standards, not the standards of the society around me. Amen.

* Bible passages that speak about homosexuality are: Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10. 

** Download the free pdf of God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines HERE.

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

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Going fishing

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 21:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing.'" John 21:3

It had been a traumatic week or so for Peter. Jesus—on whom he had pinned his hopes for what...ousting the Romans and proving Himself the nation's messiah; at the very least carrying on using His miracles to outsmart and out-power His enemies—had been killed. But worse, just before that, he, Peter, had denied, after three years together, that he was in any way associated with his friend.

Now Jesus had reappeared, back from the dead, resurrected. It was wonderful but confusing. All the more so because Peter probably no longer saw himself as worthy of playing any role in what Jesus had in mind.

I can just see the disciples sitting around, discussing—What's next? What's the future for us, for me, now? And it would be at this point Peter would get up and say, "I'm going fishing." I see it as his way of saying, 'I'm going back—back to the old life of what I know, what I enjoyed, what I do well so I can again feel normal, useful, and not a failure.'

Trouble is on this night "they caught nothing." He couldn't even do fishing well!

It was at this critical point, early in the morning after the frustrating night of failure, that Jesus appeared again. He told them to cast their nets on the wrong right side of the boat. They did, and hauled in an unheard-of catch of large fish. And then Jesus invited them to breakfast on the beach after which He and Peter had it out.

Jesus pressed Peter by asking him three times: "Do you love Me?" The first time he phrased it, "Do you love Me more than these?" I imagine Him motioning toward the boats and nets as He said these. I believe He was asking Peter to be done forever with fishing.

I think of this story often when I'm tempted to get off task. I have, since I've taken up writing, had several what I consider God-given assignments that brought with them their share of discouragement. When those projects have felt overwhelming, or haven't gone well, or have appeared unlikely to sell even if I finished them, the temptation has been to "go fishing." For me, going fishing means abandoning the big job He has given me for something safer, more predictable, the kind of project I've had success with in the past. It means going back instead of going forward.

What's your way of going fishing?

Jesus presses home the issue with us like He did with Peter: 'Do you love me more than these? Then show it by doing the job I've given you to do.'

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be clear on Your assignments and resist the temptation to go back to the safe, faith-impoverished pre-assignment life. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

Today is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:
"Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for 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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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Registered in Zion

International flags

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 87:1-7

TO CHEW ON: "And of Zion it will be said,
'This one and that one were born in her; …
The Lord will record,
When He registers the peoples;
This one was born there.'" Psalm 87:5,6

"The most resistant Gentile peoples will find spiritual birth in Zion," is my Bible's footnote explanation of this psalm (K. R. "Dick" Iverson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 752).

I love how the psalmist names specific nations as representative of its inhabitants: Rahab (symbolic of Egypt - Isaiah 30:7), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia. These were Israel's neighbours.  Some had been or were enemies. Of individuals from these tribes/nations the writer says, "This one and that one were born in her; … The Lord will record, When He registers the peoples; This one was born there."

"He shall enrigister every individual among the converted nations as a true citizen of Zion, entitled to all covenant privileges" - Pulpit Commentary.

I see a picture of God, constantly scanning the peoples of earth, looking for signs of movement toward Him: "… to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him" - 2 Chronicles 16:9.

I see Him writing the names of these from every nation in His book: "…The Lord will record, /  When He registers the peoples…"  They are holy (separate). They are His - Isaiah 4:3.

Finally, I see this international crowd, before the throne, praising God:

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.

There is no basis to the criticism that Christianity is a European/North American religion foisted on other nations and people groups by the white man. It is, from its inception, truly international. It knows no borders and has no language or race barriers.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for sending Jesus to die for everyone. Regardless of skin color, language or location, all of us can be born again ("born in her [Zion]").  We thank you for drawing and claiming the most resistant heart. 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, June 27, 2014

Echoes of hospitality

Shunammite woman and Elisha
Shunammite woman makes a room for Elisha
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 4:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And she said to her husband, 'Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lamp stand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there."  2 Kings 4:9,10

 This Shunammite woman, who is never named, was generous and hospitable, particularly toward the things of God. She noticed this "holy man of God" (Elisha) and wanted to make a connection. Invitations to meals when he passed through Shunem led to B&B accommodation. What rewards she got for this!

  • After Elisha asked how he could repay her (with no request on her part, but Elisha's servant Gehazi observing that she was childless), she and her husband had a son.
  • Beyond the bounds of today's reading, her young son died. Then she went in desperation to the prophet and Elisha brought the boy back to life (2 Kings 4:18-37).
  • Later Elisha warned her and her husband of a coming famine so they could move to a place where there was food (2 Kings 8:1,2).
  • After seven years she and her family returned to Israel where, it appears someone had confiscated the family's property. She went to the king to ask that it be returned to them—and at exactly the time that Gehazi was telling him about Elisha raising her son from the dead. After that 'coincidence' how could the king not grant her request (2 Kings 8:3-6)?

Like the Shunammite woman, we have no idea the things we set in motion when we are generous and hospitable, in terms of rich relationships, future help, even God-engineered coincidences.

