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.
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 29, 2014

Together again

"Prodigal Son" - Artist unknown
"Prodigal Son" - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 31:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Again I will build you and you shall be rebuilt,
O virgin of Israel!
You shall again be adorned with your tambourines,
And shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice."  Jeremiah 31:4

A family feud, a rift between you and an old friend, a church split, a betrayal by a business partner… Most of us have experienced the severing of a trusted relationship and know its fallout of sadness, disillusionment and the ache of an empty place at the table, empty pews in church, the empty office.

Israel and Judah had split into two nations during the reign of Solomon's son Rehoboam. That was about 300 years before Jeremiah's time. Though the crisis pain of that split had no doubt long healed, the desire that the two nations of God's chosen people be reunited lingered. In today's reading we hear it in Jeremiah's prediction of  together again: "I will be the God of all the families of Israel and they shall all be my people" - Jeremiah 31:1.

Let's look at the bright picture Jeremiah paints of that reuniting:

This is a worldwide ingathering "I will bring them from the north country, And gather them from the ends of the earth…" Jeremiah 31:8, 10.

There is repentance and renewed spiritual sensitivity: "They shall come with weeping, And with supplications I will lead them" - Jeremiah 31:9.

There is celebration, singing and dancing - "You shall again be adorned with your tambourines, And shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice …. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, And the young men and the old together;  For I will turn their mourning to joy…" Jeremiah 31:4,13.

There is vibrant praise and worship - " ' Sing with gladness for Jacob, And shout among the chief of the nations; Proclaim, give praise and say, "O Lord, save Your people…" ' "  Jeremiah 31:7.

There is hope: "Again I will build you and you shall be rebuilt" - Jeremiah 31:4.

There is new life and productivity - "You shall yet plant vines on the mountains of Samaria …. Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden…" Jeremiah 31:5, 12.

Over it all there is a sense of God's love, protection, and care - "Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you … He who scattered Israel will gather him, and Keep him as a shepherd does his flock … And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness says the Lord" - Jeremiah 31:3, 10-11,14.

The picture of God reclaiming His people Israel can be compared to what it's like when He brings humanity back to Himself, healing the rift that split us and God apart when Adam and Eve sinned.

He brings us from wherever we are and accepts us no matter what our condition. Our tears of repentance and renewed spiritual sensitivity soon change to joy, singing, celebration, praise, and worship as we realize our happy condition. Our relationship with our Creator leads to renewed life and creativity. In the Shepherd's care we find security and satisfaction.

If you haven't come home to the Father, He calls to you today: "Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindess I have drawn you…"

Come to Him today!.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for wanting me back and making a way. Help me today to appreciate and enjoy the benefits of being Your child. Amen.

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

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.

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 27, 2014

The Jesus brand

a harp and angels
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 148:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory above the earth and heaven." Psalm 148:13

In the world of books and authors there is a term called "branding." It begins to happen when a writer writes book after book in the same genre, written in the same recognizable style so that their name gets identified with what they write. For example when we say we read Brandilyn Collins, people familiar with Christian fiction will know we're talking about scary suspense stories, while if we read Beverly Lewis, we are readers of historical fiction about the Amish. The author's name becomes her brand.

[The Hebrew word shem translated name in "Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted" comes from a root that suggests marking or branding. An article about "Name" in my Bible says, "...a person was named because of something that marked him, whether physical features or accomplishments he had made or was expected to make" New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 254.]

That idea of a brand (identified by a name) delivering on expectations continues till today. We buy a brand-name product (a book, a piece of clothing, a particular food) with expectations.

What we get when we choose Jesus is not so different. A look at the names of the Lord Jesus are a wonderful study of what we can expect to get when we choose the Jesus brand:

  • A Governor named Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
  • A human person named Jesus, born to a real woman (Luke 1:31).
  • A Lord, before whom every knee will bow and every tongue admit His supremacy (Philippians 2:9-11).

No wonder all of nature — the heavens (Psalm 148:1-4) and the earth (Psalm 148:7-12)— join their voices in praise of this name. Let's join in!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, my mind can't begin to grasp Your greatness, majesty, power, and creativity. Help me to remember these things about You when I am tempted by any other brand. Amen.

MORE: "All Creatures of Our God and King" sung by David Crowder

Words by Francis of Assissi 1182-1226
Translated by William H. Draper

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."


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.

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.

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

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.

