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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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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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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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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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! 


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  • Book recommendations. I discover some wonderful books as a book reviewer.
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  • 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).
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I'm excited about launching a newsletter and I'd love to send it to you! 


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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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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 16, 2014

The power of a blessing

Jacob leaves home - Artist unknown
Jacob leaves home - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 27:41-28:5

TO CHEW ON: " ' May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples.' " Genesis 28:3 NIV

The answer to Isaac and Rebekah's prayers, the twins Esau and Jacob, are who we read about today. Theirs sounds like a toxic family where father and mother favor different children. Mother and son #2 trick father and son #1 out of bestowing and receiving the blessing usually reserved for the firstborn son. In such a less-than-perfect beginning the destiny of nations is set.

This incident contains three blessings.
- The blessing Isaac gives to Jacob (thinking he is blessing Esau) - Genesis 27:27-29 (just before today's reading).
- The blessing Isaac speaks over Esau (after the one he has planned for him is spoken over Jacob) Genesis 27:39-40.
- The blessing with which Isaac sends Jacob away from home - Genesis 28:3-4.

["Bless: behrahch #1288 - To bless, salute, congratulate, thank, praise, to kneel down. In OT times, one got down on his knees when preparing to speak or receive words of blessing … From God's side, he is the Blesser, the One who gives the capacity for living a full rich life" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Live Bible NIV, Kindle location 126,606.]

Several things strike me as I read about these blessings.

1. They are a big deal. Esau is distraught when he discovers Jacob has tricked Isaac into giving him the firstborn's blessing (Genesis 27:34).

2. The words of blessings, once spoken, cannot be retracted. My Bible's notes expand:
"The ancients knew far better than we moderns about the power of the spoken word. A blessing, a curse, a creative word, a destructive word, can all have great effects when spoken in faith" - R. Russell Bixler, notes on Genesis, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, KL 9792.

3. These blessings address the big picture and change the course of history.
  • Isaac's inadvertent blessing of Jacob contains a blessing of spiritual prosperity (Genesis 27:28), political supremacy (Genesis 27:29), and a curse on enemies (Genesis 27:29).
  • Isaac's blessing of Esau is as big as he can make it without contradicting his words to Jacob. The conflict predicted between his descendants (the Arabs) and the descendants of Jacob (the Jews) continues to this day.
  • Isaac's blessing on sending Jacob away is warm and expansive, pronouncing a blessing of many children and an inherited land.

Though we don't have a custom of bestowing blessings on our children in a formal way, we do bless and curse them when we praise or belittle them, tell them they have what it takes or give them the message we think they are failures. Let's watch our words to them. We can also bless them even when they're not present as we pray into their futures. We have no idea of the impact our words of blessing or cursing will have on their histories, let alone the destinies of our families, communities, nation, even the world.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to bless my children and grandchildren with positive words and faith-filled prayers. Amen.

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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

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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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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.





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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Withdraw - is it an option?

Christ in the Synagogue - Gustave Dore
Christ in the synagogue - Gustave Dore
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 12:15-32


TO CHEW ON: "Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there." Matthew 12:14-15

Here we see Jesus making a point of avoiding confrontation. When He discovered the Pharisees were plotting to take His life, He slipped away.

While we moderns often thrive on the controversy that confrontation brings, using the notoriety to further our cause (whether that is selling books, songs or the latest movie, pushing greenness, bike lanes, or racial equality), Jesus quietly left the area. Mind you, the Pharisees here were plotting to take His life. But you'd think that as Lord of the universe He could easily have foiled that while utilizing the showdown to draw attention to Himself and what He taught. But that wasn't His way.

Matthew interprets His actions as Jesus embodying the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy (Isaiah 42:1-4):
"I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles
He will not quarrel nor cry out.
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets..."

Instead of quarreling and crying out, the Isaiah Servant is characterized by the care He shows the hurting:

"A bruised reed He will not break
And smoking flax He will not quench."

That's exactly what we've just seen Jesus do. He demonstrated that His first concern was with the person that was in trouble and needed help.
  • Matthew 12:3-4: He defended famished David and his men for eating the sacred showbread (1 Samuel 21:6).
  • Matthew 12:5: He defended the priests, who needed to work (prepare sacrifices and offerings - Numbers 28:9) on the Sabbath.
  • Matthew 12:7: He quoted the prophets (Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8) to show that preferring mercy over strict legalism was God's long-established principle.

And then to prove it, Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, right in front of their eyes ON THE SABBATH! Which, of course, led to the threats quoted at the beginning of this meditation.

What do we do when we are certain we have the right approach, have done the right thing and are challenged, even threatened for it? Might that be the time to take a page out of Jesus' book and "withdraw" from there. Not back down on principle, but refrain from defending ourselves and our position? What do you think?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your example of humility and gentleness. Your unpretentious ways are a challenge to me to be less strident in defending myself, more trusting that God will come to my defense in the right time and way. Amen.

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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.