I like how David expresses this idea:

"Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His sight.
With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful;
With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless;
With the pure You will show Yourself pure;

And with the devious, You will show Yourself shrewd" - Psalm 18:25,26 (emphasis added).

Dear God, please help me to nurture qualities of generosity and hospitality, not with a view to getting something in return but simply because these are things You value,. 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, June 26, 2014

Seed promises

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 22:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "'In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.'" Genesis 22:18

Isaac had obviously been with Abraham before when he made an offering, for he knew what things were needed and noticed that they didn't have one of them. Abraham's answer to Isaac's question, "Where is the lamb?" was masterful in its avoidance. He didn't say, "You're going to be that lamb." Instead he said: "God will provide for Himself the lamb," which was not only tactful, but prophetic.

His answer illustrated his faith—a faith so genuine it earned him a big section in the Hebrews 11 gallery of heroes (Hebrews 11:8-10; 17-19). He believed that because Isaac was the child of promise, God would achieve His purposes through Isaac even if He had to raise him from the dead to do it.

What are our Isaacs? Is it our sense of calling? Our hopes and dreams for a marriage, or a project? Our careers? Our own children? Whether these things have already come to pass and we're clinging to them (in almost idolatrous fashion) as the answer to how God is going to make our lives significant, or they are still in the future, could we tie them up and put them on the altar like Abraham did Isaac?

Talking about offerings, I am reminded of another "offering" passage: "I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service" - Romans 12:1. Paul is pleading with the Roman Christians to sacrifice their very selves.

Abraham's faith got a big promise from God: "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed." Was God talking about the seed of a son, or the seed of faith, or both?

There is a "seed" promise for us too if we make that "living sacrifice" of ourselves and all the things that are dearest to us. Here it is:
"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity" - John 12:24-25, NLT.

PRAYER: Dear God, it is hard for me to sacrifice my "Isaacs." Each relinquishment is a test of faith in You and Your promises. Help me to have the unflinching faith of Abraham to let You have complete control and say over all those things that are dearest to me. Amen.

A personal note:
I have, over the years, dabbled in writing poetry. I have recently re-published a  collection of my efforts in e-book format. First published in 2004, Calendar is a collection of  poems on the themes of nature, personal experience, parenting, aging, and faith. In case you're interested, it's available from Smashwords.

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

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

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Slaves - of what?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 6:12-23

TO CHEW ON: "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?" Romans 6:16.

Slaves? That sounds extreme. By using the startling analogy of slavery, Paul pictures our life choices in a very either/or, black/white way. Is he saying Christians can actually still be slaves of sin?

What I understand this passage to mean is that even as people who have accepted God's gift of salvation and are legally free, it is possible to live as slaves of our old master, sin. We humans have been born with a nature to which sinning comes naturally. How easy it is, even after we've been set free, to slip back into old habit patterns of worry, envy, pride, anger, unforgiveness etc. etc., that is, patterns of sin.

Paul urges these Roman Christians to resist old reactions and instead prove that they are slaves of Christ by living in obedience to His standards of righteousness.

But, I can hear you say, slavery has a bad connotation. I don't want my life with Christ to be characterized in such a negative way.

Even Paul acknowledges the unfortunate aspect of this metaphor: "I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh..." he says. But then he goes on to extend and explain it even further: "For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness" Romans 6:19.

But Paul is not giving a mere "just do it" message. Something real happened when we gave our lives to Jesus and began living in the realm of grace. Romans 6:23 reminds us we have been "set free from sin" and have in a real sense "become slaves of God."

So let's use this slavery picture to flesh out and affirm our freedom from sin and our enslavement to the "fruit of holiness and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22).  Today when we're at a decision crossroads:
- about whether to fret about the difficult thing on today's to-do list, or place it in God's hands and refuse to worry about it any more.
- about whether to eat one more helping or push back from the table.
- about whether to react to the person who cuts us off in traffic — or not.
- or about a hundred other situations
we can ask ourselves: What would a slave of Jesus do in this situation? And then choose to do it.

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where I am a slave to sinful tendencies and am habitually making sinful choices. Help me to enslave myself to You today. Amen.

MORE: ... a better explanation

I find understanding and explaining the concepts in Romans a huge challenge. John Piper in a December 2000 message, spoke on this passage. He ended his message with three "exhortations" that give a fuller (and theologically more complete) explanation of what Paul is saying here:

"1. Do not jump to the conclusion that when Paul says, "Sin will not be master over us," it means that we will be perfect in this life....
2. When you hear that God is sovereign and that he has guaranteed that those under grace will not be defeated by sin, do not jump to the conclusion that the battle is a charade, and nothing hangs on your choices....

3. Finally, realize that Paul is teaching us in this chapter how to live for the glory of God, not the glory of ourselves...

