Wednesday, September 30, 2015

God kept him awake

The chronicles are read to King Ahasuerus - James Tissot
"The chronicles are read to King Ahasuerus" - James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Esther 6:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "That night the king could not sleep. So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king." Esther 6:1

Insomnia probably feels to you and me more like an annoyance than an evidence of God's sovereignty. Yet here God used the king's insomnia to put in motion a train of events that showed the Jewish people He was very much in charge. It started with Haman required to lead Mordecai, mounted on the king's horse) around the streets of Susa shouting, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!"

For superstitious Haman and his wife Zaresh, the meaning of Mordecai's honor at Haman's hands was also clear. Zaresh: "If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but fall before him" - Esther 6:13.

The Bible assures us of God's sovereignty in all of human affairs in other places.
Job speaks of it in his repentance prayer:
"I know that You can do everything
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You" - Job 42:2.

David buoys up his faith with this fact when he's running from Saul:
"I will cry out to God Most High,
To God who performs all things for me" - Psalm 57:2.

Do you believe that God still works for His children in such mundane ways as waking people or keeping them awake? I do. For example, I'm sure you've heard stories of people waking suddenly with the sense that someone they know is in trouble or need,  spending the night hours praying for him or her, and discovering later that their wake-up call came at precisely the time the person they prayed for needed their prayers.

Let's acknowledge God's sovereignty in all the events of life—even bouts of insomnia, the need to turn back and get something we've forgotten, the wrong turn we make in the road, the rainy day that was supposed to be sunny...

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for this example of You working through King Ahasuerus's sleeplessness. Help me to see the details of my life through eyes of faith, knowing that You put everything together with divine precision and foreknowledge. Amen.

MORE: Got Any Rivers?


An old camp chorus popped into my head as I was thinking about God's abilities  this morning. Did you sing it when you were a kid?

"Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains you can't tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible
And does the things that others cannot do."
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Christmas story with prequel and sequel

The woman and the Dragon - Rev. 12 (Artist unknown)
The woman and the Dragon - Rev. 12 (Artist unknown)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 12:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her child was caught up to God and His throne." Revelation 12:5


A few weeks ago our pastor preached on this very passage in the Summer Stories series. He used the verse above as the abbreviated retelling of the Christmas story. For John sees things on the grand scale and his revelation places the nativity into a far larger story.

It's a story told here in apocalyptic literature style using lots of symbols. But they're not hard to unlock. Even common readers like us can get their meanings.
  • The woman (Revelation 12:1 and on) is Israel ("garland of twelve stars" = the twelve tribes of Israel).
  • The child to which she gives birth is Jesus.
  • The fiery red dragon is Satan.
  • Revelation 12:7-9 is a flashback scene (the prequel) of Satan being cast out of heaven to earth. (Remember Jesus' words: "'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven'" Luke 10:18?)
  • Satan's current battle is with Israel and her offspring (Christians) - Revelation 12:7.

This view of history explains so much. It helps us understand:


  • The persistent persecution of the Jews and their survival (Revelation 12:13-16). 
  • The force behind all the evil on earth—the bloodshed, hatred, natural disasters, sickness, interpersonal conflict in wars and terrorism etc. Our world is in its desperate state because it's under the influence of Satan "… who deceives the whole world; he was cast to earth and his angels were cast out with him. … For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath because he knows that he has a short time" - Revelation 12:9,12 (emphasis added).
  • Where we fit in. This story isn't finished. We are right now part of the sequel of the Christmas instalment, involved in the thick of the battle of the last verse: "And the dragon was enraged with the woman and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" - Revelation 12:17 (emphasis added).

However, victory over this red, angry, teeth-gnashing, tail-lashing dragon is possible. How?
"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" - Revelation 12:10 (emphasis added).

Our weapons are the blood of Jesus painted on the doorposts of our hearts that keeps out the death angel and the word—God's plan in history and our own involvement in it ("the word of their testimony" in both the Bible and our lives). When we find ourselves in the thick of any battle, let's not forget what our weapons are and not cease to use them.

 

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for giving us this behind-the-scenes glimpse of history. Help me to keep this big picture in mind and my weapons in hand when I'm in the thick of battle. 


MORE: Feast of St. Michael and all Angels
Today the church celebrates the feast of St. Michael and all angels. The angel Michael is comes up in our reading in Revelation 12:7 as the leader of the army of angels who fought against Satan and his army.

The liturgy for this day begins with this collect:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Which Zeresh traits do you have?

Haman, Zeresh and friends - Artist unknown
Haman, Zeresh and friends - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Esther 5:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, 'Let a gallows be made fifty cubits high, and in the morning suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged on it; then go merrily with the king to the banquet.' And the thing pleased Haman; so he had the gallows made." Esther 5:14

All Haman's honors amount to nothing in the face of Mordecai's continued disdain for him. Haman can't seem to get the better of that little man and it rankles him beyond all the feel-good emotions aroused by the king's and queen's honors.

At such a time, there's nothing like a sympathetic, imaginative—and ruthless—wife. Zeresh is such a one. She is the first person Haman wants to see on arriving home (Esther 5:10). He knows she'll salve his hurt ego.

She does more. Proposes he build a gallows of 50 cubits (75 feet) on which to hang Mordecai. This will ensure that his death is a public spectacle.

But then, as we read on, we see that events turn against Haman. Zeresh sees it too. She can read the tide as well as anyone and tells it like it is (Esther 6:13).

Zeresh is an example of a great wife in several ways. The fact that she is the first one Haman wants to see on coming home with hurt feelings tells us that she is a sympathetic and supportive mate. He knows she is on his side. Later when things start to go sideways, she is honest about what she sees—another good trait in a wife.

However, she uses her influence to encourage Haman to do evil—more evil than he has planned. She feeds his base emotion of envy with fantasies and then concrete plans of revenge, which eventually come back to bite him (Esther 5:14; 7:9-10).

