Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Forgive plain and simple

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 11:20-33

TO CHEW ON: "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses." Mark 11:25

Some time ago I heard a local talk show host speak with great indignation against the idea that the way to handle Jerry Sandusky, the former football coach and child predator, was to forgive him. I only heard a snippet of his argument so I don't know whether the call was for law enforcement to let him go free for his crimes, or for the individuals wronged by him to forgive. But the man's rant got me thinking.

What is the way, the Jesus way, to handle people who have wronged us in a deep, life-altering manner—the investment counselor who has absconded with our life savings, the father or mother who never loved us, the coach, teacher, or family member who stole innocence?

Jesus' words are unequivocal: "...if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses."

Of course on a societal level, the government should enforce its laws against criminals and see that the penalty is paid. An orderly society demands that people live by standards and that law-breakers be dealt with. The Bible supports that - Ezra 7:26; Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13,14.

However, personally, according to Jesus, we need to forgive. It sounds unfair and unrealistic, another example of the upside-downess of the Kingdom of God lifestyle. Leslyn Musch says about this passage (along with Matthew 6:14,15):
"Understand that God forgives us our sins as we forgive others who have sinned against us. Adopt the forgiveness of others into your prayer life as a daily discipline" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action Through the Synoptics, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1439.

PRAYER: Dear God, something inside me balks at giving forgiveness—until I look at what You've forgiven me. Help me to measure every act of forgiveness on my part against Your forgiveness of me. Amen.

MORE: Forgiveness in action

Josh MacDowell tells the story of his struggle to forgive several people who had wronged him in his book Undaunted. Here is his account of how he forgave the man who abused him as a child (ellipses enclosed in square brackets indicate words left out of the quote, other ellipses are in the quote):

"It didn't happen immediately; in fact, it took several months and a lot of counseling with Pastor Logan. [....]

"He lived in a drab apartment in Jackson, Michigan. I knocked on the door, he opened it, and I walked inside. [....] I looked at the greying, worn-looking man with troubled eyes and started in without preliminaries: 'Wayne, what you did to me was evil. Very evil! But I've come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And I've come here ... to ... tell you ...' My carefully rehearsed words failed me. I prayed for strength and realized that what I had to say had to come from my heart, not my head.

"I sighed deeply. 'Wayne, all of us have sinned, and no one measures up to God's standard of perfection. We all need redemption and, well, I've come here to tell you something you need to hear.' He looked at me his pale eyes unblinking.

"For a moment, I wished it weren't true, but it was, and I had to say it out loud. 'Christ died for you as much as He did for me. I forgive you, Wayne.'

"[....] I walked out to the parking lot and got into my car. Where is the emotion? I asked myself, starting up the engine. Where is the euphoria I should feel having stared down the demon—and the demons—of my past? [....] And then it hit me. There was peace in my heart. A peace unlike anything I had experienced before. I had chosen to forgive an enemy out of obedience to God's command, and I had the steady, full peace the Bible describes as surpassing human understanding" - Josh MacDowell, Undaunted pp. 140-142 (Kindle edition).


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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, March 30, 2015

The Lord has need of it

The Donkey at Bethphage - James Tissot
The Donkey at Bethphage - James Tissot, 1886-96
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 11:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it,' and immediately he will send it." Mark 11:3

Jesus' curious instructions to His disciples to just 'take' someone's colt have always fascinated me. He could have told them to buy it, which would have been less controversial. But instead, it was to be a loan or an outright gift.

The unquestioning and generous response of the donkey's owner is beautiful. Did he know that when the disciples said, "The Lord has need of him" they were referring to Jesus? Do you suppose that later he witnessed Jesus' ride into Jerusalem on 'his' colt? What a thrill that would have been.

I ask myself, would I have been as willing to let the disciples just take possession with the simple explanation, "the Lord has need of it"? Would you?

Perhaps a better question to ask is, are we as welling to give the Lord what He asks for when He comes with a claim on the stuff we consider ours—our time, our friendships, our hospitality, the use of our car for a trip to the airport, help with grocery shopping?

Did the disciples ever return that colt with the explanation of what they had used it for? Whether they did or not, I hope that generous man had the satisfaction of knowing that the release of his possession into Jesus' use was a significant and essential part of God's plan.

I wonder, If we felt that the fulfillment of God's plan was connected to whether or not we give Him what He asks of us, would we be as possessive and protective of what we feel is ours?


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I love the unquestioning generosity in the owner of this colt. Help me to be just as generous when You come to me with "I need it"—whatever 'it' is. Amen.

MORE: Palm Sunday

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day we celebrated Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem (our reading today). Here are a few Palm Sunday facts (gleaned from my Bible's Mark study notes by J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1371).

  • When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the way He did, he was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.
  • The fact that the colt had never been ridden (Mark 11:2) was significant since objects used for sacred purposes must never have been used for any other reason (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7).
  • Spreading clothes on the road (Mark 11:8) was the customary way for a king's subjects to pay homage to him (2 Kings 9:13).
  • "Hosanna" means save now. It came to be a customary shout of praise, like 'Hallelujah.'

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Extravagant Mary-love

"Mary Anoints Jesus" - Jeremy Taylor
Image from Pitts Theology Library.

Mary anounts Jesus - Jeremy Taylor
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 12:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "But Jesus said, Let her alone. It was that she might keep it for the time of My preparation for burial—She has kept it that she might have it for the time of My embalming." John 12:7 (Amplified)

It's interesting to me that Mary even had in her possession this "very expensive" jar of spikenard. [Spikenard was the "fragrant essential oil obtained from Nardo-stachys jatamansi—a perennial related to valerian but having more pleasantly scented roots. It is a native to North India where it is still used as a perfume for the hair. In biblical times spikenard was imported in sealed alabaster boxes which were opened only on special occasions" - New Bible Dictionary, p. 1210.]

