Sunday, January 31, 2016

God doesn't age

aging statue
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 71:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
Do not forsake me when my strength fails." Psalm 71:9



The longer we live, the more famous and powerful people we see come—and go. The movers and shakers of my youth, of even 20 years ago, are either dead or vastly changed.  International leaders like Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan lose their minds to dementia. Beautiful people like Liz Taylor lose physical allure to aging and disease. Most sports figures are yesterday's news after age 40. If we see current photos of many of these once-prominent people, we hardly recognize their changed and wrinkled appearance. Age ravishes them like it does us all.

The writer of today's psalm, who appears to have been a prominent person himself, is feeling the vulnerabilities of aging. He is aware of his failing strength and of how he is now a sitting duck for his enemies—probably younger, more vigorous men who, he imagines, plot ways to take his life and lie in ambush poised to pounce on him.

In this time of old age trouble he reminds himself of the rock-solid God he trusts. He calls Him a "strong refuge," and a "rock and fortress" (Psalm 71:3,7).  He recalls how long God has been there for him—a hope and trust from his youth, upholding him even from birth (Psalm 71:5,6).

What a reassurance to all of us who are also in the process of aging. (That's everybody, of course, but after a certain birthday it encroaches ever more tangibly.) As the embrace of old age tightens, changing appearance, threatening health, sucking stamina, eroding influence, and stealing friends, even spouses, let's let this psalm remind us that God isn't going anywhere. He hasn't changed and won't change. The One who was our rock, refuge, fortress, hope, and trust in youth and middle age can and will be those things for us in old age as well.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your unchangeableness. Help me to recall this about You in the face of how I and my generation are wearing out. Amen.

MORE: God's unchangeableness
"We can define the unchangeableness of God as follows: 'God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.' This attribute of God is called God's immutability" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theoology, p. 163 (quoting Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology).

Read more about the Immutability of God on Rebecca Writes (Theological Terms).

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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, January 30, 2016

Spiritual activewear

Runner - by Phillip Martin
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 1:11-19

TO CHEW ON: " ' Therefore, prepare yourself and arise …'" Jeremiah 1:17


Yesterday we read how God came to young Jeremiah, called him to be a prophet, answered his objections, and promised His presence. In today's reading God comes to Jeremiah again and begins to show him visions—symbolic scenes of Israel's demise such that when Jeremiah speaks of them, he won't be popular. In light of how his hearers will take him, God tells Jeremiah, " 'Therefore prepare yourself and arise…' "

"'Prepare yourself' means literally to 'gird your loins,' that is, arrange your clothing for activity" - R. E. Hayden, study notes on Jeremiah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 960.

As we read on, we see God uses war words to describe the prepared Jeremiah: "' I have made you … a fortified city … iron pillar … bronze walls" - Jeremiah 1:18.  Jeremiah is to prepare for battle.

We read of a similar action ("girding the loins") on the night the Israelites were to eat the Passover before leaving Egypt: "This is how you are to eat it; with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand" - Exodus 12:11. The Israelites were to get ready for flight.

We see Elijah do the same thing after the Priest of Baal showdown on Mount Carmel and the coming of the rain: "The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel" - 1 Kings 18:46.  It appears he was preparing to celebrate victory.

All this getting prepared for spiritual action reminds us of the classic NT spiritual preparation metaphor, the Armour of God, that Paul tells Christians to put on:  Because our enemy is spiritual, dark, and wicked…"Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand" - Ephesians 6:13. We need spiritual armor to stand against spiritual attack (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Finally, we read of the life-race readiness pictured in Hebrews 12:1 "… let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." We need to be prepared to run our everyday race of faith.

I think we could say that whatever spiritual activity confronts us—whether it's battle, flight from the devil's clutches, a victory celebration, standing firm, or running the daily race of faith, we need to be sure we're wearing our spiritual activewear—have on  those bullet proof vests, are wearing our spiritual spandex, have the laces of our cross trainers tied tight i.e. live alert and always be dressed and prepared for spiritual action.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this warning to Jeremiah to be prepared. Help me to be live prepared for whatever You allow to cross my path today. Amen.

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


Friday, January 29, 2016

Three life lessons from Jeremiah

Jeremiah - Artist unknown
Jeremiah - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 1:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "But the Lord said to me: 'Do not say "I am a youth,"
For you shall go to all to whom I send you
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.' " Jeremiah 1:7


In ten short verses Jeremiah gives us three lessons for a lifetime. They were truths from God to him that would guide, comfort, and goad him on through the reign of Judah's last five kings.

Lesson 1 - His life was planned
- Jeremiah 1:5.
God told Jeremiah he was no accident. His ministry and assignment were part of God's design. Before he was even conceived God knew him and set him apart for his unique job as a prophet to the nations.

Lesson 2 - His natural shortcomings were no problem - Jeremiah 1:7.
Jeremiah objected to this assignment. He wasn't a speaker. He was too young. God allayed all his fears with the promise of His presence.

Lesson 3 - His ministry could have an impact far beyond what would be expected
- Jeremiah 1:9,10.
Who would listen to a young, single prophet of Judah? Yet God's promise that He would supply Jeremiah's words meant that they would have divine authority over nations and kingdoms.

Though God will not give any of us the assignment He gave Jeremiah, I believe the lessons behind the specifics of Jeremiah's life apply to us too.

1. We are not accidents either. God has a plan and destiny for each one of us. I love Ephesians 2:10 in this regard:
For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us] - AMP version.

2. Our shortcomings are not a problem to God either. Our excuses (I'm too old, too uneducated, too poorly connected, too old-fashioned etc.) might just be a benefit in that they show off who is really working through us.
But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves - 2 Corinthians 4:7 AMP.

3. Our lives can also have a way bigger impact and our words have more authority than common sense says they should. Jesus' many teachings on the power of prayer  (e.g. Matthew 6:6) as well as His words to Peter and the disciples come to mind:
I assure you and most solemnly say to you, whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth shall have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth shall have [already] been loosed in heaven - Matthew 18:18 AMP.