"Just do it" is man-centered. Do it because "God is at work in you to do it" is God-centered. Putting it this way keeps the work of God front and center in your life. That is where he will get the glory."
Excerpted from "Free from Sin, Slaves of Righteousness, Part 2"
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website:
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, June 24, 2014

Not your usual naming ceremony

Birth of John the Baptist - Alexandre Bida
Birth of John the Baptist - Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:57-80

TO CHEW ON: "And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote saying, 'His name is John.' So they all marvelled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke praising God." Luke 1:63,64

A person's name in Bible times held more significance for them than our names do for us. A Holman Bible Dictionary article explains:
"The biblical concept of naming was rooted in the ancient world's understanding that a name expressed essence. To know the name of a person was to know that person's total character and nature. Revealing character and destiny, personal namrs might express hopes for the child's future…" Kandy Queen-Sutherland, "Naming," Holman Bible Dictionary - read entire article.

Mother Elizabeth was the first to demur when the person responsible for the mechanics of registering the baby's name assumed everything would go as normal. This illustrates two more customs around naming in the Bible:
1] the task of naming generally fell to the mother.
2] it was a practice to give the baby the name of a relative, often the grandfather or father.

When father Zacharias supported Elizabeth's surprising name choice of John, the bystanders "all marveled." But an even greater surprise was just moments away. For no sooner had Zacharias written "His name is John," than "Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed."

It was as if God had held Zacharias' power of speech hostage until he demonstrated he truly believed what the angel had said (Luke 1:13) by getting out of the rut of what everyone expected.

Does God still work that way today, testing our willingness to believe and obey by asking us to leave the rut of the ordinary, the safe, and the comfortable? To go on that mission trip? To accept that assignment that feels beyond our ability? To work towards fulfilling that dream that seems way too big to come true?

I love how Zacharias' compliance led to his speech not only returning but returning in a river of praise, adoration, and prophecy. Who knows what will be unleashed when we step out in unquestioning obedience?

PRAYER: Dear God, please strengthen my trust in You so I am unafraid to step out of familiar ruts when You tell me to. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Today the church celebrates John the Baptist's birth. The liturgy for this day begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Just for interest's sake, I looked up the meaning of the two names at play here:

Zacharias means the Lord recalled, or the Lord remembered.

John means Yahweh is gracious.

What does your name mean? 


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cost to a "sent out" one

"Take Up His Cross"- Pictures from 
Children's Bible Story Books.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 10:32-42

TO CHEW ON: "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." Matthew 10:39

Matthew 10 is mostly a set of instructions Jesus gave to His twelve disciples before sending them out to their Jewish neighbours. Their mission was to preach and demonstrate the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 10:7-8). By Jesus' instructions we can tell that the reaction to their message would be mixed. In other words this would be no sightseeing jaunt or cushy vacation.

In the end, this assignment seemed to be as much about the apprenticeship of the disciples as it was about the delivery of the Kingdom message to their countrymen. A warning that Jesus gave at least three times in this chapter was to expect opposition that would test their loyalties.

1. Their message and commitment to Jesus would get them in trouble with governing authorities to the extent of being forced to defend themselves before councils, governors, and kings. The will even be beaten (Matthew 10:17-20).

2. Their commitment to Jesus would test family ties. Jesus warned of treachery coming from even within their own households (Matthew 10:34-36).

3. Their commitment to Jesus would test their loyalty to themselves (Matthew 10:37-39). Jesus challenged His disciples to love Him more than their own lives. He couched it in the language of death — called it  taking up one's cross. Such a thing probably doesn't ring many alarm bells in our society where crosses aren't used for execution. To get the shock value of His statement let's say it differently. How about: "He who does not take with him his lethal injection and follow Me is not worthy of Me"?

Jesus' warning words are a stark reminder of humanity's default reaction to the gospel. Therefore you and I shouldn't be surprised when people respond to the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven (and all it entails of mankind's sinful state, our need for redemption and the ultimate lordship of Jesus over our life and all of creation) with incredulity, challenge, confrontation, ultimatums, anger... In fact, we're probably naive if we don't expect it.

And personally, am I ready to kill that part of me that wants the world to accept me and like me? On top of that, am I ready to put to death that part of me that wants to do as I please in choice of vocation, relationships, how I spend my time, money etc.? Am I that loyal to Jesus?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Your description of true discipleship in this chapter is sobering and startling. I don't think I've begun to be a disciple like this. Please show me what it means in daily living. Amen.

MORE: "Jesus I My Cross Have Taken"

This Bob Dylan-esque rendition of this old hymn is from the second Indelible Grace CD, Pilgrim Days. I love it! Many verses that's why it's so long. Read along with the singers by following the link to the lyrics below.

Follow the lyrics as you listen

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, June 21, 2014

Worry and Fear

Sanhedrin - Artist unknown
Before the Sanhedrin - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 10:16-31

" ' And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.' " Matthew 10:28

What a grim result Jesus predicts for His disciples as He sends them out. Two words jump out at me from our reading: WORRY and FEAR.

Jesus says, when, as a result of their message, they are brought before synagogue councils, governors and kings, they are not to WORRY beforehand about how or what to say (Matthew 10:19).

[Worry - merimnao comes from merizo which means to divide into parts. The word suggests distraction, a preoccupation with things causing anxiety, stress, and pressure - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1301.]

