Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bitter weeping

"Slaughter of the Innocents"
by Carl Heinrich Bloch

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 31:15-34


TO CHEW ON: "A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children
Because they are no more." Jeremiah 31:15

The incarnation story has its dark chapters. One of them is the account of King Herod and his actions after the wise men gave him the slip and "departed for their own country another way."

He was as sneaky as the Herod of Jesus' adult years (who Jesus  called a fox). For on his first encounter with the Magi, after hearing from the chief priests and scribes about the part Bethlehem was to play in the prediction of a king, he had met the Magi secretly to determine when that star had first appeared.

When he realized that the wise men weren't coming back, he put all his information together and sent out his soldiers on a mission that makes our blood run cold: "He sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" - Matthew 2:16.

At this point in his telling, Matthew inserts a little author comment: "Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet saying..." and he quotes word for word today's focus verse from Jeremiah.

As a parent reading the account of Herod's murderous initiative (Matthew 2:1-12), I am filled with empathy for those mothers. Imagine the disbelief, the apprehension, the confusion, and finally the heart-pounding terror as you face a heartless, sword-wielding soldier with your baby in your arms.

It's natural to ask, where was God in all this? How could He allow something so awful, something He obviously knew would happen because His Spirit had breathed these words into Jeremiah's ears centuries earlier.

Though we have probably never had our baby yanked from our arms by a soldier intent on obeying the order of a jealous king, having a child snatched from our arms by illness or accident is not so different. Which brings us face to face with the old dilemma: How can God, who is supposedly all-powerful and all-loving, allow bad things to happen to us?

Jerry Bridges addresses this question in his book Trusting God: Even when Life Hurts. He says:
"God's plan and His ways of working out His plan are frequently beyond our ability to fathom and understand. We must learn to trust where we don't understand.


[...] In order to trust God we must know Him in an intimate and personal way" Kindle locations 137 & 142.

How do we do that? In the same way we get to know people in an intimate and personal way. We spend time with them, listening to them — we listen to God when we read the Bible — and talking with them — we talk to God when we pray.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to know You so well that I trust You even when bad things happen to me. Amen.

MORE: Against the backdrop of the cross

Henry Blackaby tells this story in his book Experiencing God.

"When our only daughter, Carrie, was 16, the doctors told us she had an advanced case of cancer. We had to take her through chemotherapy and radiation. We suffered along with Carrie as we watched her experience the severe sickness that accompanies the treatments. Some people face such an experience by blaming God and questioning why He doesn't love them any more. Carrie's cancer treatments could have been a devastating experience for us. Did God still love us? Yes. Had His love changed? No. He still cared for us with an infinite love.


When you face circumstances like this, you can ask God to explain what is happening. We did that. We asked Him what we should do. I raised all those questions, but I never said, 'Lord, I guess You don't love me.'


Long before this experience with Carrie, I had made a determination: no matter what my circumstances, I would never look at my situation except against the backdrop of the cross. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God forever convinced me that He loved me. For this reason during Carrie's illness I could go before the Heavenly Father and see behind my daughter the cross of Jesus Christ. I said, 'Father, don't ever let me look at my life and question Your love for me. Your love for me was settled on the cross. That has never changed and will never change.' Our love relationship with the Heavenly Father sustained us through an extremely difficult time." Experiencing God Workbook, p. 51.
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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.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

A devotional spirit

"But Mary kept all these things and 
pondered them in her heart" - by Alice Havers

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 2:15-21

TO CHEW ON: "But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:51

I have always loved this little aside about Mary's reaction to the events of the Christmas story. It makes her seem so human, while directing our attention toward God as we ask with her, what do all these things mean?

Bible writers speak of many women whose hearts are tuned to God. The Thompson Chain Bible lists these examples under the heading: Women - Crowning Qualities - Devotional Spirit. What are some areas of life into which Bible women brought this devotional spirit?

1. Their attitude toward their mates:
  • The ideal wife of Proverbs is  "virtuous" - Proverbs 31:10.
  • Peter characterizes a godly wife as having a beauty of the heart—"… a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" - 1 Peter 3:1-6.

2. Their motherhood:
  • Hannah prays for a son, makes a promise to God, and keeps it - 1 Samuel 1:15,26.
  • Rebekah "inquires of the Lord" when she senses there is something unusual about her pregnancy - Genesis 25:22.
  • Mary willingly gives her body to carry Jesus and after He is born, ponders all the unusual phenomenon that accompany His birth - Luke 1:38; 2:19 (our focus verse).

