Monday, November 30, 2015

A hundred little repentances

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 4:12-25

TO CHEW ON: "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'" Matthew 4:17


In my old Funk and Wagnall's "repent" has three meanings. I see them as three steps in one process:
1. To feel remorse or regret.
2. To change one's mind concerning past action.
3. To feel such sorrow for one's sins as to reform.

The conjunction "for" between "Repent" and "Kingdom" implies a cause-and-effect relationship between repentance and the Kingdom of Heaven. We could say it, "Repent — and this is why — because (for) the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Why do we need to repent?

In order not to miss it (the Kingdom of Heaven) in that by not repenting, we're walking in the wrong direction and won't encounter it.

In order to be part of and involved in it (and by repenting we're in the right relationship-to-God-and-circumstances space to do that).

The commentary writers of my Bible's article on this verse link repentance with "Reconciliation"

Our Call - Reconciliation
"...Left to our own devices we tend toward self-centredness and chaos (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 1:21-32), but coming to God in a spirit of humble repentance opens up a way for peace and reconciliation to flow (2 Chronicles 7:14)" - Raleigh Washington / Bill McCartney, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1295.

Though Jesus preached an initial life turnaround decision to repent, doesn't life with Him need a hundred little repentances throughout the day? Something bad happens and my first thought may be fear, or resentment or irritation or... But the Kingdom-of-Heaven-way is not these things but trust (Philippians 4:6-7). So I repent and turn from fear, resentment or irritation to trust via prayer with thanksgiving.

PRAYER: Dear God, please open my eyes to places where my life is not in flow with the Kingdom of Heaven. Please give me the courage and grace to repent, not only in remorseful thought but in Kingdom-affirming action. 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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Thursday, November 26, 2015

God's promise fulfilled in the Branch

tree reaching upwards
Image from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 33:14-26

TO CHEW ON:
" 'Behold the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:
 

In those days and at that time
I will cause to grow up to David
A Branch of righteousness;
He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth.' " Jeremiah 33:14,15


Whenever we hear the word "covenant" come from God's mouth, we know that He is referring to a serious promise. In today's reading He reminds the people, through Jeremiah, of His covenant with David. God compared the surety of its fulfillment to the everyday occurrences of sunrise and sunset, saying He would no more break His promise to David than abolish night and day (Jeremiah 33:19,20).

And what was that promise? That "David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel" - Isaiah 33:17, 2 Samuel 7:15,16.

But we know that David's earthly dynasty did end. So how could God say He would never, did never break this promise?

Because this is a new kind of king, with a new kind of kingdom. This descendant of David's line would be called a "A Branch of righteousness." And like the kingdom Jesus described  as His kingdom in other Bible passages we've read recently, this Branch's rule would be in  ..."judgment and righteousness in the earth" - Jeremiah 33:15.

Other prophets referred to this Branch:
  • Isaiah: "In that day the Branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious…" - Isaiah 4:2, and "There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, / And a Branch shall grow out of his roots" - Isaiah 11:2.
  • Jeremiah himself first spoke a prophecy very similar to the one in our reading earlier in Jeremiah: "Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
    “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
    A King shall reign and prosper,
    And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth" - Jeremiah 23:5
  • Zechariah referred to this Branch in his prophecy of a vision of Joshua the High Priest, where an angel said to Joshua: " ' Hear, O Joshua, the high priest. / … For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the Branch' " - Zechariah 3:8.

We believe that Jesus was and is this Branch. Why?

He was an earthly descendant of David, thus a branch of David's line and eligible to be a king (Matthew 1:1-17; Jesse and David are mentioned in Matthew 1:5,6).

Paul referred to Jesus Christ as coming from the "root of Jesse."  And he extended the hope of coming under Jesus' reign to the Gentiles:
"Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promise made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy as it is written … 'There shall be a root of Jesse;
And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles,
In Him the Gentiles shall hope' "  - Romans 15:8,9.12, quoting Isaiah 11:10.

As we celebrate Jesus' incarnation during the Advent season coming up, let's include in our meditation the beautiful teaching of Jesus as the Branch. And let's, in faith, give thanks for the righteous and just nature of His forever kingdom.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for being the Branch, the fulfillment of God's covenant promise to David. I look forward to seeing Your righteous and just kingdom in real time. 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, November 24, 2015

Holy

TODAY'S SPECIAL:  Psalm 99:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "He is holy ... He is holy... For the Lord our God is holy - Psalm 99:3,5,9


One thing that surprised me when I first delved into the meaning of the word holy was the aspect of separateness that is its essence. When we say God is holy, one of the things we are saying is that He is separate, unlike us:

["Holiness is separation from everything profane and defiling; and at the same time, it is dedication to everything holy and pure" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth,  New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 155.]

