Saturday, February 28, 2015

God's answer

"The Empty Tomb"
 Illustration from a book by Martin Luther.

The Empty Tomb - from a book by Martin Luther
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 22:16-31

TO CHEW ON: "You have answered Me." Psalm 22:21b

This psalm pivots at verse 21. There the speaker (prophetically Jesus, Messiah) comes to the triumphant conclusion "You have answered Me."

Up to that point He has dwelt on the dreadful things that would and did happen as His life spiraled toward death. Today's reading includes the howls of the suggestible crowed insisting Barabbas go free and Jesus die, His pierced hands and feet, the gawking scorn of onlookers, and the dice game for His robe. And then He proclaims, "You have answered Me."

But He died. So we ask,  how did God answer Him?

The answer came three days later. As explained by the writer of my Bible's Psalm footnotes: "The resurrection of Jesus was an answer to His prayer and to the agonizing prayer of every sin-laden human soul"-  K.R. "Dick" Iverson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 702.

That last phrase snags my attention: "...every sin-laden human soul." That includes me. It prompts me to ask: How does Christ's resurrection impact me—and you?

Wayne Grudem devotes an entire chapter to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus in his Systematic Theology. Here are some bits, gleaned from that chapter to answer our question: 

How does Jesus' resurrection impact us?

1. We are made spiritually alive.
"When Jesus rose from the dead he had a new quality of life .... When we become Christians our bodies remain as they were .... But in our spirits we are made alive with new resurrection power."

2. The penalty for our sin is paid.
"When Christ was raised from the dead, it was God's declaration of approval of Christ's work of redemption .... There was no penalty left to pay for sin, no more wrath of God to bear, no more guilt or liability to punishment—all had been completely paid for."

3. There will be resurrection bodies for us.
"In calling Christ the 'first fruits' (1 Corinthians 15:20) Paul uses a metaphor from agriculture to indicate we will be like Christ .... Christ as the 'first fruits' shows what our resurrection bodies will be like when, in God's final 'harvest' he raises us from the dead and brings us into his presence" - quotes from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 614-616.

The rest of Psalm 22 sparkles with the joy of this resurrection answer. Praise God, we can join in Messiah's celebration!

PRAYER: Dear God, "My praise shall be of You in the great assembly .... All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord's and He rules over the nations." Amen (quoting Psalm 22:25, 27-28)

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Friday, February 27, 2015

A human Jesus

Mary holding Baby Jesus
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 22:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts.
I was cast upon You from birth
From My mother's womb You have been My God." Psalm 22:9,10

One of the things I like about the New King James Version of the Bible is the way it capitalizes the pronouns of deity. When one pays attention to that detail, Psalm 22 comes across differently than many other prophetic passages which readers recognized as prophetic only after the events occurred.

All the upper case 'My's and 'Me's of Psalm 22 tell us this is considered to be God speaking—God in human form sent as Jesus, giving a prediction through David of "The Suffering, Praise and Posterity of Messiah" (the title the NKVJ give this chapter).

Jesus' humanity comes through in words like
"I am a worm and no man;
A reproach of men and despised by the people"  vs. 6.

This looks like Jesus with low self-esteem,   Jesus not unaffected by the people's reaction to Him. It brings to mind the verse, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" - Hebrews 4:15.

As a mother I notice the verses that speak of Jesus' childhood. For Mary the risks of pregnancy and childbirth were the same as for any other mother and the psalmist credits God with His help in that process:
"You are He who took Me out of the womb ….
I was cast on you You from birth" - Psalm 22:9-10.

The way Mary trained Jesus also played a part in who He became:
"You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts…" - Psalm 22: 9.

If the early years of Jesus were important in making Him the man He would become, how much more the early training of our children!

Are you a young mom, distracted and  tempted by dreams, ambitions, and outside opportunities? Don't let anything take your focus off the priceless responsibility and opportunity of raising your little ones to trust God from day one. Honor God in this season of your life and He will surely make it up to you in another.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, this human picture of You tugs at my heart. I know You understand my weakness. Help me to put my confidence in God when I am faced with scorn, like You did. 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, February 25, 2015

Peacemaking—foolish giving in, or heavenly wisdom?

"Parting of Abram and Lot" - from Treasures of the Bible
"Parting of Abram and Lot" - from Treasures of the Bible (Genesis)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 13:1-18

"And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's stock. … So Abram said to Lot, 'Please, let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brethren.' " Genesis 13:7,8

Conflict within the family and between workers, fights over the same "piece of the pie," standoffs that lead to broken relationships—these are not unusual situations to us. But perhaps Abram's way of handling conflict in his family was.

