Thursday, December 31, 2015

Grace to all

"I commend to you Phoebe ... who is
a servant of the church" by A.P.

"I commend to you Phoebe ... who is  a servant of the church" by A.P.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 16:1-27

TO CHEW ON: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." Romans 16:24

In this last chapter of Romans, Paul takes considerable pains to send personal greetings. It's remarkable how many people he knows by name, considering he has never been to Rome when he writes this.

It's a motley band that includes one of the first converts in Asia (Romans 16:5), women (Romans 16:1-3,6,12), fellow prisoners (Romans 16:7), and many others who have worked alongside him at various times. My Bible footnotes this section with the explanation, "The list interestingly contains numerous names common to slaves and freedmen" -Wayne A. Grudem, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1574.

The end of the chapter contains more greetings, this time for the Romans from people who are with Paul. Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius (Paul's secretary), Erastus (city treasurer of Corinth, the probable place from which Paul writes the letter), and Quartas all greet their Roman brothers and sisters.

These warm wishes underline the fact that the church is a social institution—something that can be both a weakness and a strength.

The social aspect of the church has its dangers. Paul's letters are full of warnings to watch out for people that would inveigle themselves into the fellowship to bring arguments, divisions, false teachings, a competitive spirit, immoral lifestyles, and more.

But we humans are social beings. We love to gather with others to share our lives. Weeping, laughing, eating, playing, and working are just plain more bearable and enjoyable when they're done in company.

Jesus, acknowledging the many-member makeup of the church prayed for its unity: " '...that they (those who will believe in Me) also may be one in us, that the world may believe that You sent Me' " - John 17:21.

The modern trend to criticize the church and say, I'm a believer but I don't need the church, is understandable. There is a lot of room for hurt and misunderstanding and abuse in the church. But rather than abandoning it, let's answer Jesus' prayer for church unity by pursuing the kind of cooperation, encouragement, and love that Paul demonstrates in Romans 16.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the church—Your body on earth. Help me to be a cooperative part of that body, loving fellow Christians and working toward Your ideal of unity. 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, December 30, 2015

Payday someday

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 22:6-21

TO CHEW ON:
"'And behold I am coming quickly and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work.'" Revelation 22:12

Do you remember your first pay check? You got it, looked at the amount, and suddenly realized all those hours you put in—cleaning tables and making change, straightening beds, answering call bells and fetching bedpans, changing oil and tires—were worth something. You had the money to prove it!

Our passage today talks about payday for the way we've lived our lives. It describes a day we'll get our pay check from Jesus. Revelation 22:12 tells us:
  • He will return - "'And behold I am coming quickly…'"
  • He will bring our rewards with Him - "'… and My reward is with Me…'"
  • He will assign them and they will be commensurate with our work - "'… to give to every one according to his work.'"

Other Bible passages reiterate what Jesus says here, and shed more light on work and rewards:

1. Rewards will be handed out when Christ returns - Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12.

2. We may get some reward for our labors even in this present life - Luke 16:30.

3. We'll get rewarded for work done at any stage of the growing cycle (using a garden metaphor)—that is, be rewarded not only for bringing in the harvest but for planting and watering too - 1 Corinthians 3:8.

4. How much we plant will also determine the size of our harvest (or reward) - 2 Corinthians 9:6.


How are you feeling about your life's work and impact? Tired because the assignments keep coming with no end in sight? Disheartened because no one sees and recognizes how faithfully you're doing your work? Discouraged because you haven't seen many results? Take heart. Someday your work will be done, and you will be rewarded by the fairest, most all-seeing Boss you've ever had!

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for this promise of fair reward for my work. Help me to work at the things that will earn Your praise and pay, and not get sidetracked by tasks that reward on earth but fail to make an eternal difference. 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, December 29, 2015

Heaven's work

TODAY'S SPECIAL:  Revelation 21:22-22:5

TO CHEW ON: “And there shall be no more curse but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.” Revelation 22:3

“They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it’s better, but I say it ain’t
I’d rather laugh with the sinner than cry with the saints.
Sinners are much more fun" – Billy Joel

“Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.” – Mark Twain

The attempt to put down something we don’t understand by making jokes about it, as the above quotes do about heaven, is something I’m sure you’ve encountered. C. S. Lewis had his own comeback: “There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of 'Heaven' ridiculous by saying they do not want to 'spend eternity playing harps'. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.” He goes on to explain that much of the imagery of heaven is symbolism and not meant to be taken literally.

While Lewis's interpretation may or may not be accurate, it seems clear that the notion of sitting around heaven playing harps all day is pure fantasy. The Bible talks about the inhabitants of heaven doing something far more prosaic: they serve.

It is interesting to follow the idea of servanthood through the New Testament.
  • Jesus taught that for the servant, faithfulness and going beyond one’s comfort is a duty (Luke 17:5-10).
  • Serving like He served us involves giving up all rights – even the right to life (John 12:23-26).
  • The apostles carried on this idea of serving to the death. In Romans 14:7-8 Paul talks of living and dying to the Lord.
  • They equate their service to God with slavery. (Romans 1:1; James 1:1 ; 2 Peter 1:1).
  • On earth, serving faithfully in your place of employment (whether voluntarily or as a slave) can be counted as faithful service to Jesus because if you are His, everything you do is service to Him (Colossians 3:22-24).
  • Jesus, in the parable about the minas, indicates that our faithfulness in stewarding His gifts and opportunities in this life will lead to future responsibility in the kingdom. (Life on earth is our training ground; our service seminar – Luke 19:16-20).
  • In today’s focus verse Jesus’ servants “serve Him.” In Revelation 7:15 they “serve Him continually in His temple.”