As partners and friends, let's learn from Zeresh. Like her we should be supportive and honest. But unlike her we can resist the urge to ramp up evil, instead influencing our spouse or friends toward good— that is toward love and forgiveness and away from hatred and revenge.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be a partner and friend who spurs others on to love and good deeds (not hatred and evil). Amen.

MORE:  "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" - Hebrews 10:24 NIV

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

Scripture quotations marked 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.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Faith that flings itself on God

Mordecai warns Esther - Felix Joseph Barrias
Mordecai Warns Esther - F. J. Barrias
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Esther 4:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "'Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!'" Esther 4:16

Esther didn't take much convincing to act on behalf of her people. A little back-and-forth with Mordecai and she realized how serious the situation was and had made a plan of action.

I love how her plan included first God and then others. Her first thought was not some kind of political manipulation, but prayer. Prayer and fasting actually—serious fasting with no food or drink.

She involved not only the Jewish people but her Persian maids, who may have had little knowledge of God. (I've  often wondered what affect this incident had on them; did they begin to believe in God for themselves after they saw what happened as a result of their prayers joined with Esther's?)

I also love Esther's hands-off attitude about the outcome. She knew that death might be the result of uninvited appearance before the king, and she was prepared for that.

I see a couple things in Esther's approach that I'd like to apply to my own life. What about you?

1. We could acknowledge God's presence and working in the governing of our land as much as we do in our own lives. Instead of throwing up our hands in despair when things don't go well, we could pray and fast (alone and with others) in faith that God has the power to change the situation.

2. Instead of sticking with our preconceived notion of how God will answer, we need more of Esther's "If I perish, I perish," attitude that leaves the results in God's hands. We need to realize that God's ways may involve bigger issues, more time, and more steps than we perceive. As we let Him be God, we can stop stressing about the outcome and simply trust that He will work things out (both personally and in our nation) in His own time and way.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have the simple faith of Esther, who brought her big problem to You and prefaced her action with prayer and fasting. Amen.

MORE: "Whatever Comes" by Brian Doerksen

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


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Saturday, September 26, 2015

To whom do we pay homage?

"Mordecai Scorns Haman" - Ernest Normand
"Mordecai Scorns Haman" by Ernest Normand

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Esther 3:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "And all the king's servants who were within the king's gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage." Esther 3:2

The author of Esther doesn't spell out why Mordecai wouldn't bow to Haman—only that he refused to pay homage because he was a Jew. I think we can assume that in this he was taking God very seriously in obeying especially the first of the ten commandments:

"You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image .... you shall not bow down to them or serve them" Exodus 20:3-5.

The pressure mounted as his fellow servants questioned, then reported him, and finally King Ahasuerus, under the influence of Haman, passed a decree to kill not just him, but all the Jewish people. We can only imagine the soul searching Mordecai went through as he faced this horrible consequence of his actions to not only him but thousands of people. Yet he never wavered in his resolve.

Most of us will never face such an ultimatum for giving God first place in our lives. But we will come across the temptation to stray from it along other lines. Josh McDowell, for example, tells how he planned to become a lawyer. Yet one day God came to him and impressed on him that he was to spend his life witnessing to young people. McDowell says in the Epilogue to his autobiography:

"I never saw my early dream of becoming a lawyer come true. Instead I am still fulfilling the call to ministry that I answered more than fifty years ago .... I am in constant awe of what God has done in my life" - Josh McDowell, Undaunted, p. 245.

Mordecai's unshakable resolve and McDowell's modern example prompt me to ask myself, am I refusing to bow to anything but God and His will for my life? Or do I "pay homage" in one way or another, to things like success, personal ambition, money, comfort...? What about you?

PRAYER:
Dear God, I have a lot to learn from Mordecai and his determination to give You first place, no matter what it cost. Help me to understand how to do this in my circumstances and then do it. Amen.

MORE: I'd Rather Have Jesus - George Beverley Shea

"'I’d Rather Have Jesus' is a song written by Rhea F. Miller with the tune written by George Beverly Shea. This poem, written in 1922, was left on a piano in the Shea home by Bev Shea who wanted her son to find it and change the course of his life. 



The words, I’d rather have Jesus, moved George so much and spoke to him about his own aims and ambitions in life. He sat down at the piano and began singing them with a tune that seemed to fit the words. Shea’s mom heard him singing it and asked him to sing it at church the next day. 

George’s life direction did change. 

He was offered a popular music career with NBC, but a few years later chose to become associated with evangelist Billy Graham and sang this hymn around the world."   (Read the entire article including the lyrics to "I'd Rather Have Jesus.")

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


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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Responsibility of influence

Vashti's defiance - Alexandre Cabanel
"Vashti's Defiance" - Alexandre Cabanel
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Esther 1:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command brought by his eunuchs therefore the king was furious and his anger burned within him." Esther 1:12

Do we blame Queen Vashti for refusing to come before the drunken King Ahasuerus and his male guests to show off her beauty? I can think of several reasons for her refusal. Maybe such a debauch had happened before and been uncomfortable for her. Maybe it was a bad time for her to leave her own party. Or perhaps she had an independent streak that simply resisted being ordered around.

Whatever it was, her refusal ended badly. The king wasn't too drunk to ask for the input of others. His coterie of male advisors told him to be decisive with her for fear her attitude would spread to other women in the realm—and that would never do in their male-dominant culture.

It's easy for us, looking at this event through our western civilization lenses, to sympathize with Queen Vashti. And yet the king and his advisors had a point. My Bible's notes contain this observation on Vashti's actions:

"Leadership involves both responsibilities and influence. In her rebellion Vashti ignores her responsibility to her authority King Ahasuerus" - A. Joy Dawson, notes on Esther, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 634.

We can take away at least two lessons from these opening scenes of Esther:
1. When we are in positions of leadership our actions have the potential to affect and influence others, and we need to carefully consider their effect.

2. If we feel civil disobedience is really warranted, we should be prepared for consequences.

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the wisdom to know when defying civil authority is warranted. At all other times help me to have a compliant spirit that acknowledges Your will and design in placing over me the rulers of Your choice. Amen.

