Saturday, January 31, 2015

Does God detest anything in your life?

Time Magazine cover - June 19, 1972.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Deuteronomy 18:9-22

TO CHEW ON: "For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out before you." Deuteronomy 18:12

What a strong word—abomination—Moses uses here to warn the Israelites against compromise and syncretism.

[The word abomination is translated from the Hebrew word towebah. It is also rendered detestable and loathsome.]

What are the things that God names an abomination (detestable, loathsome)? Deuteronomy 18:9-11 names:
  • sacrificing children to idols.
  • practicing witchcraft.
  • acting as a soothsayer or one to interprets omens—a sorcerer.
  • conjuring up spells.
  • acting as a medium or spiritist.
  • calling up the dead.
It's a list of not altogether unfamiliar activities because our society, despite how "advanced" and technological it is, yearns for spiritual connection. If we have rejected God, we will look somewhere else for it. The scary thing is that sometimes these practices make their way into the lives of Christians and so enter the life of the church. Tim Challies in his book The Disciplines of Spiritual Discernment says:
"It should come as no surprise that even though we are called to live within the culture, the culture itself hates God and seeks to destroy those who love him. And yet this culture has influenced the church, perhaps more than the church has influenced the culture. There are at least four cultural influences that have led to a decline in discernment among Christians."

He goes on to name (and elaborate on) 1] a secular worldview; 2] a low view of scripture; 3] a low view of theology; and 4] a low view of God, as reasons for the church's slump into compromise.

Let's ask God by His Spirit to point out any abominable practices and involvements in our lives. And then let's denounce and forsake them. For:

Can two walk together unless they are agreed?" - Amos 3:3

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” - John 8:12 NLT

Take no part in and have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds and enterprises of darkness, but instead [let your lives be so in contrast as to] expose and reprove and convict them." - Ephesians 5:11 AMP

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me a discerning heart to recognize the practices and involvements that are loathsome to You. Then help me to be quick to denounce and forsake them. Amen.

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

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

Scripture quotations marked 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, January 30, 2015

The lure of the occult

Divination - fortune telling cards, palmistry
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Leviticus 19:20-37

TO CHEW ON: "Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 19:31


What do we make of such a prohibition in our time of occult popularity? The paranormal is a movie and book genre of its own with a huge following. Many look at getting their palms or tea leaves read, or following their horoscope as a lark and entirely harmless. What about hanging onto objects that are supposed to ward off bad luck or attract good luck?

The Bible is very clear in its prohibition of witchcraft and related occultic activities.

  • God is against it - Leviticus 20:6, 27; Exodus 22:18.
The story of King Saul illustrates this. 1 Samuel 28:1-24 tells the story of his desperate seeking out of a woman with connections to the spirit world when he no longer heard from God. 1 Chronicles 10:13 gives us God's perspective on what he did.
The story of Manasseh is another example. His avid pursuit of the occult brought calamity on the nation (2 Kings 21:1-17).
  • Witchcraft defined: What exactly are we talking about? Deuteronomy 8:10-11 lists the activities that are called an "abomination" to God:
"For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering. And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead" (NLT).
Isaiah describes the speech of a medium in these spooky words:
"You will speak out of the ground; your speech shall be low, out of the dust; your voice shall be like a medium's, out of the ground; and your speech shall whisper out of the dust" - Isaiah 29:4. 
  • Sorcery is also condemned in the New Testament - Galatians 5:20; Revelation 21:8.
  • Witchcraft's root: The sobering words I will end with, though, are Samuel's words to King Saul after he had committed blatant disobedience:
"For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" - 1 Samuel 15:23.

If we follow the lure of the occult to its source, we find a familiar and perhaps not-so-foreign-to-us root: REBELLION. So even though we've avoided practicing blatant forms of occultism, we may not be as lily white as we'd like to think!

PRAYER: Dear God, I confess that I have been rebellious. Help me to see any heart rebellion for the serious issue that it is. 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.

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



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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Talebearing—is it a big deal?

Telling a secret
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Leviticus 19:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people." Leviticus 19:16

In the middle of Leviticus (a book we tend to ignore because we think it's mostly a set of dry instructions for Old Testament Israelites), comes a down-to-earth chapter on practical holiness. In it are several guidelines about the use the tongue: against lying (Leviticus 19:11); against using God's name in oaths and profanity (Leviticus 19:12); against cursing the deaf (Leviticus 19:14); against being partial in judgment (Leviticus 19:15) and then something we might consider almost too trivial to include in this list of grave sins—against being a talebearer (Leviticus 19:16).  What is this, and could God's ban on this activity for the Israelites be relevant for us today?

What is talebearing?
[Talebearer = rakiyl  is also translated slander, slanderer and informer.]

Talebearers are characterized by activities that include:
  • Revealing secrets (Proverbs 11:13).
  • "… idle wandering about from house to house … also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not," Paul says in describing their activity to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:13.
  • They concern themselves "… in other people's matters," says Peter - 1 Peter 4:15.

Talebearing is hard to resist, though.
  • The writer of Proverbs describes talebearing words as "tasty trifles" - Proverbs 18:8.
  • It's also a social activity that may fill a need. The people Paul described as talebearers were young widows. We can easily see how doing the gossip circuit could fill a hole in their lonely lives, getting them out and circulating "house to house" with something important to pass on.

The effects of this type of talk are devastating.
  • It can impact hearers at a deep level. Those tasty morsels "… go down into the inmost body" - Proverbs 18:8.
  • Talebearers and their words separate friends - Proverbs 17:9.
  • They cause strife in the larger community - Proverbs 26:20.

I would submit that those talebearing words that God told the people to avoid thousands of years ago are just as dangerous and destructive today—to both spread and hear. How can they be avoided?
  • Don't associate with people known for any sort of insincere speech advises the writer of Proverbs (Proverbs 29:19).
  • Stamp it out (by not listening to it and not spreading it) and thus calm strife in the larger community - Provers 26:20.
  • And we could pray this prayer that David prayed, sincerely and often:
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.

Do not incline my heart to any evil thing,
To practice wicked works
With men who work iniquity;
And do not let me eat of their delicacies. - Psalm 141:3,4 (emphasis added)


PRAYER:  Dear God, I admit, I have at times been a talebearer. Please forgive me. Set that watch in front of my mouth and prick my conscience when I entertain talebearing thoughts, so that I can stop them at their source and they never get as far as crossing my lips.  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, January 28, 2015

When should someone else's conscience rule your behavior?