1. He exposed the problem—brought it up in conversation with his nephew rather than ignoring it till it got worse.

2. His solution—to give Lot first choice of grazing land—had the potential to damage him. And indeed Lot, true to his personalty "…chose for himself" (Genesis 13:11), and Abram was left with the inferior pastureland.

3. But God was way bigger than what might look to us like a foolish giving in by Abram. For it was after they split that God came to Abram again with such a fantastic promise, he may have been left shaking his head: Did I hear right? (Genesis 13:14-17).

What can we learn from Abram to apply to our own lives?
  • To confront conflict and strife, not let it fester.
  • To be realistic about the cost. We need to realize that in confronting the strife, there may be consequences, maybe even negative consequences to us. Maybe the partner will decide to buy us out, the relationship will break up, the adult son or daughter will move out…
  • To be reassured that by pursuing peace, we make ourselves a target of God's blessing.
- Such an action identifies us as God's children - Matthew 5:9.
- It is a characteristic of heavenly wisdom - James 3:17.
- It, along with holiness, sets us apart as ones who will see God - Hebrews 12:14.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to pursue peace above my own self-interest, knowing that Your ways are always the wisest and best despite what it may look like right now. 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, February 23, 2015

Signs of God's goodness

rainbow bridge
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 9:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the clouds, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.'" Genesis 9:12,13

Here we read of God giving the rainbow as a sign or token of His promise to never again destroy earth and its creatures in the way He did in the flood. What a genius sign—beautiful, visible at one time or another to everyone on earth, and simple enough for even a child to appreciate. However, this is only one message in the sign language between God and mankind. Here are some others:

  • God told Abraham to circumcise all his male offspring. This was the sign of the covenant between God, Abraham, and his descendants - Genesis 17:1, 4-11.
  • The blood on the doorposts of the Israeli homes in Goshen the night before the Israelites left Egypt was a No Admittance sign to the death angel - Exodus 12:13.
  • Purging their houses of leaven and eating only unleavened bread for seven days was a sign of the importance of obeying God's instructions (His law) and His abhorrence of sin - Exodus 13:9.
  • Redeeming the firstborn was another reminder of God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt - Exodus 13:16.
  • Aaron's rod budding was a sign to the rebellious Israelites that the Levites were the people God had chosen to lead them - Numbers 17:10.
  • A dove descending on Jesus at His baptism was a sign of the Holy Spirit - Matthew 3:16. John the Baptist explained it as a sign of the One who had the ability to baptize others with the Holy Spirit - John 1:33.

I think we can view these signs as clues in the mystery of God's intentions toward humanity.

  • The rainbow tells us it's His intention to preserve earth and the humans on it.
  • Circumcision shows that God's plan will involve a certain race of people, through whom He will bless all earth's nations.
  • The blood on the doorposts and the redemption of the firstborn show that this preservation is costly.
  • Cleansing the house of leaven and eating only unleavened bread for seven days shows God's abhorrence of sin. (Leaven is often depicted in the Bible as a symbol of sin - Matthew 16:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.)
  • Aaron's budding rod illustrates the importance of following God-appointed leaders.
  • The dove descending on Jesus and His ability to baptize with the Spirit is a sign that Jesus is God and that it is through Him we receive new life.

David prays for a sign of God's goodness:
"Show me a sign for good..." -  Psalm 86:17.

Let's make David's prayer our own as we ponder the signs God has given throughout history and the personal signs of His presence and love that He blesses us with in the daily round of life.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these signs and tokens of Your care for us humans  throughout history. Please open my eyes to signs of Your goodness to me as I go through this day. 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, February 22, 2015

Shades of remembering

Noah Leaving the Ark - from Religion in the Home (Part 1)
Noah Leaving the Ark - from Religion in the Home (Part 1)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 8:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Then God remembered Noah and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark." Genesis 8:1

Though Bible passages like Psalm 139 assure us that God doesn't ever forget us (Psalm 139:1-4,7), it sometimes feels like He does. Perhaps that's how Noah felt during those long uncertain months in the ark.

The Dictionary of Bible Themes (access through reminds us that God always remembers:
  • His covenant - Psalm 105:8
  • His promises - Psalm 105:42.
  • His people - Isaiah 49:15-16.

But He doesn't remember:
  • Our sins  and lawless deeds - Hebrews 8:12.
  • The old creation after He has created the new - Isaiah 65:17.

