Thursday, July 31, 2014

Night wrestling

"Jacob and the Angel at Peniel" 
by William Brassey Hole

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 32:13-32


TO CHEW ON: "And He said, 'Let Me go, for the day breaks.' But he said, 'I will not let You go unless You bless me.'" Genesis 32:26

The mysterious story of Jacob wrestling with a Man (God) needs a little context.

Jacob and his family had finally broken free of Laban. Jacob's entourage of flocks, servants, wives, and children were making their way back to the home of Jacob's youth. Their trek took them into Esau's territory. Why Jacob dreaded meeting the brother he had cheated, and because of whose death threats he had left home, is obvious.

As he neared the land of Seir, he sent messengers ahead to tell Esau of his approach. The messengers returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet them — with four hundred men! (Fighting men?!)

Jacob in a desperate attempt to placate his brother sent ahead a lavish gift (Genesis 32:13-15). In today's reading we see how he separated his troupe, putting his family on the safe side of a body of water, and then went out alone to face his fears.

I wonder what was going on in Jacob's mind. No doubt he was reliving his treatment of Esau and their last interactions. Was he feeling undeserving of the blessings God had showered on him, knowing that deception had characterized his life? Did he fear that the day of reckoning was here and Esau would get his revenge?

Sometime during the night a mysterious Man appeared. He and Jacob wrestled and Jacob, sinewy creature that he was, managed to hold his own. As dawn paled the horizon, the Man asked to be released but Jacob wouldn't let Him go until He gave him His blessing.

The Man asked Jacob his name, made him say it: "Jacob" = supplanter, deceiver. Then He gave Jacob a new name/identity: Israel = prince with God, "...for you have struggled with God and with man and have prevailed." But the altercation left Jacob with a limp.

Some things this story says to me:

1. Unresolved issues from the past have a way of reappearing.

2. The best way to deal with any troubling issue is to wrestle it out before God in prayer. When we do this, we show that we're at the end of our own devices. We don't know what effect Jacob's night of prayer had. Maybe Esau was coming with bad intentions. Maybe Jacob's night of contending changed more than just him.

3. Whatever flaws he had, Jacob was a fighter. The Man commended him for his determination. This story of Jacob wrestling with God became part of Israel's legacy. Hosea refers to it as an example of how his contemporaries should prevail with God: "...he struggled with the Angel...He wept and sought favor... So you by the help of your God return / Observe mercy and justice / and wait on your God continually" Hosea 12:2-6.


4. The incident left Jacob permanently changed. He received a new identity, along with a new humiliation. I love how my Bible's footnote explains "He limped: This symbolizes that character transformation costs God's people in terms of ego death" -R. Russell Bixler, commentary on Genesis,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 49.

Let's let Jacob's example mentor us in how to handle our issues from the past, how we need to  bring them to God, wrestle with them before Him, and accept the changes that He instigates - especially within us - in the process.

PRAYER: Dear God help me to deal with unresolved issues by working them out with You in prayer. Please help me to be teachable and learn the lessons You have for me. Amen.

MORE: Battles of the Secret Place

"The battle is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. The Spirit of God apprehends me and I am obliged to get alone with God and fight the battle out before Him. Until this is done, I lose every time. The battle may take one minute or a year, that will depend on me, not on God; but it must be wrestled out alone before God, and I must resolutely go through the hell of a renunciation before God. Nothing has any power over the man who has fought out the battle before God and won there" - Oswald Chambers - My Utmost For His Highest, December 27th reading.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Angels along the way

Jacob flees Laban - Artist unknown
Jacob flees Laban - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 31:43-32:12

TO CHEW ON: "So Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him." Genesis 32:1


Jacob was between a proverbial rock and hard place. If we read the part of the story between yesterday's reading and today's, we see that Jacob was restless and wanted to leave Laban's compound. But when he had tried to leave some years earlier, Laban hadn't let him go. Now he sensed a fall from favour with Laban and his sons (Genesis 31:1,2). And he heard from God: "Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you" (Genesis 31:3).

In typical Jacob fashion he sneaked away—if a cavalcade of camels, sheep and goats can be said to sneak. Of course Laban soon found out and went after him.