Psalm 99 is a poem exploring God's holiness. In it the writer draws our attention to three aspects of this attribute God displays in His dealings with the earth and humankind:

1. God is holy or separate from the earth and humanity (vs. 1-3).
The psalmist shows God in His awful majesty. He is a God who reigns. He is a God whom we don't approach casually. "He dwells between the cherubim" refers to the place just above the cherubim statues on the ark, where God's presence 'lived' and from where He spoke to Moses and the high priest. The ark was in the Holy of Holies. No common person could go into that place. God is also described as "high above all peoples." They tremble at the sight and sound of Him. The only appropriate response: praise and worship. He is holy.

2. God is holy or separate in His justice (vs. 4-5).
Who of us hasn't at some time flung up our hands in frustration at some seeming unjust, even foolish verdict delivered by our legal system? So many aspects of our flawed humanity come into play in our judgments: incomplete knowledge of the situation, slavish adherence to the letter (versus the spirit) of the law, the life experiences and philosophies of lawyers, judges, and juries, faulty memories, the possibility of lying....

God, on the other hand, isn't hampered by any of those things. J. I. Packer says of God the judge:
"...God's work as Judge is part of its witness to His character. It confirms what is said elsewhere of His moral perfection. His righteousness and justice, His wisdom, omniscience, and omnipotence. It shows us also that the heart of the justice which expresses God's nature is retribution, the rendering to men what they have deserved; for this is the essence of the judges task. To reward good with good, and evil with evil, is natural to God" - Knowing God, p. 157-158.

3. God is holy or separate in His dealings with individuals.
The writer names Moses, Aaron and Samuel as examples. Though these were revered and respected leaders, the psalmist points out that they too had done wrong and needed forgiveness:
"You were to them God-Who-Forgives
Though You took vengeance on their deeds" - Psalm 99:8.
"Though God forgives, there are consequences of sin, lest man forget how offensive it is to God and how harmful it is to mankind" - footnote to Psalm 99:8 - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 762.

And so as we sit, or kneel, or lie prostrate, contemplating God's holiness, we know instinctively that we can never measure up. We are separate from Him, doomed if we too do not get His forgiveness — the forgiveness we claim along with Moses, Aaron and Samuel, on the basis of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin.

Then we burst into praise and worship again — because our God is holy and separate and unlike any other in that way too. He has made a way for us to approach Him, despite His holiness.

PRAYER: Holy God, I can only come to You on the grounds of Jesus paying the penalty for my sin. Thank 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.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Anticipate your Judge

Gavel and scales of justice
Photo from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: PSALM 96:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth." Psalm 96:13


I enjoy watching real life crime mysteries, the kind one sees on shows like Dateline. A frequent complication of these stories is the person convicted of the crime insisting on his or her innocence.

The dramatization (or replay of film footage of actual events) usually shows both the prosecution and defense sides of the story. So we watchers become a sort of jury, left to make up our own minds about the guilt or innocence of the accused.

More than once I've found myself disagreeing with the verdict that actually came down. I've left the program feeling that justice was not served, that truth did not win.

The psalmist in today's reading is overjoyed about an aspect of God's someday coming that we might expect him to dread—God's judgment. Why would someone look forward to God coming in judgment? Perhaps our focus verse explains it:

"He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth."

As we saw yesterday, Jesus' kingdom is the kingdom of truth. So when He judges, He also judges rightly, knowing the truth. Just as we would look forward, if we were a Dateline character falsely accused, to the coming of a judge who knew the truth and would judge righteously, so we can anticipate the coming of God, the just judge of the Earth, who is knows all the facts.

Of course, not one of us could stand before Him on our own, free of the guilt of sin. For we were born sinful. But if we have come to Jesus on His terms ("I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" - Jesus in John 14:6), God sees us as forgiven and pure. Then on the day we stand before our righteous judge who knows the truth, we can look forward to His exposé and be assured that He will deal righteously with all earth's people and events.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for sending Jesus, who has taken the punishment for my sin, so I can anticipate instead of dread Your coming as judge. 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, November 21, 2015

What is truth?

