Thursday, January 29, 2015

Talebearing—is it a big deal?

Telling a secret
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Leviticus 19:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people." Leviticus 19:16

In the middle of Leviticus (a book we tend to ignore because we think it's mostly a set of dry instructions for Old Testament Israelites), comes a down-to-earth chapter on practical holiness. In it are several guidelines about the use the tongue: against lying (Leviticus 19:11); against using God's name in oaths and profanity (Leviticus 19:12); against cursing the deaf (Leviticus 19:14); against being partial in judgment (Leviticus 19:15) and then something we might consider almost too trivial to include in this list of grave sins—against being a talebearer (Leviticus 19:16).  What is this, and could God's ban on this activity for the Israelites be relevant for us today?

What is talebearing?
[Talebearer = rakiyl  is also translated slander, slanderer and informer.]

Talebearers are characterized by activities that include:
  • Revealing secrets (Proverbs 11:13).
  • "… idle wandering about from house to house … also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not," Paul says in describing their activity to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:13.
  • They concern themselves "… in other people's matters," says Peter - 1 Peter 4:15.

Talebearing is hard to resist, though.
  • The writer of Proverbs describes talebearing words as "tasty trifles" - Proverbs 18:8.
  • It's also a social activity that may fill a need. The people Paul described as talebearers were young widows. We can easily see how doing the gossip circuit could fill a hole in their lonely lives, getting them out and circulating "house to house" with something important to pass on.

The effects of this type of talk are devastating.
  • It can impact hearers at a deep level. Those tasty morsels "… go down into the inmost body" - Proverbs 18:8.
  • Talebearers and their words separate friends - Proverbs 17:9.
  • They cause strife in the larger community - Proverbs 26:20.

I would submit that those talebearing words that God told the people to avoid thousands of years ago are just as dangerous and destructive today—to both spread and hear. How can they be avoided?
  • Don't associate with people known for any sort of insincere speech advises the writer of Proverbs (Proverbs 29:19).
  • Stamp it out (by not listening to it and not spreading it) and thus calm strife in the larger community - Provers 26:20.
  • And we could pray this prayer that David prayed, sincerely and often:
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.

Do not incline my heart to any evil thing,
To practice wicked works
With men who work iniquity;
And do not let me eat of their delicacies. - Psalm 141:3,4 (emphasis added)

PRAYER:  Dear God, I admit, I have at times been a talebearer. Please forgive me. Set that watch in front of my mouth and prick my conscience when I entertain talebearing thoughts, so that I can stop them at their source and they never get as far as crossing my lips.  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, January 27, 2015

The foundation of wisdom

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 111:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever." Psalm 111:10

When people ask, what would you like to be remembered for after you die, as in what would you like written on your tombstone, my mind always gravitates toward wisdom. I would love to be remembered as someone who was wise. In Psalm 111:10, the writer reveals the foundation of true wisdom. It is the fear of the Lord.

What is this fear? Tim Challies in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment describes it:
"Wisdom is the application of the fear of God to life; it is living in such a way that we esteem God above all else. A man who is wise is first a man who fears God. This is not a terrified, horrified fear, as in the fear of a child for a monster or an abusive father, but a fear based on a realistic understanding of the infinite gap between God and man in holiness and knowledge" - page 55.

The phrase "the fear of the Lord" (or "the fear of God") occurs often in the Bible. As we track some occurrences, we see that this fear impacts many areas of life.

1. To fear God is a requirement for God's people - Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 4:24.

2. The fear of God involves doing away with anything that would vie with Him for first place in our hearts - Joshua 24:14.

3. God alone is to be feared in this way - Isaiah 8:13.

4. God is worthy of our fear because only He has power over life and death - Matthew 10:28.

5. God is worthy of our fear because only He can see through our actions and judge us righteously - 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 14:7.

6. The fear of God motivates us to do away with evil - Proverbs 3:7; 14:16.

7. Fear of God influences our respect for life. When Abraham came to Gerar, he was afraid that King Abimelech, who didn't fear God, would have no qualms about killing him in order to get attractive Sarah for the royal harem - Genesis 20:11.

8. The fear of God can operate on the national level. Moses and Joshua predicted that the Canaanites would be filled with the fear of God as they heard about and saw the miracles God did for Israel - Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 4:24.

9. Lack of the fear of God leads to backsliding - Jeremiah 2:19.

And so I ask, is my hope to be remembered as wise, realistic because it is foundationed on the fear of God? Wisdom built on any other thing will not last.

PRAYER: Dear God, please expand my vision of Your holiness and knowledge. May the awe and respect in which I hold You impact all I do. Amen.

MORE: Fear of the Lord--the foundation of wisdom
"The fear of the Lord - Reverence for God; respect for his law, his will, his government, himself; the fear of offending him, which will lead us to do right. This fear is not that of a slave; it is not mere dread; it is not terror. It is consistent with love, and springs from it. It is consistent with calmness of mind, and promotes it. It does not produce terror, but rather delivers from it, and preserves the mind from alarms.
The word here rendered "fear" is a noun of the same origin as the word rendered "reverend" in Psalm 111:9 ("reverence" - Amplified). The suggestion to the mind of the psalmist that the "name of the Lord" was "reverend," or was to be venerated, introduced this thought that such reverence is the very foundation of wisdom" - Barnes Notes on the Bible.
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, January 26, 2015

Discipleship's dramatic leavings

"Jesus and the Rich Young Man" by Alexandre Bida
"Jesus and the Rich Young Man" by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:14-28

TO CHEW ON: "They immediately left their nets and followed Him …. And they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him." Mark 1:18,20

Here we see Simon (Peter) and Andrew leaving their nets or means of livelihood, James and John their senior partner, all in immediate response to Jesus' " 'Follow Me.' "

Other startling leavings in the Bible:
  • Ruth left her homeland to come back to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi - Ruth 2:11.
  • Matthew left his tax office to follow Jesus - Luke 2:27,28.
  • Jesus invited the eager young man, who asked about how to inherit eternal life, to divest himself of his possessions and follow Him - Mark 10:21.
  • The Apostle Paul renounced everything to "gain Christ" - Philippians 3:8.