Perhaps a more important question for us to ask ourselves is, do we remember Him? We are to remember:
  • God's person - Psalm 42:5-6.
  • God's acts from the past - Isaiah 46:9.
  • His wrath - Deuteronomy 8:18 (and 2 Peter 3:1-10 where Peter refers to the flood).
  • God's commands - Psalm 103:17,18.
  • Our responsibilities toward each other and especially towards the poor - Acts 20:35; Galatians 2:10; Hebrews 13:2-3.
  • The death of Jesus - 1 Corinthians 11:24-28.

These remembrances are important because they lead to:
  • Joy and singing - Psalm 13:5,6.
  • Sorrow for sin and repentance - Matthew 5:23,24
  • Understanding - Luke 24:6-8; John 15:20; 16:1-4; Acts 11:15-18.
  • Hope for the future - Lamentations 3:21-24.

When it feels like God has forgotten us, let's remind ourselves, He hasn't. He is just as aware of us as He was of Noah during all those months in the ark. In the meantime, let's not forget Him.

Dear God help me to trust You are aware of me and my circumstances all the time—even when You are silent and feel absent. Amen.

MORE: The Silence of God - Andrew Peterson.

In this beautiful song, Andrew Peterson reminds us that even Jesus experienced the silence of God:

"And the Man of all sorrows, He never forgot
What sorrow is carried in the hearts that He bought.
So when questions may remain, the breaking does not ...
In the holy lonesome echo of the silence of God" - from "The Silence of God" by Andrew Peterson. 

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, February 21, 2015

Obedience's consequences

Noah - Artist unknown
Noah - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 7:1-24

"So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in." Genesis 7:16

The illustration I found for today's post pictures what I believe the years of building the ark must have been like for Noah and his family—full of scorn, teasing, jokes made at his and his family's expense, etc. Yet we never hear of him arguing with God about this crazy assignment, or complaining about the treatment from his neighbors.

I wonder, though, how Mrs. Noah, the boys, and their wives felt about Noah following these seemingly bizarre instructions from God.

Oswald Chambers says:

"If we obey God it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the sting comes. If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything, it is a delight, but it costs those who do not love Him a good deal. … We can disobey God if we choose, and it will bring immediate relief to the situation, but we shall be a grief to our Lord. Whereas if we obey God, He will look after those who have been pressed into the consequences of our obedience. We have simply to obey and to leave all consequences to Him" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, January 11 reading (emphasis added).

Our focus verse today illustrates the truth of what Chambers says. The consequences of Noah's obedience, though probably painful for his family in the immediate, were a long-term blessing.

1. His family and animal species of all kinds were preserved because of his obedience. The wording of Genesis 7:16: "So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him…" tells us that Moses got the order. It was up to him to enact it.

2. Noah's obedience put him and all those with him in God's care: "God shut him up."

I believe these principles of obedience from Noah's life speak to our lives still today.
  • Our actions don't impact only us but those around us as well. Our obedience may have implications for our family members, friends, neighbors, even strangers (for apparent good or bad). 
  •  In the end, our obedience puts us in God's care. And isn't that the safest place for us and all those with us, despite what it looked like in the short term: "Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" - 1 Peter 5:7.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to obey You no matter what the consequences. 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, February 16, 2015

Secrets of spiritual power

"Jesus in prayer" - by Alexandre Bida
"Jesus in prayer" - by Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 9:14-29

"So He said to them, 'This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.' " Mark 9:29

We hear a message and it convicts us of sin. A song has us on our knees in worship. The story of a godly life brings us to tears of awe. In the spiritual realm we call such ministry, such music, such writing "anointed." By that we mean that there is something in it, coming through it, that is of God. It has power that is not explained by the cleverness of the message and story, or the beauty of the melody and lyrics.

Jesus demonstrated that power after the distraught father explained his distress following the disciples' inability to exorcise the self-destructive demon from his son. Jesus cast out the demon, seemingly effortlessly (Mark 9:25,26). When the disciples later asked Jesus why they couldn't help the boy, He gave them and us one means by which God empowers a life: " ' This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting' " - Mark 9:29.

Spiritual power also comes by:
 - Returning to God and confidently trusting in Him - Isaiah 30:15 
- Waiting on the Lord - Isaiah 40:31.
- Waiting for the Lord - Isaiah 49:23.
- And of course via the Holy Spirit:
    • Who gave the prophet courage to confront his countrymen about their sin - Micah 3:8.
    • Who is capable above any human resource - Zechariah 4:6.
    • Who empowered Jesus - Luke 4:14.
    • Who baptized and still baptizes Christians with power to witness - Acts 1:8; 4:33.
    • Who gives power to do miracles - Acts 6:8; 9:11,12.
    • Who inhabits speech so that words are not mere human persuasion but a "… demonstration of the Spirit and of power" - 1 Corinthians 2:4.
    • Who strengthens us in the inner person - Ephesians 3:16.