They are not to be distracted, preoccupied, stressed and pressured over how to defend themselves because if they are, they'll miss the best defense they could have—the one from the Holy Spirit: " 'For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you' "  Jesus says - Matthew 10:19-20.

You'd think words coming from God Himself would guarantee freedom. But not so. For Jesus goes on to speak of continuing persecution and even death which they are not to FEAR (Matthew 10:26,28).

[Fear - phobeo is a panic that grips a person causing him to run away, be alarmed, scared, frightened, dismayed, fill with dread, intimidated, anxious, apprehensive. (Notice the similarity with our word phobia) - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1308.]

At first this appears puzzling. If the persecutors can do the ultimate—kill one—why would the objects of their persecution not fear?

Because, Jesus implies, killing the body isn't the worst thing that could happen to one. The worst is something only God can do (and reason to fear Him): "destroy both soul and body in hell."

So, Jesus tells His disciples, take the long eternal view. Life doesn't stop here. So don't let your witness be extinguished by worry or fear of the worst that can happen in life. Rather, set your course by how you want to spend eternity.

Jesus' advice about worry and fear is timely for us in our day when expression of our Christian worldview and faith is being met with increasing hostility.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Your command to not worry or fear goes straight to my heart. Help me to be so controlled by Your Spirit that I will not only stop worrying about how to defend the gospel, but will speak it with Spirit-breathed boldness. 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, June 20, 2014

The Kingdom—already, not yet

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 10:1-15

TO CHEW ON: " ' And as you go, preach saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.' " Matthew 10:7,8

Jesus spoke a lot about a spiritual kingdom (sometimes called the kingdom of heaven, sometimes the kingdom of God).
  • He promised that the poor in spirit and the persecuted would inherit it (Matthew 5:3,10).
  • He taught us to pray for its coming (Matthew 6:10).
  • He told Nicodemus the way to enter it was to be born again (John 3:3).
  • He told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).
  • And yet here, He tells His disciples it is "at hand" ("has drawn near").

It's interesting to notice the details of the job on which Jesus sends the disciples and what they say about the kingdom. I think we can conclude, by Jesus' job description, that some things are incompatible with His kingdom:

- Sickness ("heal the sick").

- Leprosy ("cleanse the lepers"). How was leprosy different from other sickness? For one it was a chronic condition or conditions. Two - it made those infected unclean outcasts. There is no place for such stigma in the kingdom.

- Death ("raise the dead").

- Demons ("cast out demons"). I don't know how much power and influence in this world and our society we credit to the demonic. That its influence is more pervasive than ever I have no doubt, given modern curiosity about and fascination with the paranormal. I've just finished reading Deliver Us from Evil: A Pastor's Reluctant Encounters with the Powers of Darkness, a book written by Don Basham about his years-long deliverance ministry. After reading it I suspect that demonic influence, oppression, and possession are way more common than we think.

Though the kingdom is something we have yet to see in its full flower, we do see glimmerings of it now in the operation of Christ's body on earth—the church. For Jesus said while still on earth, " '… the Kingdom of God is within you' " - Luke 17:21. And He commissioned the disciples (who became the church) to be witnesses to Him and His teachings, which included this message of the kingdom (Acts 1:8).

May the kingdom of heaven find fertile ground in my life and yours!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I long to see and experience kingdom life to the full, as much as it's possible here on earth. May its presence be operating in and through my life. Amen.

MORE: The Kingdom—"already," and "not yet"

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine quotes George Ladd on this topic. Ladd summarizes five ways the church and the kingdom are related (I'll just quote the points; he elaborates on each point and supports with scriptures):
1. The church is not the kingdom.
2. The kingdom creates the church.
3. The church witnesses to the kingdom.
4. The church is the instrument of the kingdom.
5. The church is the custodian of the kingdom.

Grudem concludes:
 "Therefore we should not identify the kingdom of God and the church, nor should we see the kingdom of God as entirely future. … Rather we should recognize that there is a close connection between the kingdom of God and the church. As the church proclaims the good news of the kingdom, people will come to the church and begin to experience the blessings of God's rule in their lives. The kingdom manifests itself through the church and thereby the future reign of God breaks into the present (it is "already" here - Matthew 12:28; Romans 14:17; and "not yet" here fully - Matthew 25:34; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10)" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 863, 864 (emphasis added).

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, June 19, 2014

A united heart

heart with crack down the middle
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 86:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name." Psalm 86:11

In the world of words, prevailing wisdom says if you want to make it as a writer, stick to one thing. If you've had success with mysteries, for example, don't suddenly switch to writing historical romances and then over to contemporary suspense and, for a change, science fiction.

Why?  Because it confuses your readers and erodes their trust in you. Fans of your mysteries will be put off when they pick up your newest and find it's not another whodunit but a tale about life on Mars. What they wanted, and thought they were getting, when they saw your name on the cover was a puzzle, not a space fantasy.

David in our reading today asks for God's help with something similar in the realm of his life and affections when he prays: "Unite my heart to fear Your name." My Bible's notes suggest other ways of expressing "Unite my heart": "Give me singleness of heart" and "Do not let the heart have many allegiances or distractions" - Dick Iverson, study notes on Psalms, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 752. 