As we face our assignments for 2016, let's relate the life lessons God gave Jeremiah to our lives and find purpose, courage and hope in them.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You that You knew me before I ever existed, that You have a purpose for my life, and that You are and will be the means of fulfilling 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 AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The gift of discernment

"The Wisdom of Solomon" by James Tissot
"The Wisdom of Solomon" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 3:16-28

TO CHEW ON: "And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered, and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice." 1 Kings 3:28


Solomon prayed for discernment when God came to him and asked "What shall I give you?" (1 Kings 3:5,9). In our reading today we see in a real life situation, the answer to Solomon's prayer.

Every time I read this story I marvel at the audacity of Solomon's suggestion (cut a child in two—really?!) and the innate understanding of human nature that it showed (the strength of a mother's love for her child).

[The word discern used in 1 Kings 3:9 is the Hebrew word transliterated biyn. Some of the many English words and phrases used to render it are act wisely, consider carefully, gaze, interpret, investigate, observe, ponder, and perceive.]

Biyn occurs 28 times in Proverbs (thought to be written mainly by Solomon). These proverbs alert us to some of the many aspects of discernment.

1. Discernment is present in God, comes from God, and is enhanced by seeking after God (Proverbs 24:12; 2:6-11; 28:5).

2. It involves listening to and taking advice from the wise, and being willing to learn (Proverbs 1:5,6; 18:15).

3. Its presence or absence is revealed in the words that come out of one's mouth (Proverbs 10:13; 16:21; 17:28).

4. The discerning person learns from rebuke and reproof (Proverbs 17:10; 23:1).

5. He/she also pays attention to circumstances (Proverbs 23:1).

6. Discernment in citizens makes them an asset to the community (Proverbs 28:2; 29:7).

7. Discernment isn't determined by class or position (Proverbs 28:11).

8. Self-discipline is an aspect of discernment (Proverbs 28:7).

9. Some of discernment's enemies are scoffing, naiveté, and foolishness (Proverbs 14:6; 14:15; 15:33).

Some Old Testament characters known for their discernment (in addition to Solomon) were Joseph (Genesis 41:33,39) and Daniel and his three friends (Daniel 1:4,17).

In the New Testament Paul reiterates the fact that spiritual discernment is available only through God, the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The writer of Hebrews says that practicing and using discernment makes it stronger (Hebrews 5:14).

In these early days of 2016, let's follow Solomon's example of asking God for the gift of discernment, even as we do what we can to weave the threads of wise and discerning behavior into our lives.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please give me discernment that is demonstrated in wise living. Amen.

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


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Double-minded Solomon

T

Solomon with one of his wives - Artist unknown
Solomon with one of his wives - Artist unknown
ODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 3:1-15

TO CHEW ON:
"And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statues of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places. 1 Kings 3:3

The snippet of Solomon's life in today's reading is a study in contradictions.
  • Solomon loved the Lord yet sacrificed at the high places.
(High places were "...hilltop open air shrines for Israelite worship prior to the temple. Their hilltop location followed Canaanite practice, and many probably stood on existing centers of Baal worship" - NIV Study Bible notes - Kindle Location 78,262.)
    • The law forbade worshiping at these sites - Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 7:5.)
    • The law also limited altar building to locations of God's choice - Deuteronomy 12:2-5, 13,14.
  • Still, God spoke to Solomon in a dream after he had sacrificed at Gibeon "the great high place." In his dream, Solomon's answer to God's question: "What shall I give you?" pleased God and He promised to answer Solomon's request for wisdom in governing the people.
  • On waking, Solomon traveled to Jerusalem and worshiped there (1 Kings 3:15), so we see that he knew where offerings were to be made.

We can see some interesting trends here early in Solomon's life—tendencies that, in the end, took him down.

Here at the beginning of his reign he married his first unbelieving wife, Pharaoh's daughter - 1 Kings 3:1. He kept up this practice throughout his life and these hundreds of idol-worshiping wives were the one big cause of his eventual downfall - 1 Kings 11:1-13.

His mixing high places into Yahweh worship produced apostasy and syncretism which persisted and displeased God - 2 Kings 17:17-18; 21:2-9.

Solomon's double-mindedness in his youth and middle age led to an old age that was characterized by cynicism, aimlessness and depression. Read Ecclesiastes, e.g. Ecclesiastes 1:2.

There's much to learn here for us: 

  • Early sinful tendencies will only grow stronger if we don't nip them in the bud. 
  • Though God often blesses us despite sin in our lives, our tolerance of it will inevitably angle the trajectory of our entire life.  
  • Double-mindedness can indeed lead to instability and a bad end, as James warns us - James 1:8; 4:8-10.


PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to love You and demonstrate that love by my obedience. Amen.

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


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How to love everybody

Night street scene of people and cars
Image: Unsplash / Pixabay.com

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

TO CHEW ON: "Love...does not seek its own..." 1 Corinthians 13:5.

Adrian Plass tells this story of an epiphany he had when he was ten:

"As I sat on the front seat of the big green Maidstone and District bus, a sixpenny bit and a penny clutched in my hand ready for the conductor, a phrase I had read earlier repeated itself over and over in my mind.


'Everybody is I.'


[...] Suddenly I stiffened. ...The true meaning of those three simple but puzzling words had exploded into my mind, destroying the illusion that I was the center of the universe, and leaving me to cope, for the rest of my life, with the burden of knowledge. Every one of those people down there in the street, walking the pavements, driving cars, waiting for buses — every single one, whatever they were, whatever they looked like, whatever I thought of them, was as important to themselves as I was to myself! - Adrian Plass, From Growing Up Pains to the Sacred Diary, p. 20,21 (emphasis added).

In our quest to learn about love, to learn how to love, the realization that "Everybody is I" is a good place to start. As we, in our imaginations, put ourselves into other's shoes, it becomes much easier to suffer long, be kind, humble, polite, patient, etc.