These appear to be huge sacrifices until we look beyond, into how things turned out.
  • Ruth became part of the lineage of King David and eventually Jesus, while her sister-in-law Orpah, who decided to return to Moab, is never heard of again.
  • Andrew & Simon, James and John went from being nobody fishermen to charter members of a new movement.
  • Matthew changed from a despised tax man to a beloved writer of scripture.
  • The rich young man who ignored Jesus call because the cost of giving everything away was too big, also disappeared from the record.

As we go through the final days of this first month of a new year, when we typically take stock of our lives and make plans and goals for the future, could Jesus' invitation to "Follow Me" set in motion similar dramatic leavings in our lives? Leavings of possessions, ambitions, control of time, money, children, leisure...?

Counting the cost may involve considering the consequences of hanging on as much as radical discipleship's leaving-all cost.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to consider again your "Follow Me" and what it means of things I should leave. 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, January 23, 2015

God wants YOU

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 2:1-3:10

TO CHEW ON: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message I tell you.'" Jonah 3:1,2

God went to great lengths to get just the person He wanted—Jonah—for the job of preaching to Nineveh. When this reluctant prophet ran the other way, God followed him. When the sailors tossed him into the sea, God protected him. From the belly of the fish, God heard him. When that fishy time-out was over, God talked to his host and the fish tossed him. Then God gave him a second chance.

I have found something similar about God's assignments. They come with a quiet but weighty persistence. My excuses don't sway Him. He just listens to them and then when I pray, Lord, give me something to do, whispers, I've already given you a job. Just go and do it.

But what if we feel we've really blown it and disqualified ourselves from ever being used by God again? Leslyn Musch reminds us we can:
"Ask God for a second chance. You may have disobeyed the Lord to the point you believe He can no longer use you. Look at Jonah! There is hope for you too. Ask God's forgiveness for your sin, submit to His will for you. Draw near to Him through worship; praise Him for His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Tell Him you will follow Him full, and do it" - "Truth-In-Action Through Jonah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1199.
Are you dithering over following through on a job God has given you, hoping, perhaps, that He'll change His mind and give it to someone else? You'd better not count on that. God has amazing tenacity (as Jonah would testify). If He's picked you as the person for a job, He wants you for the job. Better to obey than to hang back and find yourself in a Jonah spot.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for second chances. But it's probably better not to need them. Help me to listen and obey when You first give me a task to do. Amen.

MORE: The secret battle
"The battle is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. The Spirit of God apprehends me and I am obliged to get alone with God and fight the battle out before Him. Until this is done, I lose every time. The battle may take one minute or a year, that will depend on me, not on God; but it must be wrestled out alone before God, and I must resolutely go through the hell of a renunciation before God. Nothing has any power over the man who has fought out the battle before God and won there" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 27th reading.

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, January 22, 2015

Extending mercy to your Nineveh

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Ammitai, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.'
But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." Jonah 1:1-3a

Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria—Israel's longstanding enemy. Various times in the Old Testament we see the Assyrians raiding Israel, ravaging the countryside, and taking its citizens captive. There was no love lost between Israel and Assyria.

Jonah, nationalist that he was, was obviously aghast at God's assignment. Perhaps his reluctance was tinged with fear for his own well-being. The Assyrians were not noted for their humane treatment of enemies.

But one gets the sense that he was mostly outraged that God wanted to share any part of Himself with his nation's rank enemy. That he, Jonah, would be an instrument in bringing such an intention to pass was, to him, unthinkable. And so he ran the other way.

It's worth stopping here and asking, but wouldn't God's righteousness and justice demand that the Assyrians be punished for their harsh treatment of Israel—the apple of God's eye? However, God, thankfully for us all, is not only just and righteous but also merciful. He wanted to give the Assyrians of Jonah's time an opportunity to repent.

It's easy to shrug off the story of Jonah as one of another era and so irrelevant to us. But wait. Is it really?

I'm reminded of Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch women who, years after her imprisonment in a German concentration camp, came face to face with one of her former captors—her Nineveh, so to speak. That day God asked her to extend mercy and forgiveness to him. She did, and came to a place of new freedom and understanding of God, who is not only just and righteous but also merciful.

I ask myself, what is my Nineveh? What is yours? Will we answer the call of God's heart to extend His mercy to it?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your mercy to me. May my heart echo the merciful thrum of yours as I interact with those who have treated me badly. Amen.

MORE: Man Overboard by David Denny

California poet David Denny has written a wonderful book of poems about just this story. Man Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion (Wipf & Stock, 2013) does a wonderful job of exploring God's compassion (on Nineveh, the Assyrians and Jonah), and Jonah's outrage. My review of the book is HERE.

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, January 21, 2015

Living with questions

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 37:1-24

"God thunders marvelously with His voice;
He does great things which we cannot comprehend." Job 37:5

After Job's three elderly friends are done speaking, a younger man, Elihu, joins the conversation (Job 32-37). Our reading today is the end of Elihu's final speech. His argument (quoting from my Bible's Introduction to Job) is:

"... God is greater than any human being; therefore a person has no right or authority to require an explanation of Him. He argues that some things that God does are humanly incomprehensible. At the same time, Elihu suggests that God will speak if we will listen. His emphasis is on the attitude of the sufferer, that is, an attitude of humility allows God to intervene .... Elihu's appeal to Job is: 1] to have faith in God Himself rather than demand an explanation; 2] to change his attitude to one of humility" Charles E. Blair, Introduction to Job, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 645.

In our reading, Elihu refers to the mysteries of nature—the grandeur of thunder and lightning, the cycling of rain and snow, the capriciousness of clouds, the instinctive wisdom of animals in response to seasonal changes.

