Sunday, May 31, 2015

Can we prophesy?

"Mary and Elizabeth"
by Carl Bloch (1834-1890)

Mary and Elizabeth by Carl Bloch
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:39-56

TO CHEW ON: "And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord… '" Luke 1:46


Tradition has it that Mary was a mere teenager at the time she became pregnant with Jesus. Where did she get the wisdom, power, and insight of the magnificent poem/prayer that rolls off her tongue here?

My Bible's footnotes say about her prophetic utterance:

"Note in chapters one and two (of Luke) how the new era is signaled by the renewal of the gift of prophecy, which has been dormant. The various prophecies and songs of these two chapters reflect the best of OT piety and prophecy. The songs and prophecies of Mary (the Magnificat - Luke 1:46-44), Zacharias (Benedictus - Luke 1;68-79), Simeon (Nunc Dimitis - Luke 2:29-32) and Anna (Luke 2:36-38) reflect a naturalness with and sensitivity to God's former revelation in the OT (see for example the Song of Hannah - 1 Samuel 2:1-10)" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Luke, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1386.

Though we believe the prophetic gift for communicating new words of scripture has passed, the promise of the gift of prophecy continues on to us.

  • Peter on the Day of Pentecost, interpreted the signs of the Holy Spirit's coming as fulfillment of Joel's prophecy: "… your sons and daughters shall prophesy" - Acts 2:17.
  • Jesus predicted that when His disciples went out and testified to hostile hearers, they would be given words to speak (Matthew 19:19-20).
  • He said, further, that when resistance intensified, at the time when His second coming was near, so would divine help in the area of knowing what to say: "For I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contract or resist "- Luke 21:15.
  • Paul speaks too of how the Spirit-controlled person can be God's mouthpiece (1 Corinthians 2:10-12) concluding with this bold statement: "These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches…" - 1 Corinthians 2:13.
  • Indeed, Paul tells the Christians in Corinth to desire and seek to prophesy. His words also give us a sense of what prophecy consists of: "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy …. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men" - 1 Corinthians 14:1,2.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that prophecy has not died out with the magnificent words of Hannah and Mary, Simeon and Anna. Please fill my mouth with Your words of encouragement, instruction, and comfort. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Visitation


Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Visitation. This Collect begins the liturgy for this day:

"Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; 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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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Story of a proud tree

Tree hit by lightning (Photo - RGB stock)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 31:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
"Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'Because you have increased in height, and it set its top among the thick boughs, and its heart was lifted up in its height, therefore I will deliver it into the hand of the mighty one of the nations, and he shall shurely deal with it; I have driven it out for its wickedness.' " Ezekiel 31:10,11

The fault of the great tree in Ezekiel's prophecy was not that it was so magnificent and towered over all the other trees in the forest—but that its "heart was lifted up in its height" - Ezekiel 31:10.

This chapter is a prophetic warning to Egypt. In it, Ezekiel recalls magnificent Assyria, the great tree in our reading. Ezekiel says that just as God allowed Assyria to be cut down by "…aliens the most terrible of nations" (thought to be Babylon), so Egypt is on notice:

 " 'To which of the trees in Eden will you then be likened in glory and greatness? Yet you shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the depths of the earth …. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude,' says the Lord God" - Ezekiel 31:18.

I find this passage both a warning and a comfort.

It's a warning against pride—exalting oneself. And this is certainly not the only place in the Bible we are warned. We cautioned against pride by:
  • The example of the angel Lucifer—the father of pride - Isaiah 14:13,14.
  • The stories of those who were proud, like Pharaoh (Exodus 9:17); Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16); Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:25), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30) and Belshazzar (Daniel 5:23).
  • The Bible's proverbs and wisdom - Proverbs 17:19; 25:6,7,27; 27:2.
  • Jesus Himself - Matthew 23:12; Mark 9:33-36.
  • Paul - Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 10:5,17.
  • Peter - 1 Peter 5:3.
  • James - James 3:16; 4:10.
  • John - 3 John 1:9

It's also a comfort to know that God has the kings and kingdoms of earth under His control
(Proverbs 21:1). Any dynasty or regime can be toppled at His bidding (Isaiah 40:23; Ezekiel 17:20; 29:4).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be wary of the sin of pride in my life and of how foolish any self-exaltation is in the face of Your sovereignty. 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, May 29, 2015

Nature—a catalyst of praise

tulips
Creativity in the heart of a  tulip

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 104:19-35

TO CHEW ON: "I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being." - Psalm 104:33


Have you ever looked deep into a tulip's cup and seen the designs? During tulip season a month ago I was out with my camera and on one day photographed four tulips: two yellow, two red. When I enlarged the pictures on my computer I saw they were all different. They did have similarities of course, designs which reflected sixes and threes, but there were subtle differences even within their similarities.

They spoke to me of God their creator. What I saw told me that God loves color and beauty, is detailed and organized, has put order, structure, and design into things as common and simple as a spring tulip. And I observed only the outside. I know that if I took sections of these flowers and put them under a microscope, I would be even more amazed at the design, order, plan, and beauty of the makeup of their tiniest parts.

The writer of Psalm 104 reminds us of the variety and grandeur of God's masterpiece—creation. What he does at the end is what we can also do as we appreciate created things, from noticing the designs in a tulip, to pondering the complexity of the human body, to trying to wrap our minds around the vastness of space: we can praise.

And we can study Him to understand Him through His works, in a way similar to how we probe a human work of art for an understanding of its creator.

PRAYER: Dear God, I am amazed at Your creativity. Help me to recognize Your hand, signature, essence in the created world and to let that be a catalyst of wonder and praise. Amen.

MORE: More about tulips

This bit from tulip entry in Wikipedia explains the sixes and threes:

"The showy, generally cup or star-shaped tulip flower has three petals and three sepals, which are often termed tepals because they are nearly identical. These six tepals are often marked on the interior surface near the bases with darker colorings."

