Saturday, February 28, 2015

God's answer

"The Empty Tomb"
 Illustration from a book by Martin Luther.

The Empty Tomb - from a book by Martin Luther
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 22:16-31

TO CHEW ON: "You have answered Me." Psalm 22:21b

This psalm pivots at verse 21. There the speaker (prophetically Jesus, Messiah) comes to the triumphant conclusion "You have answered Me."

Up to that point He has dwelt on the dreadful things that would and did happen as His life spiraled toward death. Today's reading includes the howls of the suggestible crowed insisting Barabbas go free and Jesus die, His pierced hands and feet, the gawking scorn of onlookers, and the dice game for His robe. And then He proclaims, "You have answered Me."

But He died. So we ask,  how did God answer Him?

The answer came three days later. As explained by the writer of my Bible's Psalm footnotes: "The resurrection of Jesus was an answer to His prayer and to the agonizing prayer of every sin-laden human soul"-  K.R. "Dick" Iverson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 702.

That last phrase snags my attention: "...every sin-laden human soul." That includes me. It prompts me to ask: How does Christ's resurrection impact me—and you?

Wayne Grudem devotes an entire chapter to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus in his Systematic Theology. Here are some bits, gleaned from that chapter to answer our question: 

How does Jesus' resurrection impact us?

1. We are made spiritually alive.
"When Jesus rose from the dead he had a new quality of life .... When we become Christians our bodies remain as they were .... But in our spirits we are made alive with new resurrection power."

2. The penalty for our sin is paid.
"When Christ was raised from the dead, it was God's declaration of approval of Christ's work of redemption .... There was no penalty left to pay for sin, no more wrath of God to bear, no more guilt or liability to punishment—all had been completely paid for."

3. There will be resurrection bodies for us.
"In calling Christ the 'first fruits' (1 Corinthians 15:20) Paul uses a metaphor from agriculture to indicate we will be like Christ .... Christ as the 'first fruits' shows what our resurrection bodies will be like when, in God's final 'harvest' he raises us from the dead and brings us into his presence" - quotes from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 614-616.

The rest of Psalm 22 sparkles with the joy of this resurrection answer. Praise God, we can join in Messiah's celebration!

PRAYER: Dear God, "My praise shall be of You in the great assembly .... All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord's and He rules over the nations." Amen (quoting Psalm 22:25, 27-28)

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Friday, February 27, 2015

A human Jesus

Mary holding Baby Jesus
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 22:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts.
I was cast upon You from birth
From My mother's womb You have been My God." Psalm 22:9,10

One of the things I like about the New King James Version of the Bible is the way it capitalizes the pronouns of deity. When one pays attention to that detail, Psalm 22 comes across differently than many other prophetic passages which readers recognized as prophetic only after the events occurred.

All the upper case 'My's and 'Me's of Psalm 22 tell us this is considered to be God speaking—God in human form sent as Jesus, giving a prediction through David of "The Suffering, Praise and Posterity of Messiah" (the title the NKVJ give this chapter).

Jesus' humanity comes through in words like
"I am a worm and no man;
A reproach of men and despised by the people"  vs. 6.

This looks like Jesus with low self-esteem,   Jesus not unaffected by the people's reaction to Him. It brings to mind the verse, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" - Hebrews 4:15.

As a mother I notice the verses that speak of Jesus' childhood. For Mary the risks of pregnancy and childbirth were the same as for any other mother and the psalmist credits God with His help in that process:
"You are He who took Me out of the womb ….
I was cast on you You from birth" - Psalm 22:9-10.

The way Mary trained Jesus also played a part in who He became:
"You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts…" - Psalm 22: 9.

If the early years of Jesus were important in making Him the man He would become, how much more the early training of our children!

Are you a young mom, distracted and  tempted by dreams, ambitions, and outside opportunities? Don't let anything take your focus off the priceless responsibility and opportunity of raising your little ones to trust God from day one. Honor God in this season of your life and He will surely make it up to you in another.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, this human picture of You tugs at my heart. I know You understand my weakness. Help me to put my confidence in God when I am faced with scorn, like You did. 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, February 26, 2015

Plot points in God's story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 17:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you." Genesis 17:11

You probably own a few things that signify watershed moments in your life — the Bible you were given at your baptism perhaps, a wedding ring, maybe the clothes your daughter wore when she was dedicated. As people we benefit from such tangible reminders of our history, the things we've experienced, and the promises we've made.

God has sealed His dealings with humanity with signs and markers too. We have the record of them in the Bible (and mentioned some of them a few days ago in "Signs of God's goodness"):

1. Rainbow — a sign marking God's promise to never again destroy all humanity by flood (Genesis 9:12-15).

2. Circumcision — "...an external sign which showed that Abraham and his descendants were God's covenant people" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p.27.

3. Blood, painted on the lintel and door frames of the house — a sign that the death angel should pass over that house (Exodus 12:13).

4. Unleavened bread — to remind the Israelites that God had brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 13:6-10).

5. Sacrifice of firstborn animals —  a reminder of God sparing Israel's firstborn sons the night the death angel visited (Exodus 13:16).

6. Scarlet cord draped from the window of a house —  a sign that marked Rahab and her family for rescue from Jericho (Joshua 2:12, 17-18).

7. Altar of 12 stones — a sign to remind the Israelites of how God helped them cross the Jordan River to Canaan (Joshua 4:1-7).

8. Dove as the Holy Spirit, ascending and alighting on Jesus at His baptism — a sign of God's favour on Him (Matthew 3:16).


Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God, says this about the way God works—the actions behind the list of signs, above:

"God works in sequence to accomplish His divine purpose. What He did in the past was accomplished with a kingdom purpose in mind. What He is doing in the present is in sequence with the past and with the same kingdom purpose. Every act of God builds on the past, with a view toward the future" Experiencing God Workbook, p. 124.

If you look back over the signs I've listed (and there are many more), can you see a thread? Are they not all part of God's history of salvation—from God's promise to never again destroy all humanity by flood, to His establishing His covenant of nationhood with Abraham, to His keeping of that nation through Egypt's slavery and their wilderness wanderings to, finally, the coming of Jesus, the lamb that would save us all?