Why is a divided heart a bad thing? For one, it blunts the impact our lives will have because it confuses those who observe us. But even worse, it confuses us too (James 1:4-8).

It takes only a few minutes to come up with a list of things that could compete for the allegiance of our hearts: money, security, desire to be liked, success, popularity, personal appearance and image, pleasure, leisure…

How do we get to that place of having an undivided, undistracted, unified heart?

"Teach me Your ways," the psalmist begins his request here. Teach (yarah) means to instruct, direct, teach, point, shoot, aim, cast in a straight direction. One Bible word derived from Yarah is Torah which means instruction, teaching, as in the instruction Moses got from God written in the first books of the Bible (from "Word Wealth" by Dick Mills, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 710).

I believe we can make the leap and conclude that spending time in God's word (for us the Old and New Testaments) will also teach us what it means to have an undivided heart.

I love how Leslyn Musch sums up this thought in her Truth-In-Action Through Psalms: "God desires for our hearts to be undivided, fully devoted to Him, daily choosing Him above all else in all decisions of our lives" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 755 (emphasis added)

Dear God, as I read the Bible, please help me to understand how its teachings apply to me. Help me to choose to put You first in every aspect 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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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The human Jeremiah

Jeremiah by Rembrandt
Jeremiah by Rembrandt
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 20:7-18

TO CHEW ON: "Then I said, 'I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name!'
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back
And I could not." Jeremiah 20:9

Poor Jeremiah—he is not a happy prophet. In our reading today we see the human heart of this mouthpiece of God.

Putting his lament in context, the early verses of Jeremiah 20 describe how Pashur the priest and governor reacts to a previous negative prophecy. He puts Jeremiah in stocks in a gate near the temple. It sounds public and humiliating.

Jeremiah is released the next day, unbowed. He prophecies a future of Babylonian captivity on not only the nation but specifically on Pashur and his household. I'm sure that goes over well! And then he comes out with his complaint to God.

"You induced me, and I was persuaded," he says. But the result is that he becomes "A reproach and derision."

He decides to shut up—not speak God's prophecies any more. But they burn inside him; he can't keep silent. So he speaks again, enduring more of the same, feeling egged on and betrayed by "All my acquaintances." Family and friends too? It sounds like it.

The curious part of his monologue is the section where he breaks into sublime praise (Jeremiah 20:11-13). It's almost as if, in the middle of his rant, he gets a glimpse of reality:
"But the Lord is with me as a Mighty Awesome One.
Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail…"

Alas, he doesn't stay there but slips even deeper into depression, wishing he'd never been born (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Jeremiah's honesty here can instruct us:

- Even great prophets have a human side. Jeremiah longed to be accepted and liked, not unlike most of us. Maybe we need to remind ourselves of him when we're tempted to criticize our teachers, pastors and "prophets."

- Jeremiah didn't keep quenching the Holy Spirit
within him. Under the Spirit's compulsion he kept speaking, despite how his listeners responded or didn't. Let's not let the negative reaction to the gospel in our time silence us either.

- When he looked at the big eternal picture his tune changed to praise
"Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord!
For He has delivered the life of the poor
From the hand of evildoers" - Jeremiah 20:11.
The same can be true for us.

- But he allowed himself to slip back into the dumps. I wish he had kept his focus on God—that he had ended with verse 13 (Jeremiah 20:13) instead of verse 18 (Jeremiah 20:18).

Jeremiah's slip-slide into gloom reminds me of something Joyce Meyer teaches: "We have to purposely choose right thinking. After we have finally decided to be like-minded with God, then we will need to choose and continue to choose right thoughts" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 26).

Dear God, thank You for using flawed human instruments like Jeremiah. Remind me of him and his humanness when I'm tempted to criticize the pastors and prophets in my life. Help me to overcome depressing thoughts with thoughts of the eternal truths of Your 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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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hagar the single mom

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 21:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said to her, 'What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.'" Genesis 21:17.

I can't help but feel sorry for Hagar. First she is pressed into service as surrogate mom by her mistress. When she gets pregnant, Sarah is so cruel to her (after she senses Hagar now despises her for her [Sarah's] inability to get pregnant) that Hagar flees to the wilderness. There an angel finds her and tells her to return to Sarah. She does and births Ishmael.

Now, about 16 years later,* at the party to celebrate Isaac's weaning, Sarah catches sight of teenage Ishmael "scoffing" (Genesis 21:9; Galatians 4:29 says that Ishmael "persecuted" Isaac). And Sarah insists that Hagar and Ishmael must go.

An aggrieved Abraham sends Hagar away and again she's with her son, abandoned in the wilderness. But no, she's not abandoned. For again an angel of God comes to her, points her to water and promises a future for her son. (And he does live a long life of 137 years - Genesis 25:17).

There are other instances of God making special provision for single parent families.

  • He provides for the widow of Zarephath and her son by sending Elijah to them. During his stay the oil and flour for bread never run out  - 1 Kings 17:8-16. Later when her son dies, Elijah restores him to life - 1 Kings 17:17-22.