So our time in heaven won’t be taken up with playing harps – at least not exclusively (although it might involve some of that; one of the shades of meaning of “serve” [latreuo from latris] is to worship). We will be working, serving God. But that work will be under “no more curse.”

It makes me want to serve here on earth with more intention, realizing my service to Him here is part of a continuum of meaning and purpose that stretches into eternity.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this glimpse into eternity that helps me put my earthly life into perspective. Help me to view all my service on earth as really done for You. Amen.

MORE: In the chapter “Made to Last Forever – of his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says:

"Life on earth is just the dress rehearsal for the real production. You will spend far more time on the other side of death – in eternity – than you will here. Earth is the staging area, the preschool, the tryout for your life in eternity. It is the practice workout before the actual game; the warm-up lap before the race begins. This life is preparation for the next….


[…] Measured against eternity our time on earth is just a blink of an eye, but the consequences of it will last forever. The deeds of this life are the destiny of the next. ….Matthew Henry said, “It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our final day.”
- Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, page 36, 40.
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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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Monday, December 28, 2015

Unveiling of the Bride-City

The New Jerusalem - Artist unknown
The New Jerusalem - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 21:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… 'Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife."  Revelation 21:2,9

What an interesting comparison—likening a city to a bride.

Bride Imagery is used in other places in the Bible.
  • Already way back in Isaiah we have Jerusalem referred to as a bride - Isaiah 52:1.
  • And Paul often refers to believers in bride terms:
    • He urges Christians in Rome to leave their old loyalty to law-keeping and "be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead" - Romans 7:4.
    • He exhorts the Christians in Corinth to be faithful to Christ as a bride would be faithful to her husband sexually - 1 Corinthians 6:15.
    • He also challenges the Corinthian Christians to loyalty and purity as if they were a chaste virgin whom he (Paul) anticipates presenting to Christ - 2 Corinthians 11:2.
    • He talks plainly to the church in Ephesus about their ideal intimacy with Christ using words that remind us of the marriage covenant: "For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" - Ephesians 5:30 (compare Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:8 and Ephesians 3:31). In fact in Ephesians 5:32, Paul spells it out: "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church."
  • These Bible bride metaphors often refer, as well, to getting ready and being prepared. We see this in John's writings:
    • "… the marriage of the Lamb has come and His wife has made herself ready" - Revelation 19:7.
    • "… the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down… prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" - Revelation 2:20 (our verse for today).

Which takes us back to John's vision, of which my Bible's study notes explain:
"The holy city is the bride of Christ, the church as well as the abode of the saints" - Earl Wesley Morey, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1845.

The vision of this bride-city is rich with symbolism. We might interpret:*
  • The gates to it, located on all sides, to mean that it's open to all peoples (Revelation 21:12,13).
  • The "twelve tribes" and "twelve apostles" to mean that it incorporates both Old and New Testaments (Revelation 21:12,14).
  • The "twelve foundations" as a reference to the "household of God" that Paul talks about, which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone (Revelation 21:14; Ephesians 2:20).
  • The cube shape of the city as a symbol of its perfection (Revelation 21:15-17).
  • The precious materials used in the city as symbols of its value, beauty, and glory (Revelation 21:18-21).  (*Morey's study notes used in the above.)

Doesn't reading this wondrous description of the New Jerusalem Bride of Christ (of which we're a part) make you want to stay loyal to Jesus and not get involved with anyone else? Doesn't it also make you want to prepare yourself for the day of this amazing unveiling?


PRAYER: Dear God, in the midst of my mundane, often disappointing, sometimes hostile-to-Christianity life on earth, help me to keep my sites on the real and glorious future You have for Your church and for me as part of 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, December 27, 2015

Creation, praise the Lord!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 148:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For He commanded and they were created." Psalm 148:5

My Bible subtitles this psalm "Praise to the Lord from Creation." The writer puts God's praise into the mouths of all aspects of the created world: Sun and moon, stars, heavens of heavens, waters above the heavens, earth, sea creatures and all depths, fire, hall, snow and clouds, wind, mountains, hills, trees, beasts and cattle, creeping things and flying birds. - Psalm 148:3-10.

This isn't the only place in the Bible where creation sings its Creator's praises.
  • The heavens and earth rejoice in God's reign in 1 Chronicles 16:31.
  • The flock-covered pastures and grain-clothed valleys shout for joy in Psalm 65:13.
  • The rivers clap their hands and the hills are joyful in Psalm 98:8.
  • Isaiah tells the heavens and earth to shout and break into singing because of God's redemption of Israel in Isaiah 49:13.
  • Isaiah also talks about the mountains and hills breaking into song and the trees clapping their hands in Isaiah 55:12.

There is one more praising part of creation that the writer of Psalm 148 mentions. It is us humans:
Kings of the earth and all peoples;
Princes and all judges of the earth;
Both young men and maidens;
Old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For His name alone is exalted;
His glory is above the earth and heaven." - Psalm 148:11-13

Jesus acknowledged how good, fitting, and inevitable it is for people to praise Him. When He swept into Jerusalem riding on a donkey accompanied by the praises of His disciples, some Pharisees said to Him: "'Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.'" But He answered, "'I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out'" - Luke 19:39-40.

So let's fill our mouths with His praise so the stones will have no reason to put us to shame!

