Monday, August 31, 2015

The rotten center

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 7:14-23

TO CHEW ON:
"For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All of these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Mark 7:21-23 ESV

The Pharisees' concept of purity seems to assume that they started out pure, or had achieved purity with their ceremonies. Then they had to keep themselves pristine by doing all kinds of cleansing rituals so no unclean thing could enter their bodies.

 But Jesus told them they had it backward. For it wasn't the things entering their bodies that defiled them but their very thoughts and actions—the things that flowed out of their fallen, defiled, impure, rotten hearts.

Are we as equally dirty? It's common to hear a person, when faced with his or her sinfulness, object: 'I've lived a pretty good life—never murdered anyone, robbed a bank, or even cheated on my spouse.'

But look at the things Jesus lists: evil thoughts ~ sexual immorality ~ theft  ~ murder ~  adultery ~ coveting ~ wickedness ~ deceit ~ sensuality ~ envy ~ slander ~ pride ~ foolishness. We see that lumped in with murder, theft and adultery are evil thoughts, coveting, envy, pride, foolishness. Can even one of us claim to never have committed at least one of these? By Jesus' measure we're all defiled and need purifying from the inside out.

The good news is that inner purity is His free gift to us:

"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you."- Ezekiel 36:25 ESV

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." - Isaiah 1:18 ESV


"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." - 1 John 1:7 ESV


PRAYER: Thank You for making my position before You very clear. I need Your cleansing to purify me from the inside. Amen.

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

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Escape the grip of unhealthy tradition

Dress of a Pharisee
Dress of a Pharisee
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 7:1-13

TO CHEW ON: " ' Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.' " Mark 7:13

You've probably heard the story of the young wife who cut the end off every roast before placing it in the oven. When her husband quizzed her about it, she said that's what her mom did. Mom said she did it because that's what her mother did. Grandma finally solved the mystery. "My roasting pan was too small," she said. "The roast didn't fit unless I cut the end off."

The religious pharisaic traditions we hear about in today's reading are just as binding and buried in history. Jesus names two: hand washing and Corban.

The ritual hand washing tradition came about when Jewish religious leaders decided it would please God if all people followed the hand washings done by the priests making the temple sacrifices. As well, "The Pharisees taught that religious defilement could be spread by touch, so they prescribed elaborate ceremonies of cleansing" - J. Lyle Story, notes on Mark, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1362.

"'Corban' means withdrawing something from its intended use as though it were an offering made to God" - Ibid.  After a person had declared Corban over his property, he could continue to use it himself for as long as he lived but couldn't transfer its use to anyone else. Thus if he changed his mind and wished to move his parents onto that piece of property or sell it for cash, the law of Corban made that impossible.

These traditions offend Jesus. Later on in the chapter He teaches about real filthiness and how to be cleansed from it (Mark 7:18-23). In our reading He scolds the leaders for not allowing the people to obey the moral law of honouring parents with their man-made tradition law of Corban.

I see at least two lessons for me—and all of us—to learn here:

1. We need to be aware of any tradition or custom that would cause us to break God's moral law. For example, does the violation of our church's (unwritten) dress code cause us to be unfriendly to those who come in dressed, say, for the beach? Jesus wants to love the world through us (John 3:16).

2. We need to be aware of any system of rules or traditions that tell us this is what one needs to do to please God. This makes our faith a system of works, not grace. Even a tradition of church attendance and Bible reading could function in this way, reassuring us we've earned God favour. But that's not how it's done: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" - Ephesians 2:8,9.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize the unhelpful traditions in my life and escape their hold on 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.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

A vixen in the palace

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 6:14-29

TO CHEW ON: "Because John had said to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not." Mark 6:18,19

Herodias was a female force to be reckoned with in Herod's palace. Our reading today paints a picture of her as:
  • a seducable woman. She let herself fall for Herod even though she was married to his brother Philip.
  • an influential woman.  She instigated Herod's arrest of John. Later her daughter came running to her for advice about what to ask for after Herod promised the girl anything following her dance routine.
  • a bitter, revengeful woman who held against John the fact that he had denounced her illicit union with Herod.
  • an opportunistic woman, who recognized and seized the chance to get back at John.
  • a ruthless woman who demanded John's death by beheading.

Guess what—I've seen many of these evil qualities in myself. Oh, I haven't acted on them to the extent Herodias did, but have, to my shame, known myself to hang onto bitterness, imagine revenge scenarios. I have seized opportunities to get back at a person and slipped in snide asides to sway my husband and kids...

I would submit tha there may be a little of Herodias in most of us.

An attitude that is impervious to sensuous flattery, forgives wrongs, leaves revenge in God's hands, and responds with humility to criticism (deserved or not) does not come naturally to me or most of us. The Herodias in us is someone only God can change.

"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them." - Ezekiel 36:25-27

See also 2 Corinthians 5:17 and 1 John 1:7-9

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put to death (i.e. crucify - Galatians 2:20) the life of carnal emotion and response that rises naturally within me. Amen.

MORE: Wisdom about women and wives

From Solomon (who had his share of experience):

"Like a gold ring in a pig's snout
is a beautiful women who shows no discretion." - Proverbs 11:22 NIV

"A wife of noble character is her husband's crown,
but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones." - Proverbs 12:4 NIV

"Houses and wealth are inherited from parents
but a prudent wife is from the Lord." - Proverbs 19:14 NIV

"A quarrelsome wife is like
a constant dripping on a rainy day'
restringing her is like restraining the wind
or grasping oil with the hand." - Proverbs 27:15,16 NIV


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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.


