Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Is your life a spur?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 10:19-39

TO CHEW ON: "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works." Hebrews 10:24

Little did Joanne Simpson know, when she took a class of students on a mission trip to Guatemala, that it would change the direction of her life. But, as I remember her telling it, it was only a short time later that she left her post as principal at the Christian school she had founded in Alaska, to help distribute food, clothing and other items to widows and orphans in Guatemala City. That work eventually grew into Shadow of His Wings orphanage and school. It shelters around 40 girls from one to nineteen years old, rescued form the streets (often prostitution) of Guatemala City.

The example of people like Joanne spur me on to love and good works. (I love how various translations cast a different light on that bit about stirring up: "studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love and helpful deeds and noble activities"[Amp]; "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" [NIV]; "motivate one another to acts of love and good works" [NLT]; and "Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out... spurring each other on"[Msg].)

I know I probably won't be rushing off to some distant place to start an orphanage. But the story of Joanne leaving the security of a North American lifestyle to serve in a way that was, at first, completely unrelated to her experience and training is a challenge to me to break out of the mold of conventional thinking. The way God grew things from an idea of a home for orphans to the full-fledged complex it is today shows how God can create big things from small beginnings.

The world is full of people like Joanne — people in whose lives such obedience in doing works of love and kindness is fleshed out. A friend of mine spends time helping a newly widowed lady get to appointments, shop etc. A retired dentist and his wife take a regular turn at working at the Salvation Army. These folks don't broadcast their commitments, probably don't even realize anyone is watching. But by their quiet example, they are accomplishing a double-whammy. They are serving others while stirring up onlookers, like me, to join them.

As Joanne says "There truly never is an end to what the Lord will do when we just take one step of obedience toward His will and His way" (quoted from a note at the back of the 2010 Shadow of His Wings calendar).

I ask myself, what will I do today in the department of "stirring up love and good deeds" in others? What will you?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of obedience and love I witness in many of the lives around me. Help me to obey Your nudges to serve and show love to those who cross my path today. Amen.

MORE: More goads
 Kathleen Gibson writes about the impact of the kind deeds and acts of love shown her and her family when her husband came down with West Nile after being bit by a mosquito in the summer of 2007. She says:
"In the midst of the maelstrom that the mosquito manufactured, and in its ongoing two-year aftermath, Rick and I have learned something we previously knew primarily from the other end: As Christians, we make an immense difference in the lives of people in crisis when we don't shun the small things we can do, because of the large things we can't.

What does that mean? It means we don't refuse to send a quick note or e-mail because we don't have time to write a long letter. It means we don't neglect sharing a wide smile just because we have nothing else to offer. Or forget about popping in for five minutes because we're too rushed to spend an hour." (Read entire "Time for a Little Good Press.")

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

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

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.


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Sunday, June 28, 2015

A deadly lie

"Report of Saul's Death to David" - Jean Fouquet, c. 1470
"Report of Saul's Death to David" - Jean Fouquet, c. 1470

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 1:1-29

"'So I stood over him and killed him because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them here to my lord.'
Therefore David took hold of his own clothes and tore them and so did all the men who were with him." 2 Samuel 1:10,11

In this curious scene, an Amalekite warrior, in visible grief ("clothes torn and dust on his head") delivered to David the news that Saul was dead at his hand. We'd expect David to celebrate and reward the killer. Finally the man who had kept him on the run for years was dead. But instead he and his men tore their clothes in mourning, wept and fasted, expressing their own grief.

The Amalekite who delivered the news (it happened to be a lie; 1 Samuel 31:4 records Saul's suicide) was probably shocked when instead of  commending him, David told his soldiers to kill him.

All through his time of fleeing from Saul, David showed similar respect for him as the Lord's anointed. In fact at one point when Saul happened to enter the very cave where David and his men were hiding, David's men urged him to kill the king. David gave in a little when he cut a piece of Saul's robe. But immediately he had a conscience attack, spoke his regret to his men and made sure they let Saul get away (1 Samuel 24:5-7).

A footnote in my Bible describes the situation well:
"David always considered Saul as God's anointed, even though Saul was rejected by God, hated David, and sought to kill him. David's reverence was for God who had anointed Saul" - Jerry Cook from the notes on 2 Samuel, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 403.

Who are "God's anointed" in our lives?

In a way all those in authority over us, as Paul explains in Romans 13:1-7. Though we may find lots of reasons not to respect and honor them like David could have listed for Saul, Paul makes it clear that they are there with the permission of a higher authority—God.

I am reminded of Moses' words to the Israelites when he explained the reason for their hardships in the wilderness. "And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not" Deuteronomy 8:2.

Perhaps our subjection to "God's anointed" is part of our own wilderness testing and training like it was for the Israelites and for David.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for David's example of respect for Your choice of Saul as king and his refusal to manipulate the situation for his own advantage. Help me to recognize the people you have anointed in my life, and to have a similar attitude of respect for Your authority in placing them over me. Amen.

MORE: Civil disobedience?

Is it ever right for a Christian to disobey the "Lord's anointed" authorities, especially those of civil government?

An article on "Got Questions" site states:
"The position the Scriptures uphold is one of biblical submission, with a Christian being allowed to act in civil disobedience to the government if it commands evil, such that it requires a Christian to act in a manner that is contrary to the clear teachings and requirements of God’s Word."

Read all of "When is civil disobedience allowed for a Christian?" Do you agree?

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, June 27, 2015

Bad choices and a bad end

Saul's Final Battle - Artist unknown
Saul's Final Battle - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 31:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "So Saul, his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men died together that same day." 1 Samuel 31:6

Here we read of Saul's death. How did he come to this humiliating end?

He began well. Samuel chose Saul and assured him of God's presence and help: " Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man." - 1 Samuel 10:6.

After only two years of being king, though, the trouble started. At war with the Philistines, Saul assembled an army then waited at Gilgal for Samuel to come and make an offering before they went into battle. He waited seven days and still no Samuel. When the army began to scatter, he took matters into his own hands and performed the sacrifice himself. No sooner had he finished than Samuel appeared and there were fireworks:
Samuel: “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.  But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”" - 1 Samuel 13:13,14.