I want to live a life of spiritual power. I'm sure you do too. Let's be aware of the possible cost to us in self denial (as we fast and pray), in waiting on God for His timing and methods, and in the surrender of ourselves—our bodies and wills, goals and ambitions, methods and strategies—to the Holy Spirit.

Dear God, please help me to be willing to pay the price needed to live a spiritually powerful 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.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Peter's prattle

The Transfiguration 
- Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 9:2-13

TO CHEW ON: "Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"—because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid." Mark 9:5,6

Tradition says that the Gospel of Mark is actually Peter's version of the life of Jesus. ("The earliest witness to Marcan authorship stems from Papias bishop of the church at Hierapolis [about A.D. 135-140] .... Papias describes Mark as 'interpreter of Peter'" - J. Lyle Story, "Introduction to Mark," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1346).

That is borne out by the little aside we are focusing on today. It's as if Peter was recalling to Mark, his scribe, 'I remember saying this (about the tabernacles...) but I was just prattling, not knowing what I said or why I said it, because I was so frightened.'

The Bible talks about many kinds of speech. Peter's here might fall into the category of "vain words" of the sort spoken of in Job 16:3: "Shall words of wind have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer?"

What these words of Peter's illustrate is that sometimes it's better to say nothing than to fill the uncomfortable silence with proof of our ignorance. After the vision ended and the disciples were descending the mountain, Jesus said as much: "He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen till the Son of Man had risen from the dead" - Mark 9:9.

I think there are things that we would also be wise to hold our counsel about till we see them in their larger context. As the writer of Proverbs said: "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue" - Proverbs 17:28

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to consider the necessity and appropriateness of my words before I say them. Help me to be comfortable with uncertainty, questions, silence. Amen.

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The real thing

"Church at Auvers" 1890 by Vincent Van Gogh
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

TO CHEW ON: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

With the invention of the printing press and photography, the world is full of copies. Years ago I visited the Van Gogh museum. After studying Van Gogh in History of Art class, I was excited to see his original paintings. There was one in particular that caught my eye. The colors, especially the red roof, of the “Church at Auvers” were stunning. Later in the gift shop, I flipped through the poster bin, eager to own a red roof of my own. But what a disappointment. None of the representations even came close to the brilliance of the actual painting.

The real painting of love is what we see in 1 Corinthians 13. Study its perfection. See what it is and does. It is long-lasting, rejoices when truth and right prevail, bears up under anything and everything that comes along, believes the best about people, keeps hoping under all circumstances, endures without weakening.

Look at what it isn’t and doesn’t do. It’s not envious, jealous, boastful, or full of itself. It doesn’t parade its accomplishments, isn’t conceited, arrogant, proud, rude, inappropriate, self-seeking, touchy, fretful, or resentful. It doesn’t pay attention to evil done to it, remember a wrong, or rejoice at injustice or unrighteousness.

No matter what personality type you are or what your love weakness is, it’s probably addressed in 1 Corinthians 13. I know mine are and then some! Can I ever love like that? Can you? Only with God’s help!

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please change my inner self to love in the 1 Corinthians 13 way. Amen. 

MORE: How does it work?

Is the Christian life a lifestyle of supernatural enabling or of try-harder in order to live up to the ideal? I believe it’s a little of both.

If we never saw the detailed picture of love painted in 1 Corinthians 13, we might think we were doing pretty well – especially when we compare ourselves to our gossiping neighbor, our jealous cousin or our self-centered star and starlet pop heroes. It’s when we come up against the real thing—as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13 (and fleshed out in the life of Jesus) that we see what a tawdry representation of genuine agape love is portrayed in our lives.

And so we come to God and pray for help—to see our fellowman differently, to let go of hurts, to be kind to annoying people, to trust Him with our future and reputation, to give up the right to manipulate it by boasting, and on and on …

We see the standard. We realize we can’t live up to it. We ask for His help—and slowly we change to become more like 1 Corinthians 13 lovers. Of course we don’t do this to earn heaven but because it’s the way of the One Who loves us and wants only our best. At least that’s the way I see it.

Today is Valentine's Day—a day set aside to celebrate love Let's remember that the greatest gift we could give our loved ones is a hefty package of 1 Corinthians 13 love.

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, February 11, 2015

Complaining? Nip it, zip it!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 10:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “Nor (let us) complain as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” 1 Corinthians 10:10

Here, alongside grave sins like idolatry, sexual immorality, and tempting Christ we find complaining? There must be some mistake! How can this common attitude, that most of us indulge in daily, be so bad?