3. Their role as singles:
  • Philip's four daughters are single prophetesses - Acts 21:9.

4. Their position as leaders:
  • Miriam leads the women of Israel in worship with her tambourine, singing, and dancing - Exodus 15:20.
  • Huldah is a prophetess who even the priest consults - 2 Kings 22:14.
  • Queen Esther's first thought is to pray and fast before attempting to approach the king - Esther 4:16.

5. Their personal devotion and worship:

  • Eighty-four-year-old Anna spends all her time in the temple, fasting and praying - Luke 2:36-37.
  • Mary of Bethany sits at Jesus feet to listen to Him teach instead of getting caught up in her sister's fussing and worrying - Luke 10:38-42.
  • Jesus' women disciples, follow Him, minister to Him and stick with him to the cross (and beyond) - Mark 15:40.

6. Let's not get the idea, though, that a devotional spirit is seen only in women who listen to teaching, fast, and pray. A devotional spirit can be seen too in Their busyness and business:
  • Dorcas is full of very practical good works - Acts 9:36.
  • Lydia is a businesswoman, a seller of purple who worships God and "opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul" - Acts 16:14.
  • "Leading women" join Paul and Silas in Thessalonica - Acts 17:4.
  • Paul asks his readers in Rome to help Phoebe in her business - Romans 16:1.

I love how these women demonstrate a devotional spirit in so many roles and activities of life. Let's bring their attitude of alertness to God into whatever our today brings of meditation, worship and prayer; singleness, marriage and parenting; leading and following; business and crafts; play and leisure.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be aware of and acknowledge You in every aspect of my life. 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.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Lessons from the life (and death) of Stephen

Illustration of the stoning of Stephen - Acts 7:58-60
The stoning of Stephen - Acts 7:58-60
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 6:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. … And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people." Acts 6:5a,8

Stephen has always intrigued me. Here he is, the quintessential post-Pentecost Christian, fairly sizzling with Holy Spirit gifts and power, picked to be a food-bank administrator and table server! The result of his service (and the work of the others appointed to serve in that way) was that the gospel spread and the number of disciples multiplied so that even Jewish priests came to belief in Jesus (Acts 6:7).

It didn't end there, however. Stephen's prominence led to a dispute in the synagogue where he distinguished himself with wisdom. In fact he was so persuasive that his adversaries got people to lie about him. His sermon of defense, where he outlined Jewish history and denounced the Jews for killing the prophets and the "Just One" (Jesus) of whom the prophets spoke, eventually got him stoned to death (Acts 7:1-60).

What lessons can we learn from Stephen's cut-short life? Here are three that come to mind:

1. There are no big or little jobs in the Kingdom of God.
They're all big jobs. The Apostles' ministry of teaching and prayer was essential to the gospel's spread, but so was serving tables and the fair administration of relief to Greek-speaking widows.

2. Holy Spirit giftings are various—and practical too.
The apostles looked for men full of the Holy Spirit to do these service jobs. Of course that makes sense because the gifts of the Spirit include "helps" and "administrations" - 1 Corinthians 12:28.

3. God's plans often differ from ours.
But the right man in the right place at the right time turned out so badly for the early church when Stephen was martyred. It gave the Christians' persecutors a shot in the arm and started a new wave of arrests and killings. We may be tempted to ask, wasn't it all a big mistake?

No. Because the threat in Jerusalem caused the Christians to disburse. They carried the gospel with them, a "virus" that then "infected" regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1) and led eventually to the conversion of Saul/Paul (who, we know, became the early church's main church planter and who wrote large chunks of the New Testament).  And so we see that God's ways consume people and move events according to a higher purpose than the long and stress-free lives that are often our goal (Isaiah 55:9).

Let's learn from and be encouraged by Stephen's life and death today.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Stephen, whose life is an illustration of Your ways. Help me to open myself to the working of Your Spirit through me—no matter what the cost—as Stephen did. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Stephen

Today is the church focuses Stephen, Deacon and Martyr.

The liturgy for the day begins with this Collect prayer:

"We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."

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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mind-bending Incarnation

Merry Christmas!

"The worship of the Shepherds - Henri Lerolle - Bible Artwork Vol. 9

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

I love how, on Christmas day—today—our reading pulls us back, way back, to the beginning of time: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" - John 1:1. There, in those moments at the birth of time, we see Word, creating life and light - John 1:3-5.