MORE: More about Esther, the book
We will be reading all of the book of Esther in the coming days so here are a few facts about this little book.
  • The author is unknown. But it was a Jew, familiar with Persian words and customs. Mordecai or Ezra may have been the author.
  • It was written shortly after 465 B.C. and the story takes place over four years starting with the third year of King Ahasuerus (also called Xerxes') reign.
  • A unique feature of the book is that the name of God is never mentioned.
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 Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Two essentials for healthy church life

Photo courtesy RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 5:7-20

TO CHEW ON:
"Confess to one another therefore your faults—your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins; and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored—to a spiritual tone of mind and heart. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available in its working." James 5:16 AMP

What a lot this verse has to say about healthy body life. It focuses on two necessary things.

Confession

I quoted the Amplified version of James 5:16 because it shows the breadth of openness we're to have with each other as Christ's disciples. We're to be open about the tiniest to the biggest sins, the tongue-slip of a momentary lapse to the sinful habits that ensnare us (Hebrews 12:1).  Some things this kind of authentic confession does:
  • It helps us see each other realistically and not put people on pedestals.
  • It sharpens our consciousness of our own sin. As we hear our brother or sister confess, say, an angry response or unkind word, memories of our own sins surface and we're prompted to clear them up.
  • Such accountability keeps us from repeating such sins in the future as we realize, the angry word that will make me feel better momentarily will just have to be confessed later. So I'd better keep my mouth shut.
  • It gives us prayer fodder. That's the whole point of James' instructions for these interchanges. People who know each other's weaknesses and temptations can pray effectively and fervently for each other.

Prayer

We discover that restoration may take more than our determination and self discipline. To gain and keep victory, we need the help that comes from God through the prayers of fellow Christians.

The adjectives "effective" and "fervent" (James 5:16 NKJV) catch my attention. Is James saying that some prayers are more likely to be answered than others? My Bible's notes give helpful insight about the phrase "fervent prayer of a righteous man":
"… the basic idea is that of a supplication 'having energy.' Effective prayer is characterized by earnestness, fervency, and energy to release results and is illustrated in the case study* the following verses provide" - Jon Mark Ruthven, study notes on James, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1758.  

If we practiced confession to and prayer with and for each other regularly, I think our church life would become much more relevant to real life than the Sunday fantasy oasis it often is when we hide our messy lives behind masks of holiness and self-sufficiency.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to hazard and nurture authenticity and prayer with my Christian brothers and sisters. Amen.
* The "case study" mentioned here is Elijah. We can read his story in 1 Kings 17 & 18.

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

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is it wrong to plan?

Photo courtesy RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 4:11-5:6

TO CHEW ON: "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make a profit,' whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. … Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this and that.' " James 4:13-15

The writer of my Bible's notes makes a startling statement about James 4:13-15:
"A clear characteristic of having an affair with worldliness is making plans without consulting God. Such action is boasting, that is a presumption that oneself, not God is in control of the circumstances of life" - Jon Mark Ruthven, study notes on James, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1757.

As I see it, the problem is not with the making of plans. God is in favour of that. He dictated some pretty big plans for Noah's ark and the tabernacle. And Jesus, in an illustration about counting discipleship's cost pointed out the foolishness of the person who set about building a tower or going to war before planning and calculating how much it would cost (Luke 14:28-33). Our error is if we make those plans with the wrong attitude.

One wrong attitude James points out is that we think we control the future, when we don't at all. Some other erroneous presumptions on which we might base our plans:
  • Life will continue on just as it always has - Isaiah 56:12.
  • Trouble is far away - Amos 6:3.
  • We have a long future ahead of us - Luke 12:19.
  • There will always be another opportunity - Acts 24:25.

What then is the attitude we should have when we plan?

  • Our passage suggests one: that we submit all our plans to the Lord ("… If the Lord wills…"). Practically that might mean we delay giving an answer when someone asks us to take on a new commitment in order to pray about it and perhaps get a scripture promise or some affirmation that this is indeed what God wants us to do.

Jesus, in Matthew 24, gives more pointers on the attitude we need as we plan for the future.
  • We're to live with an awareness that He could return at any time. That is, we view all our plans through the lens of Jesus' imminent return (Matthew 24:44). Of course we know that there's a right and a wrong way to do that (In 2 Thessalonians, Paul encourages the people to keep working. Bible scholars believe they had stopped  because they thought the Day of the Lord had already come - 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11).
  • We carry on being faithful in our current assignments (Matthew 24:45-46). And I assume that includes being faithful in planning ahead when that is necessary (in faith, trusting God to interrupt us, change our direction, and convict us if our planning again takes a presumptuous turn).

PRAYER:  Dear God, I know I've made plans without consulting You, but never thought of that as having an affair with worldliness. I'm sorry! Please help me to remember to bring all my plans to You. Amen.

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


Monday, September 21, 2015

The unhealthiness of sin

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 2:1-17


TO CHEW ON: "'Which is easier to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven you," or to say "Arise, take up your bed and walk?"
'But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins'—He said to the paralytic, 'I say to you, arise, take up your bed and go to your house.'" Mark 2:9-11

Was Jesus, in this healing, dealing with two separate issues: 1) the man's guilt and sinfulness, and 2) his physical paralysis? Or were they linked? In other words, is personal sin implicated in our physical illnesses?

A brief study of some Bible passages shows us that the two are mentioned together more than just this once.

  • Ananias and Sapphira experienced the ultimate end of sin's physical effects (death) when they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-10).
  • Paul pronounced blindness on the sorcerer Bar Jesus (Elymas) when he tried to dissuade the proconsul Sergius Paulus from putting his faith in Christ (Acts 13:11-12).
  • Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, links physical sickness and death within the church to taking the Lord's Supper flippantly (1 Corinthians 11:29,30).
  • James reassures those who are sick that the "prayer of faith" prayed over them by church elders will not only bring physical healing but forgiveness of sins too (James 5:14-16).