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Friday, August 28, 2015

Are you a loyal bride?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 45:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Listen, O daughter,
Consider and incline your ear;
Forget your own people also, and your father's house;
So the King will greatly desire your beauty;
Because He is your Lord, worship Him." Psalm 45:10-11

This psalm is subtitled "The Glories of the Messiah and His Bride" in my Bible. The picturesque images of a middle-eastern marriage ceremony with a king welcoming his new bride grow heavy with meaning as we think of them in terms of the spiritual wedding of Christ and His bride. Of course we recognize this as a theme that flows through the Bible.

One aspect of this theme is the couple leaving their childhood homes and establishing a new home together. It's a principle as old as creation: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh" - Genesis 2:24.

Of all the expressions in the Bible, Ruth's declaration of loyalty to her mother-in-law (even after her husband was dead) is the most poignant. Not surprisingly it is often used in wedding ceremonies:  
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God - Ruth 1:16,17.

My Bible's commenter explains how the instructions for a bride to leave her old home apply to Christians in the church age: "The bride of a king was often from another nation, and so she had to break with her own culture to marry, just as Christians now must forsake marriage to worldly things in order to be part of the bride of Christ" - Dick Iverson, notes on Psalms, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 723 (emphasis added).

And so we do well to ask ourselves, are we living totally and unreservedly in the home of our husband the Lord Jesus? Or do we still hang on to bits and pieces of our worldly homes from the past?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am so honored to be part of Your Bride. Help me to be faithful bride who incites Your desire because my loyalty is all to You. Amen.

MORE: Spiritual adultery

We recall how many of the prophets speak of Israel's backsliding and worshiping idols in terms of marital unfaithfulness--adultery. The prophet Hosea was even commanded to marry a harlot (Gomer) and when she left to go after other men, he had to repeatedly bring her back home. This was a picture to Israel of how God pursued them.

Andrew Peterson's powerful song "Hosea" pictures Gomer's waywardness and her final response to Hosea persistently coming after her (just as God pursues us).


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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, August 27, 2015

The locked garden

My "garden enclosed" at our former home.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 3:6-5:1

TO CHEW ON:
"A garden enclosed (locked or barred)
Is my sister, my spouse
A spring shut up
A fountain sealed." Song of Solomon 4:12


The garden is another theme Solomon picks up in this love poem.

Gardens are woven throughout the Bible. Mostly they are places you want to be—peaceful, refreshing, nourishing, their fruitfulness symbolic of the Creator's favour.

Some Bible gardens are:

The garden home
Man's first home was a garden - Genesis 2:8.

The contentious garden
Lust for Naboth's garden had Ahab and Jezebel eventually murdering its owner so they could have it - 1 Kings 21:2

The status garden
King Solomon was a great planter of showy gardens - Ecclesiastes 2:4

The soothing garden
King Xerxes went to his garden to cool his temper after discovering Haman's treachery - Esther 7:7.

The fruitful garden
God's promises to Israel were often made in terms of the garden. He promised to turn their desert back into a garden - Isaiah 51:3. He told those who pursued Him with fasting and passion "You shall be like a watered garden..." Isaiah 58:11. And through  Jeremiah He promised that the remnant that returned from exile would be like a "well watered garden" - Jeremiah 31:12.

The garden of betrayal
Jesus and His disciples went to a garden (Gethsemane) after their Passover meal together. This is where Judas, His betrayer, found Him - John 18:1.

And our focus verse alerts us to another type of garden. It is

The exclusive garden
We notice, perhaps curiously, that the garden in our focus verse is enclosed, locked or barred. Why is that?

The writer of my Bible's notes explains "She (the Shulamite) is not a garden enclosed locking him out, but a private protected garden for royal use into which she invites her beloved to enter. The Shulamite, along with all her choice products is now his" — Donald Pickerill, notes on Song of Solomon, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 864.

This exclusivity speaks to us on two levels. It is essential for marriage. It is also true of us in our relationship with God, our spiritual husband.

Want to wreck your life's garden? A guaranteed way is to fool around on your spouse, or cheat on God.

PRAYER:
Dear God, these garden pictures hold so much attraction. Help me to protect the garden of my marriage and the garden of my relationship to You with complete fidelity. Amen.

MORE: Gardening books

Throughout my life I have enjoyed gardening. My bookshelf has a healthy section of gardening books. Some favorites are a series by a British writer, Dr. D. G.Hessayon (The Complete Garden Expert and The Flowering Shrub Expert). These books have been especially useful to me because the climate in Britain is similar to the climate where I live.

Another beautiful gardening book is Almost Eden written by fellow Canadian Kim Burgsma. I almost owned it a few Christmases ago, but ended giving away the copy I meant to keep. The book is full of gorgeous photos, information, and thoughtful reflection about gardens. Here's a bit about the book from Kim's website:

"Almost Eden captures the absolute wonder of the earth and teaches us how we can create a little bit of this wonder in our own backyards. Readers will discover how their gardens can be in tune with God’s original plan of earthly stewardship and be creative and well designed.

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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, August 26, 2015

Little foxes

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 2:8-3:5

TO CHEW ON: "Catch us the foxes
The little foxes that spoil the vines
For our vines have tender grapes." Song of Solomon 2:15

Our reading today is a sample of one of the richest love poems in literature, and the only such writing in the Bible. It is first and foremost a celebration of love between a man and a woman. As such it has a happy lighthearted playfulness that is contagious. It is also sensuous with the colour of flowers, the sound of the dove and of singing, and fragrant with new growth on the vines. However, as is often the case with romantic love, there is also trouble. "Little foxes that spoil the vines."

In marital love it's not hard to imagine what some of those little foxes could be: disagreements over money, a critical spirit toward one's mate that comes out in words and actions that undermine, disunity over how to bring up the children, coldness and lack of receptiveness toward each other...

An introductory paragraph about the Song of Solomon in my Bible comments on how to read this book as a sort of marriage manual:

"The Song is a constant goad to drifting marriages with its challenge to seek for openness, growth, and joyous relationship. It also makes an excellent premarital manual. As biblical archetype it can bring healing to the core of our being with its hope of covenant love as it reshapes our marriages..." - Donald Pickerill,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 860.