Jesus brought before Pilate - by Alexandre Bida
Jesus brought before Pilate - A. Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 18:28-38a

TO CHEW ON: "Pilate therefore said to Him  'Are you a king then?'
Jesus answered, 'You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.'
Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?' " John 18:37-38.


Jesus gave an odd answer to Pilate's question "'Are you a king then?'" We would expect Him to say that He was born to establish a power base and to conquer and rule over a land. Instead He says He was born and came "'...to bear witness to the truth.'" He appears to be saying, I came to be the king, not of earthly power, but of truth.

Of course this description of His kingdom agrees with what He said to Pilate just a little earlier: "'My kingdom is not of this world … My kingdom is not from here'" - John 18: 36.

His next sentence reveals more of His thinking along this line: "'Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.'" It's like He's claiming to be some sort of Pied Piper of the Kingdom of truth. He explains, describes, talks, and lives truth. Some ("'...everyone who is of the truth...'") observe His life, hear and recognize His truth words. By that very act of hearing (and if their hearing is real, it will also involve actions like faith, acknowledging His claims, repentance etc.) they show themselves to be His subjects, the citizens of His kingdom.

I think we can safely say that, at this point at least, Pilate is not one of them. His question: "'What is truth?'" still hangs in the air today.

People who analyze world views have separated ways of seeing and interpreting truth into three eras. An article on the Summit.org site describes it well:

"Pre-modern era was one in which religion was the source of truth and reality. God’s existence and revelation were givens in the culture.

In the modern era, science became the source for truth and reality. During this period, religion and morality were arbitrarily demoted to the subjective realm.

In the present, postmodern era, there is no single defining source for truth and reality beyond the individual. Postmodernism simply radicalized relativism and individualism and then applied them to all spheres of knowledge — even science" - Steve Cornell, "What Does Postmodern Mean?",  emphasis added.

However, across the years, even as the definition of truth has shifted from religion to science to self, Jesus' Kingdom of Truth claims continue to exert their magnetic pull. If we have heard His voice and become His disciples, we're part of that kingdom, no matter how our society currently defines truth. However, the acknowledgement of Jesus as truth puts us out of step with our culture—something that I'm sure is not news to you and me.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Your claims of being truth challenge me to dig deeper into their meaning and discover more fully how they should work themselves out in my life.

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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.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Jesus - the A to Z

Alpha and Omega written on stones
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 1:1-20

TO CHEW ON: “’ I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come…. I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.’” Revelation 1:8, 11


God’s plan in time and space is wonderfully wrapped up and tied together in Jesus. Here He is called Alpha and Omega – the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet – the beginning, ending and everything in between.

As the beginning, Jesus is the creator (Genesis 1:1)  – the One through whom all things were made (John 1:1-3).

He is the first communicator – the Word (John 1:1-3).  In John’s vision  a “sharp two-edged sword” comes out of His mouth. Sound familiar? It’s right here (Hebrews 4:12).

He is the ever-present one – “who is and was and is to come.” Remember the strange name He called Himself to Moses: “I Am” (Exodus 3:14),  echoed by Jesus in John 8:58? What better explanation of that name than “the One who is and who was and who is to come.”

He is the end. He is the end of the law (Romans 10:4).

He is also integral to end-of-time events as the Bible predicts them – the time of harvest (Matthew 13:39) and judgment (Matthew 13:49,50). The end is the culmination of our opportunity (Matthew 24:13,14) to obey Jesus’ last command (Acts 1:8).  We have the promise of Jesus’ presence with us (Matthew 28:19,20) till then. But also until then our endurance and ability to stay true to Him will be tested (Mark 13:13).

Thinking about these things is like doing brain stretches. It’s almost impossible for our human minds to comprehend these dimension-challenging ideas – present before time, after time, ever present in time…

But we can grasp that here and now Alpha and Omega is the I Am to us. He can be present in our lives. He can help us endure. He  can enable us to live daily in obedience and on-task.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, be my Alpha and Omega. Live in my life as I Am today. Help me to fulfill my role in Your eternal plan. Amen.

MORE:
Israel and New Breed sing “Alpha and Omega




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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, November 19, 2015

Bless the Lord

Girl with hands raised in worship against a sunset
Photo courtesy Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 133:1-134:3

TO CHEW ON:
"Lift up your hands in the sanctuary,
And bless the Lord." Psalm 134:2



Psalm 134 is the last of fifteen Songs of Ascent (Psalm 120-134). Pilgrims sang these psalms as they ascended to Jerusalem to take part in the annual feasts. (Jerusalem was a high point of the country topographically.)