It is the other-centered love we see emanating from Jesus when He speaks to the Samaritan woman, cuddles and blesses babies, parties with tax collectors, names for the Rich Young Ruler the one thing that keeps him from being a follower, and in so many other incidents does the thing that communicates God's love.

The miracle of Christ in us is that through His indwelling Spirit, He can communicate through us to those around us the love Jesus showed to those around Him when He lived on earth.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to learn the love lessons of 1 Corinthians 13, not only intellectually but practically, as I put them into action in my life. Amen.


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


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Monday, January 25, 2016

What do YOU want me to do?

"The Conversion on the 
Way to Damascus" - Caravaggio

"The Conversion on the Way to Damascus" by Caravaggio
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 9:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "So he trembling and astonished, said, 'Lord, what do You want me to do?' Then the Lord said to him, 'Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'" Acts 9:6

I imagine Saul as a sincere persecutor. He was absolutely convinced that he was doing God's will and helping God's cause when he rounded up believers in Jesus and oversaw their imprisonment or death. So it's no wonder he reacted with trembling astonishment when Jesus, as a voice issuing from a blinding light, stopped him and asked, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"

His answer— "'Lord, what do You want me to do?'"—tells us that his desire to please God was bigger than his own agenda. Jesus' reply, "'Arise and go into the city and you will be told what you must do'" was only the first order of many that Saul obeyed. From that day on Saul / Paul was no longer the boss of his life. He was a man under orders and those orders led him to live a life of amazing impact on the church and history.

His unquestioning turnaround should cause us to examine our own lives in the same regard. Though Jesus may never come to us in blinding flashes of light to tell us to change direction, He does come in a myriad of scriptures. We know what pleases Him: a life of humility, service, love, mercy, worship—all to be done for His glory.

When he alerts us to areas in our lives that don't fit with these things, are we as quick to forsake them as Saul was to leave his mission?

Barnes' Notes on the Bible say it well:
"Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? - This indicates a subdued soul, a humbled spirit. Just before, he had sought only to do his own will; now he inquired what was the will of the Saviour. Just before he was acting under a commission from the Sanhedrin; now he renounced their authority, and asked what the Lord Jesus would have him to do. Just before he had been engaged in a career of opposition to the Lord Jesus; now he sought at once to do his will. This indicates the usual change in the mind of the sinner when he is converted. The great controversy between him and God is, whose will shall be followed. The sinner follows his own; the first act of the Christian is to surrender his own will to that of God, and to resolve to do what he requires" - Barnes Notes on the Bible - Acts 9 (emphasis added).
Then can we tolerate the silence and the waiting—suspending our need to be busy as we wait for Him to tell us what's next.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Saul's prayer—What do You want me to do?—is one I need to pray every day. Help me to have no agenda but Yours. Amen.

MORE: Conversion of St. Paul

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The liturgy for this day begins with this collect:

"O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one god now and forever. Amen."
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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Responding to Jesus

Jesus Teaching in the Synagogue   in Nazareth - Artist unknown
 Jesus Teaching in the Synagogue 
in Nazareth - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 4:14-30

TO CHEW ON:
"So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. … So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath." Luke 4:22,28

Today's story is a study in synagogue crowd behavior.

* The service described in our reading starts with the leader(s) welcoming Jesus with respect, if not warmth. Someone even hands Him the scroll to do one of the readings.

(A commentary explains the order of a synagogue service. It required at least ten males be present and began with someone reading the Shema [Deuteronomy 6:4-9]. That was followed by prayers, followed by more Scripture—a portion from the Torah [Genesis to Deuteronomy] and then the prophets. In the teaching that followed, the reader explained the passages read and sometimes linked them with other Scriptures. The meeting ended with a benediction. [Information from the IVP New Testament Commentary accessed through Biblegateway.com.])

Jesus chooses Isaiah 61:1,2, reads it, and says, "'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing' " Luke 4:21.

* Here we see his hearers' next response; they "marvel" at these words (Luke 4:22). The Greek word for marvel is thaumazo which is rendered by forms of the words amaze, astonish, marvel, surprise, and wonder.

* By the end of Jesus' speech though, the crowd's mood has darkened from He's-one-of-us, to amazement, to murderous rage (Luke 4:28-29).

Why the change? What does He say (and they hear) that so infuriates them?

He says, in effect (by claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 61):
1. He is anointed by the Spirit.
2. He is the prophet of the fulfillment of good news.
3. He is the one who brings relief as well as proclaims it; He is Messiah.

In His talk, Jesus further rubs them the wrong way when He exposes their doubts in Him as a person who they knew from youth. Then He equates Himself with a prophet who gets no respect in his hometown and recalls the rejected OT prophets Elijah and Elisha and their miracles, benefiting not Israelites, but Gentiles.

The IVP commentary explains the choice He lays out for them, and us:
"The price of rejecting God's message is serious: mercy moves on to other locales. It is quite risky to walk away from God's offer of deliverance. … The crowd does not seize the opportunity. Rather, Jesus' warning angers them.  … Many respond similarly today when they realize that the gospel is a matter of 'take it or you will be responsible to God for the consequences' " - Ibid (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to open my heart and life to You and Your works every day. Amen.

MORE: Procrastination

This tendency of ours to put off making a decision about Jesus reminds me of a poem I read a while ago.

Manana (Tomorrow)

Lord, what am I, that, with unceasing care,
Thou didst seek after me, that thou didst wait,
Wet with unhealthy dews, before my gate,
And pass the gloomy nights of winter there?
Oh, strange delusion, that I did not greet
Thy blest approach! and oh, to Heaven how lost,
If my ingratitude’s unkindly frost
Has chilled the bleeding wounds upon thy feet!

How oft my guardian angel gently cried,
“Soul, from thy casement look, and thou shalt see
How he persists to knock and wait for thee!”
And, oh! how often to that voice of sorrow,
“To-morrow we will open,” I replied,
And when the morrow came I answered still, “Tomorrow.”

by  Lope De Vega (Spanish, 1562–1635 - translated by William Wordsworth or H. W. Longfellow)

 - Read in Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur.