PRAYER: Mighty God, I praise You for Your wisdom and skill on display in created things. I praise You for the grace, mercy, and love seen in Your plan of salvation. I praise You just because You are You— the sovereign One who is above and beyond me, Your creature. 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, December 26, 2015

Our enemy's DNA

Death of Stephen - Lyman Abbott Commentary on Acts
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 6:1-15

TO CHEW ON:
"They also set up false witnesses who said, 'This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law.'" Acts 6:13


In the last few years, DNA* analysis has helped the police solve many crimes. Detectives can send microscopic amounts of blood, skin, saliva, or hair to the lab, have them analyzed and identify who they come from when they match the DNA profile of a person on file.

I would submit that the devil often leaves behind incriminating DNA evidence too. We see it today in the story of Stephen and the way the religious Jewish leads shut him down. They did it with lies: "… secretly induced men to say…"  things Stephen hadn't said, and "… set up false witnesses" - Acts 6:11,13.

Remembering what Jesus said about Satan in His back-and-forth with the religious leaders...
" 'You are of your father the devil, and it is your will to practice the desires [which are characteristic] of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks what is natural to him, for he is a liar and the father of lies and half-truths' " - John 8:44 AMP
... we see, it's a match! Lying is part of Satan's DNA.

I can think of two things as a practical takeaway from this:

1. When lies and slander are used against us, we know their real source.
 

2. We must guard against our own tendency to lie.
Jeremiah reminds us: "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it?" - Jeremiah 17:9.

But, and this is where the DNA metaphor breaks down (hopefully), we can be changed, get a new DNA. Paul says: "Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man and his deeds" - Colossians 3:9.
And "Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]" - 2 Corinthians 5:17 AMP.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to recognize lies and their real origin, and to resist all temptation to lie. Amen.

 MORE: Feast of St. Stephen

Today we celebrate Stephen the first martyr. Here is the collect that begins the liturgy for this day:

"We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."


[*DNA - 1. Genetics - deoxyribonucleic acid: an extremely long macromolecule that is the main component of chromosomes and is the material that transfers genetic characteristics in all life forms…

2. the set of nongenetic traits, qualities, or features that characterize a person or thing

From the definition of DNA on Dictionary.com.]



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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)



Friday, December 25, 2015

The glorious themes of Christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS! 

"Let all the angels of God worship Him..." Hebrews 1:6

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 1:1-14


TO CHEW ON: God, who at various times ad in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds." Hebrews 1:1,2

One gets shivers reading the grand words that begin Hebrews. Like the strains of an orchestral overture, they give us glimmerings of the motifs that will follow. Of course we recognize these themes so readily because we have heard them before.

For example, our focus verses take us back to John 1:

Hebrews 1:1,2: "God... has in these last days spoken to us by His Son..."
John 1:1,14: "In the beginning was the Word ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

Hebrews 1:2: "... through whom He also made the worlds."
John 1:3: "All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made."


The writer continues by quoting prophecy after prophecy to show us the preeminence of Jesus over every other created being. His praise montage contains snippets of Psalm 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 97:7; 104:4; 45: 6,7; Isaiah 61:1,3; Psalm 102:25-27; Isaiah 34:4; 50:9; 51:6; Psalm 110:1; 103:20.

They tell us:
  • Jesus is God's Son. 
  • The angels worship Him. 
  • His throne and scepter are eternal. 
  • His perfect just rule is a reason for joy. 
  • Though the earth He created will someday wear out, He is unchanging and triumphant.

This is the Jesus whose birth we celebrate today. It makes one want to sing with the carolers:

"O come let us adore Him...
For He alone is worthy
Christ, the Lord." -  from "O Come All Ye Faithful" 

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You that You laid aside Your brightness, made Yourself small enough to fit into a womb, and endured human limitations for me. Help me to recognize in the humble scenes of Christmas, the grand themes of Your majesty and glory. Amen.

MORE: Christmas Day

Today the church celebrates Christmas Day. The Nativity Day liturgy begins with this prayer (Collect):

 Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for 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.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Immanuel

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 7:10-8:10
TO CHEW ON: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14

The familiar words in our focus verse today were first a prophecy to Ahaz. This king of Judah apparently didn't have a strong faith in God because when Syria and Israel came to fight him, he was terrified ("his heart and the heart of his people moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind." vs 2).

God told Isaiah to bring him a message of hope: that the Israeli-Syrian initiative would fail. "Ask a sign for yourself to prove this is so," Isaiah invited the king.

"Oh, I couldn't test God that way!" Ahaz replied.

That's when Isaiah spoke the promise of the virgin bearing a son, named Immanuel. My Bible's footnote explains how this would have sounded, and perhaps played out, to the people at that time:
"A son to Isaiah's readers would have been an unidentified heir from Ahaz's house, perhaps his son Hezekiah. Immanuel (God-with-us) was the title given to assure God's participation in bringing about deliverance from the Syrian and Israelite coalition." - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, commentary on Isaiah..." New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 882.

Of course we are familiar with the messianic fulfillment of this prophecy through Mary and Joseph: "...messianically it [Immanuel] became a key name marking Christ's incarnation" - Van Cleave, op. cit). The words of Isaiah 7 are the words the angel quoted to Joseph in his dream when he was told to take pregnant Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:23).

Let's concentrate for a minute on what a grand and incredible thing "Immanuel" represents. This name signifies that Jesus—the One by whom all things were created (Colossians 1:15-17), who is before all things and in whom all things consist, became flesh, a human person (John 1:1-3,14). He "made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:5-7). More than that, He comes even closer, living in us by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Let's let the grandeur of this soak in. God, who made us, lowered Himself to live with us, even in us.  May this inspire our faith, thanksgiving, praise and worship today!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your amazing plan which included the obedient teenager Mary to mother Jesus in a human body. May I let You be Immanuel to me. Amen.