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 22, 2014

Your new name

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 62:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "You shall be called by a new name
Which the mouth of the Lord will name." Isaiah 62:2

Whenever I read about a new name in the Bible, I think of Donna Smallenberg's painting by that title. In it a beautiful queen looks intently at a glowing white stone with an inscription on it. Smallenberg's inspiration for that painting came from Revelation 2 (Revelation 2:17) and Isaiah 62. She says of her depiction:

"This woman representing the overcoming church in Revelations 2 is given a white stone with a new name written on it. The white stone is symbolic of priestly revelation, the new name reveals her true calling and destiny. Isaiah 62 speaks of her shining like the dawn, of being a crown of beauty in the Lord's hand..."

What was her old name? "Forsaken." "Desolate" - Isaiah 62:4.

Her new name is "Hephzibah""My delight is in her," and "Beulah"—"married," and a "Holy People," "The Redeemed of the Lord," "Sought Out," and "A City Not forsaken" - Isaiah 62:4,12.

This new name promise is repeated in Revelation 3:12:

"He who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem... And I will write on him My new name."

Neil Anderson, in an appendix to the book The Bondage Breaker lists statements that summarize our identity in Christ—our new names. Below are a few from a much longer list. Let's ponder them today and thank God again for the wonderful thing He did when He sent Jesus to earth to adopt us and make us His own.

  • I am a new creation - 2 Corinthians 5:17.
  • I am a child of God - John 1:12.
  • I am a son/daughter of light not of darkness - 1 Thessalonians 5:5.
  • I am Christ's friend, chosen and appointed to bear His fruit - John 15:15,16.
  • I am part of the true vine, a channel of Christ's life - John 15:1,5.
  • I am God's workmanship—His handiwork - Ephesians 2:10.
  • I am one of God's living stones - 1 Peter 2:5.
  • I am a joint heir with Christ - Romans 8:17.
  • I am a citizen of heaven - Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 2:6.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that I am Yours and have a new identity in You. Help me to live true to the names You call me. Amen.

MORE: Our thanks back to God

In the last few days I've been listening to Robin Mark's 2009 Year of Grace CD while cooking dinner. One song I can't hear enough times is his rendition of "Greater the One." As we ponder Jesus' coming to earth as a baby and all His life means for us now (our new names and all the benefits of new life in Him),  this song is the perfect response. Sing along with Robin Mark these words of appreciation and thankfulness to our beautiful Saviour.

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 21, 2014

Joseph—God's yes-man

"Joseph and the Christ Child" - Murilla 1670-75
"Joseph and the Christ Child"  - Murillo (1670-75)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 1:18-25

"Then Joseph, being roused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife." Matthew 1:24

Though the Bible doesn't mention Jesus' earthly father Joseph often, what it does say gives us some insights into the man God picked to be the most influential male in the human Jesus's life. We discover Joseph was:

1. A descendant of King David. - Luke 1:27.

2. Kind. Even though he must have been incredibly hurt and confused at the discovery of Mary's pregnancy, his impulse was to spare her public disgrace and worse by putting her away secretly - Matthew 1:19.

3. Promptly obedient. He took Mary as his wife and left for Egypt in the middle of the night after angelic visits - Matthew 1:24; 2:13-14.

4. Self-controlled. He refrained from having intimate relations with Mary, even after they were married, in respect for the sanctity of Mary's pregnancy - Matthew 1:25.

5. A compliant citizen, obedient to Caesar's decree to register in Bethlehem, even though it "happened" at a most inconvenient time  (for him, but not for God's larger plan) - Luke 2:4.

6. Faithful and devoted in his religious practice, having Jesus circumcised on the eighth day and going up to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Passover - Luke 2:22-24; 41.

7. Sensitive, along with Mary, to the spiritual immensity and mystery of Jesus' destiny - Luke 2:33.

8. Sensible. He used common sense (which was confirmed by another angelic dream) when deciding where to settle on the family's return from Egypt - Matthew 2:22.

9. Trusting. He must have trusted the adolescent Jesus because at Jesus' 12-year-old trip to Jerusalem, he and Mary didn't keep close tabs on His whereabouts - Luke 2:43-44.

10. A responsible father. He and Mary searched for three days for their 12-year-old - Luke 2:45-46.

11. Puzzled? I wonder how he felt when Jesus intimated that His real loyalty was to a different Father - Luke 2:49-50.

12. Ordinary. To Jesus' neighbors and friends, He was known as "Joseph's son." Their surprise at His "gracious words" in the light of His supposed lineage tells us that Joseph was probably a very ordinary, unexceptional person in most ways - Luke 4:22; John 1:45.