  • Another widow avoids her sons becoming slaves of the person she owes money to when Elisha performs the miracle of the oil that keeps on pouring till all containers are full - 2 Kings 4:1-7.

  • Jesus restores a widow's son to her - Luke 17:12-16.

  • God promises to take the place of the absent spouse: "For your Maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name" - Isaiah 54:5 (also Hosea 2:19,20).

  • He will help parent the fatherless child: "You are the helper of the fatherless" - Psalm 10:14 (also Psalm 68:5 and Psalm 146:9).

What a comfort to know that God has a special compassion for single parents and their kids. If that includes you, claim and live in that. For those of us who aren't single parents, let's do all we can to be God's caring hands and feet to them and their children.

Dear God, thank You for Your care for those single parents needing help with their children. Help me to have empathy and an alertness to help them. Please be with widows and divorced and abandoned wives in a special way for all they must face, whatever stage they are at in life. Amen.

*"16 years later" because Moses was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Genesis 16:16). He was 100 years old when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5). This party was for Isaac's weaning, which would have happened when Isaac was about two or three years of age.

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, June 16, 2014

Lessons from nature

"' Look at the birds ... your heavenly Father feeds them.'" Matthew 6:26

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 8:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?" Psalm 8:3,4

Here David looks at the vast heavens at night, feels incredibly small, and uses that thought as a jump-off for pondering the place of man in God's creation.

Jesus often uses illustrations from nature in the lessons He teaches.

In the Sermon on the Mount, He draws attention to the birds. Though they live without forethought, they don't lack. He points to the lilies who,  He says, without any effort on their part, are more beautiful than a king in his glory. Surely God who feeds these creatures and clothes these flowers has the ability to care for His listeners then (and us today) without our fretting about it (Matthew 6:26,28).

Another time Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. Though its beginning is tiny, it grows to tree-like size (Matthew 13:31,32).

When talking about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus compares it to a field of grain. Man scatters the seed on the field but after that "the earth yields the crop by itself" without man's help. Just so the kingdom inexplicably grows, and matures on its own (Mark 4:28).

Walking along the road on day, Jesus points to a ripening fig tree. Just as the changes in the tree alert the passersby to the fact that the summer is coming, He says,  so watching current events should tell those who are alert that the coming of the Son of Man is near (Mark 13:28 and Luke 21:30).

Do you ever see spiritual lessons in nature? Let's look at the natural world with eyes open and alert to see what it might be saying to us about God and His ways.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known - Psalm 19:1-2 NLT.

PRAYER: Dear God I am in awe of the way nature reflects Your ways of working in the realm of the spirit. Please open my eyes to see You everywhere. 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 NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fathers, lead in right paths

straight path leading to the sun

Proverbs 4:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "I have taught you in the way of wisdom;
I have led you in right paths." Proverbs 4:11

"I have led you in right paths" says the father to his son in our reading today. There is probably no more persuasive teaching than that done by example. What are the "right paths" on which a father could lead his children? Are they still there for us to find today?

Right paths:

1. The wise father seeks out the paths of God
- Psalm 23:3.

2. He goes to the "mountain of the Lord" to get instruction (Isaiah 2:3). For the Old Testament Hebrews this would have been the temple in Jerusalem. In our day instruction can come from many places—church, radio & TV, books and, of course, the greatest book for this is the Bible which we can access in our own homes (no traveling to mountains necessary, although spending time with God in His word is sometimes called a "mountaintop experience").

3. The paths of God are:
- life and joy and pleasure - Psalm 16:11.
- mercy and truth - Psalm 25:10.
- wisdom and justice - Proverbs 2:6-8.
- uprightness - Isaiah 26:7.
- righteousness - Proverbs 8:20; 12:28.
- shining - Proverbs 4:18.

4. He avoids the path to sin. The path specifically referred to here is the path to the  "seductress" i.e. an immoral, extramarital relationship - Proverbs 2:19.

5. If he goes astray he looks for the way back. Jeremiah tells us to find our way back to God via the "old path" (Jeremiah 6:16), and to look for the "signposts" and "landmarks" (Jeremiah 31:21). This picturesque instruction says to me, don't look for a new-fangled way back to God. Come by the way of the book. If you have backslidden, come remembering and revisiting your decisions and experiences from the past.

6. The writer to the Hebrews gives the last bit of path wisdom to fathers and all of us: "…make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed." We need such straight, honest living, not only for our own well-being but for the well-being of those who follow behind, calling us father (and mother).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for fathers. Thank You for my father who loved Your word and taught it to us in our home. Please give wisdom, grace, and joy to all fathers who read here this Father's Day. 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, June 13, 2014

Spirit of order

"Creation of Light"
- Woodcut by Gustave Doré

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 1:1-2:4a

TO CHEW ON: "The earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." Genesis 1:2

What is an earth "without form and void"? The Hebrew uses two rhyming synonyms "tohu" and "bohu" for "without form and void." A sidebar article in my Bible defines them:

["Tohu" - a formless chaotic mess, a waste, a worthless thing, emptiness and desolation, for no purpose, for nothing. Tohu and its rhyming synonym bohu are coupled to describe a scene of disorder, confusion, and lack of arrangement. Elsewhere tohu refers to a howling waste, a trackless wilderness, a scene of utter disarray, desolation, and barreness. Tohu suggests 'sheer emptiness' as opposed to order and balance" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 927.]