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, May 28, 2015

Singing in the branches

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 104:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "By them the birds of the heavens have their home;
They sing among the branches." Psalm 104:12

This nature psalm shows the creatures of earth benefiting from God's provision. Here the birds make their homes in trees that are nourished by streams God has sent. The image of birds singing among the branches gives us a sense  joyful, carefree animals. It's a subtle comment about how adequate is God's care of them.

Bible writers mention birds many times. They are in the list of the species God created (Genesis 1:26) and over which man has dominion (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:8) — a dominion, however, that is to be humane (Deuteronomy 14:11).

Adam named them (Genesis 2:20). They came to Noah to be housed in the ark (Genesis 6:20) and they are part of God's covenant to never again destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 9:10).

Solomon considered them worthy of study (1 Kings 4:33). Though they are creatures of instinct (Amos 3:5) the psalmist commands them to praise God, along with the rest of creation (Psalm 148:10). Ezekiel sees them joining other creatures that tremble at God's judgements (Ezekiel 38:20) and gathering for His victory celebration (Ezekiel 39:17).

It is Jesus' mention of them that brings us reassurances for life. He drew attention to their nest homes as a contrast to His homelessness (Matthew 8:20). And He spoke of how God's care for them proved that He cares as much and more for people. Look:
"What is the price of five sparrows? A couple of pennies? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to him than a whole flock of sparrows" - Luke 12:6-7 NLT.

As we encounter birds today, let's remember how much God cares for us. He knows us to extent of the number of hairs on our heads! We can relax, joyful in His attention and secure in His care. As they "sing among the branches" of their world, let's do the same in ours.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for what we can learn about You through creation. Help me to give You my trust and praise today. Amen.

MORE: Bird Facts

Here are a few bird facts from a list of ten on the about.com site.
  • There are 9,865 species of birds alive today according to the IUCN.
  • Feathers are unique to birds.
  • All birds reproduce by laying eggs.
  • Birds do not have teeth.
  • The largest bird is _______. Find the answer here  (#10).
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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, May 27, 2015

Dull hearts


TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 6:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “And He said, ‘Go and tell these people;
“Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.”’” Isaiah 6:9


Isaiah’s encounter with God brings an overwhelming sense of his own sinfulness. But after the angel purifies his lips with a live altar coal, he responds to God’s call for help with “Here am I! Send me.”

It is then he gets the bad news. The people God is sending him to have dulled understanding. They will see but not see. Hear but not hear. Their hearts are blunted toward God and will be unreceptive to Isaiah.

A footnote in my Bible says:
“The same message that softens a receptive heart also hardens an unreceptive heart. So in sending forth the message to a people known to be unreceptive, their condition is worsened” - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p.881.

In our society, which prides itself on skepticism toward claims of absolute truth, an unreceptive attitude toward the Gospel is common. Is there a chance some of that attitude has seeped into us and begun to calcify our own hearts?

The Bible speaks eloquently of the by-products of a dull, unbelieving heart.

1. Theological confusion and dithering - 2 Timothy 4:2-4; 3:7.

2. Moral confusion - Romans 1:28-32

3. Marriage breakdown - Matthew 19:8.

4. We become blind to the fact that sin’s attractiveness is a lie - Hebrews 3:13

5. Miracles don’t happen - Matthew 13:58

6. We become vulnerable to calamity - Proverbs 28:14

7. We become vulnerable to premature death - Proverbs 29:1

8. There are repercussions on how we spend eternity - Romans 2:5

I don't know about you - but I don't like those!

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me a sensitive, believing heart. Amen.

MORE: Keith Green sings his prayer for a softened heart in “My Eyes Are Dry.”

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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, May 25, 2015

The pure and passionate early church

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 2:22-47

TO CHEW ON: "So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:46-47


What a contrast is this band of happy, praising people with the cowed and timid group that had clung to each other a few weeks earlier. Jesus' resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit had changed everything.

We can learn a lot from this honeymoon stage of the church. Some things that stand out:

1.Their singleness of purpose.
So taken with and absorbed in this new life were these early Christ-followers that they sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with each other so that no one had material needs.

2. Their simplicity.
They pared down their lives and activities to a few essentials:
- spending time with God in the temple.
- spending time with one another, sharing hospitality and eating together.

3. Their success.
Their Spirit-inspired lifestyle caught the attention of onlookers who, noting their God-focus, generosity, the way they took care of each other, and their satisfaction with life's basics, wanted it too. The result was that every day the Lord drew people to be saved and join them.

Through the years people have tried to copy these elements of early church life, with mixed success. I don't think God expects us to mimic them by quitting our jobs and adopting a communal lifestyle. But there is much we can learn from them.

I ask, do I have the singleness of Kingdom purpose, so immune from materialism, that these early Christians had? Do I take joy in the simple activities of fellowship / koinonia?

[koinonia: sharing, unity, close association, partnership, participation, a society, a communion, a fellowship, contributory help, the brotherhood. koinonia is a unity brought about by the Holy Spirit. In koinonia the individual shares in common an intimate bond of fellowship with the rest of the Christian society. Koinonia cements the believers to the Lord Jesus and to each other" - Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1494]

Is there about my interactions with my Christian family such an attractiveness that those around would like to be part of it?


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this picture of the church in its pure and passionate beginnings. Help me to be infected with that same God-hunger, generosity, contentment with simple things, gladness and gratitude. Amen.

MORE: What's the difference between the early church and us?

In a message called "The Fear of God and the Freedom from Goods," John Piper lists the elements of early church life from this passage:

They focused a lot on the teaching of the apostles (which we have in the New Testament).
• They experienced wonders and signs .
• They lived in a state of wonder and awe as they saw day in and day out the stark reality of God in healings and deliverances and changed lives of people being added to the church.
• They shared their possessions as freely with the needy as though they didn't even own them.
• They spent time in big groups in the temple.
• They ate together in their homes almost every day.
• And when they met each other, they met God. They prayed and they praised.