Jesus explained that she had planned to open it after His death and use it in the preparation of His body. So why did she open it early?

Perhaps she wanted Jesus to know she had heard and believed what He'd been saying about dying. (She may have been one of the women who traveled with Him, taking care of His needs [Mark 15:11] and thus heard Him speak on many occasions.)

Or perhaps it was another way of thanking Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead.

Or maybe she just wanted to show Jesus how much she loved Him while He was still alive.

Her gift at that dinner gathering was impossible to ignore because its fragrance filled the house. It was socially gauche in its extravagance. It seems people didn't often act out their love in such graphic ways, especially women.

Jesus wasn't embarrassed. He gently and graciously welcomed her gift. His defense of her stands in stark contrast to the disapproval and criticism of Judas and the others.

Mary's lovely action speaks to us on two levels.
1. She is a good example of someone who expressed her gratitude and love before it was too late and the object of her love was dead. We can do that with each other, not saving up our loving words and actions for the funeral tea but saying and giving while our loved ones are still with us.

2. Mary's great love needed extravagant expression. Is our love for Him so deep it would move us to do something so lavishly crazy? Perhaps we too should be less inhibited in expressing that love. Like then, our demonstrativeness may prompt criticism. But Jesus, who knows our hearts, will not only understand but welcome and be blessed by the honest outpouring of your heart's devotion and mine. 

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, help me to have a Mary-love for You that gives the best and costliest now. Amen.

MORE: Sunday of the Passion - Palm Sunday

Today the church celebrates Palm Sunday—the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, to the adulation of the crowd. The liturgy for today begins with this Collect:
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Phillips, Craig and Dean have written the beautiful "Pour My Love On You" that captures the spirit of Mary's act and ignites a similar response in our own hearts.  



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

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Shades of humility

"The Lord's Blessing"
by Kathy Lawrence

"The Lord's Blessing" by Kathy Lawrence
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 2:1-11


TO CHEW ON: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself...Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus..."  (2:3-5)

Humility. I think we'd all agree it's a quality that's attractive in other people, yet easy to transgress in ourselves. A close look at our reading today along with a few other Bible bits will help us discover shades of biblical humility and give us ideas on how we can nurture it in ourselves.

  • Other-centered
Paul alludes to one of the big reasons it's hard to be humble in Philippians 2:4 — because each one of us is at the centre of our own universe (as Adrian Plass says it: "Everyone is I"). We take a big step down the road to humility when we "look out not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others."

  • Childlike
In Matthew 18:4 Jesus talks about humbling oneself as a child. A childlike attitude toward God is rooted in the reality of His power and bigness, and our dependence on Him.

  • Live for the praise of the One who matters
If we have trouble being humble, James 4:10 tells us to put ourselves before God — the One whose opinion really counts. From this place we say, I don't know best, but You do. I'll take whatever lot in life or assignment You give. I'll let You decide.

  • Defer to the deserving
Peter in 1 Peter 5:5 gives common sense advice when he says tells us to defer to those who deserve honour — like wise elders. But then he quickly enlarges the net: "all of you be submissive to one another and clothed with humility."

  • Free from the need to prove anything
Back at our Philippians passage, I love how a sidebar article in my Bible describes Jesus' humility (Philippians 2:5-8):

"Christlike humility is manifested in the freedom of God's Son to affirm the fullness of all God has placed in Him, without needing to flaunt, prove, or push it through self-advancement. Jesus' complete absence of any need to 'clutch' for power or attention is manifest humility. It is the royal spirit that the King of heaven Himself displayed in servantlike graciousness" - Fuchsia Pickett, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1662.

That's what I want — freedom from a need to flaunt, prove, push for self-advancement, clutch for power or attention. I want my life to display that "royal spirit" Jesus lived by His "servantlike graciousness," don't you?


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to live the humility that You modelled. Show me where I need to humble myself so that I won't need Your disciplinary hand to humble me. Amen.

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



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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jesus - suffering servant

Isaiah - Artist unknown
Isaiah - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 50:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God." Isaiah 50:10

Isaiah 50:4-9 is one of four sections in Isaiah that Bible scholars have called "Servant Songs." These are passages that seem to refer to someone during Isaiah's time but are also fulfilled in Jesus. (The other ones are Isaiah 42:1-4 || Isaiah 49:1-6 || Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

Let's go through some of the verses of this Servant Song to discover if they truly are prophetic:

The Lord GOD has given Me
      The tongue of the learned..."
Note the observations of those who knew Jesus and interacted with Him in Luke 4:22, 32; John 6:68, and John 7:45-46.

      "That I should know how to speak
      A word in season to him who is weary..."
This brings to mind Jesus' wonderful invitation: Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest..."in Matthew 11:28-30.

      "He awakens Me morning by morning,
      He awakens My ear
      To hear as the learned..."
Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer with His father. At least twice He rose early in the morning, to pray (Mark 1:35) and to spend time in the temple (John 8:2).

       "The Lord GOD has opened My ear;
      And I was not rebellious,
      Nor did I turn away..."
Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane: "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39) is the utmost in surrender.

       "I gave My back to those who struck Me,
      And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard;
      I did not hide My face from shame and spitting..."
The accounts of Jesus' appearance before Pilate and Herod and His treatment by the Roman soldiers are graphic fulfillments of this (Mark 15:16-20; Matthew 26:67; 27:26-30).

       "For the Lord GOD will help Me;
      Therefore I will not be disgraced..."
Note Jesus' words of hope and assurance from the cross: "Today you (the thief who was crucified with Him) shall be with Me in Paradise....Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!" in Luke 23: 43, 46.

