Sunday, November 30, 2014

Day of distress, disaster, desolation, darkness

funnel cloud, wind
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 1:1-18

TO  CHEW ON: "The great day of the Lord is near …
That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation
A day of darkness and gloominess
A day of clouds and thick darkness." Zephaniah 1:14,15


In the next three days we'll be reading the entire book of Zephaniah. It's written by Zephaniah, a princely prophet (a descendant of King Hezekiah) who was a contemporary of the prophets Jeremiah and Nahum. He prophesied during the reign of King Josiah.

King Josiah was the king of Judah who purged the land of idols and idolatrous priests and practices. During the cleaning of the temple, the priests of God found the Book of the Law. That led to the people again begin celebrating feasts like the Passover.

The feeling in the land was one of relief. The threat of the Assyrians was diminishing. Josiah's reforms led to a sense of complacency: All was again right between God and man in the Kingdom of Judah.
"Into this complacent atmosphere the devastating message (of Zephaniah) comes like a searing blast" writes Mary LaVonne Phillips in my Bible's introduction to Zephaniah (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1231).
Why the doomful message when things were apparently going so well?

"In retrospect the reform was one of externals since the hearts of the people had not been changed" - Ibid.
Like many prophetic messages, Zephaniah's has three parts:
1. A pronouncement of judgment.
2. An appeal for repentance.
3. A promise of salvation.

It's easy to see that the part of the message we're reading today is the pronouncement of judgment. And lest we think predictions of "the day," or "the day of the Lord" or "judgment" are just in the Old Testament, consider these words from the mouths of:

Jesus: " 'He who rejects Me … the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day' " - John 12:48.

Paul: "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" - Romans 2:5.

Jude: "And the angels … He has reserved in everlasting chains and darkness for the judgment of the great day" - Jude 1:6.

John: "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand" - Revelation 6:17.

It's a message of coming judgment that is out-of-fashion for us moderns—even Bible-believing Christians. Hearing about judgment makes us squirmy and uneasy in the climate of the present evangelical world that emphasizes the love, grace, and mercy of God. But there it is in the Bible—an uncomfortable truth that we all must face.

There is a day of distress, devastation, desolation and darkness ahead. But thank God that is only the first part of the message!

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to view You realistically as not only the source of infinite, boundless love, but as Someone whose standards of purity and holiness demand a day of reckoning. Amen.

MORE: First Sunday of Advent

Today the church celebrates the first Sunday of Advent.

Today's liturgy begins with the following Collect:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

ADVENT - a Wikipedia article that explains the history, customs and symbols of the Advent season

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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.





Saturday, November 29, 2014

Giving thanks

"Feeding the Multitude" 
by William Brassey Hole

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 6:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "And Jesus took the loaves and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise the fish as much as they wanted." John 6:11

This passage with its narrative of Jesus giving thanks then distributing bread and fish resonates with other scenes and meanings.

  • On the following day, Jesus explained the miracle in another teaching session. There He said, " 'I am the bread of life' " - John 6:41.
  • We think of the Lord's Supper:
"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body'" - Matthew 26:26.
  • We remember another scene where two disciples traveled to Emmaus and along the way encountered an interesting stranger. When they begged Him to stop with them, He blessed their evening bread, broke and gave it to them, and they recognized—Jesus (Luke 24:29-31)!

The words "given thanks" in our focus verse are a translation of the Greek word eucharisteo.

[Eucharisteo  is made up of eu = well and charizomai = to give freely. It means to be grateful, to express gratitude, to be thankful. Eleven of the 39 appearances of the word in the NT refer to partaking of the Lord's Supper, while 28 occurrences describe the praise words given to the Godhead. During the second century, Eucharist became the generic term for the Lord's Supper" - Dick Mills,  Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1453.]

I never hear eucharisteo now but I think of Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts. In it she tells the story of a friend challenging her, in a time when she was searching for a greater sense of God's reality in her life, to make a list of ordinary things (like bread and fish) for which she could give thanks. Could she get to 1000?

This challenge became a practice for her. It put her on the road to a whole new understanding of God's activity in her life and gratitude for it—eucharisteo. She, in turn, challenged others so that the naming of life's ordinary gifts has become a movement of sorts.

And so I am challenged today by Jesus' example and Ann's exploration, to express my gratitude for life's ordinary gifts—like coffee, and my trusty Bic pen—and extraordinary gifts—Him, His body and blood, our mysterious union as I partake of the Eucharist, His life in me as I eat His word ... it goes on and on.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, I love the scene of you giving thanks for food before distributing it. It reminds me to reflect on the source of every good gift and to return my thanks to You—instead of mindlessly grabbing blessings as my right. Help me to live gratefully today. Amen.

MORE: Ann Voskamp writes about eucharisteo

"In the original language, 'he gave thanks' reads 'eucharisteo.'

I underline it on the page. Can it lay a sure foundation under a life? Offer the fullest life?

The root word of
eucharisteo is charis, meaning 'grace.' Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks.

But there is more, and I read it.
Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning "joy." Joy. Ah ... yes. I might be needing me some of that. That might be what the quest for more is all about—that which Augustine claimed, 'Without exception ... all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is joy'" -Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, page 32.
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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, November 28, 2014

Watch!

security guard
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 13:24-37


TO CHEW ON: "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" - Mark 13:37

When a word occurs multiple times in a bit of scripture, we'd better pay attention. In Mark 13:32-37 Jesus tells us four times to WATCH.

"Watch and pray," He says (Mark 13:34), "for you do not know when the time is." The time He is referring to is the time of Jesus' return (Mark 13:26). [The Greek word for watch here (agrepneo) means to be sleepless, to keep awake.]