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


Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Bible - amazing book

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 19:1-14

TO CHEW ON: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;

The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” Psalm 19:7

Product recall! The thought makes us cringe even as we perk up our ears to hear what is being recalled this time. Sometimes it's food that's been tainted with bacteria. Lately many cars have been recalled for faulty parts that make them dangerous to drive. Baby products are especially vulnerable to recall as we attempt to shield our most vulnerable and helpless from danger and risk.

 Probably nothing is as damaging to a company’s reputation as having to send out a warning about the safety of its products – though denying there is a problem and continuing to circulate dangerous goods is, in the end, even worse.

Our reading today talks about something that will never need to be recalled. God’s word – the Bible – has been around for centuries and it will continue to remain perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, righteous, desirable, sweet, effective to warn us and, if we follow its advice, to deliver us to God as acceptable.

How can I say such a thing with such certainty? Well okay, I’ll admit there is an element of faith here. But my faith is based on more than just the Bible’s claims for itself. My trust in the Bible is also based on these things:

- It’s indestructibility. How long do most books last? Not long! But the Bible, despite the passage of time and numerous efforts to exterminate it, is going stronger than ever.

- Its character in both message and unity. Where else will you find a collection of 66 books from 50 different authors written over about 1600 years that contains “One doctrinal system, one moral standard, one plan of salvation, one program of the ages”? (Lectures in Systematic Theology – Thiessen, p. 85)

- Its influence. It has and continues to cross cultural and language barriers around the world.

- Its fulfilled prophecies. “Only God can reveal the future and we have many proofs in the Scriptures that He did reveal it to His servants” (Thiessen, p. 88).

For these reasons I have anchored my life to the bedrock of the Bible – and don’t expect to ever find out it is broken, faulty, mistaken or polluted. What about you? On what have you built the house of your life?

PRAYER: Dear God, I thank You for the Bible, which is rich beyond words. Help me to understand it and live by its principles today. Amen.

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

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Weep at the Word

Reading the law - Artist unknown
Reading the Law - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Nehemiah 8:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, 'This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.' For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law." Nehemiah 8:9

If you are familiar with Moses' law—that part of the Bible we find in sections of Exodus and Leviticus—you may well be surprised to see people weeping when it is read. Why would they weep on hearing a bunch of rules?

On thinking about it, I can come up with several reasons;
  • It may have been the emotion they felt as they again connected with their religious and cultural roots. It seems that these people were unschooled in the law. We can assume that because of the way they needed a lot of explanation when it was read (Nehemiah 8:7). Even so, they probably had glimmerings of it, passed down through generations. But on this momentous day, as they respectfully stood for its reading, they were hearing the real thing for the first time in their lives. No wonder they got choked up.
  • They were saddened by how far they had strayed from the law's requirements. But their teachers urged them—don't look at yourselves; focus on God. Make this day holy or separate to God. Let the joy of who God is and what He is doing now, energize you (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
  • They were under conviction and their tears were evidence that God was at work in their lives. I love how this incident is the climax of their wall-repair project—an experience that had been both exhilarating and stressful. But they had completed it
Fresh from the victory of re-establishing the integrity of their city, they were primed for the victory of returning to God in spirit. Their sensitivity to God's will and eagerness to obey is on display as they jumped to obey the instructions to keep the Feast of Booths—something that had apparently not been done since the time of Joshua (Nehemiah 8:13-18).

What is our reaction to God's word? We have not only the Law, but the stories, the prophets, the New Testament, much of it plain and easy to understand.
  • Do we respect it (to the extent of willingly standing for its reading when our pastors instruct us to, of course) as these people did?
  • Do we hear it with the sense that it applies to us personally?
  • Do we focus on how badly we've messed up, or on God and His goodness to us, His plan of salvation, and the hopeful outlook that trust in Him brings?
  • Are we quick to change our ways when we see where we have been disobedient?
May our lives be evidence of us going from one obedience to the next (like these people did), as we let the hammer / fire / lamp / sword of God's word do its work.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your word which tells me about You and educates me in Your ways. May I take it as personally as these people who, on hearing, wept, repented, and obeyed. Amen.

MORE: "Hear with the greatest devotion"

"The second duty of piety wherein we must provoke ourselves, is, in HEARING of the Word. We may bring our bodies to the preaching of the Word with ease—but not our hearts, without offering violence to ourselves. When we come to the Word preached, we come to a business of the highest importance, therefore should stir up ourselves and hear with the greatest devotion. Luke 19:48. "All the people were very attentive to hear him." In the Greek it is "they hung upon his lip."—When the Word is dispensed, we are to lift up the everlasting doors of our hearts, that the King of glory may enter in!"-Thomas Watson (a quote from The Old Guys) emphasis added.
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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, January 21, 2016

Israel in God's plan

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 37:15-28

TO CHEW ON:
" ' … and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again.' " Ezekiel 37:22

Ezekiel has just witnessed the bones—those very many, very dry bones in a vast valley—come together. God has told him what it means: " ' I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land…" - Ezekiel 37:14.

Then God instructs him to take two sticks, symbolic of Israel and Judah, and join them together. It's a picture, God says, of how Israel will again be one nation instead of two - Ezekiel 37:16-20.

And they will be repatriated in their own land, established "forevermore" as the location of God's sanctuary - Ezekiel 37: 20, 25-28.

This must have seemed fantastical to Ezekiel, writing from this side of  the departure of God's presence from the temple with idolatry having taken over (Ezekiel 8:1-11:25) and the siege of Jerusalem (c. 587 B.C.). But parts of this prophecy alert us to a more long-range fulfillment than even the return of the exiles to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple under Ezra and Nehemiah.

Ezekiel talks of "David My servant" being king over them, "one shepherd," an "everlasting covenant" and that God's sanctuary would be among them forever (Ezekiel 37:24-28). It sounds Messianic—a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.

My Bible commenter on Ezekiel explains two common views of interpreting Bible prophecy:
"Dispensational hermeneutics interprets them literally applying them to a physical end-times national Israel. Classical hermeneutics interprets them more symbolically with Israel here being primarily the church but also end-time national Israel to some degree" Howard M. Ervin & Roy E. Hayden, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1092.