MORE: Handel's Messiah text

Part of today's reading, Isaiah 7:14, appears in Handel's Messiah as a short alto solo that comes just before the chorus "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion." Here it is sung by Allison Browner in a 1991 performance in Dublin, Ireland.

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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, December 20, 2015

Waiting... waiting...

Micah - Gustave Dore
Micah - Gustave Dore
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 7:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore I will look to the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
My God will hear me." Micah 7:7

Micah (in the light of what he has seen and proclaimed:
- that his people continue callously on their course, its rulers thumbing their noses at righteousness and justice - Micah 7:1-4
- that spiritual rot has penetrated the most intimate relationships—friends, lovers, sons and daughters, the members of one's own household - Micah 7:5-6) takes a stand.

What will he do? "I will look to the Lord. I will wait for the God of my salvation."

My Bible's footnote calls these statements "Micah's creed for crisis times. They make specific what the vision, attitude and faith of a believer should be" - W. S. Elijahson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1211.

This two-pronged response is one we too can make when trouble comes.
  • We can look to God instead of focusing on the distressing circumstance, the bad state of the nation, our ill health, our family hurts and dysfunctions.
  • We can wait for God, though this might not be as easy as it sounds.
[Wait - yachal means to wait, tarry, hope, trust, expect, be patient, remain in anticipation. Yachal is often translated 'hope' - (Psalm 31:24; 33:18; 130:5,7; 147:11). The correct way to hope and wait for the Lord is to steadfastly expect His mercy, His salvation, and His rescue and while waiting not take matters into one's own hands (cf. Genesis 15:1-17:22 - the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar & Ishmael) - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p.  1211- ] Emphasis added.

Isn't that the rub—resisting the temptation to take matters into one's own hands? But the very near Christmas celebration reminds us that God does come through when the time is right.

"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" Galatians 4:4-5.
Hallelujah!

PRAYER: Dear God, waiting is one of the hardest things for me to do. Help me to wait for You in matters where I'd like to see action, movement, and results, knowing Your timing is always the best. Amen.

MORE: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. The liturgy for the day begins with this prayer:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for 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.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

A three-part test for living

scales, gavel & book symbolizing justice
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 6:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly
To love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8


On analyzing the law, the rabbis found 613 statutes to keep.*

In Psalm 15, David tells us how to "…abide in Your tabernacle, dwell in Your holy hill … never be moved" in 11 principles.

In Isaiah 33:15, these are restated in six commands.

But here in Micah, the way to live pleasing to God is further distilled into three precepts:
  • Do justly
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with your God.

Justice. Mercy. Humility.

Restated in plain speech:
  • Do what is right, fair, honest and above-board.
  • Love mercy [chesed  - kindness, unfailing love, tenderness, faithfulness] and so live in a rounded-edge way as we act out that justice.
  • Live humbly with an attitude that puts itself under God and His direction and is realistic before people (lives with the knowledge, for example, that all one's gifts, talents, successes are many-faceted—the result of the way God made us, orchestrated our circumstances, lavished on us the gifts of the parents, upbringing, education, modern conveniences of our time, etc.).

Here is Micah 6:8 from The Message:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.


We could use these three things in a simple test for every thought, action, reaction, plan, goal:

- Is it just?
- Is it kind, merciful, faithful?
- Is it humbly submitted to God?



PRAYER: Dear God, help me to not only know these principles in my head, but to apply them in my everyday life. Amen.

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* Facts from the commentary on Micah by Willard S. Elijahson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1210.

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

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







Friday, December 18, 2015

Little Bethlehem

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 4:13-5:15

TO CHEW ON:
"But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from old
From everlasting." - Micah 5:2


This often-quoted passage from Micah is a prediction of Messiah's birthplace. The students of Scripture in Jesus' day took it as such (Matthew 2:5,6; John 7:41,42) and all Christendom since has considered Jesus' birth in Bethlehem fulfillment of it and part of the proof that He really was/is Messiah.

I wonder, did Joseph ever connect this prophecy with what the angel had told him (Matthew 1:20,21), or Mary with what Gabriel had told her about the baby she would bear ("...and the Lord God will give Him the throne of HIs father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever..." - Luke 1:32,33)?

I've always imagined that they felt upset and nervous about the need to travel from Galilee to Bethlehem so close to Mary's due date. But maybe their angst was also accompanied by an undercurrent of epiphany and excitement. God had told them His secret in private and now He was engineering events so that the details would fit with prophecy!

Of course they still had to live through those uncomfortable days of travel, that panicky time of finding a place—any place—where Mary could birth her baby. No matter how they put the two together, there was still lots of room for faith to be stretched.

You know, we're in God's story too. Of course, not in the way Joseph and Mary were. But we are part of events that are playing out as Jesus and the prophets foretold. Let's live our roles, no matter how insignificant they seem, with the faith that God has all the details in hand as He did for Joseph and Mary.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these Bible prophets and prophecies that bolster my faith in You and Your plan. Please help me to have implicit faith in You as I play my part. 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.