Then he asks:
"What makes all this hang together? What's the driving force that made those believers free from their possessions, and eager to meet needs, and full of gladness and generosity and praise and prayer when they ate together day after day?


I think the key is found in verse 43 in the phrase, "fear came upon every soul"—a joyful, trembling sense of awe that you don't trifle with the God of the apostles. That is not our experience. Today for most people, including most professing Christians, God is an idea to talk about, or an inference from an argument, or a family tradition to be preserved. But for very few people is God a stark, fearsome, stunning, awesome, shocking present REALITY. He is tame. He is distant. He is silent. Where are the churches of whom Luke could say today, "Fear—awe, wonder, trembling—is upon every soul"?
The absence of this fear has a direct effect on the way we accumulate possessions for ourselves, the way we ignore the needy, the way we trivialize fellowship, and the way we play more than we pray." - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

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


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Sunday, May 24, 2015

The secret of the church's success

Pentecost - Estella Canziani
Pentecost - Estella L. M. Canziani (1905-1936)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 2:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, 'Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? …. We hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God'" Acts 2:7,11

The odds of those 120 Jesus-followers gathered in that upper room ever making anything of their movement were almost non-existent. They were mostly uneducated people without influence. They were out of favor with all the ruling factions, especially their own Jewish leaders. They had just been through the traumatic lynching and crucifixion of their rabbi, and though He had returned, it had been different than before. He came and went mysteriously. Recently He had physically disappeared into heaven.

But from the Day of Pentecost, those 120 never stopped growing.  From that day they gathered new followers wherever they went. What was their secret?

It was the Holy Spirit.

My Bible has an outline called "The Work of the Holy Spirit" that references the ways He has been active on this earth from the beginning through to now. In relation to fulfilling our mandate to spread the Gospel, the Holy Spirit works in all aspects.

He inspired the writing of Scripture—the good news we share - 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21.

Now he works in the hearts of the news-spreaders as He:
  • Pours out God's love in our hearts - Romans 5:5.
  • Gives power to proclaim the gospel - Acts 1:8.
  • Imparts gifts for ministry - 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

On the other end, the Holy Spirit also works in the hearts of the hearers as He:
  • Brings conviction - John 16:8-11.
  • Regenerates - Titus 3:5

Still today we need to take into our work a sense of our own inadequacy without the Holy Spirit. It is only through His empowering that we can accomplishing anything of eternal value:

"… the church was birthed in the worshiping, ministering power of the Holy Spirit; and shortly, three thousand people received Christ. This enablement by the Spirit initiated the spread of the gospel in the hostile environment of persecution, idolatry, and political oppression, and it is still the answer for the spread of the gospel today" - Scott G. Bauer, "The Miracle of Pentecost" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1492 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, thank You for coming and indwelling all believers—me too. Help me to give You full rights and access to my life so that my life and work will have eternal significance. Amen.

MORE: Day of Pentecost (Whitsunday)
Today the church celebrates the Day of Pentecost, also called Whitsunday.

The liturgy for today begins with the following collect:

"Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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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, May 23, 2015

The best is yet to come!


Photo from RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 8:18-30

TO CHEW ON:
"Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." Romans 8:30

A few weeks ago our pastor preached a series of sermons on the Holy Spirit. He listed four works of the Spirit in our lives: 1)Salvation; 2) Sanctification; 3) Power for Ministry and 4) Glorification.

Until he pointed it out, I had never thought of glorification as a work of the Spirit in my life. But our focus verse today bears that out as well, when it talks about Christians—the predestined, called and justified—also being glorified.

We've done a little study on Jesus' glory in the past little while so today I'm going to dig into the hope of glory for Christians.

[Glory - doxa was originally an opinion or estimation in which one was held. Then it came to mean reputation, good standing and esteem given to a person. It morphed then to mean honor or glory given to people nations and individuals. In the New Testament it means splendor, radiance and majesty centered in Jesus - from Word Wealth by Dick Mills, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1446.]

What's fascinating about the concept of glory is its interplay between the now and the not-yet.
  • For the disciples and people who saw Jesus in the flesh, glory was now. His glory was manifested in Jesus' miracles and His life generally - John 2:11.
  • For Jesus, His glory was also past—eternity past. He laid it aside to come to earth - John 17:5; Philippians 2:5-7.
  • In Jesus' John 17 prayer, He mentions glory several times both as a present reality and future hope. He prays that He will be glorified in His disciples (then and those who would believe in the future through their unity) - John 17:10,23. But He also prays that they will join Him in the future: "…be with Me where I am" to "… behold My glory" - John 17:24.
  • Paul talks about life on earth as a prequel to glorification—but not unrelated to it. He reminds the Romans in our passage that life's hardships are a contrast to the glory that's ahead - Romans 8:18.
  • He reminds the believers in Corinth that their hardships and sufferings also prepare or change them for that anticipated state, are "working for us a far more exceeding weight of glory" - 2 Corinthians 4:17.
  • And he tells Timothy that the way we endure hardships can help to encourage our fellow Christians as we journey together toward this glorified state (2 Timothy 2:10).
  • But these are just glimmerings of a hope that is future—a hope that is as old as Asaph and the Sons of Korah. "You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory" Psalm 73:24, see also Psalm 84:11.

What does this have to do with you and me today?
- We live in a way that reflects Jesus' glory.
- We understand that our hardships are part of our ripening for future glory.
- We face death—the death of believing loved ones and our own deaths—with hope,
even anticipation of future glory.


Cheer up. The best is yet to come!

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, have Your way in me to help me live to the glory of Jesus in my life now. And may I cooperate with you as You prepare me for glorious heaven that is still to come. Amen.