Though I would never say that all our sicknesses are a direct result of personal sin, neither can we ignore the connection. Matthew Henry says of the two in his comment on our passage:

"Sin is the cause of all our pains and sicknesses. The way to remove the effect, is to take away the cause. Pardon of sin strikes at the root of all diseases. Christ proved his power to forgive sin, by showing his power to cure the man sick of the palsy. And his curing diseases was a figure of his pardoning sin, for sin is the disease of the soul; when it is pardoned, it is healed" Matthew Henry's Commentary.

As we pray for healing for ourselves and others, let's not forget to examine our lives for causative sin in the light of God's word and with the help of the Holy Spirit.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live transparently before You. Please convict me of sin which always has the potential to lead to physical repercussions. Amen.

MORE: Breaking it down

The temptation is to stay in the realm of theory when connecting sin and sickness. But a little brainstorming leads to a list of sins and their physical effects that we may find ourselves guilty of. I'm sure you can think of more.

  • Sins of unbelief, unforgiveness, pride etc. can lead to emotional and mental dis-ease.
  • Sins of sensuousness and indulgence can lead to obesity, drunkenness, addictions, and their complications.
  • The sin of sexual looseness can lead to STDs.
  • The sin of anger can lead to impaired judgment resulting in fights and accidents.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

God is my helper

David worships - artist unknown
David worships - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 54:1-7

TO CHEW ON: "Behold, God is my helper …" Psalm 54:4

This psalm's little prologue : "A contemplation of David when the Ziphites went and said to Saul, 'Is David not hiding with us?' "  helps us place it in a story.

David is fleeing from King Saul, his father-in-law who is insanely jealous of his popularity and wants to kill him. David has so far been able to trust the territory-savvy locals to keep quiet about where he's hiding. But the Ziphites are different.

Members of this desert tribe go to Saul at Gibeah, tell him they know where David is, and promise to lead Saul to him. Delighted, Saul and his men are soon hot on David's trail. Second Samuel 23:19-28 gives us his  location: "… strongholds in the woods in the hill of Hachilah … in the Wilderness of Maon." We get the picture of Saul and his men creeping ever closer: "Then Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain …Saul and his men were encircling David and his men to take them."

The 2 Samuel 23 context of this psalm tells us another little story too. Before Saul and his men pursue David into the wilds, Saul's son (David's best friend) also pays him a visit. What a contrast. Jonathan easily finds him and we read that Jonathan "… strengthened his hand in God." He encourages his friend David for the future: "… you shall be king in Israel…" and they renew their loyalty to each other in a convenant - 2 Samuel 23:16-18.

Perhaps David shouldn't be surprised, then, that after this up time, his faith is tested. And so with Saul and his army every moment tightening the noose, David vents: "Save me O God by Your name; / And vindicate me by Your strength…" Psalm 54:1.

My guess is that David writes this psalm in stages. For the story isn't over. When all looks lost and capture inevitable, God intervenes: "But a messenger came to Saul, saying, 'Hurry and come, for the Philistines have invaded the land' " 2 Samuel 23:27. And with that Saul and his men are gone.

So David finishes his psalm with "I will freely sacrifice to you; / I will praise Your name, O Lord for it is good" - Psalm 54:6,7.

I see a couple of life lessons in this psalm and its context story.
  • It's not unusual for faith to be tested after encouragement. (For example, Elijah's victory over the prophets of Baal is followed by Queen Jezebel's death threat - 1 Kings 18:20-19:3;  Jesus and the disciples come down from the Mount of Transfiguration to face a demon - Matthew 17:1-18.)
  • God can come through for us, right on time and in ways we never imagined. And He can do it without any manipulation or help from us.

So if you're in a Psalm 54 place today, follow David's example of leaning on God as Your helper, and look forward to what He will do.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that no situation can get the better of You. Help me to trust You when trouble presses in (and when things are good too). 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, September 19, 2015

"What was it you disputed among yourselves?"

Jesus and the Little Child by James Tissot
"Jesus and the Little Child" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 9:30-50


TO CHEW ON: "Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, 'What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?'
But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest." - Mark 9:33-34


Jesus obviously knew about the disciples' argument for He addressed it in the very next verse (Mark 9:35). So why did He ask them?

Perhaps it was because He wanted them to confess this petty discussion. The fact that they kept an embarrassed silence tells us they knew it was unworthy. I wonder how many other similar conversations they had had and never thought twice about them. But Jesus' question put the spotlight on this rather ordinary event.

What if we put ourselves there with the disciples and heard Jesus questioning: "What is it you were discussing?" or even more personally "What is it you were discussing with yourself (i.e. thinking)?" If we are hesitant to answer, could it be we're feeling the disciples' guilt over subjects unworthy of a child of God because they are conversations or thoughts of anger, worry, judgment, self-exaltation, unforgiveness, deceit, hatred...?

Maybe after we answer Jesus honestly in confession, He will give us insights about us and our concerns like He did the disciples here. Most certainly we will be aware of and hopefully avoid hopping on these ungodly trains of thought and discussion when they next pull into the station of our minds.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, as I think about answering Your question, I am aware of conversations with others and myself unworthy of one of Your children. Help me to admit and confess these symptoms of sin. Please change me at a heart level. Amen.

MORE: Jesus on:

Anger - Matthew 5:21-24
Worry - Matthew 6:25-31
Judgment - Matthew 7:1-5
Self-exaltation - Matthew 6:3-4
Unforgiveness - Matthew 18:21,22
Deceit - Matthew 5:37
Hatred - Matthew 5:43-48


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

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Getting a friend-of-God mindset


TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 3:13-4:10

TO CHEW ON: "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you now know that friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." James 4:4


These are stern words for us who, as Christians, may already feel sidelined and snubbed by our culture. But, according to James, this is how it's meant to be.

A sidebar article in my Bible comments on the "world" and what our relationship with it should be:

"The spirit of the world (Greek: aion) is one of the perennial enemies of the believer. "World" refers to the world system—to its values, mind-set, philosophies of life, and priorities that run contrary to the will and way of God. … Romans 12:2 provides a strategy to combat the pull of the world through the renewal or 'reprogramming' of our minds. The Holy Spirit's power can transform our minds (Philippians 2:5,13; Titus 3:5) and redirect us toward the things of God (Philippians 4:8)" - Kenneth C. Ulmer, "Growth Inhibitor," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1756 (emphasis added).