"But," Eugene Peterson points out in his book about these psalms, "the ascent was not only literal, it was also a metaphor: the trip to Jerusalem acted out a life lived upward toward God, an existence that advanced from one level to another in developing maturity" - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 18.

I love how this last psalm in the set focuses on blessing. The Hebrew word translated "bless" here is berekah.
"It describes what God does to us and among us: he shares the goodness of his Spirit, the vitality of his creation, the joys of his redemption. He empties himself among us, and we get what he is. That is blessing" - Peterson, p 191. 

Peterson points out that "bless the Lord" is both an invitation and a command.

"Read one way the sentence is an invitation: 'Come bless God.' The great promise of being in Jerusalem is that all may join in the rich temple worship. You are welcome now to do it. Come and join in…

"The sentence… is also a command. … Do that for which you were created and redeemed; lift your voices in gratitude;  enter into the community of praise and prayer that anticipates the final consummation of faith in heaven. Bless God" - Peterson, p. 193,4.

No doubt you've experienced this. I know I have. Life is overwhelming. We feel jaded, tired, and frayed by the battles—personal, family, public, political, whatever. How refreshing it is then to enter God's presence—not with prayers of request or begging or pleading but praise and blessing.

When we bless God in this way we remind ourselves of who He is and what He is capable of. As we do this our cares somehow dissipate at His feet in our acknowledgement of how vast and powerful and glorious and good and wise He is—way bigger than all our puny concerns.

Today, whatever situation we're in, let's do that for which we were created. Let's lift our hands and faces and voices and bless the Lord.

PRAYER: Dear God, I bless You today for who You are and what You mean to me now and  will mean in the future. Thank 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, November 16, 2015

Fighting end-time distractions

Man looking at smartphone
Photo from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 13:24-37

TO CHEW ON:
"'Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.'" Mark 13:35,36

If there ever was a time that is full of distractions, it's now. Go to any public place and you'll see people engrossed in their phones or tablets as they walk, drive, eat, converse… It's an era characterized by multi-tasking, by doing or trying to do a whole lot of things at once and by having our activity, focus, or thoughts repeatedly interrupted by beeps or ring-tones: "Gotta check my messages… Facebook… Twitter."

I know from experience how easy it is to get swept along in a chain of replying, clicking on links, checking out just one more thing online. Before I know it 30, 45, 60 minutes have gone by. All of which makes Jesus' plea for us to watch and be alert to the signs of His near return all the more challenging.

The Bible talks in other places of things that distract us from a posture of watchfulness and readiness:
  • The everything's-going-well-so-let's-have-a-party attitude of the days before the flood - Matthew 24:38-39.
  • The feeling that Jesus' coming and the day of accountability is still a long way off - Matthew 24:48-51.
  • The failure to prepare ahead of time, so that the unexpected catches us without resources - Matthew 25:6-10.
  • Absorption in the joys and problems of this life - Luke 21:34,35.
  • Physical fatigue and exhaustion - Mark 14:34-41.
  • Dullness because of apparent peace and safety - 1 Thessalonians 5:3.

So what do we do to stay watchful, alert, and prepared for these end days?
1.  We familiarize ourselves with the Bible's predictions for the end—that list we talked about yesterday, of signs that Jesus' coming is approaching.

2. We get mentally and spiritually prepared for society's increasing rejection of Christians and Christianity, even in so-called freedom-of-religion countries like Canada and the U.S.

3. We get serious about storing up some oil. We get to know our Bibles and memorize verses and passages against the day the Bible may be banned as a hateful and subversive book.
4. We stay alert in prayer as Jesus told His disciples in Gethsemane.
Do you think I'm being alarmist? Can you think of more?


PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, I know my own distractibility. Help me to get on Your wavelength of watchfulness so I'm alert and equipped for Your return and the events that precede 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.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Alert to the times

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 13:14-23

TO CHEW ON:
"But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand."Mark 13:23

It is impossible for me to read the list of Jesus' predictions of the end times without feeling a chill of recognition. So many of these things are happening and ramping up right now in our time.

For interest's sake, I've made a list of end-time predictions below, basically repeated in three places: Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. These are parallel passages, reporting on what is commonly called Jesus' Olivet Discourse—His sermon from the Mount of Olives. According to my Bible's "Harmony of the Gospels," Jesus gave this talk on the Tuesday of crucifixion week. So these are some of His crucial and final words.