What strikes me about several of these speeches is how closely Job and his friends observe nature and the seasons. They attribute its enigmas and splendours to the mind and intention of God. In today's chapter Elihu describes them in glowing terms: "thunders marvelously .... great things .... wondrous works of God .... awesome majesty .... He is excellent in power."

So much of what they say still expresses our awe of these things.

But what about when nature does more than put on a show for us while we're watching from the safety of our homes? Because when hurricanes and tornadoes bring devastation and floods, when lightning sparks wildfires burning homes along with vast tracts of forest or grass, when earthquakes destroy communities forever we, along with Elihu, are also puzzled:

"He does great things which we cannot comprehend...

"He causes it to come
Whether for correction
Or for His land
Or for mercy
" - Job 37:5,13.

Are there any answers to the theological and existential questions Job and his friends have been grappling with? Our consecutive readings in Job end here, but the Bible account continues with God's reply to Job (and his four friends) in Job 38:1-41:34. It's an answer well worth reading for our own lives.

PRAYER: Dear God, I find it uncomfortable to live with questions. Help me to wait for Your answers and to recognize them when they come. 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, January 20, 2015

God our teacher

Teachder's desk with apple
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 36:16-33

"Behold, God is exalted by His power;
Who teaches like Him?
Who has assigned Him His way,
Or who has said, 'You have done wrong?'" Job 36:23

Though I continue to find Elihu's pompous, I-have-all-the-answers attitude grating, he does make some wise observations. One of them is that God teaches. As we look through the Bible at a sampling of verses about God teaching, we see that His instructions come not only through difficulties but in other settings as well.

He teaches us how to do our work.

  • He promises to teach Moses how to do his special assignment of leading the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 4:15).
  • He also gives lessons in more everyday tasks like how and when to plant and harvest certain crops (Isaiah 28:26-29) and how to choose the right way that will lead to profit (Isaiah 48:17).

He teaches about the future (Daniel 8:19).

God's school is lifelong learning that begins in childhood (Isaiah 54:13), carries on into youth, and the old psalmist begs God to continue to teach him into his "old and grayheaded" years (Psalm 71:17-18).

God teaches:
  • Through signs and wonders like the Israelites experienced in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 4:36).
  • Through His word - Psalm 119:26, 66, 135.
  • Through His Spirit - 1 Corinthians 2:12.
  • And, Elihu would insist, through the events of our lives, good and bad (Job 36:22,23).

The best students have a teachable spirit.

  • God teaches the ones who fear the Lord, according to David (Psalm 25:12).
  • However if there is sin in our lives, we may need to repent in order to again hear God's voice (Psalm 32:1-5; 8-9).

God's teaching is for everyone.
  • It's for the Jews: Isaiah sees the "Day of the Lord" when Israel will willingly go to God's house to be taught in His ways and how to walk in His paths (Isaiah 2:3).
  • But it's for other nationalities too. Micah prophesies a day when the desire to sit under God's instruction will pull in citizens of many nations (Micah 4:2).

Let's open ourselves to the favour and blessing of God's instruction
(Psalm 94:10-12; 119:135).  For we ignore it at our peril (Jeremiah 32:33,36).


Dear God, please develop in me a teachable spirit and keen ears to hear Your instructions. May it truly be lifelong learning. 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, January 18, 2015

Leaven alert

Yeast cells

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 16:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to them, 'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'" Matthew 16:6

We can't help but smile at the little comedy of misunderstanding near the beginning of today's reading. Jesus had just had an encounter with the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducess where they goaded Him for a heavenly sign. His reply cut to the bone: "Hypocrites...a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign..."

Then He and the disciples got into a boat and crossed the Sea of Galilee. When they reached the other side, the disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread.

Into that setting Jesus interjected, "'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'"

I can just see the wheels trying to turn in the disciples' heads: What does that have to do with anything? They tried, among themselves, to connect Jesus' statement with their present lack of bread.

But that wasn't the connection Jesus wanted them to make. So what was He talking about?

Not physical bread. His words in Matthew 16:8-11 show us that. Even the literal-minded disciples realized by the end of that conversation that Jesus was warning them not about some literal brand of leaven to avoid, but false doctrine.

It wasn't a specific teaching that Jesus was referring to either. Because the Pharisees and Sadducees beliefs contradicted each other. According to the study notes in my Bible:

"The Pharisees had a strong commitment to the Law as interpreted by 'the tradition of the elders.' They were strong ritualists and were legalistic.

The Sadducees came from leading social families and were rationalists and materialists. They rejected "the tradition of the elders" and denied the supernatural, including the possibility of a bodily resurrection. The Pharisees and Sadducees are best known for their mutual hostility" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Matthew in the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1320.

Jesus was, it seems to me, warning them about the leaven of false doctrine of any kind.

Leaven or yeast, is a fungus that we add to bread dough. In the right conditions just a little grows in a matter of several hours to permeate a large lump of dough. Its presence is evident by the air bubbles that make the bread light and fluffy.

False doctrine is like that. Just a little imbalance or false teaching can quickly work its way through our whole teaching about God, resulting in aberrations as dissimilar as the cults and Christian liberalism.

How do we know when truth has been mixed with leaven? By getting familiar with teaching that is pure—that is, by immersing ourselves in the Bible. As we get to know its message from cover to cover, we will not be easily lured away by doctrines of a bloodless atonement, or angelic guides or any other leaven-permeated diversion from what Peter confessed later in the chapter: "You are the Christ the Son of the living God," or the simple gospel that Paul preached: "...Jesus Christ and Him crucified" 1 Corinthians 2:2.