Romans 12:2 says;
"And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

Jack Hayford's sidebar article "Renewal of the mind" fleshes out the concept:

"To 'renew' is 'to renovate' implying restoration to freshness or to an original state. … Being 'transformed' by the renewal of the mind indicates a literal 'change in the form or formulas of thought or being.' This describes redemption's provision of power to instil godliness in us—a power that transforms
1) our thoughts, which lead to formulating
2) our purposes, which proceed to dictate our actions; and thus
3) our actions become character-determining habits, shaping the life and setting the course for the future" - Jack Hayford, "Renewal of the Mind," New Spirit-Filled life Bible, p. 1569 (emphasis added; formatting changed a bit from the original).

Nurturing a friendship with God or the world starts out as such a small, private matter. Our thoughts are invisible and silent to all but ourselves and God. However these thoughts—these inhabitants of our minds—eventually set the course of our lives.

I ask myself, am I allowing God access to my thoughts, through His word, godly speakers, uplifting music? Or have I invited enemy-of-God stuff into my mind through what I look at, read, listen to? Do I understand the gravity of this and how it can jeopardize my friendship with Him and the renovating work He wants to do in my mind and thus my life?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to understand how crucial my mind and thoughts are to my friendship with You and the direction of my life. Amen. 


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

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Monday, September 14, 2015

The horror of crucifixion

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 19:16-37

TO CHEW ON: "And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of the Skull which is called in Hebrew Golgotha." John 19:17

As someone who is accustomed to seeing the cross as a religious symbol, it's hard to conceive of it as an instrument of execution. However, a footnote in my Bible says:

"Crucifixion was the most hideous Roman method of execution, reserved only for slaves and criminals" - Siegfried Schatzmann, Notes on John,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1477.

A little research fills in the blanks as to what crucifixion involved. Here are a few facts about crucifixion which help us understand why it was such a dreaded death:

  • Before crucifixion, the victim was often beaten or scourged, leading to blood loss and shock.
  • The condemned person was often forced to carry the crossbeam on his shoulders (though an entire cross could weight about 300 lbs., the crossbeam was between 75-125 lbs.).
  • The condemned person would be attached (nailed or tied) to the crossbeam while on the ground: "Upright posts would presumably be fixed permanently in that place, and the crossbeam, with the condemned person perhaps already nailed to it, would then be attached to the post" - "Crucifixion" article on - Wikipedia.
  • Crucifixion was not only a means of death but a public humiliation. The condemned person was completely vulnerable and on display. Victims were usually crucified nude. Urination and defecation were on display and became an attraction to insects.
  • The legs of the crucified person were often broken or shattered to hasten death and act as a further deterrent to onlookers.
  • The length of time till death could be hours to days.
  • The cause of death could be one or a combination of blood loss, sepsis because of wound infection from the nails and/or the pre-crucifixion beating, dehydration or asphyxiation.
  • Victims were often left on display after death (as a warning to others who might be contemplating committing similar crimes) - from "Crucifixion" on Wikipedia.

It's ugly, isn't it; a far cry from the gold-plated, bejewelled crosses we wear around our necks or dangling from arms or ears.

And just think—He suffered this humiliation, pain and death for you and me.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, depictions of You on the cross in art and film can only begin to get at the horror of what You experienced in the hours before You cried, "It is finished." Burn the immensity of what You went through for me deep into my mind and heart. And Thank you! Amen.

MORE: Holy Cross Day


Today is the day the church celebrates the cross. "While Good Friday is dedicated to the Passion of Christ, and the crucifixion, these days (September 14th and sometimes the days just preceding and following) celebrate the cross itself as the instrument of salvation" - "The Feast of the Cross" - Wikipedia.

The liturgy for this day begins with the prayer:


"Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."

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

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Deathbed assurances

Graveyard
Photo courtesy RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 116:1-19

TO CHEW ON:
"Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints." Psalm 116:15


In a psalm where the writer can't thank God enough for sparing his life, he takes a moment to reflect on what almost got him—death. It's like he's saying, That wouldn't have been so bad. After all, the death of a saint ("His loving ones" AMP) is something that is precious  ("important, no light matter" - AMP) to God - Psalm 116:15.

The Bible has more positive implications, claims, and promises about death to those who are in a right relationship with God:

Death will be a reunion.
To Abraham God promised that death would be a time when he would join his fathers (Genesis 15:15). The poor man in Jesus' story found himself, after death, in Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22).

The way we live may impact our peace and well-being at death.
God-fearing king Josiah ruled during an era when the pendulum of good and bad kings (and the good and bad actions of the people) swung back and forth. The prophetess Huldah predicted his death when he was only 26. She said God would judge the nation's evil but Josiah, because he feared God, would die without having to see it - 2 Chronicles 34:28.

God's presence with us during death overcomes our fear
(Psalm 23:4).

Death can be a refuge and blessed (Proverbs 14:32, Revelation 14:13).

We can look forward to death because it means we'll be with Jesus (Philippians 1:21; Romans 14:8).

We can experience a good end even though some of our prayers remain unanswered and we leave behind unfinished business (Hebrews 11:13,21,22).

The way we've lived our lives will impact us in eternity—our works will follow us (Revelation 14:13).

May we all find comfort in these deathbed assurances.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to live my life soberly and intentionally in the knowledge that death creeps closer every day. Help me to be always ready for it. 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, September 12, 2015

The powerlessness and power of idols

Stone idol
Photo courtesy RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 115:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "May the Lord give you increase more and more,
You and your children.
May you be blessed by the Lord
who made heaven and earth." Psalm 115: 14-15


Psalm 115 contrasts trust in idols with trust in God. The writer outright ridicules idolatry, pointing out that the object worshiped is made with common materials, is the work of a human person, and has no senses—no sight, hearing, smell or touch—and no abilities  to hold things, talk or walk - Psalm 115:3-8.

So what's the appeal of an idol?