In the next verses we zoom forward and see a God-sent messenger—John (the Baptist)—with a message about that Light. It's about Light who has become a Person already on earth: "In the world…"  - John 1:10.

Our "Aha"s begin to click here as we grasp John's mysterious words. It sounds like he is talking about the Creator Word we just met in verses 1-3. But how sad: "… He came to His own and and His own did not receive Him."

Then, if there's any doubt left, John dispels it: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." John 1:14.

And that is why Christmas is a really big deal: because Creator Word became Baby Word so that we could again be friends with (reconciled to) God. You will recall that humankind's friendship with God was broken when Adam and Eve sinned (Romans 5:12), but repaired by Jesus' (Word's) death, making this reconciliation possible (Romans 5:10,11).

This friendship repair—reconciliation—comes to each of us individually through a spiritual birth. John talks about that here too: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God" - John 1:12,13.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this good news—the gospel in fourteen verses. Words fail to express my incredulity, wonder, and thanks at your mind-bending incarnation.

MORE: Christmas Day

Today the church celebrates Christmas Day. The Christmas liturgy begins with this prayer:

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. 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, December 24, 2014

Feed trough birth

"Joseph Seeks Lodging" by James Tissot (1886-94)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 2:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:7

As I reread this familiar story today, I am struck by the lowliness of the characters and their situations.

Joseph and Mary were the most ordinary citizens, at the beck and call of Caesar Augustus. They had no choice but to obey the census summons and travel at this most inconvenient time.

The place of Jesus' birtha feed trough—has been the basis of many a Christmas play. Though the Bible description is beautifully understated, we can't help but imagine the crowded Bethlehem streets, see Joseph and Mary trekking from one inn to another, hear the desperation in Joseph's voice as Mary's labor pains accelerate: "Please. We'll take anything."

The angels announce Jesus' birth to shepherds, a rough lot and scorned by the who's-who in Jewish society.

God in His wisdom arrived in such a way that the humblest, poorest, and most despised found themselves in His spotlight. It reminds me of a poem by my friend Charlie. Let's ponder this as we celebrate Jesus' birth today. 

(Used with permission.)


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for revealing Yourself first to the poorest. None of us is too low or insignificant for You to notice and love. 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, December 23, 2014

Two reasons for joy this Christmas

Sea waves
"Let the sea roar, and all its fullness..."
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 96:1-13

TO CHEW ON:
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day …
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful and all that is in it. 



A few days ago we read part of David's song that he composed for the celebration of bringing the ark back to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:23-36).  Psalm 96, my Bible's study notes tell me, is included in that song.

It pulsates with JOY. My Thompson Chain Bible lists  occasions of great joy:
1. The creation - Job 38:4-7.
2. Laying the foundation of the temple - Ezra 3:12.
3. The coming of Christ - Matthew 2:10; Luke 2:10.
4. The resurrection of Christ - Matthew 28:8.
5. The ascension of Christ - Luke 24:52.
6. The conversion of the gentiles - Acts 15:3.

We're in the Advent season, near the climax of #3. Two things strike me as I connect David's celebration song with the incarnation:

1. The essence of its joy is "the good news of His salvation." And that is the core reason we celebrate Christmas. Yes, the story of Joseph, Mary, the census, no-room-Bethlehem etc. is fascinating, the humble characters relatable, the occasion by now bathed in a romantic light. But the celebration of Jesus' birth all these many years later continues because in Jesus' coming as a human baby is wrapped up the good news of God extending salvation to undeserving us.

2. The joy of the occasion affects even nature as it anticipates the culmination of salvation.
  • Nature was cursed at the Fall. The ground, plant and animal life also suffered the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin - Genesis 3:14,17.
  • We see glimmerings of nature's release from the curse in Jesus' interactions with it - Matthew 8:27.
  • Paul mentions how "creation eagerly awaits for the revealing of the sons of God" though still "groans" - Romans 8:20-22.
  • John, in Revelation, speaks of a time when all is accomplished and "there will be no more curse" - Revelation 22:3.