God intervened on Jacob's behalf with Laban, warning him to treat his son-in-law neutrally. And so when they met there was an attempt at explaining on Jacob's part, some scolding on Laban's, an accusation of idol-stealing and an unfruitful search, a formal good-bye meal, a pile of memorial stones/border marker set up, hugs and kisses all around, and then Laban said goodbye and left. The strings were cut. Jacob was on his own.

But not really. For at this point we read the short statement: "So Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him."

He would recognize them for he had seen them twenty years earlier on a heavenly ladder. How reassuring it must have been for him to know that though his father-in-law was displeased with him and he now had his estranged brother Esau's territory to cross, God hadn't forsaken him.

I believe we will experience the same sense of God's presence, know the comfort of His companionship when we obey. It may mean cutting ties to family (in a variety of ways), leaving the comforts of the familiar, setting out on what seems like a lonely journey. But God will also send His messengers, His angels (perhaps in the guise of other people, in words heard or read, in the lyrics of songs, or any number of ways) to meet us on the road of obedience.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that when we're obedient, walking under Your direction, You accompany us and send encouragement and strengthening along the way. Amen.

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



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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Prospering against all odds

Jacob laying the peeled rods before Laban's flock - Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - 1617-1682
Jacob laying the peeled rods before Laban's flock - Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - 1617-1682

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 30:22-43

TO CHEW ON: "Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys." Genesis 30:43

The trickery between Laban and Jacob continued. When Jacob wanted to leave, Laban pressured him to stay, not for Jacob's benefit but for his own. He recognized that God's blessing on Jacob was seeping into his life as well.

Yet he seemed forever suspicious that what Jacob was actually doing was stealing from him. So Jacob suggested a foolproof way to determine his wages. His pay would be the less desirable sheep and goats of the flock—the speckled and spotted sheep and goats, and the brown lambs.

Laban agreed to this, after which he immediately removed all such animals from his current flocks, giving them to his sons. Then he separated his flocks (tended by Jacob) and the flocks of his sons by a three-day-journey distance.

Our reading describes Jacob's way of provoking "flawed" animals. My Bible's commentary says about Jacob's system of peeled rods:
"Jacob was not practicing superstition, he was exercising faith which he somehow associated with the rods. God, having designed the laws of genetics, intervened and honored Jacob's faith" R. Russell Bixler, commentary on Genesis, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 46.

Whether Jacob was at heart superstitious or faith-filled, only he and God know. But it worked—not, I would submit, because of anything Jacob did but because God wanted it so and had planned it so. Jacob's survival and prospering was one of the pieces needed to complete the picture of our redemption through Jesus. Mr.Bixler again:
"God's blessings are always able to exceed man's defrauding" - Ibid.

How encouraging this story can be to us. Even when events, circumstances, and people are arrayed against us, nothing can or will stop God's purposes as He determines (with our cooperation of course) to enact them through us.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to look to You and not circumstances, people or my own wits for success in the assignments You give me. Amen.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

A legacy of dysfunction

Mandrake roots
Mandrake roots (Source: Wikipedia)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 30:1-21

TO CHEW ON:
"Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, 'Give me children or else I die.'" Genesis 30:1

Jacob's harem was not a happy place. Rachel envied Leah's fruitfulness and blamed Jacob for her lack of conceiving. This provoked Jacob's anger. The rivalry between the sisters soon drew their maids into the competitive struggle and enlarged the circle of bigamy. In these women's eyes, even God chose sides, favoring one and then the other with sons. This all sunk to a new low when Rachel and Leah showed their superstitious side as they haggled over some supposedly aphrodisiac mandrake plants for a night with the man.

Some thoughts on this depressing installment of the story:

1. We see the wisdom of God's design of one man + one woman (Genesis 2:24) by the mess in homes where men had several wives (like this one and see also the story of Elkanah, Peninnah and Hannah - 1 Samuel 1:1-7).

2. Individual sinful tendencies and family strife are readily passed from one generation to the next. The tensions of Isaac & Rebekah's relationship are only magnified in Jacob's family.