And who was there "hovering" over that chaos? The "Spirit of God" that same Spirit who came to inhabit individual Christians on the day of Pentecost and who comes to lives in us when we are reborn.

My Bible's notes on Genesis comment on the word "hovering": "Hovering connotes sweeping or moving rather than staying stationary. The Holy Spirit is the 'executive arm' of the Trinity so He was quite active as God spoke each word" - R. Russell Bixler,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 4.

A grand account of creation follows. It's a marvel of writing, really, if you think of how much the verses of today's reading describe.

It's also a majestic display of the Trinity working in harmony.

God: "In the beginning God created..." Genesis 1:1.

Jesus: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" John 1:1-3,14.

Holy Spirit: "And the Spirit was hovering ..." Genesis 1:2 — sweeping, moving, and executing the Word.

If we bring together these thoughts about the Spirit, we have a wonderful promise to take into the day:
  • God the Holy Spirit can bring order to chaos.
  • This Spirit lives in us (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  • We can trust Him with the chaotic messes, the mysteries and confusions of our lives. He can order them into something meaningful, beautiful, and fruitful;  make out of them something that could be described as "good."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this account of You working in creation, Please bring order to the confusing, disordered, chaotic parts of my life. Help me to cooperate with You in this. 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, June 12, 2014

The Elymas spirit

Elymas the Sorcerer Struck With Blindness - Raphael
Elymas the Sorcerer Struck With Blindness - Raphael
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 13:1-12

"But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith." Acts 13:8

Elymas the sorcerer "withstood" Paul. Withstood - anthestemi means to oppose vigorously, bravely resist, stand face-to-face resisting. This word is where we get our word antihistamine—something that stands against and opposes the histamine in our bodies that cause allergic reactions. It is used in Ephesians 6:13 to describe how the Christian puts on the armour of God to be able "to withstand in the evil day and having done all to stand."

Here Elymas is offering such opposition to Paul—probably arguing against, making objections to, belittling, making fun of, mocking what Paul and Barnabas are attempting to explain of the gospel to Sergius Paulus.

Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, sees into this ploy of Satan himself. In a moment of intense spiritual confrontation Paul exposes what's going on when he says to Elymas, " 'O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?' " And then he pronounces temporary physical blindness on the man.

This story reminds me of people in public life, but also some I know personally, who withstand the gospel in this way. A couple of things.

  • The intellectual questions that they bring up are not usually the real barriers to faith. Satisfy one and they'll pose another. That's because the root issue is moral and one of the will, one of not wanting to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.
  • Openly naming the demonic root behind such withstanding—like Paul does with Elymas—I'm not sure that's always a good idea especially if the arguer is someone close to us. But we can certainly pray about this kind of spiritual resistance with insight and wait on the Holy Spirit to nudge us about when to say more and what and how to say it.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to recognize the Elymas spirit, not only in others but in myself. Help me to resist and expose it with the help of 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, June 09, 2014

Clothed in light

Clothed in light - artist unknown
Clothed in light - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 104:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Bless the Lord, O my Soul!
O Lord my God, You are very great:
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment." Psalm 104:1,2

Images of light—and dark—are woven through the Bible. Today let's sample a few of them to understand what the Bible says about light and dark, and to get a sense of where we fit in the spectrum.

  • "God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all" - 1 John 1:5.
  • God's breath gives man intellectual understanding or light - Job 32:8.
  • The prophets depict the coming Messiah in terms of light: "But to you who fear My name / The Sun of Righteousness shall arise…" - Malachi 4:2.
  • John talks of Jesus using the metaphor of light: "In Him was life and the life was the light of men … That was the true light which gives light to every man" - John 1:4,9. 
  • Jesus claimed to be light: " ' I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life' " John 8:12.
  • He said belief in Him brought people into light:" ' I have come as a light into the world that whosoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness' " John 12:46. 

We gain an understanding and appreciation of light when we contrast it with darkness.

  • Moses describes the consequences of disobeying God: "You shall grope at noonday as a blind man gropes in darkness; you shall not prosper in your ways" - Deuteronomy 28:29.
  • Proverbs talks of the wicked person's way, "…like darkness. They do not know what makes them stumble" - Proverbs 4:19.
  • The prophet Micah depicts the time of Israel's apostasy as "… night without vision. And you shall have darkness without divination" - Micah 3:6.
  • In general, we humans prefer darkness "…men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil" - John 3:19.
  • But darkness and light can never coexist. When light comes, darkness has to leave: "And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" - John 1:5.
  • We can never hide from God's light. No darkness is too thick that He can't penetrate it  - Psalm 139:11,12.
  • Paul tells us to cast off darkness and "… put on the armour of light" - Romans 13:12.
  • He speaks of our pilgrimage to faith in terms of once being in darkness but now in light - Ephesians 5:8.
  • Jesus tells those who believe in Him that they are the light of the world - Matthew 5:14.
  • And someday we will live in the city which has no need of the light of sun or moon—for God's Son will illuminate it. Jesus "…the Lamb is its light" - Revelation 21:23.