I love it that Jesus' earthly father was so humble and ordinary. It gives us hope that all us ordinary nobodies can also be part of God's plan and purpose as we put ourselves at His disposal and keep saying "yes" like Joseph did.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Joseph. I want my life to be remembered by my yes's to You. Amen.

MORE: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Handel's Messiah lyrics

The lyrics of the contralto recitative "Behold A Virgin Shall Conceive" are taken from Matthew 1:23 (which is a quote from Isaiah 7:14).

In this Tafelmusik rendition, the recitative is followed by the solo "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion."


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV) Used with permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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.

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 19, 2014

Sit before God

David by Rembrandt
"David" - by Rembrandt
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 7:18-29

"Then King David went in a sat before the Lord ...." 2 Samuel 7:18

Today's reading continues the story we began yesterday when God told Nathan to return to David and tell him, 'No. You are not to build Me a house.'

Did David feel shock and disappointment at the change? Did he have the urge to question and argue? Nathan's message obviously got him thinking and wanting to be in touch with God about what was going on. So he went in and "... sat before the Lord."

"'Sat' actually means remained," says my Bible footnote to this verse. "David spends a lengthy time before the Lord, that is, in the tent where the ark stood"- Jerry Cook,  commentary on 2 Samuel, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 411.

As he sits there, his thoughts range:
  • He sees his own puniness and insignificance - 2 Samuel 7:18.
  • He marvels at God's grace and favour to his family, given for reasons only God knows - 2 Samuel 7:18-21.
  • In God's blessing of him and the nation of Israel, he recognizes God's greatness and he foresees Israel becoming a blessing to the whole earth - 2 Samuel 7:22-24.

By the end of his time of sitting before God any vestige of a snit is gone. He's completely back in sync with God's plan - 2 Samuel 7:27-29.

What a great example David is to us. When things catch us by surprise, when our expectations come crashing down in disappointment or failure, when the road forks and we sense God tugging us in a direction we hadn't planned on going—and tens of other times—is a good time for us to stop and sit before God.

There we can let Him impress us with His person. He may reassure us with memories of His help in the past. And no doubt He will feed our imaginations with the possibilities of the course He is setting us on for the future.

PRAYER: Dear God, in the hustle and bustle of life, I don't take enough time to sit before You. Please draw me aside to do this, and to make a habit to spend time regularly sitting in Your presence. Amen.

MORE: His presence—a cure for anxiety

"Our eyes should be taken off self, removed from our own weakness and allowed to rest implicitly upon God's strength .... A simple confiding faith, living day by day and casting its burden on the Lord, each hour of the day, will dissipate fear, drive away misgiving and deliver from doubt (Philippians 4:6).

"That is the divine cure for all fear, anxiety and undue concern of soul, all of which are closely akin to doubt and unbelief" - E. M. Bounds, E. M. Bounds on Prayer, Kindle location p. 20)

David's prayer in  2 Samuel 7:18-29 is considered another of the Great Prayers of the Old Testament.

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 17, 2014

What has God chosen you for?

Signet ring - with the image of Childeric

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 2:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "'In that day,' says the Lord of hosts, 'I will take you Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,' says the Lord, 'and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,' says the Lord of hosts." Haggai 2:23

Zerubbabel was a leader of the Hebrew exiles returning from Babylon in 537 B.C. He was a governor and is mentioned in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. In the New Testament, he shows up in the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17 - Zerubbabel is mentioned in verse 12).

In our reading today we see one reason he was a significant Bible character. It is because God had a specific and special role for Zerubbabel in accomplishing His purposes. Here's what God wanted to do:

"I will shake heaven and earth. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and those who ride in them... (Haggai 2:21-22).

Zerubbabel was the man God picked for that task:

"I will take you, Zerubbabel...and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you..." Haggai 2:23.

Throughout the Bible we can trace the pattern of God choosing an individual when He wants to accomplish some special purpose.
  • When God wanted to do something about wicked humanity but still save some, He chose Noah (Genesis 6:5-14).
  • When God planned to free the Israelites from the tyranny of Midian, He chose Gideon (Judges 6:11-16).
  • When God wanted the Gospel spread to Gentiles, kings, and Jews, He chose Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-16).

In his book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says:

God never asks people to dream up something to do for Him. We do not sit down and dream what we want to do for God and then call God in to help us accomplish it. The pattern in Scripture is that we submit ourselves to God. Then we wait until God shows us what He is about to do, or we watch what God is already doing around us and join Him"  - Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God, Workbook, p. 34.