God's message of love to us through these markers and signs is a reason for awe, worship, and making our lives available to God, to carry news of that salvation thread to our contemporaries.  

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your plan of salvation and how you have threaded signs of it through the Bible story. Help me to be alert to the signs of Your working in my life. I pray, with David, "Show me a sign for good...." Amen.

MORE: Personal markers

It is good to reflect on the signs, objects or markers that tell the story of God at work in our lives. For me those include significant Bible verses, certain books, a special song...

If we read the accounts of God giving His people signs, one of the reasons He gave the sign, in almost every case, was to help parents explain God's ways their children and grandchildren.

Could you use the signs, objects or markers you recalled to tell to your children and grandchildren the story of how God has worked in your life?

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Peacemaking—foolish giving in, or heavenly wisdom?

"Parting of Abram and Lot" - from Treasures of the Bible
"Parting of Abram and Lot" - from Treasures of the Bible (Genesis)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 13:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
"And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's stock. … So Abram said to Lot, 'Please, let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brethren.' " Genesis 13:7,8

Conflict within the family and between workers, fights over the same "piece of the pie," standoffs that lead to broken relationships—these are not unusual situations to us. But perhaps Abram's way of handling conflict in his family was.

1. He exposed the problem—brought it up in conversation with his nephew rather than ignoring it till it got worse.

2. His solution—to give Lot first choice of grazing land—had the potential to damage him. And indeed Lot, true to his personalty "…chose for himself" (Genesis 13:11), and Abram was left with the inferior pastureland.

3. But God was way bigger than what might look to us like a foolish giving in by Abram. For it was after they split that God came to Abram again with such a fantastic promise, he may have been left shaking his head: Did I hear right? (Genesis 13:14-17).

What can we learn from Abram to apply to our own lives?
  • To confront conflict and strife, not let it fester.
  • To be realistic about the cost. We need to realize that in confronting the strife, there may be consequences, maybe even negative consequences to us. Maybe the partner will decide to buy us out, the relationship will break up, the adult son or daughter will move out…
  • To be reassured that by pursuing peace, we make ourselves a target of God's blessing.
- Such an action identifies us as God's children - Matthew 5:9.
- It is a characteristic of heavenly wisdom - James 3:17.
- It, along with holiness, sets us apart as ones who will see God - Hebrews 12:14.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to pursue peace above my own self-interest, knowing that Your ways are always the wisest and best despite what it may look like right now. 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, February 24, 2015

Blessing

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 12:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing." Genesis 12:2

We cannot read God's message to Abraham and not be struck by the repetition of one word: BLESS. In the span of two verses it occurs five times (in forms of "bless," "blessing," and "blessed").

["Bless" here is the Hebrew word barak - "to bless, kneel."

In English we define bless as "to consecrate, make holy; to honor, exalt; glorify; to invoke God's favour upon; to bestow happiness or prosperity; to guard and protect."]

As we follow the idea of blessing through the Bible, here are some things we discover:

1. Blessing is within our creator God's power to bestow (Psalm 134:3).

2. It is involved with God's plan for the Jewish people (Genesis 26:24)
  • Blessing is evidenced in the unusually large harvest of year six in a seven-year cycle, so that the people would have food when they let their land rest in year seven (Leviticus 25:21).
  • It is visible in their large families (Deuteronomy 1:11).
  • It results in them settling in Canaan — the land of promise (Deuteronomy 26:15).
  • Israel's independence and self-sufficiency are an evidence of God's blessing (Deuteronomy 15:6).

3. It is connected to obedience. Fourteen verses of Deuteronomy 28 are taken up with promises of personal, family and national blessings that will flow out of obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-14).

4. It is closely connected with giving (2 Chronicles 31:10; Ezekiel 44:30).

5. It is an expression of God's love (Deuteronomy 23:5).

6. It is His presence (Psalm 21:6).

7. It comes when people live peacefully together (Psalm 133:1-3).

8. It makes rich (Proverbs 10:22).

9. It is part of the upside down Kingdom of God, where we inherit a blessing when we refuse to reciprocate evil with evil, but with blessing (1 Peter 3:9).

But, you say, these blessings were for Bible time people not for us now — right?

Wrong! The exciting thing is that the blessing pronounced on Abraham and his descendants is linked to us too. Look at Galatians 3:13-14:
"Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith." - Galatians 3:14 NLT

So when we say, "God bless you," we are not mouthing empty words. Rather we are invoking a rich heritage of blessing that is ours because of Jesus — just another fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and the way he would bless, made way back in Genesis ("And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed" Genesis 12:3)

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live blessed and under Your blessing. May my life be a means of blessing to others today. Amen.

MORE: "I Will Delight" - Fernando Ortega




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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.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Signs of God's goodness


rainbow bridge
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 9:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the clouds, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.'" Genesis 9:12,13


Here we read of God giving the rainbow as a sign or token of His promise to never again destroy earth and its creatures in the way He did in the flood. What a genius sign—beautiful, visible at one time or another to everyone on earth, and simple enough for even a child to appreciate. However, this is only one message in the sign language between God and mankind. Here are some others:

  • God told Abraham to circumcise all his male offspring. This was the sign of the covenant between God, Abraham, and his descendants - Genesis 17:1, 4-11.
  • The blood on the doorposts of the Israeli homes in Goshen the night before the Israelites left Egypt was a No Admittance sign to the death angel - Exodus 12:13.
  • Purging their houses of leaven and eating only unleavened bread for seven days was a sign of the importance of obeying God's instructions (His law) and His abhorrence of sin - Exodus 13:9.
  • Redeeming the firstborn was another reminder of God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt - Exodus 13:16.
  • Aaron's rod budding was a sign to the rebellious Israelites that the Levites were the people God had chosen to lead them - Numbers 17:10.
  • A dove descending on Jesus at His baptism was a sign of the Holy Spirit - Matthew 3:16. John the Baptist explained it as a sign of the One who had the ability to baptize others with the Holy Spirit - John 1:33.