      "Therefore I have set My face like a flint,
      And I know that I will not be ashamed..."
Jesus' determination to see this thing through, along with His knowledge that His death was God's plan and would work out well is clearly communicated in Luke 18:31-33.

Prophecies spoken by Isaiah about 700 years before Jesus fulfilled them are just another reason to trust God — the Author of the Book. And so with confidence we can reply "We will walk in Your light. We will trust in the name of the Lord and rely on our God."

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming as a suffering servant for me. I know I can trust Your word and You (who see and know the future hundreds or years in advance) with my today and my whole life. Amen.

MORE: Jesus and the Old Testament

"The glory of Jesus Christ shines more clearly when we see him in his proper relation to the Old Testament," begins an article by John Piper. "He has a magnificent relation to all that was written. It is not surprising that this is the case, because he is called the Word of God incarnate (John 1:14). Would not the Word of God incarnate be the sum and consummation of the Word of God written?"

Piper then goes on to list five ways in which Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and consummated the Old Testament regime. Here is the list:

1. All the Scriptures bear witness to Christ...


2. All the Scriptures are about Jesus Christ...


3. Jesus came to fulfill all that was written in the Law and Prophets...


4. All the promises of God in the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Christ...


5. The law was kept perfectly by Christ...

- By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Curious to see how he supports all that? Read all of "How Christ Fulfilled and Ended the Old Testament Regime."

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


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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nothing is impossible!

"Mary and Angel" by S. Botticelli
"Mary and Angel" - Botticelli
TODAY'S SPECIAL: LUKE 1:26-38

TO CHEW ON: "Then the angel said to her … He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there will be no end." Luke 1:31, 32-33


The day Jesus rode into Jerusalem accompanied by crowds of cheering followers, I wonder if Mary recalled the angel's words to her before Jesus was born (part of our reading today) and thought, Now it's coming true. The angel's promise is playing out right in front of my eyes!

I wonder how she grappled with her thoughts and emotions a few days later when all her expectations were dashed by Jesus dying on the cross. We can only imagine the emotional bungee plunge of all Jesus' followers when what seemed like an impending coronation turned into a crucifixion.

Of course with our long view, we know that this was all part of God's plan. It's a plan we're still living through, in faith that the prediction of the angel about Jesus ultimately establishing a forever kingdom will be seen and acknowledged by everyone on earth as we have acknowledged Him king of our lives and of the church.

Perhaps we can also take a lesson from this for our day-to-day lives. We pray. We get a promise. We think we're getting our answer as the circumstances line up. And then they turn. The door shuts. The heavens are brass. We cry and wonder, was my faith misplaced? Is God really going to make good on His promise?

Maybe, as it was for Mary, our answer will be way bigger than an immediate answer would ever be, like Jesus' ultimate kingship will be way bigger than just being a deliverer and king for the Roman-oppressed Jews of His time.

At times like that we can hold close the angel's further words: "For with God nothing will be impossible" - Luke 1:37.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to hang onto Your promises for their fulfillment in Your ultimate big-picture way. Help me to really believe that with God nothing is impossible. Amen. 

MORE: Feast of the Annunciation

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:
Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Israel, God's servant

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 49:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "And He said to me,
'You are My servant, O Israel
In whom I will be glorified.'" Isaiah 49:3

Chapters 49 to 55 of Isaiah talk much about the Servant of God. They are sometimes referred to as Servant Songs. In answer to the question, who is the servant, Halley's Bible Handbook says:

"In some passages the Servant seems to be Israel, the Nation, and in other passages the Messiah, the ONE in whom Israel would be Personified. And the passages are pretty well blended, the context itself indicating which is meant" - Halley's Bible Handbook, p. 303.

Taking Mr. Halley's comment as permission to interpret who the Servant is by context here, it appears that the first two verses of Isaiah 49 refer to the Nation-of-Israel-Servant. In them, Isaiah mentions things about Israel that help explain the large role this nation has and is playing in world events:
  • God has called her into existence:
"The Lord has called Me from the womb
From the matrix of My mother He
has made mention of My name"
(Got to love the NKJV alliteration—the humming sound of all those 'm's. I count eleven!)
  • Her influence is powerful, far exceeding what one would expect from such a small nation: "And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword."
  • Her defense has been unusually effective: "(He has) made Me a polished shaft"
  • She experiences God's protection: first nurtured within the womb, then "...hidden in the shadow of His hand ... in his quiver."
  • Her existence and role have and will serve God's glory: "You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified."

Israel is much in the news these days. I am writing this the day after Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress, against the wishes of President Obama.* He, with others, is in negotiations with Israel's enemy Iran. In his speech Netanyahu laid out what Israel fears from a nuclear-equipped Iran, whose leaders have openly stated they want her destroyed.

As those who have read the end of the book, we believe that Israel will not be destroyed. In the interim, let's:
  1. Interpret world events through the lens of the Bible, realizing that God is sovereign and not puzzled or confounded by any of the things happening in the Middle East or on the world stage.
  2. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and for wisdom for her current leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.
  3. Continue to give Israel—the "apple of God's eye" (Zechariah 2:8-9) our political and moral support.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your plans in which the nation of Israel has played and is playing a vital part. I pray for wisdom for her leaders and protection for her people. May You get the glory from Your servant Israel. Amen.

MORE: Following events in the Middle East

If you are interested in following events in the Middle East and getting help with interpreting them from a biblical perspective, author and speaker Joel Rosenberg is a great resource. On Joel C. Rosenberg's Blog (Tracking events and trends in Israel, Russia and the epicentre) Rosenberg posts links to current articles and opinion, keeping readers in the loop about world events in ways that the mainstream media never will.

He has also written numerous books—fiction and non-fiction—that deal with Israel and end-time prophecy.