Emoticon drinking wine
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak." 1 Corinthians 8:9

Are you aware of your conscience? We all have one, you know, though this part of our consciousness gets little attention in the secular world. However, writer Joe Carter believes the conscience is making a comeback among Christians. In an article on The Gospel Coalition, he describes what the conscience is and isn't, does and doesn't do for us. He makes these points:
1. Conscience is an internal rational capacity that bears witness to our value system.
He likens a bothered conscience to physical pain, alerting us to the fact that we've done something we consider wrong.

2. Conscience is a trustworthy guide only when it is informed and ruled by God.

3. Conscience is to be subordinated to and informed by the revealed Word of God.

4. To willfully act against conscience is always a sin.

5. Conscience can be suppressed by sin.

Paul here is going one further, telling his readers not to merely follow their own consciences (he assumes they already do) but to alter their behavior so as not to offend the conscience of a more sensitive brother or sister.

And why would they do that?

Out of genuine care for that more sensitive Christian, realizing that when they indulge their greater freedom, their example may encourage the person with the sensitive conscience to join in the activity and thus go against his conscience and thus sin (1 Corinthians 8:9).

The example Paul uses—eating meat offered to idols—will hardly apply to us. But many modern behaviors could. For example, if your conscience allows you to drink alcohol in moderation, would you refrain from drinking it if you were with someone who had scruples against drinking alcohol?

Jim Cymbala in the book Storm makes an impassioned plea for this kind of consideration of others exactly in this area. His dad, who was an alcoholic, didn't even attend his wedding. Cymbala says:

"That's what I always think about when I hear people flaunting their so-called 'freedom in Christ' or their enlightened view of twenty-first century ethics. One drink at one party did my dad in. And I don't know what weakness lies resident in me. That's why I forgo anything with alcohol content. Not because wine with a meal is wrong, but rather who knows where that drink might lead me? Or someone who watches me drink it? ...  Can't we all, regardless of our differing views on what's 'lawful,' put other people's welfare first?" - Jim Cymbala, Storm, Kindle Location 1576.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put into practice the principle of caring as much about others and their spiritual welfare as I care about my own. 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, January 27, 2015

The foundation of wisdom

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 111:1-10


TO CHEW ON: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever." Psalm 111:10

When people ask, what would you like to be remembered for after you die, as in what would you like written on your tombstone, my mind always gravitates toward wisdom. I would love to be remembered as someone who was wise. In Psalm 111:10, the writer reveals the foundation of true wisdom. It is the fear of the Lord.

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

The phrase "the fear of the Lord" (or "the fear of God") occurs often in the Bible. As we track some occurrences, we see that this fear impacts many areas of life.

1. To fear God is a requirement for God's people - Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 4:24.

2. The fear of God involves doing away with anything that would vie with Him for first place in our hearts - Joshua 24:14.

3. God alone is to be feared in this way - Isaiah 8:13.

4. God is worthy of our fear because only He has power over life and death - Matthew 10:28.

5. God is worthy of our fear because only He can see through our actions and judge us righteously - 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 14:7.

6. The fear of God motivates us to do away with evil - Proverbs 3:7; 14:16.

7. Fear of God influences our respect for life. When Abraham came to Gerar, he was afraid that King Abimelech, who didn't fear God, would have no qualms about killing him in order to get attractive Sarah for the royal harem - Genesis 20:11.


8. The fear of God can operate on the national level. Moses and Joshua predicted that the Canaanites would be filled with the fear of God as they heard about and saw the miracles God did for Israel - Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 4:24.

9. Lack of the fear of God leads to backsliding - Jeremiah 2:19.

And so I ask, is my hope to be remembered as wise, realistic because it is foundationed on the fear of God? Wisdom built on any other thing will not last.

PRAYER: Dear God, please expand my vision of Your holiness and knowledge. May the awe and respect in which I hold You impact all I do. Amen.

MORE: Fear of the Lord--the foundation of wisdom
"The fear of the Lord - Reverence for God; respect for his law, his will, his government, himself; the fear of offending him, which will lead us to do right. This fear is not that of a slave; it is not mere dread; it is not terror. It is consistent with love, and springs from it. It is consistent with calmness of mind, and promotes it. It does not produce terror, but rather delivers from it, and preserves the mind from alarms.
The word here rendered "fear" is a noun of the same origin as the word rendered "reverend" in Psalm 111:9 ("reverence" - Amplified). The suggestion to the mind of the psalmist that the "name of the Lord" was "reverend," or was to be venerated, introduced this thought that such reverence is the very foundation of wisdom" - Barnes Notes on the Bible.
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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, January 26, 2015

Discipleship's dramatic leavings

"Jesus and the Rich Young Man" by Alexandre Bida
"Jesus and the Rich Young Man" by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:14-28

TO CHEW ON: "They immediately left their nets and followed Him …. And they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him." Mark 1:18,20

Here we see Simon (Peter) and Andrew leaving their nets or means of livelihood, James and John their senior partner, all in immediate response to Jesus' " 'Follow Me.' "

Other startling leavings in the Bible:
  • Ruth left her homeland to come back to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi - Ruth 2:11.
  • Matthew left his tax office to follow Jesus - Luke 2:27,28.
  • Jesus invited the eager young man, who asked about how to inherit eternal life, to divest himself of his possessions and follow Him - Mark 10:21.
  • The Apostle Paul renounced everything to "gain Christ" - Philippians 3:8.

These appear to be huge sacrifices until we look beyond, into how things turned out.
  • Ruth became part of the lineage of King David and eventually Jesus, while her sister-in-law Orpah, who decided to return to Moab, is never heard of again.
  • Andrew & Simon, James and John went from being nobody fishermen to charter members of a new movement.
  • Matthew changed from a despised tax man to a beloved writer of scripture.
  • The rich young man who ignored Jesus call because the cost of giving everything away was too big, also disappeared from the record.

As we go through the final days of this first month of a new year, when we typically take stock of our lives and make plans and goals for the future, could Jesus' invitation to "Follow Me" set in motion similar dramatic leavings in our lives? Leavings of possessions, ambitions, control of time, money, children, leisure...?