Sometime later, Samuel told him to fight the Amalekites. His instructions were "Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them" 1 Samuel 15:3. However, Saul obeyed only partially (1 Samuel 15:9), claiming he had spared the livestock as offerings. Then God sent Samuel to Saul with the another message:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,He also has rejected you from being king
- 1 Samuel 15:22,23
Saul did have a long reign. Bible scholars believe he was around 20 years old when he was crowned and he reigned 40 years. But his time as king was overshadowed by the consequences of his impatience, lack of faith, disobedience, and rebellion. After God told him that the kingly succession would leave his family, suspicion and jealousy ruled his life (1 Samuel 20:30). Finally, after Samuel's death when he no longer heard from God at all, he was full of fear - 1 Samuel 28:8-20.

The sins for which Saul are known are hardly foreign to us. Who of us hasn't been tempted, perhaps gone through with enacting our own plans when God seemed slow to answer and our impatience got the best of us? Similarly, we are not strangers to disobedience, rebellion, suspicion, jealous, and fear.

There's no question that God was with Saul, and yet he ended so badly because he gave in to his natural tendency to do things on his own. May we learn from his life that such choices on our part will also have their consequences.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to consistently exercise faith and choose to obey. 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, June 26, 2015

"Who touched My clothes?"

"Woman who touched the hem 
of His garment" by Harold Copping

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 5:21-43

TO CHEW ON: "And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, 'Who touched My clothes?'"  Mark 5:30

Jesus wasn't content to let the woman just slip away, healed. It was as if He felt the need to seal the deal with a little explanation.

When the healed-but-terrified woman identified herself, Jesus didn't scold or embarrass her, but made the simple yet profound statement, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction."

An endnote in my Bible expands:

"Jesus desires to perfect the woman's faith and to lead her to a public confession of faith. He rewards her testimony with the assurance that she can go in peace" - J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1358.

There are pointers we can take away from this little incident
  • Maybe we shouldn't squirm so much over altar calls. It seems there is something that happens inside of us when we make a public profession by responding physically to what's happening inside of us, like Jesus asked this woman to do. Such a response seems to confirm, cement, and make that transaction real.
  • When we counsel or pray for people, a little insight may be in order. Jesus often prefaced or ended his conversations with seekers by making pointed statements about the spiritual aspect of their conditions. Of course we're not Jesus and don't have His insights, but we do have His Spirit, on whom we need to depend for help and "words of knowledge."

The snide voice inside this woman's head that would say, "Maybe He didn't heal you. Maybe it was just a coincidence that you felt better the minute you touched His clothes," will never have a chance, now that she has identified herself to Jesus, and He has tied the package tight with His words of affirmation and truth.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for these Bible stories that illustrate faith and show me how You interacted with people. Help me to apply the principles to my own life of faith and in my interactions with others. Amen.

MORE: Altar Calls

The custom of calling people to come to the front of a church sanctuary or meeting hall in response to a spiritual invitation is an old one. Read about the history of of what we call altar calls in "When and why did the custom of conducting altar calls begin?"

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

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Paranormal tomb-dweller

Jesus meeting the demoniac 
- by William Brassey Hole

"Jesus meeting the demoniac" by William Brassey Hole

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 5:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "For He said to him, 'Come out of the man, unclean spirit!' Then He asked him, 'What is your name?' And he answered saying, 'My name is Legion, for we are many'" Mark 5:8,9

I don't profess to know much about demons and demonic activity—something for which I'm grateful. Judging by the paranormal tomb-dweller described here, demons are not something to cozy up to.

Demons, according to my Bible's sidebar article, are fallen angels. They are the angels that joined Satan in his rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:3-4. To quote:

"As angels can ascend the heights of spirituality, demons reach the depths of hatred, bitterness, and perversion .... Although lust, homosexuality, gluttony, and witchcraft are expressions of sinful flesh, these are among practices that can also be expression of demonic activity in the lives of people. Grossly perverted sexual practices such as sadomasochism and pedophilia have demonic roots. In a similar manner, schizophrenia can be a mental disease but can also be caused by demon possession" - Pat Robertson and Christopher Hayward "What is a Demon?" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1357.

It is interesting that the man in our story was doing something that's not uncommon today. We'd call him a cutter, i.e. he was injuring himself with stones.

He had another quality that is often characteristic of demonized people: unusual strength (Mark 5:3,4).

But in verse 6 we also see him doing something surprising for a demon-possessed man. "When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him." Was that the man's personality coming through, seeing a ray of hope that he might get free? Or was that the demons who despite themselves couldn't help but worship Jesus?

Some thoughts:
  • Though we may be loath to label behaviors and conditions demonic, we should pray for insight into them and the people afflicted, and for wisdom to know how to deal with them.
  • Jesus is greater than demons. The man with all his dark spirits sought out Jesus and worshiped Him.
  • Through Jesus I believe there is peace and wholeness for the most disturbed and deranged person, no matter how deep-rooted the condition.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You that You are more powerful than demons. Help me to recognize demonic activity and to deal with it by Your power—Your name and Your blood. Amen.

MORE: Satan and Demons—a defeated foe

"The work of Christ on the cross is the ultimate basis for our authority over demons .... the New Testament epistles point to the cross as the moment when Satan was decisively defeated. Jesus took on flesh and blood, 'that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil' (Hebrews 2:14 NASB). At the cross God 'disarmed the principalities and power and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him' (Colossians 2:15). Therefore Satan hates the cross of Christ, because there he was decisively defeated forever. Because the blood of Christ speaks clearly of His death, we read in Revelation of those who overcame Satan by Christ's blood... (Revelation 12:11). Because of Christ's death on the cross, our sins are completely forgiven, and Satan has no rightful authority over us" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 428.
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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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wholehearted repentance

"Portrait of Paul" from Lewin's Life of Paul

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 7:5-8:15

"Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. … What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter." 2 Corinthians 7:9,11

Paul is referring, in this chapter, to a specific situation that he dealt with in Corinth. According to the IVP New Testament Commentary someone in the Corinth church had challenged his apostolic authority. Apparently the church leadership didn't defend or support him and so he confronted them in a severe letter (which has been lost). At first that letter caused pain but now Titus reports that the church has repented—and with energy and conviction.