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


Friday, May 22, 2015

Prophecies so accurate they're spooky

Judas - Artist unknown
Judas - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 11:1-17

TO CHEW ON:
"So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, 'Throw it to the potter'—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter." Zechariah 11:12,13

Does today's focus verse remind you of another passage in the Bible that involves 30 pieces of silver, that silver thrown into the temple, and the money used for something to do with a potter?

What about the story of a traitorous disciple named Judas? Read the account in Matthew 27:3-19. There are identical elements in both passage, only Zechariah's was written about 400 years before Matthew's historical reporting of the story. The similarity almost gives one shivers!

Zechariah is full of such messianic prophecies. My Bible's introduction says:
"Zechariah is sometimes referred to as the most messianic of all the Old Testament books. Chapters 9-14 are the most quoted section of the prophets in the passion narratives of the Gospels. In the Revelation Zechariah is quoted more than any prophet except Ezekiel" - David Warren Shibley,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1248.

Note these prophetic references to Messiah in Zechariah as he writes of:
  • The Lord's servant the Branch - Zechariah 3:8, of man the Branch - Zechariah 6:12 and that Branch as ruler and priest - Zechariah 6:13.
  • False shepherds - Zechariah 11:4-11. This brings to mind Jesus' words about good and bad shepherds in John 10:1-30.
  • Messiah's triumphal entry into Jerusalem - Zechariah 9:9, compare Matthew 21:5 and Mark 11:7-10.
  • Messiah's betrayal for the sum of 30 pieces of silver (noted above).
  • His crucifixion - Zechariah 12:10.
  • His suffering - Zechariah 13:7.
  • His second coming - Zechariah 14:4.

The Bible's reputation and track record as a book of reliable prophecy is one of the reasons I trust its message in other categories as well, like its way of salvation and its ethical and moral principles. What an amazing library of books, authored by many individuals over centuries, yet with a consistent message throughout. I look back at how it has come true in the past, then look ahead with confidence that its predictions for the future will come true as well.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for the amazing word I know as the Bible. Help it to stay fresh and powerful to me as I apply it to my life and obey it. Amen.

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


Thursday, May 21, 2015

They shall return

Old passports
"Old Passports" - Image from RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 10:1-12

TO CHEW ON:
"I will sow them among the peoples,
And they shall remember Me in far countries …
And they shall return…
Until no more room is found for them." - Zechariah 10:9,10


The prophecy Zechariah is making here, has it already happened or is it still in the future?

My Bible's notes say about this passage:

"Though the covenant people be sown among the nations, God promises that they shall return. This prophecy was partially fulfilled in Zechariah's day in the return of the exiled Jews from Babylon. The prophecy will have its final fulfillment in the New Jerusalem, where not only Jews but all nations come to worship God" - David Warren Shibley, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1259.

Hmmm. I'm not finding the above totally convincing. On the hunch that Zechariah's prophecy is being fulfilled literally in our day, as Jews from around the world stream back into Israel, I looked around for statistics and found the "Latest Population Statistics for Israel."

According to the report, Israel's population growth was 2% in 2014, much of it from immigration. Top countries from which Jews are emigrating to Israel: Ukraine, France, Russia and the U.S. From the report linked above:

"A study performed by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that one in four Jewish individuals currently live in a country other than the one they were born in.  In contrast, one in twenty Christians and one in twenty five Muslims live in a country other than that of their birth.  This makes Jewish individuals the world's top migrants."

Another article from the "Word Population Review" says this about population projections for Israel:
"Atypical of the population growth rate for a developed country, the State of Israel has a rapid growth rate. Since the establishment of the State, the population has increased approximately tenfold, primarily as a result of the high immigration of Jews into the country."

Some prominent theologians believe that the church has replaced Israel in God's plan and that prophecies of a renewed Israel apply to the church, not literal Israel ("Replacement Theology").

The writer of my Bible's notes seems to tilt in that direction. From his "Introduction to Zechariah":
"Many Bible students believe the promises of a restored Zion are to apply primarily to a cleansed, invigorated church" - David Warren Shibley, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1248.

I don't agree. I believe these prophecies and promises also concern the literal Jewish people and are even now being fulfilled before our eyes. Let's continue to watch world events with an eye to how God is fitting things together in fulfilled prophecy in our time. And let's continue to pray for the country of Israel and the Jewish people.

PRAYER: Dear God, it's exciting to see things prophesied in the Bible happening before my eyes. I pray for Jewish people everywhere, especially in places where antisemitism is again on the rise. Most of all, may they find a home in Jesus. Amen.

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


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Your King is coming!

Palm Sunday scene in stained glass - Artist unknown
Palm Sunday scene in stained glass - Artist unknown
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Zechariah 9:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold your king is coming to you
He is just and having salvation
Lowly and riding on a donkey
A colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9


For anyone familiar with the Bible I'm sure today's verse recalls an event from Jesus’ life – along with, perhaps, the memory of waving palm branches in Sunday School or singing songs like “Hosanna Loud Hosanna”  or “All Glory Laud and Honor.”  Here the prophet Zechariah predicts, 400 years before the event, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We celebrate it on Palm Sunday.

Old Testament prophecies fulfilled hundreds of years later illustrate how remarkable the Bible is. Its storyline of creation, fall, redemption and consummation (ending in heaven and hell) is still playing out.

Though donkeys might not seem an appropriate mode of transportation for nobility, other Old Testament rulers used them. Jair, a judge, had thirty sons who rode thirty donkeys to their thirty towns (Judges 20:4). Another judge, Abdon, stabled seventy donkeys to accommodate his sons and grandsons (Judges 12:14).

Donkeys were a symbol of humble, patient service. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not only did the people recognize Him as a king, but one who came in humility.