Counting the cost may involve considering the consequences of hanging on as much as radical discipleship's leaving-all cost.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to consider again your "Follow Me" and what it means of things I should leave. 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, January 24, 2015

The pouting prophet

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 4:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "But it (God's relenting from the disaster He said He would bring on Nineveh - Jonah 3:11) displeased Jonah exceedingly and he became angry." Jonah 4:1

At a church conference I attended some years ago, I heard Rich Wilkerson sum up each of the church offices in a catchy way.

Apostles: Entrepreneurs who start new things for God.
Evangelists: Salesmen—"You need Jesus."
Pastors: Encouragers—"Everything is going to be okay."
Teachers: Always looking for the teachable moment.
Prophets: Concerned with keeping things in the right category—"That's just not right!"

Isn't that last so Jonah! After preaching, he camped outside the city—his front-row seat for the fireworks—but they never came. And so he said to God (my paraphrase): I told you so! I knew Your merciful nature. That's exactly why I ran away to Tarshish—because I knew in the end You'd change Your mind.

Then God gave this pouting prophet an object lesson from his own reaction to circumstances. When a fast-growing vine sprung up providing shelter from the sun, he was happy. But when a worm nibbled at it till it died he had pity on the plant, simply because it affected his own comfort. In this way God showed him his shallowness and how very different Jonah was from God, whose compassion went way beyond a plant to embrace all people (as well as animals - Jonah 4:11).

How readily we too get hung up on our own ideas of how God should work and like Jonah get swept into self-righteous anger when things don't happen according to our little prophetic 'that's not right' categories. A sidebar article in my Bible leaves us with some advice on how to neutralize such an attitude:

"Do not allow anger or pride to remain in your heart. They led to Jonah's disobedience. Turn away from these attitudes, and seek to have God's character of mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness and lovingkindness" - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through Jonah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1199.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have Your heart of compassion and pity on the people around me in the spirit of being a fellow traveler. Help me to be a conduit of your mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness, and love to everyone around me. Amen.

MORE: God's patience with His Jonahs

"...God not only treats Nineveh with pity and mercy, but also treats his stiff-necked prophet that way too. He is slow to anger and ready to relent in his wrath toward Nineveh, and toward Jonah" - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org. (Read all of "Should I not Pity That Great City Minneapolis.")

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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, January 23, 2015

God wants YOU

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 2:1-3:10

TO CHEW ON: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message I tell you.'" Jonah 3:1,2

God went to great lengths to get just the person He wanted—Jonah—for the job of preaching to Nineveh. When this reluctant prophet ran the other way, God followed him. When the sailors tossed him into the sea, God protected him. From the belly of the fish, God heard him. When that fishy time-out was over, God talked to his host and the fish tossed him. Then God gave him a second chance.

I have found something similar about God's assignments. They come with a quiet but weighty persistence. My excuses don't sway Him. He just listens to them and then when I pray, Lord, give me something to do, whispers, I've already given you a job. Just go and do it.

But what if we feel we've really blown it and disqualified ourselves from ever being used by God again? Leslyn Musch reminds us we can:
"Ask God for a second chance. You may have disobeyed the Lord to the point you believe He can no longer use you. Look at Jonah! There is hope for you too. Ask God's forgiveness for your sin, submit to His will for you. Draw near to Him through worship; praise Him for His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Tell Him you will follow Him full, and do it" - "Truth-In-Action Through Jonah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1199.
Are you dithering over following through on a job God has given you, hoping, perhaps, that He'll change His mind and give it to someone else? You'd better not count on that. God has amazing tenacity (as Jonah would testify). If He's picked you as the person for a job, He wants you for the job. Better to obey than to hang back and find yourself in a Jonah spot.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for second chances. But it's probably better not to need them. Help me to listen and obey when You first give me a task to do. Amen.

MORE: The secret battle
"The battle is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. The Spirit of God apprehends me and I am obliged to get alone with God and fight the battle out before Him. Until this is done, I lose every time. The battle may take one minute or a year, that will depend on me, not on God; but it must be wrestled out alone before God, and I must resolutely go through the hell of a renunciation before God. Nothing has any power over the man who has fought out the battle before God and won there" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 27th reading.
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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, January 22, 2015

Extending mercy to your Nineveh


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Ammitai, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.'
But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." Jonah 1:1-3a


Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria—Israel's longstanding enemy. Various times in the Old Testament we see the Assyrians raiding Israel, ravaging the countryside, and taking its citizens captive. There was no love lost between Israel and Assyria.

Jonah, nationalist that he was, was obviously aghast at God's assignment. Perhaps his reluctance was tinged with fear for his own well-being. The Assyrians were not noted for their humane treatment of enemies.

But one gets the sense that he was mostly outraged that God wanted to share any part of Himself with his nation's rank enemy. That he, Jonah, would be an instrument in bringing such an intention to pass was, to him, unthinkable. And so he ran the other way.

It's worth stopping here and asking, but wouldn't God's righteousness and justice demand that the Assyrians be punished for their harsh treatment of Israel—the apple of God's eye? However, God, thankfully for us all, is not only just and righteous but also merciful. He wanted to give the Assyrians of Jonah's time an opportunity to repent.

It's easy to shrug off the story of Jonah as one of another era and so irrelevant to us. But wait. Is it really?

I'm reminded of Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch women who, years after her imprisonment in a German concentration camp, came face to face with one of her former captors—her Nineveh, so to speak. That day God asked her to extend mercy and forgiveness to him. She did, and came to a place of new freedom and understanding of God, who is not only just and righteous but also merciful.

I ask myself, what is my Nineveh? What is yours? Will we answer the call of God's heart to extend His mercy to it?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your mercy to me. May my heart echo the merciful thrum of yours as I interact with those who have treated me badly. Amen.

MORE: Man Overboard by David Denny

California poet David Denny has written a wonderful book of poems about just this story. Man Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion (Wipf & Stock, 2013) does a wonderful job of exploring God's compassion (on Nineveh, the Assyrians and Jonah), and Jonah's outrage. My review of the book is 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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Living with questions

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 37:1-24

TO CHEW ON:
"God thunders marvelously with His voice;
He does great things which we cannot comprehend." Job 37:5


After Job's three elderly friends are done speaking, a younger man, Elihu, joins the conversation (Job 32-37). Our reading today is the end of Elihu's final speech. His argument (quoting from my Bible's Introduction to Job) is:

"... God is greater than any human being; therefore a person has no right or authority to require an explanation of Him. He argues that some things that God does are humanly incomprehensible. At the same time, Elihu suggests that God will speak if we will listen. His emphasis is on the attitude of the sufferer, that is, an attitude of humility allows God to intervene .... Elihu's appeal to Job is: 1] to have faith in God Himself rather than demand an explanation; 2] to change his attitude to one of humility" Charles E. Blair, Introduction to Job, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 645.