I think we can view these signs as clues in the mystery of God's intentions toward humanity.

  • The rainbow tells us it's His intention to preserve earth and the humans on it.
  • Circumcision shows that God's plan will involve a certain race of people, through whom He will bless all earth's nations.
  • The blood on the doorposts and the redemption of the firstborn show that this preservation is costly.
  • Cleansing the house of leaven and eating only unleavened bread for seven days shows God's abhorrence of sin. (Leaven is often depicted in the Bible as a symbol of sin - Matthew 16:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.)
  • Aaron's budding rod illustrates the importance of following God-appointed leaders.
  • The dove descending on Jesus and His ability to baptize with the Spirit is a sign that Jesus is God and that it is through Him we receive new life.

David prays for a sign of God's goodness:
"Show me a sign for good..." -  Psalm 86:17.

Let's make David's prayer our own as we ponder the signs God has given throughout history and the personal signs of His presence and love that He blesses us with in the daily round of life.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these signs and tokens of Your care for us humans  throughout history. Please open my eyes to signs of Your goodness to me as I go through this day. 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, February 22, 2015

Shades of remembering

Noah Leaving the Ark - from Religion in the Home (Part 1)
Noah Leaving the Ark - from Religion in the Home (Part 1)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 8:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Then God remembered Noah and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark." Genesis 8:1

Though Bible passages like Psalm 139 assure us that God doesn't ever forget us (Psalm 139:1-4,7), it sometimes feels like He does. Perhaps that's how Noah felt during those long uncertain months in the ark.

The Dictionary of Bible Themes (access through Biblegateway.com) reminds us that God always remembers:
  • His covenant - Psalm 105:8
  • His promises - Psalm 105:42.
  • His people - Isaiah 49:15-16.

But He doesn't remember:
  • Our sins  and lawless deeds - Hebrews 8:12.
  • The old creation after He has created the new - Isaiah 65:17.

Perhaps a more important question for us to ask ourselves is, do we remember Him? We are to remember:
  • God's person - Psalm 42:5-6.
  • God's acts from the past - Isaiah 46:9.
  • His wrath - Deuteronomy 8:18 (and 2 Peter 3:1-10 where Peter refers to the flood).
  • God's commands - Psalm 103:17,18.
  • Our responsibilities toward each other and especially towards the poor - Acts 20:35; Galatians 2:10; Hebrews 13:2-3.
  • The death of Jesus - 1 Corinthians 11:24-28.

These remembrances are important because they lead to:
  • Joy and singing - Psalm 13:5,6.
  • Sorrow for sin and repentance - Matthew 5:23,24
  • Understanding - Luke 24:6-8; John 15:20; 16:1-4; Acts 11:15-18.
  • Hope for the future - Lamentations 3:21-24.

When it feels like God has forgotten us, let's remind ourselves, He hasn't. He is just as aware of us as He was of Noah during all those months in the ark. In the meantime, let's not forget Him.

PRAYER:
Dear God help me to trust You are aware of me and my circumstances all the time—even when You are silent and feel absent. Amen.

MORE: The Silence of God - Andrew Peterson.

In this beautiful song, Andrew Peterson reminds us that even Jesus experienced the silence of God:

"And the Man of all sorrows, He never forgot
What sorrow is carried in the hearts that He bought.
So when questions may remain, the breaking does not ...
In the holy lonesome echo of the silence of God" - from "The Silence of God" by Andrew Peterson. 



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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, February 21, 2015

Obedience's consequences

Noah - Artist unknown
Noah - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 7:1-24

TO CHEW ON:
"So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in." Genesis 7:16

The illustration I found for today's post pictures what I believe the years of building the ark must have been like for Noah and his family—full of scorn, teasing, jokes made at his and his family's expense, etc. Yet we never hear of him arguing with God about this crazy assignment, or complaining about the treatment from his neighbors.

I wonder, though, how Mrs. Noah, the boys, and their wives felt about Noah following these seemingly bizarre instructions from God.

Oswald Chambers says:

"If we obey God it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the sting comes. If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything, it is a delight, but it costs those who do not love Him a good deal. … We can disobey God if we choose, and it will bring immediate relief to the situation, but we shall be a grief to our Lord. Whereas if we obey God, He will look after those who have been pressed into the consequences of our obedience. We have simply to obey and to leave all consequences to Him" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, January 11 reading (emphasis added).

Our focus verse today illustrates the truth of what Chambers says. The consequences of Noah's obedience, though probably painful for his family in the immediate, were a long-term blessing.

1. His family and animal species of all kinds were preserved because of his obedience. The wording of Genesis 7:16: "So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him…" tells us that Moses got the order. It was up to him to enact it.

2. Noah's obedience put him and all those with him in God's care: "God shut him up."

I believe these principles of obedience from Noah's life speak to our lives still today.
  • Our actions don't impact only us but those around us as well. Our obedience may have implications for our family members, friends, neighbors, even strangers (for apparent good or bad). 
  •  In the end, our obedience puts us in God's care. And isn't that the safest place for us and all those with us, despite what it looked like in the short term: "Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" - 1 Peter 5:7.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to obey You no matter what the consequences. 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, February 20, 2015

Take a walk (with God)

"Noah building the ark" - Free Bible Illustrations

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 6:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God." Genesis 6:9

What a thing to say about someone: that they walked with God.
  
Walk is an incredibly rich word. I love my dictionary's precise definition of walk as a verb: "Move at a regular and fairly slow pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at once." (Sounds pretty grounded, doesn't it?)

Walk has many shades of use, both as a verb and noun. We say police walk the beat (travel over an area on foot). When someone walks away from something we mean they abandon it.  A person charged with a crime but not convicted walks. Someone who doesn't deserve it walks right into a well-paid job. In baseball, four pitches deemed by an umpire to be out of the strike zone allows the batter free passage (a walk) to first base.

In the middle of all these definitions is the archaic walk that best fits our verse: "used to describe how someone lives or behaves: walk humbly with your God."