Bible Drive-Thru


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

God came down

Manger scene

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." John 1:14 
(photo © 2015 by V. Nesdoly)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 1:1-16

TO CHEW ON:
"For behold the Lord is coming out of His place;
He will come down
And tread on the high places of the earth." Micah 1:3


During this season when we prepare to celebrate the incarnation—Christ coming down as God in flesh—Micah's mention of the LORD also coming down grabs our attention. But as we read all of Micah 1, we see that this descent is altogether different from His coming to that Bethlehem stable as a newborn.

Here His appearance is fearful and powerful. He descends to Israel's and Judah's "high places"—elevated sites where idols were worshiped. And He comes with white hot heat:  
"The mountains will melt under Him /And the valleys will split /Like water soured down a steep place" Micah 1:4

Why the fearful coming down? Why the anger? This is a side of God we don't like to see. As Joseph Scheumann says in the introduction to his article "Five Truths about the Wrath of God:"*
"The doctrine of the wrath of God has fallen on hard times. In today's world, any concept of God's wrath upsets our modern sentiments. … We live in a day where we have set ourselves as the judge and God's character is on trial…"

In the article Scheumann makes (and elaborates on) five points about God's wrath: 
God's wrath is just.
God's wrath is to be feared.
God's wrath is consistent in both Old and New Testament.
God's wrath is his love in action against sin.
God's wrath is satisfied in Christ.

It is the last point that makes the story of God's incarnation in Jesus so incredible. For Jesus was born so that someday He would become the object of God's white-hot anger against sin, for us. He would take the punishment our sins deserved: John 3:16; Romans 5:8-10, 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Timothy 1:15.

We must never apologize for God's wrath against sin (all that is twisted, bad, hurtful…). For it is this wrath combined with His righteousness and love in perfect balance that invented the way for us to be saved from our own sinful nature—through Jesus.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to never take lightly Your abhorrence of sin. Thank You for making a way for sinful me to be right with You. Amen. 

*Read all of "Five Truths About the Wrath of God."

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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, December 14, 2015

An invitation to Christian meditation

hands clasped in prayer resting on a Bible
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 4:1-23

TO CHEW ON:
"Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things." Philippians 4:8

Do you meditate? What is meditation?

The very week I'm writing this our pastor gave a talk on meditation to our Wednesday Women's group. In his talk he referred to the chapter on meditation in Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster)—which I own and so have re-read in the past few days. And now this reference to meditation. It feels like an invitation to share some of the things I've been learning, thinking about—meditating on!

What is Christian meditation?


"Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey His word…. It's growing into 'a familiar friendship with Jesus'" - Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 17. , p. 19 (quoting Thomas a Kempis).

How do we meditate? 

1. It may not be a natural desire
Foster describes the desire to want to meditate on God, hear His voice, and obey it as a  "grace." In meditation we detach from the things of this world and attach to the things of God: "The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God. Christian meditation leads us to the inner wholeness necessary to gives ourselves to God freely" - Foster, p. 21.

2. We find a quiet place and assume a posture that is conducive for us
.
Some kneel, some sit, some walk about.

3. We focus on Scripture.
… the meditation upon Scripture, is the central reference point by which all other forms of meditation are kept in proper perspective" - Foster, p. 29.

Some advice about Scripture meditation:
  • Small portions: My pastor and Foster advise meditating on small bits of Scripture at a time—a verse, a phrase, a word.
  • Review: My pastor said: "Plant it early (in the day) and come back to if often" - Derrick Hamre.
  • Memorize: memorization helps us internalize the Word, get it into our very DNA.
  • Journal: what God says to us, our insights, learnings, confessions.
  • Martin Luther's questions. Pastor gave us these questions to ask about a Scripture passage:
1. What does this text say about God (e.g. to help me praise Him)?
2. What sin does this text bring to light that I need to confess?
3. What do I need to ask God for in the light of this text?

4. We use imagination.

  • Live the Scripture passage vicariously—experiencing, through imagination, the very physical sensations of the parable, story, or event.
  • With news headlines at hand, "…ask God for prophetic insight to discern where these things lead. Further, we should ask for guidance for anything we personally should be doing to be salt and light in our decaying and dark world" - Foster p. 32.

5. Meditate in nature.

While we're outside, walking beside a field of grain, watching the birds in the forest, standing beside the crashing waves "…the Creator of the universe shows us something of his glory through creation" - Foster,  p. 31.

What are the benefits of Christian meditation?

"What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary of the heart" - Foster p. 20.

Being in touch with God through times of meditation in this way can change our whole day. Foster suggests that a regular habit of Christian meditation can lead to living with a sense of "holy leisure" - Foster, p. 27.

With the above in mind, we see what a treasure trove of meditation material Philippians 4:8 is. We could meditate on a quality a day and this verse could last us a whole week. We could examine our lives for the presence or absence of each quality, confess their lack,  and pray for more of them. We could memorize the list so that we can recognize their presence and turn our minds to good thoughts the moment one of their opposites makes an appearance.  For "'Meditation has no point and has no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life,'" - Foster, quoting Thomas Merton, p. 22

PRAYER: Dear God, teach me to meditate deeply and practically on You and Your words. 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, December 13, 2015

Advent HOPE

Crown, heart, anchor, Bible

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 3:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:14


On this third Sunday of Advent, I see in Paul's words one of the advent season's main themes: HOPE (even though the word is not mentioned).

Paul finds HOPE:
  • because he doesn't have to depend on himself ("the flesh") but can put his confidence in Jesus - Philippians 3:2,3.
  • because knowing Christ and not outward law-keeping, has become the focus of his faith - Philippians 3:4-8.
  • because "in Christ" he is right with God - Philippians 3:9.
  • because through knowing Christ he has power (but has also put himself on the path of suffering—perhaps not so hopeful, but realistic) - Philippians 3:10.
  • because he can look forward to being raised from the dead, as Christ was - Philippians 3:10,11.
  • because his life has a goal: "… the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus" - Philippians 3:12-15.
  • because he can look forward to a heavenly home and a transformed body - Philippians 3:20,21.