Those two things—salvation and the hope of no more curse—stir up joy in me today. I hope they do in you too.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming as a baby and make possible my salvation. I am looking forward to the day when the curse of our sin will be no more. 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, December 20, 2014

Beauty—separate from the madness and mayhem

forest with sun streaming in
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Chronicles 16:23-36

TO CHEW ON: "Give to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering and come before Him.
Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." 1 Chronicles 16:29


Our reading today is part of the song of thanksgiving David sang when he brought the Ark to Jerusalem. It soars with praise and thanksgiving, God-compliments and God-boasts. It suggests to its listeners and participants how to worship:
"Sing to the Lord …  proclaim the good news …  Declare His glory …  Give to the Lord glory and strength … the glory due His name. Bring an offering … Worship…in the beauty of holiness… Tremble before Him… Give thanks and say, 'Save us, O God of our salvation."

To me the climax of David's song is the line from verse 29: "Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness."

[Holiness (Qodesh) means apartness, sacredness, separateness, holiness.]

A sidebar article in my Bible explains:
"To worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness is to worship God in the adornment, enrichment, enhancement of His "otherness" and sacredness. He is separate and set apart from all that He created. He is the Holy One—this is His crowning attribute that sums up all His attributes" - LeMar Boschman, "Worship In Holiness," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 539.

As I'm writing this, our news media is all a-frenzy, reporting on two events—the antics of local eco-protestors on Burnaby Mountain and the riots, looting, fire-setting and general lawlessness that started in Ferguson, Missouri on November 24th.

No matter who's right or wrong in these situations, the ugliness, bad language, violence, anger, resistance to authority they bring out is sickening. To me it's a vivid illustration of the beastly heart inside us, usually covered by a veneer of civility but so readily aroused to rebellion and mayhem.

Setting my mind, tuning my mouth to praise God, who is "separate and set apart" from us—clamorous, violent, easily provoked humans—spending time in His altogether fair, powerful, pure presence, appreciating His creativity, thanking Him for His accomplishments in history (knowing that He will sort out these events too), salvation, my life, is mighty attractive right about now!

PRAYER: Dear God, I know my mind can only begin to comprehend You—just because You are holy, separate, other. Today, please help me to experience some of Your holy essence as I worship in Your presence. 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, December 15, 2014

God stirs the heart

Haggai preaching - Artist unknown
Haggai preaching - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 1:1-15

TO CHEW ON:
"So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God." Haggai 1:14

The prophet Haggai's ministry  was short—less than four months. He was one of the exiles returned from Persia to Jerusalem in 536. Bible scholars date his ministry in the year 520.

During the 16 years that passed between the exiles' return and Haggai's message the people had begun rebuilding the temple but soon abandoned it in disinterest. Now they were focused on rebuilding their own homes. Trouble is, things weren't working out so well. Their harvests were puny, their food unsatisfying, their clothes not warm enough and there was never enough money.

" 'Why?' says the Lord of hosts. 'Because of My house that is in ruins while every one of you runs to his own house' " - Haggai 1:9.

After hearing Haggai's message the leaders decide to be obedient and finish rebuilding the temple (Haggai 1:12-13). God adds His amen to this: " 'I am with you...' " Haggai 1:13.

I love how Haggai gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of why his words were successful: "So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubabbel … Joshua … Johozadak…" Haggai 1:14.

[The Hebrew word for stirred up is ur. It means to rouse, awaken, stir up, excite, raise up, arouse to action, open one's eyes. Other places it's used is of an eagle stirring up its nest (Deuteronomy 32:11); a musical instrument warming up (Psalm 108:2); God awakening the prophet (Isaiah 50:4); and a call to the Lord's arm to "awake"(Isaiah 51:9) - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1243.]

I think we need to pay attention to this whenever we feel the weight of things not right in our own church, city, and country. It was not, finally, Haggai's eloquence that got the leaders and people moving but God stirring hearts.

How do we who aren't leaders aid this process along?
  • Jesus words to pray that God send workers comes to mind - Matthew 9:30.
  • Paul's command to make "supplications, prayers and intercessions" for kings and all who are in authority is another thing we can do. - 1 Timothy 2:1,2.  For, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes" - Proverbs 21:1.

 PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for Your power over the heart of even the highest earthly ruler's heart. Please stir up the hearts of our leaders, secular and spiritual, to honor and obey You. 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, December 13, 2014

The seed of tears

woman crying
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 126:1-6


TO CHEW ON: "Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing
Bringing his sheaves with him." - Psalm 126:5,6

Have you ever thought of your griefs and disappointments as seed? That's what Eugene Peterson suggests they are:
"All suffering, all pain, all emptiness, all disappointment is seed: Sow it in God and he will finally bring a crop of joy from it" - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 100.
This seed doesn't come in paper packets or burlap sacks but falls from our eyes as tears.