But the Song of Solomon can also be interpreted as an allegory of Christ and the church. Carrying on with the introductory paragraph above.

"Its portrayal of the covenant relationship also has application to the covenant love relationship enjoyed by God's church. In this regard, the Song can be rich in symbolism but should not be read as an arbitrary allegory with mysterious meanings supplied by the whim of the reader; rather any such personal application of one's love relationship with Christ should be interpreted with solid application, using obvious biblical parallels" - Ibid.

Keeping that last warning to not stretch comparisons in mind, I think it's safe to say that little foxes, seemingly small issues, can also attack our relationship with God. A footnote in my Bible names a few of these: unbelief, resistance, hardness of heart. "Hardness of heart is the great enemy of love, since everything depends on receptivity and openness - Read Numbers 13 and 14)" Op. Cit p. 863.

Let's examine our lives for "little foxes." In our marriages what are the little annoyances that threaten our relationships? As believers in the body of Christ, the church (the Bride of Christ) are we guilty of unbelief, resistance, hardness of heart toward Jesus, our spiritual bridegroom?


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be aware of the little issues that so sneakily spoil my relationship with my husband, and the tolerated sin that compromises my relationship with You.

MORE: Just a little...

  • laziness leads to poverty (Proverbs 6:10-11).
  • foolishness leads to a wrecked reputation (Ecclesiastes 10:1).
  • tolerated sin leads to its exponential growth in one's life and in the church (1 Corinthians 5:6).
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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, August 25, 2015

Seeds of Jesus in the Song of Songs

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Song of Solomon 1:1-2:7

TO CHEW ON:
"He brought me to the banqueting house
And His banner over me was love." - Song of Solomon 2:4

"The Song is the best of all songs, a literary work of art and a theological masterpiece," says Donald Pickerill, writer of my Bible's introduction to Song of Solomon. He goes on, "The song itself is like its favourite fruit, pomegranates, alive with color and full of seeds" - Introduction to the Song of Solomon, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 859.

I love the idea of this book being full of seeds. Let's find a few of those seeds—the objects and images which appear here and reappear throughout Scriptures, most within the life of Jesus—in today's reading.

Love  (Song of Solomon 1:2, 4, 7, 9):
- John's words describe the extent to which Jesus loved His disciples: "He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end" - John 13:1. Then John describes Jesus washing the disciples' feet.
- Of course we can't think of love and leave out Paul's great description of love in 1 Corinthians 13.

Fragrance (Song of Solomon 1:3):
Paul talks about our lives, fragrant with the likeness of Christ in 2 Corinthians 2:14:
"Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse" - MSG.

Spikenard (Song of Solomon 1:12):
- Mary anointed Jesus with Spikenard - John 12:3

Myrrh (Song of Solomon 1:13):
- The wise men brought myrrh as a gift to the baby Jesus - Matthew 2:11

King (Song of Solomon 1:4, 12):
- Jesus prayed "Your kingdom come" - Matthew 6:9,10
- He talked about His kingdom that was not of this world - John 18:36

Vineyard (Song of Solomon 6:14):
- Jesus said of Himself, "I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant" - John 15:5 (MSG).

Flock (Song of Solomon 1:7,8):
- Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10: " I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd risks and lays down His [own] life for the sheep" - John 10:11 (AMP)

Dove (Song of Solomon 1:15):
- The Spirit of God in the form of a dove descended on Jesus at His baptism. It's recorded in Matthew 3:16.

Fruit (Song of Solomon 2:3):
- Jesus spoke often of fruit. He spoke of bearing fruit when he spoke of Himself being the vine. He also mentioned fruit in the parable of the sower - Mark 4:20.

Banquet  (Song of Solomon 2:4):
- We recall that Jesus did His first miracle at a wedding banquet - John 2:1-11
- Of course the word banquet conjures up the picture of the greatest banquet yet to be—the Marriage Supper of the Lamb - Revelation 19:9.

In conclusion, here area  few more words from our Song of Solomon Introduction writer:
"In the Song of Solomon, as in other parts of the Bible, the Garden of Eden, the Promised land, the tabernacle with its Ark of the Covenant, the temple of Solomon, the new heavens and the new earth are all related to Jesus Christ ... The very essence of covenant history and covenant love is reproduced in Him (Luke 24:27; 2 Corinthians 1:20).

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for this beautiful love song that speaks in so many ways of Your relationship with the church, and our relationship with You. Help me to be receptive to Your love, and to return it to the best of my ability.  Amen.

MORE: All My Days by Rita Springer

Rita Springer sings her response to our lovely Jesus. Can we sing along?




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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)

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

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Heaven's surprising kingdom

Crown of thorns
Crown of thorns - Image from RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 22:24-30

 TO CHEW ON: " 'And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.' " Luke 22:29,30


Jesus talks a lot about His kingdom (also referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God). In His teaching and parables about it, we discover some interesting things.
  • Here we see that it doesn't operate by society's usual rules of prominence. Its prominent ones are those who distinguish themselves, not by their sophistication and worldly wisdom but by their "youngest" qualities. I take that to mean their complete, innocent, and unquestioning faith.
  • They are also willing to serve (Luke 22:26).
  • The kingdom is not fair but unfair in the wonderful way of elevating those who, by the class and status into which they're born, aren't even elevatable. Jesus confers entry into and prominence in the kingdom. It's a gift (Luke 22:29).
In other places Jesus gives more clues about His kingdom:
  • Luke 14:15 describes more unlikely kingdom recruits. It's not who we would expect but the poor, crippled, blind, and lame; all those who respond to the Master's invitation.
  • In Matthew 25:34+, Jesus describes the unusual way its makeup will be determined. He talks of a day "When the Son of Man comes in his glory"  (Matthew 25:31) as a day of sorting when He'll admit those who, unbeknownst to them, passed the kingdom's entry test by their compassion on earth (Matthew 25:35,36).
  • In 2 Timothy 2:12 the kingdom is given to those who "endure."