The story referred to here happened when Korah, Dathan and Abiram challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership during the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness. When they confronted Moses saying they were every bit as much leaders as he was, the earth opened and “swallowed them up.” Then fire from God consumed 250 others who were offering incense unlawfully. The next day the “congregation” of Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” Immediately God sent a plague to destroy the grumblers (read the entire store in Numbers 16).

In this example the complaint was against leadership—something we never complain about, right? (Ahem!) The drastic action of God in defending Moses and Aaron, the leaders He had appointed, shows how seriously He views this sin.

The word “complain” here doesn’t have a Greek equivalent (no number in Strong’s concordance), but its range of meaning is borne out by the various translations: Phillips – “curse the lot,”; NASB - “grumble”; Amplified - “discontentedly complain”; Message – “stir up discontent”; Good News – “complain”; Living Bible – “murmur against God.”

Complaining / grumbling is an example of an attitude leading to action that has its roots in our thoughts. A complaining, grumbling tongue starts with complaining, grumbling thoughts like: I deserve better than this; I can’t trust God with this situation; He obviously doesn’t know what He’s doing; I know better than He does. They are thoughts of rebellion toward God. When we express these thoughts, we multiply our sin by stirring up discontent in others.

So next time your thoughts toward your pastor or your church’s leadership turn in a critical, complaining direction, nip them in the bud. Replace them with thoughts and words of intercession. For sure zip your mouth from complaining and grumbling to others.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the leaders You have placed over me. Help me to remember to pray for them daily. Amen

MORE: Intercession for Pastors
Barb Billett’s wonderful book Praying With Fire has a prayer for pastors. Based on words straight from the Bible, it is a good prayer to pray regularly for our leaders. It begins:

"Father, in the name of Jesus, I confess, that the Spirit of the Lord: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, rests upon Pastor _____. I pray that as Your Spirit rests mightily upon Pastor _____, we believe he has quick understanding.
I confess and believe that You Lord, have anointed and qualified him to preach the gospel to the meek, the poor, and the afflicted. You have anointed Pastor _____ to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the physical and spiritual captives, and the opening of the prison doors and of the eyes of those who are bound..."
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, February 10, 2015

Tested by circumstances - 2

"Naaman's Gifts Refused"- 1728 engraving
by Bernard Picart and Abraham de Blois

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 5:16-27

TO CHEW ON: "But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, the man of God, said, 'Look, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian, while not receiving from his hands what he brought; but as the Lord lives, I will run after him and take something from him.' " 2 Kings 5:20.

The last character in the Naaman story is Gehazi, Elisha's servant. He isn't confronted with the circumstance Naaman's leprosy, as the characters in the earlier installment were, but with his boss's reaction to Naaman's offer of gifts.

I can just see Gehazi as Naaman returns to Elisha, loitering in the background, his eyes glittering as Naaman's servants unpack the beautiful clothes and the sacks of coin. Then watch his expression change when Elisha refuses them all.

He wants that stuff, oh, how he wants it! And so he concocts a plan. He runs after Naaman and tells him that Elisha has received guests, now needs some things, and asks for a modest two outfits and a sack of silver.

After stashing them safely in his quarters he stands before Elisha as usual to wait on him. In answer to Elisha's, "Where did you go, Gehazi?" he replies with the brazen, "Your servant did not go anywhere."

Foolish Gehazi. Do you not know that your master is in touch with the One who can not only see your motives and actions, but can reveal them to him? Elisha confronts Gehazi with what he has done and bequeaths him and his family with the leprosy that had infected Naaman.

What can we learn from how this sly prophet's assistant handled his test? Three things come to mind.

1. Exposure to the things of God and the people of God doesn't change our hearts. Gehazi served the man of God but he wasn't a godly man. Each of us needs to come to God personally and have a personal relationship with Him.

2. God has a way of revealing knowledge about people and situations to those who are close to Him.

3. Like Gehazi's response to Naaman's beautiful stuff revealed his covetousness, greed, deceit, and sneakiness, so our response to temptation can show us what's inside us.

Let's observe our responses to today's circumstances and the temptations they bring. Then let's allow these tests to educate us about ourselves, our weaknesses, and our need for repentance and a change of heart.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to kid myself that I can fool You in any way. I pray with the psalm writer: "Search me O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxieties. And see if there is any wicked way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

MORE: Lying to the Holy Spirit

This story reminds me of one from the New Testament. The couple Ananias and Sapphira gave a generous gift to the early church but in a deceptive way. Read what happened to them in Acts 5:1-11.