He repeats the command: "It is like a man going to a far country who ... commanded the doorkeeper to watch.... Watch therefore .... Watch!" (Mark 13:34, 35, 37). [The Greek word for watch in these three instances is gregoreuo. As well as meaning alert and wakeful, it also signifies mental alertness and caution.]

The disciples are to be as alert as doorkeepers, guarding the house from thieves. They are to stay awake through all four watches of the night. They will find themselves in big trouble if the master finds them asleep. The picture is of the captain of the temple making his rounds. "The guards had to rise at his approach and salute him in a particular manner. Any guard found asleep on duty was beaten or his garments set on fire" - Vincent's Word Studies. Oh my!

The command to watch continues for us today. Though we are not to speculate about the date when Jesus will return (Mark 3:32 tells us it's pointless because only God the Father knows) we are to continue in this state of readiness and alertness.

Of course Jesus may come to some of us through death before He physically returns to earth. Here too we need to be watchful. As Matthew Henry puts it:

"We know not whether our Master will come in the days of youth, or middle age, or old age; but, as soon as we are born, we begin to die, and therefore we must expect death. Our great care must be, that, whenever our Lord comes, he may not find us secure, indulging in ease and sloth, mindless of our work and duty..." Matthew Henry's Commentary.
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be more mindful of Your anticipated return, and to live life alert to the possibility of You bursting on the scene at any moment. Of course I could meet You through death in the same sudden, unexpected way. Teach me to live a watchful lifestyle. Amen.

MORE: Watchful praying

From a 1982 sermon preaching from the text Colossians 4:2-4 John Piper makes these observations about watchful prayer.

“Be watchful in your prayers.” This means, be alert! Be mentally awake! Paul probably learned this from the story of what happened in Gethsemane. Jesus asked the disciples to pray, but found them sleeping. So he said to Peter, “Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:37f). We must be on the watch as we pray—on the watch against a wandering mind, against vain repetitions, against trite and meaningless expressions, against limited, selfish desires. And we should also watch for what is good. We should especially be alert to God’s guidance of our prayers in Scripture. It is God who works in us to will our prayers but we always experience this divine enablement as our own resolve and decision..." Read all of "Persevere in Prayer" by John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org. (Emphasis added.)

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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.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Stay the waiting course

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 64:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him." Isaiah 64:5


Do you like to be kept waiting? I don't! But God, whose wisdom trumps our likes and dislikes, may often keep us waiting.

[Wait means 1) To stay or remain in expectation as of an anticipated action or event. 2) To be or remain in readiness. 3) To remain temporarily neglected or undone.]

Isn't that third definition apt? For when we are kept waiting, neglected is just how we feel.

The Bible is full of people who God kept waiting.
  • Abraham and Sarah waited for an heir. When they got impatient and tried to achieve this their own way (through Abraham having Ishmael by Sarah's maid Hagar) they brought trouble into their lives.
  • Samuel told King Saul to wait for him to offer a sacrifice before he (Saul) went to war. When members of his army started slipping away, Saul grew impatient and offered the sacrifice himself. Samuel arrived at the end of the ceremony and told Saul that because of his disobedience, the kingship would be taken from his family (1 Samuel 13:1-15).
  • The disciples, on the other hand, waited in Jerusalem as Jesus had told them to, until the Holy Spirit descended. Then, indwelt with God's power, they "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).

Are you waiting for something today? Take heart from today's verse and words like David's in Psalm 37 as you stay the waiting course:

"Commit your way to the Lord
Trust also in Him
And He shall bring it to pass...
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him
Do not fret..." (Psalm 37:5-7).


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to commit my way to You and wait for You to "bring it to pass" and "act" for me. Amen


MORE: Stay at your post

"Still God often keeps us waiting. Face to face with threatening foes, in the midst of alarms, encircled by perils, beneath the impending rock. May we not go? Is it not time to strike our tents? Have we not suffered to the point of utter collapse? May we not exchange the glare and heat for green pastures and still waters?

There is no answer. The cloud tarries, and we must remain, though sure of manna, rock-water, shelter and defense. God never keeps us at post without assuring us of His presence, and sending us daily supplies.

Wait, young man, do not be in a hurry to make a change! Minister, remain at your post! Until the cloud clearly moves, you must tarry. Wait, then, thy Lord's good pleasure! He will be in plenty of time!" - "Daily Devotional Commentary," quoted by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman in Streams in the Desert, pp 316, 317.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Discipleship's costs

Jesus heals the demoniacs - Artist unknown
Jesus heals the demoniacs - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 8:18-34

TO CHEW ON: "Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, 'Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.' " Matthew 8:20

Yesterday we saw Jesus the mentor/rabbi pouring Himself into crowds and individuals, Jews and Gentiles, strangers and friends, untouchables and undiagnosables. I'm sure His disciples were getting the idea—this teacher is a challenge to emulate!

In our reading today He outright says some things about the cost of discipleship that probably left no doubt in His disciples' minds that they had embarked on a humanly impossible life.

Translated into today-speak for us:

1. Discipleship may cost some of the things to which we think we're entitled
—like a home address (Matthew 8:19-20).

2. Discipleship will impinge on relationships and obligations
—like family responsibilities (Matthew 8:21-22).

3. Discipleship may thrust us into situations that feel dangerous and where our faith will be stretched.
In our reading the disciples drift right into a storm. In the tempest-tossed boat, Jesus says to them, " 'Why are you fearful, O you of little faith,' " before He takes care of the storm (Matthew 8:23-26).

4. Discipleship can be thankless.
The people of the Gergesene-area city near where Jesus cast demons from two men have no compassion for the men or gratitude that they've been set free. Rather, they are upset because of the drowned hogs and beg Jesus to leave (Matthew 8:28-34).

I ask myself am I realistic about discipleship's costs? Are you? Or are we caught off-guard when life's hand is out, demanding such payments from us?


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to count the cost of discipleship and choose day by day to continue as Your disciple. 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.




Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Poured-out life

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law - Artist unknown
Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 8:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "… that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.' " Matthew 8:17

Jesus is busy and popular. We see him, at the beginning of today's reading (having just come down from a mountain teaching session followed by a huge crowd), talking with and then healing a man with leprosy. He walks to Capernaum and on entering the city gets waylaid by a Gentile centurion. At Peter's house one of his hostesses is sick so Jesus heals her. Then in the evening Peter's property becomes an impromptu healing and deliverance clinic for the town.

Now I realize that the Matthew narrative makes it sound like these things happened one after the other in close succession. There may well have been more time between the incidents than it seems. But even if these events occurred over days to a week, Jesus had a full schedule, which He carried out with not a whiff of a bad attitude.

There is no eye-shift of impatience when the man with leprosy stops Him. Rather, " ' I am willing (to heal). Be cleansed.' "

There is not a watch-glance of schedule-keeping when the centurion stops him. Rather, there is close listening, honest admiration of the man's faith, a mini-lecture to take advantage of the teachable moment, and the promise of an answered prayer.

At Peter's house, after a full day, He  heals before supper and then ministers healing and release from demonic bondage till long after dark.

No wonder Matthew recognizes Him as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4. It doesn't happen through His looking on but because of His intimate involvement with and service of humanity—of us.

I watch Jesus here and get convicted as I imagine what my reactions to the things He encountered would have been:
- I would have been irritated by all those interruptions.
- I would have been overwhelmed by all the needs.
- I would have been self-protective, insisting, for example, that we take a break after supper instead of getting back to work.

Later in the New Testament, we see the disciples living with the same bold, people- and ministry-centred focus that they had seen in Jesus. Where did they get this spirit? From being with Jesus (Acts 4:19)

Maybe if I, if all of us, hung around Jesus more, allowed His Spirit to take over ours, we too would be known for the assured yet compassionate, identifying-with-human-needs, poured-out life that characterized Him.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am full of awe at the way You handled life and its demands. I need the ability to see beyond my list of urgencies to what's eternally important, and the courage to pour my life into those things. 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.



Monday, November 24, 2014

Don't worry

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 6:22-34

TO CHEW ON: " 'Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?' " Matthew 6:25

The last part of our reading today gives three reasons why we shouldn't worry:

1. Worry is unnecessary (Matthew 6:26, 28-30):
Why? Because we're in the hands of the same creator God Who sees that the birds get fed and the flowers and grass get clothed. Jesus asks, rhetorically, of His human audience, " 'Are you not of more value than they?....will He not much more clothe you?' "

2. Worry is ineffective (Matthew 6:27):
Worrying about a "one cubit" height increase could also stand in for other things we're born with—physical features, genetic tendencies or traits, a certain IQ. We don't have control over these things so we waste our effort and energy worrying about them.

3. Worry is unbecoming  (Matthew 6:31-32):
Worrying makes us like the "Gentiles"—those who have no faith in anything or anyone but themselves. In fact, an endnote about this passage advises: 

 "Acknowledge worry as sin. Discipline yourself to turn from any anxiety and choose to trust the Lord" -Leslyn Musch,  "Truth-In-Action through the Synoptics, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1440.
"Rather than being preoccupied with material things, our ambition should be to seek first God's kingdom and righteousness, knowing that as we do so, He has pledged Himself with covenant faithfulness to respond — all these things shall be added to you"  J. Lyle Story, study notes, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1301.

Matthew 6:33 is in my repertoire of memorized verses. I don't know how many times I have pulled it out of memory and recited it to myself. It is one of those settle-me-down verses that calm anxious thoughts and reinforce thoughts of trust and faith in God. If you haven't done so already, you might want to memorize it too.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to discipline myself away from thoughts of anxiety to thoughts of trust, especially in the area of everyday living. Amen.

MORE: How to seek God's kingdom first

How do you "seek God's kingdom first"? Rev. John Piper gives some good practical advice in a 1984 sermon "Do Not Be Anxious About Your Life":

"...instead of being anxious, "Seek first God's kingdom." In other words when you think about your life or your food or your clothes or your spouse or your job or your mission, don't fret about them. Instead make God the king in that affair and in that moment hand over the situation to his kingly power and do his righteous will with the confidence that he will work for you and meet all your needs. To seek the kingship of God first in every affair and every moment of life is a thrilling way to live. It's full of freedom and peace and joy and adventure—and hardship; and it's worth it all. If you believe in the kingship of your heavenly Father, you do not need to be anxious about anything."
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org - Read entire ...
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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.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Recognizing Jesus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:31-46

TO CHEW ON: " ' And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." ' " Matthew 25:40


One of the popular motifs of the Christmas dramas we used to put on in Sunday School was the poor, beggarly misfit becoming a type of the Christ child. It turned out that the person who noticed and served this unfortunate one amid the hustle and decorations, the shopping and food preparations, was the one who had the true Christmas spirit.

Recognizing Christ in unusual places and people is the theme of our reading today. Seeing and caring for His needs in those around us—the hungry and thirsty, the lonely stranger, the forsaken prisoner, the person who needs warm clothes ("naked") and sick—brings not only the King's commendation but the label of "righteous" and escape from eternal punishment (Matthew 25:34, 45-46).

Jesus talks in other places of coming in disguise:

  • In Mark 9:41 the person who serves Christ's disciples with as little as a cup of cold water gets a reward.
  • " 'Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives not Me but Him who sent Me' " says Jesus in Mark 9:37.
  • At another time, Jesus answered a question about how to inherit eternal life with the parable we call the Good Samaritan. In it, the person (Samaritan) who helps his needy neighbour (a beat-up Jew) is the one who loves his neighbour as himself, fulfilling one of the conditions for inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:28-37).