Do we find such generational weaknesses in our homes too? Probably, to some extent at least. But do they have to carry on? How can we put a stop to such a  legacy of dysfunction? Here are some ideas. Can you think of more?
  • Ask God to show us where we are duplicating the sins of our fathers. We may be blind to these and need to grow sensitive again. One way is to read and apply what God's word says about attitudes to avoid (Exodus 20:1-17; Galatians 5:17-21) and those to cultivate (1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Galatians 5:22-26). Another way to gain insight is to ask close friends and family members what they see in our relationships and homes.
  • We need to beware that kids interpret  "normal" from what they see at home, and by God's grace set a different example than, perhaps, we saw in our own homes growing up. Emulate the good; reject the bad.
  • Remember that with God there are new beginnings.
" … put off … the old man … and be renewed in the spirit of your mind and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" - Ephesians 4:22-24.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" - 2 Corinthians 5:17


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to make excuses for sinful attitudes and tendencies which have been part of my family. With Your enabling, I'm never too old to change. Amen.

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



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Sunday, July 27, 2014

God brings us out

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 105:23-45

TO CHEW ON: "So he brought his people out with joy
his chosen ones with singing." Psalm 105:43

With vivid description the psalmist details the things God did to bring the Israelites out of Egypt:

"Their land (Egypt, where the Israelites were slaves) swarmed with frogs / even in the chambers of their kings" (Psalm 105:30).
"He gave them hail for rain / and fiery lightning bolts through their land...He shattered the trees of their country" (Psalm 105:32-33).
"He opened the rock and water gushed out; / it flowed through the desert like rain" (Psalm 105:41).
 His story comes to a climax in their joyful freedom song:
"So he brought his people out with joy,/ his chosen ones with singing" (Psalm 105:43).
 There is in many of our histories the story of going from oppression to freedom, dotted similarly with signposts of God at work. I come from Mennonite stock. For this ethnic mix of original German, Swiss and Dutch peoples there is the story of an exodus from Europe to Russia and then to North and South America in a quest for religious freedom.

My husband's Russian great-grandfather converted from the Orthodox faith to simple faith in Christ as taught by the Russian Baptists. As punishment for converting he was imprisoned  in Siberia for eight years (when Russia was still under Czarist rule) before he could bring his family to Canada.

Of course for each of us there is a personal story of being in bondage to our old life and finding new life in Jesus. It might be an interesting exercise to write a Psalm 105 of our own. It could be the story of our people. Or it could be our personal story where we recall the details of God taking us out of a life of slavery to sin.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the way you have worked in the history of my forefathers and for my own personal story of coming to freedom as your child. Amen.


MORE: The Secret Holocaust Diaries

The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister is the fascinating true story of a young Russian girl who, from ages nine to about 20, kept detailed journals of her life. She describes her happy experiences as part of a large wealthy Russian family. She relates how the Bolsheviks expropriated her family's property. She tells of the dreadful winter of the German occupation of Russia when she was a teenager. She does eventually get to America. Hers is a story full of the evidences of God bringing someone out with joy and singing (though she shed many tears along the way).

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


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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tests

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 105:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him." Psalm 105:19

The "his" and "he" referred to in the verses above is Joseph. What is the psalm-writer talking about when he says "...until what he had said came to pass"? I believe it was those outrageous dreams of Joseph's which we read about in Genesis 37:

"Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold we were binding sheaves in the field and behold my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf....Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me..." Genesis 37:6-9.

During his days as a slave in Potiphar's house and later as a prisoner, I wonder if Joseph ever thought back to those dreams and wondered — What was that about? His situation couldn't have been farther from what his dream predicted.

However, there was action toward the fulfillment of those dreams all through that time. The psalm-writer alludes to what was happening behind the scenes. God was testing Joseph.

It's interesting that the psalmist doesn't say that circumstances tested Joseph, or Potiphar and the jailer tested Joseph but "the word of the Lord tested him," telling us that these circumstances had God's knowledge and permission. They issued as "the word of the Lord," that same creative force that brought the worlds into being (John 1:1-3).

Joseph's response to this testing was positive. With faithful dependability he passed every test. Then on one day that began like every other, the test was over (Psalm 105:20-22). And of course, when his brothers came from Canaan seeking food, the fulfillment of his dreams came true in living color before his eyes.

Your current situation may also be far from what you feel God has promised you for your future. Viewing the unpleasant, difficult, and unfair things in your life as God's tests may help you gain courage, inspiration and the hope to keep going.

Joseph's story shows too, how completely and radically God can turn things around in a short while once the test is over. So don't be fooled or disheartened by appearances.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this glimpse behind the scenes of the way You work in human lives. Please help me to pass the tests You bring my way today. Amen.