Wherever we find ourselves on this interpretational continuum, we can't help being transfixed by events in the Middle East—especially Israel. That this tiny fought-over country still has a special place in God's plan is, I think obvious, by the very fact of her against-all-odds existence.

As we watch, let's keep in mind prophecies like Ezekiel's that underline the fact that history has never gotten away from God (no matter how beleaguered and unpopular Israel is these days). His plan will continue to unroll with, I believe, Israel playing a key role. Let's continue to be astute students of the Bible and its prophecies so we won't be surprised by or caught off-guard by her still-to-come bright future.

PRAYER: Dear God, please open my eyes to Your hand working through the nations, especially Israel, in history. Amen.

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



Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Are you a body edifier?

burning candles
Image: geralt / Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 4:1-16

TO CHEW ON:
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers … for the edifying of the body of Christ. … every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." Ephesians 4:11,12,16

Edify is a word we don't use much in ordinary conversation. Its appearance a couple of times in our reading had me reaching for the dictionary. [My Funk and Wagnalls defines edify: "To enlighten and benefit especially morally or spiritually."]

It's no surprise to see that God puts church leaders in place to edify the body of members (Ephesians 4:11,12).  We expect to be spiritually and morally enlightened by our prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

But "edify(ing)" occurs again in our passage. In this second appearance (Ephesians 4:16) it's not the leaders who edify but the body parts  themselves: "…every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." Simply put, the body edifies itself.

Like our human body parts can edify us, or not (eyes dwell on good, uplifting images versus lingering on things that will tempt us to sin; mouths speak truth, mercy, and love, versus lies, judgment and indifference, etc.) so as parts of the body of Christ we common pew-warmers can edify the rest of the body (along with our leaders) or not.
  • We can extend a hand instead of criticize. 
  • We can testify of how God is working in our lives instead of just making small talk. 
  • We can pray instead of gossip. 
  • I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture...

I ask myself, am I a body edifier in this way? Are you?

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, as a part of Your body and under Your headship, please help me to be a useful, constructive, building-up part of Your body today. Amen.

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


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jesus is our peace

Tree reflected in water
Image: Bessi / Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 2:11-22

TO CHEW ON:
"For He Himself is our peace." Ephesians 2:14

If there is one Christmas wish I heard over and over during the season just past, it was the longing for peace. The current world situation with its lack of peace only makes that longing stronger.

Perhaps that's why Paul's simple statement, "He Himself is our peace" catches my attention. How is Jesus my peace? Your peace?

He is the peace between the Jews and Gentiles.
In the Jewish culture, the Jews were in with God, the Gentiles were out. This whole part of Ephesians is about Jesus obliterating that racial division and bringing peace between Jews and Gentiles: "His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace" - Ephesians 2:15 NIV.

He is the peace between God and all mankind through His blood.
"… and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" - Colossians 1:20 NIV.

He is the embodiment and personification of peace.
That's one of His names: "Prince of peace" - Isaiah 9:6.

And how do we access the peace He represents to make it personal, our very own? Through communion with Him in prayer, petition and thanksgiving:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus"- Philippians 4:6,7 (emphasis added).
"The result of prayer is God's gift of peace, namely the secure confidence that God is sovereign and loving" - NIV Study Bible, Kindle Location 275,793 (emphasis added).
Let's live today in the peace that Jesus gives—that peace that makes us friends with God, that transcends the divisions of culture and race, and that absorbs the problems of this world and the hassles of life.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, when I'm troubled, please remind me of the peace that's available to me as I put my trust in Your sovereignty 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.

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.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The church—an interdependent body

Stained glass window - Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Stained glass - Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:14-31

TO CHEW ON: "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it." 1 Corinthians 12:26

If you've ever had a toothache or a sprained finger or a broken toe, you will have experienced the truth of all body members suffering with that injured part. And who could conceive of an eye, for example, going off in a sulk because the legs got the glory for winning a race?

The body analogy is so apt a comparison of the church with its many moving parts, not only within individual churches but of the many churches on earth. The ideal is for all members within churches and all those many churches to work as one so that Christ is revealed to a lost world.

A sidebar article in my Bible titled "Interdependence" does a good job of explaining such cooperation:
"Independence says I can do it myself; interdependence says, I cannot do it alone; we need each other. The goal of interdependence in the church (and among churches) is to reflect the unity of the body of Christ in the midst of diversity. God has gifted different parts of the body, including different congregations, with specific missions to build up the whole. As the body functions in the way God intends, He uses it to draw alienated people of varied circumstances to the good news of Jesus Christ" - Bill McCartney & Raleigh B. Washington, "Interdependence," New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1597 (emphasis added).

If we could only grasp the idea that God has different missions not only for each of us but for different congregations, the church would be a lot more effective and, I believe, healthier.

PRAYER:  Dear God, thank You for the church and for Paul's word pictures describing it. Help me to understand and live out the fact that I'm part of a wonderfully complex body that is privileged to carry out Your plans on earth. Amen.

MORE: More on interdependence
"Interdependence is difficult to develop in a culture that insists on its own way and rights .... In interdependent living we learn to appreciate the uniqueness of the other, and to need what the other is bringing to the relationship" - Ibid (emphasis added).
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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, January 16, 2016

Body talk

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." 1 Corinthians 12:12

The human body is endlessly interesting. It is complex with interrelated parts that can work in harmony to produce diverse results, from figure skating performances to brain surgery maneuvers. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church to the human body making an argument for unity in the church that will resemble that of the human body.

Paul points out three likenesses:

1. Both bodies are diverse.
Consider the assortment of parts, organs and functions within our human bodies. Even each finger of our hand serves a different function. Think of the body systems — skeletal, nerve, circulatory, reproductive, endocrine, digestive. List the multitude of organs: stomach, heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys, thyroid, intestines, skin...

The church body is also diverse. Paul talks of diverse gifts: faith, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, discernment, prophecy. He names diverse activities which a diversity of ministries carry out: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, helpers, administrators (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).