In our reading, Elihu refers to the mysteries of nature—the grandeur of thunder and lightning, the cycling of rain and snow, the capriciousness of clouds, the instinctive wisdom of animals in response to seasonal changes.

What strikes me about several of these speeches is how closely Job and his friends observe nature and the seasons. They attribute its enigmas and splendours to the mind and intention of God. In today's chapter Elihu describes them in glowing terms: "thunders marvelously .... great things .... wondrous works of God .... awesome majesty .... He is excellent in power."

So much of what they say still expresses our awe of these things.

But what about when nature does more than put on a show for us while we're watching from the safety of our homes? Because when hurricanes and tornadoes bring devastation and floods, when lightning sparks wildfires burning homes along with vast tracts of forest or grass, when earthquakes destroy communities forever we, along with Elihu, are also puzzled:

"He does great things which we cannot comprehend...

"He causes it to come
Whether for correction
Or for His land
Or for mercy
" - Job 37:5,13.

Are there any answers to the theological and existential questions Job and his friends have been grappling with? Our consecutive readings in Job end here, but the Bible account continues with God's reply to Job (and his four friends) in Job 38:1-41:34. It's an answer well worth reading for our own lives.

PRAYER: Dear God, I find it uncomfortable to live with questions. Help me to wait for Your answers and to recognize them when they come. 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, January 20, 2015

God our teacher

Teachder's desk with apple
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 36:16-33


TO CHEW ON:
"Behold, God is exalted by His power;
Who teaches like Him?
Who has assigned Him His way,
Or who has said, 'You have done wrong?'" Job 36:23


Though I continue to find Elihu's pompous, I-have-all-the-answers attitude grating, he does make some wise observations. One of them is that God teaches. As we look through the Bible at a sampling of verses about God teaching, we see that His instructions come not only through difficulties but in other settings as well.

He teaches us how to do our work.

  • He promises to teach Moses how to do his special assignment of leading the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 4:15).
  • He also gives lessons in more everyday tasks like how and when to plant and harvest certain crops (Isaiah 28:26-29) and how to choose the right way that will lead to profit (Isaiah 48:17).

He teaches about the future (Daniel 8:19).

God's school is lifelong learning that begins in childhood (Isaiah 54:13), carries on into youth, and the old psalmist begs God to continue to teach him into his "old and grayheaded" years (Psalm 71:17-18).

God teaches:
  • Through signs and wonders like the Israelites experienced in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 4:36).
  • Through His word - Psalm 119:26, 66, 135.
  • Through His Spirit - 1 Corinthians 2:12.
  • And, Elihu would insist, through the events of our lives, good and bad (Job 36:22,23).

The best students have a teachable spirit.

  • God teaches the ones who fear the Lord, according to David (Psalm 25:12).
  • However if there is sin in our lives, we may need to repent in order to again hear God's voice (Psalm 32:1-5; 8-9).

God's teaching is for everyone.
  • It's for the Jews: Isaiah sees the "Day of the Lord" when Israel will willingly go to God's house to be taught in His ways and how to walk in His paths (Isaiah 2:3).
  • But it's for other nationalities too. Micah prophesies a day when the desire to sit under God's instruction will pull in citizens of many nations (Micah 4:2).

Let's open ourselves to the favour and blessing of God's instruction
(Psalm 94:10-12; 119:135).  For we ignore it at our peril (Jeremiah 32:33,36).


PRAYER:

Dear God, please develop in me a teachable spirit and keen ears to hear Your instructions. May it truly be lifelong learning. 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, January 19, 2015

Resisting the temptation of pat answers

man with questions
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 36:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Then He tells them their work and their transgression—
That they have acted defiantly.
He also opens their ear to instruction,
And commands that they turn from iniquity." Job 36:9,10


In the beginning  of his fourth speech, Elihu lectures Job about a purpose of suffering that Job's other friends have left out: that it is instructive.

God despises no one, Elihu insists (Job 36:5). He doesn't preserve the life of the wicked (Job 36:6) despite what Job thinks (Job 21:7). Rather, God speaks to the righteous person through his or her suffering (Job 36:9) in that way alerting them to sin so they can repent (Job 36:10). If they do, prosperity will result (Job 36:11). If they don't, they are doomed (Job 36:12).

Though what Elihu says may contain general truth, his cut-and-dried explanation that this is why Job is suffering is inadequate. We see how wrong he is when he applies this to Job (the first part of tomorrow's reading—Job 36:16-18). For as the heavenly prologue to all these speeches has told us, Job's suffering is neither punishment nor instruction but a demonstration and proof to Satan of Job's integrity (Job 2:1-6).

If Elihu is teaching us anything it is that we need to temper our defense of God, always leaving room for what we don't know. To us earth-bound humans there remains mystery in His actions or lack of them. Though the Bible is clear in its description of God and what He is like (love, omnipotent, omnipresent, righteous, just, holy etc.) we will not understand the outworking of these attributes in our lives and the lives of those we love, until we see Him face to face and "…know even as we are known" - 1 Corinthians 13:12.

PRAYER: Dear God, when I or my loved ones suffer, I long for explanations. Help me to avoid the temptation of giving myself and others pat answers because, frankly, I don't see what's happening behind the scenes and what You are accomplishing through these hard times. Amen.

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


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Leaven alert

Yeast cells

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 16:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to them, 'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'" Matthew 16:6

We can't help but smile at the little comedy of misunderstanding near the beginning of today's reading. Jesus had just had an encounter with the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducess where they goaded Him for a heavenly sign. His reply cut to the bone: "Hypocrites...a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign..."

Then He and the disciples got into a boat and crossed the Sea of Galilee. When they reached the other side, the disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread.

Into that setting Jesus interjected, "'Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.'"

I can just see the wheels trying to turn in the disciples' heads: What does that have to do with anything? They tried, among themselves, to connect Jesus' statement with their present lack of bread.

But that wasn't the connection Jesus wanted them to make. So what was He talking about?