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

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Monday, February 09, 2015

Tested by circumstances - 1

"Naaman comes to see Elisha"
Illustrator of Henry Davenport Northrop's
'Treasures of the Bible' - 1894

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 5:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, 'Indeed, I said to myself, "He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and heal the leprosy."'" 2 Kings 5:11.

One of the reasons stories fascinate us is because they contain conflict that reveals character. In Part 1 of the Naaman story, we see five main players. Their reactions to the conflict of a big problem—Naaman's leprosy—is not only interesting but instructive.

The unnamed slave girl, captured in a raid by the Syrians, didn't keep the good news of Elisha's healing power to herself. She could have thought, It serves my captor right that he is sick. But no, she told her mistress that healing was possible.

Israel's king interpreted the Syrian king's letter on behalf of Naaman as a threat, seeing his request for healing not as a God-sent event but as a means of provoking war.

Naaman, the Syrian general, was quite willing to go for help. But he had expectations of how that help would come. Those expectations weren't met. Elisha didn't even talk to him in person. The cure, to bathe in the muddy Jordan River, wounded his pride even more. He was offended and set off for home in a huff.

Naaman's servants cared about the well-being of their master and begged him to change his mind. They built up his faith and encouraged him to do what Elisha had said. They persuaded him to go to the Jordan where he took the seven-dip bath and received his healing.

Elisha the prophet had all the characteristics of someone living for God alone, his Audience of One. He boldly sent a message to the king, telling him to send Naaman to him. When Naaman came, the fact that Elisha sent his servant to speak to Naaman instead of going himself showed he was not a respecter of rank or wealth. Later, when Naaman wanted to reward him, he refused to take anything.

Do we see ourselves in any of these characters? What can we learn from them about facing our own conflicts or tests of circumstance?

1. God's goodness is for all—friends and enemies alike. The little servant girl teaches us to share God's goodness with our enemies as well as our friends.

2. God is in every circumstance. Israel's king missed that and as a result lived in suspicion and fear.

3. Pride can get in the way of receiving from God. Naaman expected a little respect and some healing theatrics. He would have missed his cure, but for his servants.

4. Faith sometimes needs encouragement. Naaman's servants showed themselves loyal friends as they bolstered his faith when he had little to none.

5. Live for the Audience of One.  Elisha's concern with pleasing his Boss—God—meant that ego-stroking (his own or his client's) and personal advancement played no part.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that even bad circumstances can draw me closer to You. Help me to pass the circumstance tests I will face today. Amen.

MORE: The Audience of One
"The more one sees of life ... the more one feels, in order to keep from shipwreck, the necessity of steering by the Polar Star, i.e. in a word leave to God alone, and never pay attention to the favors or smiles of man; if He smiles on you, neither the smile or frown of men can affect you" - General Charles Gordon, quoted by Os Guinness in The Call.*
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Prayer—it could change your whole day

"Jesus in prayer" by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:29-45

TO CHEW ON: "Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed." Mark 1:35

We can learn so much about prayer from what we see Jesus do in this one verse.

  • "Now in the morning..."
Jesus started the day with prayer. Whether one is a lark or an owl, we all start our day after a time of sleep. For most people this is the morning. Prayer was Jesus' first activity on getting out of bed.

  • "... having risen a long while before daylight ..."
He got up extra early to pray. Was something troubling Him that He couldn't sleep? Whether that was the cause for His early waking or He knew that that would be the only time He would be free to pray, on this particular day (and others) prayer was more important to Jesus than sleep (see Luke 6:12).

  • "... He went out and departed to a solitary place;"
For Jesus that meant physically removing Himself from the presence of others to a place that was deserted, remote, and where He was alone with God. We can't all do that literally. And so we must be creative in finding our solitary place. Jesus talked about praying behind a shut door to "Your Father who is in the secret place" - Matthew 6:6. For young moms with little ones, for example, the shut door might be a few moments spent alone in the bathroom or, as it was for Susanna Wesley, behind an apron.

  • "....and there He prayed."
[Pray: To address prayers to a deity; To make earnest request or entreaty; to address by means of prayers; to ask, earnestly entreat.]

  • His prayers made a difference to the day's activity - Mark 1:36-38.
We don't know exactly what Jesus prayed. But His decisiveness later when He insisted they go to the next towns instead of returning to Capernaum may have been a result of His time in prayer. When Simon found Him and told Him, "Everyone is looking for You," Jesus knew  what was to be next, and it wasn't going to be dictated by what the crowds wanted. His agenda had, no doubt, been influenced by the time He had spent with God in prayer.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to realize the importance of prayer to each day's activities. Help me to view prayer not only as asking, but as a time of needed togetherness with You, when I can receive Your perspective on the day ahead. Amen.