Here are the things He predicted when His disciples asked: "What will be the signs when all these things will be fulfilled?" - Mark 13:4. He had just predicted the fall of the temple (Mark 13:2):

  • False Christs announcing themselves.
  • Wars and rumors of wars.
  • Earthquakes.
  • Famines.
  • Troubles and pestilences.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Heavenly phenomena.
  • Sea phenomena.
  • Betrayal, even within families.
  • Christians hated, arrested, and brought to trial. Some killed, others preserved.
  • The Gospel preached to all nations.
All these things are leading toward the climax of the Son of man coming visibly in the clouds in power and glory.

Despite the detail, we're cautioned about trying to predict the exact date of Jesus' return - 1 Thessalonians 5:1,2.

Instead, Jesus told His disciples to observe these things and be prepared (Mark 13:28-29, parallel passage Matthew 24:32-33,  p.p. Luke 21:29-31). We can also be like the Sons of Issachar, who studied their times with a view to gaining wisdom about how to live in them - 1Ch 12:32

I appreciate how the Asbury Bible Commentary summarizes prophetic Mark 13:

"In apocalyptic thought ... the present age is a battleground with no neutral territory. The disasters enumerated are manifestations of this battle, birth pangs that give rise to the fullness of God's kingdom. Threading its way through this discourse is the theme of readiness. Disciples are to stay on guard; stand firm; and, with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, serve as witnesses"
- Accessed through Biblegateway.com, emphasis added.


PRAYER:
Dear Jesus. please help me to live alert to the time I am in, preparing for, but not fearing what is ahead. 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, November 14, 2015

Arrested—oh no. Oh yes!

Felix and Drusilla - Johann Christoph Weigel
Paul before Felix and Drusilla - J.C.Weigel
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 13:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "'But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them .... But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit'" Mark 13:9,11.

Jesus' prophetic words in Mark 13 always make me squirm a little. False Christs, wars and war rumors, earthquakes, famines, and troubles are bad enough but beatings and jail time for believers too?

However when I read this passage closely, it sinks in why—to give rulers and kings an opportunity to accept Jesus: "You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake for a testimony to them." Believers will be brought before these government officials to tell their stories and relay the good news that Jesus died for them too.

[Testimony (marturion) means proof, evidence, witness, proclamation of personal experience. Compare "martyr" and "martyrology" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1837.]

Don't you hear Jesus' heart beating with love for all people,  His attitude of "...not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9)? He wants to reach even secular rulers for whom the most convincing testimony may be the witness of someone arrested because of belief in Jesus.

Mark 13:11 tells us why it is so important to keep clear our connection with God the Holy Spirit. For when you or I have a chance to speak and the communication lines between God and us are open, He can 'feed' the words to say to those needy lost rulers, or any lost soul—words straight from the heart of God—through our mouths.

Suddenly such a possible arrest and incarceration become a privilege!

PRAYER: Dear God, too often I see my circumstances through my desire for life to be safe, comfortable and stress-free rather than through Your eyes of love for every person. Please change my point of view. Amen.  

MORE: Example of Paul
The apostle Paul is a great example of someone God used in this way. As a result of his arrest some of the rulers he gave his testimony to were:
  • Governor Felix (Acts 24:10-22)
  • Felix's wife Drusilla (Acts 24:24,25)
  • Festus (Acts 25:6-12)
  • King Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 25:23-26:32)

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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, November 12, 2015

God can be your teacher

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 2:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Many people shall come and say,
'Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways
And we shall walk in His paths.'
For out of Zion shall go forth the law
And the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem." Isaiah 2:3


Do you remember your first teacher? I do! Of all our childhood relationships, the ones we have with our teachers are some of the most impacting.

Teachers have had a tremendous influence in shaping who we are. I have heard stories of people who have experienced years of low self-confidence after  being belittled and criticized by a teacher. Similarly, the course of a life can be set by the inspiration and encouragement of a good teacher. Thus it is exciting to realize that God has an interest in teaching us.

The fact of Gd's instruction spans centuries. He promised to teach Moses what to say when he complained that he had a reluctant tongue (Exodus 4:12). The exodus from Egypt to Canaan was instruction (according to Nehemiah 9:20). Jesus refers to the words of the prophets as instruction that points to Him (John 6:45).

God can start teaching us when we're young and continue the instruction throughout our lives (Psalm 71:17,18). He instructs us corporately and as individuals (Psalm 32:8). His instruction is bit by bit, and given with infinite pains (Jeremiah 32:33), often coming to us when we're most receptive. For Isaiah that was "morning by morning" (Isaiah 50:4).