As we think about repentance, we realize it has several aspects.

- There is an initial repentance, when we turn from our sin to accept Christ and His way of salvation.
This is "Turning from sin, a sincere decision to forsake a specific sin (or sins) and begin to obey God" (Reformation Study Bible). Examples of this type of repentance are found in Isaiah 55:7; Luke 15:7; Acts 3:19.

- There is also a repentance which is an individual turning from sin
and returning to the Lord in the life of a Christian - Hosea 14:2.

- The repentance here is a corporate or group repentance—a change of position by the church. We are reminded of the mass repentance during the revival of Ezra and Nehemiah's time - Ezra 10:1.

A contemporary example may be some of the modern confessions and apologies made by groups of churches to, for example, the indigenous people of Canada for the abuses of the residential church schools in the early 1900s.

A sidebar article in my Bible says about this kind of repentance:

"… it requires ownership of our responsibility for whatever part we may have played in erecting or reinforcing barriers. Repentance not only accepts responsibility for the part that we have played… but also for the turning away from the behavior that built the walls in the first place. … Perhaps we have not done anything personally to hurt others, but still we may have sinned by our inaction (James 4:17). For the body of Christ to come to health, repentance, regret, confession, and action is needed" - Bill McCartney and Raleigh Washington "Repentance / Reconciliation," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1618

As members of the church, Christ's body, let's pray that God would give us and our leaders sensitivity to barriers we have put up—ethnic, economic, religious—and the humility and grace to repent and be reconciled. May Jesus' prayer for unity in His body (John 17:21) be answered through necessary repentance on our part.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Corinthians example of wholehearted repentance. May we be as energetic and thorough in turning from our sins, both personally and as churches. 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, June 22, 2015

Lists for modern ministers

Chalboard list
Chalboard list (RGBStock.com photo)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 6:1-7:4

"But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God…" 2 Corinthians 6:4

The Bible contains many lists.

Some we love to read and meditate on, like:
- The qualities of God's word - Psalm 19:7-11.
- The benefits of being one of Jesus' sheep - Psalm 23:1-6.
- The characteristics of love - 1 Corinthians 13.
- The fruit of the Spirit - Galatians 5:22-23.

Other lists are negative—things to avoid
- The works of the flesh - Galatians 5:19-21.
- Life attitudes that will land us in a bad place at the final judgment - Revelation 21:8.

In our reading today we have several more lists:

Paul lists the qualities that he has tried to live out as a minister of the gospe
l (2 Corinthians 6:4,6):
- patience (endurance).
- purity.
- knowledge
- longsuffering.
- kindness.
- love.

He also lists the experiences he has gone through (2 Corinthians 6:4,5 see also 2 Corinthians 11:22-33):
- tribulation.
- need.
- distress.
- stripes (beatings).
- imprisonment.
- tumult (riots).
- sleeplessness.
- fasting.

He lists the sources of his strength (2 Corinthians 6:6,7):
- the Holy Spirit.
- the word of truth.
- the power of God.
- the armour of righteousness.

Finally, he lists dichotomies (contrasts) that he experiences in his life (2 Corinthians 6:8-10):
- honour and dishonour.
- the subject of evil reports and good reports.
- called a deceiver, yet speaking the truth.
- unknown (obscure) yet well-known.
- dying yet alive.
- chastened yet not killed.
- sorrowful but happy.
- poor yet making many rich.
- having nothing yet possessing all things.

In addition to being a matter of interest, these lists of Paul's can be a benefit to us. How about another list to name some ways:
  • They give us a realistic picture of what we signed up for when we accepted Christ and became fellow ministers of the gospel.
  • They show us the extremes and contradictions of a life given to God—the bad and the good, the downs and the ups, the reason we can experience joy in the middle of trouble, feel rich even when we're poor in material things.
  • When we experience something similar to what Paul did, we are reassured that persecution, trouble, being misunderstood etc. are nothing new; it's what Christians across the millennia have gone through.
  • When life is easy and we don't experience any of these things, we know that either the gospel we're presenting has lost something along the way, that we've perverted it so it no longer has the edge that makes it controversial to the world.
we're in a blessing bubble that may well burst one of these days, exposing us to the harsh and blessed realities of the Christian life as it has always been.

Dear God, help me to take courage from Paul's lists that hard things are not unusual, and that You are with me and in me, taking me through the trials of this 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, June 21, 2015

Our Father's pity

Image: geoffjhyland/Pixabay.com

TO CHEW ON: "As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him." Psalm 103:13

Watch parents with their newborn infant. See the gentle touch and the adoring gaze, hear the soft, soothing tone. That's "pities" - "racham" — the way God the Father regards us ("those who fear Him"), His children.

[Pities - racham means to feel or show compassion, to love deeply, to show pity or mercy, to tenderly regard someone; to tenderly love (especially as parents love their infant child). Racham is the origin of the Hebrew word for womb - rechem. In Isaiah 49:15 God asks, "Can a woman forget her nursing child and not have compassion on (racham) the son of her womb (rechem)?"- Dick Mills, "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1146.]

One reason human parents treat their infant with such tenderness is because they know the helplessness and vulnerability of this tiny creature for whom they are responsible. God's impulse of tenderness toward us comes from similar feelings (if we can call them that). "He knows our frame," assures the psalm-writer, David. "He remembers that we are dust" - Psalm 103:14.

David goes on to remind us about life's brevity—grass, flowers—and insignificance: "For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,/ And its place remembers it no more" - Psalm 103:16

In contrast, God's mercy "is from everlasting to everlasting ... His righteousness to children's children" - Psalm 103:17. God's attention elevates those who fear Him from disposable grass to something worth loving and preserving.