Though we are probably well familiar with these descriptions of the Kingdom, we do well to ask ourselves, have we internalized them? Does knowing them change our behavior?

Or, despite what we read in the Bible and hear expounded from the pulpit and elsewhere, will we still be surprised when, someday, we see the answer to what we've prayed thousands of times: "Your kingdom come..."?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You've left us with plenty of information about your kingdom—which is already and which we hope to see in its fullness someday. Help me to order my life here on earth by its principles. Amen.

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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted in this meditation 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.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

God's "hornet' help

Hornet
Hornet - Photo from RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Joshua 24:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
" 'I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow.' " Joshua 24:12


Near the end of his life Joshua assembles the whole nation and delivers a farewell speech. In it he builds a persuasive case for why the Israelites should choose to worship God alone.

He reminds them of how God has helped them from the beginning of their history as a nation. He:
- led Abraham and their forefathers - Joshua 24:3.
- grew Abraham's family - Joshua 24:4.
- performed miracles like sending the darkness that shielded them from the Egyptians when they crossed the Red Sea - Joshua 24:7.
- nullified the curses of Balaam - Joshua 24:9.
- intervened on their behalf with other nations - Joshua 24:12.

The ways God used to work on Israel's behalf internationally are interesting. Here we see that God "... sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you" - Joshua 24:12. My Bible's study notes explain: "This term ("the hornet") is used here to describe fear or panic" -Ronald Mehl, notes on Joshua, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 308.

Joshua was reflecting back on the promises God had made to Moses. Exodus 15:14-16 and Exodus 23:27,28 predict that God will intervene on their behalf with other nations.  Exodus 15 tells how the chiefs of Edom will become terrorized and seized with trembling. The populace will be non-resistant: "... the people of Canaan will melt away."

Exodus 23:27,28 introduces the hornet metaphor to describe how God will plant the fear of them in Canaanite nations, throw these peoples into confusion, infect them with cowardice, and drive them out of the land God has deeded to Israel.

Joshua asks these people—who have seen come to pass exactly what God promised as they conquered Canaanite nations—why would they want to worship any other God?

In our day we have no fewer competitors for our worship. We may not be tempted by actual pagan worship (or we may; I have heard a modern theologian say that one of the main belief systems in our postmodern world is paganism). However, the list of idols that draws us away from God is long. They may include:
  • Materialism - causing us to be obsessed with things.
  • Popularity - causing us to compromise beliefs that are politically incorrect.
  • Success - causing us to choose careers that will help us achieve worldly prestige instead of building God's kingdom.
  • Entertainment - causing us to choose the good, relaxing, enjoyable life instead of kingdom work.

What I find particularly encouraging here is how God helped tiny, insignificant, minority Israel became formidable. I believe He is still able to act on behalf of Christians—who are increasingly a minority in today's secular culture—achieving His ends by similarly sowing fear, confusion, non-resistance, and cowardice into enemy ranks.  

PRAYER: Dear God, may Joshua's challenge to serve You alone continue to ignite resolve in my heart to do just that. Amen.

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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted in this meditation 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.



Saturday, August 22, 2015

What's the devil doing in heavenly places?


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 6:10-24

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

"Heavenly places"—the phrase brings to mind heaven, paradise, a place beyond the petty conflicts of earth. But according to Paul, conflict abounds there too—conflict of the most intense variety.

Paul talks about "heavenly places" several times in Ephesians (as pointed out by Jack Hayford,  the writer of my Bible's notes on Ephesians):

  • The spiritual blessings available to the church through Christ are located in heavenly places - Ephesians 1:3.
  • Christ's post-resurrection power and authority issues from heavenly places - Ephesians 1:19-22.
  • After we have accepted God's good news and have come alive in Christ, we are spiritually seated with Christ in heavenly places - Ephesians 2:4-6.
  • The church's destiny is to make known the will of God to the principalities and power in heavenly places - Ephesians 3:10.

Hayford concludes: "On these grounds this passage announces the church's corporate assignment to prayer warfare in order that evil can be driven back and the will of God advanced" - notes on Ephesians, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1654.

I like that: prayer warfare. But what exactly does it mean?

Daniel Henderson in his book Transforming Prayer dispels some of the mystique around prayer that does spiritual warfare:

"Many who write about spiritual warfare seem to think that we must be astute in a variety of extra-biblical tactics and special insights about the names and addresses of demons. Some people promote grandiose sketches of the evil hierarchy and fascinating geographical exposes of their organizational battle plan....

I may be naive compared to the warfare experts but I have discovered that a life of passionate worship—one that delights in biblical truth about God's character, seeks the empowerment of the Spirit for application and articulation, then surrenders in every way as prompted by this intimate encounter, is equipped to 'fight the good fight' every day. Jesus, on the heels of forty days of prayer and fasting, wielded the truth of God's Word in facing down the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4-11). We, too, are equipped by His sufficiency to brandish the 'sword of the Spirit,' which is the spoken word of God - Ephesians 6:17" - Daniel Henderson, Transforming Prayer, pp. 143, 144 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank you that You have won the battle over evil. Help me to face the onslaughts of the devil and his demonic cohorts with the truth of Your word in my mind, and praise and worship for that victory on my tongue. Amen.

MORE: Prayer: a wartime walkie-talkie

"The number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that they try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission" - John Piper, (quoted in Transforming Prayer, p. 143) from the sermon "Prayer: the Work of Missions."