Not physical bread. His words in Matthew 16:8-11 show us that. Even the literal-minded disciples realized by the end of that conversation that Jesus was warning them not about some literal brand of leaven to avoid, but false doctrine.

It wasn't a specific teaching that Jesus was referring to either. Because the Pharisees and Sadducees beliefs contradicted each other. According to the study notes in my Bible:

"The Pharisees had a strong commitment to the Law as interpreted by 'the tradition of the elders.' They were strong ritualists and were legalistic.


The Sadducees came from leading social families and were rationalists and materialists. They rejected "the tradition of the elders" and denied the supernatural, including the possibility of a bodily resurrection. The Pharisees and Sadducees are best known for their mutual hostility" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Matthew in the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1320.

Jesus was, it seems to me, warning them about the leaven of false doctrine of any kind.

Leaven or yeast, is a fungus that we add to bread dough. In the right conditions just a little grows in a matter of several hours to permeate a large lump of dough. Its presence is evident by the air bubbles that make the bread light and fluffy.

False doctrine is like that. Just a little imbalance or false teaching can quickly work its way through our whole teaching about God, resulting in aberrations as dissimilar as the cults and Christian liberalism.

How do we know when truth has been mixed with leaven? By getting familiar with teaching that is pure—that is, by immersing ourselves in the Bible. As we get to know its message from cover to cover, we will not be easily lured away by doctrines of a bloodless atonement, or angelic guides or any other leaven-permeated diversion from what Peter confessed later in the chapter: "You are the Christ the Son of the living God," or the simple gospel that Paul preached: "...Jesus Christ and Him crucified" 1 Corinthians 2:2.

PRAYER: Dear God, please sharpen my spiritual awareness so I will recognize the leaven of false teaching. Please guide me into truth by Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Confession of St. Peter

Today is the day the church celebrates the Confession of Saint Peter. It begins with this prayer:

Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Liturgy for this day

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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, January 17, 2015

The call to discipleship

"The calling of the fishermen" - Alexandre Bida
"The calling of the fishermen" - Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:29-51

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Because I said to you, "I saw you under the fig tree," do you believe? You will see greater things than these.' " John 1:50

I have always been fascinated by the gospel accounts of Jesus calling His disciples, which are all slightly different. Some things that jump out at me from John's telling:

Two of Jesus' eventual disciples were first disciples of John the Baptist, so obviously spiritual seekers. One was Andrew (John 1:40) and "the other was probably John, the author of the gospel" - Siegfried Schatzmann, study notes on John, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1445.

Two came to Jesus on the invitation of someone else. Andrew brought his brother Simon (John 1:41-42) and Philip recommended Jesus to his friend Nathanael (John 1:45).

Jesus "softened up" several of these disciples with supernatural signs. To Nathanael He said, " 'Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.' " Whatever happened under that fig tree must have been significant, for Nathanael's reply shows an attitude swing from skepticism to worship (John 1:49).

If we read the other accounts of Jesus calling the disciples we see that this wasn't His only interaction with James, John, Peter, and Andrew. In fact, His invitation to " 'Follow Me' " (Matthew 4:19) may well have come some time after this John 1 introduction.

I can imagine it—John and Andrew spend the day with Jesus (John 1:39) after which Andrew introduces his brother Peter to Him (John 1:41,42). But they they go back fishing (Matthew 4:18-20).

Luke's account adds even more detail in its description of that last fishing trip before the big decision. A long night of unsuccessful work is followed by Jesus coming by, telling them to fish on the other side. They do and pull in an unthinkably big catch. It is that miracle that is the catalyst in their big decision to forsake all and follow Jesus—something that has probably been percolating in their hearts and minds for a while (Luke 5:1-11).

As we look at our own lives, and the lives of loved ones who have yet to answer Jesus' "Follow Me," we may see similarities to how Jesus drew the disciples to Himself.

  • An interest in spiritual things and a thirst for spiritual reality means that something is going on inside the heart.
  • God typically softens us up with little supernatural glimpses of Himself—unexplained "coincidences," words of knowledge (such as Nathanael got here), or even outright miracles like the disciples' amazing catch of fish.
  • The recommendation of Jesus from others is also a big factor in people coming to Him themselves.

As we reflect on our desire for those we love to come to Him, let's realize that He may already be at work, sharpening spiritual interest and breaking down barriers and objections with glimpses of His reality and goodness. Let's be on the alert for when they're ready for that personal introduction.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I love how tailored to each individual Your invitation to discipleship is. Help me to have faith You are working behind the scenes in the lives of loved ones who have not yet come 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.


Friday, January 16, 2015

When God feels far away

planet in black space
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 35:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "For you say, 'What advantage will it be to you? What profit shall I have, more than if I had sinned?' " Job 35:3

In this third speech of Elihu's, he answers two questions he has heard Job ask:
1] What is the value of virtue (Job 35:2-8)?
2] Why doesn't God answer the prayers of the afflicted (Job 35:9-16)?

I'm going to focus on Elihu's response to the first question.: "What is the value of virtue?" See Job's own phrasing of it in Job 21:15.

Elihu answers by establishing God's remoteness. He is distant, says Elihu, and thus untouched by human actions. But, Elihu has himself said earlier that God does interact with people (Job 33:10-11, 24-26).

The commentary writer elaborates on Elihu's mixed messages:
"By stressing God's transcendence, he has protected God from the actions of people. But the reasoning here contradicts his earlier claim that God reacts to the sins by punishment and discipline and to righteousness by reward. ... By suggesting that God is indifferent, Elihu comes close to Job's position of challenging his justice" - Asbury Bible Commentary - accessed via "Study This" on BibleGateway.

We too may sometimes side with Elihua here, feeling that what we do makes no difference to God; that He is above and beyond our puny existence. I love how Wayne Grudem tackles this issue in his Systematic Theology:
"The term often used to say that God is much greater than creation is the word transcendent. Very simply, this means that God is far "above" the creation in the sense that he is greater than the creation and he is independent of it. 
God is also very much involved in creation … The technical term used to speak of God's involvement in creation is the word immanent, meaning "remaining in" creation. The God of the Bible is no abstract deity removed from and uninterested in his creation. The Bible is the story of God's involvement with his creation and particularly the people in it" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 267.