MORE: The test of waiting

You may find my article "In the Waiting Room" helpful if your test is waiting...and waiting... and waiting some more

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






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Friday, July 25, 2014

Jesus - model servant

Foot-washing - at my daughter's wedding
 (they both washed each other's feet).

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 20:17-34

TO CHEW ON: " 'And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.' " Matthew 20:27-28

Jesus didn't just point the disciples to the way they should live, He modelled it. He lived and breathed service during His time of ministry on earth. Skim through any of the synoptic gospels and you may come away exhausted yourself by his gruelling schedule of traveling, teaching, healing and then, when he tried to get away to rest, teaching and healing some more when the crowds followed Him to even remote places.

He also spelled out the importance of service. Our passage today is one such place (as is Mark 10:35-45). His washing of the disciples' feet (John 13:3-5; 14,15) was another dramatic object lesson of service where He again said plainly how this was something His followers should emulate: " 'Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.' "

Paul in Philippians describes the extremity of His service. The New Living Translation says it so clearly:

Though he was God,
      he did not think of equality with God
      as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
      he took the humble position of a slave
      and was born as a human being.
   When he appeared in human form..." Philippians 2:6-7 - NLT

The NKJV says He came "taking the form of a bondservant..." A bondservant was a Hebrew slave who had served out his six years of required service but instead of going free, insisted on continuing to serve the household he loved. His master would then pierce his ear as a sign of his state and accept his service for life (see Exodus 21:1-6).

A sidebar article in my Bible talks about the faithful servant:

"The character of a faithful servant reveals devotion to the interests of others; the thoughtfulness of rendering untiring care, the delight in the prosperity, honour and happiness of someone besides himself" -Fuchsia T. Pickett  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1328.

We can personalize such servanthood by asking — in my role as wife, mother, teacher, clerk, bank teller, waitress, CEO or... what does it look like to:
  • Devote myself to the interests of others?
  • Render untiring care?
  • Delight in the prosperity, honour and happiness of others?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your clear teaching about the importance of having a servant's heart and Your modelling of service. Help me to make a permanent paradigm shift and pursue this quality above the ways to be great that my culture recognizes. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. James the Apostle

It's a pity that James the Apostle is remembered most for this rather crass request (made by his mother, for sure, but it's clear that he and his brother John were in on it, for she "came to Him with her sons..."). I wonder how Jesus' teaching on this occasion, impacted him.

Here is a little more about this close friend of Jesus's:

Not much is known of his ministry after Jesus' resurrection.  It is believed, however, that he lived another 14 years before his martyrdom.  In fact, the apostle James was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom.  By order of Herod Agrippa I, James was beheaded in Jerusalem about the feast of Easter, 44 AD.


It is believed that within this 14 year period, James visited the Jewish colonist and slaves in Spain to preach the Gospel.
from "The Apostle James, son of Zebedee"
from this Bible Path article.
There is a church dedicated to the Apostle James in Spain.

Today is the day the church celebrates James the Apostle. The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

"O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked 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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Thursday, July 24, 2014

What we can learn from an unloved wife

"Leah and Rachel" by Johann Friedrich Overbeck
"Leah and Rachel" by Johann Friedrich Overbeck
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 29:21-35

TO CHEW ON: "And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, 'Now I will praise the Lord.' Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing." Genesis 29:35

Trickery ran in the family it seems. Just as Rebekah had set up Jacob to trick Isaac about his identity, so Laban, Rebekah's older brother, set up Leah to trick Jacob about her identity on his wedding night. I'm sure the irony wasn't lost on the groom.

Leah, who was probably a willing participant, ended up being the third wheel in this marriage—at least affection-wise. But not otherwise. For in the area of having babies, which mattered a lot in that culture, she conceived and birthed son after beautiful son for Jacob.

Her reaction to each is interesting:
- "Now my husband will love me," she said after Reuben, son #1.

- "Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also," she said after Simeon, son #2.

- "Now this time my husband will become attached to me," she said after Levi, #3.

- But after son #4, her focus shifted from her husband to God. "Now I will praise the Lord," she said and named the baby Judah which means 'praised.' Jacob later blessed Judah with the highest blessing of all his sons (Genesis 49:8-12). And indeed, King David and Jesus are descendants of Judah.