But my imagination doesn't want to separate the physical act of walking from this definition of walk as behavior or lifestyle. They complement each other so well. Let's let our minds wander over the walks we find in the Bible and discover what they have to say about walking with God as a lifestyle.

  • Noah wasn't the only person to walk with God. Enoch did before him (Genesis 5:22). In fact, Enoch's mysterious disappearance was attributed to God taking him to Himself (Genesis 5:24).
  • The God-pleasing walk for Israel's Old Testament leaders and people was characterized by obedience (1 Kings 8:58; 2 Kings 23:3; Psalm 81:13).
  • Amos's brilliant rhetorical question "Can two walk together unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3), perfectly connects staying in step with someone when we're out for a walk and our need to be synchronized to live-walk together with each other and God.
  • Isaiah also joins the physical motion of walking with the spiritual benefits of waiting on God: "…they shall walk and not faint" - Isaiah 40:31.

Some of the Bible stories where walking takes place are also interesting.

  • Before sin entered the world it seems Adam and Eve joined God in walks around Eden. For the day they sinned "… they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day." That day they hid instead of joining Him and He called out " 'Where are you?' " What a heartbreaking picture of broken friendship (Genesis 3:8,9).
  • Perhaps we can credit Abraham with giving us the prayer walk. For after the angels told him their intention to destroy Sodom, "… Abraham went with them to send them on their way." As they went he begged God to spare the city for righteous people living in it - Genesis 18:16-33.
  • Finally, one of my favorite walk stories is of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, walking, all unbeknownst to them, with the resurrected Jesus (Luke 24:13-16). What a rich walk that was, where Jesus "… beginning at Moses and all the Prophets expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself" - Luke 24:27.

Today, let's invite Jesus into our progress through the day. Let's be obedient. Let's walk in step with Him and wait on Him, if need be, instead of running ahead. Let's share our concerns with him (pray as we walk), let Him teach us, and  then let's enjoy our leisure with Him. Today, let's walk with God!

PRAYER: Dear God, please walk with me today—or perhaps better said, show me how to walk with 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.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fear and friendship

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 25:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way he should choose.... The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he will teach him in the way he chooses." PSALM 25:12,14 ESV


It's interesting that this psalm promises God's guidance and friendship to those who fear Him.

The word fear (yare') here doesn't only mean to be afraid in its usual English sense. It also means to "Stand in awe of, be awed, reverence, honour and respect." The Amplified translation includes those shades of meaning: "Who is the man who reverently fears and worships the Lord? ....The secret [of the sweet satisfying companionship] of the Lord have they who fear (revere and worship) Him and He will show them His covenant and reveal to them its [deep inner] meaning."

The words worship and revere imply that our relationship with God is not one of equals. It is similar in some ways to the relationship of subjects to a monarch. Even a king's son or daughter must treat him with special deference observing protocol, at least in public.

When we fear God we become good candidates for His instruction and guidance. It means we will pay attention to what pleases Him. We will accept His correction and discipline. We will obey Him when He tells us what to do and how to do it.

The wonderful thing is God is not some cold distant sovereign ordering us around, but a God who, in response to our fear (respect, reverence, worship), extends (amazing thought) "sweet, satisfying companionship" i.e. "friendship."

PRAYER: Dear God, when I think about You and all Your power, authority, wisdom, creativity, and compassion, the only appropriate response is fear.  I am amazed and incredibly grateful that in response to my fear, You offer friendship. Amen.

MORE: "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 1:7). Happy the soul that has been awed by a view of God's majesty, that has had a vision of God's awful greatness, His ineffable holiness, His perfect righteousness, His irresistible power, His sovereign grace. Does someone say, "But it is only the unsaved, those outside of Christ, who need to fear God"? Then the sufficient answer is that the saved, those who are in Christ, are admonished to work out their own salvation with "fear and trembling" - by A. W. Pink. Read all of "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
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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.

Scriptures marked ESV are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Discovering the truth about ourselves

David and Nathan - Matthias Scheits
"David and Nathan" - Matthias Scheits
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 51:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "Behold You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom." Psalm 51:6



David prayed this prayer after the uncanny experience of having Nathan the prophet come to him and expose his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12).

Had Nathan caught him in the act?

No. It was God who revealed David's sin to Nathan—the God who:
  • spotted Noah as righteous - Genesis 7:1.
  • whispered the secrets of Saul to Samuel - 1 Samuel 9:19.
  • alerted Elisha to Gehazi's sin of lying to Naaman - 2 Kings 5:26.
  • kept Jesus in-the-know about the thoughts and attitudes of those around Him - Matthew 22:18; Mark 2:8; Luke 6:8; 11:17.
  • gave the disciples confidence to offer the gospel to the Gentiles - Acts 15:8.

But David was a Spirit-filled man, wasn't he? Why did God need to send someone else to tell him how displeasing his sin was?

Perhaps because his involvement in that sin had opened him up to deception. Whenever his sin bothered him, which it no doubt did, he silenced the pangs of conscience or the voice of God with, 'It's no big deal' or, 'I had no other option,' or any number of other excuses we too give for committing sin. Then it took someone else, someone who heard God's voice clearly, to bring him to his senses. It was only after Nathan confronted him that he confessed to his sin (2 Samuel 12: 7,13).

God wants us to be just as scrupulously honest with ourselves—to live in truth at the deepest level. He can show us the state of our hearts. I love another David psalm where he prays: "Search me O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting" - Psalm 139:23,24.

But if we insist on living in deception, God can also send someone—our own Nathan—to tell us the truth about ourselves. The question is, will we be as receptive to such an exposé as David was? However it happens may we be as quick to acknowledge our sin and repent.

PRAYER: Dear God, please alert me to self deception. I want to have a life of truth and wisdom. Amen.

MORE:  Repentance
"Repentance always brings a man to this point: I have sinned. The surest sign that God is at work is when a man says that and means it. Anything less than this is a remorse for having made blunders, the reflex action of disgust at himself.

The entrance into the Kingdom is through the panging pains of repentance crashing into a man's respectable goodness; then the Holy God, who produces these agonies, begins the formation of the Son of God in the life. The new life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness, never the other way about" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 7 reading.