As I grow older, I am more keenly aware than ever of my own grass-like lifespan, my flower-like vulnerability. Soon I'll too be gone and the meadow will forget me. But God won't. As we saw when we focused our attention on the ascension yesterday, there is another chapter. In it:

  • we will see God - Job 19:26; Psalm 49:15.
  • we will be beyond the grasp of death and decay - John 8:51; 11:26.
  • we will live with Jesus - John 14:3; 2 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that because of Jesus my life can have significance beyond its mortal span. 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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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Weapons of choice

"Armor of God" Illustrator 
of Henry Davenport Northrop's 
'Treasures of the Bible', 1894

Armor of God
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 17:41-58

TO CHEW ON: "Then David said to the Philistine, 'You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.'" 1 Samuel 17:45

I don't think it was the sling that was David's most powerful weapon. Rather, it was the spiritual armor he wore and used. The "name of the Lord of Hosts" was both motivation, defense and offense to David. Defending God's honor against Goliath's blasphemy was reason enough to volunteer his life. God's strong name served as protection and tested weapon. The sling was just the physical weapon God chose to use in this case to win a physical and spiritual battle.

Spiritual weapons take various forms in the Bible.

  • Jesus, when Satan tempted Him, talked about living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
  • Paul described the armor of God in detail in Ephesians 6:10-20. The sword—that part of the armor that not only defends but also takes new territory—is the word of God (Ephesians 6:7).
  • Hebrews 4:12 tells us about that Word-sword in more detail. The writer calls it living, powerful, sharp, piercing, dividing and laying bare soul and spirit, thoughts and intentions.
  • In Paul's view of battle, the fight begins in our own minds. He tells the Corinthian Christians to use spiritual weapons, especially that Word-sword, to pull down strongholds and arguments, and to bring every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).

What battles are we facing today? Is God's honor at stake in them? If we are known as His, His children, on His side, eager for Him to have a good reputation, then it is.

Have we subjected our own selves—our thoughts and motives—to the sword of God's word?

Then, sure of our cause and motives, we can use those spiritual weapons to fight our battles too, trusting God to take our ineffectual physical weapons, our pathetic slings whatever they are, and transform them into effective and dangerous stones, bullets, bombs, missiles. 

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see the spiritual aspect of the battles in my life, and to learn how to use spiritual weapons. May they be my "tested" weapons of choice. Amen.

MORE: The attitude of the warrior

One aspect of spiritual warfare I didn't mention above is prayer. It is the attitude of alertness, persistence and constant connection with our Commander with which all weapons (spiritual and physical) should be wielded:

"Pray in the Spirit at all times  and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere." - Ephesians 6:18
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, June 19, 2015

Single focus

David - Bible Story Reader Book One

David - Bible Story Reader Book One (Artist unknown)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 17:17-40

TO CHEW ON: "Moreover David said, 'The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.'" 1 Samuel 17:37.

So much of how we handle life's challenges depends on our outlook. That is molded by what voices we listen to and what we tell ourselves.

David could have been discouraged from facing Goliath at several points.
  • His older brother questioned his right to be there. He reminded David that he was merely a shepherd, not a soldier. He accused David of wrong motives, of coming to the battlefield out of curiosity, insolence, and pride.
  • Saul reminded him of his youth and inexperience.
  • David could have backed down after taking a good look at Goliath. But David saw this enemy in an interesting way. Goliath's defiance of God prompted David to put him in the same category as the brute beasts—the lion and bear that God had helped him defeat.

Instead of looking at himself or the enemy, David's entire focus was on God. In the light of God's power and greatness David's lack of training, youth, inexperience, and the size and ferocity of the enemy were non-issues.

He models a very basic principle of faith for us. For we too need to keep our eyes on God and nothing else. We can very quickly talk ourselves away from the battlefield if we focus on the big problem and our lacks. But when we focus on God, recalling how the Bible describes Him and reviewing how He has helped us in the past, we'll have the faith to go out and face our giants.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for David's incredible faith. Please help me to put my faith in You and not listen to voices that tell me the problem is too big and I am inadequate. Amen.

MORE: God-focus verses to memorize

Philippians 4:13

2 Corinthians 12:9

Ephesians 3:16

Colossians 1:11

1 Timothy 1:12

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

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Unlikely saviour

Goliath vs. David (Artist unknown)
Goliath vs. David (Artist unknown)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 17:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "David was the youngest." 1 Samuel 17:14

The giant Goliath facing and defying the Israelite army (1 Samuel 17:10,11) reminds me of the challenges and fears we face from time to time. Things like illness, unemployment, financial woes, concerns over our children etc.:
- seem huge and unconquerable.
- feel like a threat to our very lives—certainly to our enjoyment of them.
- fill our imaginations with worst case scenarios.
- present themselves persistently, day after day. There's no end in sight!

If we were reading the story of David and Goliath for the first time and saw David coming on the scene, we would not foresee what is ahead. For he is young, a shepherd not a soldier, and on a lowly errand for his dad.

Of course we know how the story continues. How it's David's outrage at Goliath provoking and defying "the living God" that spurs him into action (1 Samuel 17:26). And it's his skill with weapons, albeit humble ones, along with his complete trust in God that has him going out to confront this 9 foot, 9 inch specimen (1 Samuel 17:34,37).

As we pray for relief from the intimidation of our life giants, let's also renew our faith in God. Let's start looking at life's "I defy you" moments not as the beginning of  seasons of fear, worry, and anxiety but as opportunities for God to show Himself strong on our behalf by bringing us out of or through them. And let's not be surprised when He does it through entirely unlikely and unexpected people or events.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to look at challenging circumstances not through eyes of fear, but eyes of faith. 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, June 17, 2015

Kingdom's supporting cast

David Anointed King - 1 Samuel 16:13 (Artist unknown)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

TO CHEW ON: "Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward." 1 Samuel 16:13

For David, Samuel's request that he return home from the hills of Bethlehem to be anointed the future king of Israel came out of the blue (actually, it came out of the blue for Samuel too).

He was young at this time. My Bible's study notes suggest he was 15.

Though Samuel had voiced concerns to God about how Saul would take it if he knew Samuel was on a mission to anoint a new king (1 Samuel 16:1,2), this wasn't a totally private affair. Samuel seems comfortable anointing David in the presence of his family.