I look at these examples and ask myself—do I recognize Jesus when He comes to me disguised as a child, or a needy stranger, or a sister in trouble? Or am I more like those "goats" in our reading, who will someday appear before the King with 'Duh… Lord, when did I see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?'

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please take the scales off my eyes. Help me to recognize You however  and wherever You appear. 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, November 20, 2014

The beginning of the end?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:1-28

TO CHEW ON:
" ' All these are the beginning of sorrows.' " Matthew 24:8

If you had never read today's passage and someone handed you its contents on a scrap of paper, would your impression would be (choose one):
a] This sounds entirely unfamiliar.
b] This sounds a lot like current conditions in the world.
c] This sounds like something that could never happen.

If you're like me, you chose b, because this sounds like the writings of someone in the room with me as I watch the nightly news or scan the latest headlines on the computer.

In early parts of this passage (Matthew 24:5-7) Jesus gives us a list of spookily familiar events that herald the near coming of His return to earth / the End:*
- The appearance of false and deceptive Christs.
- Wars and rumours of wars.
- Famines, pestilences and earthquakes.

But, Jesus says, these things are just the beginning of "sorrows." Some translations calls them "birth pains" (NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV)—an interesting comparison suggesting earth-shaking events will become more frequent and intense as they near a climax. Could this be the time we're living in right now? If so, what do we have to look forward to? Jesus' answer:

" 'Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake' " - Matthew 24:9.

Who is the "you" Jesus refers to here? It was to His band of disciples He delivered this private message (Matthew 24:3). So we can, I think, conclude that His disciples of all eras are on notice. That's us. Jesus warns and advises (Matthew 24:10-14):

- We can expect offenses, betrayals, hatred, and death.
- We must be on guard against false prophets.
- We need to be aware of the potential for spiritual lawlessness and coldness.
- Our endurance will be challenged.
- While the above is happening there will also be a great spread of the Gospel to peoples of every nation.

Let's live alert in these perilous days!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to remain watchful, to be unfazed if I am hated, and persecuted for being a Christ-follower, and to stay the course as I do my little bit in spreading the Gospel. Amen.

* "In His private teaching to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus responded to three questions, concerning 1] the destruction of the temple, 2] His Second Coming, 3] the End. These topics are interwoven and sometimes it is difficult to determine which event is being described. This difficulty is partially resolved with the realization that most prophecy is capable of both a near and remote fulfillment. Jesus uses the tragic events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70 as a picture of conditions preceding His own return" - J. Lyle Story, Study notes on Matthew 24:1-51, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1334.


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


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Woe to hypocrites!

Pharisees by James Tissot
Pharisees by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:13-39

TO CHEW ON: " 'But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.' " Matthew 23:13

In one of His most impassioned speeches, Jesus denounces seven examples of Pharisaic hypocrisy:

1. They were legalistic. The Pharisees' strict legalism kept them and everyone else out of the kingdom (Matthew 23:13).

2. They were unjust. The Pharisees' long prayers, meant to impress others with their righteousness, were contrary to the way they treated the poorest people, like widows - Matthew 23:14.

3. They were evangelists of evil - Matthew 23:15. One thinks of a missionary or evangelist as one doing a good thing. But these missionaries were converting others to become fanatics of a tarnished religion.

4. They were blind guides
- Matthew 23:16-22. If anyone should be able to see, it's a guide! Yet Jesus showed how blind these men were by poking holes in the reasoning by which they came to rules about which oaths were binding and which weren't. The IVP Commentary explains the custom:
"An oath involved invoking a deity as a witness to the veracity of one's claim. On the popular level people had begun using many surrogate phrases for God's name hoping to avoid judgment if they broke the oath. Pharisees endeavoured to distinguish which oath phrases were actually binding" - IVP Commentary, accessed via biblegateway.com.
Jesus' attack was not just against these oath standards, though, but also against the Pharisees' inconsistent standards of holiness and the profanity of using God's name in such frivolous ways.

5. Their standards were inconsistent and out of proportion - Matthew 23:23-24. The Pharisees emphasized tithing the tiniest of spices while ignoring big issues like practicing justice, mercy, and faith.

6. Their lives were superficial - Matthew 23:25-28. Their fine exteriors masked a polluted inner condition.

7. They were self-deceived - Matthew 23:29-36. They claimed that if they'd lived in the time of the prophets, they would never have treated God's servants the way their countrymen did. Jesus' response: " 'Serpents, brood of vipers!' " You will prove how deceived you are by the way you kill, crucify and scourge the prophets, wise men, and scribes that come to your generation (my paraphrase).

Before we look with too much disdain on this lot, we do well to examine our own lives for similar hypocritical behavior:

  • Have we developed legalistic standards of our own that are barriers to people entering God's kingdom?
  • Do we give lip service to a holiness we don't practice?
  • Do we have self-made, inconsistent-with-God's-word standards that, for example, rail against body sins like smoking and overeating, but are indulgent toward TV and movies that pollute the mind?
  • Do our priorities line up with Scripture's? Do our lives reflect the things that matter to God? Or do we break fellowship over sidebar matters like which version of the Bible to read and the order of prophesied end-time events?
  • Are our lives authentic—the same in private as public? Or do we practice secret sin?
  • Are we realistic about who we are? Or does our lifestyle contradict what comes out of our mouths?

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, Your denunciation of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees shows me that my nature is not all that different. Please help me to detect hypocrisy in my life and to deal with it. 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.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Authentic living

gold bars
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 100:1 - 101:6

TO CHEW ON: "I will behave wisely in a perfect (blameless) way …
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart." - Psalm 101:2


The word that comes to mind when I read David's resolve to live well in private ("within my house") as well as in public is authentic.

[Authentic: 1. Entitled to belief, trustworthy, reliable. 2. Of undisputed origin, genuine -  Funk and Wagnall's Dictionary.]