That day the people of Jerusalem “rejoice(ed) greatly” by taking off their cloaks and spreading them on the ground for the animal to walk over. This was another ancient custom of the recognition of a ruler (2 Kings 9:11-13).

They also waved palm branches – something that was reminiscent of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40). By spreading their clothes and palm branches in front of the donkey carrying Jesus, they proclaimed Him as their expected king and deliverer – the Messiah.

Of course we know the story of how a few days later all that changed. The crowds shouted another verdict – and Jesus was crucified. But God’s plan was not thwarted. Instead, Jesus’ death and resurrection proved Him king of so much more than just the nation of Israel in 1 B.C. (or however that year is designated).

The same prophetic Bible that predicted Jesus entry into Jerusalem predicts His eventual coming again as King (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Timothy 6:13-15; see also Revelation 19:15-16 and Revelation 17:14). Do we believe this will actually happen? Do we live with the expectation of this in mind? For just as surely as Old Testament prophecies came true, this one will too. It could happen today!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I acknowledge You as King of my life. Help me to live today with the expectation of Your imminent return in mind. Amen.

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

The breath of hope

Bambus in the wind
Image from RGB Stock Photos
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 37:1-14

TO CHEW ON:
"Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live.' " Ezekiel 37:5

The people with whom Ezekiel would have first shared this vision were far from home. Their beautiful Jerusalem had been ravaged and they were living in Babylon amongst those who spoke a different language, ate different food, had differed customs, and worshiped a different God than they did. Ezekiel's vision would have filled them with hope.

The hope begins with the action in verse Ezekiel 37:5 - God causing breath to enter those bones.

[Breath - ruach is breath, wind, spirit  of living breath in man and animals, spirit as the seat of emotions and mental acts, and the Spirit of God.]

Ezekiel's vision has various interpretations. According to my Bible's study notes,* this vision may be:
- a prophecy of the post-exile return of the exiled Jews from Babylon.
- an Old Testament picture of bodily resurrection.
- an analogy for spiritual regeneration and the birth of the church.
- a prophecy of national Israel being restored in end times.

If we take it as an analogy for spiritual regeneration and apply it to our own lives, it can also give hope to us.

Spiritual life in the Bible begins with that birth / wind of the Spirit. Jesus, talking to Nicodemus about being born again, used the picture of wind: "' Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes form and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit' " - John 3:7,8.

Spiritual work continues with the Spirit's enabling. After His resurrection, Jesus came to the disciples before He commissioned them and "He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' " - John 20:22.

Spiritual work takes off by the power of the Spirit. Jesus told the disciples to wait for the Spirit's empowering and when He came on the Day of Pentecost and baptized them all, He came with "… a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind…" - Acts 2:2.

Whatever that pile of dead bones is in our situation, God can also revive it with His life-giving breath. Like the exiles of Ezekiel's time found hope in this picture of breath coming into the dead bones of their situation, may the thought that the Spirit can breathe spiritual life into what seems dead to us also fill us with hope today.

PRAYER: Dear God, please come into the discouraging things, the disappointments and areas of my life that are dead with Spirit breath of life. And we remind You of our loved ones that appear spiritually dead. Please revive them with Your breath of spiritual life. Amen.
* New Spirit-Filled Life Bible study notes on Ezekiel authored by Howard M. Ervin, p. 1098.

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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, May 17, 2015

Jesus' glory—our glory

The Transfiguration by Carl Bloch
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 17:1-26

TO CHEW ON: " 'And the glory which You gave Me I have given to them, that they may be one just as We are one.' " John 17:22

As I read today's passage—Jesus' prayer from John 17—one word pops out at me, repeated (in several forms) eight times. It's the word "glory" ("glorified," and "glorify").

*Jesus says that God the Father will glorify Him—the Son— so that He (the Son) might reflect that glory back to the Father (John 17:1).
*He reminds God that He (Jesus) has already "glorified" Him (God) by finishing the work God gave Him to do (John 17:4).

*He prays God will glorify Him (and God the Father) "with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5).

*He says that He is glorified in those that are His—His disciples and followers (John 17:10).

*He prays that God will give His followers across the ages the glory that the Father has given Him (John 17:22). 
*And finally, He prays that they will see His glory—that glory He had "before the foundation of the earth" (John 17:24, cf. John 17:5).

[The word glory used here is the noun doxa, which means opinion (in the NT always good, resulting in praise and honor). It also means splendor, brightness, magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, majesty.

Glorify - doxazo (a verb), is to praise, honor, extol, magnify, celebrate, make glorious, adorn, clothe, render something excellent, make it renowned.]


One gets glimmerings of something very big and beyond our comprehension here, a glory and majesty we can only imagine. We also gets the sense of what Jesus gave up when He came to earth as a human being.

We see more facets of Jesus' glory as we read about it in other places in the Bible.
  • It was prophesied - Isaiah 63:1.
  • John recognized it in Jesus - John 1:14.
  • The disciples got glimpses of it on the Mount of Transfiguration - Luke 9:32.
  • It will be very obvious at Jesus' second coming - Matthew 16:27 (to the chagrin of some and delight of others - Matthew 24:30,31).
  • In heaven it will be shared by the apostles - Matthew 19:28.
  • We as Jesus' followers can begin to share in it and reflect it now as Jesus prayed - John 17:22. One way this happens is through our unity: "… that they may be one just as We are one."
Paul gives us another sense of how it comes about in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where he describes it as coming about through seeing Jesus in the Word and allowing the Holy Spirit to work out what we see in our own lives:
"And all of us, as with unveiled face because we continued to behold in the Word of God as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another for this comes from the Lord Who is the Spirit" - 2 Corinthians 3:18 AMP.