God sending Jesus is evidence of that involvement—His literal skin in the game (John 1:14). Through Jesus we are intimately connected to Him, despite what our feelings say:
  • " 'Lo I am with you always…' " - Matthew 28:29.
  • " 'Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand' " - John  10:28.
  • " 'Abide in Me and I in you' " - John 15:4.
  • "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life (nor angels, principalities powers etc.) shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" - Romans 8:38.

PRAYER: Dear God, I know the facts about Your presence. Help me to apply them to my life when my feelings say otherwise. 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, January 15, 2015

Lessons for the comforter

ill person with caretakers
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 34:16-37

TO CHEW ON: " ' If you have understanding, hear this;
Listen to the sound of my words: … ' " Job 34:16


Some wise person has said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Elihu doesn't seem to be aware of the principle behind that saying. He continues speaking to suffering Job like a lawyer building up to a "guilty" verdict.

In his defense of God he makes many claims we would call true. In yesterday's reading we considered his defense of God's justice. Today he upholds God's omniscience (Job 34:21,22,25) and omnipotence (Job 34:24,25).

The writer of the Asbury Bible Commentary puts a finger on the disconnect  we feel between young Elihu's often accurate words and how they must sound to the ill patriarch:

"While Elihu has the luxury of being theoretical and general (which he is) in his comments, Job, by virtue of his sufferings, is personal and existential in his. At issue in the book is not the justice of God in general, but his justice as it pertains to Job's suffering" - Asbury Bible Commentary, accessed via "Study This" on BibleGateway.

Also, Elihu's arguments lead him to a wrong conclusion (Job 34:34-37):  "Elihu is forced to picture Job as a wicked person if his theological assumptions are to stand" - Asbury Bible Commentary. Elihu's conclusion isn't accurate, as we know from our glimpse behind the scenes - see Job 1:8; 2:3.

I see two lessons for myself and perhaps all of us in this installment:

1. When we talk to someone who is suffering, our knowledge and certainties need to be delivered with empathy. How much easier Elihu's speech would have been for Job to hear if Elihu had acknowledged Job's condition, spoken with less stridency, softened his tone even a little.

2. We need to be careful of being too either/or in our theology so we avoid being forced into a false-conclusion corner because of our incomplete human knowledge. Elihu knew nothing of the extraterrestrial dialogue that preceded Job's trouble. His tight system brought him to the same wrong conclusion (that Job had brought this trial on himself: "…for he adds rebellion to his sin…  Job. 34:37) that Job's other friends came to.  It's way better to hold our peace in matters of divine cause and effect—things about which we have limited knowledge.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to learn the lessons of empathy and humility as I seek to understand life's difficulties and comfort my suffering friends. 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, January 14, 2015

Is God just when ...?

"Job and His Friends" - Ilya Repin (1844-1930)
"Job and His Friends" - Ilya Repin (1844-1930)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 33:31-34:15

TO CHEW ON: " 'Surely God will never do wickedly
Nor will the Almighty pervert justice.' " Job 34:13


I must admit that by day three of Elihu I'm finding him a little hard to take. The writer of my Bible's study notes describes him: "He is not a friend seeking to comfort but he is a young, developing sage attempting to offer new insight while the others are waiting to hear from God" - Charles E. Blair, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 673.

Like apologists are sometimes wont to do, he leads from his head rather than his heart, throwing punches of pride (" 'Hear my word you wise men; / Give ear to me, you who have knowledge…' " - Job 34:2) and sarcasm (" ' What man is like Job, / Who drinks scorn like water, / Who goes in company with the workers of iniquity …. / For he has said, "It profits a man nothing / That he should delight in God" ' " - Job 34:7-9).

However, if we can get past our emotional resistance to this upstart and set ourselves to focus on his words rather than the spirit in which they're spoken, we realize that Elihu is speaking an important truth about God: He is just: " ' Surely God will never do wickedly
Nor will the Almighty pervert justice' " - Job 34:13.


The theme of God's justice runs through the Bible:
  • Abraham appeals to it when bartering with the angel of the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorah - Genesis 18:25.
  • Moses defends it after 40+ years of working under His direction as the Israelites' leader - Deuteronomy 32:4.
  • Numerous psalms praise God's justice - Psalm 17:2; 37:28; 101:1.
  • Proverbs implies that God's own justice should characterize the business dealings of those who identify with Him - Proverbs 16:11.
  • God speaks about His justice in the first person through the mouths of prophets like Isaiah (Isaiah 61:8), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:5), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14:23).
  • Jesus, who existed from eternity with God, is unequivocal about it: "…'My judgment is righteous because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me' " - John 3:30.

All of the above notwithstanding, the decision to believe that God is just when He deals with us in ways we don't understand is still ours to make. Like Job was faced with it here, so we will be at some point. When the diagnosis is dire, the baby doesn't live, the accident leaves us in a wheelchair etc., will we still choose to believe that God is righteous in his justice?

PRAYER: Dear God, Paul was so right when he said "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV).  Help me to trust You in any and every life circumstance, even when I don't understand 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, January 13, 2015

The mystery of pain

"Job and his False Friends" by Jean Fouquet (1420-1477/81)
"Job and his False Friends" - Jean Fouquet (1420-1477/81)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 33:1-30

TO CHEW ON:
" ' Behold God works all these things.' " - Job 33:29

It's fascinating to note that in this book that may date back to the time of Abraham (its date and authorship are uncertain), Job and his friends are wrestling with the question "Why does bad stuff happen to us?" in much the same way we do today.

In our reading Elihu, a young man, speaks up after Job's three older friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have had their say and Job has answered them. Elihu gives his thoughts on why we suffer. Some of his points:
  • We may never know. God isn't obliged to tell us - Job 33:13.
  • "God may speak in one way or in another …. In order to turn man from his deed..." - Job 33:14-17. Elihu mentions some means God may use, like dreams and visions, to deliver His message.
  • These divine communications are meant, in the end, to discipline and humble us. Sometimes, unbeknownst to us, they keep us out of harm's way - Job 33:17-18.
  • Pain and illness chasten us and drive us to God - Job 33:19-24.
  • God heals in response to prayer - Job 33:24-26.
  •  Confession of sin is part of returning to God, in order that we may be saved from an even greater disaster - Job 33:26-28.

All these many years later, we, like Job and his peers, continue to question and seek for answers to pain, sickness, natural disasters, accidents, etc. And like these ancients, we still come to the conclusion that these things are a mystery; we don't understand.