PRAYER: Dear God, please sharpen my spiritual awareness so I will recognize the leaven of false teaching. Please guide me into truth by Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Confession of St. Peter

Today is the day the church celebrates the Confession of Saint Peter. It begins with this prayer:

Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Liturgy for this day

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, January 17, 2015

The call to discipleship

"The calling of the fishermen" - Alexandre Bida
"The calling of the fishermen" - Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:29-51

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Because I said to you, "I saw you under the fig tree," do you believe? You will see greater things than these.' " John 1:50

I have always been fascinated by the gospel accounts of Jesus calling His disciples, which are all slightly different. Some things that jump out at me from John's telling:

Two of Jesus' eventual disciples were first disciples of John the Baptist, so obviously spiritual seekers. One was Andrew (John 1:40) and "the other was probably John, the author of the gospel" - Siegfried Schatzmann, study notes on John, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1445.

Two came to Jesus on the invitation of someone else. Andrew brought his brother Simon (John 1:41-42) and Philip recommended Jesus to his friend Nathanael (John 1:45).

Jesus "softened up" several of these disciples with supernatural signs. To Nathanael He said, " 'Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.' " Whatever happened under that fig tree must have been significant, for Nathanael's reply shows an attitude swing from skepticism to worship (John 1:49).

If we read the other accounts of Jesus calling the disciples we see that this wasn't His only interaction with James, John, Peter, and Andrew. In fact, His invitation to " 'Follow Me' " (Matthew 4:19) may well have come some time after this John 1 introduction.

I can imagine it—John and Andrew spend the day with Jesus (John 1:39) after which Andrew introduces his brother Peter to Him (John 1:41,42). But they they go back fishing (Matthew 4:18-20).

Luke's account adds even more detail in its description of that last fishing trip before the big decision. A long night of unsuccessful work is followed by Jesus coming by, telling them to fish on the other side. They do and pull in an unthinkably big catch. It is that miracle that is the catalyst in their big decision to forsake all and follow Jesus—something that has probably been percolating in their hearts and minds for a while (Luke 5:1-11).

As we look at our own lives, and the lives of loved ones who have yet to answer Jesus' "Follow Me," we may see similarities to how Jesus drew the disciples to Himself.

  • An interest in spiritual things and a thirst for spiritual reality means that something is going on inside the heart.
  • God typically softens us up with little supernatural glimpses of Himself—unexplained "coincidences," words of knowledge (such as Nathanael got here), or even outright miracles like the disciples' amazing catch of fish.
  • The recommendation of Jesus from others is also a big factor in people coming to Him themselves.

As we reflect on our desire for those we love to come to Him, let's realize that He may already be at work, sharpening spiritual interest and breaking down barriers and objections with glimpses of His reality and goodness. Let's be on the alert for when they're ready for that personal introduction.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I love how tailored to each individual Your invitation to discipleship is. Help me to have faith You are working behind the scenes in the lives of loved ones who have not yet come to 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.

Friday, January 16, 2015

When God feels far away

planet in black space
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 35:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "For you say, 'What advantage will it be to you? What profit shall I have, more than if I had sinned?' " Job 35:3

In this third speech of Elihu's, he answers two questions he has heard Job ask:
1] What is the value of virtue (Job 35:2-8)?
2] Why doesn't God answer the prayers of the afflicted (Job 35:9-16)?

I'm going to focus on Elihu's response to the first question.: "What is the value of virtue?" See Job's own phrasing of it in Job 21:15.

Elihu answers by establishing God's remoteness. He is distant, says Elihu, and thus untouched by human actions. But, Elihu has himself said earlier that God does interact with people (Job 33:10-11, 24-26).

The commentary writer elaborates on Elihu's mixed messages:
"By stressing God's transcendence, he has protected God from the actions of people. But the reasoning here contradicts his earlier claim that God reacts to the sins by punishment and discipline and to righteousness by reward. ... By suggesting that God is indifferent, Elihu comes close to Job's position of challenging his justice" - Asbury Bible Commentary - accessed via "Study This" on BibleGateway.

We too may sometimes side with Elihua here, feeling that what we do makes no difference to God; that He is above and beyond our puny existence. I love how Wayne Grudem tackles this issue in his Systematic Theology:
"The term often used to say that God is much greater than creation is the word transcendent. Very simply, this means that God is far "above" the creation in the sense that he is greater than the creation and he is independent of it. 
God is also very much involved in creation … The technical term used to speak of God's involvement in creation is the word immanent, meaning "remaining in" creation. The God of the Bible is no abstract deity removed from and uninterested in his creation. The Bible is the story of God's involvement with his creation and particularly the people in it" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 267.

God sending Jesus is evidence of that involvement—His literal skin in the game (John 1:14). Through Jesus we are intimately connected to Him, despite what our feelings say:
  • " 'Lo I am with you always…' " - Matthew 28:29.
  • " 'Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand' " - John  10:28.
  • " 'Abide in Me and I in you' " - John 15:4.
  • "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life (nor angels, principalities powers etc.) shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" - Romans 8:38.

PRAYER: Dear God, I know the facts about Your presence. Help me to apply them to my life when my feelings say otherwise. 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.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lessons for the comforter

ill person with caretakers
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 34:16-37

TO CHEW ON: " ' If you have understanding, hear this;
Listen to the sound of my words: … ' " Job 34:16

Some wise person has said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Elihu doesn't seem to be aware of the principle behind that saying. He continues speaking to suffering Job like a lawyer building up to a "guilty" verdict.

In his defense of God he makes many claims we would call true. In yesterday's reading we considered his defense of God's justice. Today he upholds God's omniscience (Job 34:21,22,25) and omnipotence (Job 34:24,25).

The writer of the Asbury Bible Commentary puts a finger on the disconnect  we feel between young Elihu's often accurate words and how they must sound to the ill patriarch:

"While Elihu has the luxury of being theoretical and general (which he is) in his comments, Job, by virtue of his sufferings, is personal and existential in his. At issue in the book is not the justice of God in general, but his justice as it pertains to Job's suffering" - Asbury Bible Commentary, accessed via "Study This" on BibleGateway.