Today (Ash Wednesday) is the beginning of Lent.

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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, February 17, 2015

Moses—incredible senior

Moses on Mt. Nebo by Thomas Nast
Moses on Mt. Nebo by Thomas Nast
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Deuteronomy 34:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished." Deuteronomy 34:7

There is an unofficial rule in our society that after a certain age it's time for the shelf. Obviously God and Moses didn't get that memo. Moses would have made a fascinating study for our gerontologists.

At 40 years of age, when we would consider him in his prime,  Moses' self-generated plans to realize what he may have thought of as his life purpose (freeing his countrymen from slavery), failed miserably. As a wanted murderer, he had to flee Egypt - Acts 7:22-29.

For 40 years he lived the life of a nobody. He married, he and his wife had kids, but in our estimation he was pretty much a failure with no land, no flock of his own, living with and working for his father-in-law (Exodus 2:16-23; 3:1).

Then at 80 God met him at that burning bush and gave him back his dream. Only now he didn't want it. After a lot of arm-twisting Moses decided to cooperate with God's destiny for him.

The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy tell the story of Moses' next 40 years (from 80-120 years old). They are an incredible tale of leadership as Moses faced the resistance of Pharaoh, getting a multitude of thousands out of Egypt and through the wilderness, rebellion within the ranks, physical testing and hardship, victory and disappointment…

We meet him in today's reading at 120 years—no glasses, hearing aids, false teeth or walker needed. He's still physically acute and fit and wanting more, though God had said no (Deuteronomy 3:23-29). So he's saying goodbye to this life on a high note, both physically and spiritually.

I take from Moses' life some encouragement for our own lives:
  • God isn't boxed into our norms and expectations. If he has a job for us to do, age isn't a hindrance.
  • Zest for life can extend into old age. I love Moses' description of his rekindled desire to live on and how he begs God to be able to finish job of leading the Israelites into the promised land (Deuteronomy 3:23-25).
  • When it's our time to go, God will take us. (Or we could turn that around and say, God won't take us until it's our time to go.) For Moses it wasn't even a matter of being sick or wearing out. It was simply his time and that was it. But he lived fully right to the end. May we be so blessed!

PRAYER:
Dear God, May I live fully and usefully till my last breath, like Moses did. 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, February 16, 2015

Secrets of spiritual power

"Jesus in prayer" - by Alexandre Bida
"Jesus in prayer" - by Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 9:14-29

TO CHEW ON:
"So He said to them, 'This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.' " Mark 9:29

We hear a message and it convicts us of sin. A song has us on our knees in worship. The story of a godly life brings us to tears of awe. In the spiritual realm we call such ministry, such music, such writing "anointed." By that we mean that there is something in it, coming through it, that is of God. It has power that is not explained by the cleverness of the message and story, or the beauty of the melody and lyrics.

Jesus demonstrated that power after the distraught father explained his distress following the disciples' inability to exorcise the self-destructive demon from his son. Jesus cast out the demon, seemingly effortlessly (Mark 9:25,26). When the disciples later asked Jesus why they couldn't help the boy, He gave them and us one means by which God empowers a life: " ' This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting' " - Mark 9:29.

Spiritual power also comes by:
 - Returning to God and confidently trusting in Him - Isaiah 30:15 
- Waiting on the Lord - Isaiah 40:31.
- Waiting for the Lord - Isaiah 49:23.
- And of course via the Holy Spirit:
    • Who gave the prophet courage to confront his countrymen about their sin - Micah 3:8.
    • Who is capable above any human resource - Zechariah 4:6.
    • Who empowered Jesus - Luke 4:14.
    • Who baptized and still baptizes Christians with power to witness - Acts 1:8; 4:33.
    • Who gives power to do miracles - Acts 6:8; 9:11,12.
    • Who inhabits speech so that words are not mere human persuasion but a "… demonstration of the Spirit and of power" - 1 Corinthians 2:4.
    • Who strengthens us in the inner person - Ephesians 3:16.

I want to live a life of spiritual power. I'm sure you do too. Let's be aware of the possible cost to us in self denial (as we fast and pray), in waiting on God for His timing and methods, and in the surrender of ourselves—our bodies and wills, goals and ambitions, methods and strategies—to the Holy Spirit.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to be willing to pay the price needed to live a spiritually powerful life. 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, February 15, 2015

Peter's prattle

The Transfiguration 
- Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 9:2-13

TO CHEW ON: "Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"—because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid." Mark 9:5,6

Tradition says that the Gospel of Mark is actually Peter's version of the life of Jesus. ("The earliest witness to Marcan authorship stems from Papias bishop of the church at Hierapolis [about A.D. 135-140] .... Papias describes Mark as 'interpreter of Peter'" - J. Lyle Story, "Introduction to Mark," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1346).

That is borne out by the little aside we are focusing on today. It's as if Peter was recalling to Mark, his scribe, 'I remember saying this (about the tabernacles...) but I was just prattling, not knowing what I said or why I said it, because I was so frightened.'

The Bible talks about many kinds of speech. Peter's here might fall into the category of "vain words" of the sort spoken of in Job 16:3: "Shall words of wind have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer?"

What these words of Peter's illustrate is that sometimes it's better to say nothing than to fill the uncomfortable silence with proof of our ignorance. After the vision ended and the disciples were descending the mountain, Jesus said as much: "He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen till the Son of Man had risen from the dead" - Mark 9:9.

I think there are things that we would also be wise to hold our counsel about till we see them in their larger context. As the writer of Proverbs said: "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue" - Proverbs 17:28

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to consider the necessity and appropriateness of my words before I say them. Help me to be comfortable with uncertainty, questions, silence. 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, February 14, 2015

The real thing

"Church at Auvers" 1890 by Vincent Van Gogh
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

TO CHEW ON: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

With the invention of the printing press and photography, the world is full of copies. Years ago I visited the Van Gogh museum. After studying Van Gogh in History of Art class, I was excited to see his original paintings. There was one in particular that caught my eye. The colors, especially the red roof, of the “Church at Auvers” were stunning. Later in the gift shop, I flipped through the poster bin, eager to own a red roof of my own. But what a disappointment. None of the representations even came close to the brilliance of the actual painting.