MORE: "Christ be in My Waking" - Stuart Townend

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Missing information

night birds

TO CHEW ON: "When I lie down, I say, 'When shall I arise,
And the night be ended?'
For I have had my fill of tossing till dawn." Job 7:4

Why is night always the worst time when we're sick? Maybe it's because we expect to sleep and are disappointed. Maybe because in the still and dark there is nothing to distract from the pain, discomfort, and worry? May it's merely that the prone position causes gravity to augment the pull on our sore cells. Whatever it is, it's interesting to note that it was the same for the ancients.

There's not much encouraging or uplifting here. In this section of his first speech to his friends, Job is entirely negative, speaking of the futility of his life and work, complaining that he can't sleep, describing his loathsome disease, and referring to the fact that his life will soon be over.

My Bible's commenter makes this observation:

"Job's criticisms of God that appear in Job 6 and 7 as well as his other responses to his friends, can best be understood as man's feeble attempts to make sense of a scenario for which he is missing an essential piece of information, namely that there is something happening between God and Satan—that there are spiritual purposes overriding earthly circumstances. Because he is unaware of this dimension of the spiritual realm, his understanding is severely impaired" - Charles E. Blair, commentary on Job, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 652 (emphasis added).

Could that be the case in our lives as well—that our trials, whatever they are, are connected to spiritual skirmishes unseen and unknown to us? Imaginative writers have riffed on that thought in books like The Screwtape Letters (C. S. Lewis), This Present Darkness (Frank Peretti), and The Ishbane Conspiracy (Angela, Karina and Randy Alcorn).

The Bible certainly supports such a thing:

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" - Ephesians 6:12

"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" - 1 Timothy 6:12.

Dear God, when troubles, sickness, and death impact me, help me remember that I am in a battle You have won. Please give me courage and hope through bad days and nights. 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, February 06, 2015

The sport of Christian ministry

athlete crowned - ancient Greek games
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 9:15-27

TO CHEW ON: "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown." 1 Corinthians 9:25

Paul here alludes to the Greek games, which he may well have attended. They were accompanied by as much pomp and ritual as our Olympic Games are today. Smith's Bible Dictionary gives some facts about these games:
  • There were two classes of events:
The pancratium consisted of boxing and wrestling events.
The pentathlon consisted of leaping, running, quoiting, hurling the spear, and wrestling.
  • The competitors trained long and hard. Their training included an enforced diet. For the Olympic Games the training lasted 10 months. During the final months athletes trained under the supervision of appointed officers.
  • Huge crowds came to watch the spectacle of the athletes competing.
  • The judge, who had a spotless reputation, was tasked with deciding any disputes and awarding the prize.
  • The prize consisted of a crown—leaves of wild olive at the Olympic Games, pine or ivy at the Isthmian Games. - Smith's Bible Dictionary, accessed through

Paul here compares his work as a minister of the gospel to being a competitor in these games.

He has the determined mindset of a competitor.
No easygoing "whatever" attitude. He is determined to win - 1 Corinthians 9:24.

He lives like a competitor. 
He has just taken considerable space showing why he could ask for their money support but doesn't (1 Corinthians 9:1-18) and how he subjugates his desires and preferences to be able to relate to any kind of person (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Here he comes out and states clearly: "… I discipline my body and bring it into subjection…" - 1 Corinthians 9:27.

His goal is to win the prize:
The "imperishable crown" versus the plant-based crown of the winning athlete - 1 Corinthians 9:25.

I ask do I, do we view our ministry as seriously as Paul did?

Do we have his determination to finish well—to win?

Is our mindset that of an athlete?
One of my favorite sports to watch is curling—a sport that may look easy but is actually physically demanding in the precision and strength departments. To prepare, competitors spend hours in the gym building up muscles and stamina for sweeping, hours at the rink practicing shots, many weekends at bonspiels pitting their skills and smarts against each other.

How would such dedication translate to one's life as a Christian? It could mean spending more time in the Bible, reading it, studying it, and memorizing it. It could mean learning and practicing how to explain and teach the gospel to others. It could mean spending more time in fasting and prayer…

Do we "compete" with the reward in mind?
Nothing beats the victorious high-fives and hugs of a triumphant rink, their proud march to the podium, and their glowing smiles as they receive the cup and medals.

Do we live with our prize in mind? Do we ever imagine the presentation ceremony, when we'll be crowned with a prize, perhaps...
  • the Imperishable Crown of 1 Corinthians 9:25?
  • the Crown of Righteousness of 2 Timothy 4:8?
  • The Crown of Life, of James 1:12?
  • The Crown of Glory of 1 Peter 5:4 and Revelation 2:10?