Also, Elihu's arguments lead him to a wrong conclusion (Job 34:34-37):  "Elihu is forced to picture Job as a wicked person if his theological assumptions are to stand" - Asbury Bible Commentary. Elihu's conclusion isn't accurate, as we know from our glimpse behind the scenes - see Job 1:8; 2:3.

I see two lessons for myself and perhaps all of us in this installment:

1. When we talk to someone who is suffering, our knowledge and certainties need to be delivered with empathy. How much easier Elihu's speech would have been for Job to hear if Elihu had acknowledged Job's condition, spoken with less stridency, softened his tone even a little.

2. We need to be careful of being too either/or in our theology so we avoid being forced into a false-conclusion corner because of our incomplete human knowledge. Elihu knew nothing of the extraterrestrial dialogue that preceded Job's trouble. His tight system brought him to the same wrong conclusion (that Job had brought this trial on himself: "…for he adds rebellion to his sin…  Job. 34:37) that Job's other friends came to.  It's way better to hold our peace in matters of divine cause and effect—things about which we have limited knowledge.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to learn the lessons of empathy and humility as I seek to understand life's difficulties and comfort my suffering friends. 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, January 13, 2015

The mystery of pain

"Job and his False Friends" by Jean Fouquet (1420-1477/81)
"Job and his False Friends" - Jean Fouquet (1420-1477/81)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 33:1-30

" ' Behold God works all these things.' " - Job 33:29

It's fascinating to note that in this book that may date back to the time of Abraham (its date and authorship are uncertain), Job and his friends are wrestling with the question "Why does bad stuff happen to us?" in much the same way we do today.

In our reading Elihu, a young man, speaks up after Job's three older friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have had their say and Job has answered them. Elihu gives his thoughts on why we suffer. Some of his points:
  • We may never know. God isn't obliged to tell us - Job 33:13.
  • "God may speak in one way or in another …. In order to turn man from his deed..." - Job 33:14-17. Elihu mentions some means God may use, like dreams and visions, to deliver His message.
  • These divine communications are meant, in the end, to discipline and humble us. Sometimes, unbeknownst to us, they keep us out of harm's way - Job 33:17-18.
  • Pain and illness chasten us and drive us to God - Job 33:19-24.
  • God heals in response to prayer - Job 33:24-26.
  •  Confession of sin is part of returning to God, in order that we may be saved from an even greater disaster - Job 33:26-28.

All these many years later, we, like Job and his peers, continue to question and seek for answers to pain, sickness, natural disasters, accidents, etc. And like these ancients, we still come to the conclusion that these things are a mystery; we don't understand.

But we can content ourselves with one thing: "God works all these things." Let that fact about the God, who has said about His people: "Behold I have loved you with an everlasting love…" (Jeremiah 31:3), be enough.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to trust Your love and good intentions toward me when I think I understand what You are allowing in my life, and when I don't. 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, January 12, 2015

Elihu—a good conversationalist

"Job in His Adversity" by Arthur Ackland Hunt
"Job In His Adversity" by Arthur Ackland Hunt
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 32:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "But there is a spirit in man,
And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding." Job 32:8

As we begin today's reading of Job 32, does it feel as if we're walking in on the middle of a conversation? Well we are.

You have probably heard or read the story of Job, how in the heavenlies Satan and God's attention become focused on him. Satan gets God's permission to trouble him and so in one day he loses practically everything and is eventually left with only his pessimistic wife and his unhealthy life (Job 1:1-2:10).

One by one his friends "comfort" him. But the comfort of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is cold. They urge him to examine his life for the cause of his misfortune because in their experience (Eliphaz) and by their tradition (Bildad) such bad fortune is always a consequence of some sin. Job answers them, justifying himself. Zophar condemns him for being verbose, presumptuous and sinful, and concludes that Job is actually getting less than he deserves (Job 11:6). We come on the scene after Job has defended himself against this variety of accusations.

The speaker in our reading is Elihu, a younger man who has respectfully kept silent while the others talked. Now he steps forward. Today's reading is his preamble to his reasons for Job's suffering and what he says underlines the specialness of the human species (that we talked about a few days ago):
"There is a spirit in man.
And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding."

Elihu elaborates as to why he has the nerve to speak up and contradict his elders. His reasons (in my words):
  • Just because you're a great man or have lived a long time doesn't mean you're wise  - Job 32:9.
  • I've listened closely to everything you've all said but you haven't convinced Job or me - Job 32:12-13, 18-19.
  • I have an opinion and I need to express it - Job 32:18,19.
  • What I have to say is, before God, the unvarnished truth and contains no flattery - Job 32:21-22.

I see in this passage a practical example of good human interaction—some things we can learn from young Elihu:

Elihu waited respectfully to have his say. 
But he finally asks to be heard despite his youth because of the spirit within him, breathed by God, which gives him insight.

In our interactions, do we view others, no matter what their age, race, status, or education, as worth respect and attention simply because they are created in God's "image and likeness," endowed by God's "breath" with understanding?
Elihu listened to the conversation before asking for the floor.
Do we listen first before we talk?
He spoke courageously out of conviction and integrity.
Do we speak just to hear ourselves give an opinion, or does our talk come from deeply held beliefs? If our beliefs contradict current wisdom, do we have the courage to speak them anyway? Is our talk sincere, or mixed with flattery to make it more palatable to those who may disagree with us?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to interact respectfully with others, honouring Your image and likeness within them. 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, January 11, 2015

He identifies with us

"Baptism of Jesus" by Isabella Colette

"Baptism of Jesus" by Isabella Colette
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan." Mark 1:9

Mark makes it clear that people were coming to John for baptism to confess their sins and for the remission of their sins. So why did Jesus (who was sinless—2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26—ask to be baptized?

I would submit that one purpose for His baptism was to identify with us. How so?

He would become sin for us. Paul says that God "...made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.." Though Jesus never committed sin, in His baptism He foreshadowed those awful / wonderful hours on the cross when He bore all the sins of all the people that had ever lived and would ever live (including yours and mine).