Some lessons from life we can take from Leah's story:

1. Our choices have consequences. They can last a lifetime.

2. We can praise God in spite of our circumstances—in our circumstances, as Leah did. After Judah's birth her focus was no longer on what, in the situation, she wanted to change, but on God.

3. God can bring good things out of bad. Unloved Leah was the mother of both Levi—the ancestor of Moses, Aaron and all Israel's priests, and Judah, the ancestor of David and Jesus. My Bible's study notes: "God's love for Leah is displayed in her becoming mother to the priestly and kingly tribes, Levi and Judah" - R. Russell Bixler, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 44.

One aspect of bringing good out of bad is conveyed by the word redemption. One of my favorite redemption passages underlines God's abilities here:

"So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust,
My great army which I sent among you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
And my people shall never be put to shame."
- Joel 2:25,26

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to consider my choices carefully, mindful of the consequences they hold.  Help me to praise You in the middle of right now, whatever my right now holds. Thank You that You can redeem  any situation. Amen.  

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



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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tender Shepherd

"The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel" by William Dyce (1806-1864)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 29:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept." Genesis 29:11


Today's reading paints a very human Jacob. A tent-dweller versus outdoorsman, he was a mama's boy (Genesis 25:27-28). Now, due in no little part to his and his mother's cunning, he (at 40+ years - Genesis 24:34) is forced to leave home due to twin brother Esau's threats to kill him after Dad dies.

Traveling east, he arrives at a well where shepherds are gathered with their flocks. He inquires if they know his mother's brother Laban, and they do! Then, even as they're talking, who should come along but Laban's beautiful daughter Rachel with her father's flock.

Jacob promptly removes the stone from the well (he may have been the indoors type but was obviously no wimp), waters Rachel's flock, tells her who he is, and kisses her in a patriarchal greeting, so overjoyed at finding his family he breaks down in tears.

We know, from reading the whole story, how his trials are just beginning. But God has big plans for him. To put them in motion, Jacob needs to leave home and live under the discipline of Laban. Laban will give him a taste of his own treacherous nature and Jacob will, as a result, develop into a man of character. Unlike Esau who sells his birthright to quell hunger pains, he will end up working 14 years for the girl he loves.

The happy 'coincidences' in today's reading will no doubt reassure Jacob, as he thinks back on them in the years ahead, when he again feels Godforsaken. They will remind him that God has led him, caring for him tenderly and personally—the shepherd of a human sheep, if you will—all this time.

God is the same with us. For if we examine our histories we will see how God's hand has been with us too, moving the pieces on the game boards of our lives in the big things, like meeting our spouse, to the little, like reminding us that we need to drop by the store. As Jesus put it:

" ' My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.' " John 10:27,28.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for watching over me as closely as you watched over Jacob. Help me to remember this and be reassured when I feel alone and afraid. Amen.

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



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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Weeping in the dark

Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus - artist unknown
"Rabboni!"  - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:1-18

TO CHEW ON: " ' They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him. … they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him. … Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him and I will take Him away.' " John 20:2,13,15

Mary's shock, perplexity, and desperation soak these verses. Though John's telling has her coming to the tomb alone, Mark's account includes Mary the Mother of James and Salome in this pre-dawn trek. They come with spices to anoint His body.

But the stone is rolled aside and His body gone!

I can imagine Mary's outrage as she breaks the news to Peter and John. She alone returns to the tomb with them. After they've checked the empty tomb for themselves and return home, she stays behind weeping.

But surely there must be some mistake. On looking into the burial place again she sees two angels (do you think she realized these were angels at the time?). One asks "Woman, why are you weeping?" She answers, "Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him."

Her interchange with the 'gardener' follows the same lines. She remains grief-absorbed until His "Mary" opens her eyes.

Mary's experience here reminds me of what we often go through in our times of desperation before Jesus shows up in one way or another. He could have saved Mary all those tears if He'd showed Himself to her and the others when they first arrived. But He didn't.

In Mary's life and often in ours, that seems to be His way. He comes in His own sweet time, after leaving us to weep in the dark for a while.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, whether my time of puzzlement is short or long, please help me to never lose faith in You and Your good plans for me. Amen.