The act was a pivotal moment in David's life. The Spirit of God "came upon David from that day forward." But the Spirit's presence didn't spare him years of being trained and gaining experience. A meteoric rise to prominence with King Saul and the Israelite commoners was followed by living as a hunted outlaw in the wilderness before he was publicly anointed king, first over Judah (2 Samuel 2) and then over all Israel (2 Samuel 5).

David's example reminds me of some stories I've heard of current Christian leaders and their early "anointing." My own pastor tells of how God met him powerfully at camp when his age was barely in the double digits. Later when he was considering the direction of his life, memories of that encounter pulled him away from dreams of becoming a lawyer or politician, to Bible college and full-time ministry.

Those of us whose future is largely behind us can be the Samuels—the conduits of the Spirit's anointing. We can also be the family onlookers—not suspicious, cynical, and maybe even jealous, as David's oldest brother Eliab seems to be (1 Samuel 17:28)—but supportive, praying over and blessing our youth as God claims them for future leadership roles.

Practically we can make our churches welcoming places for them. We can support the youth department, make it possible for children and teens to go to camp, youth conference, and short-term mission trips—any place they will encounter God in a powerful way.

If we know of young people who have had a meeting with God and are straying, we can keep praying that God will remind them of His early touch on their lives and make them lonesome for Him. We can pray that they will again hear the voice of the Spirit that marked them for a kingdom destiny when they were young.

PRAYER: Dear God, please fill me with Your Spirit to recognize and affirm those You have anointed for particular roles in Your kingdom—including members of my family. 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, June 16, 2015

The leaven of hypocrisy

Saul tears Samuel's robe - Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1851-1860)
Saul tears Samuel's robe - Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1851-1860)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 15:10-31

TO CHEW ON: "Then he said,'I have sinned, yet honour me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord your God.'" 1 Samuel 15:30.

Saul was an ancient Pharisee in that he was a hypocrite. He wanted Samuel to attend the sacrifice with him in front of Israel's elders as if nothing was wrong, even though Samuel had just caught him in a bold-faced lie and told him that God had rejected him as king.

[Hypocrisy: The pretense of having feelings or characteristics one does not possess; especially the deceitful assumption of praiseworthy qualities - Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary.]

The ancients were well acquainted with hypocrisy. Note this vivid description of a hypocrite:
"The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart; His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords" Psalm 55:21.

Jesus' hypocrisy meter clicked fast and furious whenever a Pharisee was around. For example there was the day He was invited to dinner at a Pharisee's home and He neglected the ceremonial washing. His host "...marveled that He had not first washed before dinner." Jesus responded: "Now you Pharisees, make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness" - Luke 11:37-39.

Jesus called the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees "leaven" (yeast) (Luke 12:1). We know how yeast acts. It starts out small and isolated, but gradually grows and expands to permeate the whole lump of dough. Jesus was in effect saying that everything the Pharisees did was infected with hypocrisy.

Other New Testament references to hypocrisy show us how it can infect us too.
  • Jesus warned about the temptation to do even our religious practice (like giving and praying) with a view to impress. But God who sees us through and through is not fooled (Matthew 6:2-6).
  • James talks about the hypocrisy of partiality as we defer to those among us who appear wealthy and influential while ignoring the person who is humble and poor (James 2:1).
  • John warns about generally thinking of ourselves as better than we are and without sin, and thus self-deceived and separated from God (1 John 1:8-10).
The picture of hypocrisy as leaven sticks with me. How subtly it comes in. How silently it grows. How widespread it becomes. Is there any of that yeast in my life? In yours?

PRAYER: Dear God, please alert me to the hypocrisy in my life. Help me to recognize it and get rid of it, just like the Israelites rid their homes of leaven before feast days. 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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Monday, June 15, 2015

Duel between fear and faith

From The Children's Friend - Part 2

"Jesus Calms the Sea" from The Children's Friend Part 2
"Jesus Calms the Sea"
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 4:21-41

TO CHEW ON: "But He said to them, 'Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?' " Mark 5:40

Earlier this year I had the assignment of writing and then facilitating an online Bible study course—"Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety"—for the women of my church. Through that process I have thought a lot about fear, worry and anxiety, asking questions like what is a fearful, anxious state, why is it in our lives, and how can we get rid of it?

It's important that we do because living in a state of fear is not normal for the Christian. Jesus' parable about the sower (our yesterday's reading) bears that out when He talks about the "cares of this world"  as one of the features of the unproductive thorny soil (Mark 5:7,18,19).

In our reading today Jesus goes through a storm on the sea with His disciples. The fierce winds so buffet the water that waves soon start to swamp the boat. The disciples are afraid. They wake Jesus, who is asleep in the boat, He calms the storm and then chides them: "' Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?'"

In this statement He pretty much distills the topic of fear into a simple duel between fear and faith. My Bible's notes on this passage say: "Jesus contrasts fear with faith and equates fear with no faith. Faith here means trust in God's helping power in crisis, a help that is both present and active in Jesus" - J.Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1357.

[Faith—pistis—means conviction, confidence, trust, belief, reliance. In the New Testament pistes is the divinely implanted principle of inward confidence, assurance, trust, reliance in God and all that He says - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1372.]

Some truths for me, for all of us to weave into the fabric of our lives:
  • Our faith is in Jesus who clearly said, Don't worry. God will take care of you - Matthew 6:25-34.
  • Everything that happens to us is God-allowed and works for good (as a part of the process that conforms us to become like Jesus) - Romans 8:28-30.
  • We can cast our cares (worries, concerns, storm-stresses) on God - 1 Peter 5:6,7.
  • We practice contentment in our situation, knowing He remains with us through everything - Hebrews 13:5,6.
  • Our faith in God (His power and love) brings peace even in the middle of the storm - Philippians 4:6,7.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to make a habit of facing each storm with faith in You—faith in Your love for me and Your power to bring Your good intentions for me to pass. 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, June 14, 2015

The Seed—a modern parable

"A Sower Went Out to Sow" - Four types of soil
Four types of soil
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 4:1-20

' Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.' " Mark 4:3

Behold a movie called Jesus was shown at First Church. And many people of the town were gathered in the church gym. As the story of Jesus' birth, teachings, death, and resurrection played on the screen, the seed was scattered on the multitude of them sitting on folding chairs.