It 's all too easy and common for us, however, to live one way outwardly, doing things that will impress or not offend onlookers. But when we get home and kick off our shoes, how readily those niceties come off with them and we're unkind, rude, ornery, critical, careless about what we say and how we say it.

My Thompson Chain Bible lists the characteristics of the Christian's walk:
  • It is a new life, a spiritual walk that is not "according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" - Romans 8:1,4; Galatians 5:16.
  • It is a faith walk - 2 Corinthians 5:7.
  • It is a walk of love - Ephesians 5:2.
  • It is a circumspect walk - Ephesians 5:15. The Amplified Bible enlarges on circumspect: "Live purposefully and worthily and accurately…"
  • It is a walk that is lived with an awareness of life's brevity - Ephesians 5:16.
  • It is a joyful, thankful, singing walk expressed in songs, hymns and spiritual songs - Ephesians 5:19.
  • It is a walk in the light, as opposed to being sneaky and underhanded- Ephesians 5:8; 1 John 1:7.
  • It is a Christ-like walk - 1 John 2:6.

Let's make it the walk of our entire lives—at home and away, in church and in the car, shopping and watching the game, eating out and relaxing at Grandma's…

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where I live one way to impress or not to offend others, and another way at home. Help me to "walk within my house with a perfect (blameless) heart." 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)





Sunday, November 16, 2014

Should we "fear" God?

Child looking up, holding parent's hand
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 128:1-6

TO CHEW ON:
"Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the Lord." Psalm 128:5


What a picture of domestic bliss Psalm 128 paints;
- A man whose honest work supports his life.
- A good marriage, the husband like a gardener nourishing and doting on the beautiful and fruitful vine—his wife—who lives in the "heart" of his home.
- A family of children—"olive plants"—that staple tree of Israel that provided oil, olives shade, the very symbol of blessing and plenty.
- A family that carries on into generations with their patriarch living long enough to see his grandchildren.

All this on one condition: "Blessed is every one who fears the Lord …. Behold thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord" Psalm 128:1,5.

What does it mean to "fear" the Lord?

[Fears - yare  means to fear, be afraid of, stand in awe of, reverence, honour, respect.]

What does this fear/reverence/respect for God look like?

In a way it looks a lot like a child's good relationship with parents. When I was little, I knew I could only push it so far before the "rod" would come out. I respected my parent's orders because I knew that they would be enforced and that was an occasion to fear!

But the relationship was different than master / slave because my parents loved me and I loved them. Thus I wanted to please them too. I yearned for their "You did a great job," and hated to hear, "I'm disappointed in you." One sure way to evoke the latter was to ignore or violate the life principles by which they had raised me.

Our fear of God is similar.

  • We obey, knowing there will be consequences if we don't.
  • But we also love Him and yearn to hear his "Well done." To achieve that we value the same things God values and translate our mental assent into living out those things in what we allow ourselves to think about, love, say, how we relate to our family, church family, neighbours, enemies, what we do with our possessions etc.

But how do we know the things that God values?

They're scattered throughout the Bible and distilled in passages like 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Galatians 5:16-20; Philippians 4:6-8.

This living in the fear of God—it's a project that takes a lifetime!

PRAYER:
Dear God please help me to relate to You in a realistic way that includes fear, respect, and awe. Help me to study and understand what pleases You so I will live it out and someday hear your "Well done." 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.





Saturday, November 15, 2014

Looking for mercy

TODAY' SPECIAL: Psalm 122:1-123:4

TO CHEW ON: "Behold as the eyes of servants look to the hands of their masters,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God,
Until He has mercy on us." Psalm 123:2


I've always liked this picturesque little verse, reading it as servants keeping an eye on the master for the next command. But on a close look today, I see that that's not what the servant is waiting for at all. Rather, he or she is waiting, looking up, hoping for mercy

[Mercy (chanan) means to be gracious, show pity, favour.
In English mercy is defined as kind or compassionate treatment of an offender, adversary, prisoner etc. in one's power; compassion where severity is expected or deserved.]

This request for mercy from the lips of man to God—from our own lips—reminds us of who God is and who we are. Eugene Peterson comments on this psalm and the stance of the person praying:

"The person of faith looks up to God, not at him or down on him. The servant assumes a certain posture, a stance. If he or she fails to take that posture, attentive responsiveness to the master's commands will be hard" - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 61.

The definition of mercy reminds us of why it is only realistic to take that low, looking-up posture: because we are people who deserve and, except for Jesus and His substitutionary death for us, expect severity.

It's easy to get in the 'ordering God around' mode in our prayers. This little psalm reminds us of who we are and what our realistic posture before God is. And yet, because He is good, this grovelling for mercy is not fear-filled but optimistic. Peterson again:

"In obedience we pray 'Mercy!' instead of 'Give us what we want. We prayer 'Mercy!' and not 'Reward us for our goodness so our neighbors will acknowledge our superiority." We pray "Mercy!" and not "Punish us for our badness so we will feel better.' We pray 'Mercy!' and not 'Be nice to us because we have been such good people.'


We live under the mercy. God does not treat us as alien others, lining us up so that he can evaluate our competence or our usefulness or our worth. He rules, guides, commands, loves us as children whose destinies he carries in his heart" - Peterson, Ibid., p. 64.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this reminder of my realistic position before You. Thank You for Your mercy that looks on me with soft, compassionate eyes, instead of with the condemnation I deserve. Help me to extend Your mercy to others. Amen.

MORE: Kyrie Eleison (As We Come Before You) by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty


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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, November 14, 2014

The biggest pay check you'll ever get

Servant hiding his talent - Artist unknown
Servant hiding his talent - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:14-30

TO CHEW ON: " ' For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.' " Matthew 25:29

After a career which included many stages (hospital clerk, medical records clerk, school teacher, visiting homemaker, medical transcriptionist, stay-at-home mom) it was this parable that spoke to me about pursuing my lifelong interest in writing.