If you have an opportunity to attend one of his lectures or simulcasts—take it. I attended one last year; it was excellent.

* How significant that Netanhayu addressed Congress on March 3rd, the day before Purim (March 4-5, 2015), when Jews celebrate their deliverance from an ancient threat to their existence, brought about by the courage and obedience of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai - Esther 9:20-22.

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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, March 23, 2015

Of bruised reeds

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 42:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "A bruised reed He will not break
And smoking flax He will not quench." Isaiah 42:3

It is Sabbath. Jesus enters the synagogue in Galilee, and it is as if the Pharisees have been lying in wait for just this moment. Almost immediately they approach Jesus with a man in tow — a man with his right hand skinny as a bird claw and clenched against his chest.

Look at their eager eyes. They have the net, now to haul in the catch!

Their spokesman parks the man right in front of Jesus and asks, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"

The challenge in his voice together with his station and authority are enough to cow anyone, and Jesus' companions hold their collective breaths. What will their Rabbi say to this?

He answers with His usual thoughtful wisdom and clever turning of the question back on them: "What man is there among you who has one sheep and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

And then, with a Creator's compassion for a bit of His broken creation, He heals the man's hand.

The Pharisees leave the crowd that has gathered, humiliated and incensed and plotting "how they might destroy Him."

Jesus quietly gets out of town. When the multitudes find Him, He "heals them all," but also warns them not to make Him known...

All of which proves, says Matthew, the teller of this story that Jesus is the one Isaiah spoke of when he said (and he quotes the first part of today's reading verbatim):
"Behold! My servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
....A bruised reed he will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench..." Matthew 12:18-21.

The story of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand seems the perfect illustration of "a bruised reed He will not break..."

How often we too are bruised reeds, damaged, hurt and paralyzed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Or we're smoking flax with just a spark of fire left in us.  How wonderful it is to know that Jesus understands and deals with us gently and justly ("He will bring forth justice for truth - Isaiah 42:3) and successfully ("He will not fail nor be discouraged" - Isaiah 42:4).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for being the example of compassionate servanthood. I need such treatment from You, and pray for Your Spirit's reminder to me to be compassionate and gentle when dealing with the hurt and almost extinguished people around me. Amen.

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


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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Is our goal God's glory?

germinating seed
"Unless a grain of wheat ... dies, it remains alone"
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 12:20-36a

TO CHEW ON:
" 'Father, glorify Your name.' Then a voice came from heaven, saying, 'I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.' " John 12:28

I see three upside-down realities of the kingdom of God in today's reading:

1. To preserve life, we give ours away—like a seed dies to produce the next crop of seedlings (John 12:24-25).

2. To get honor that really counts—God's honor—we don't king it over people but serve (John 12:26).

3. To attract the world Jesus had to be "lifted up" in crucifixion (John 12:32-33).

How easy it is for us to lose sight of these counter-intuitive aspects of God's kingdom as we respond and react to life's daily challenges. We are careful to preserve our lives for ourselves instead of flinging them on Jesus. We like to be served instead of serve. We find Jesus' death almost an embarrassment instead of an attraction  because of the way it draws attention to the sinful and helpless condition of each person on earth. In our humanistic self-sufficient culture, such a thing is politically incorrect.

Perhaps we're also so often unmotivated to pursue this kingdom point-of-view in our lives because we aren't fully invested in its eventual goal—that God get the glory. We secretly want glory for ourselves.

Theologian J.I. Packer confronts this tension of viewpoints in his book Knowing God:

"The Christians instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God. But this is knowledge which Christians today largely lack and that is one reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flabby. We are modern men, and modern me, though they cherish great thoughts of man, have, as a rule, small thoughts of God. ...

"Today vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are—weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic ...

"Like us He is personal, but unlike us He is great. In all its constant stress on the reality of God's personal concern for His people, and on the gentleness, tenderness, sympathy, patience, and yearning compassion that He shows towards them, the Bible never lets us lose sight of His majesty, and His unlimited dominion over all His creatures" - J.I. Packer, Knowing God pp. 87,88 (italic emphasis in the original, bold emphasis added).

When we feast our minds on the greatness of God, we begin to understand why He (not us) deserves glory. Then investing our lives for the furthering of His glory begins to make sense. And the price we may be asked to pay of losing our lives, of serving, and of spreading the good news of rescue becomes every bit worth it.

PRAYER:
Dear God, help me to know You better and be fully committed to furthering the glory of Your being, name, and reputation. 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, March 21, 2015

School of suffering

Back to school
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

TO CHEW ON: "Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." Hebrews 5:8

Three things strike me about this passage and in particular, the verse on which I'm focusing:

1. Who the subject is: It's Jesus—God in human flesh.

2. What He learned: Obedience.
[Obedience is hypakoe  comes from hup - "under" and akouo - "to hear." The word signifies attentive hearing, to listen with compliant submission, assent, and agreement. It is used for obedience in general, for obedience to God's commands and for Christ's obedience - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1621.]

3. How He learned it: through Suffering.

I have, in the last couple of months, worked on a Bible study for my church on the subjects of fear, worry and anxiety. This study has brought me face to face with my own fear of suffering. But if I or any of us have come to God and entrusted our lives to Him in the hope that this will preserve us from suffering, we're deluded. Because that is never His promise. Here we see that even Jesus was not spared suffering.