Some of the things God teachers us are:
  • the difference between the holy and the profane (Ezekiel 44:23).
  • the right way to live (though for us that no longer involves keeping the law) (Deuteronomy 4:5).
  • to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
  • to live in Jesus (1 John 2:27).

What a privilege to be God's student! How blessed we are to have a relationship with such a teacher. It's my goal to get an A in the course of life. What about you?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the promises, throughout the Bible, to instruct me. Help me to be a diligent and teachable student. 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.


Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

A daughter-in-law who loved

Ruth, Naomi & Obed - by Thomas Matthews Rooke
"Ruth, Naomi & Obed" by T.M.Rooke
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 4:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "'And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him'" Ruth 4:15

It was no small praise that the women of Bethlehem heaped on Ruth a Moabite Gentile. What was it about her that made her "better...than seven sons"?

It was her love, which was more than just words. She demonstrated it:
- When she chose to go with Naomi instead of returning home to Moab with Orpah.
- When she offered to gather food for them.
- When she listened to Naomi's advice about how to glean in the customary way.
- When she followed Naomi's instructions and approached Boaz.
- When she married Boaz, a man who may have been old enough to be her father.

At the beginning of our story Ruth had nothing to give Naomi except her love. But when she gave what she had, she enriched countless lives—Naomi's, Boaz's, her own, and generations to come who will have an eternal home in heaven because of Ruth's descendant Jesus.

Maybe we can learn from Ruth in this. In situations where we feel helpless, where we can do nothing else, maybe we too can love and demonstrate that love in selfless, practical ways.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Ruth, this beautiful godly woman who distinguished herself by her love. Help me to be less self-centered, more willing to extend myself in practical acts of love. Amen.

MORE: Wesley speaks to Naomi (and us):

"See how God sometimes makes up the want of those relations from whom we expected most comfort, in those from whom we expected least! The bonds of love prove stronger than those of nature" - Wesley's Notes (scroll to entry under 4:15).

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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, November 07, 2015

"Whatever You say, I will do"

Ruth and Boaz - Ruth 3:15
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 3:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "And she said to her, 'All that you say to me, I will do.'" Ruth 3:5

I wonder if Ruth understood the full meaning of what Naomi was asking her to do. Whether she did or didn't, her simple, "All that you say to me, I will do," shows her faith in Naomi's wisdom and her complete willingness to comply with whatever she had in mind. She had cast her lot with Naomi and Naomi's God when she turned her back on Moab and she was  along for the ride, wherever that took her.

Her reply to Naomi reminds me of Mary's when the angel came to her with the troubling message that she would bear a son by the Holy Spirit: "Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to Your word" - Luke 1:38.

In the responses of these two women we see the total surrender that Paul talks about in Romans 12:1 - "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service." - Romans 12:1

I ask myself, am I that surrendered? When God reveals the next step—through a person, circumstance or His word, do I say, "I'm dead. A sacrifice on the altar. All that you say to me, I will do"?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the beautiful example of Ruth and Mary. Help me to view my life as a sacrifice, dead to myself, available to You for whatever You have in mind. 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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Friday, November 06, 2015

Welcoming wings


"Having checked all were present and correct,
 the mother swan gently tucked back her wings 
to stop them falling off before gliding back to her nest" 
From "All Aboard"

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 2:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "'The Lord repay your work and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel under whose wings you have come for refuge.'" Ruth 2:12

Ruth was in Bethlehem, the home of her mother-in-law, where she was an outsider. However, that didn't stop her from taking the initiative in getting food on their table. Perhaps Naomi told her about the Israeli custom of gleaning, where the farmer purposely left some of his crop for the poor to pick up after his harvesters were done. For she seemed to know about it and offered to glean food for them.

Her first morning out she 'happened' to choose the field of Boaz to glean in. He noticed her, perhaps not surprisingly, for it seems her arrival with Naomi had been all the buzz around town.

 If Ruth had any fears about the reaction of this wealthy farmer, she needn't have. For his attentions were all good. How comforting his words must have sounded: "The Lord repay your work and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge."

In many places God expresses His tender-heartedness for the alien, foreigner, orphan and widow. Do we have a similarly welcoming attitude toward immigrants, outsiders, newcomers with strange customs, language, clothes, and food? The recent debate in Canada over whether Muslim women immigrants to Canada should be allowed to wear the face-covering niqab during citizenship swearing in has brought feelings and discussion about foreigners into the open. I know I need to constantly check my own heart on this, asking, am I as welcoming as Boaz was?