There is within us all a need for someone or something beyond ourselves. We want help and advice from someone bigger and more powerful than we are when circumstances go against us. We long for someone or something to admire and aspire to. In Bible times people responded to this need by carving or molding images, ascribing power to them, and worshiping them instead of God. Satan used and uses that worship impulse to take the allegiance of mankind for himself and his minions. Bible writers unmask the occultic magnetism of idol worship:

  • Moses calls idol sacrifices "sacrifices to demons" - Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17.
  • The writer of 2 Chronicles characterizes the high places for idol worship made by Rehoboam as built "for the demons" - 2 Chronicles 11:15.
  • Psalm 106 calls child sacrifice to idols a sacrifice "to demons" - Psalm 106:37.
  • The devil himself, recognizing that an idol doesn't have to be an actual image but can  be something abstract, offered to Jesus, after showing Him the kingdoms of earth: "All this authority I will give you, and their glory … if you will worship before me" - Luke 4:6,7.
  • Paul in 1 Corinthians speaks frankly about how idols are two-sided—powerless images but with the power to corrupt and degrade because of their connection to the demonic - 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.
  • John sees that the worship of idols and other creatures will be a force for Satan in a time still to come - Revelation 9:20; 13:4; 14:9; 19:20.

We are probably not tempted to worship actual idol images but do we realize that the idols we do worship—that resemble the type of abstract idol with which Satan tempted Jesus—are just as powerless to deliver true joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment?
Do we realize, as well, who is behind them—trying to get our worship for himself?

But we don't have to worship idols. We can bring that impulse to worship to  the One who has the power and means to deliver true success and happiness.

May the Lord give you increase more and more
You and your children.
May you be blessed by the Lord
who made heaven and earth." - Psalm 115:14-15


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize and tear down anything that is an idol in my life. Amen.

MORE: Some modern idols.

Some of our modern gold and silver images may be:

"Approval idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am loved and respected by …'
Control idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am ablt to get mastery over my life in the area of …'
Helping idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if people are dependent on me.'
Work idolatry: 'Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am highly productive and get a lot done.'
Achievement idolatry: ' Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am being recognized for my accomplishments / excelling in my career.' - by Tim Keller in Counterfeit Gods, quoted by Dale Hanson Bourke in Embracing Your Second Calling, pp. 90, 91.

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


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Faith stuck on the demonic level

Gargoyles
Gargoyles - RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 2:18-3:12

TO CHEW ON: "You believe that there is one God.You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!" James 2:19

When James states "Even the demons believe…" he is implying different types or levels of belief. One is a level even demons have achieved.

To understand what the demonic level of belief consists of, let's take a look at some of the times demons interact with Jesus and other people. These interactions show that demons:

1. Acknowledge Jesus as God, calling Him the "Son of God" (Matthew 8:29; Luke 4:41; Mark 3:11), the "Holy One of God" (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34), and "Son of the Most High God" (Mark 5:7).

2. Want nothing to do with Him (Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Luke 4:34).

3. Know their destiny, referring to it as "torment" (Matthew 8:29; Luke 8:28) and "destruction" (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34).

4. Fall down before Him (Mark 3:11) and are at His mercy (Mark 5:10).

5. Must obey Jesus
in giving their names (Mark 5:9), becoming silent  (Luke 4:35, 41),  and leaving people (Mark 1:25,26; Luke 4:35; Mark 5:8,10-13), though they almost always argue (Mark 6:10-13) or have some sort of hissy fit before they obey (Mark 1:25-27; Luke 4:35).

6. Can discern between Jesus' true followers and imposters (Acts 16:17; 19:16). They obey His true followers but resist those who aren't (Acts 19:16).

In our passage James uses demonic belief as an example of incomplete or inadequate faith that we too could have. It might acknowledge who Jesus is but want nothing to do with His life-changing power. It is not saving faith in that it doesn't change one's life or destiny. And the proof is in the fruit (bad fruit; lack of good fruit) of one's life.

Perhaps there are aspects of that level of incomplete faith in our own lives. Yes, we admit that Jesus is the Son of God, but we haven't made Him Lord of our lives. We really don't want that much to do with Him. When we do obey, it's with a big fuss.

Let's press in to take our faith to the higher level of acknowledging who Jesus is not only with our heads but with our lives. Let's spend time with Him. Let's make Him our Lord before whom we live our lives in joyful obedience.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put my complete trust in You, proving my faith by the way I live. Amen.

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


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

When Wisdom is silent

praying hands
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TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 1:20-33

TO CHEW ON:
"Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the Lord."  Proverbs 1:28,29


Wisdom is speaking here. She addresses those who have turned their backs on their parent's instruction (Proverbs 1:8-9), got involved in crime (Proverbs 1:10-19), and persistently resisted her plea to go another way (Proverbs 1:20-25).

She warns, there will come a time when ignoring her—that is, refusing to choose the fear of God—will have consequences. One of them is wisdom's silence.

If we equate wisdom and the fear of God to God, we could say that indifference to God, ignoring His will as revealed in the Bible, is one of the reasons our prayers go unanswered.

James describes a similar frustration and God-silence:
"You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" - James 4:2-3.

If we are in a time when God seems silent, when it feels like He's ignoring us, maybe one of the things we should examine our lives for is who or what we've really been fearing (showing respect to, in awe of, conforming our lives to get the approval and praise of, running after). Is it God? Or something / someone else?


PRAYER: Dear God, please show me the deceitfulness of my own heart—so resourceful at sneaking in its own idols and pleasures. Help me to understand what the fear of You looks like in each situation. Amen

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


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Wisdom = living the fear of God

Hands folded in prayer resting on an open Bible
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TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 1:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction." Proverbs 1:7


Here, very early in this collection of wise sayings, the main author of Proverbs, Solomon, clearly tells us the filter through which he will pass all that follows: The fear of God (not the fear of man, or the fear of political correctness, or the possibility of delivering pleasure, or even whether or not the thing is practical).