Some things that have been carved into my awareness as I've searched the Bible and pondered this topic:

  • Though God doesn't promise to keep us from suffering, He promises to be with us in it and bring us through it - Isaiah 43:1,2,5.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

... Do not be afraid, for I am with you..." Isaiah 43:1,2,5 (emphasis added)
  • A good way to conquer our fear of suffering is to live close to Him. Barbara Billett prefaces her "Uprooting the Spirit of Fear" prayer with a pep talk about Caleb and Joshua and their fearlessness. She says:
"The reason we have trouble trusting God is that we have not become intimately acquainted with God's ways … Joshua had intimate fellowship with God … He lingered in the presence of God and got to know God and to trust God at His word (Exodus 33:9,11) (emphasis added).
  • This closeness to God implies obedience. Billett again:
"Because Joshua and Caleb had intimate fellowship with God, God's word to them was magnified over any fear, unbelief or temptation to not follow the Lord" - Barbara Billett, Praying With Fire, p. 66 (emphasis added).
  • This suffering is not capricious or arbitrary, but works toward a God-ordained purpose - Romans 8:28,29.
"In heaven we shall see that we had not one trial too many" - Charles Spurgeon.

PRAYER:
Dear God, If Jesus had to learn obedience through suffering, why not I? Help me to stay close to You as You teach me suffering's lessons. 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, March 20, 2015

God's paring knife

Artist carving sculpture - clipart
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 4:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

This well-known verse begins with the word "For," signalling that there is a logical connection with it and what has just been said.

If we look at the verses that precede it, we see that the writer is intent on his readers entering into "rest," something that "they" didn't do. So what is this rest, and who are they?

My Bible's commenter on Hebrews gives an explanation in a footnote:
"Israel's failure to enter Canaan becomes a solemn warning, lest professing Christians fail to enter the rest that God has promised. The rest is not entrance to Canaan, as it is in Hebrews 3:18, but that historical event is a type of the rest to be enjoyed by Christians. Some commentators view rest as a future heavenly rest, while others feel that the term describes the present experience of the believer who has fully surrendered to the lordship of Christ and is totally controlled by the Holy Spirit" - Guy P. Duffield, notes on Hebrews, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1733 (emphasis added).

I would agree with the second interpretation (that rest refers to the present experience of the surrendered, Holy Spirit-controlled believer).

And now our verse connecting the potency of God's word with rest comes to life. For we see that God's word is meant to help us achieve the state of full surrender to the Holy Spirit by showing us where we are still hanging onto our own plans, ambitions, and the ways and means of achieving them (even at unspoken levels—"...a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart"). That sword-word pares those self-centered aspects from us as we obey it. Then, with the Holy Spirit in control, we can enter into complete rest knowing that He takes full responsibility for us and our concerns.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this picture of rest from striving, rest from working in my own energy, rest from trying to make things happen. I've been guilty of these things way too many times. Help me to achieve the rest the writer talks about by paying attention to where Your word shows me I am expending self-effort in self-exalting projects. Then help me to have the faith and courage to give every concern and project to you. Amen.

MORE: Showing lies to be lies

Pastor John Piper, who interprets the rest in these verses to mean a future heavenly rest, explains how God's word warns and protects us from the deception we sometimes secretly hold onto.
"The good news of God's promises and the warnings of his judgment are sharp enough and living enough and active enough to penetrate to the bottom of my heart and show me that the lies of sin are indeed lies.
Abortion will not create a wonderful future for me. Neither will cheating, or dressing provocatively, or throwing away my sexual purity, or keeping quiet about dishonesty at work, or divorce, or vengeance. And what rescues me from this deception is the Word of God. The Word of God's promise is like throwing open a great window of bright morning sun on the shiny-back roaches of sin masquerading as satisfying pleasures in our hearts."
- By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org  Read all of "The Word of God: Living, Active, Sharp.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

A godly father

  Finding the Savior in the Temple - Holman Hunt (1860)
Finding the Savior in the Temple - Holman Hunt (1860)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 2:41-52

TO CHEW ON: "Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions." Luke 2:46

I am the oldest of nine children. It's probably not  surprising that at least once my parents left one of us behind at church (it wasn't me!). Even the mere 10-minute drive back to the place where they knew their child would most certainly be, had its anxieties. So I can imagine searching for a 12-year-old child through the streets and alleys of a vast city!

Despite all the miracles and heavenly portents surrounding Jesus' birth and His divine protection to this point, I'm sure His parents were crazy with worry. They had to keep trusting God just like we do with our children.

When they found Him, Jesus seemed surprised that they had looked for three days and not thought to check the temple. Why wouldn't they know to look for Him in His Father's house? (Perhaps Joseph had the thought—And who am I then, if not your father?)

Then we read that Jesus "went down with them … to Nazareth and was subject to them."

From what we've seen of Joseph (and Mary ) to this point, they probably just carried on being godly parents, which included doing things like:
  • Establishing faith and trust in God within their home, like Joshua did - Joshua 24:15.
  • Speaking blessing over their children, like Isaac did - Genesis 28:1-5.
  • Praying for guidance and direction in how to raise Jesus and His half-siblings, like Manoah prayed about Samson - Judges 13:8.
  • Giving godly advice to their kids, like David did to Solomon - 1 Kings 2:1-4.
  • Leading the home in godliness, like Cornelius did - Acts 10:2.

I find this insight into Jesus' earthly family reassuring. His parents had to trust God in the day-to-day just like ours did and just like we do. Let's keep doing the godly-home things and encouraging the next generation to maintain those traditions in their homes as well.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Joseph, Jesus' earthly father. Help me to keep trusting you in this season of my parenting/motherhood. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. Joseph

Today the church celebrates Joseph in The Feast of St. Joseph.  The liturgy for today begins with this collect:

O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

God's portable presence

David in his palace - Artist unknown
David in his palace - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Chronicles 17:1-15

TO CHEW ON: " ' And I have been with you wherever you have gone…' " 1 Chronicles 17:5

When God turns down David's offer to build Him a permanent house, there seems to be a note of resistance to such a thing altogether: "You shall not build me a house to dwell in. … Wherever I have moved about with all Israel, have I ever spoken a word to any of the judges … saying, "Why have you not built Me a house of cedar"? ' " (1 Chronicles 17:4,6) (Implied: "No—I have not asked such a thing.") It's almost as if God prefers the coming-and-going Tabernacle presence to a fixed structure.