Wow! May that "ever increasing splendor, from one degree of glory to another" be working itself out in my life and yours day by day.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus thank You for giving up Your eternal glory to be humiliated as a human and then dying to take the punishment for my sin. The glory that comes to me as a result of this is totally undeserved. Help me to understand how to translate Your glory into my life and circumstances. 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 AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Tribulations—bench-presses for the spirit

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 16:16-33

TO CHEW ON: "These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33


Given the choice, we would probably pick peace over tribulation. But according to Jesus, those that are "in Me" will have both. For though in Christ we have the peace that comes from knowing our relationship with God is right, until we die, we have no choice but to be "in the world" where we will experience tribulation.

[Tribulation - thilipsis is "pressure, oppression, stress, anguish, tribulation, adversity, affliction, crushing, squashing, squeezing, distress. Imagine placing your hand in a stack of loose items and manually compressing them. That is thilipsis, putting a lot of pressure on that which is free and unfettered. Thilipsis is like spiritual bench-pressing. The word is used of crushing grapes or olives in a press" - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1474.]

I know there are degrees of tribulation, and that the tribulation we in western nations experience is a fraction of what Christians in some places go through. Yet we do sense it. We find ourselves at odds with our society's beliefs about beginnings (everything just happened by chance versus God creating), of morals and ethics (society's changing consensus versus the Bible's standard) and of what really matters in life (one's happiness versus God's "Well done"). We even find ourselves squeezed and pressed by ourselves: "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not do .... O wretched man that I am..." Romans 7:15,24.

It's easy to view tribulation as bad and something to be got free from at all costs. But there is another way to look at it. It can be a means to make us vital and strong in the way situps and treadmill running and bench-press exercises strengthen our bodies. Oswald Chambers says:

"Life without war is impossible either in nature or in grace. The basis of physical, mental, moral, and spiritual life is antagonism. This is the open fact of life.

Health is the balance between physical life and external nature, and it is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside ....

Morally it is the same. Everything that does not partake of the nature of virtue is the enemy of virtue in me ....

And spiritually it is the same. Jesus said, 'In the world you shall have tribulation.' .... I have to learn to score off the things that come against me, and in that way produce the balance of holiness; then it becomes a delight to meet the opposition" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 4th reading (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to grow stronger by the way I face the tribulation that comes my way. Amen.

MORE: Tribulation around the world

Persecution.org is a website that disseminates news about the persecution and tribulation experienced by Christians around the world.

The website is an initiative of International Christian Concern which "acts as a bridge between believers in free countries and believers in persecuted countries by sending encouragement, prayers and aid over the bridge while bringing back news, requests and love" (from the "Get the most out of Persecution.org page).

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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, May 14, 2015

The Promise—kept!

Holy Spirit as a Dove - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 1:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me.' " Acts 1:4

Here Jesus, in His last goodbyes to His disciples, gives them some explicit instructions . They are not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the "Promise of the Father." What is this "Promise of the Father"?

[The word "promise" here is the Greek word epangalia. It refers to "both a promise and the thing promised, an announcement with a special sense of promise, pledge and offer" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1516.]

In the next verse, Jesus tells them what this promise is: the Holy Spirit.

What sort of expectation does this raise in the disciples, who are familiar with the law, psalms and prophets (our Old Testament)? Here are some OT scriptures that may have come to their minds, and the expectations they raised:

Isaiah 32:15 - "Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field…" = Fruitfulness.

Isaiah 59:21 - "… this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you…" and the verse continues with a promise = Believing Generations.

Ezekiel 39:29 - "And I will not hide my face from them anymore for I shall have poured out My Spirit…" = a New Intimacy with God.

Joel 2:28 - "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" = Supernatural Insight and Communication.

Zechariah  12:10 - "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication…" = a New Favor with Man and Power with God.

As we look at these OT promises, we see that every one of them is fulfilled at the coming of the Spirit on and beyond the day of Pentecost.

  • Fruitfulness: 3,000 people become believers after Peter's sermon that day and the church only keeps growing from there.
  • Believing Generations: The church that begins on the day of Pentecost continues till today.
  • A New Intimacy: Through the Spirit believers through the centuries have assurance of a vital connection to God as His children. Paul and John express this well in Romans 8:16; Galatians 4:6; and 1 John 4:13.
  • Supernatural Insight and Communication: Peter refers to the passage in Joel in his sermon, interpreting the coming of the Spirit as fulfillment of Joel's prophecy (Acts 1:16-21). The book of Acts continues with many examples of this: Acts 5:1-11; 8:14-23; 9:10-16; all of Acts 10.
  • Favor with People, Power with God: The early church has "favor with all the people" - Acts 2:47 and power when they pray - Acts 4:31.

The wonderful thing is that the same Holy Spirit is still available to us and working in and through Christ-followers all around the world. His presence and activity in our lives is still able to energize us and make us powerful and effective in these ways.

The question becomes: Are we making ourselves available to Him?

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, all of You is available to me but I fear I often don't make all of myself available to You and so I stifle Your activity in my life. Help me to be better at giving myself to You for whatever You would do through me. Amen.

MORE: Ascension Day

Today the church celebrates the day Jesus ascended to heaven--Ascension Day. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Conditions for "Yes"

image by freeimageslive.co.uk - Prawny

Praying Hands stained glass
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 5:13-21

TO CHEW ON:
"Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us." 1 John 5:14


I love the way John describes the attitude to prayer here. The one who prays does it in "confidence." It's the same word used to describe how the disciples spoke following Peter and John standing up to the Jewish council and their prayer for boldness—translated "boldness"—in Acts 4:31.

[Confidence - parrhesia. This is outspokenness, unreserved utterance, freedom of speech, frankness, candour, cheerful courage. … exhibiting spiritual power and authority - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1497.]

  • But there is a condition to this kind of bold prayer—or any prayer for that matter—being answered. It is prayer "according to His will."