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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, August 20, 2015

Prayer postures

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 8:42-61

TO CHEW ON: "And so it was, when Solomon had finished praying all this prayer and supplication to the Lord, that he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven." 1 Kings 8:54

"I can't really get into praying until I'm on my knees," a friend confided to me. Her words  lingered with me, I began making a practice of kneeling when I prayed in my 'closet,' and I sensed a change, not in God but in myself. It felt right to be in such a posture before Him.

It's interesting to see the posture of Solomon in prayer, described in detail by the writer of 1 Kings. I'm glad he included that description, for it adds a jolt of realization about the relationship between God and us. Solomon, despite his giftedness, his touted wisdom, his unusual success spent part of this momentous day in Israel's history on his knees before God in front of all the people.

The Bible mentions at least four prayer postures.

1. Standing:
  • That is actually how Solomon began his prayer - 1 Kings 8:22.
  • Jesus' instructions about prayer imply that standing was a common stance - Mark 11:25.

2. Bowing
  • Abraham's servant bowed in prayer when he thanked God for answering his prayer about finding a wife for Isaac - Genesis 24:26.
  • The Israelites bowed in worship when Moses returned with signs and a promise that God would free them from their Egyptian masters - Exodus 4:31.

3. Kneeling
  • Sometime during his prayer, Solomon must have sunk to his knees, for that's the posture our writer describes him in at the end of his prayer - 1 Kings 8:54.
  • Jesus is also described as kneeling when He prayed in Gethsemane - Luke 22:41.

4. Prostrate, on the face before God
  • That's how the people of Israel prayed in response to Ezra reading 'the book' to them - Nehemiah 8:6.
  • Jesus was also on His face in Gethsemane - Matthew 26:39.

No prayer posture is prescribed or given more honor than any other. Rather it seems that the posture may indicate the state of our heart, the fervency of our felt neediness, and can become a physical demonstration of our humanity, humbled before deity.

What position do you prefer to be in when you pray? Does it make a difference to you? Have you ever experimented with different ones? Of course the main thing is the posture of my heart and yours.

PRAYER: Dear God, I love the variety of prayer postures seen in Your word. Help me to always have the spiritual posture of humility before You, whatever physical position I'm in. Amen.

MORE: Prayer attitudes

Daniel Henderson in his book Transforming Prayer lists seven prayer attitude positions we do well to put into practice in our prayers:
  1. Pray to seek God's face, NOT just His hand.
  2. Pray with your heart fixed on god's glory, NOT just for personal satisfaction.
  3. Pray from the treasury of God's word, NOT from a list of your own ideas.
  4. Pray according to the Spirit's instruction, NOT only from human reason.
  5. Pray with a heart completely surrendered to His will, NOT  with a hurried personal agenda.
  6. Pray in anticipation of living triumphantly in the war zone, NOT in satisfaction with your comfort zone.
  7. Pray that God would change you, NOT simply change things - Daniel Henderson, Transforming Prayer, pages 157-158. 

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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, August 19, 2015

Big prayers—old and new - 1

Solomon Dedicates the Temple - James Tissot
Solomon Dedicates the Temple - James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 8:22-41

TO CHEW ON: "Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today." 1 Kings 8:28

I love how explicit and detailed Solomon is in this public prayer at the dedication of the temple. As he prays about specific concerns of his and the nation's, we get a glimpse into his heart and his perception of how God dealt with the nation.

He prays that:
  • God will be a fair judge of people who take an oath before the temple alter (i.e. swear their innocence in the face of an accusation) 1 Kings 8:31-32.
  • When the Israelites lose their land because of sin,  God will restore it back to them after their confession in the temple - 1 Kings 8:33-34.
  • When there is no rain because of the peoples' sins,  God will hear the Israelites' prayers of confession as they "pray toward this place" and again teach them how to live and send rain - 1 Kings 8:35-36.
  • And he prays, just behind the bounds of today's reading, that when the land is plagued by whatever plague—blight, mildew, locusts, grasshoppers, siege by an enemy—their prayers and supplications will help each see "the plague of his own heart" as they pray toward the temple, and God will "hear ... and forgive and act" - 1 Kings 8:37-39.

What can we learn about life and prayer from Solomon's prayer here? Several things come to mind:

1. Solomon prayed for things that are still concerns for us, only in different ways. We too can pray for:
  • justice in our legal system. We can pray for judges, lawyers, legislators, and that those in political power will enact fair laws and see that they are enforced.
  • national safety and security. For us that might be expressed as prayers for safety from terrorist attacks, from gangs that deal in drugs, from anarchism and riots—anything that would threaten our national security.
  • peace in weather and nature. We can petition God for safety from extreme weather in the form of storms, floods, and forest fires; safety from earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • safety from plagues. For us that might be praying for protection from illnesses for which we have no cure (e.g. cancer), computer viruses and cyber attacks.

2. Solomon attributed the Israelites' times of past and future misfortune to their sin. We don't make that connection much any more, perhaps fearful of being labeled judgmental. But I think there is a connection. We can acknowledge it at least in private prayer, confessing our own sins and the sins of our nation as we let God draw us back to Himself through trouble.


PRAYER: O God, please make me aware of the plague of my own heart. Help me to come to You in confession and accept Your forgiveness. May I fear You all the days of my life. Amen. 

MORE: Confession
"O Lord, I confess my sin to you. In humility I admit my wrong. Against you, O God, and your standards of holiness I have fallen short. I acknowledge the ugliness of my own sin ..." - Ronald A. Beers, 365 Pocket Prayers, day 274 (p. 235).
(Read "Big Prayers—old and new - 2")



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

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Overcome by glory

The priests brought in the ark 
to the most holy place" - Paul Hardy

The priests brought in the ark   to the most holy place" - Paul Hardy


TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 8:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord." 1 Kings 8:10-11

What a wonderful benediction fell on David and Solomon's temple project when God's glory filled it. The temple was so full, so thick with the shockingly awesome glory of God that the priests couldn't do their work.