2. Both bodies need each part.
I once saw a woman on the news who no longer had the ability to recognize faces. During surgery for epilepsy the surgeon had excised that tiny part of her brain that has face-recognizing ability. I didn't even know there was such a thing. Until we lose a function, we don't appreciate that there was a body part jogging along behind the scenes doing its job.

In the same way in the church we need each other. Paul underlines this aspect of the church body further on in 1 Corinthians 12. A body can't consist of only one or two organs, he says. It needs a variety, working in cooperation and not competition with each other to function properly (1 Corinthians 12:14-18).

3. In both bodies the malfunction of even the smallest part causes distress in the whole.
Have you ever tried to carry on as usual when you have a toothache? The tiniest part of our body in distress impacts our whole selves.

In the same way, Paul says we experience the church's unity as pain when one of our members gets hurt, is ill or missing (1 Corinthians 12:26).

I love this comparison of the church to the body. It spreads around the responsibility and the credit. It makes our variety and differences a good thing. It helps us relax because we don't have to be like someone else. All we need to do is be the faithful little toe, or knee bone, or vocal cord, humming along, doing our part to help the whole body work as one.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to understand the church, Your body, better and be a more eager and cooperative member. Amen.

**********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, January 15, 2016

The glory of miracles

Jesus turns water into  wine - Artist unknown
Jesus turns water into  wine - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 2:1-12

TO CHEW ON:
"This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him." John 2:11

The glory Jesus showed the people around Him was not always what we think of as glory, i.e. a bright, white, shining visual phenomenon. Rather it was the glory of signs, wonders, miracles and healing. And when we examine the Bible's telling of some of these events, we see that Jesus' glory shown in these ways accomplished different things in different people.

The glory of miracles, signs and wonders:


  • Caused people to believe in Jesus.
    • The disciples believed after the miracle in today's reading- John 2:11.
    • When Jesus was going to meet Mary and Martha after Lazarus' death, He said, to His disciples, that He was glad it had come to this "that you may believe?" Onlookers as well as disciples believed on Him after He brought Lazarus back to life - Luke 11:15, 45,48.

  • Caused people to ponder His identity and come to various conclusions about Him.
    • Nicodemus concluded He was a "...teacher come from God" - John 3:2.
    • The nobleman and His household believed Jesus was as good as His word - John 4:50,53.
    • The scribes, Pharisees, and Jewish leaders saw a threat to their power in His miracles and teachings and pronounced Jesus and his works demonic - John 10:20,21.
    • After Jesus fed the multitude, His disciples and those who had eaten believed He was the fulfillment of prophecy - John 6:14.

  • Convicted and challenged His disciples.
    • The great abundance of fish the disciples caught after following Jesus' instructions caused Peter to be aware of His sin - Luke 5:8.
    • John the Baptist's faith was stretched when Jesus continued performing miracles while he, John, was stuck in prison (Matthew 11:2-6). It was an imprisonment that eventually led to his death. Like him we may sometimes have our faith stretched in this way when, no matter how great our need and how hard we pray, God doesn't perform a miracle for us. I take this as a lesson that these glory works are for God's purposes, not ours; we can't manipulate them. 
    • Jesus' feeding of the multitude was proof that Jesus could care for the disciples' physical needs - Mark 8:16-21.
    • Miracles performed in Jesus' name continued on in the church past His death and resurrection, causing the disciples to get into all kinds of trouble - Acts 2:22; 4:30; 8:5,6.
    • Are a means of drawing people to Jesus for salvation - Hebrews 2:2-4.

The Greek word "glory" used John 2:11 is doxa  "The NT doxa becomes splendour, radiance and majesty centred in Jesus. Here doxa is the majestic absolute perfection residing in Christ and evidenced by the miracles He performed" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1446.

This is the same glory (doxa) Jesus prayed would carry on in us, His disciples:
"And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one" - John 17:22 (emphasis added).

May His glory touch us and flow through us in signs, wonders, and miracles!


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for coming to Earth to show us God's glory through miracles. Thank You for still performing miracles today. Help me to believe even when you don't answer My prayer with a miracle.

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


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Earth's hope

"Sing to the Lord all the earth..." - Psalm 96:1  (Image: cjost/Pixabay.com)


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 96:1-13

TO CHEW ON:
"Let the field be joyful and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord.
For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth."  Psalm 96:12,13


The picture of Earth (specifically the world of nature) celebrating as it anticipates God's future judgment brings up the question, what would cause the natural world to look forward to judgment?

Paging back, way back in my Bible, I review what happened to Earth as a result of Adam and Eve's sin in Eden.  At that time God made this pronouncement on Earth:

“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
- Exodus 3:17-19.

In a sidebar article, Jack Hayford elaborates on how this curse affects us humans and planet Earth:

"Everything of his delegated realm (Earth) comes under  a curse as his relationship with God, the fountainhead of his power to rule, is severed (Genesis 3:17,18). … Beyond the tragedy of man's loss two other facts unfold. First … man's rule has been forfeited to the Serpent. … A second fact offers hope … God begins to move redemptively, and a plan for recovering man's lost estate is promised (Genesis 3:15)." Jack Hayford, "Impact of the Fall" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 10.

I would suggest it is that redemptive plan, that includes judgment of Satan Earth's current administrator, that the heavens, seas, fields, trees, and woods applaud and celebrate.

Though we still inhabit this very-much-under-a-curse planet with every day news of natural disasters wreaking havoc on homes and people, not to speak of what we humans do to each other, let's take our cue from nature. Let's look forward with HOPE to the day God will bring nature and humankind as part of it, back under His reign of righteousness and truth—the last verse in our psalm:
"For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth." Psalm 96:13.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the hope of all being set right in nature and with people when You return. Amen.