A temple would have its drawbacks. How easily their attention could be drawn from the One whose presence is there, between the cherubim on the mercy seat, to the elaborate and beautiful building. It and not God could easily become the focus of worship, with pilgrimages to the temple considered the important and sanctifying thing, rather than meeting with God there.

Throughout the Bible we have passages that reassure God's people they don't have to go to a specific place to find Him."Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go," God promises Jacob on his flight from angry Esau (Genesis 28:15). God makes a similar promise to Moses (Exodus 3:12) and later promises to live with the entire nation (Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:12).

God's portable presence continues with us:
  • Where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name - Matthew 18:20.
  • When we go to the nations to make disciples - Matthew 28:20.
  • Till we come to the end of time - Revelation 21:3.

In His presence…
  • We find rest - Exodus 33:14.
  • We find courage in resisting enemies - Deuteronomy 20:1.
  • We experience fullness of joy - Psalm 16:11.
  • We have His constant attention - Psalm 139:1-12.
  • We get comfort in trial - Isaiah 43:2.
  • We have joyous singing companionship - Zechariah 2:10.

God is not entirely averse to structures, though. When David's son Solomon finally builds that temple, God shows His pleasure in it by filling it with His glory - 2 Chronicles 7:1-3.  And He continues to delight to live in the skin-and-bones temple that is each one of us - 1 Timothy 3:16.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your presence around me, with me, in me, even when I don't feel You. Thank You for never leaving me. Amen.

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


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cursed by ourselves

Balak and Balaam - Artist unknown
Balak and Balaam - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 24:1-25

TO CHEW ON: " ' He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?
Blessed is he who blesses you,
And cursed is he who curses you.' " Numbers 24:9


Today we read Balaam's final two pronouncements over Israel. Not surprisingly they aren't curses either, but blessings that continue on with the vivid word pictures of his previous blessings: Jacob as numerous as the dust of earth (Numbers 23:10), Israel as a lion (Numbers 23:24; 24:9), and a future leader appearing as a star in the sky (Numbers 24:17).

One Bible commenter says about the Balaam-Balak incident:
"There should be no problem in relating this unit to Numbers. For one thing, the prophecies of Balaam affirmed that God's unequivocal commitment to his people will continue well into the future. … Nothing or no one is able to hinder God from doing that. An omnipotent God and not a human manipulator is the determiner of history" - Asbury Bible Commentary (accessed through this passage's "Study This" link on biblegateway.com - emphasis added).

But we know the preceding and following instalments of Israel's story—how checkered it is. Previously we read the story of a mass rebellion where Moses and Aaron's leadership is challenged by Dathan, Abiram, Korah and 250 of Israel's leaders (Numbers 16). A challenge to Aaron's leadership results in his rod budding supernaturally (Numbers 17). The people's complaints and grumbling provoke Moses to strike the rock instead of speak to it as God has told him to (Numbers 20). Poisonous snakes come into the camp as a result of their grumbling (Numbers 21). The chapter following the Balaam-Balak incident is titled "Israel's harlotry in Moab" (Numbers 25).

Our Bible commenter makes a wise observation:

" … the (Balaam-Balak) narrative functions as a condemnation of God's people, at least indirectly. The donkey does God's will. Balaam, albeit unintentionally does God's will. But what of Israel? … Israel's real enemy is Israel. God can change a hireling's words of curse into blessing but he cannot change a community's words of backbiting, criticism, and faultfinding into doxology. God's people need not fear the hex of a religious magician or the threats and taunts of a Moabite king. But whenever they degenerate into a community ruled by a quarrelsome, self-serving and envious spirit, there is cause for grave concern. Unholiness, not magic, is Israel's undoing" - Asbury Bible Commentary (emphasis added).

Might this not be equally true of us in the church? We are right to be concerned about the threats to the church's existence from the outside. Our secular critics would love to shut us down because of our stand on issues like abortion, changes to the definition of marriage, sexual orientation, and euthanasia. But I'm wondering if the biggest threat to the church is not these outer pressures at all but disunity and sin tolerated within. The biggest threat to the church might be the church.

Let's search our hearts, as individuals and as a body, and stamp out these embers of quarreling, selfishness, envy, immorality etc.—sparks that have the ability to ignite and destroy the church body from within.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see myself and my sinful attitudes and tendencies through Your eyes. Help me to make choices for holiness so I will be an asset, not a liability to my local church and Your kingdom. 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, March 16, 2015

Our promise-keeping God

Balaam blesses Israel - Artist unknown
Balaam blesses Israel - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 23:13-30

TO CHEW ON: "God is not a man that He should lie,
Nor a son of man that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" Numbers 23:19


Straight from God's mouth (via Balaam) comes this clear pronouncement of His unchangeableness (immutability). Wayne Grudem defines God's unchangeableness:

"God is unchaining in his being, perfections, purposes and promises. Yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 163.

Grudem identifies ways in which God doesn't change (while noting "… God is unchanging—not in every way that we might imagine, but only in ways the Scripture itself affirms" - p. 163).

God is unchanging:
  • In His perfections—all the aspects of His character - James 1:17.
  • In His purposes - Psalm 33:11.
"Since God has determined that he will assuredly bring something about, his purpose is unchanging and will be achieved - Isaiah 49:9-11" - Grudem, Op. Cit, p. 164.
  • In His promises - Numbers 23:19 (today's focus verse).
God promised to bless Abraham and his descendants - Genesis 12:2-3. Those descendants were this mass of Israelites that Balak wanted Balaam to curse. God had promised them land they were now on the border of - Genesis 15:18-21. Balaam was to utter no curse on this nation God was determined to bless.