We think of other times God's glory is mentioned in the Bible.
  • It appeared to the Israelites in the wilderness as a bright cloud by day, a fiery cloud by night - Exodus 16:7, 10.
  • It illumined the top of Mount Sinai when God met with Moses and the Israelites there (Exodus 24:17).
  • When the tabernacle was finished, God's glory filled it (Exodus 40:34), as it did the temple in today's reading.
  • Glory surrounded the angels who announced Jesus' birth - Luke 2:9.
  • Stephen saw the glory of God and Jesus as he gazed into heaven just before he died under a barrage of stones - Acts 7:55.
  • And here is the wonderful one: We are being transformed to reflect that same glory. As we see the glory of God through Jesus in the Bible and let the Holy Spirit change us, we "are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory" - 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Rick Warren gives us a great definition of God's glory in The Purpose Driven Life:
"What is the glory of God? It is who God is. It is the essence of his nature, the weight of his importance, the radiance of his splendour, the demonstration of his power, and the atmosphere of his presence. God's glory is the expression of his goodness and all his other intrinsic, eternal qualities" - page 53.

He goes on to list five things we can do to bring God glory:
1. Worship Him - Romans 6:13
2. Love other believers - 1 John 3:14.
3. Become like Christ - 2 Corinthians 3:18.
4. Serve others with our gifts - 1 Peter 4:10-11, 2 Corinthians 8:19.
5. Tell others about Him - 2 Corinthians 4:15 (from The Purpose Driven Life pp. 55-57).


PRAYER: Dear God, in the natural I live out the truth of the words: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Please transform my life so that I will  give You glory and reflect Your glory. Amen.

MORE: Lord, Let Your Glory Fall − Matt Redman

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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, August 17, 2015

Wisdom download

Solomon's Wise Judgment - Artist unknown
Solomon's Wise Judgment - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 3:16-28

TO CHEW ON: "When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given they held the king in awe because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice." 1 Kings 3:28


In his dream, God answered Solomon's prayer for wisdom with yes. However, Solomon probably woke up the next morning feeling no wiser. Most likely he went about his life with everything appearing the same as ever. However, something had happened that night. It became apparent when two mothers fighting over the same child came before him for his judgment on who should get the baby.

What a ticklish scene: two mothers, two babies, one dead, one alive, two different stories of who the child belonged to. All this with no objective witnesses and way before people discovered DNA. How could Solomon decide?

His verdict, gruesome as it was (to cut the live child in half so that each mother could have an equal part of it) tapped into the wisdom of the human heart and exposed the true mother because of her love. The true mother didn't want to the child to die, even if she didn't get to raise it.

God still gives wisdom.
  • He invites us to ask for it - James 1:5.
  • He gives it right on time - Matthew 10:19; Luke 12:11,12.
  • God's wisdom is wholesome, beneficial, and shows up in our conduct, works, and attitude - James 3:13-17.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please download Your divine, peaceable, other-preferring wisdom to me for every situation. Help me to differentiate between Your wisdom and the world's wisdom. Amen.

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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted s in this meditation 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.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

What is your heart's desire?

Solomon's Dream - Artist unknown
Solomon's Dream - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Chronicles 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON:
" 'Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people ...'
God said to Solomon, 'Since this is your heart's desire ... therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given to you.' " 2 Chronicles 10-12


This story reminds me of the three wishes folk tales I loved as a kid. It also prompts me to examine myself and ask, what would I have said if I were Solomon?

In the dream God lists some common and desirable things Solomon could have asked for: material possessions, prestige, safety and security, and long life (which implies good health). Which of those things wouldn't we want?

I love the telling words that God answers Solomon with. "Since this is your heart's desire..."

How can we know what our heart's desire really is? I've heard Bible teachers describe one way to tell is note the thing(s) our thoughts flit to when there's nothing else vying for their attention.

Using this method I ask myself, what is my heart's desire? The spiritual well-being of my family? The beauty of my house? Great health and fitness? Where I'll spend my next vacation? How I can fulfill my role in God's kingdom?

What is yours?

Is it something that God would be pleased to answer? If not perhaps you and I need to work on changing so that our deepest desires do line up with God's values.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me be so in touch with You that my deepest heart desires will reflect what You value.

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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted s in this meditation 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.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Formed in us

photo of a potter's hands forming wet clay into a pot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 4:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you." Galatians 4:19

We can learn a lot about intimacy with Jesus from today's reading. Early in the chapter Paul talks about how God redeemed the Galatians (and all of us who trust Jesus) from slavery (to sin) and adopted us. As His sons and daughters we can call Him "Abba Father" or Daddy.

In our focus verse Paul expresses his desire for them to achieve even greater intimacy as Christ is "formed" in them. An article in my Bible explains "formed":

["Formed, morphoo: To form. Schema and morphoo are in bold contradistinction. Schema (English "scheme") signifies external form or outer appearance. Morphoo and morphe, its related noun, refer to internal reality. Galatians 4:19 speaks of a change in character, becoming conformed to the character of Christ in actuality, not merely in semblance" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1636.]

A brief meander through the New Testament sheds light on how Christ is formed in us:
  • This formation is connected to the Holy Spirit entering our lives - John 14:16-20.
  • It demonstrates to the world that Christ's coming to earth was real and effective - John 17:23.
  • It is worked out in real time as we crucify (kill, ignore) the desires of our fleshly selves and use our bodies to further God's purposes - Galatians 2:20.
  • It is achieved by faith - Ephesians 3:17-19.
  • It is a mystery - Colossians 1:27.
  • It is tied to obedience - 1 John 3:24.
  • It is available to everyone - Revelation 3:20.