Tim Challies, pastor and author, gives a helpful description of the relationship between wisdom and the fear of God:

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

When I studied the fear of God for a Bible study last winter, here are some things I discovered. The fear of God:
  • Sets apart those who fear Him. In the Old Testament, it set the nation of Israel apart from other nations. For them it meant getting rid of rival gods and worshiping God only (Deuteronomy 10:12; Joshua 4:24; 24:14).
  • Has benefits. Those who fear God:
* are on the path to real wisdom and knowledge - Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7 (our focus verse).
* receive God's acceptance and a place in His book of remembrance - Acts 10:3; Malachi 3:16.
* have the promise of continuous instruction for life and light in dark times - Psalm 25:12; Isaiah 50:10.
* experience His goodness, pleasure, and pity or compassion - Psalm 31:19; 147:11; 103:13.
* are promised His mercy through generations nationally and personally - 1 Samuel 12:14; Luke 1:50.
  • The consequences of forsaking the fear of God are their own rebuke in backsliding, wickedness, evil, and bitterness - Jeremiah 2:19.

So we're convinced. We want to live our lives in the fear of God. What does that look like for us personally? It may mean things like:
  •  taking more responsibility for the education of our children instead of leaving it to the state.
  • resisting the temptation to work for cash (to avoid paying tax), even though many in our line of work operate that way.
  • continuing to identify ourselves with fellow believers (the church) even as those who practice the Christian faith are increasingly sidelined in public life.
  • and a whole lot of other things.
Oh for the wisdom that not only says "I fear God," but understands how to live that out in daily life.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to build my life on the fear of You, and to understand what that means for my actions, situation by situation. Amen.

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


Monday, September 07, 2015

A time for down-sizing

Cluttered bookshelf
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TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven: …
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away." Ecclesiastes 3:1-6


I love the catalogue of times in Ecclesiastes 3:1-9. It helps us view the ebb and flow of life's activities philosophically. However, that perspective can be negative or positive.

Negative:
It's easy to view this list fatalistically, coming as it does, after the Preacher's depressing observations that he will have to leave his hard work to the man who comes after him (Ecclesiastes 2:18); that the person who doesn't work gets the benefit of it (Ecclesiastes 2:21); and his sum-up complaint "This (all the above-mentioned and more) also is vanity and grasping for the wind" (Ecclesiastes 2:26). We're simply going through the motions of a life whose end is already fixed.

Positive:
Or we can read these verses as the Preacher's answer to the question about life that he's already raised. As the Asbury Bible Commentary puts it:

"Since all has been determined by God, life has purpose and meaning. Since God has set a time for everything, a sense of security results. The continual movements of life do not need to be viewed as meaningless.

'Instead of changelessness, there is something better: a dynamic, divine purpose, with its beginning and end. Instead of frozen perfection, there is the kaleidoscopic movements of innumerable processes, each with its own character and its period of blossoming and ripening; beautiful in its time and contributing to the over-all masterpiece which is the work of our Creator' (Kidner, 39).

From this perspective, then, God's actions are not simply arbitrary, but appropriate, and not simply confining, but releasing." - Asbury Bible Commentary, accessed through Biblegateway.com  "Study This."

I like this perspective, especially the quote within the quote which I've bolded.

The reason I chose to focus on the last part of Ecclesiastes 3:6 today is because I'm currently (and perpetually, it seems) downsizing—thinking about what to keep and what to throw away. Hard decisions must be made in this season of life. It helps to know that what I'm doing is biblical. It even becomes poetic.

The saving of all my stuff was the blossoming. The keeping and storing of it for years and years was the ripening. Now it's time to harvest—to decide what gets to stay, what is chaff, and what others will have a chance to own.

PRAYER: Dear God, I'm so glad that You're in charge—not only of my life but the world. Help me to trust You with my times. Amen.

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


Sunday, September 06, 2015

Courtship and marriage lessons in Solomon's Song

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 8:5-14

TO CHEW ON: "Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm
For love is as strong as death..." Song of Solomon 8:6


The Song of Solomon when viewed as a poem about marital love—which it is—can give us many pointers on courtship and marriage.

In the area of courtship:
  • It speaks of not awakening love too seen (Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5). I shudder when I think of how we have violated this principle in our society with sexually charged images and language targeted at even preteens. Then there is the whole area of child sexual abuse—taboo, but still happening way more often than we acknowledge, taking away innocence and robbing kids of the beauty and goodness of this relationship for a lifetime.
  • Christian families should get involved in the development of children's views and choices (Song of Solomon 8:8,9).
  • Wedding day purity is the ideal: "You are all fair my love and there is no spot in you...A garden enclosed ... A spring shut up" - Song of Solomon 4:7,12.

Once love has been awakened and marriage established:
  • We move from a mindset of "me" and "mine" to "we" and "ours" (Song of Solomon 1:4, 16-17).
  • We enthusiastically acknowledge the rightness of this relationship by:
- Expressing love to our partner verbally in positive and creative ways (Song of Solomon 5:10-16; 7:1-9).
- Giving free rein to the physical expression of our love (Song of Solomon 1:2-13; 4:9, 11; 7:6-9).
- Being available to each other (Song of Solomon 5:2-8).
- Getting away together (Song of Solomon 7:10-13).
- Remaining faithful to each other (Song of Solomon 8:6-7).
- Staying friends, not only lovers (Song of Solomon 5:16). 
(These points adapted from "Truth-In-Action through Song of Solomon" by Leslyn Musch, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, pages 868-869.)

I love how Ms. Musch acknowledges that for some of us this is only an ideal. For those who have violated these principles she says:
"Keep yourself sexually pure .... If it is too late for that, ask God to forgive you, purify you and redeem what has been lost. Ask your fiancé or spouse for their forgiveness too. Seek godly counsel, if needed, to work through this potentially difficult issue. Pray together and ask the Lord to restore and heal your relationship" - L. Musch, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 869.

PRAYER: Thank You, God, for this beautiful love poem that affirms Your plan for love and marriage. Help me to take its lessons to heart in my own marriage and as I give direction to others. 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.