Note how the word for the unit of money used in the NKJV ("talent") is the same word we use to describe "a particular and uncommon aptitude for some special work or ability; a faculty or gift" (Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary). Thus the connection between stewarding what we have—money and abilities—is impossible to miss.

Some things that jump out at me from this story:
1. Both of the servants who invested their talents received the same commendation even though their returns were different (Matthew 25:21,23).

2. The master's commendation doesn't lead to a holiday but to more responsibility: "… you have been faithful over a few things. I will make you ruler over many things" - (Matthew 25:21,23).

3. This work of faithful stewardship is the doorway to joy: "Enter into the joy of your lord" are the master's final words to them (Matthew 25:21,23).

4. The servant who received one talent seems to have had an underlying critical attitude. He justified his non-action by suggesting that the master was cruel and unpredictable (Matthew 25:24).

5. He also confessed to fear—so great it paralyzed him and he hid the talent away so he could return it, uninvested, to the master (Matthew 25:25).

We can apply things from this story to our lives.

Like the master in the parable gave different amounts of money to different servants, God gives us different talents, abilities, and resources. Let's not become jealous and bitter because we have only one talent while the person beside us has five, or boastful because it's the other way around. Paul addresses this issue with the Corinthians when he says:
"For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" - 1 Corinthians 4:7.

God doesn't expect a five-talent return from a two-talent person. Let's steward the money and abilities we do have and not denigrate our increase by comparing it to someone else's.

Let's conquer fear. We can always find reasons—multiple reasons—why our talent investment efforts will fail. But these fear-whispers are not from God. When He puts a talent in our hands and gives us the investment idea, we can go forward with the assurance that:
"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" - Philippians 4:13.

When our faithfulness leads to more and larger responsibilities, let's not shrink back into retirement or laziness but embrace the new load with the knowledge that using our gifts to serve the master is the doorway to joy. It is the key to receiving what I believe will be the biggest pay check we could ever get—God's "Well done, good and faithful servant."

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You that in Your wisdom You give us differing abilities and opportunities. Help me today to steward well what You have entrusted to me. 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, November 13, 2014

Deborah - anointed leader

"Deborah" by Ferdinand Max Bredt

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 4:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "And Barak said to her, 'If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!' Judges 4:8

We read here of a rare time when a woman led Israel. Deborah was their judge. Her wisdom attracted the children of Israel to come to her for counsel and justice (Judges 4:5).

She was also a visionary who called for Barak to deploy troops and go to battle against Jabin.

Barak was willing to go. But he wanted Deborah to go with him. Was this a lack of faith on his part, or wise realism? Even my Bible's notes differ on what his reluctance to go without Deborah meant. The footnotes to Judges attribute this to a lack of faith. But I like the interpretation expressed in the sidebar article "A Woman Essential to Victory":

"Barak, a great man of faith (Hebrews 11:32) is a classic study in the wisdom of a man's acknowledgment of the potential power of a woman's contribution to a goal. Because of Deborah's godly and skillful leadership traits, Barak (as commander of Israel's armies) would not go into this battle without her, even when told that he would not get full honour for the victory (Judges 4:9). His priority was the welfare of the nation, and he knew that their combined efforts would ensure success as each brought their distinctive, God-given strengths to the challenge" - Jane Hansen, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 319.

Doesn't Barak's reaction help us recognize our own desire to be led by people—men or women—in whose lives God's presence and power is evident? Such anointed leaders are God's gifts to us as individuals and the church.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the godly men and women who are the leaders in my life and my church. Help me to follow their lead and respect them as Your gift to me. May I be experience Your anointing as I lead in my small way. Amen.


MORE: Deborah in art

Local artist Donna Smallenberg's painting of Deborah is popular as a poster.

She has also used this painting and others as e-cards. Check them out!

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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, November 08, 2014

The most dreaded words

Ten Virgins - Matthew 25:1-13
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:1-13

TO CHEW ON: " 'But he answered and said, 'Assuredly I say to you, I do not know you." ' " Matthew 25:12


In this parable Jesus draws lessons abut the Kingdom of Heaven from a traditional Jewish wedding procession. The main characters in the story are the bridesmaids. They were waiting to be part of the procession leading the bride and bridegroom from the bride's to the groom's home.

These processions, that usually happened at night, were accompanied by singing and dancing. The lamps needed to light the parade were more like torches than our oil-filled lamps. Some suggest that an oil-rag-wrapped torch could only burn for 15 minutes before it needed refreshing, thus the need for extra oil. Delays were common due to the bride's relatives haggling over the bride's great quality versus the amount and value of the groom's gifts.

It was an honor to be part of a wedding procession and a matter of esteem on the bride and groom's part that it should go well. This, the IVP Commentary on this passage suggests, is why the wise virgins in the story didn't share their extra oil with the foolish. For if they had, none of the lamps would have had enough oil to light the whole journey and the bride and groom would have been insulted and embarrassed. (Information on the cultural background from the IVP Commentary, accessed through Biblegateway.com).

This parable is commonly interpreted to be about Jesus' return to earth—the promise of the angels when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11). Some of the things it teaches us about His second coming are:

It may be delayed and take what, to those watching for it, feels like a long time.
This is not the only place in the Bible we're told that Jesus' coming may be delayed. See also Matthew 25:19, Luke 1:38, and 2 Peter 3:3-9.

It needs our watchful readiness. The fault of the foolish virgins was that they hadn't thought ahead to prepare for what was surely to be expected—the bridegroom's delay. How do we stay ready for Jesus, our bridegroom's, coming? Some ways:
  • We watch for it - Matthew 24:42, Mark 13:32-37, Revelation 16:15.
  • We serve faithfully - Matthew 24:45-51.
  • We live soberly - 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8.