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


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Watchmen

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 62:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day and night,
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent." Isaiah 62:6 NKJV

 "You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest" - Isaiah 62:6 NIV

A little sidebar article in my Bible called “Watchfulness and Restlessness: The True Spirit of Prayer” gives this bit of historical information and insight into Isaiah 62:1-7:

“This passage formed the essential vision for a prayer community organized in the 1700s, in a part of Germany called Moravia. Known as the Moravians, they christened their community Hernhutt (sic), meaning, “The Lord’s Watch,” establishing a 24-hour prayer vigil that lasted over 100 years! Isaiah calls such intercessors “watchmen” noting:

1) They are positioned high on the walls, prayerfully focused on activities in the city, among nations and in heaven itself (vs. 6).

2) Alert to the character and ways of God, they review His promises, which are unfolding both for Jerusalem and for the nations (“Gentiles”) as well (vv.1&2).

3)They take stock with a spirit of urgent restlessness, refusing to keep silent before God (vv. 6b-7)" - David Bryant in “Kingdom Dynamics” – New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 947.

How does this description of watchman-like prayer hit you? Does it make you want to pray more fervently, about more things? That’s the effect it has on me.

Watchmen in Bible times didn’t fight the battles. They mainly reported what they saw to the people with the authority, power and military resources to do something about it.

Are you seeing problems in your home, your neighborhood, your workplace, your city, your nation, the world? Don’t default to man-made and manipulative first lines of attack. Instead of doing things like grumbling, phoning a talk show, or starting a petition, make your first reaction one of reporting what you see to God. It is only God who has the power and resources to make a real difference.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help me to be an alert and restless watchman (watchwoman) over my little part of the world. Amen.

MORE: A Watchman's Guide to Praying God's Promises
 In a free e-book (pdf) Dick Eastman outlines a 30-day comprehensive prayer plan that is sure to enlarge your prayer borders and watchfulness. 

This guide sets out a different prayer topic each day for 30 days (like the seven mountains of influence: religion, family & marriage, education, business, government, media, arts and entertainment, along with 23 more topics including Israel, children, justice, Christian leaders, etc.). Following these requests, each day has Scriptures to pray over the request, and a list of nations that will have you interceding for each nation of the world once a month. 

Download the 227-page e-book A Watchman's Guide to Praying God's Promises HERE

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

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.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What are you wearing?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 61:1-11

TO CHEW ON:
"He has sent Me …
To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness …
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness."


What are you wearing? Chances are good you are wearing clothes of one kind or another. About clothes we can say:
  • They are not something we're born with; we must put them on ourselves or have someone put them on for us.
  • We choose them for some reason or reasons like comfort, style, colour, occasion, status, work, protection, the weather…
  • They reflect who we are (or think we are) in some way.

The Bible often uses clothes as a spiritual metaphor. The description of the beautiful garments of praise, salvation, and righteousness in Isaiah 61 had me searching for more references to spiritual clothes. I discovered that like natural clothing, spiritual clothing comes in different styles and for different purposes:

1. Garments of Salvation
Zechariah 3:1-5 paints a vivid picture of the spiritual clothing exchange of salvation. In a vision Zechariah sees Joshua the High priest stand before the Angel of the Lord with Satan the accuser beside him. Joshua is wearing "filthy garments." The Angel commands the dirty clothes be taken away because, "I have removed your iniquity from you" and that Joshua be clothed instead with "rich robes…" and "a clean turban." That's us too when we put our faith in Jesus and His death on the cross to deal with our sin.

More references to garments of salvation:
  • Priests wear them - 2 Chronicles 6:41; Psalm 132:16.
  • They are beautiful - Psalm 45:13; Isaiah 61:3,10 (our focus verses).
  • They are for those new to the faith as well as backsliders - Luke 15:22; Revelation 3:18.
2. Apparel of Wise Living
  • We put these clothes on when we follow our parents' instruction - Proverbs 1:9
  • We get them from Wisdom - Proverbs 4:9.
  • They adorn us with beauty that is more than skin deep - 1 Peter 3:4.

3. Battle Clothes

Paul wasn't the first one to use armor as a picture of the believer preparing for spiritual battle against evil and Satan.
  • Isaiah's armor: Isaiah 59:17.
  • Paul's armor echoes and expands on Isaiah's:  Ephesians 6:14-17.
4. Preparation Garments
Often the Bible speaks of needing to prepare to meet God and enter His celebration by having on the right clothes: Matthew 22:11; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 19:8. (Perhaps this preparation garment is another appearance of the garment of salvation?)

5. Heaven's Robes
Finally we see the wardrobe of heaven. It is beautiful, shining, white, and pure - Revelation 4:4; Revelation 7:9,14.

Just as we must put on our physical clothes, so we must put on the right spiritual clothes.
  • Have we chosen to put on the garment of salvation?  
  • Are we daily putting on the clothes of wisdom and right living? 
  •  Are we prepared for the conditions around us in that we know how to put on our armor and use it? 
  •  Are we aware of the wonderful way our God-made wardrobe defines us (for like natural clothing, our spiritual clothes say a lot about us)?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the metaphor of clothes woven through the Bible. Help me to daily choose spiritual garments of praise, righteousness, defense and offense. Amen. 

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


Monday, January 11, 2016

Instant obedience

"Edge of the Forest (The Flight
Into Egypt)" by Jan Brueghel the Elder
"Edge of the Forest (The Flight  Into Egypt)" by Jan Brueghel the Elder

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 2:13-23


TO CHEW ON: "Now when they had departed behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, 'Arise, take the young child and His mother, flee to Egypt ... When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt." Matthew 2:13-14

I am the kind of person who likes to have lots of warning. Hubby wants to invite people for dinner? Great. But I appreciate knowing a couple of days in advance. He wants to go for a drive? Well, he'd better not expect me to just drop everything and come with him. I need to know ahead of time so I can fit it into my plans.

With God I'm sure this is a flaw. Imagine if Joseph had stalled when the angel visited him in the night with the message to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt (not realizing that Herod's soldiers were already assembling in order to comb the town for Jesus and kill Him)? But he didn't. Rather, he got up, woke his family, loaded the donkey and left immediately—at night.