An article in my Bible writes about our tears in another way, as ministry.
"Tears in Scripture play a unique role in spiritual breakthrough. Here...the planting of seeds accompanied by a spirit of brokenness will not only bring a spiritual harvest of results but will leave the sower with a spirit of rejoicing. This passage along with numerous others...pictures a variety of purposes and functions related to what might be termed "the ministry of tears." These are:
  • Tears of sorrow and suffering - 2 Kings 20:5.
  • Tears of joy - Genesis 33:4.
  • Tears of compassion - John 11:35.
  • Tears of desperation - Esther 4:1,3.
  • Tears of travail or giving birth - Isaiah 42:14.
  • Tears of repentance - Joel 2:12,13, Dick Eastman, "Tears and Brokenness in Victorious Warfare," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 787.
and let me add another:
  • Tears that God has seen, collected and that have persuaded Him to come to my defense - Psalm 56: 8,9.
When you and I go through difficult times,  let's view our tears not as a sign of weakness or lack of faith, but part of the cycle of spiritual sowing and reaping. Peterson again:
"There is plenty of suffering on both sides, past and future. The joy comes because God knows how to wipe away tears, and, in his resurrection work, create the smile of new life. Joy is what God gives, not what we work up. Laughter is the delight that things are working together for good to those who love God, not the giggles that betray the nervousness of a precarious defense system. The joy that develops in the Christian way of discipleship is an overflow of spirits that comes from feeling good not about yourself but about God. We find that his ways are dependable, his promises sure" - p. 100, 101.
PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that even tears have a kingdom purpose. When sorrow, pain, or confusion come, help me to face my situation with faith and expectation, knowing that my tears have a place in Your plan. 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, December 10, 2014

A reason to celebrate

sandaled feet, walking
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Nahum 1:1-15

TO CHEW ON:
"Behold, on the mountains
The feet of him who brings good tidings,
Who proclaims peace!
O Judah keep your appointed feasts,
Perform your vows.
For the wicked one shall no more pass through you;
He is utterly cut off." - Nahum 1:15


These beautiful words, made famous by the chorus "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion" from Handel's Messiah, are part of Nahum's comforting prophecy to Judah (and Isaiah's too: Isaiah 52:7). Nahum prophesied shortly before 612 B.C. His prophecy concerns the Assyrians and Nineveh their capital city.

The Assyrians had been a thriving force for centuries. One hundred years earlier (722-721 B.C.) they had conquered the northern king of Israel (2 Kings 17:6). After that they threatened Judah. It was only God's intervention that saved Judah at that time (2 Kings 19:33-37).

Now Assyria's doom is near (Nineveh fell in 612 B.C.) and Nahum's message is one of comfort. He assures Judah that good tidings are on the way. Even now the messengers bringing the news are climbing the mountains that surround Jerusalem. Soon the people will be able to worship and celebrate with freedom again.

Nahum's prophecy is an example of how Bible prophecies do double duty—for though Nahum's words were a prediction of the fall of Assyria, they also predict the fall of another enemy—our enemy Satan. The plan for that fall went into high gear when Jesus came to earth—the incarnation we celebrate this season. Leslyn Musch sums up our appropriate response so well. You and I can:

  • Thank God for the good news of the gospel.
  • Worship Jesus who has given us the victory over Satan.
  • Surrender our hearts fully to the One who has delivered us and set us free (Romans 10:13-15; 16:20)" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action through Nahum, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1221.


PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for coming to earth and defeating Satan by Your death and resurrection. Help me to live out in my life the fact of Your victory. Amen.

MORE: "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion" by G. F. Handel


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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, December 09, 2014

When distressed, be dressed—with praise!

Jewish groom
Jewish bride
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 61:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord
My soul will be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with jewels.
Isaiah 61:10


What is your favorite outfit? A beautiful dress that you wore as mother of the bride? A shirt-tie-jacket-pants ensemble that makes you feel natty and invincible?

Why do you like it? Because of its comfort and warmth? Because of the way its colors and fit flatter your appearance, drawing attention to your best features while glossing over parts you'd rather not emphasize? Because of the way it brings back memories of the good times spent in it?