PRAYER: Dear God, Paul shows me I need to get as serious about life and ministry for You as a competing athlete is about sport. Help me to translate this seriousness into everyday 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.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

What is the state of your hope?

mother and daughter planting seed
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 9:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "For it is written in the law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.' For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope." 1 Corinthians 9:9,10

Hope has always been a vague concept to me. In a recent TV sermon on hope* teacher Charles Price described it in a way I could relate to as something lacking in confidence, full of uncertainty, ambiguity, tentative, vague.

However, he illustrated hope's importance with stories from the life of Viktor Frankl. This Austrian psychiatrist who survived Hitler's death camps observed that it wasn't only lack of food and the unspeakable conditions that killed fellow prisoners. Many died from a lack of hope.

Paul talks about hope here as he argues for his right to be paid as a minister of the gospel. Using the metaphor of farming (where all who work for the crop, from the person who plows to the one who harvests, indeed, even the ox who pulls the plow, have a right to be supported during the process), he pictures himself as one of the workers in the process of harvesting souls for God's Kingdom. Both types of farming are vocations based on hope.

Reaping a harvest from our efforts for God is only one of the areas we, as Christ followers, live in hope. A short Bible survey on hope shows:

  • We hope in God's word - Psalm 119:74; Romans 15:4.
  • We hope to be saved - Romans 8:24.
  • Our hope is grounded in the gospel (Colossians 1:23), guaranteed by Christ's resurrection - 1 Peter 1:3.
  • We hope to live again after physical death - Acts 24:15.
  • We hope in Jesus' return - Titus 2:13.
  • We understand the basis of our hope, are confident in it, and ready to explain it to anyone who asks - 1 Peter 3:15.
  • Our hope keeps us from despair during difficulties - 2 Corinthians 4:8.
  • Our hope impacts the way we live - 1 John 3:3.

As I consider all the ways that hope supports my life, my opinion of it is rising. I'm beginning to see how it ranks, along with faith and love, as one of the things that lasts (1 Corinthians 13:13).

What about you? On what do you base your hope? What is its state today?

PRAYER: Dear God, in the midst of my life where I encounter failure and frustrations, where others let me down, I disappoint myself, and things don't turn out as I had hoped, help me to anchor my life on these bedrock hopes that are rooted in You and will affect how I spend eternity. Amen.


* "Living In Hope," a talk delivered on the Living Truth TV show by Charles Price, January 11, 2015.

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, February 03, 2015

Worry about what's next—or stay busy?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 40:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Behold the nations are as a drop in a bucket,
And are counted as the small dust on the scales;
Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing …
All nations before Him are as nothing,
And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless." - Isaiah 40:15,17

A few weeks ago, terrorist attacks in Paris were a reality check for all us living in democratic countries.

As I think about these events and the relatively recent rise of militant Islam, my mind wanders back to earlier international threats during my lifetime. As a Baby Boomer I have no memory of World War II but do recall how we in North America were mesmerized by the Soviet Union in what was called the Cold War. Then our neighbor the U.S. got entangled in Vietnam, followed by sorties into Iraq and Afghanistan, where Canadian soldiers were also involved. In each of these "eras" the threat has felt real and imminent, only to pass—at least for us here in Canada.

Will that happen again with this threat of terrorists, who strike randomly and with seemingly no thought or care for their own lives? Or this time will it touch us close to home, as it has communities in Nigeria, Syria, New York, Paris?

I superimpose on these musings what the Bible says about God and the nations: that He is in control - Isaiah 40:15-17. Nothing that is happening here surprises Him. The Bible witnesses to this in many other places s well - Job 42:2; Psalm 115:3; Revelation 19:6.

So,  can we do anything but quake in our boots and wonder what's next on God's inscrutable timetable? I think there is. Matthew 24 gives us lots of warning about the doomful days ahead. Jesus' instructions to His disciples then still apply to us today. He said:
  • We should be alert and undeceived by people who claim to be saviors - Matthew 24:4.
  • In the international conflicts that are ahead, we can expect to be hated for our loyalty to Christ - Matthew 24:9.
  • We need to endure in the faith versus being offended and taking it out in hatred and betrayal of each other - Matthew 24:12-13.
  • We must preach the "gospel of the Kingdom" to all nations as long as we can - Matthew 24:14.

PRAYER: Dear God, I worship You as the all-powerful One. Help me to busy myself following Your instructions instead of beating my breast in a woeful "What's next?" 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.

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