MORE: Feast of Mary Magdalene


Today the church liturgy celebrates the Feast of Mary Magdalene. The day's readings opens with this collect (the healing referred to in the prayer refers to her being set free from demon possession - Luke 8:2) :

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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



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Monday, July 21, 2014

Offending wisdom

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 13:44-58

TO CHEW ON: "When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, 'Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?'" Matthew 13:54

The kingdom of heaven parables just kept pouring out of Jesus. The list of what the Kingdom of heaven is like (carrying on in numbering from yesterday's list):

4. A treasure and a priceless pearl (Matthew 13:44-45).
The person who seeks for this treasure knows it is so valuable, he/she is willing to part with everything for it. (Another way of reading this passage could be that Jesus is the purchaser who gave everything to secure the kingdom - Acts 20:28).

5. A mixed catch (Matthew 13:47-50).
The church's responsibility is to spread the gospel wherever it can, even to those who appear unlikely to accept it, for it attracts people of all kinds. And like the parable of the wheat and tares, here the 'fish'  who survive a sorting by the angels at the end of the age will be preserved while the wicked will be cast into a place that sounds a lot like hell - Matthew 13:50.

"Where did this Man get this wisdom?" the people in Jesus' home town inquire. Even though they may not have been referring to His kingdom of heaven speech specifically (He had in the meantime traveled to the place where he grew up - Nazareth), His teaching was invariably wise, thought-provoking, stimulating, and controversial.

Unfortunately even though townspeople called Jesus' teaching wise, they were offended by it (Matthew 13:57). It's the same reaction Jesus' teaching receives today (e.g. the ongoing controversy within Christianity about the existence and meaning of hell).

Two applications come to mind:

1. I wish I had a tiny iota of Jesus' wisdom, don't you? We are reminded of Peter and John and the reaction to their teaching: "Now when they (rulers, elders, scribes etc.) saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus" - Acts 4:13 (emphasis added). Is the secret to wisdom spending time with Jesus?

2. We need to be mindful of our own reaction to Jesus' teaching. Our generation has a tendency to select what it will believe and live by. A popular emphasis today is Jesus' message about caring for the poor, while we gloss over His message of judgment. Are we personally guilty of letting society's preferences dictate which of Jesus' words we take seriously and which we don't because they offend?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for the record of Your wisdom in the Bible. Help me to assimilate it into my life. I want my mind, life and speech to be changed by time spent with You. Amen.

MORE: What is wisdom?

Charles Spurgeon writes:
"Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom."
J. I. Packer writes:
"Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it. Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fulness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariable wise."
John Piper writes:
"Wisdom is the practical knowledge of how to attain that happiness. Therefore, wisdom is hearing and doing the Word of God."
For further reflection, see John Piper's 1981 sermon titled "Get Wisdom."

(From the website DesiringGod.org)

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



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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kingdom of heaven is like...

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 13:24-43


TO CHEW ON: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field... The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.... The kingdom of heaven is like leaven..." Matthew 13:24, 31, 33

Jesus' stories were both fascinating and puzzling for His followers over 2000 years ago and to a large degree they are still that way. Many of his parables concern the kingdom of heaven (also called the kingdom of God). This subject for the Jews in Jesus' time would have been especially captivating, considering their domination by the Romans and hope that Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom to throw off that domination.

Jesus never intended to do that. That much is abundantly clear from the many times He stated that His kingdom was not of this world. And so for us these many years later, the kingdom of heaven is still something we look forward to.

These three parables are each a little puzzle piece in the picture of what that kingdom will look like.

1. Pure, though now mixed (Matthew 13:24-30; 37-43):
In the story the wheat and tares (non-wheat) exist together. Jesus explains that the wheat are the sons of the kingdom, the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The parable implies that it's not our job as individuals or as the church to determine who is wheat (who is saved — a son of the kingdom) and who is not. That's the job for the angels (Matthew 13:39,41). "Premature separation in the present age is out of the question and becomes more destructive than purifying," says J. Lyle Story in my Bible''s study notes (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1315).

2. Starting tiny but destined to be big (Matthew 13:31-32):
The mustard-seed-start of the Kingdom looks insignificant in this earth age. But it is growing and someday we will be impressed by its greatness, just as the mature mustard plant much exceeds the seed in size.