The challenge for us, then, is to resist going down a self-determined path. It means placing our confidence in God, not ourselves. We seek God's kingdom instead of what the world approves of and admires. We look for God's perspective in every circumstance instead of looking at how circumstances can serve us. Applying this viewpoint to life and work, we wait until we perceive God's activity before we decide what projects we should work on, instead of starting something on our own initiative and then asking God to bless it.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put this into practice in my life. I need the spiritual perception to see where You are at work. I need wisdom to understand what this means for me. I need courage to cast aside self-generated projects in favour of assignments that come from You. Amen.

MORE: Signet rings

In ancient times, official documents contained a seal.  This was an impression or imprint on the document often made in a blob of wax. It told the recipient that the document was authentic.

Such seals were sometimes imprinted by pressing the ring the ruler wore (a signet ring) into the soft wax.

Wikipedia says of signet rings:
The wearing of signet rings (from Latin "signum" meaning sign) goes back to ancient Egypt; the distinctive personal signature was not developed in antiquity and most documents needed a seal. The tradition continues, especially among the armigerous, in European and some other cultures.  
Because it is used to attest the authority of its bearer, the ring has also been seen as a symbol of his power, which is one explanation for its inclusion in the regalia of certain monarchies. 
From "Seal (emblem)"
 So we see, when God calls Zerubbabel a signet ring, He is referring to the power and authority He has given this man He has chosen for this job.

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 16, 2014

Come Desire of All Nations

Wise men worshiping Jesus - William Hole
Wise men worshiping Jesus - William Hole
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 2:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "For thus says the Lord of hosts: once more (it is a little while) I will shake the heaven and earth, the sea and dry land. And I will shake all nations and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of Hosts." Haggai 2:6-7

Imagine having a clear sense, on a particular day, that God wants to use your tongue for His message. That seems to have been Haggai's experience "on the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month." Thanks to his cooperation, we have his words to ponder these many years later.

As we read his prophetic message, we get the sense of double, perhaps multiple fulfillments. Some of these predictions came true shortly after Haggai's time, some were for a time in the distant future and some for the end of time. Even in our short  focus passage we see this.

"And I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land. And I will shake all nations" (vs. 6-7) brings to mind passages we have recently read about the great end-of-earth disturbances Jesus predicts in Matthew 24:7,29.

"..and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations ..."(vs. 7) sounds Messianic. It reminds us of Jesus coming to earth as a baby and how representatives of the earth's nations came to Bethlehem to honour Him as King (Matthew 2:1-12).  But there is also a future picture here—one we see in John's vision (Revelation 7:9-10).

"… and I will fill this temple with glory"
is a prophecy that also has multiple fulfillments.

It was fulfilled in a sense when Haggai's contemporaries completed the temple and worship resumed there.

Jesus interpreted "temple" on several levels: the actual building standing in Jerusalem and His own body. His double meaning led to Him making controversial statements like  "'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up' " (John 2:19)— claims which eventually became part of the case that ended in His crucifixion (Mark 15:48; Matthew 26:61) and his body-temple being changed to one of resurrected glory.

My Bible's introduction to Haggai explains how this is also a prophecy  for the future:
 "… what God will do in the new temple will one day gain international attention. After an upheaval among the peoples of the Earth, the nations will be drawn to the temple to discover that they had been looking for: the One whom all the nations have desired will be displayed in splendour in the temple. The presence of this One will cause the memory of Solomon's glorious temple to fade so that only Christ's glory remains…" Sam Middlebrook, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1241.

Recent happenings on Jerusalem's Temple Mount show that we are definitely still waiting for the day when "…in this place I will give peace" Haggai 2:9.

As we celebrate the coming of the Desire of All Nations to earth as a baby, let's not lose hope in the fulfillment of the parts of Haggai's prophecy that have yet to be realized.

PRAYER: Dear Desire of All Nations, thank You for coming as a baby. We look forward to the day You return in glory and bring peace. Amen.

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

God stirs the heart

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

"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.

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.

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 14, 2014

Straighten the path

straight path through woods
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:15-28

TO CHEW ON: "He said, 'I am
The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
Make straight the way of the Lord.' " John 1:23

These words of John the Baptist are a quote from Isaiah who even seemed to have John in the picture as he wrote it:
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
'Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God."  - Isaiah 40:3.

"Make straight…" What does he mean by that?