His actions show he was a man of faith who trusted God's wisdom to the extent of instant obedience. Though starting a journey with a wife and baby in the middle of the night was not what he had planned, he just did it without a minute's hesitation.

I'm sure there is some lack of trust in God and His ability to orchestrate my life behind my inflexibility. Of course I'm not suggesting that it's a bad thing to plan ahead. But when my plans trump God's surprises, I may be depriving myself of some wonderful serendipities, or even putting myself in harm's way.

Are you a spontaneous person, or schedule-driven? Have you ever experienced a time when God interrupted your plans? What happened?


PRAYER: Dear God, I love Joseph's instant, unquestioning obedience. Help me to trust You to coordinate my days. I want to learn to handle surprises with optimism and the anticipation of finding You in them. Amen.

MORE: Abandon
"Jesus sums up common-sense carefulness in a disciple as infidelity. If we have received the Spirit of God, He will press through and say - Now where does God come in in this relationship, in this mapped out holiday, in these new books? ....


"Have you ever noticed what Jesus said would choke the word He puts in? The devil? No, the cares of this world. It is the little worries always. I will not trust where I cannot see, that is where infidelity begins. The only cure for infidelity is obedience to the Spirit.


The great word of Jesus to His disciples is abandon."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, May 23rd reading

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

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Two sides of Christ

Royal purple fabric
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 2:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are those who put their trust in Him." Psalm 2:12


Who is the fearful leader pictured in Psalm 2, against whom the nations rage and plot, who evoke His derisive laughter at their puny efforts at rebellion? Who is the "Son" who requests and gets these nations for an inheritance, who can "break them" and "dash them to pieces"?

The writer of my Bibles notes says: "This is a messianic psalm in which nations and kings are warned to serve God because ultimate judgment has been entrusted to Christ" - Dick Iverson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 687.

Indeed, bits of this psalm are quoted or seen to come true in relation to Jesus numerous times in the New Testament.
  • In Acts, Peter and John, after being released from jail for healing the lame man, quoted Psalm 2:1,2 ("Why do the nations rage; / And the people plot a vain thing?…") in their prayer for boldness (Acts 4:25,26).
  • We see Psalm 2:2 ("And the rulers take counsel together, / Against the LORD and against His Anointed…") coming true in how the Jewish rulers plotted and schemed to kill Jesus in Mark 3:6 and 11:18.
  • Psalm 2:3 (" ' Let us break Their bonds in pieces / And cast away Their cords from us' ") could well be the words spoken by the rebellious subjects in Jesus' parable depicting the faithful stewards and the Kingdom of Heaven in Luke 19:14.
  • The writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 2:7 ("You are My Son, / Today I have begotten You") when referring to Jesus in Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5.
  • And Psalm 2:12 ("Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, / And you perish in the way, / When His wrath is kindled but a little") is pictured in vivid detail in Revelation 6:15-17:
 "And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?' ”

And so I think we can say with confidence, the judging ruler in Psalm 2 is none other than Jesus Christ, who we usually picture as loving, gentle, meek, gracious, forgiving… Even Psalm 2 references this softer side of Him when it speaks of Him as someone trustworthy who bestows blessings: "Blessed are those who put their trust in Him."

We are wise to keep in mind both sides of Jesus—the judging Jesus and the trustworthy, blessing Jesus. For they both have a bearing on how we live our lives in that:
  • we don't take sin lightly.
  • we live willingly under His authority now—trusting that He knows what's best for us and that the things He sends into our lives are ultimately blessings (even though they may not always appear that way on the surface).
  • we include both the judging and merciful sides of Him as we share the gospel.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, this glimpse of You as judge of nations is sobering. Help me to factor this judging side of You into my day-to-day living. Amen. 

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


Saturday, January 09, 2016

State of expectation

John in the Wilderness by Alexandre Bida
John in the Wilderness - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 3:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Now as the people were in expectation…" Luke 3:15

We don't know whether the intense supernatural activity that surrounded Jesus' birth continued on through His growing up years. Both Luke and Matthew gloss over those years to the time He began His public ministry. But the supernatural was clearly present in His introduction to the crowds by the remarkable John the Baptist.

We read about John's beginnings in Luke 1. Now at 30-ish— he was a few months older than Jesus—he was quite the spectacle.  A desert-dweller who dressed in clothes made of camel's hair and lived on locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4), he left his life of seclusion to preach repentance and baptize converts in the Jordan River.

He may not have cut as odd a figure to the people of his time as he does to us, though. There was a desert sect called the Essenes who lived in Qumran, a few miles to the south of John's baptism site. There were many similarities between John and the Essenes. Bible commenter Dale G. Robinson compares the two:
  • Both John and the Essenes were of a priestly line.
  • They both practiced baptism.
  • Their teaching had a similar theme with Isaiah 40:3 foundational as a text for both.
  • They preached to an audience.

It was in this audience department where Robinson points out one notable difference between John and the Essenes. While their audience was limited "… to an external fringe… John … came to prepare the ordinary person for the end times. He spoke to soldiers, Pharisees, and ordinary people alike" - Dale. G.Robinson, "Was John the Baptist an Essene? He even managed to offend the king (Luke 3:19,20)!

John's hearers came out, not to ridicule his oddness but to hear from God. They sensed there was something different and real about his preaching. It was supernatural.  Under it, conviction came leading to changed lives. This led to the spiritual climate described in the verse fragment that is our focus today: "The people were in expectation..."

Fast forward to us today. As we watch world events playing out especially in the Middle East (compare Matthew 24:7), as we experience the accelerating moral slide in our society (cf. Matthew 24:9-12), as the alarm cries about the state of our planet become ear-splitting (cf. Matthew 24:7,29) I feel the expectation rise in me (cf. Matthew 24:30,31). Don't you feel it too?

Let's listen to and heed John's warning to repent and live righteously as we wait in expectation for the curtain to rise on the next act in God's drama for planet Earth.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for way-preparers like John the Baptist,  who are unafraid to be Your messengers. Help me to be alert to my times and living prepared and in expectation as Your plans for Earth unfold. 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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