Other places in the New Testament give more conditions to God answering our requests with "yes":

  • We ask in Jesus' name - John 14:13,14; 15:16; 16:23,24.
  • We abide in Him and His words abide in us - John 15:7.
  • We have faith - Matthew 5:22; James 1:6.
  • We are righteous in life and fervent in prayer - 1 John 3:21,22; James 5:16.

My Bible's commenter on 1 John (where I got the above list of conditions and scriptures) makes this sum-up statement about prayer:
"One who abides in Christ, and whose words abide in Him, who prays in the name of Jesus, that is, in accord with His character and nature, and is full of faith and righteousness is not inclined to pray anything contrary to His will. … Genuine prayer is not an attempt at precise means of getting God to meet our desires and demands; but rather in subordinating our will to His, we open the doorway to His fullest blessings being released in our lives" - Peter E. Prosser - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1789,90 (emphasis added)

Before I pray I don't, and I'm sure you don't ether, check myself and my prayers against a list like the one above to see whether they qualify. I just pray.

However, such a list is a good one to refer back to from time to time, especially when we puzzle over why the answers to some prayers take so long in coming. And if we and our prayers are meeting the conditions, we keep up our confident praying.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to persist in prayer for people, circumstances, and issues in my own life that need Your intervention. 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, May 12, 2015

God's Shield-care

round gold shield
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 47:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "For the shields of the earth belong to God" - Psalm 47:9


It's easy to become fearful and overwhelmed as we watch world events unfold. In these times, heavy responsibility falls on our leaders as they seek to protect us from terrorism,  man-made disasters, internet fraud,  virulent diseases etc.

As our leaders seek to carry out their responsibilities, their critics plant suspicions in our minds about them: They're doing too much in some areas, not enough in others. The laws they're passing will step on the toes of our rights. Everything they do is done with ulterior, self-serving motives…

In such a setting, the verse fragment I've chosen to focus on today is a great comfort: "For the shields of the earth belong to God." That's now the NKJV translates it. Other translations translate "shields" as "kings": "For the kings of the earth belong to God" - Psalm 47:9 NIV and "For the leaders of the earth belong to God" - Psalm 47:9 HCSB.

[The word used for "shields" or "kings" here is magen. It refers to a small golden shield "… the magen was a shield which only protected a part of the person, could be carried on the arm, and was used by light troops" - James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, pp. 157,8.]

What I'm hearing the psalmist say is that our leaders are shields—a means of our protection. They are God's possession, there by His permission and oversight (see Ephesians 1:19-22). As such we can trust God's wisdom in placing them over us and relax in His shield-care through them.

God's care as shield (magen) doesn't come to us only through our leaders. Some other ways God is our shield:
- Through His help - Deuteronomy 33:29.
- Through salvation - 2 Samuel 22:36.
- Around us - Psalm 3:3.
- As a refuge - Psalm 18:30; 144:2.
- As our victory - Psalm 18:35.
- Through His word - Psalm 119:14.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to trust Your shield-care for me in all the ways You give it. Amen.

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

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Day and night

Day and Night clipart
Day and Night (from WPClipart)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 1:1-6

TO CHEW ON: "But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night" - Psalm 1:2



"…meditates day and night." That would be continually. Why would we think about God and the revelation of Him in His word ("law of the Lord") so much?
  • Growth and fruitfulness: 
Here in Psalm 1 the writer compares this continuous meditating on God to a tree that draws constant nourishment from the stream beside which it grows (Psalm 1:3). Se we see it's for the tree's growth and fruitfulness.

In another place Paul advises Christians  to: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks" (1 Thessalonians 5:17)—more ways to help growth and productivity.

Continuous connection with God happens in other places in the Bible too, where it serves other purposes:
  • Perspective:
Being closely connected to God helps us gain and maintain a realistic perspective. The writer of Psalm 71 reflects on God's lifelong presence with him and says, "My praise shall continually be of You"  - Psalm 71:6.
When studying creation, the writer praises God as creator: "I will sing to the Lord as long as I live…" Psalm 104:33.

David, at the outset of his psalm about God's attributes and His activity in history begins: "I will extol You my God, O King; And I will bless Your name forever and ever." Psalm 145:1

  • Help:
Another time we may find ourselves turning often to God is when we're in danger. When thinking of his enemies and their evil designs on his life, the writer of Psalm 71 turns to God as a place to put his hope for survival: "I will hope continually and I will praise you yet more and more" - Psalm 71:13,14.

  • He is worthy:
We witness the continuous God-conscious activity that goes on in eternity and it hits us—this is reality.  The heavenly beings in John's vision who "do not rest day or night saying 'Holy, Holy, Holy'" (Revelation 4:8) are praising the One who is truly worthy of that kind of praise.

Whatever place we're in today is a good one to meditate often and long on God and His activity, will, capabilities, accomplishments, and worthiness. Let's do it for our spiritual growth, to gain realistic perspective of life, to SOS Him when we're in trouble, and because He's worthy of it!

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to turn my thoughts to You continually, day and night. 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, May 10, 2015

Ruled by kindness

Happy Mother's Day!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 31:10-31

TO CHEW ON: "She opens her mouth with wisdom
And on her tongue is the law of kindness." Proverbs 31:26


The Proverbs 31 wife is a domestic virtuoso. She is a paragon of energy, industry, thrift, creativity, entrepreneurship, good management, and family loyalty. But the quality of hers that stands out for me, above all the rest, is her kindness.

Here is an exceptional woman, famous for her consistently kind speech. I love how the Bible writer puts it: "On her tongue is the law of kindness." The Message paraphrases: "When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly." What a model for us as women, wives, and mothers!

Of what does this law consist? A brief search of kindness in the Bible reveals:

  • It is often reciprocal (Joshua 2:12 - Context: Rehab asks for kindness from the Israelites as repayment for her kindness to the spies - Joshua 2:1-21).
  • It is related to graciousness, compassion (Psalm 112:4), mercy, humility, meekness, long-suffering (Colossians 3:12).
  • It exhibits its feelings in "kindly affection" (Romans 2:12).
  • It has a humble spirit that is considerate and "prefers" others (Romans 12:10).
  • It involves forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32).
  • Kindness is not something that just happens but something we "add" and work at with "diligence" (2 Peter 1:5-7).