God's wings are big enough for us all. He invites us all to come to Him for comfort, rest, protection, safety, healing and renewal:

"How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings" - Psalm 36:7
(See also Psalm 91:1-6 and Malachi 4:2)


PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for Your welcome to all people. Help me to reflect Your welcoming attitude toward others, especially newcomers, immigrants and foreigners. Amen.

MORE: We are all aliens
"The divide could not have been larger between sinful human beings and the infinitely holy Son of God. But Christ did not despise us. He came to us. He loved us. He died in our place to give us life. And he did all this when we were more alien to him than anyone has ever been alien to us. When we feel or think or act with disdain or disrespect or avoidance or exclusion or malice toward a person simply because he or she is of another race or another ethnic group, we are, in effect, saying that Jesus acted in a foolish way toward us. You don’t want to say that."   By John Piper- read all of "Probability, Prejudice and Christ"   ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org.  
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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, November 05, 2015

Ruth at the crossroads

Ruth & Naomi - Harold Copping
Ruth and Naomi by Harold Copping
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 1:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "But Ruth said, 'Entreat me not to leave you or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people
And your God my God.'" Ruth 1:16



Ruth was about to make the second-most important decision in her life. The first had been marrying Mahlon and being joined to his Jewish family. Now Naomi was urging her to return home to her Moabite family. Orpah had already decided to go back and all eyes were on Ruth.

Her reply suggests she may have been mulling over her options for a while and made up her mind before this moment. It reflects her character and more. It shows that her marriage to Mahlon had also had spiritual implications for her. She had left behind the gods of Moab to worship Yahweh.

Now she stuck with that decision. Her profession of loyalty was deep, eloquent and has proved durable, for it is often quoted, especially in wedding services, to this day.

Her decision not only proved her character and spiritual resolve, but it  had/has eternal repercussions. For Ruth was a great, great, great... grandmother of Jesus.

I ask, what do my under-pressure decisions say about my character? What do yours? Do we realize and take into consideration how today's choices will impact our future and the future of those we love?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this story of Ruth with its picture of character and faith in You. Help me to be a woman of character and faith like she was. 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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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

All is not as it appears

The Widow's Mite by Harold Copping
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 12:34-44

TO CHEW ON:
"'Beware of the scribes … who devour widows' houses …. Assuredly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury.'" Mark 12:38,40,43

In our reading in Mark today the message seems to be "Watch out—all is not as it appears." Jesus has just had a discussion with a scribe who got it right (Mark 12:32-34). But for the most part, these religious leaders were in Jesus' bad books because of their pretentious behavior (long robes, effusive greetings, going after the best seats). Their elevated place in society was permission, it seemed, for doing things that were downright evil (preying on the most vulnerable—widows).

It's no mistake that the person Jesus next drew the disciples' attention to was a widow—the very class that the scribes oppressed. Jesus watched her give her pittance into the treasury and then said, " '… this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury' " - Mark 12:43.

How so? She only gave 2 mites (the smallest coin in circulation).

Because proportionately it was more. It was her all. Perhaps she was one of those widows whose house had been devoured by a scribe. Whatever the reason for poverty and despite her poor clothes and low status her heart was right and she stayed generous toward God.

This incident has lessons for us.
  • Let's not let social custom or status blind us to wrongdoing—our own or someone elses.
  • Let's examine our behaviors for pride and a desire to be seen doing the right things, in the right places, so that we're welcomed and cultivated by the right people.
  • Let's remember, though people can be fooled, God can't. Just as Jesus saw through the behavior of the scribes and widow, He sees down into us  and understands us even better than we understand ourselves.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to know myself, to become aware of my own devious attempts at showing off and getting honor, to understand how repulsive these things are 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.


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Heaven's out-of-the-box life

Golden pier at sunset
Photo courtesy Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 12:18-34

TO CHEW ON:
" 'He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.' " - Jesus, Mark 12:27


Continuing on with the theme of resurrection and the resurrected life, in our passage today we read of the Sadducees (who didn't believe in a resurrection) trying to trip up Jesus. They posed a situation (based on Deuteronomy 25:5-10) to which there was no resurrection-consistent answer—at least that was their hope.