3. Permeating everywhere (Matthew 13:33):
Like yeast grows silently yet surely, eventually permeating a whole lump of dough, so the kingdom of heaven does its work of penetrating evil and transforming lives wherever we find it.

These three little pictures of the kingdom of heaven serve to heighten our expectation. They also help us live realistically on earth as we:
  • Refrain from making pronouncements and judgments on who is saved and who isn't.
  • Refuse to get discouraged at the apparent insignificance of the kingdom and how it seems not to be flourishing in many places.
  • Understand the kingdom of heaven's penetrating and permeating power wherever it is, growing silently and secretly.

PRAYER: Dear God help me to get the big picture of kingdom of heaven realities. May I not grow discouraged but live like a kingdom daughter as long as I am on earth, doing my bit to help it spread and grow. Amen

MORE: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" - Keith and Kristyn Getty





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  • Author news.

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The newsletter will come out quarterly (four times a year). I'm currently collecting names for my September 1st newsletter launch and would be delighted to have your name on the list. 

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


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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Limited days

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 139:13-24

TO CHEW ON: "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them." Psalm 139:16

There is nothing like being in the presence of impending death to give one a sense of how much of life is out of one's control. About two years before he died, my brother's diagnosis of untreatable cancer had us all wondering how his life would play out. Would the doctor's diagnosis prove as fatal as it sounded, or would God give a miracle of healing? When, in July of 2010 he took a turn for the worse, we hurried to be by his side. Would this be the end? He soldiered on for six more months after that. None of us, not even his wife and children who were with him every day, could predict exactly when or how he would die.

Though such a limitation may make us feel frustrated, it is also a source of comfort when viewed within the context of God's knowledge and power. David refers to God's knowledge of our lifespan several times in this psalm:


"You know my sitting down and my rising up" (vs. 2).
"You... are acquainted with all my ways" (vs. 3).
"...in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them" (vs. 16).

But God doesn't only know the number of our days — He has determined it:

"You have hedged me behind and before
And laid Your hand in me" (vs. 16).

And so we know that every day of our lives is meant to be. If we are still here, God is allowing it, indeed ordaining it, to accomplish our part in His plan on earth.

The challenge for me, and you, is to use up these years, days, hours, and minutes wisely and well. To find the "everlasting way" and walk in it.

PRAYER: "Search me O God and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me
And lead me in the way everlasting" (vs. 23-24).

MORE: We are not so great
Though our human spirit is powerful and buoyed up by (somewhat delusionary) sayings like "If you can imagine it, you can do it" we are really very limited.

Our boundaries in life  and time on earth are limited. We don't even control basic things like physical height.  Though we can readily change the colour our hair appears to others, we still don't have power over whether it grows in blonde, black, grey, or white.

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I'm excited about launching a newsletter and I'd love to send it to you! 


In it I'll be sharing

  • Book recommendations. I discover some wonderful books as a book reviewer.
  • Bible study tips and aids. In the 4+ years I've been writing Other Food  Daily Devos, I have come across many helpful resources.
  • Author news.

Sample page from Pathways Calendar.
The newsletter will come out quarterly (four times a year). I'm currently collecting names for my September 1st newsletter launch and would be delighted to have your name on the list. 

Get a colorful 18-month scripture-text calendar when you sign up (designed by me especially for all you wonderful subscribers)!

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


Friday, July 18, 2014

Hedged in

 TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 139:1-12


TO CHEW ON: "You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me." Psalm 139:5

If you are like me, you don't like to feel confined. I don't like to feel physically confined. I remember fighting panic when we vacationed in our tent trailer and I slept in a narrow place between my husband, the canvas wall beside me, and the canvas roof that sloped to just inches of my face.

But David tells us that God confines us—fences us in, a hedge in front and in back, His hand on top.

If life is good we may scarcely be aware of this constriction. But when circumstances are hard, the job is unfulfilling, other pastures look greener, it is easy to try to wriggle out of the place we're in, to spring ourselves from what feels like a prison.

I read the blog of a special education teacher who wrote of this very thing in one of his 2011 advent meditations. His thoughts came out of a conversation with the furnace fixer, Mr. S., who confided in him, "I don't like my job," and then asked, "How about you? Are you thinking of leaving or are you going to stay?" Here's the rest of the story in Magical Mystical Teacher's own words:

“'I’ve thought about leaving,' I say to Mr. S, 'but where would I go?'