I ask myself, where am I on this journey from darkness to light? Where are you? Are we living with sin in the shadows, thinking we can hide from God? Have we seen Jesus' attractive light, but we're still in twilight, not sure we want to go all the way in putting on that armour? Or are we on the pilgrimage to ever-increasing light as we let the scriptures probe our lives, shining light on any rooms and corners where darkness still resides, becoming ever more attractive light-bearers (2 Corinthians 3:18)? Let's live in the light now so we can look forward with anticipation to heaven when we will experience perfect light!

Dear God, thank You for being light. Help me to expose my life to Your light and walk in it all my days. 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, June 07, 2014

Embrace diversity

teamwork - team putting a puzzle together
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities but it is the same God who works all in all." 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Our focus verses talk about three means through which God works in and through the life of a believer and so the life of the church.

He gives GIFTS. I like how the Amplified enlarges on "diversities of gifts": "Now there are distinctive varieties and distributions of endowments [extraordinary powers of distinguishing certain Christians, due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit] and they vary…" (1 Corinthians 12:4 AMP). Paul lists the gifts of the Spirit in verses 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 of our reading.

He works through MINISTRIES. [Ministries—diakonia—means service, ministering religion, charity, food.] It may require teamwork with each person willing to do what's required. A few years ago my husband and I worked in the Alpha ministry of our church—not as table leaders but as kitchen workers. When it came time for testimony night, the leader asked that we, the kitchen crew, be present to hear the testimonies so we would get a sense of what we had been a part.

He works through a diversity of ACTIVITIES. [Activities —energema—means "thing wrought" and "effect operation."] Verse 6 in the Amplified Bible explains it well: "And there are distinctive varieties of operation—or working to accomplish things—but it is the same God Who inspires and energies them all in all." (1 Corinthians 12:6 AMP).

To me this speaks of how people have different styles of working, taking different routes to the same goal. Some make detailed plans while others are open to whatever comes along. Some are organized, doing jobs ahead while others are last-minute, working best under pressure. Some have neat work spaces while others are most creative in chaos. The beautiful thing is there's no one right way. God is present and moving even in our different styles of working.

How freeing to know that we don't have to be like others in our gifts, our ministries, or our styles of working. When God the Holy Spirit lives in us, He will give the gifts we need for the ministry in which we're involved, to accomplish His work through us, as individuals and the church. We can not only embrace but celebrate our diversity!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your presence in my life. Help me to refrain from comparing myself with others in gifts, ministries and the way I work at things. 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." (

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Friday, June 06, 2014

The Spirit behind unity

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 11:16-30

TO CHEW ON: "So the Lord said to Moses "...Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you that you may not bear it yourself alone.'" Numbers 11:17.

Here in Numbers 11 we have an element of the unity Jesus prayed for, for His followers: unity in leadership. How does it come about? Not through education, training, or even mentoring, but through the impartation of the same spirit — the Holy Spirit.

God called Moses and empowered him to lead the Israelites. Now God gave him helpers to spread the weight of responsibility. Like God hand-picked the disciples, so it seems He chose these 70 men, for two didn't show up for the meeting at the tabernacle yet they demonstrated the same supernatural ability to prophesy even though they had stayed in the camp (Numbers 11:26).

I wonder if we haven't often glossed over the role that the Holy Spirit plays in our unity. And He fosters unity not only in leaders. The Bible has many examples of spiritual unity. (Though the Holy Spirit isn't expressly mentioned in many of these instances, I think we are safe in assuming that He was present in each case).

1. Moses and Aaron spoke in unity as God's mouthpiece to the Israelites - Exodus 4:15,30.

2. Aaron and Hur supported Moses' hands to achieve victory in battle - Exodus 17:12.

3. Elisha and the sons of the prophets worked together on a building project - 2 Kings 6:1-3.

4. The Israelites were unanimous in their choice of David as king - 1 Chronicles 12:38.

5. The Israelites worked in harmony under Nehemiah to complete repairs on the city wall while at the same time guarding everyone's safety - Nehemiah 4:16-17.

6. Jesus promised success in prayer as we pray in unity with even one other person - Matthew 18:19. In fact, when the disciples prayed "in one accord" (Act 4:24) "...the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness" - Acts 4:31.

7. Working in unity gives us success in spreading the gospel - Philippians 1:27.

How can we fight if we're controlled by the same Spirit? Let's be aware of the Holy Spirit's role in furthering unity, both in individual and church life!

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be controlled by Your Spirit and thus enabled to live in unity with other Spirit-filled and -empowered believers. Amen.

MORE: Unity and Prayer

"Disunity is a major hindrance to much prayer, and the history of revival in the church proves that deep, pervading unity in the Spirit can lead to spiritual refreshing and blessing."
- Wesley Duewel quoted in Prayer Powerpoints p. 95 (Source: Touch the World Through Prayer - Wesley L. Duewel, p. 25).
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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