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

Convincing the skeptic

Jesus eats with publicans and sinners - Alexandre Bida
Jesus eats with publicans and sinners - Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 11:1-19

TO CHEW ON: " ' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, "He has a demon." The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Look, a glutton and winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" But wisdom is justified by her children.' " Matthew 11:19

Have you noticed how, when a segment of the population disagrees with government's position on an issue (like developing land or extracting oil or ore from the earth) they demand a study. When that study comes back but doesn't support their position, they ask for another? It seems there is within us an unwillingness to move from strongly held beliefs and convictions no matter what arguments or proofs we're presented with.

That's what we see in the people of Jesus' time. They were having a hard time believing God had actually showed up.

They flocked out to see John who preached repentance in his unusual get-up and abrasive way (Matthew 3:4-7). But instead of linking him with the fulfillment of the prophecy (Matthew 11:10 compare Malachi 3:1), they said, "He has a demon."

They came to Jesus and listened to His words with amazement but when they saw Him socializing with the wrong set, they discounted Him as a party boy, glutton and drunkard.

Jesus summed up the situation with a little proverb: "But wisdom is justified by her children."

The Amplified renders it:
"Yet wisdom is justified and vindicated by what she does (her deeds) and by her children" - Matthew 11:19 AMP.

and The Message:
"Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating" - Matthew 11:19 MSG.

I take that to mean, judge the wisdom of a teacher and his / her teaching (Jesus's John's, ours) by the fruit of that life and its influence.

This is encouraging to us as we seek to win family members and friends to Jesus. They will probably be swayed from skepticism more readily by the example of lives of love and service than by any of our intellectual apologetic arguments, no matter how clever or convincing.


PRAYER: Dear God, in the end, You by Your Holy Spirit, break down barriers of unbelief in the hearts of family members and friends. Help me to live a life that will help, not hinder, them along the path to belief. Amen.


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

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

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



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Saturday, July 05, 2014

The rebel within

choose good or bad
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 7:1-25

TO CHEW ON: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." Romans 7:24-25

Who of us can't relate to the split personality inside each of us that Paul writes about here? Some ideas he develops in this passage:

1. The law is a mixed blessing.
What law is Paul talking about? I think we can safely assume he is referring at the very least of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). He mentions one of them ("You shall not covet") in verse 7.

Jewish readers would also probably have thought of the myriad of laws connected to their worship. These involved offerings, feast days, circumcision, refraining from certain foods etc. We know a lifetime of religiously doing such things can put one into bondage, fearing that if something is left out, it will lead to damnation, It's another way the law puts one in shackles.

Paul describes the law as the thing that revives an inner struggle (so, in a way, bad) and also "holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12).

2. Awareness of the law awakens within us the desire to break it
(Romans 7:7-12).
The very presence of a rule is a challenge to our perverse human nature to break that rule.

3. We are born in sin with a bent to rebel against God and His law.

The tendency to sin is our default setting (Romans 7:14-18). And so as Christians, our desires (wanting to obey Christ) and our actions (disobedience, because it comes naturally) often contradict each other (Romans 7:19).

4. But there is a way out of this law-awakened rebellion against God
—a way to get unchained from this "body of death":
This body of death: The figure of a person chained to a corpse from which he cannot be freed, despairing of deliverance…"
It is "Through Jesus Christ our Lord":
"But despair gives way to a declaration of victory, not because the struggle ceases, but because human strength is exceeded by the power of the Holy Spirit" - Wayne Grudem, commentary notes on Romans, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1561).

As we experience what Paul is talking about, let's allow the Spirit full sway in our hearts to change our desires so that we fulfill the "law of God" (Romans 7:22) not only with our minds but with our flesh as well.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, be alive and active in me so that I desire to obey—not rebel—God's will as expressed through His moral laws.  Amen.

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



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Friday, July 04, 2014

Trust - no matter what!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 3:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "Though the fig tree may not blossom
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail
And the fields yield no food
And there be no herd in the stalls —
Yet will I rejoice in the Lord
I will joy in the God of my salvation." Habakkuk 3:17-18

What has brought Habakkuk from despair to such faith? We saw, at the beginning of the book, how he was obsessed with the negatives around him. He saw only lack of justice (Habakkuk 1:2-4), evil flourishing (Habakkuk 1:12-13), and the surrounding heathen nations ravishing their neighbours (including Israel) and getting away with it (Habakkuk 1:14-17). How did he get to this declaration of trust in God?

By focusing on the right things.

If we look at what precedes his flag-plant of faith we see that it's a song / prayer of praise which looks at God's strength and lists the ways He has come to Israel's rescue in the past (Habakkuk 3:1-16).

It reminds us of other great prayers of faith. For example, compare Habakkuk 3:3-4 with Moses' blessing in Deuteronomy 33:2. Habakkuk alludes to God's judgment of Egypt and the Israelites (in the desert) with sickness in Habakkuk 3:5. When he says, "The overflowing of the water passed by" (verse 10), we are reminded of the way the Israelites passed through the Red Sea between walls of water as described in Exodus 14:22.