The real painting of love is what we see in 1 Corinthians 13. Study its perfection. See what it is and does. It is long-lasting, rejoices when truth and right prevail, bears up under anything and everything that comes along, believes the best about people, keeps hoping under all circumstances, endures without weakening.

Look at what it isn’t and doesn’t do. It’s not envious, jealous, boastful, or full of itself. It doesn’t parade its accomplishments, isn’t conceited, arrogant, proud, rude, inappropriate, self-seeking, touchy, fretful, or resentful. It doesn’t pay attention to evil done to it, remember a wrong, or rejoice at injustice or unrighteousness.

No matter what personality type you are or what your love weakness is, it’s probably addressed in 1 Corinthians 13. I know mine are and then some! Can I ever love like that? Can you? Only with God’s help!

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please change my inner self to love in the 1 Corinthians 13 way. Amen. 

MORE: How does it work?

Is the Christian life a lifestyle of supernatural enabling or of try-harder in order to live up to the ideal? I believe it’s a little of both.

If we never saw the detailed picture of love painted in 1 Corinthians 13, we might think we were doing pretty well – especially when we compare ourselves to our gossiping neighbor, our jealous cousin or our self-centered star and starlet pop heroes. It’s when we come up against the real thing—as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13 (and fleshed out in the life of Jesus) that we see what a tawdry representation of genuine agape love is portrayed in our lives.

And so we come to God and pray for help—to see our fellowman differently, to let go of hurts, to be kind to annoying people, to trust Him with our future and reputation, to give up the right to manipulate it by boasting, and on and on …

We see the standard. We realize we can’t live up to it. We ask for His help—and slowly we change to become more like 1 Corinthians 13 lovers. Of course we don’t do this to earn heaven but because it’s the way of the One Who loves us and wants only our best. At least that’s the way I see it.

Today is Valentine's Day—a day set aside to celebrate love Let's remember that the greatest gift we could give our loved ones is a hefty package of 1 Corinthians 13 love.

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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, February 13, 2015

The church's brain

brain tree
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

TO CHEW ON: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." 1 Corinthians 12:13


In our physical bodies, there is one organ, I would submit, that is more important than all the others. It is the brain.

The brain is the body's command center. It is only through a properly functioning brain that we see, hear, taste, smell, move about, and think. There is a section in the brain where even our seemingly automatic functions like breathing and heart beating are controlled. We can live minus a hand or foot, eyes or even without our heart and lungs (if we're hooked up to artificial ones) but we can't live without the brain. When someone is "brain dead" the line between death and life has been crossed.

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, where Paul likens the church to the body with all its members having differing, complementary, mutually beneficial functions, I think we could say that the Holy Spirit is the brain. He is the life-giver and coordinator of the body of Christ, the church. Here are some things for which the Holy Spirit is responsible:

  • He gives life - John 6:63. Through Him we become part of the body - 1 Corinthians 12:13.
  • The baptism of the Spirit is for each one - Acts 2:3; 10:44; 1 John 2:20.
  • The Spirit gives us assurance that we are part of this body - Romans 8:16.
  • Life in the Spirit is for each one - Galatians 4:6; 1 John 3:24.
  • We are intimately connected to Him - John 14:17.
  • He teaches us - 1 John 2:27. The promise is that in a time of pressure, He'll even give us the words to say - Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12; John 14:26.
  • He guides us into truth - John 16:13.
  • He orchestrated the movements of the Apostles in the early church - Acts 8:39; 10:19,20; 16:6.
  • He appointed individuals for specific tasks - Acts 13:2.

Just like the smooth functioning of a body part is impacted when its connection to the brain is damaged or severed, so our use to the church body is impacted when our connection to the Holy Spirit is interrupted by:
  • Lying to the Spirit (see the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5).
  • Blaspheming against the Spirit - Mark 3:29.
  • Resisting the Spirit - Acts 7:51.
  • Grieving the spirit - Ephesians 4:30.
  • Quenching the Spirit - 1 Thessalonians 5:19.
  • Insulting the Spirit - Hebrews 10:29.

We are probably unaware of our brain activity—though essential to life. Similarly we may be unaware of the Spirit's work in and through us. But like we sense something amiss in our physical bodies when that connection to the brain is broken or damaged, we may sense something is wrong spiritually when our connection to the Holy Spirit is damaged.

The good news is, this connection can be re-established. It's done not through medicine or surgery, but by confessing our sin and turning from it - Psalm 51:1-11; Ephesians 4:25-32.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, help me to preserve a healthy connection to You, so I will be a functioning and useful member of the body of Christ on earth. 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, February 12, 2015

Things that build up

building blueprints
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 10:18-11:1

TO CHEW ON:
"All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify." 1 Corinthians 18:23

We have dwelt in the past on how we as Christians may have freedoms which we intentionally restrict in order to help and not hinder or offend others. Today, let's change our focus from what we shouldn't do to what we should. Let's look at the things that "edify."

[The word edify transliterated oikodomeo, is a word for building. It is used here in the metaphorical sense for the construction and well-being of the church. Used this way it means "to found, establish; to promote growth in Christian wisdom, affection, grace, virtue' to grow in wisdom and piety."]

Edify used in this way appears often in the New Testament. As I look through verses that speak of it, I see them fitting into two categories:

1. How we are edified
  • Through God's word. Paul's parting speech to the elders at Ephesis brings this out: "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up…" Acts 20:32.
  • Through church leaders. Again and again the visits of the early church leaders to the various congregation are described as edifying, or building up: Acts 14:22; 15:32,41; 18:23,27.
  • Our leaders' authority is for our edification - 2 Corinthians 10:8.
  • We're edified through the different roles in which they come to us, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers - Ephesians 14:12,29
  • Even their scoldings and rebukes are meant to build us up—as Paul assured the Corinthians - 2 Corinthians 13:10.