If you were writing today about the things that give you hope, what would your list include? Any of the above? Let's pause in the December busyness and reflect on HOPE and how different our lives would be—how hopeless—if Jesus hadn't come to earth.


PRAYER:
"Come Thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of ev'ry nation,
Joy of ev'ry longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a Child, and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne."
- Charles Wesley

MORE: Third Sunday of Advent

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for 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.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Refugees—a crisis or…?

Refugee Crisis - silhouetted refugees against a yellow background
Graphic from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 2:12-29

TO CHEW ON: "For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus."  Philippians 2:21

As I write this, the world is still in the thick of the Syrian refugee crisis. Justin Trudeau made a promise during the recent election campaign to take in 25,000 by year's end. Now that he's our Prime Minister, he's beginning to make good on that promise.

Not surprisingly, the media is full of chatter about this. Social media too. Often I see in my Facebook updates links to articles, and images designed to make me afraid of what an influx of refugees will do to our country. And there's no question the thousands refugees that pundits project will be settled in B.C., mostly the Lower Mainland where I live, will put a strain on schools, hospitals, medical facilities, organizations who integrate newcomers, not to speak of where will they all live and the biggie: ARE THEY SAFE?! Or by inviting them in, are we opening ourselves up to terrorist attacks like France experienced on November 13th?

I easily get swept up into this line of thinking and yet something about it troubles me deeply. That's why, when I saw the article title: "Building His Church in a Refugee Crisis" on my Twitter stream last night, I clicked through. What a breath of fresh air—scented with the fragrance of Christ—is this piece by David Crabb on John Piper's Desiring God blog. Here are a few choice bits:

    "What if, while America was asking questions about safety and risk management, Christians were asking, What is God doing? What if, through the senseless evil of civil war, God was bringing unreached people groups to our cities? What if, through great tragedy, God was bringing about the triumph of the gospel?
    Syria has over twenty million Muslims in eighteen unreached people groups. Christian missionaries have spent years praying, strategizing, and risking everything to go to these people. Now, God is bringing them here.
    ...One of the things that hinders Christian witness most is simply that the primary voice speaking in our heads, influencing our thoughts, and determining our behavior is not the Bible, but media pundits....   
    How would we view Muslims if we were steeped in God’s words so that we were thinking his thoughts after him? What would be our perspective on the refugee crisis if the Bible, and not our favorite news channel, was guiding our thoughts and directing our behavior?" (emphasis added - article linked below*).

So this morning, when I read in Philippians: "For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus," I can't help but look at myself in the mirror and feel convicted: 'That's been you, sister, seeing this crisis from a human, not a Jesus perspective, listening to the wrong voices!'

With God's help I'm going to do better with my thoughts and prayers about this refugee crisis and with whatever else is going on in my country, province, city, family…

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to become steeped in Your thoughts so that the thoughts and fears of the world would seem the foreign ones. Help me to be open to what You would do through me as I "…seek … the things which are of Jesus Christ." Amen. 


*Read the article "Building His Church in a Refugee Crisis".

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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, December 11, 2015

What God values

Angels singing
"He will rejoice over you with singing" (pixabay.com)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 3:1-20

TO CHEW ON:
"I will leave in your midst
a meek and humble people,
And they shall trust in the name of the Lord." Zephaniah 1:12


After all the dire predictions, the "woe"s and scoldings and lectures, Zephaniah ends his prophecy on a positive note. Zephaniah 3:8-20 expresses God's love and fierce loyalty to those who are faithful and return to Him.

Though this passage is addressed primarily to Israel it does also have an international component: "… the peoples…That they all may call on the name of the Lord…From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, the daughters of My dispersed ones, shall bring My offering" - Zephaniah 3:9,10. And so we take the liberty of applying its truths to ourselves.

These verses show us some of the things God values. They also show us how He will intervene on behalf of those who adopt His values.

God values:
  • Truth:
"For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language…" Zephaniah 3:9.
"The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness and speak no lies" - Zephaniah 3:13
.

  • Humility:
"For then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you shall no longer be haughty… I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people" - Zephaniah 3:11,12.

  • Meekness:
"I will leave in your midst a meek ... people" - Zephaniah 3:12.

For those who adopt His values, God will:
  • Restore:
"For then I will restore to the people a pure language…" Zephaniah 3:9.
"At that time I will bring you back… I will gather you… I return your captives before your eyes" - Zephaniah 3:20.


  • Remove shame:
"In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds" - Zephaniah 3:11.
  • Protect:
"They shall trust in the name of the Lord" - Zephaniah 3:12
"For they shall feed their flock and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid" - Zephaniah 3:13.
"He has cast out your enemy… You shall see disaster no more - Zephaniah 3:15.

  • Cancel judgment:
"The Lord has taken away your judgments" - Zephaniah 3:15.
"The Lord your God is in your midst, the Mighty One will save" - Zephaniah 3:17.

  • Comfort:
"He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing" - Zephaniah 3:17.

  • Show favor:
To those who were lame and driven out:  "… I will appoint them for praise and fame … I gather you; for I will give you fame and praise" - Zephaniah 3:19,20.