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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Marriage = 1+1

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 6:4-8:4

TO CHEW ON: "There are sixty queens
And eighty concubines
And virgins without number.
My dove, my perfect one,
Is the only one..." Song of Solomon 6:8,9



The TV trailers are full of intense conversation and emotion between four women and one man. The scene usually ends in one of the women dissolving into tears. I'm talking about Sister Wives, the TV reality show about a polygamous marriage that looks nothing but painful.

Our society supposedly frowns on multiple marriage partners. Yet our actions show us to be hypocritical. Books, shows, and real life are full of adultery. The use of pornography (a type of unfaithfulness), is rampant not only among men and women but even teens.

Though the Bible contains many examples of polygamy (Solomon being its most numerous polygamist - 1 Kings 11:3) its ideal is monogamy.
  • God instituted marriage between one man and one woman when He formed the first couple - Genesis 2:24.
  • Moses' instructions to Israel's future king was "neither shall he multiply wives for himself..." Deuteronomy 17:17.
  • Malachi 2 talks about being faithful to "the wife of your youth."
  • Jesus referred to God's plan of one woman being joined to one man in Matthew 19:4-6  and quoted Genesis 2:24.
  • Paul's instructions to a leader was that he was to be "the husband of one wife" - 1 Timothy 3:2.

I like how Leslyn Musch sums up the Song of Solomon's message about satisfying one-man-one-woman marriage:

"Faithfulness, verbal affirmation, friendship, romantic getaways, working through conflict, and availability are but a few of the keys given in the Song of Solomon to building a godly marriage. It is not Solomon's life we are to examine for instruction in a godly marriage. However, this Song—God's inspired picture of what a godly loving marriage can be—invites us to reach toward it wholeheartedly" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action through Song of Solomon, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p 868.

PRAYER:
Dear God please help me to stay completely faithful to my husband and to work at making my marriage the best it can be. Amen.

MORE: "10 Reasons not to have sex outside of marriage"

Though the heading above is the title of an article written for the not-yet-married person, many of its reasons also apply to  extramarital relationships. A few of them are:

- We will be physically healthier.
- We will be emotionally healthier.
- we will be spiritually healthier.

Read all 10 reasons and the scriptures to back them up HERE


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

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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Five ways to prove your faith is alive

Sprouting vegetables
"Receive... the implanted word" - RGBStock.com photo
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 1:19-2:17

TO CHEW ON: "But be doers of the word and not hearers only deceiving yourselves. … Thus also faith by itself, it if does not have works, is dead." James 1:22; 2:17.


In our reading today, James stresses the importance of living what we claim to believe. He begins by clarifying where those beliefs originate. They are not our ideas but come from the word: "… receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" - James 1:21.

He goes on to give five examples of things we do that prove our faith is alive. The person with a living faith:

1. Controls his / her tongue - James 1:25
The phrase used for control in the NKJV is "bridle his tongue" (James 1:25). A bridle is "the head harness including bit and reins, used to guide or restrain a horse" - Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary. The bit goes into the horse's mouth, the harness—leather straps attached to each side of the bit—fits over the horse's muzzle and the driver or rider holds the reins to control and steer the horse. What a picture of a self-controlled mouth / speech—or better yet, a metaphor of speech controlled by the Holy Spirit, the One who should be in our life's saddle.

2. Gives practical help to society's poor - James 1:26.

"Orphans and widows" are named here.
Visit  - episkeptomai  is more than a mere social call. It means to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes in order to see how he is; to look upon in order to help or benefit; to look about or look out for one to choose, employ etc.

3. Stays pure - James 1:26.
The NKJV uses the phrase "unspotted from the world." The NASB says "unstained." The Amplified adds "uncontaminated." 

4. Treats everyone the same - James 2:1-9.
James takes quite a bit of space to describe the tendency of his readers to fawn over those who appear wealthy while sidelining the poor person. He calls it "partiality" and names it what it is: "sin" - James 2:9.

5. Is generous to the needy brother or sister - James 2:15-16.
James uses the word "give" to describe what they do for these people.
Give - didomi means to give of one's own accord, to let have, supply, furnish necessary things, hand out lots. The sense is of generous, no-questions-asked giving.

Two thousand-plus years later, this list is as relevant as it ever was. Let's challenge ourselves today by living out practical proofs in these ways—and others—that our faith is truly alive.


PRAYER: Dear God, help me today to express through my actions the love and commitment I say that have to You. Amen.

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


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Enticing desires

Twisted ladder-like structure
Photo from RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 1:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed." James 1:14


In North America's new-world climate of celebrating practices the Bible condemns, one thing bothers me especially: the young age at which these proclivities apparently manifest themselves. When people say they knew at age five or six that they are the wrong sex—when little elementary school boys and girls say they feel they should really be little girls and vice versa, I find myself asking—weren't they born this way? They don't really have a choice, do they?

James answers these questions in today's reading.

Yes, they were born that way. We were all born twisted by a sinful nature. Each one of us has our set of "own desires" by which we are easily enticed to stray from God's revealed ways—that is, enticed to sin.

The enticements we give in to may be less socially controversial—like the desire to be noticed (pride) or to have lots of stuff (covetousness), etc. But their end is just as much sin  as sexual rebellion.

But yes also to the choice question. We do have a choice as to whether we give mental assent and eventually outward expression to those sin-enticing desires. My Bible's study notes explain it this way:

"When inner desires respond to outward enticement, sin is spawned. James does not mention Satan's role in temptation. His purpose is not to discuss the origin of sin but to explain that enticement to evil is not from God. In stressing the outward nature of temptation, James leaves sinners no excuse. Satan is indeed the external source of temptation, but no one can blame him for the roots of sinful deeds, which lie within the individual. See Mark 7:1-23" - John Mark Ruthven, study notes on James, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1751.

So as we consider the society in which we live, let's pause for a personal reality check. We're in the same boat—born sin-twisted, not by the same enticements perhaps, but needing God's grace as much as anyone.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see myself as someone needing Your grace, even as I attempt to uphold standards of morality given in the Bible within a society that flaunts breaking them. 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.


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