[Straight - yashar means direct, to be straight, upright, pleasing good - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 807. ]

It is the word used in one of my favorite verses that promises God's direction to me:
"In all your ways know, recognize and acknowledge Him and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths" - Proverbs 3:6 AMP.

John the Baptist was preparing his listeners for the coming of Jesus when he quoted this. During Advent we too are in a season of preparation. We prepare to celebrate Jesus' coming by buying gifts for others. We prepare programs of music, drama, and readings. We plan menus and shop for food. We clean our "inns" and get them ready for guests. But do we, in the hustle and bustle, neglect to prepare our hearts? To make a straight, direct path for Jesus to come to us, even in the busyness?

Let's take some time this advent season to again appreciate what Jesus' coming means:
  • How it opens the windows of heaven for us:
"Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" - Luke 2:10,11.
  • How it gives us a glimpse into God's own heart:
 "Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" - John 14:9.
  • How it gives even the most difficult experiences a penumbra of light -
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live' " - John 11:25.
  • How it dispels the shadows of our most stubborn fear -
"And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise' " - Luke 23:43.

After those reminders of what His presence means, we may confess sin that makes Him feel distant and get rid of the distractions to His presence that the seasonal running to and fro erect. With these straightened paths He will be with us in our kitchens, banquet halls, malls, the traffic, the church, the hospital… We will experience Him as Immanuel this Christmas!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to clear away the rubble, do away with the detours so that You have a direct route to my most inner self this Advent season. Amen.

MORE: Third Sunday of Advent

Today the church celebrates the third Sunday of Advent. The liturgy for the day begins with this Collect:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

If you have an advent wreath with a candle for each Sunday of the season, today you light the third candle.

What do these candles signify? Tanya Gulevich's Encyclopedia of Christmas tells us the various meanings people have given to the four Advent candles:

~ The four gifts of the Holy Spirit: HOPE, JOY, PEACE, LOVE.

~ The themes of the Advent season: HOPE, PREPARATION, JOY, LOVE

~ Characters in the Nativity story: PROPHETS, ANGELS, SHEPHERDS, MAGI


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)

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.

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

"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.

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


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!"

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.

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 08, 2014

The impossible life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

TO CHEW ON: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Reading through this passage, I'm struck by how impossible its instructions are:
"… be patient with all …. always pursue what is good, for yourselves and for all … Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks …. Test all things … Abstain from every form of evil…"

Can you do it? Neither can I!

The process Paul is describing here is sanctification. He uses a form of the word in a sum-up verse after naming the specifics above: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely..." - 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

The Encyclopedia of the Bible defines sanctification:
[…  the process of acquiring sanctity or holiness as a result of association with deity. Its synonyms are consecration, dedication, holiness and perfection" - Encyclopedia of the Bible, accessed through biblegateway.com.]

It's an impossibly tall order. However, the next verse has the reassurance that we're not expected to do it by ourselves. This process of sanctification is not, finally, our project but His:

"He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it" - 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Whew! So we can just sit back and it will happen? Not exactly. We have a part to play. It's really a joint effort.

An article in The Dictionary of Bible Themes lists means and obstacles to sanctification (each undergirded by many Bible verses*):

Means of sanctification:
  • The work of the Holy Spirit
  • Meditation on the Scriptures.
  • Our active pursuit of holiness and righteousness.
  • Obedience and self-denial.
  • Prayer.

Obstacles to sanctification:
  • A lack of faith.
  • Rebellion against God.
  • Satanic temptation.
  • Self-indulgence and greed.
  • Yielding to sinful desires.

Let's view the specifics of the sanctified life (the patience with all, the "rejoice always", the "pray without ceasing," the "in everything give thanks" etc.) through the grid of these means and obstacles. Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to put His finger on where we need to change—be more joyful, pray more, give thanks etc.? Do we read the Bible? Do we meditate on it? Do we actually obey the things God tells us to do? Do we pray, confessing the times we resist, rebel, mess-up?

Or do we throw up our hands with 'This is too hard!' and carry on as usual, resisting the voice of conviction to be joyful, pray, give thanks, procrastinating on obedience, telling ourselves, everyone else can live like they please—why can't I?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the means You have given to bring about this set-apart life. I love the part of the definition that says it comes about through "association with deity." I want to hang out with You today. Amen.

MORE: *Access the article on Sanctification and view supporting Scriptures:
1. Click on the link 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 (passage on biblegateway.com).
2. Click on "Study This" - the blue box that displays to the right of the reference.
3. In the right sidebar that opens, click on "Dictionary of Bible Themes."
4. Select #6745 "Sanctification."

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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