What I don’t tell him, because I’m not sure he’d understand, is that the only thing keeping me here—besides the children—is my sense of being placed here by God. Like the psalmist, I have found that God leads people who are willing to be led. If it weren’t for that, I’d be filling out as many applications as it takes to get out of here as quickly as possible.

However, until it is clear that I am supposed to move on, I listen for God’s instruction right where I am, confident that God will teach me the way to go, and lead me when the time is right."

Perhaps that attitude of trust in God, that willingness to stay or to go in God's time, not ours, that is the secret of living without restlessness, anger, resentment, bitterness etc., in our hedged-in place.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that Your enclosing of me is governed by Your wisdom, love, and power. Knowing that, I can live wherever You put me. Remind me of these things when I feel like complaining about my circumstances. Amen.

MORE: "Nothing is Wasted" - Jason Gray




I'm excited about launching a newsletter and I'd love to send it to you! 


In it I'll be sharing

  • Book recommendations. I discover some wonderful books as a book reviewer.
  • Bible study tips and aids. In the 4+ years I've been writing Other Food  Daily Devos, I have come across many helpful resources.
  • Author news.

Sample page from Pathways Calendar.
The newsletter will come out quarterly (four times a year). I'm currently collecting names for my September 1st newsletter launch and would be delighted to have your name on the list. 

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

God in unlikely places

Jacob's Dream - Gustave Doré, 1832-1883

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 28:6-22

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, 'Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.'" Genesis 28:16

Jacob's thoughts on waking from his wonderful dream are a testimony to how God-forsaken he felt. His feeling of being alienated from God was no doubt largely his own fault. He had recently participated in his mother's plot to deceive his father into giving him the blessing reserved for first-born Esau. Now Esau was living, eating, and sleeping revenge: "Just wait till Dad dies; I'll kill Jacob!"

Mother Rebekah got word of this and had Isaac send Jacob away on the pretext of getting a wife from her people. It is into the first lonely night of the journey that God came to Jacob in this dream of a ladder, angels, and God, who spoke a generational promise over him, the weasel kid. His first thought was: "God is here. I had no clue!"

I think of other unlikely times and places God showed up.

  • In the words of an enemy soldier - Judges 7:13-15.
  • In the life of a young boy who was surrounded by evilly religious men - 1 Samuel 3:19.
  • In the sea depths - Jonah 1:17.
  • In the middle of a Babylonian furnace - Daniel 3:25.
  • In a den of lions - Daniel 6:21-22.
  • In the presence and words of a young relative - Luke 1:41.
  • On an island of exile - Revelation 1:9-10.

These examples recall the words of David in Psalm 139:

"Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there.
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea
Even there Your hand shall lead me
And Your right hand shall hold me...." - Psalm 139:6-12.

Wherever we are today, no matter how God-forsaken we feel, let's cling to this truth: God is here, with us, whether we feel Him or not.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the truth of Your everywhere presence. Help me to recognize You in my everyday world. Amen.

MORE: Not one hidden moment
"I can hide my heart and my past and my future plans from men but I cannot hide anything from God. I can talk in a way that deceives my fellow-creatures as to what I really am, but nothing I say or do can deceive God. He sees through all my reserve and pretence; He knows me as I really am, better, indeed, than I know myself. A God whose presence and scrutiny I could evade would be a small and trivial deity. But the true God is great and terrible, just because He is always with me and His eye is always upon me. Living becomes an awesome business when you realize that you spend every moment of your life in the sight and company of an omniscient Creator" - J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 1973 edition, p. 91 (emphasis mine).
************

I'm excited about launching a newsletter and I'd love to send it to you! 


In it I'll be sharing

  • Book recommendations. I discover some wonderful books as a book reviewer.
  • Bible study tips and aids. In the 4+ years I've been writing Other Food  Daily Devos, I have come across many helpful resources.
  • Author news.

Sample page from Pathways Calendar.
The newsletter will come out quarterly (four times a year). I'm currently collecting names for my September 1st newsletter launch and would be delighted to have your name on the list. 

Get a colorful 18-month scripture-text calendar when you sign up (designed by me especially for all you wonderful subscribers)!

Sign up below:


***********
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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