2. How we edify others:
  • Like the early church did to grow, we walk "… in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit" - Acts 9:31. This works itself out in many practical ways:
  • We pursue harmony and peace - Romans 14:19.
  • We comfort each other - 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
  • We seek to please our neighbors and pursue their well-being - Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 10:24 (part of our reading).
  • We use our spiritual gifts - 1 Corinthians 14:3, 12.
  • We take part in corporate worship: "… Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" - 1 Corinthians 14:26.
  • We love - 1 Corinthians 8:1.

Today, let's focus on building others up and being built up through God's word and the Christian community, rather than how close we can live to the line of things that are not lawful or edifying. 

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the reach means of edification we have in You and through the church. Help me to build up others today. 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, February 11, 2015

Complaining? Nip it, zip it!



TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 10:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “Nor (let us) complain as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” 1 Corinthians 10:10

Here, alongside grave sins like idolatry, sexual immorality, and tempting Christ we find complaining? There must be some mistake! How can this common attitude, that most of us indulge in daily, be so bad?

The story referred to here happened when Korah, Dathan and Abiram challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership during the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness. When they confronted Moses saying they were every bit as much leaders as he was, the earth opened and “swallowed them up.” Then fire from God consumed 250 others who were offering incense unlawfully. The next day the “congregation” of Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” Immediately God sent a plague to destroy the grumblers (read the entire store in Numbers 16).

In this example the complaint was against leadership—something we never complain about, right? (Ahem!) The drastic action of God in defending Moses and Aaron, the leaders He had appointed, shows how seriously He views this sin.

The word “complain” here doesn’t have a Greek equivalent (no number in Strong’s concordance), but its range of meaning is borne out by the various translations: Phillips – “curse the lot,”; NASB - “grumble”; Amplified - “discontentedly complain”; Message – “stir up discontent”; Good News – “complain”; Living Bible – “murmur against God.”

Complaining / grumbling is an example of an attitude leading to action that has its roots in our thoughts. A complaining, grumbling tongue starts with complaining, grumbling thoughts like: I deserve better than this; I can’t trust God with this situation; He obviously doesn’t know what He’s doing; I know better than He does. They are thoughts of rebellion toward God. When we express these thoughts, we multiply our sin by stirring up discontent in others.

So next time your thoughts toward your pastor or your church’s leadership turn in a critical, complaining direction, nip them in the bud. Replace them with thoughts and words of intercession. For sure zip your mouth from complaining and grumbling to others.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the leaders You have placed over me. Help me to remember to pray for them daily. Amen

MORE: Intercession for Pastors
Barb Billett’s wonderful book Praying With Fire has a prayer for pastors. Based on words straight from the Bible, it is a good prayer to pray regularly for our leaders. It begins:

"Father, in the name of Jesus, I confess, that the Spirit of the Lord: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, rests upon Pastor _____. I pray that as Your Spirit rests mightily upon Pastor _____, we believe he has quick understanding.
I confess and believe that You Lord, have anointed and qualified him to preach the gospel to the meek, the poor, and the afflicted. You have anointed Pastor _____ to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the physical and spiritual captives, and the opening of the prison doors and of the eyes of those who are bound..."
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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, February 10, 2015

Tested by circumstances - 2

"Naaman's Gifts Refused"- 1728 engraving
by Bernard Picart and Abraham de Blois

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 5:16-27


TO CHEW ON: "But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, the man of God, said, 'Look, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian, while not receiving from his hands what he brought; but as the Lord lives, I will run after him and take something from him.' " 2 Kings 5:20.

The last character in the Naaman story is Gehazi, Elisha's servant. He isn't confronted with the circumstance Naaman's leprosy, as the characters in the earlier installment were, but with his boss's reaction to Naaman's offer of gifts.

I can just see Gehazi as Naaman returns to Elisha, loitering in the background, his eyes glittering as Naaman's servants unpack the beautiful clothes and the sacks of coin. Then watch his expression change when Elisha refuses them all.

He wants that stuff, oh, how he wants it! And so he concocts a plan. He runs after Naaman and tells him that Elisha has received guests, now needs some things, and asks for a modest two outfits and a sack of silver.

After stashing them safely in his quarters he stands before Elisha as usual to wait on him. In answer to Elisha's, "Where did you go, Gehazi?" he replies with the brazen, "Your servant did not go anywhere."

Foolish Gehazi. Do you not know that your master is in touch with the One who can not only see your motives and actions, but can reveal them to him? Elisha confronts Gehazi with what he has done and bequeaths him and his family with the leprosy that had infected Naaman.

What can we learn from how this sly prophet's assistant handled his test? Three things come to mind.

1. Exposure to the things of God and the people of God doesn't change our hearts. Gehazi served the man of God but he wasn't a godly man. Each of us needs to come to God personally and have a personal relationship with Him.

2. God has a way of revealing knowledge about people and situations to those who are close to Him.

3. Like Gehazi's response to Naaman's beautiful stuff revealed his covetousness, greed, deceit, and sneakiness, so our response to temptation can show us what's inside us.

Let's observe our responses to today's circumstances and the temptations they bring. Then let's allow these tests to educate us about ourselves, our weaknesses, and our need for repentance and a change of heart.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to kid myself that I can fool You in any way. I pray with the psalm writer: "Search me O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxieties. And see if there is any wicked way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

MORE: Lying to the Holy Spirit

This story reminds me of one from the New Testament. The couple Ananias and Sapphira gave a generous gift to the early church but in a deceptive way. Read what happened to them in Acts 5:1-11.

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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, February 09, 2015

Tested by circumstances - 1

"Naaman comes to see Elisha"
Illustrator of Henry Davenport Northrop's
'Treasures of the Bible' - 1894

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 5:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, 'Indeed, I said to myself, "He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and heal the leprosy."'" 2 Kings 5:11.

One of the reasons stories fascinate us is because they contain conflict that reveals character. In Part 1 of the Naaman story, we see five main players. Their reactions to the conflict of a big problem—Naaman's leprosy—is not only interesting but instructive.