After the movie, Pastor Smith invited each to enter the Kingdom of God. He explained how this came to pass by trusting in Jesus' death as the penalty paid for the sins each had committed. He entreated all who would enter to declare it by coming to the front.

There was a woman there, Chantelle, who hardened her heart. She hearkened to the voice of unbelief which said unto her, "This is only a tale."

But Peter, Marissa, and Clyde with a host of others came. Indeed, the multitude was so great, there was not even room for them all to kneel on the carpeted area. Then the members of the prayer team gave each a Bible and sent them on their way.

So Peter, Marissa, Clyde and the others departed, rejoicing over the good news of the Kingdom. And each was eager to grow and bring forth the fruit of this new life.

Peter took his Bible and put it on his bedside table. But in the days that followed, he read it only once. For his friends Troy and Jason, when them came to visit and saw the Bible, made great sport of it.

Lo, they prevailed upon Peter to join them in their revelry as they went to the bar. That night when Peter returned home and saw the Bible, his conscience was pricked and he took it from the table and put it out of his sight under the bed.  After many days when someone from First Church sent him a text message offering him a ride to Youth Group, he never replied.

Marissa too took the Bible home and put it next to her bed. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night she read in it. And the words thereof nurtured the life which had begun the night of the movie.

But on Thursday, wearied by her job, housework, and the demands of her kids, at the appointed hour she was too sleepy to take up the book and read. On the next day, even Friday, she got a babysitter and went with her friends to a movie, not returning home till midnight. "I will take up the book and reading in the morning," she said. But on Saturday at the twelfth hour she was still asleep while her children breakfasted on cereal and chips.

The rest of the weekend continued in like manner with shopping, cleaning, laundry, and TV. Lo on Sunday night, when the fullness of time had come for her to plan her next week, she had still not opened the book.

Behold the next week too was pressed down and overflowing with many things. So her Bible lay untouched. And it came to pass that a few weeks later, when she cleaned an abundance of clutter off her bedside table, she removed the Bible to the bookshelf.

Clyde also took his Bible home. Morning by morning he read in it. When it was again the first day of the week, he prevailed upon his friend Jeffrey to go with him to First Church. There he learned more about Jesus and the Kingdom of God, and his heart was glad and refreshed. "This is good news!" he said. "I cannot keep it to myself."

Immediately he rose and organized a home Bible study where he introduced 30 neighbours to Jesus. Lo  at the appointed time he planned First Church's men's outreach where 60 came. Indeed, so zealous was he that by the time one year had passed, he had brought 100 into the Kingdom.

PRAYER: Dear God, I ask myself, is Your word bearing fruit in my life? And what kind of yield is it achieving? Help me to be more intentional about living a life rich in the fruit of the Kingdom of God. Amen.

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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Holy Spirit controlled

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 13:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'" Acts 13:2

In Calvin Miller's book - That Elusive Thing Called Joy, one of the things he emphasizes is how letting God control our lives through the Holy Spirit is a key component of the joy we all so desire. This comes about, he says, as we live in communication with the Holy Spirit:
"Spiritually speaking, the Christian is in exile. We are one world out of phase with our home. When we first received Christ we were set on a high-frequency humanity. Our communication, like our interest, shifted plateaus: "Our conversation is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). Indeed, except for the special communion provided by the Father, our exile would be oppressive.

This special communication is made possible by the Holy Spirit. Without Him your happiness is impossible, for He is your one life with Christ and the Father. Blot Him out and not only is the Trinity a distant duality, but God and you are no longer on speaking terms. He is your sole communication on your journey through the long night into day, the only companion for the pilgrimage that must otherwise be passed in silence." pp. 74-75

An example of the Holy Spirit's communication and companionship is the story in our reading today. It's a continuation of events in Antioch from yesterday. Then Barnabas fetched Paul to work alongside him. Now the Antioch Christians are absorbed with "ministering" to the Lord when the Holy Spirit speaks. It's so clear the exact words are in quotes in my Bible: "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."

They obey. And the Holy Spirit's activity continues as they go to the island of Cyprus to tell the good news about Jesus.

In the city of Paphos, the pro-consul Sergius Paulus asks to hear their message. But his spiritual adviser, a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus opposes them and their message. Then Paul "filled with the Holy Spirit" confronts him. Notice his boldness, evident in both his body language and what he says: he "looked at him intently' and said: "'Oh full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness.'" (Yikes! No political correctness here!) Paul pronounces blindness on him and it happens. That sign brings the pro-consul to faith and probably a lot faster than if there had been no opposition.

As amazing as this story sounds to us, in the history of the early church it's just another day orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. Which makes me ask myself - have I offered Him such carte blanche to myself? Do I expect to hear His instructions, get his moment-by-moment leading, witness the startling results in my life?

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, thank You for being my liaison with God. Help me to understand this better and to become a better listener. 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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Thursday, June 11, 2015


Saul and Barnabas on the ship - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 11:19-25

TO CHEW ON: "When he (Barnabas) came and he had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord." Acts 11:23-24

A while ago I read a book called How You Leave Them Feeling.* In it, author Jesse Ferrell puts forth the thesis that you will succeed in business, indeed in life, to the extent that you leave people feeling good about themselves. I think Mr. Ferrell would have approved of Barnabas.

Barnabas was from a Jewish Cypriot priestly family. John Mark was his cousin (Acts 4:36) He is mentioned often in Acts. Here are some of the qualities that endeared him to his fellow Christians and continue to make him a model for us today.

1. He was generous. He was one of the early Christians who sold his property and gave the proceeds to the church (Acts 4:34-36) while at the same time remaining self-supporting (1 Corinthians 9:5,6).