Our reading today compares praise to a garment (Isaiah 61:3). A sidebar article in my Bible delves into how this is so:

"The Hebrew word for garment (atah) shows praise as more than a piece of clothing casually thrown over our shoulders. It literally teaches us 'to wrap' or 'cover' ourselves—that garment of praise is to have no openings through which hostile elements can penetrate. This garment of praise repels and replaces the heavy spirit" - "The Glorious Garment of Praise, Charles Green, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 946.

Our favorite physical outfit can never do what it does for us, however, by hanging in the closet. We must put it on.

In the same way, a heavy spirit of doom, doubt, hopelessness, and discouragement will never be lifted by simply knowing about the garment of praise. We must put it on by praising, by letting praise take our attention off us and our situation and wrapping us in truths about God—what He is to us, what He has done for us.

  • Praise warms and protects us
  • It makes us attractive as it changes the attire:
"… beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" - Isaiah 61:3.
We're more than just attractive, in fact, but dazzling—an ornamented bridegroom and a bejewelled bride (Isaiah 61:10).
  • Finally, it reminds us of our spiritual heritage and give us memories to to pass on to our kids and grand-kids.

The article above ends with this catchy phrase. Let's take it into our day:

"When distressed, be dressed—with praise!"

PRAYER:
Dear God, please remind me of the garment of praise the next time I feel heavy and pessimistic. May it become my go-to outfit! 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.


Sunday, December 07, 2014

Euangelion

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:1-8


TO CHEW ON: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God." Mark 1:1

Mark begins his writing with the bold claim that what will follow will be good news—"the gospel."

["Gospel - euangelion in ancient Greece meant the reward given for bringing good news. Later it came to mean the good news itself. In the NT the word includes both the promise of salvation and its fulfillment by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ" - "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1349.]

How is the story of Jesus good news? Is it still good news today? Four broad categories of how it is good news come to mind:

1. There is a remedy for sin
Out culture hardly acknowledges the existence or presence of sin. How can they when sin is missing the mark or target and they would not recognize such a target (objective standard of right and wrong)? But the existential angst we all feel before we meet Christ has its roots in the fact of our sinful nature and sinful deeds. It tells us everything is not okay.

However, Christ dealt with the sin problem. In our reading, John the Baptist's role was to call the people to repent (turn) from their sin (Mark 1:4). That's still the first step for us in dealing with sin, followed by trusting in Jesus' death for us. It takes care of our culpability before God:
"For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ" - 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT).


2. God gives us a new start
Jesus talking to Nicodemus called that new start being "born again" John 3:5-6. Here's how Ezekiel describes it:
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations" - Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NLT).

3. We have a purpose for living
Mark himself spells out that purpose as Jesus phrased it:
"And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach and publish openly the good news (the Gospel) to every creature [of the whole human race]' " - Mark 16:15 (AMP).

4. We have hope beyond death
This gospel is good news for life and beyond. Jesus' words again:
'Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am' " - John 14:1-3 (NLT).

Some of us have lived with this good news for so long it doesn't excite us any more. Let's put ourselves in the shoes of those who still haven't heard. Wouldn't we want to hear if these things were true of us?
"THE SPIRIT of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed and qualified me to preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physical and spiritual] captives and the opening of the prison and of the eyes to those who are bound" - Isaiah 61:1.

PRAYER: "Dear God, please help me to see the needs of those around me who have never heard or understood the Gospel. Give me Holy Spirit boldness to open my mouth and wield my pen (keyboard) to spread it. Amen. 

MORE: Second Sunday of Advent

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent.  Today's liturgy begins with the following Collect:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This Christian Resource Institute article "The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope"by Dennis Bratcher explains Advent's long history and rich symbolism.

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

Friday, December 05, 2014

WAIT—a small but difficult word

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 40:18-31

TO CHEW ON: "But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31


Though "wait" is a theme of the advent season, it is definitely not my favorite thing to do. However, the ability to wait looms large in the life of the God-follower. A promise to those who "wait on the Lord" is the punchline of beautiful Isaiah 40 that we've read yesterday and today.

[Wait - qavah means to wait for, expect, hope, wait hopefully.]

Bible references help us see the array of circumstances in which we may need to "wait." David, for example, was a great believer in waiting.

  • When unsure of what to do next, he resolved to wait for God's direction (Psalm 25:4,5).
  • During a time of personal danger (when spied on by Saul, who intended to kill him) he waited on God to defend him (Psalm 59:9).
  • To get the big prize. That would come to the one who waited on the Lord ("They shall inherit the earth" - Psalm 37:9).
  • He waited patiently - not impatiently (Psalm 40:1).
  • He waited silently without fretting or giving God suggestions on how to fix the situation (Psalm 62:1).
  • He encouraged himself and his readers to keep on waiting even when things were great (Psalm 27:14).