I ask, is Christ being formed in me today? In you?

PRAYER: Dear Daddy God, I welcome the formation of Jesus in me today through the Holy Spirit. Please bring these aspects of formation to mind as I go through my day. Amen.


MORE:  The Feast of Virgin Mary

Today is the day the church celebrates the mother of Jesus. She experienced Christ formed in her in an altogether different way than any other human ever will.

Here is the Collect that begins this day's liturgy:

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, 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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Friday, August 14, 2015

Actions speak louder than words

Adonijah Petitions Bathsheba - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 1:42-2:12

TO CHEW ON: "Then Solomon said, 'If he proves himself a worthy man, not one hair of him shall fall to the earth; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.'" 1 Kings 1:52.

The palace drama continues. Solomon becomes king. Would-be king Adonijah flees to the place of worship taking hold of the horns of the altar—an ancient custom that symbolized the seeking of sanctuary from execution.

Solomon assures him, no worries: "If he proves himself a worthy man, not one hair of him shall fall to the earth but if wickedness is found in him..."

That seems to be one of the characteristics of Solomon's wisdom—to give people the chance to clear or incriminate themselves (remember his judgment of the two women who claimed to be the mother of the same child - 1 Kings 3:16-28?).

All goes smoothly for Adonijah until he decides to test his personal theory that Solomon is really naive and innocent. He asks to wed Abishag, David's final virgin companion.

Though that request may seem harmless enough to us, in that culture it was loaded with significance. As my Bible's notes explain: "Abishag was a member of David's harem, which was considered his royal property and was to be passed on to his successor" (see 2 Samuel 12:8 and 16:20-22).- 2 Samuel 16:20-22 - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible.

It's the crack in Adonijah's character that we suspect Solomon knows is there all along. With this proof of Adonijah's treacherous heart, Solomon has grounds to do away with his rival.

The lesson for us in this is two-sided.
  • We do well to measure someone's trustworthiness and integrity by actions as well as words.
  • We need to apply this to ourselves as well. Do we say one thing but live another?   

PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to have insight into my dealings with others, and to live with integrity so that my life matches my words. Amen.
 

MORE: Proverbs about duplicity

Solomon shared his wisdom about duplicity in several proverbs. Here are a few:


"People who wink at wrong cause trouble,
 but a bold reproof promotes peace.
The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain;
    the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions"
- Proverbs 10:10-11 NLT

"The integrity of the upright guides them,
    but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity."
- Proverbs 11:3 NIV (1984)


"Smooth talk from an evil heart
   is like glaze on cracked pottery.
Your enemy shakes hands and greets you like an old friend,
   all the while conniving against you.
When he speaks warmly to you, don't believe him for a minute;
   he's just waiting for the chance to rip you off.
No matter how cunningly he conceals his malice,
   eventually his evil will be exposed in public."
- Proverbs 26:23-25 MSG.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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

Scripture quotations marked 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 MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Do you keep your promises?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 King 1:22-42

TO CHEW ON: "'Just as I swore to you by the Lord God of Israel, saying, "Assuredly Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place," so I certainly will do this day.'" - David to Bathsheba - 1 Kings 1:30


Bathsheba reminds King David of a promise he has made to her:
"My lord, you swore by the Lord your God to your maidservant, saying, 'Assuredly Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne'" - 1 Kings 1:17.

Our focus verse is David's assurance to her: Yes, he will keep his word.

Keeping one's word, i.e. fulfilling a promise, was very important in another case, even though the promise was foolish and made without consulting God. Remember the story of the sneaky Canaanites from Gibeon who dressed in ragged clothes and came to Joshua after he defeated their neighbouring city of Jericho? Their tale of a long journey was proved, they said, by their mouldy bread, tattered wineskins, and worn out shoes. These things convinced Joshua they were from far away. Their request that his army spare them seemed innocent.

But the ink was hardly dry on the peace treaty when Joshua found out they were near neighbours and he had been tricked (Joshua 9:3-15). However, he kept his promise to them. So did other rulers—until Saul. He had killed them and that resulted in a famine in the land which was not stopped until the Gibeonites' deaths were avenged (read the gory story in 2 Samuel 21:1-140.

Keeping promises is part of God's character. He is reliable:

  • His thoughts and purposes will come about - Isaiah 14:24.
  • His promises reach over generations, as Zacharias reminds us in his prophetic prayer, prayed at the birth of his son John, where he praises God for fulfilling the oath He made to Abraham centuries earlier  - Luke 1:68-75.
  • This promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus, the writer of Hebrews reminds us - Hebrews 6:13-17.

As God's children, we should be known for our trustworthiness and the faithfulness with which we keep our word. As Jesus said so simply: "'Let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No"'" - Matthew 5:37, James 5:12

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be better at thinking things through and consulting You before I commit to them. I can recall promises I've made rashly, and later reneged on or tried to get out of. I'm sorry. Help me to be known as someone who keeps my word. Amen.

MORE: Before you promise...

Luci Swindoll tells the story of her college days when she promised to go to a friend's house one Saturday morning for breakfast. For some reason neglected to show. The hurt she inflicted on her friend was a lesson to her in making and keeping promises. It resulted in what she calls her "A-List for being fully present in conversation":

"Be sure I listen.
Be sure I understand what's being communicated.
Be sure I'm clear about what's involved before I commit to something.
Be sure I can do what I say I will do.
Be sure I show up on time."

- Luci Swindoll, Simple Secrets to a Happy Life, Kindle Location 293.

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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, August 12, 2015

Tempted to exalt yourself?

Nathan & Bathsheba before David
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 1:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Then Adonijah, the son of Haggith exalted himself saying, 'I will be king'; and he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him." 1 Kings 1:5


Adonijah, David's oldest living son, thought the throne should be his. Given the frailty of his aged father, he no doubt expected the process to be quick and easy. Taking the matter into his handsome hands he "exalted himself, saying 'I will be king.'"