2. He was a welcoming person and an encourager. When some in the Jerusalem church suspected that the newly converted Saul was actually a spy, Barnabas accepted his story at face-value and introduced him to the top leadership (Acts 9:27)

3. He was an astute judge of talents and gifts. When he saw the way the Gentiles were flocking to the Lord in Antioch, he set out to find Saul (later Paul) as just the right person to get involved (our reading today).

4. He was a team player. When Agabus prophesied a famine and the Antioch Christians took up an offering for fellow-believers in Judea, Barnabas and Saul delivered the "relief"(Acts 11:28-30). Later, Barnabas accompanied Saul/Paul on what we now call Paul's first missionary journey. (Acts 13:2,3)

5. He let others shine. It looks like during that first missionary journey, Barnabas relinquished the leadership role he had in his relationship with Paul. Note how Luke at first refers to them as Barnabas and Saul, then later it's always Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2,3 vs. Acts 13:43,46)

6. He championed the underdog.  He spoke on behalf of the Gentiles (Acts 15:12).

7. He believed in second chances. When Paul didn't want to take John Mark with them on another trip because he had deserted them earlier, Barnabas stood up for the young man, insisting that he should come. Their disagreement led to Paul and Barnabas splitting from each other and forming two outreach teams (Acts 15:36-41).

I love the picture our reading in Acts 11 paints of him. The first thing we see is a smile: "he was glad" (vs 23). He encouraged them - was an optimist and positive, not negative; someone who looked for a way something could be done instead of reasons why it couldn't. He is described as a "good man" (vs. 24). That could mean lots of things. I take it to mean he was honest, fair and kind. Finally, Luke also describes him as "full of the Holy Spirit and faith" (vs. 24).  I wish I could have met him.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to learn about living the Christian life from people like Barnabas. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Barnabas

Today is the celebration of the Feast of St. Barnabas on the church calendar. Here is the Collect that begins the liturgy for this day.

Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well­being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
*My review of How You Leave Them Feeling.

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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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

One way God silences arguments

Illustration From Lyman Abbott's
Commentary on Acts

"Oriental Prayer Meeting" - from Lyman Abbot's Commentary on Acts
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 11:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God saying, 'Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.'" - Acts 11:18

Contrast the reaction of the Judean apostles and brothers, above, with how they initially acted when Peter arrived: "... those of the circumcision contended with him" - Acts 11:1.

[To contend is a pretty strong activity. It means to strive in competition, to argue earnestly, to dispute, debate, struggle, fight (Funk & Wagnalls College Dictionary)]

Now they were silent, then began glorifying God. What made the difference?

It was:
  • the miraculous meshing of Peter's vision (Acts 10:9-16, his retelling in Acts 11:5-10)
  • with the request of the Gentile centurion Cornelius that was also sparked by a vision (Acts 10:1-8, Peter's retelling Acts 11:13,14),
  • and the Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles just as He had on the Jews (Acts 10:44-48, retold in Acts 11:15,16).

In other words, God broke through ordinary events in a miraculous way.

These sorts of miracles still happen today. My friend told the story of her Iranian relative who was attempting to gain entrance to another country on the grounds of her Christian faith. The night before her hearing she couldn't sleep but had the strong impression she was to read a certain passage of Scripture. The next day at the hearing the examiner questioned her on exactly what she had read.

Such occurrences, recounted in the Bible or experienced by us or our acquaintances can have the same effect on us as this miraculous chain of events had on Peter and his listeners. Our contentions, arguments and doubts—about God's existence, His character, His knowledge and acceptance of us—are silenced. Then we glorify God who is at work in our lives and the lives of those around us.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being the same miracle-working God today as You were in Bible times. May such stories increase my faith even as I make them one more reason to glorify You. Amen.


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

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Monday, June 08, 2015

What kind of ambassador are you?

sealed document
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 5:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God." 2 Corinthians 5:20

A few weeks ago we commemorated Jesus' death. What is its significance to us living in 2015?

I don't know if there is a clearer explanation in the Bible of why Jesus died than what Paul gives us here (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). He uses the words reconciled and reconciliation several times which implies estrangement is involved. So we ask, who is estranged and how are they reconciled? A sidebar article in my Bible explains:

"Reconciliation is the process by which God and man are brought together again. This is made possible through the blood of Jesus .... We were once estranged from Him, but we have been brought to God and restored to relationship through the shed blood of Christ" - Raleigh Washington / Bill McCartney - "Jesus Our Foundation," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1616.

We take advantage of this act of reconciliation by agreeing with God that we are sinners and accepting Christ's death on our behalf. It's a personal decision each one of us must make for him- or herself.

Our scripture goes on to give us, who have been reconciled, a job. We are to spread this good news that God and people can be friends again. We are ambassadors of that message for Christ, tasked with imploring those around us to take advantage of this offer of reconciliation, which came at a hefty price: sinless Jesus became sin and paid the death penalty for that sin so we sinners can be the righteousness of God in Him.

My confession—I haven't been a very good ambassador. Partly it's because in my society there seems little sense of need or desire to be reconciled to God. With no feeling of alienation from God in people there is little receptivity to hearing that they can be reconciled to Him.

My prayer is that God would put me in touch with those people whose hearts He has and is preparing for this news. Further, I need greater sense of urgency to share this news, a heightened alertness to opportunities, and boldness to "implore" people to be reconciled to God.

What about you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me a sense of urgency and boldness to share the news that it's possible to be reconciled to You. At the same time, please prepare people in my neighbourhood, town, province, and country to hear it. 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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Saturday, June 06, 2015

God draws back the veil

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 4:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6

My husband, though raised in a Christian home, accepted the Lord as an adult. He tells of a time before he made that decision when his dad sent him modern version after modern version of the Bible, hoping that maybe this one would be modern enough, clear enough, in language relatable enough for his son to read and understand.

It never happened that way. Hubby said he'd read a bit, it wouldn't make sense and another Bible would sit unread, gathering dust on a shelf. The book seemed irrelevant to his life until the day he made the decision to believe and commit his life to Jesus (the rest of the story here). After that, he couldn't get enough of the Bible. What made the difference?