It ends the era of grace and ushers in the era of "too late." The foolish virgins arrived after the door was closed and heard the dreadful words: "I do not know you." What do we need to do so that we never hear those fateful words spoken to us?
  • We accept God's way of salvation through faith in Jesus - 1 Thessalonians 5:9,10. 
  • Jesus called it being " 'born again' " - John 3:3-8.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, though Your return has been delayed these 2000+ years, I believe Your promise that you will return. Help me to life in faithful, sober watchfulness. 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, November 07, 2014

Is praise your default setting?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 63:1-11

Woman in a wheelchair
TO CHEW ON: “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life my lips shall praise You.” Psalm 63:3

Lisa Coriale, a friend of my daughter’s, has cerebral palsy. This lovely young woman lives in a body that is stiff and twisted. She has a hard time making herself understood when she talks. But she has amazing pluck and determination, has earned a university degree, and is trained as a social worker. She also has amazing faith – evidenced in a book of poems she published a few years ago. Though lines like these don’t surprise me:

“Spinning out of control
Grasping onto whatever I can
An item shatters on the floor
Higher waters overwhelm me” – from “Rant,” p. 27

…what I do find surprising is the note of triumphant praise that ends almost every piece:

“Remember to thank Him for everything” – from “Open Doors” p. 26
“He will set you free” – from “Freedom” p. 29
“The hand of God will create the ultimate / masterpiece for our lives” – from “The Hand of God” p. 32.

(All quotes from Transparent a book of poems by Lisa Coriale)

Psalm 63 was also written from a hard place. When we realize David was hiding from Saul in the wilderness of Judah at the time he wrote it, words like, “Because Your lovingkiness is better than life, My lips shall praise You” could easily puzzle us.

For what was he praising God? Perhaps he was praising because God had given Gad the prophet the message for him to flee, and so for the moment he was eluding jealous King Saul. Or perhaps his praise was sparked by the fact that he had just found water, or that he and his men were able to survive at all. Or maybe he praised God just because God is worthy of praise no matter what is or isn’t happening for us. “Thus I will praise you while I live…”

What is your situation today? Are you praising God in it? I find that even when things are good my attitude doesn’t naturally tend toward praise. I need to work on making praise my default setting no matter what my circumstances. And so I say with David: “My lips shall praise you… I will bless You while I live…I will lift up my hands… My soul shall be satisfied… my mouth shall praise you… I meditate on You… I will rejoice.”

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me train my attitude toward praise so that it is my first reaction in every 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.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Uncleanness—are you savvy?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 3:6-4:8

TO CHEW ON:
"For God didn't call us to uncleanness but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit." 1 Thessalonians 4:7,8

"For God has not called us to impurity, but to consecration [to dedicate ourselves to the most thorough purity]. Therefore whoever disregards—sets aside and rejects—this disregards not man but God, Whose [very] Spirit [Whom] He gives to you [is] holy—chaste, pure." 1 Thessalonians 4:7,8 AMP.


After specifically naming sexual immorality as a sin to avoid, Paul warns the Thessalonians about general "uncleanness."

[The word uncleanness (akathars) is translated "impurity" (NASB, AMP), "impure" (NIV, NLT) and "immorality" (GNT). In the Greek akathars—uncleanness— refers to physical uncleanness as well as uncleanness in a moral sense: "The impurity of lustful, luxurious, profligate living."]

Paul suggests that people who resist his call to pure living aren't only rejecting him, but God whose Spirit in the believer is holy—"His Holy Spirit."

As believers all these many years later we too get the gift of the Holy Spirit when we put our faith in Jesus for salvation. He makes good and sure that we know we're on dangerous ground when we're around uncleanness.

Have you ever been in the middle of a novel and realized—this book is not good for me? Or walked out of a movie that exalted immorality? Or turned off a comedy routine on TV because it was rife with dirty humor? Or purposefully avoided the astrology section of the paper? The Holy Spirit in you is behind those feelings of offense, outrage, and wanting to get and stay away from certain things.

I am currently taking Priscilla Shirer's course Discerning the Voice of God. In the workbook that goes along with the DVD lectures, Shirer gives lots of good teaching about how we can sharpen our spiritual ears to hear the Holy Spirit speak ever more clearly. Here are some bits I've underlined:

"If we want to hear God's voice clearly, we need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God" - Priscilla Schirer, Discerning the Voice of God, p. 40.

"God is doing everything to reveal His will and cause us to go after it! Through the Holy Spirit, 'He writes His laws on our hearts and on our minds, and we love them and are drawn by our affections and judgment, not driven, to our obedience' " Ibid. p. 42, Shirer quotes Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, p. 76.

"As I seek Him, stay in His Word, and continue to keep an intimate relationship with Him by confessing my sin, He transforms my mind and emotions to align with His plans" - Ibid.

"When you delight yourself in Him, you can relax in knowing that He will speak clearly to you, order your steps, and cause you to desire what brings Him pleasure"  Ibid. p. 43.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Holy Spirit who lives in me and alerts me to thoughts, influences, reading material, and media (TV, movies, the internet, music) that will plant seeds of uncleanness in my heart. Help me to practice obedience in getting and staying away from these things. Amen. 




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

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



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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Witness stone

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Joshua 24:16-33

TO CHEW ON: "And Joshua said to all the people, 'Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.' " Joshua 24:27

Joshua had lived a long good life. At 110 years no doubt he sensed the end was near. Here we have his last words to the people he had led into the Promised Land. They are not instructions on how to be materially successful or remain militarily strong. Rather, they are words of spiritual advice that, if followed, will help them be successful in all areas.