We can trust Him because He understands the human experience. Hebrews 2 talks more about what His identifying with us means:
  • He was subject to physical death (Hebrews 2:14). But His death was loaded with significance in that He would, by dying, satisfy God's wrath against sin ("make propitiation for the sins of the people" - Hebrews 2:17).
  • By taking on human existence, He understood/understands our temptation and is able to help us when we are tempted (Hebrews 2:18; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
  • When He limited Himself to a human body, He became subject to our weaknesses and so has compassion (deals gently) with us in them (Hebrews 2:5).

I love the aspect of Holy Spirit 's involvement in Jesus' baptism that unfolded when Jesus came up from the water and "He saw the heavens parting (torn open) and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove" accompanied by the message of Father God's approval: "You are My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" - Mark 1:11.

This scene pictures the trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It reminds us of the source and energy of spiritual life following repentance: the Holy Spirit.

Let's thank God for Jesus, our older brother (Hebrews 2:17) who was there first and who understands and sympathizes with our human struggles.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Jesus's humility and obedience to subject Himself to a human body and go through with the act of baptism. Help me to live the post-baptism Holy Spirit-empowered life. Amen.

MORE: More on Jesus' identity with us
"All through the Bible it is revealed that Our Lord bore the sin of the world by identification, not by sympathy. He deliberately took upon His own shoulders, and bore in His own Person, the whole massed sin of the human race - "He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin," and by so doing He put the whole human race on the basis of Redemption. Jesus Christ rehabilitated the human race; He put it back to where God designed it to be, and anyone can enter into union with God on the ground of what Our Lord has done on the Cross" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 7 reading.
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, January 10, 2015

Busy angels

"The Dream of St. Joseph"
by Rembrandt - 1645

"The Dream of St. Joseph" - Rembrandt

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 2:13-23

TO CHEW ON: "Now when they had departed behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, 'Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.'" Matthew 2:13

The angels were busy during the time of Christ's birth. That busyness started with an appearance to Zacharias to tell of John the Baptist's birth. Six or so months later the angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her that she was the chosen mother of God's Son.

When Mary's pregnancy became obvious, an angel appeared to Joseph reassuring him that the conceived child was of the Holy Spirit and he could go ahead and marry her.

At Jesus' birth angels announced the news to shepherds.

After the wise men visit we have the incidents we read of today where an angel warned Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt (Matthew 2:13). He got another angel visit when it was time to return home after the danger was past (Matthew 2:20). A divine visit even confirmed his fearful feelings about settling in Judea (Matthew 2:22).

Angels make a fascinating study. They get whole chapters in theology textbooks and rightly so, for they populate the Bible from cover to cover. My systematic theology book has a section called "The Work of Good Angels in General." Their duties and responsibilities:

1. They stand before God and worship Him (Matthew 18:10; Revelation 5:11).

2. They protect and deliver God's people (Genesis 19:1, 10-11; Acts 5:19).

3. They guide and encourage God's servants (Matthew 28:5-7; Acts 27:23-24).

4. They interpret God's will to men (Job 33:23; Daniel 7:16).

5. They execute judgment toward individuals and nations (Acts 12:23; Genesis 19:12-13).

6. They carry the saved home when they fall asleep in Jesus (Luke 16:22). H. C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 205-207.

Have you ever seen or been helped by an angel? I have been surprised when the topic of angels comes up, how many people tell of angelic visitations. (More O.F. devos about angels, with an angel story or two, HERE)

How comforting it is to know that God has an army of helpers at the ready to inspire, aid, shield, and guide us, to interpret God's will to us, and to help bring it to pass.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for all the ways You minister Your providence, including assigning angels to work on my behalf. Amen.

MORE: Angelology

In the introduction to the section on angels, Thiessen writes:

"The doctrine of angels follows logically the doctrine of God, for the angels are primarily the ministers of God's providence. Although the Scriptures have much to say about angels, there is today a very general disregard, often amounting to a rejection of the doctrine. Various things have contributed to this attitude. There is first the Gnostic worship of angels (Colossians 2:18); then there are the often foolish speculations of the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages; and then, finally, there is the exaggerated belief in witchcraft in more recent times. Yet there are many reasons for believing in angels (his points abbreviated):

1. Taught in Scripture.
2. Evident in the demon possession and demon worship in heathen lands.
3. Practice of Spiritualism.
4. The work of Satan and the evil spirits in hindering the progress of grace in our own hearts and the work of God in the world (Ephesians 6:12).

H. C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, page 190.
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, January 08, 2015


Detail from Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam"
Detail from Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam"

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 1:20-2:4

TO CHEW ON: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them." Genesis 1:27

As we read this passage, particularly the part about our (man's) creation, the question that comes to mind is, what does it mean to be created in the image of God?

I certainly struggled with how to answer that when I wrote my children's devotions (Bible Drive-Thru). Eventually I came up with this list:

The image of God in people sets them apart form the rest of creation in that they have creativity, are self-conscious, have personality, can think about more than what they see, hear, and feel (think abstractly), have soul and spirit as well as body, can make decisions and choices that lead to feelings.

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology simplifies—and complicates—the concept when he says:

"When God says, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness' (Genesis 1:26), the meaning is that God plans to make a creature similar to Himself. Both the Hebrew words for 'image' (tselem) and the Hebrew word for 'likeness' (demut) refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents or is an 'image' of. The word 'image' can also be used of something that represents something else" Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 442,3.

He goes on to explain how this definition steers us away from defining the image of God in man in too narrow terms, list-like, as I have done, for example "… because no such list could do justice to the subject. … In fact as we read the rest of scripture, we realize that a full understanding of man's likeness to God would  require a full knowledge of who God is in his being and in his actions and a full understanding of who man is and what he does" - Op. Cit., p. 443,4.