In our time when responding to enemies—personally to internationally—with truth, humility and meekness feels all wrong, let's remember God's promises to His people through Zephaniah. He is the Mighty One who gives ultimate protection and safety. By living in His ways of truth, humility, and meekness, we position ourselves for the spiritual freedom, protection, comfort and favor that only His intervention can bring about.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for these beautiful promises of restoration, protection, safety, comfort and favor. In these times of uncertainty, help me to live in truth, humility and meekness. 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.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hidden

Rabbit hiding in grass
Photo © 2015 by V. Nesdoly
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 2:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth,
Who have upheld His justice
Seek righteousness, seek humility
It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the Lord's anger." Zephaniah 2:3


We hear too many stories lately of people needing to hide during angry attacks. Whether they're playing dead in the presence of a crazed terrorist or locking themselves in a bathroom or closet during a school shooting, the urge to hide is one of the first instincts that kicks in during such a time.

Zephaniah here, talks about the same reflex. Only this time it's hiding, not to escape from human anger but from the poured out anger of the Lord. Zephaniah has just described that anger in Zephaniah 1, where he detailed "The great day of the Lord" and "That day."

It's an anger sinful humans deserve to suffer the full effects of. But Zephaniah gives a ray of hope that there is an escape for the meek and repentant:
"It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the Lord's anger."

The theme of hiding may have had special significance for Zephaniah, as his name means "The Lord has hidden." My Bible's introduction to the book points out how Zephaniah's words about hiding here are connected to the ministry of Jesus:
"The truth of the Passover in Egypt, where those hidden behind blood-marked doors were protected from the angel of death is repeated in the promise of Zephaniah 2:3, where the meek of the earth who have upheld God's justice will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger" - Mary LaVonne Phillips, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1233.

Paul picks up this theme of hiding in Colossians, naming Jesus as the One in whom God has hidden His deepest secrets: "… the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations but now has been revealed to His saints … Christ in you, the hope of glory" - Colossians 1:26,27.
"… in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" - Colossians 2:3.

And, after we have accepted Him Paul points out, we are hidden in Him:
"For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" - Colossians 3:3.

Of course the death Paul refers to is not literal physical death but a death (unresponsiveness) to sin. We keep living in this trouble-worn word where we may still have very real reasons  to call for God to hide us—as Cory Ten Boom describes The Hiding Place—her book about her experiences during WWII.

An encouraging hiding verse to memorize:
"You are my hiding place
You shall preserve me from trouble
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance" - Psalm 32:7

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for sending Jesus in whom I hide from Your righteous and justified anger against my sin and Your judgment. 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, December 09, 2015

That day

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 1:1-18


TO CHEW ON: "The great day of the Lord is near;
It is near and hastens quickly,
The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter;
There the mighty men shall cry out.
That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
A day of trumpet and alarm
Against the fortified cities
And against the high towers." Zephaniah 1:14-16


"The Day of the Lord."  As we read Scriptures that allude to this day we are continually warned of judgment and doom—as in today's graphic and oratorical prophecy of Zephaniah's.

It's interesting to note the setting of his message. Zephaniah (a contemporary of Jeremiah and Nahum) lived in Judah during the reign of Josiah. The nation of Israel was no more, having been carted into exile by Assyria 100 years earlier. Those Assyrians forced Judah to pay tribute under kings Manasseh and Amon. Judah's servitude didn't affect the people only politically but spiritually too.

The pagan religion imported by the Assyrians who resettled Israel spread to Judah. King Manasseh built temples to their gods and practiced child sacrifice (2 Kings 21:3-6). But a Babylonian uprising defeated Assyria and under King Josiah the nation turned back to God.

Josiah found the Book of the Law, purged the land of idols, and again celebrated the Passover. Things were great, right? Apparently not. My Bible's introduction to Zephaniah tells us:

"In retrospect the reform was one of externals since the hearts of the people had not changed...Into this complacent atmosphere the devastating message of Zephaniah comes like a searing blast" - Mary LaVonne Phillips, "Introduction to Zephaniah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1231.

But what does this ancient prophecy have to do with us? My Bible's introduction again:
"Because of the repeated use of the term 'the Day of the Lord,' the Book of Zephaniah has meaning for end times. The Day of the Lord is either the period of time or the actual day when God will bring His purposes to culmination for mankind and for the Earth. The righteous will be rewarded with eternal blessing, and the wicked will be consigned to eternal damnation" - New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1232.
So Zephaniah's over-2600-year-old clarion cry of doom is a warning to us too. Let's not be lulled into complacency by our own peace and prosperity. Rather, let's search our hearts to make sure they are right with God. And let's sound the warning of that coming day to our oblivious neighbors and friends.


PRAYER: Dear God, it's so easy for me to get mesmerized by this world and my busy life. I confess I easily lose sight of eternal things like the coming Day of the Lord. Please make these things real to me. Help me to live with the consciousness of their nearness. Amen

MORE: Fiction that brings history to life

Among the Gods (Chronicles of the Kings #5)by Lynn Austin explores the life and times of King Manasseh, the king who preceded Zephaniah's time by a few years. (Read my review of it 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.


Bible Drive-Thru


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Full of goodness

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 15:14-30

TO CHEW ON: "Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness...." Romans 15:14a


A while ago I read a novel in which a young woman mysteriously drops out of university and takes up mute panhandling on the streets of Toronto. Through summer and winter she wears gloves on her hands and on her chest a felt-penned sign that says "GOODNESS."