But we can content ourselves with one thing: "God works all these things." Let that fact about the God, who has said about His people: "Behold I have loved you with an everlasting love…" (Jeremiah 31:3), be enough.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to trust Your love and good intentions toward me when I think I understand what You are allowing in my life, and when I don't. 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, January 12, 2015

Elihu—a good conversationalist

"Job in His Adversity" by Arthur Ackland Hunt
"Job In His Adversity" by Arthur Ackland Hunt
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 32:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "But there is a spirit in man,
And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding." Job 32:8


As we begin today's reading of Job 32, does it feel as if we're walking in on the middle of a conversation? Well we are.

You have probably heard or read the story of Job, how in the heavenlies Satan and God's attention become focused on him. Satan gets God's permission to trouble him and so in one day he loses practically everything and is eventually left with only his pessimistic wife and his unhealthy life (Job 1:1-2:10).

One by one his friends "comfort" him. But the comfort of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is cold. They urge him to examine his life for the cause of his misfortune because in their experience (Eliphaz) and by their tradition (Bildad) such bad fortune is always a consequence of some sin. Job answers them, justifying himself. Zophar condemns him for being verbose, presumptuous and sinful, and concludes that Job is actually getting less than he deserves (Job 11:6). We come on the scene after Job has defended himself against this variety of accusations.

The speaker in our reading is Elihu, a younger man who has respectfully kept silent while the others talked. Now he steps forward. Today's reading is his preamble to his reasons for Job's suffering and what he says underlines the specialness of the human species (that we talked about a few days ago):
"There is a spirit in man.
And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding."

Elihu elaborates as to why he has the nerve to speak up and contradict his elders. His reasons (in my words):
  • Just because you're a great man or have lived a long time doesn't mean you're wise  - Job 32:9.
  • I've listened closely to everything you've all said but you haven't convinced Job or me - Job 32:12-13, 18-19.
  • I have an opinion and I need to express it - Job 32:18,19.
  • What I have to say is, before God, the unvarnished truth and contains no flattery - Job 32:21-22.

I see in this passage a practical example of good human interaction—some things we can learn from young Elihu:

Elihu waited respectfully to have his say. 
But he finally asks to be heard despite his youth because of the spirit within him, breathed by God, which gives him insight.

In our interactions, do we view others, no matter what their age, race, status, or education, as worth respect and attention simply because they are created in God's "image and likeness," endowed by God's "breath" with understanding?
Elihu listened to the conversation before asking for the floor.
Do we listen first before we talk?
He spoke courageously out of conviction and integrity.
Do we speak just to hear ourselves give an opinion, or does our talk come from deeply held beliefs? If our beliefs contradict current wisdom, do we have the courage to speak them anyway? Is our talk sincere, or mixed with flattery to make it more palatable to those who may disagree with us?


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to interact respectfully with others, honouring Your image and likeness within them. Amen.

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


Sunday, January 11, 2015

He identifies with us

"Baptism of Jesus" by Isabella Colette

"Baptism of Jesus" by Isabella Colette
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan." Mark 1:9

Mark makes it clear that people were coming to John for baptism to confess their sins and for the remission of their sins. So why did Jesus (who was sinless—2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26—ask to be baptized?

I would submit that one purpose for His baptism was to identify with us. How so?

He would become sin for us. Paul says that God "...made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.." Though Jesus never committed sin, in His baptism He foreshadowed those awful / wonderful hours on the cross when He bore all the sins of all the people that had ever lived and would ever live (including yours and mine).

We can trust Him because He understands the human experience. Hebrews 2 talks more about what His identifying with us means:
  • He was subject to physical death (Hebrews 2:14). But His death was loaded with significance in that He would, by dying, satisfy God's wrath against sin ("make propitiation for the sins of the people" - Hebrews 2:17).
  • By taking on human existence, He understood/understands our temptation and is able to help us when we are tempted (Hebrews 2:18; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
  • When He limited Himself to a human body, He became subject to our weaknesses and so has compassion (deals gently) with us in them (Hebrews 2:5).

I love the aspect of Holy Spirit 's involvement in Jesus' baptism that unfolded when Jesus came up from the water and "He saw the heavens parting (torn open) and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove" accompanied by the message of Father God's approval: "You are My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" - Mark 1:11.

This scene pictures the trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It reminds us of the source and energy of spiritual life following repentance: the Holy Spirit.

Let's thank God for Jesus, our older brother (Hebrews 2:17) who was there first and who understands and sympathizes with our human struggles.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Jesus's humility and obedience to subject Himself to a human body and go through with the act of baptism. Help me to live the post-baptism Holy Spirit-empowered life. Amen.

MORE: More on Jesus' identity with us
"All through the Bible it is revealed that Our Lord bore the sin of the world by identification, not by sympathy. He deliberately took upon His own shoulders, and bore in His own Person, the whole massed sin of the human race - "He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin," and by so doing He put the whole human race on the basis of Redemption. Jesus Christ rehabilitated the human race; He put it back to where God designed it to be, and anyone can enter into union with God on the ground of what Our Lord has done on the Cross" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 7 reading.
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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, January 10, 2015

Busy angels

"The Dream of St. Joseph"
by Rembrandt - 1645

"The Dream of St. Joseph" - Rembrandt

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 2:13-23

TO CHEW ON: "Now when they had departed behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, 'Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.'" Matthew 2:13

The angels were busy during the time of Christ's birth. That busyness started with an appearance to Zacharias to tell of John the Baptist's birth. Six or so months later the angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her that she was the chosen mother of God's Son.

When Mary's pregnancy became obvious, an angel appeared to Joseph reassuring him that the conceived child was of the Holy Spirit and he could go ahead and marry her.

At Jesus' birth angels announced the news to shepherds.

After the wise men visit we have the incidents we read of today where an angel warned Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt (Matthew 2:13). He got another angel visit when it was time to return home after the danger was past (Matthew 2:20). A divine visit even confirmed his fearful feelings about settling in Judea (Matthew 2:22).