The writer of Proverbs reminds us to wait for God instead of trying to "recompense evil" ourselves (Proverbs 20:22).


Isaiah picks up the challenge to wait. He says:
  • We must "Wait on the Lord" when He seems absent and silent (Isaiah 8:17).
  • We wait  on Him for energy, strength, and vitality (Isaiah 40:31 - today's focus verse). As we wait on Him, he renews us for tasks that take a burst of energy, to "… mount up with wings like eagles";  for tasks that take endurance: "They shall run and not be weary"; and for everyday, plodding life: "They shall walk and not faint."
  • Finally, our waiting will vindicate us. We trusted in the right One:
Behold this is our God;
We have waited for Him and He will save us.
This is the Lord;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation." - Isaiah 25:9.

Whatever our situation, let's join David, the writer of Proverbs, and Isaiah in waiting on God today.


PRAYER: Dear God, in my modern time of speed and instant, I feel stretched, antsy, even anxious when I need to wait. Help me to grasp Your trustworthiness and how much better it is to wait on You and for You than to take matters into my own hands. 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.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Unfading Word

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 40:1-17


TO CHEW ON: "The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever." Isaiah 40:7,8

Who can read Isaiah 40:1-17 and not hear the strains of Handel's Messiah echo in the belfry of imagination? "Comfort Ye, Comfort Ye My People," "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted," "And the Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed," "He Shall Feed His Flock." It's a reminder, Advent is all but upon us. Again! So soon!

This Christmas we will all be one year older than last year, and one year closer to our own grass-withering, flower-fading end. In fact, some of the loved ones who were with us last Christmas are already gone.

But there is something that lasts. "The word of our God stands forever." The longevity of Isaiah's words, which Handel helped immortalize for us, is an object lesson of this. Isaiah has been dead for over two and a half millennia. Handel died two and a half centuries ago (in 1759). Yet God's word lives on in Scripture, in song, and in the hearts of each generation that encounters it.

My own fragile mortality in contrast to God's invincible, indestructible Word reminds me to place my hope and spend the short time I have on things that God's Word recommends and approves.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to make Your word my standard, my light, my food, my song, my guide, my meditation, my hiding place. May my short life have significance as I anchor it on Your indestructible word. Amen.

MORE: God's word is:

Our Standard - Psalm 119:5-6, 11
Light - Psalm 119:105, 130
Food - Psalm 119:103, Jeremiah 15:16
Song - Psalm 119:54
Meditation material - Psalm 119:97
Fire - Jeremiah 23:29
Hiding place - Psalm 119:114
Guide - Psalm 119:133
Hammer - Jeremiah 23:29
Sword - Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12
Seed - 1 Peter 1:23
Mirror - James 1:22-25
Effective - Isaiah 55:11


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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, December 03, 2014

The most profound miracle and mystery of the universe

The Child Jesus by Alexandre Bida
"The Child Jesus" - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 85:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Mercy and truth have met together,
Righteousness and peace have kissed." Psalm 85:10


In the last few weeks we've been reading about God's righteous standard, His disappointment when His people don't live up to it, and His judgment. If we just read about the God of the Old Testament, we might picture a strict potentate who rigidly enforces His standards with an iron hand.

But our passage today, though still in the OT,  intimates another part to the story. It shows another side of God—the mercy and peace side, the side we celebrate on the 25th of this month.

For God, knowing we could never live up to His standard, sent Someone who could, an incarnation of Himself—Jesus the Son. The truth of what is right meets God's mercy for our human condition. His righteous standard that forever puts us at odds with Him makes peace with us through Jesus.

This meeting of mercy and truth, righteousness and peace playing out in the incarnation has fascinated philosophers and theologians ever since there have been such people. They have tried to understand how it works, argued over its fine points, and parted ways over differences of belief. It is really the point of the whole Bible—the Gospel, good news.  I love how Wayne Grudem sums it up at the end of the chapter "The Person of Christ" in his Systematic Theology:

"It (the incarnation) is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible—far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing even than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human  nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe" - p. 563.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this mystery and miracle and what it means for me: I have Your mercy, I have peace with You. Thank You!

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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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