He challenges them:
- To choose Yahweh above the idols of the land they now live in (Joshua 24:16).
- To demonstrate their choice by putting away every vestige of the idol-worshiping life and serve God only (Joshua 24:23).

The people covenant wholeheartedly to do this (Joshua 24:24).

Then Joshua, obviously aware of their fickle tendencies, writes their promise in the Book of the Law of God and sets up a memorial stone beside the "church" as a reminder to the people of this covenant day. I'm sure his whimsical depiction of that stone hearing their promise (Joshua 24:27) arrests their attention later when they enter the sanctuary.

If their consciences are clear, that stone will remind them of Joshua and God's miracles when they conquered the land. If they are again flirting with idols (and they do) that stone will prick their consciences about their broken covenant and be a warning of the dangers of two-timing God (Joshua 24:19).

Like the Israelites, it is easy for us to make promises to God in the heat of emotion. I know I've made pledges and covenants at the height of spiritual fervor that, when reviewed later, seem unreal. Did that really happen? Did I really say that?

Joshua's idea of setting up a memorial stone to remind the people of their promise may be something we should adopt too. A stone, a wall hanging, a fridge magnet, a key fob, a table ornament designed to help us recall our covenant may help to pull us back to spiritual reality from the apparent reality of this world and its idols.

PRAYER:
Dear God, this story reminds me of my own wayward tendencies. Help me to not only promise to be loyal to You but to make good on that promise. 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, November 03, 2014

A leader's influence

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Joshua 24:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

When Joshua called for all the elders, judges, and officers of Israel to meet at Shechem, they probably knew it was a significant event. For they had been at Shechem before.

Shechem (in the valley between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim) was where, years earlier, Joshua had reread all the law and renewed the covenant with God after the second Battle of Ai (Joshua 8:30-35).

This time he reviewed the history of how God had worked in the nation from Abraham to the present. His message seems like a simple rousing pep talk until we read in verse 14: "Now... put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord!"
Oh oh. It sounds like some of them were worshiping idols.

Joshua did a wise thing when he gave them a choice (Joshua 24:15).  As Matthew Henry says in his commentary:
"It is essential that the service of God's people be performed with a willing mind. For LOVE is the only genuine principle whence all acceptable service of God can spring. The Father seeks only such to worship him, as worship him in spirit and in truth" (Read all of Matthew Henry's commentary and more here.)
Joshua was clear about his own decision. As far as he was concerned he and his family would serve the Lord.

The people seemed moved by his resolve, for they answered: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord...etc. etc."- Joshua 24:16-18.

By Joshua's response it seems he detected a note of glibness in their words. For he made it harder: "You cannot serve the Lord for He is a holy God...."(Joshua 24:19-20).  In other words, You can't keep doing what you're doing (worshiping idols and God too) and think it's okay. God's holiness and jealousy demand your utmost separation to Him.

The people replied, perhaps more knowingly this time, "No, but we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:21).

I love how the resolve of this leader was contagious. Joshua can be our model in this. Though we are not leaders of a nation like he was, each of us is a leader to someone—our kids, our friends, our Bible study class, our garden club... Let's reaffirm our personal uncompromising loyalty to God, make it public, and live it out. We never know who will be influenced by our stand.

PRAYER:
Dear God, help me to recognize and get rid of any idols that would compete with my loyalty to You. No matter what others do, I want to make Joshua's declaration my own: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Amen.

MORE: "Leadership Versus Control"

Joshua is a good example of someone who influenced his people by his own example. Michael Hyatt writes:

"I often hear leaders, particularly younger ones, complaining about their lack of control in various situations. 'If only the sales department reported to me, I could consistently hit my budget,' they lament. Or, 'If the production department reported to me, I would not have run out of inventory!'

What they are really saying is, 'If I could control these people, I could guarantee the results.' The truth is that control is an illusion. You can’t control anyone, even the people that report to you.

However, while you can’t control anyone (except perhaps yourself), you can influence nearly everyone. This is the essence of true leadership. By this definition, Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King were great leaders. They had control of virtually no one, yet their influence changed the course of history..." Read all of "Leadership Versus Control."


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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, November 02, 2014

Care-less living

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 26:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because He trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3


If you've been around the Bible for a while, you probably have this little gem of a verse (Isaiah 26:3) safely tucked into your memory. Spending a few minutes this morning digging into its corners, I see again why it is so popular. For it is powerful in its delivery of four big truths:

1. We can have an all-encompassing peace - "You will keep him in perfect peace…"
Isaiah describes the peace God gives as "perfect." [What a rich word peace is: (shalom) bodily soundness, welfare, prosperity, contentment, peace of relationships and more.] My Bible's study notes explain: "Perfect peace is expressed in Hebrew as shalom, shalom. … You will keep him in everything the word implies: health, happiness, well-being" - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible. p.901.

2. But this peace is promised only when our mind … - "… whose mind…"
The word for mind here is not the most common "mind" word. [Mind (yetser) means form, framework, creative imagination, intellectual framework.] What Isaiah is saying is that the person whose intellectual framework and creative imagination is founded on God will have the above peace. I like how the Amplified Bible clarifies this: "You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You" - Isaiah 26:3 AMP.

3. …assumes a necessary posture - "… is stayed on You…"
Having a mind stayed on God doesn't mean we're thinking about God all day long. Rather, stayed refers to the mind's posture. Some versions translate stayed as steadfast: "The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace …" NASB. [Stayed or steadfast (samak) means leans, lays, rests and braces oneself.] Therefore that mind of ours needs to lean, lay, rest, and brace itself on God (not public opinion, the news, the state of our health, not even our own common sense).

4. The result is care-less living -
"…Because he trusts in You."
That peace we talked about in #1 results when we live a life of trust [trust (batach) have confidence, be secure, safe, careless] in God.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to lean on You so completely today that peace, not care, will fill my 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.

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 NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)


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