I ask myself, if someone wrote about me in a Proverbs 31 way, would they say my tongue was governed by kindness? I know the answer. A little more adding and diligence is definitely in order. What about you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to work at kindness in deed and speech. May it be the law of my tongue. Amen.

MORE: Sayings about KINDNESS

"Life is short and we never have enough time for gladdening the hearts of those who travel the way with us. Oh, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind."
—Henri Frederic Amiel

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." —Mother Teresa

"Always be a little kinder than necessary."
—James M. Barrie
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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 from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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Saturday, May 09, 2015

Generation Gap

Generation Gap - Image from xdmag at flickr
Generation Gap - Image from xdmag at flickr
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 30:7-19

TO CHEW ON: "There is a generation that curses its father,
And does not bless its mother." Proverbs 30:11



Agur, author of Proverbs 30, is a great counter and list-maker. He'd be a wonderful blogger with provocative titles like:
- Two things I want before I die - Proverbs 30:7-9.
- Four things that are never satisfied - Proverbs 30:15-16.
- Four things that mystify me - Proverbs 30:18-19.

… and what we're going to focus on today: "Four things that bug me about young people these days" - Proverbs 30:11-14.

Well, we don't actually know whether Agur was talking about only young people here. He begins each beef with the words, "There is a generation" implying that he's going to be naming a characteristic of people in a certain age range, and the first one seems to apply to people younger than he is.

The four things that annoy him:
1. Their disrespect for parents - Proverbs 30:11.
2. Their self-deception - Proverbs 30:12.
3. Their pride and vaulted opinions about themselves - Proverbs 30:13.
4. Their cruelty and lack of mercy toward the unfortunate - Proverbs 30:14.

Each one of us could probably make up our own list like this. And we might add other titles: Four things that bug me about my parent's generation or old people or young children. Agur only notes these generation gaps but doesn't propose any ways of dealing with them. How do we?

Concerning the gap between children and parents, the Bible has good advice for parents and caregivers:
  • Each generation is responsible for the spiritual training of the next one - Deuteronomy 6:7, 20; Proverbs 22:6.
  • We are responsible to pray for the next generation - Lamentations 2:19.
  • We are to model kindness to our children - Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21.
  • It's a parental duty to control the home and household—not give that control to the kids - 1 Timothy 3:4,12.
  • Parents are to correct and discipline their children - Proverbs 3:12; 13:24; 22:15; 23:13.

Another bit of advice that comes to mind as I think of dealing with various types of gaps between myself and others is from Paul in Philippians 2:2-3:
"Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself."
PRAYER: Dear God, when I recognize gaps of understanding, sympathy, and love between myself and others, please give me Your heart of empathy and love. 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, May 08, 2015

A life of balance

technology
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 23:15-25

TO CHEW ON: "Do not mix with winebibbers
or with gluttonous eaters of meat
For the drunkard and glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags." Proverbs 23:19-20


There are lots of reality shows these days that expose peoples obsessions and the fallout from them. I usually avoid them. Perhaps that's because I don't like to face what people are (I am) capable of.

The Bible speaks a lot about two common human obsessions: drunkenness and gluttony—problems we still face today, along with many others.

One of our newer obsessions is with our electronic devices. Go to any place people gather and you'll most likely see a lot of people interacting with their smart phones or tablets instead of the folks around them. Some experts have described this new phenomenon as an addiction.

Naturally not all addictions are equal. But we can learn from the Bible's warnings about excess in any form:

  • Amos describes how false trust leads to a preoccupation with satisfying oneself and losing sight of what's really important (Amos 6:1-6).
  • Isaiah talks about a habit of excess (in his case drinking wine) becoming an end in itself, stealing ambition and drive (Isaiah 56:12).
  • Isaiah also describes how drunkenness can make leaders ineffective by blurring vision and stumbling their judgment (Isaiah 28:7).
  • Proverbs describes how drunken son brings shame on parents (Proverbs 28:7). 
  • Jesus scolds the scribes and Pharisees for their obsession with living outwardly flawless lives while they neglect their inner thoughts and attitudes (Matthew 23:25).
  • He also warns against being "weighed down" with drunkenness (and the cares of life) and so being unprepared for His second coming (Luke 21:34).
  • The end of a life ruled by obsession is tragic. Further down in Proverbs 23, the writer lists the consequences of pursuing alcohol (which fit well with other addictions too) in a series of rhetorical questions: "Who has woe … sorrow … contentions … complaints … wounds without cause … redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine. Those who go in search of mixed wine" - Proverbs 23:29,30.
  • In His story of the prodigal son, Jesus depicts how a life driven by appetite is vulnerable (Luke 15:11-14).
  • Finally, Paul warns that some practices (drunkenness and revelry among them) will disqualify people from the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).

It's a sobering picture. I myself have experienced how the virtual world of Facebook, Twitter, email, blog comments etc. can hijack my attention, demand increasingly more of it, as it takes my focus away from what's really important.

How much better to be obsessed and full of the Holy Spirit, leading to all things life-giving and lasting (Ephesians 5:18)!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to heed the Bible's warnings about unbalanced living and avoiding things that will enslave me. Amen.

MORE: Wise use of technology

In his book The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion, author Tim Challies talks about the many aspects of technology and how it impacts modern life.  He says:

"Our task then, is not to avoid technology but to carefully evaluate it, redeem it, and ensure that we are using it with the right motives and for the right goals" - Tim Challies, The Next Story, Kindle Location 437.

If you are struggling with technology's hold on you, Challies' book would be a great one to read.

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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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