(Then Grudem does go on to give list of specific examples of what the image of God means.)

Practically, the fact that we humans are created in God's image should fill us with gratitude and respect—self-respect and respect for other humans. Grudem again:

"Every single human being, no matter how much the image of God is marred by sin, or illness, or weakness, or age, or any other disability, still has the status of being in God's image and therefore must be treated with the dignity and respect that is due to God's image-bearer" - Op. Cit., p. 450.

He lists those that might typically need to be kept in mind here—people of every race, the elderly, the seriously ill, the mentally retarded, children yet unborn and concludes:

"If we ever deny our unique status in creation as God's only image-bearers, we will soon begin to depreciate the value of human life, will tend to see humans as merely a higher form of animal, and will begin to treat others as such. We will also lose much of our sense of meaning in life" - Ibid.

Developments in current Canadian thought and practice—e.g. abortion on demand, the animal rights movement, and the push to legalize doctor-assisted suicide—illustrate that we are well down that road of human deprecation.

Dear God, thank You for how I am made. Help me to get to know You and thus myself. Help me to view all fellow humans as Your image-bearers and to treat them as such. 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, January 07, 2015

A history of LIGHT

Creation of light - artist unknown
Creation of Light - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 1:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light." Genesis 1:3

After reading this first chapter of Genesis tens of times, it finally sunk in, recently, that God created light before He created the light-givers: sun, moon, and stars. In fact, light was the first created thing. Perhaps it should not surprise us, then, to see that God is frequently associated with LIGHT.

He is the creator of the physical light-makers in our sky (Genesis 1:17) from whose properties and activities, I think we could argue (though I'm no scientist) come all the other light sources—lightning, electricity, lightning bugs…

Light often characterizes God-generated supernatural activities.
  • When the Israelites were pursued by the Egyptians, the cloud by which God led them was a light to them, to help them across the Red Sea (Exodus 14:20).
  • Angel visits were sometimes accompanied by light. The "glory of the Lord" shone around the shepherds when they angels told them of Jesus' birth (Luke 2:9). Peter was sprung from prison by an angel whose presence was a "bright light" (Acts 12:7).

The writers of the Bible's psalms and praise songs often referred to God in relation to light.
  • "The Lord is my light and my salvation" - Psalm 27:1.
  • "In Your light we see light" - Psalm 36:9.
  • "For the Lord God is a sun and shield" - Psalm 84:11.
  • "You cover Yourself with light as with a garment" - Psalm 104:2.

Light surrounds the life and ministry of Jesus.
  • Old Testament prophecies we believe were fulfilled by His coming make many references to light - Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 9:2; 60:3; Malachi 4:2.
  • John the Baptist referring to One coming after Him, talked of  "witnessing to the Light" - John 1:7-9.
  • Jesus, referring to Himself said, "I am the light of the world..." - John 8:12; 12:35, 46.

Now we, as believers in Jesus, His disciples, followers, children, are possessors of that light - John 8:12.
  • We inherit that light - Ephesians 5:8; Philippians 2:15.
  • We distribute that light - Matthew 5:14.

In this season of short days and long dark nights (at least where I live), let's thank God for light of all kinds—the physical and the spiritual—which will culminate, one day, in a place where there is no more need for the sun, moon and stars, but God will be our sole source of light - Revelation 22:5; 1 John 1:3.

PRAYER: Dear God,  thank You for physical light, the light of mental understanding, but most of all for the spiritual light that overcomes sin and all the darkness that descended on the world and in us as a result. 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, January 06, 2015

Fall down and worship

"Adoration of the Magi" - Eugenio CAJÉS (1620s)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 2:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "And when they had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him." Matthew 2:11

"Worship"—proskuneo—is a fanatical word. It means literally to kiss toward (pros = toward, kuneo = kiss). [Proskuneo is translated to prostrate oneself, bow down, do obeisance, show reverence, do homage, worship, adore. Among Orientals, especially the Persians it means to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence.]

With this definition of worship in mind, imagine the scene of today's reading. Watch these exotic foreigners with their camel train, kingly wardrobe, regal bearing, and lavish packages, entering a humble Bethlehem house and falling face-down before—a child!

I love the contrast of these worldly-wise men abandoning themselves in adoration and reverence before this baby they believed was a divinely-born king. Much is implied by postures of worship (kneeling, lying face down, standing with hands raised): assuming a lower position than the one worshiped, abandoning pride, laying aside all personal dignity, and expressing helplessness. It brings me to the question, is my worship that complete and unselfconscious that I assume such postures?

A "Word Wealth" article on worship in my Bible says: "All believers have a one-dimensional worship, to the only Lord and Savior. We do not worship angels, saints, shrines, relics, or religious personages" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1824.

We might also add, believers do not (or should not) worship money, success, fame, a relationship or person, possessions etc. For aren't we tempted to pay homage (perhaps not physically, but with our actions) to these things? I ask myself, do I truly worship Jesus, or something else?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the story of these wise worshipers. Help me to worship You with abandonment of a surrendered life. Amen.

MORE: Epiphany

Today the church celebrates the Feast of Epiphany. The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:
"O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 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, January 05, 2015

Playing catch with God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 3:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge..." - Ephesians 3:17-19

In her book Theology in Aisle Seven, Carolyn Arends tells of the time in a pre-concert prayer meeting when she prayed something like, "'God, we invite you here among us.'" The next person to pray—the church's minister—contradicted her theology when he prayed, "'We know we do not have to request your presence because there is nowhere you are not. So we celebrate the fact you are already here with us now'" - Theology in Aisle Seven, Kindle Location 141.

In a way Paul's prayer for the Ephesians when he requests that God make them able to comprehend Christ's love for them, is his subtler request for his readers of what Carolyn desired. We all want to feel God is with us, to sense His presence, to know He wraps us in a loving hug.

Paul gives us the key to how that begins when he says "...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith..."

But what about those times God feels distant, or even absent?