We still worship this unchanging God who keeps His promises. In a world where it sometimes seems like goodness and righteousness and holiness and justice are weak and defeated, what a reassurance God's unchangeableness is! There will be an ultimate victory over evil and the curse in all their manifestations—in nature, our personal lives, and in the life of the communities and nations of the world.

He has promised to establish His kingdom (where evil will have no part): Exodus 15:18 || Daniel 7:14 || Psalm 145:13 || Lamentations 5:19. His unchangeableness guarantees that nothing can keep that from happening.

Let's pray, with John, thanking God for this and so express our faith in this inevitability.

PRAYER:
"We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty,
The One who is and who was and who is to come,
Because You have taken Your great power and reigned" - Revelation 11:17


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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, March 15, 2015

The high place of decision

Balaam and Balak - Artist unknown
Balaam and Balak - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 22:41-23:12

TO CHEW ON:
"So it was, the next day, that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, that from there he might observe the extent of the people. … Then Balaam said to Balak, 'Stand by your burnt offering and I will go; perhaps the Lord will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me, I will tell you.' So he went to a desolate height." Numbers 22:41,23:3


Balak takes Balaam to a high place of Baal worship to pronounce his curse on Israel. This is a high place in several ways. It is elevated ground where the Moabites sacrifice to their god Baal. It is also a good vantage point from which to view the mass of Israelites.

Here Balaam, who really has only himself to blame for being in this squeeze between Balak and God, shows some good sense at last. He excuses himself from the highly charged scene of the smoking altars and the anxious attention of Balak, his princes and priests, to climb to a "desolate height" to meet alone with God.

It's apparent that he has met with God enough times to know the conditions needed to hear from Him and that they won't be on Baal's high place. He is also aware of the importance of saying the right thing over Israel—brought home to him by the sword-wielding Angel of the Lord who had warned him: "… only the word that I speak to you, that you shall speak" - Numbers 22:35. So he separates himself from Balak, his potential earthly benefactor, to meet with God, his ultimate source of being and blessing.

Do we have similar wisdom? When we're offered that new job that has better pay but dictates we spend more time away from our young family; when we're tempted to take on yet another volunteer task; when even good ministry opportunities come knocking—do  we take ourselves out of the situation to hear from God before we give our answer?

Balaam comes down from his meeting with God to deliver a word that spares him God's disapproval and blesses Israel, though it sure doesn't make Balak happy! Removing ourselves from the vantage point of this temporal world and its pressures to the higher place of God's eternal point of view may have as much impact on our future and the future of those we love.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to habitually consult with You before I make big—and small life decisions. 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, March 14, 2015

A way God calls "perverse"

"Balaam's Eyes Were Opened" 
Artist Unknown 
From Treasures of the Bible (Moses)

"Balaam's Eyes Were Opened"   Artist Unknown
"Balaam's Eyes Were Opened"
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 22:22-40

TO CHEW ON:
"And the Angel of the Lord said to him, 'Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold I have come out to stand against you, because your way is perverse before Me.' " Numbers 22:32


Balaam really does want to go with Balak's men. His hastily acquired permission (Numbers 22:20) means that the morning after the second delegation arrives, he is on his way back to Balak with them (though there is no record that God's condition: "'If the men come to call you…'" is ever met).

What happens next on the road—the donkey crushing Balaam's foot, lying down, refusing to go further and actually speaking to Balaam—is a familiar Sunday School story. The Angel of the LORD's words (God's words) to Balaam are sobering (Numbers 22:32-33). He describes Balaam's way as "perverse."

[Perverse - yarat means to precipitate, to be precipitate, to push headlong, drive recklessly.]

The use of that word gives us the sense that Balaam's decision to go with Balak's men is impulsive, reckless, and headstrong. Peter gives us a clue about his motivation. He really did want all that stuff, that attention, that honor:
 "They (Peter, referring here to false teachers) have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…" - 2 Peter 2:15.

In Balaam's reaction we see a flashing caution light for ourselves and our own tendencies to impetuously push ahead with what we want to do. I like how Priscilla Shirer expresses it:

"I am learning that God will use the appropriate means to reveal His will in His timing. … If you feel an overwhelming urge to act spontaneously, pull in the reins" - Priscilla Shirer, Discerning the Voice of God, pp. 92,93

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be aware of my own tendency to act on my own, rashly, spontaneously, and recklessly. Help me, instead, to wait for Your clear timing and direction before I move ahead with plans and projects. 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, March 13, 2015

Please God, change Your mind

Balaam Receiving Balak's Messengers - From The Child's Bible, Cassel
Balaam Receiving Balak's Messengers - From The Child's Bible, (Cassel © 1880)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 22:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Now therefore, please, you also stay here tonight that I may know what more the Lord will say to me." Numbers 22:19

The massive nomad nation of Israel is camping right on King Balak's doorstep—the Plains of Moab. Balak is terribly afraid ("sick with dread") because of the number of the Israelites and their reputation.

He is so scared he sends servants all the way to Mesopotamia (about 400 miles—a month's journey) to fetch a powerful prophet (Balaam) to curse Israel for him. Only then, he thinks, will he be able to defeat the Israelites in battle.

When Balak's delegation arrives, Balaam, who appears to be a worshiper of Yahweh, though not an Israelite, asks God what he should do. God answers him with a clear " 'You shall not go with them' " and so Balaam refuses to go (Numbers 22:12,13).

Balak won't take no for an answer though. He sends a second richer, bigger, more ostentatious delegation with authority to make grandiose promises: " '… for I will certainly honour you greatly, and I will do whatever you say to me…' " - Numbers 22:17. (Do you think perhaps Balak has Balaam figured out?)