Paul talks here and in the previous chapter about a veil being over hearts and minds. It's an image that hearkens back to the Jewish leader Moses in the wilderness. After he spent time with God, his face shone with God's glory so brightly that he covered it with a veil until the glory faded (Exodus 34:29-35).

That veil over minds and hearts, hiding God's complete revelation, is still there for those who don't see Christ in their reading of the Old Testament, Paul says, but it's taken away in Christ. That is, the Old Testament scriptures come alive when the fulfillment of their prophecies and types is seen in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:13-16).

Paul refers to this veiled understanding again in 2 Corinthians 4 (our reading) when he says that the gospel is "…veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded" - 2 Corinthians 4:3,4.

So we see that understanding is veiled not only of the Hebrew readers of the Old Testament but of all in the realm of "the god of this world." That would be all of us living in the realm of Satan who "...strongly influences this fallen, evil world that continues until the time Christ returns" - Reformation Study Bible.

So how does the light get in? More from the Reformation Study Bible notes: "… unbelievers cannot appreciate or fully understand the claims of the gospel unless God through the gospel enlightens them."

God has to do it—bring about that light of understanding. Just as He created physical light at creation, so He causes the understanding of spiritual light in our hearts:

"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6

This has implications for all of us praying for and talking to unsaved family members, friends, and neighbors. For we see that in the end, it's not more modern Bible translations, clearer explanations of the gospel, or winning arguments that will open minds and hearts but God in His grace pulling back that veil, shining the light of understanding into them.

Dear God, as I interact with and pray for unsaved people around me, help me to remember that You are the one who opens eyes. Please remove this veil from hearts and minds. 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, June 03, 2015

The unpardonable sin

"Jesus Teaching" (from jesuswallpaper.org)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 3:20-35

" ' … but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.' " Mark 3:29

Jesus' great popularity on the heels of his healings and teaching brings out, along with the crowds, his family, prepared to act as the men in white coats. It seems they think Jesus is not quite all there—mentally deranged, crazy, "out of His mind"—and they're prepared to rescue Him from Himself.

His successful exorcisms prompt another response from the scribes had Pharisees. They say, " 'He has Beelzebub. By the father of demons He casts out demons' " - Mark 3:22.

Jesus ignores His family. He uses what the scribes and Pharisees say as a teachable moment for His disciples, alerting them to the gravity of crediting to Satan what is actually the work of the Holy Spirit. He calls it the unpardonable sin: " '… but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation' " - Mark 3:29.

I've heard this same charge against the work of the Holy Spirit made by teachers these days. Perhaps you have too. Maybe we've made it ourselves about the works and ministries we don't understand, that go against how we feel the Holy Spirit works these days.

Whether these thoughts and sentiments are unforgivable in others is entirely God's department to decide. But we must guard our own thoughts and attitudes, and be careful to avoid calling satanic the signs, wonders, and experiences attributed to the Holy Spirit that we don't understand, that don't fit with our (often faith-starved) theology.

PRAYER: Dear God, lack of seeing the supernatural has affected my concept of what the normal Spirit-empowered Christian life should look like. Please open my eyes to the reality of Your power over nature and the spiritual realm. 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, June 02, 2015

Up on the mountain

Jesus praying - Artist unknown
Jesus praying - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 3:7-19

TO CHEW ON: "And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him." Mark 3:13

Have you ever noticed how many significant Bible events happened on mountains?

  • Noah's ark came to rest on Mount Ararat - Genesis 8:4.
  • Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah - Genesis 22:2.
  • Moses saw the burning bush on Mount Horeb - Exodus 3:1-2.
  • The law was given on Mount Sinai - Exodus 19:11,20.
  • Blessings and curses were spoken from mountains. Numbers 23:14,27; Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:11-13).
  • Moses saw the promised land from the top of Mount Nebo - Deuteronomy 34:1.
  • Elijah and the priests of Baal had it out on Mount Carmel - 1 Kings 18:19.
  • Jesus' last temptation took place "on an exceedingly high mountain" - Matthew 4:8.

In our reading today, Jesus calls the disciples to Him on the mountain. The Luke account of this incident fills in a bit more detail. Luke tells us that Jesus went to the mountain to pray and after praying all night, He called all his disciples to Himself and from that larger group "chose twelve whom he also named apostles" - Luke 6:12,13.

Why so many mountains? What's special about them?

Physically Mount Ararat's height was the first obstacle tall enough to ground Noah's boat after the flood. Perhaps the ancients felt that the height of a mountain brought them closer to the divine—whatever god they worshiped. We find lots of "high places" as worship spots in the Old Testament. It was a natural spot for the competition between Elijah and Baal.

A mountain takes effort to climb. Abraham making the journey, then climbing Mount Moriah demonstrates a real desire to obey God who told him where to make his sacrifice. Reaching its summit is an intentional activity.

Because it takes effort to get to a mountaintop, it is a place of isolation. Few make it to the heights. God told Moses to make sure the Israelites didn't follow him up glory-covered Mount Sinai. Jesus went to the mountain to pray, no doubt partly at least, to get away from the crowds. Later, He was transfigured on Mt. Hermon (Matthew 9:2) in the company of only three disciples.

The mountain is also a place of changed perspective. Balaam and Moses were inspired to bless when looking down over crowds. Moses, could view the promised land of Canaan from the height of Nebo. The devil took advantage of that perspective during his temptation of Jesus when he "showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" before he made his proposition: "All these I will give You if You will fall down and worship me" - Matthew 4:9. Of course Jesus didn't take the bait.

The mountain top is also a good place for us. We may not be able to climb a literal mountain to pray and spend time with God. But many of the mountain's characteristics are things we enjoy metaphorically when we meet with Him.

  • His presence grabs and grounds the ark of our daily living whatever our physical surroundings. 
  • We make the effort to climb, i.e. make a space in our lives to spend time in His presence. 
  • As we're alone with Him, we converse in prayer and get glimmerings of His glory. 
  • And this mountain time changes our perspective. Concerns of ordinary life drop away as we enjoy His presence. 
  • From this place by faith we look into the future—our promised land of heaven.  

Dear God help me to understand and experience the blessings of spending time on the mountain with 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.

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