The unnamed slave girl, captured in a raid by the Syrians, didn't keep the good news of Elisha's healing power to herself. She could have thought, It serves my captor right that he is sick. But no, she told her mistress that healing was possible.

Israel's king interpreted the Syrian king's letter on behalf of Naaman as a threat, seeing his request for healing not as a God-sent event but as a means of provoking war.

Naaman, the Syrian general, was quite willing to go for help. But he had expectations of how that help would come. Those expectations weren't met. Elisha didn't even talk to him in person. The cure, to bathe in the muddy Jordan River, wounded his pride even more. He was offended and set off for home in a huff.

Naaman's servants cared about the well-being of their master and begged him to change his mind. They built up his faith and encouraged him to do what Elisha had said. They persuaded him to go to the Jordan where he took the seven-dip bath and received his healing.

Elisha the prophet had all the characteristics of someone living for God alone, his Audience of One. He boldly sent a message to the king, telling him to send Naaman to him. When Naaman came, the fact that Elisha sent his servant to speak to Naaman instead of going himself showed he was not a respecter of rank or wealth. Later, when Naaman wanted to reward him, he refused to take anything.

Do we see ourselves in any of these characters? What can we learn from them about facing our own conflicts or tests of circumstance?

1. God's goodness is for all—friends and enemies alike. The little servant girl teaches us to share God's goodness with our enemies as well as our friends.

2. God is in every circumstance. Israel's king missed that and as a result lived in suspicion and fear.

3. Pride can get in the way of receiving from God. Naaman expected a little respect and some healing theatrics. He would have missed his cure, but for his servants.

4. Faith sometimes needs encouragement. Naaman's servants showed themselves loyal friends as they bolstered his faith when he had little to none.

5. Live for the Audience of One.  Elisha's concern with pleasing his Boss—God—meant that ego-stroking (his own or his client's) and personal advancement played no part.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that even bad circumstances can draw me closer to You. Help me to pass the circumstance tests I will face today. Amen.

MORE: The Audience of One
"The more one sees of life ... the more one feels, in order to keep from shipwreck, the necessity of steering by the Polar Star, i.e. in a word leave to God alone, and never pay attention to the favors or smiles of man; if He smiles on you, neither the smile or frown of men can affect you" - General Charles Gordon, quoted by Os Guinness in The Call.*
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Prayer—it could change your whole day

"Jesus in prayer" by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:29-45

TO CHEW ON: "Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed." Mark 1:35

We can learn so much about prayer from what we see Jesus do in this one verse.

  • "Now in the morning..."
Jesus started the day with prayer. Whether one is a lark or an owl, we all start our day after a time of sleep. For most people this is the morning. Prayer was Jesus' first activity on getting out of bed.


  • "... having risen a long while before daylight ..."
He got up extra early to pray. Was something troubling Him that He couldn't sleep? Whether that was the cause for His early waking or He knew that that would be the only time He would be free to pray, on this particular day (and others) prayer was more important to Jesus than sleep (see Luke 6:12).


  • "... He went out and departed to a solitary place;"
For Jesus that meant physically removing Himself from the presence of others to a place that was deserted, remote, and where He was alone with God. We can't all do that literally. And so we must be creative in finding our solitary place. Jesus talked about praying behind a shut door to "Your Father who is in the secret place" - Matthew 6:6. For young moms with little ones, for example, the shut door might be a few moments spent alone in the bathroom or, as it was for Susanna Wesley, behind an apron.

  • "....and there He prayed."
[Pray: To address prayers to a deity; To make earnest request or entreaty; to address by means of prayers; to ask, earnestly entreat.]

  • His prayers made a difference to the day's activity - Mark 1:36-38.
We don't know exactly what Jesus prayed. But His decisiveness later when He insisted they go to the next towns instead of returning to Capernaum may have been a result of His time in prayer. When Simon found Him and told Him, "Everyone is looking for You," Jesus knew  what was to be next, and it wasn't going to be dictated by what the crowds wanted. His agenda had, no doubt, been influenced by the time He had spent with God in prayer.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to realize the importance of prayer to each day's activities. Help me to view prayer not only as asking, but as a time of needed togetherness with You, when I can receive Your perspective on the day ahead. Amen.

MORE: "Christ be in My Waking" - Stuart Townend



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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, February 07, 2015

Missing information

night birds
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 7:1-8

TO CHEW ON: "When I lie down, I say, 'When shall I arise,
And the night be ended?'
For I have had my fill of tossing till dawn." Job 7:4


Why is night always the worst time when we're sick? Maybe it's because we expect to sleep and are disappointed. Maybe because in the still and dark there is nothing to distract from the pain, discomfort, and worry? May it's merely that the prone position causes gravity to augment the pull on our sore cells. Whatever it is, it's interesting to note that it was the same for the ancients.

There's not much encouraging or uplifting here. In this section of his first speech to his friends, Job is entirely negative, speaking of the futility of his life and work, complaining that he can't sleep, describing his loathsome disease, and referring to the fact that his life will soon be over.

My Bible's commenter makes this observation:

"Job's criticisms of God that appear in Job 6 and 7 as well as his other responses to his friends, can best be understood as man's feeble attempts to make sense of a scenario for which he is missing an essential piece of information, namely that there is something happening between God and Satan—that there are spiritual purposes overriding earthly circumstances. Because he is unaware of this dimension of the spiritual realm, his understanding is severely impaired" - Charles E. Blair, commentary on Job, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 652 (emphasis added).

Could that be the case in our lives as well—that our trials, whatever they are, are connected to spiritual skirmishes unseen and unknown to us? Imaginative writers have riffed on that thought in books like The Screwtape Letters (C. S. Lewis), This Present Darkness (Frank Peretti), and The Ishbane Conspiracy (Angela, Karina and Randy Alcorn).

The Bible certainly supports such a thing:

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" - Ephesians 6:12

"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" - 1 Timothy 6:12.

PRAYER:
Dear God, when troubles, sickness, and death impact me, help me remember that I am in a battle You have won. Please give me courage and hope through bad days and nights. 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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