All this remembering, this seeing God in the big brush strokes of history buoys Habakkuk's faith till finally he can say with confidence, No matter what it looks like today and tomorrow, this season or next, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

My Bible's commentary on this verse sums it up well:
"Habakkuk asked genuine questions, waited for God's answers, and accepted them. He put his hope in God and experienced His presence. In faith, he looked beyond his present circumstances to God, placing his hope in God's saving grace and absolute faithfulness. He set his heart and his eyes on God"
We can do that too. We can:
  • Understand that it is acceptable to acknowledge the difficulty of our situation.
  • Focus our attention on God rather than circumstances.
  • Remember our circumstances will change but God remains the same.
  • Put hope in God's ability to save us; He is present with us in even the most difficult of times.
  • Choose to rejoice in the Lord regardless of the way we feel
  • Trust that He will enable us to overcome.
(Leslyn Musch, "Truth In Action Through Habakkuk," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1230.)
PRAYER: Dear God, I have watched Habakkuk move from doubt and fear to faith and confidence in You, even though his circumstances didn't change. Help me to have that reaction to the puzzling things in my life, as I choose to trust You no matter how things look. Amen.

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

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Live by FAITH

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 2:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith." Habakkuk 2:4

Yesterday we left Habakkuk voicing his frustration with God's apparent inaction. He tries to goad God to act by pointing out things He shouldn't be tolerating: sin, the rise to power of evil leaders. Today we have God's reply. I wonder if Habakkuk wasn't just a little disappointed in it. For God didn't give a direct answer to a single concern Habakkuk raised. Instead He said, in effect, trust. Live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

Of course we know it isn't faith that is the real answer. We can have faith in all kinds of things that aren't faith-worthy. The godless Babylonians of Habakkuk's days had faith too — in their methods of warfare and in their idols.

The faith that Habakkuk was to live by was faith in God, which encompassed believing that He was who He said He was, and could and would ultimately align things on earth with His character.

Two additional verses in this chapter help to flesh out what faith in God was and is all about:

"For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea" - Habakkuk 2:14

This verse tells us that someday God's presence, invading every crack and cranny of Earth will crowd out injustice, sickness, disaster of every kind. For light and darkness can't coexist. When the earth is filled with the knowledge of God's glory, the source of all Habakkuk's and our why questions will be overcome by God's light.

And:

"But the Lord is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth keep silence before Him" - Habakkuk 2:20

This verse comes after Habakkuk's description of someone worshiping man-made gods; idols. It tells us that God will outlast any and every other thing which we worship and in which we trust.

So, instead of dwelling on the why questions we asked yesterday, let's take the answer Habakkuk got and apply it to our own lives. Let's live by faith, but faith in not just anything, but in the God of the Bible who outlasts all other gods and has promised to someday illuminate every why with the light of His presence.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this deep, rich answer to my dilemmas. It puts the ball back in my court: will I trust You even when I can't see? Help me to do that today. Amen.

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

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

We can sift our words and actions through this

flour sifter
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 3:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." - Colossians 3:17

In Colossians 3:1-16 Paul gives his readers back in Colosse and us now, a list of specifics—ways to act Christianly:
- control your thoughts (Colossians 3:1-4).
- stop responding to sinful urges (Colossians 3:5-6).
- clean up your speech (Colossians 3:8,9).
- become blind to race, adherence to religious practices like circumcision, and social status among Christian brothers and sisters (Colossians 3:10,11).
- adopt the right attitude toward fellow believers being quick to forgive, and governed by love (Colossians 3:12-14).
- cultivate peace and gratitude in your own heart (Colossians 3:14,15).
- spend so much time in the word that it flows from your lives (Colossians 3:16).

In verse 17, it's as if Paul is saying, 'If I've forgotten anything'—"And whatever you do in word or deed"—it's included in this command:  "... do all in the name of the Lord Jesus..."

  • Doing something in someone's name is to act as their representative or stand-in. In a way, this verse is another way of phrasing the popular saying, What Would Jesus Do?
  • Acting in someone's name has overtones of authority. A policeman who levies fines and makes arrests doesn't do this in his own name but in the name of the government that employs him. In Acts we see an interesting example of two parties using the authority of Jesus name to exorcise evil spirits (Acts 19:11-17).
  • There is also an ambassador-type relationship implied. As people who call ourselves Christians (Christ-ones) and in this way identify with Jesus, we are ambassadors of the kingdom He represents and is establishing—the kingdom of heaven.

What an awesome privilege—to live ("whatever you do in word or deed") in the name of the Lord Jesus. At the same time it's sobering. This verse becomes a kind of screen through which we can sift all our words and actions, asking: Is this thing I am planning to say, write or act on, something I can do in the name of Jesus?

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, please remind me of these words and how I am to live in Your name as I go through the activities of this day. 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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