The Bible speaks—and not reassuringly—of self-exaltation. Some examples:
  • Satan exalted himself, declaring himself above God, before being thrown out of heaven - Isaiah 14:12-15.
  • Moses accused Pharaoh of exalting himself against the Israelites when he refused to let them go (Exodus 9:17) and we know what happened to him.
  • Though the words self exhalation aren't used, that's what Absalom, Adonijah's older brother had done when he tried to take over his father's throne - 2 Samuel 15:1-12. We have recently read of his inglorious end - 2 Samuel 18:9, 14.

Adonijah didn't reckon with the intervention of Nathan the prophet, who alerted Bathsehba, the mother of Solomon, to whom David had promised the throne. She went to David and very quickly the palace was in the thick of planning a legitimate coronation.

The temptation to exalt oneself is just as strong as ever. Though we don't do it to get a physical throne, the real need to be noticed in order to succeed in business or the arts in a noisy world easily morphs into self-exaltation.

More than ever we need wisdom to know when we've crossed the line between giving necessary information (advertising), and self-exaltation. May  the peace of God be the umpire in our hearts (Colossians 3:15 Amplified) as we resist the temptation to exalt ourselves, choosing instead the Kingdom-wise state of humility and faith that God will lift us up if and when it suits His purposes.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). James echoes that thought: "Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away" (James 1:9-10).

Do I, do you have the faith to wait for God to exalt us and our projects and causes?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to trust You to exalt me when needed and resist the temptation to exalt myself. Amen.

MORE: Anti-self-exaltation wisdom


"It is not good to eat much honey; So to seek one's own glory is not glory." - Proverbs 25:27

"Let another man praise you and not your own mouth; A stranger and not your own lips." - Proverbs 27:2
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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, August 11, 2015

The antidote for GREED

What Madame Blueberry's learns

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 5:3-20

TO CHEW ON:
"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or of any kind of impurity, or of greed." Ephesians 5:3

It hits me as noteworthy that "greed," what we might consider a two-star sin in badness, sits next to five-star horriblenesses like sexual immorality and impurity.

"Greed" - "intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food" Dictionary definition, is hardly a stranger to us.

I'm spending some time with my grandkids as I write this. Yesterday I heard one of them asking his mom when he could go shopping for a certain big toy he wanted. She answered him by asking if he really needed that toy and suggesting he'd have to get rid of some of his other toys to make room for another one.

Later in the day we watched a Veggie Tales video, the one with Madame Blueberry (I had no idea of the theme of this  video when we picked it!). In it Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato discuss Larry's desire for accessories for his mechanical jeep. They decide to visit Madame Blueberry, who lives in a beautiful tree house but is very unhappy because she is always comparing her things and her house to everyone else. (She has a shelf with pictures of all the stuff she wants, from new spoons to an air compressor. Later when salesmen from the new Stuff Mart up the street invite her to go shopping, she, Larry and Bob are out of the treehouse in a flash.)

On the way to Madame Blueberry's house, Larry and Bob happen upon a little girl who is celebrating her birthday with a humble piece of apple pie. The song they overhear her sing delivers a beautiful and memorable lesson for Larry, Bob, Madame Blueberry, kids and adults. (The veggies will recall this song later, when Mme. Blueberry's stuff becomes a huge disappointment.) Here are some of the lyrics:

I thank God for this day
For the sun in the sky
For my mom and my dad
For my piece of apple pie! ...

Because a thankful heart is a happy heart!
I'm glad for what I have
That's an easy way to start
Listen to the whole song...

Our passage paints a picture of life in the Spirit.
  • It's a life of "light" - Ephesians 5:8,9
  • Transparency and openness - Ephesians 5:13
  • Wisdom - Ephesians 5:13
  • Mouths full of encouraging, uplifting, God-praising words and songs - Ephesians 5:19
  • And the antidote to our very-bad greed—THANKFULNESS:  "... always giving thanks to God the Father for everything" - Ephesians 5:20.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to practice thankfulness, first in my thoughts and then in my words. Amen.

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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted s in this meditation 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.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Offended, turned off, turning back

"Jesus Preaching In the Temple"
-Pierre Louis Van Schuppen

Jesus Preaching in the Temple by Pierre Louis Van Schuppen
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 6:52-71

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?' .... From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." John 6:60,66

The disciples' offense arose out of Jesus' controversial statements about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. They couldn't understand it and it turned them off Jesus - John 6:53-59.

We are not immune from being offended by Jesus and what the Bible teaches. Though it may be a different set of concepts that give offense, people are turned off and turn back as much as ever. Even us so-called believers.

Who of us, for example, hasn't felt a twinge of offense when we envision Jesus' teachings fleshed out in our lives in the areas of:
- non-resistance to an evil person - Matthew 5:39-42.
- loving our enemies - Matthew 5:44.
- the exclusivity of "the way" - Matthew 7:13-14.

Jesus' clear teaching about hell, a place of eternal torment (Matthew 18:9, 25:30; Luke 16:24) is in disfavor among some Christians these days.

So is the Bible's stance on some issues of morality. I recently became aware of the Episcopal Church's rejection of the English Standard Version of the Bible because of its plain speech condemning homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9. (Trouble is, they've already approved the RSV, NIV, CEV and other versions where the language is just as clear - article here)

Jesus' reported words and the teachings of the early church's apostles leave lots of room for faith and trust in areas that we can't make sense of with our minds or that don't fit with our current culture. Let's not let a lack of cerebral understanding or the fear of being politically incorrect cause us to go back and walk with Him no more, as it did some of Jesus' first century disciples.

PRAYER: Dear God, please develop in me spiritual understanding that is not offended by things I must take by faith. 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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