Though Carolyn was a little miffed at having her theology so publicly corrected, the minister's words set her to search out these things and brought her to some life-altering realizations. Attending to the words of Jesus when He talked about the Kingdom of God coming near (Matthew 4:17), she discovered:

"...for the biblical writers, heaven is close. In fact the 'first heavens' is a term used to describe the earth's atmosphere. So when Jesus describes the invisible (but very real) realm that God inhabits, he lets us know it's not only out there, but also as near as the atmosphere surrounding our bodies and the air we breathe" - Arends, Theology, KL 161.

She found another piece of the puzzle when a colleague shared an article about a father and son playing catch and related such an activity with fathering and being a child. "They do not call it a game of throw," her friend said, "but catch."

Arends concludes:
"God is the initiator. We love because he first loved us. We're here because he thought of us and welcomed us into his world. Yes, he stands at the doors to our hearts and knocks, but we need only let him in" - Arends, Theology, K.L. 174.

Doesn't all that help us comprehend His love and presence a little better?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being here, all around me, as present as the air I breathe. Help me to catch the signals of Your nearness in the blessings that flow through my day, the prickly lessons, and the sadnesses that keep my heart soft. May I affirm Your presence by throwing my thankfulness back to you. Amen.

MORE:  But don't we need to catch God's attention?

More Arends: "I suspect I have sometimes unconsciously used spiritual disciplines as smoke signals to get God's attention. Now I am learning that they are simply ways of letting him capture mine" - Carolyn Arends, Theology, K.L. 16.

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, January 04, 2015

Your destiny—planned from eternity

The calling of St. Matthew - by James Tissot
"The Calling of St. Matthew" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 2:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10

Os Guinness begins the introduction to his book The Call:
"Are you looking for purpose in life? For a purpose big enough to absorb every ounce of your attention, deep enough to plumb every mystery of your passions, and lasting enough to inspire you to your last breath?"
He goes on to outline the three main answers to the search for purpose we moderns consider:
  • The Eastern answer: "If the final reality is an impersonal ground of being (the so-called 'undifferentiated impersonal') what is the purpose of life for each of us individuals? ... Forget it and forget yourself."
  • The secularist answer: "If the final reality is chance and there is no God (or gods or the supernatural) to consider, then purpose is up to each of us to decide and achieve for ourselves by ourselves. We don't discover it—we decide it."
  • The biblical answer: "From this perspective the final reality is neither chance nor an impersonal ground of being but an infinite personal God who has created us in his image and calls us into relationship with himself. Our life purpose therefore comes from two sources at once—who we are created to be and who we are called to be" - Os Guinness, The Call, pp. vii-ix (emphasis added).

This is what Paul is writing about to the Christians in Ephesus—this purposeful life. He tells them that God's specific purpose for each individual was planned in the mind of God "beforehand"—before we ever came to be. God formed us with it in mind. We are his "workmanship."

["Workmanship - poeima: The word suggests that which is manufactured, a product, a design produced by an artisan. Poiema emphasizes God as the Master Designer, the universe as His creation (Romans 1:20) and the redeemed believer as His new creation. (Ephesians 2:10). Before conversion our lives had no rhyme or reason. Conversion brought us balance, symmetry and order. We are God's poem, His work of art" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1647.]

I believe this intentionality on God's part not only encompasses who He formed us to be physically but when and where we were born, the family to which we belong, our strengths and weakness, the experiences we've gone through. They all work and are working to form us into the people that fit into a foreordained place in God's eternal plan and purpose for earth and the universe.

Let's embrace who God has made us and seek to put ourselves more and more at His disposal to perform those "good works" He prepared for us from eternity past (raise those kids, teach that class, work in that food bank, visit those sick, write that book, compose that song, build that house...).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that there are no accidents, no "Oops" moments with You. Help me to discover and live the destiny for which You have formed me. Amen.

MORE: "Follow Me"
"Are you open to the possibility that there is one who created you to be who you are and calls you to be who he alone knows you can be? Then listen to Jesus of Nazareth and his two words that changed the world—'Follow me'" - Os Guinness, The Call, p. ix (emphasis added).
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, January 03, 2015

Prayer list: revelation, wisdom

girl reading Bible
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 1:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "I … do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him..." - Ephesians 1:16,17

Studying Paul's prayer here gives us clues about what to pray for ourselves and others. Paul tells the Ephesians his prayers for them include a request that God would give them  the "spirit of wisdom and revelation."

The writer of my Bible's notes on Ephesians says, "Wisdom and revelation are not to be interpreted as mystical. 'Wisdom' concerns practical, workable principles, 'revelation' refers to clear perception and applicable understanding" - Jack W. Hayford, notes on Ephesians, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1645.

I take that to mean, in plain language, revelation is a clear understanding what God's word says and means; wisdom is how to put it into practice in our lives.

What a great prayer to pray for ourselves, each other, pastors and members of our local church, and the Christian church all over the world. It's just as apropos today as it was in Paul's time as we struggle to live what the Bible teaches in the midst of our generation that lives (in North America at least) increasingly by the principles of relativism.*

PRAYER:  Dear God, I need this spirit of revelation and wisdom as I grapple with my society's redefinition of marriage and its general enforcement of political correctness that would pressure me to compromise living by the principles in Your word. Amen.

MORE: The best way to hear from the Spirit
"Eastern religions, and even some teachers of the Christian faith, propose that the best way to hear from God's Spirit ... is to empty your mind, accompanied by various breathing exercises. … Rather, the Scriptures affirm the best way to hear from the Spirit is to fill the mind with the Word of God, accompanied by careful reading and meditation on the sacred text. That's the best way to receive what the Spirit is speaking clearly" - Daniel Henderson, Transforming Prayer, p. 118.

*Relativism in the religious realm is also sometimes called pluralism. Tim Keller explains what this is and describes its impact on western society in the article "Religious and Philosophical Pluralism."


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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