Her family is mystified. They take care of her as in bringing her packages of food and clothes, though it appears she gives most of these things away. Her mother puzzles over especially that "Goodness" sign. What can it mean?

It turns out (SPOILER ALERT for Unless by Carol Shields) the girl was on scene when a young Muslim woman poured fuel over her body and lit herself on fire. Our young heroine tried to beat out the flames, got seriously burnt (thus the gloves) and was so traumatized by the incident, checked herself out of the ER and took up residence on the street in silent and passive protest (as her mother interprets it) to the state and treatment of women in this world.

The word goodness that Paul uses here (agathosune) means ["Beneficence, kindness, in actual manifestation, virtue, equipped for action, a bountiful propensity both to will and to do what is good, intrinsic goodness producing a generosity and a Godlike state or being. Agathosune is a rare word that combines being good and doing good" - Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1573.] It would seem that Carol Shields got "goodness" somewhat right.

It's notable that Paul expresses his desire that they be full of goodness after he bequeaths on them other fullnesses: "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" - Romans 15:13.

Joy, peace, and hope are inner qualities of feeling or emotion. They minister to our inner well-being. Agathosune goodness works these things out in actions.

Though the self-sacrifice and generosity of our fictional "saint" may work as a literary symbol, goodness is usually lived out through  simple acts in the course of unexceptional, day-to-day life. Through the Holy Spirit's empowering, let's be full of goodness today!

PRAYER: Dear God, I so often fall short of living the homogeneous goodness of being and doing. Please show me my faulty attitudes that work themselves out in pettiness, meanness, impatience, anger etc. instead of goodness. Amen.

MORE: Personification of goodness

When I think of actual people who exhibited goodness, Jesus comes to mind, of course, and the next person is Mother Teresa.

Who personifies goodness to you?

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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.


Bible Drive-Thru


Sunday, December 06, 2015

Practical repentance

Stick figure looking remorseful, repentant
Image from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 3:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "And he (John) went into all the region around Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." - Luke 3:3

By the time Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke he had made the connection between Isaiah's prophecy (what he quotes in Luke 3:4-6 from Isaiah 40:3-5) to the coming of Jesus as Messiah and the role that John the Baptist played in preparing the people for Jesus.

Luke saw John as that "voice of one crying in the wilderness." The preparation that he preached was repentance (metanoia). As we saw a few days ago, repent means to feel remorse, change one's mind, and reform.

When John's convicted hearers responded to his message with "What shall we do then?" John gave practical examples. Repentance would be evident when they…
  • Turned from selfishness to generosity to the extent of sharing life's everyday stuff of food and clothes - Luke 3:11.
  • Turned from using questionable business practices to being honest - Luke 3:13.
  • Turned from using intimidation, bullying, and lying to practicing honest justice - Luke 3:14.
  • Turned from whining about wages to being content with them - Luke 3:14.

In these weeks of the Advent season, we also prepare our hearts. As we let the Holy Spirit shine His light into their farthest corners, what do we see that we need to repent of? Perhaps we need to deal with some of the same vices John pointed out of selfishness, dishonesty, bullying and intimidation, injustice, discontentment. Or maybe it's something else—fear and anxiety, distraction, sensuousness, envy, lust…

Whatever God shows us, let's deal with it in repentance (feel remorse, change our mind, reform) as we prepare to celebrate Jesus coming to make His home within us.


PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for this clear and practical example of John the Baptist, who took repentance out of the realm of theory into real life. Please show me where I need to repent.

MORE: Second Sunday of Advent

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. Today's liturgy begins with this collect:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for 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.


Saturday, December 05, 2015

Bad news and good news

Carol singer ornaments
Carol singer ornaments - Image from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 1:12-30

TO CHEW ON:
"Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ so that … I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God." Philippians 1:27,28.


Embedded in the Christmas carols we hear piped through stores and malls during December is bad news and good news.

The bad news:
-We live in a world of sadness, brokenness, and sin:
"No more let sin and sorrows grow…" - "Joy to the World."

- There is hatred and war:

"And in despair I bowed my head:
'There is no peace on earth,' I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on earth good will to men'" - "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

There is death
:
"Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight" - "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

The good news:
- Jesus came to release us from sins and fears:

"Come Though long expected Jesus
Born to set They people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee" - "Come Though Long Expected Jesus."

We no longer need to fear even death:
"Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace! …
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth" - Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
Over and over in the carols, we sing the "faith of the gospel" that Paul talks about Philippians 1:27:

"Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heav'nly Lord,
That hath made heav'n and earth of naught,
And with His blood mankind hath bought" - "The First Noel." 
"Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn" - "Go Tell it on the Mountain."
"Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in
" - "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (emphases added).


I often wonder how the message of the Christmas carols hits secular ears.
  • Do they hear the bad news of despair, brokenness, war, and death in the carols and identify it with the bad news that's all around us?  
  • Does the good news of Christmas in these seasonal songs, the "faith of the gospel," make any sense to them?
  • Does the confidence in this gospel of those of us who believe it in North America and around the world, and our willingness to defend it to the death, set off any questioning alarms in their hearts and minds? Is it to them a "proof of perdition" as "… the courageous conduct of the Philippian Christians was evidence of the spiritual ruin of their adversaries and proof of their own eternal safety"  (Jerry Horner, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1661)?

Our focus verses in Philippians remind me of 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 where the good news of the gospel is also pictured in two ways: the perfume of life to some, the stench of death to others.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for neutralizing the bad news of our fallen world with the good news of Jesus. Help me to be courageous in defending the gospel even as it becomes more controversial and unpopular in the society around me. 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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