Angels make a fascinating study. They get whole chapters in theology textbooks and rightly so, for they populate the Bible from cover to cover. My systematic theology book has a section called "The Work of Good Angels in General." Their duties and responsibilities:

1. They stand before God and worship Him (Matthew 18:10; Revelation 5:11).

2. They protect and deliver God's people (Genesis 19:1, 10-11; Acts 5:19).

3. They guide and encourage God's servants (Matthew 28:5-7; Acts 27:23-24).

4. They interpret God's will to men (Job 33:23; Daniel 7:16).

5. They execute judgment toward individuals and nations (Acts 12:23; Genesis 19:12-13).

6. They carry the saved home when they fall asleep in Jesus (Luke 16:22). H. C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 205-207.

Have you ever seen or been helped by an angel? I have been surprised when the topic of angels comes up, how many people tell of angelic visitations. (More O.F. devos about angels, with an angel story or two, HERE)

How comforting it is to know that God has an army of helpers at the ready to inspire, aid, shield, and guide us, to interpret God's will to us, and to help bring it to pass.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for all the ways You minister Your providence, including assigning angels to work on my behalf. Amen.

MORE: Angelology

In the introduction to the section on angels, Thiessen writes:

"The doctrine of angels follows logically the doctrine of God, for the angels are primarily the ministers of God's providence. Although the Scriptures have much to say about angels, there is today a very general disregard, often amounting to a rejection of the doctrine. Various things have contributed to this attitude. There is first the Gnostic worship of angels (Colossians 2:18); then there are the often foolish speculations of the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages; and then, finally, there is the exaggerated belief in witchcraft in more recent times. Yet there are many reasons for believing in angels (his points abbreviated):


1. Taught in Scripture.
2. Evident in the demon possession and demon worship in heathen lands.
3. Practice of Spiritualism.
4. The work of Satan and the evil spirits in hindering the progress of grace in our own hearts and the work of God in the world (Ephesians 6:12).


H. C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, page 190.
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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, January 09, 2015

What is "the voice of the LORD" to you?

1 Kings 19:12 - ""And after the fire, a still small voice""
"And after the fire, a still small voice"
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 29:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "The voice of the LORD is powerful;
The voice of the LORD is full of majesty." Psalm 29:4


The phrase "The voice of the LORD" repeats seven times in this psalm. In this way David draws our attention to God's (Yahweh's) presence, especially in nature where God's voice is over the waters (recalling the scene of creation), breaks and splinters cedars, divides the flames, shakes the wilderness, and causes the deer to give birth. It truly is a powerful, majestic voice.

The Bible speaks of God's voice in other settings as well. God's voice:

  • Filled Adam and Eve with terror after they had sinned - Genesis 3:8.
  • Spoke "still" and "small" to weary Elijah - 1 Kings 19:12.
  • Came to the aid of His people - Isaiah 66:6.
  • Gave Ezekiel glimmerings of His glory and majesty - Ezekiel 43:2.
  • Vanquished a powerful king - Daniel 4:31.
  • Witnessed that Jesus was God the Son - Matthew 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17.

The "voice of God," as David uses it here, is actually a literary device called synecdoche: "A figure of speech in which a part of something indicates the whole" - Poetry Dictionary p. 312. It is similar to metonymy which uses an object associated with something to indicate the whole (e.g. we talk of "crown" when we mean "royalty.").

And so, it is not really God's voice per se that we're talking about but God Himself as we envision and experience Him in various ways.

I ask myself, if I wrote a psalm or poem using synecdoche, what part of God would I choose? His voice, or maybe His hands, or heart, or thoughts, or feet?

If I used His voice, what kind of 'voice of the Lord' poem or paragraph would I write? What about you? In other words, how do we view and how have we experienced God?

Has our view of Him been affected by how our society sees and portrays Him--distant and disinterested? Limited by the evil around us? A prudish potentate who doesn't want us to have any fun? A soft grandfatherly figure who, in the end, will welcome us all into heaven because we've done the best we could?

Or does our view of Him reflect how the Bible portrays Him? Are we open to see and know Him in new biblically based ways?

PRAYER: Dear God, I think my concept of who You are has been affected by my culture and its portrayal of You.  Help me to experience You as the holy, righteous, powerful, majestic, creative, glorious etc. etc. deity of the Bible. 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, January 08, 2015

Image-bearers

Detail from Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam"
Detail from Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam"

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 1:20-2:4

TO CHEW ON: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them." Genesis 1:27

As we read this passage, particularly the part about our (man's) creation, the question that comes to mind is, what does it mean to be created in the image of God?

I certainly struggled with how to answer that when I wrote my children's devotions (Bible Drive-Thru). Eventually I came up with this list:

The image of God in people sets them apart form the rest of creation in that they have creativity, are self-conscious, have personality, can think about more than what they see, hear, and feel (think abstractly), have soul and spirit as well as body, can make decisions and choices that lead to feelings.

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology simplifies—and complicates—the concept when he says:

"When God says, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness' (Genesis 1:26), the meaning is that God plans to make a creature similar to Himself. Both the Hebrew words for 'image' (tselem) and the Hebrew word for 'likeness' (demut) refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents or is an 'image' of. The word 'image' can also be used of something that represents something else" Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 442,3.

He goes on to explain how this definition steers us away from defining the image of God in man in too narrow terms, list-like, as I have done, for example "… because no such list could do justice to the subject. … In fact as we read the rest of scripture, we realize that a full understanding of man's likeness to God would  require a full knowledge of who God is in his being and in his actions and a full understanding of who man is and what he does" - Op. Cit., p. 443,4.

(Then Grudem does go on to give list of specific examples of what the image of God means.)

Practically, the fact that we humans are created in God's image should fill us with gratitude and respect—self-respect and respect for other humans. Grudem again:

"Every single human being, no matter how much the image of God is marred by sin, or illness, or weakness, or age, or any other disability, still has the status of being in God's image and therefore must be treated with the dignity and respect that is due to God's image-bearer" - Op. Cit., p. 450.

He lists those that might typically need to be kept in mind here—people of every race, the elderly, the seriously ill, the mentally retarded, children yet unborn and concludes:

"If we ever deny our unique status in creation as God's only image-bearers, we will soon begin to depreciate the value of human life, will tend to see humans as merely a higher form of animal, and will begin to treat others as such. We will also lose much of our sense of meaning in life" - Ibid.

Developments in current Canadian thought and practice—e.g. abortion on demand, the animal rights movement, and the push to legalize doctor-assisted suicide—illustrate that we are well down that road of human deprecation.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for how I am made. Help me to get to know You and thus myself. Help me to view all fellow humans as Your image-bearers and to treat them as such. 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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