Jesus turned their question into an exposure of their mistaken thinking by answering with Scripture (a bit from the Pentateuch—something they did believe in). He took them back to the story of the burning bush, where God said to Moses, "'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' " (Exodus 3:6,16). Of course by Moses' time, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were long dead. Yet God said "I am…" (present tense) their God now. Therefore, Jesus reasoned, they were not dead but existing in some post-dead, resurrected state, for "He is not the God of the dead but the God of the living."

Jesus' answer to these Sadducees, in addition to affirming that there is such a thing as resurrection, gives us another little glimpse behind the scenes into the afterlife—a glimpse that is both revealing and mysterious. The writer of my Bible's notes says:
"It is erroneous to think of heaven in terms of earth. Life in heaven will not be an extension of the present temporal existence. The power of God will provide for new and greater relationships that transcend the physical relationships of the present order" - J. Lyle Story, study notes, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1332.

This bit "Life will not be an extension of the present temporal existence" got me hunting for more details about heaven's out-of-the-box life. Here are some things I found:
  • We won't be in marriage relationships but like the angels (from our passage - Mark 12:25).
  • Death will no longer exist - Isaiah 28:5; 1 Corinthians 15:54.
  • God will be the panacea to all the sorrow, crying, and pain we may feel on our arrival and banish those things forever after - Revelation 21:4.
  • Inhabitants of heaven will have transformed bodies - Philippians 3:21.
  • People "… of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues" will be there, praising God - Revelation 7:9.
  • There won't be night there or the need of physical light-producing stars like the sun - Revelation 22:5.
  • In heaven, we'll see earth's trials and hardships in true perspective - 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 1:18.
  • We will be with Jesus (John 14:3), see His glory (John 17:24) and contribute to it (Matthew 13:43; Romans 8:17).

There are probably more but I'm sure you get the picture.

So today, when you and I are tempted to let the realities of this life get us down, let's remember to meditate on the future and our post-earth life, till we can identify with Paul who said: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" - Romans 8:18.
 

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I long for the time when the things I've listed above are fact. "Even so, come Lord Jesus." 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, November 01, 2015

The prize of heaven

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 7:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Revelation 7:17

This heavenly scene from John's vision is full of mystery but also certainty. There are ambiguities like who exactly are the 144,000? What does it mean to "seal them"? Is the mark of God's seal on their foreheads a literal mark or symbolic?

However, many things in this chapter are clear.
  • The great multitude in heaven will be made up of people from all around the world: "...of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues" - Revelation 17:9.
  • They are absorbed in praising God and Jesus in a scene that reminds us of a combination of Palm Sunday (John 12:12-14) and the wedding feast in Jesus' story (Matthew 22:1-14).
  • The creature inhabitants of heaven are also completely wrapped up in praising God. They chant what my Bible footnotes describe as "a sevenfold ascription of adoration":
"Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honour and power and might Be to our God forever and ever. Amen."
  • When John, in his vision, asks who this great crowd is, one of the elders tells him it is "...the ones who came out of the great tribulation." The grammatical makeup is literally the "ones coming out" expressing a continuous (not once-for-all) action. My Bible's footnote explains: "This is not a post-consummation picture. Therefore tribulation is to some degree taking place throughout the entire church age....The great tribulation describes the acceleration and intensification of troublesome times as this age comes to an end, climaxing with the Rapture and Second coming" - Earl Wesley Morey,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1827 (emphasis added).
  • The setting in heaven is idyllic.
- no more hunger or thirst.
- no more sunstroke or energy-sapping heat.
- the Lamb-Shepherd (Jesus) leads its inhabitants to living fountains of water (Psalm 23:1-6).
- and finally, there is comfort as God wipes tears away. Note that it doesn't say there won't be tears but that God will wipe them away. I see a picture of a tender parent, wiping the tears of a distressed child: "There now, it's all better." (See also Isaiah 25:8, 35:10.)

Sometimes I wonder why we hang onto our sick and dying loved ones who have trusted Jesus so tenaciously when this is what awaits them. No matter what we go through on earth of persecution, suffering, bodily illness, or decay, we have this wonderful place to look forward to. As we face the challenges of life's race today, let's focus on this "prize" (Philippians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 9:24).


PRAYER: Dear God, heaven, as shown in the Bible, is beyond my most wonderful imaginings. Help me to keep these scenes in mind when I meet up with derision and scoffing, pain and sickness today and in the days ahead. Amen.

MORE: All Saints' Day

Today the church celebrates All Saints' Day—a commemoration of saints and martyrs who have died. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, 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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