Balaam asks God about this second request and lo and behold, God changes His mind. Well, sort of: " ' … rise and go with them but only the word which i speak to you, that you shall do' " - Numbers 22:20.

If we read on to the verse past today's reading, though, we come across these puzzling words: "Then God's anger was aroused because he went…" (Numbers 22:22). What?!

I see myself in Balaam—perhaps you are there too? There is a thing about which we hear from God, but we're not thrilled with the answer. And so we pray some more, hoping this time God will say something different.

For Balaam the reasoning might have sounded something like—Look at the payment. How can I turn that down (after all, I would have so much more to give to You, Lord)? Look at the distance these folks have come—twice. Surely it's rude to send them away empty-handed again.

For us it might be, I need a different answer because the one You've given: a] is too hard; b] is out of my range of talents; c] conflicts with the values of my culture; d] does not make business sense…etc.

God (grudgingly?) says to Balaam, Have it your way. But in the end, it will still be my way (Numbers 22:20).

In the days ahead, we'll see how Balaam's waffling complicated the situation. How much simpler it would have been for him, and is for us, to take God's initial answer as final and adjust to that reality, rather than try to get God to change His mind. The words of James come to mind:

"If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do" - James 1:5-8 NLT (emphasis added).


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be less wavering, more quick to obey without questions or begging for a different answer. 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.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Choose to love

Jesus teaches Nicodemus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 3:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16.

John 3:16 is probably the most-memorized verse in the Bible. One problem with it rolling as easily off our tongues as it does is that we no longer feel the huge impact of its meaning. Much of the power of John 3:16 comes from one little word—the verb "loved." "God ... loved (agapeo) the world."

[Agapao is unconditional love, love by choice and by an act of the will. The word denotes unconquerable benevolence and undefeatable goodwill. Agapao will never seek anything but the highest good for fellow mankind. Agapao (the verb) and agape (the noun) are the words for God's unconditional love. It does not need a chemistry, an affinity or a feeling." "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1447.] Emphasis added.

God demonstrated agapeo love when He gave the world His only Son Jesus (John 3:16). Jesus prayed that this love would be in His disciples (John 17:26). Paul describes this agape kind of love in human action in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It is love that:
  • suffers long and is kind.
  • does not envy.
  • does not parade itself.
  • is not puffed up.
  • is not rude.
  • doesn't seek its own.
  • is not provoked.
  • thinks no evil.
  • rejoices in truth.
  • bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things.
  • never fails.

We are to love (agapao):
  • each other (John 13:34).
  • our neighbours (Matthew 19:19).
  • even our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

We prove that we love God in this way when we obey Him (John 14:15). In fact our obedience gives us a special place in God the Father's heart. He loves us, will manifest (or show) Himself to us (John 14:21) and make His home with us (John 14:23).

I ask myself, will I, by an act of my will, choose to love this way today?

PRAYER: Dear God, I so easily slip into the notion of "love" as a feeling or emotion over which I have no control. The love that You want me to have is an intentional choice. Help me to learn this kind of love by living it 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.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Toxic grumbling

"The Brazen Serpent" - James Tissot

The Brazen Serpent by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 21:4-18

TO CHEW ON: "So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived." Numbers 21:9

Desert hardships continually tripped up the Israelites. We would expect their God-given victory at Hormah (Numbers 21:1-3) would have sealed their confidence in God. But no. A little while later "The soul of the people became very discouraged on the way."

They vented their discouragement to Moses: "Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread."

After that the test only got worse when God allowed poisonous snakes to slither among them, killing many.

This time, not like some others, the people approached Moses in repentance: "We have sinned for we have spoken against the Lord and against you."

Moses prayed and God told him to erect a bronze snake statue, to which the people could look and be healed.

This story convicts us as we recognize ourselves in those discontented Israelites.

1. How often don't we grumble about situations far less severe than what the Israelites were going through? But grumbling of any kind and about anything is toxic.

2. The Israelites' grumbling was sparked by simple discouragement—an attitude that is hardly uncommon among us. It's an attitude that begins with negative, discouraged thinking. Joyce Meyer says:
"Discouragement destroys hope .... The Bible repeatedly tells us not to be discouraged or dismayed. God knows that we will not come through to victory if we get discouraged, so He always encourages us .... God wants us to be encouraged, not discouraged.


When discouragement or condemnation tries to overtake you, examine your thought life. What kind of thoughts have you been thinking?" Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 33.

3. The Israelites' grumbling about Moses was really grumbling about God (Numbers 21:5,7). When we grumble about people in our lives, church leadership, or our circumstances we too are really grumbling against God who has brought us to this place and allowed these things into our lives. Paul warns the Corinthians (and us) about this attitude in 1 Corinthians 10:9-11.

PRAYER: Dear God, please forgive me for sinning against You by grumbling and complaining. Help me to nip in the bud negative thoughts of discouragement and fault-finding, and instead to make it a habit to put my hope in You - Psalm 42:5. Amen.

MORE: The foreshadow of Divine healing

A sidebar note in my Bible reminds us that Jesus was intimately connected to this event:
"The plague of fiery serpents sent upon God's people was, in reality, a self-inflicted punishment, resulting from their frequent murmuring. God's judgment was in allowing what their own presumption invited, and many died from the bites of the serpents.


But in answer to the repentance of His people, God prescribed the erecting of a bronze serpent to which any might look in faith and be healed. Jesus referred to this account in John 3:13-14. He clearly implied that the bronze serpent typified His being raised upon the cross. Our healing, both spiritual and physical, comes from looking to and identifying with Christ crucified, 'by whose stripes you were healed' - 1 Peter 2:24" - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, "The Focus of Divine Healing," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 205.
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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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