Monday, February 29, 2016

Learn from history

Image: MorningbirdPhoto / Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." 1 Corinthians 10:11

In our reading yesterday Jesus pointed out that something bad happening to someone wasn't necessarily a punishment for their sins. However, in our reading today, Paul draws our attention to the fact that willfully sinning does have consequences.

His examples are from Israel's history—specifically their 40 years in the wilderness. He draws spiritual parallels to the Israelites then and to his New Testament readers now.

Baptism:
The Old Testament Hebrews passed through the Red Sea, a type of baptism (Exodus 14:21,22,29). Paul calls it being  "baptized into Moses."  Christians are baptized into Christ.

Heavenly food: The OT Hebrews ate food and drank water that God provided (Exodus 16:4-7,15). Christ is the Christian's living water. He instituted a memorial feast, the Lord's Supper, as a physical symbol of his death, resurrection, and coming again.

Despite the things the OT Hebrews had, they defied God and rebelled against Moses:
- by worshiping idols (Paul refers to the Golden Calf story - Exodus 32:4-6).

- by being sexually immoral (Paul refers to the story in Numbers 25:1-9).

- by "tempting Christ" i.e. disbelief (At least two times the children of Israel tempted God with their whining and general dissatisfaction. The latter led to the plague of serpents - Exodus 17:2,7 and Numbers 21:6-9).

- by complaining (there are many incidents of the Israelites complaining. Two are in Exodus 16:2; Numbers 14:37).

After making the comparison Paul says to the Corinthians (and us): Learn from them. They lived it. We can see what happened to them and we don't have to repeat their mistakes.

In the 2000 or so years since Paul wrote this, not much has changed in the temptation department. We're still tempted to worship other things, commit sex sins, doubt Christ, and complain. If the Israelites in their difficult desert conditions could have resisted, how much more NT Christians.

Paul talks about God giving us a "way of escape" (1 Corinthians 10:13).  What is this way? I can think of several:
  • Negatively, we don't want the experience of the Israelites to be ours!
  • Positively, we have the Bible, God's word, full of verses to give us wisdom, insight, courage, and boldness to say "No." We can follow the example of Jesus who rebutted each satanic temptation with scripture (Luke 4:4, 8, 12). 
  • We have our new life in Christ. ("If any man is in Christ he is a new creation…" -2 Corinthians 5:17).
  • We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. He helps us remember Bible words (John 14:26), convicts us of sin (John 16:7,8), and guides us into truth (John 16:13).


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for these OT examples that have their parallels in our lives. Help me to learn from history and use Your resources to escape temptations' traps.  Amen.

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


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Repentance lifestyle

stained glass window
Image: Avisscher / Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 13:1-9

TO CHEW ON: " '… unless you repent you will all likewise perish.' " Luke 13:3,5


"Did you hear about the crane that toppled onto a New York street, killing a man driving by in his car?" This might have been the "news" that people brought to Jesus a few weeks ago if he were walking the earth now.

For the people of Jesus' day the subtext of these bad news reports (one that people brought to Jesus, one  that He recalled himself—and which still fill the airwaves today) was the unuttered question: "What terrible sin did the people in these incidents commit that caused them to come to such an end?" My Bible's study notes call this thinking "Retribution Theology." It is a view of God that attributes individual suffering to individual sin.

Jesus quickly steered his bad news-bringers away from the victims and their fates to consider their own precarious position: " '…unless you repent you will all likewise perish.' " It's like He's saying to them—you too are on the road to a bad end if you don't do one thing— REPENT.

[Repent - matanoeo is to make a decision that results in a change of mind, which in turn leads to a change of purpose and action. - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1293.]


In a sidebar article on Repentance, Jack Hayford says:
"The first call of the kingdom is to repentance. The implications of biblical repentance are: 1] renunciation and reversal; 2] submission and teachability; 3] continual shapeability."  
He goes on to say, there is no birth into the kingdom without renouncing sin and turning from sin to Christ (Acts 3:19). There is no growth in the kingdom without obedience (James 1:21-25). There is no fruit in the kingdom without an acceptance of the Holy Spirit's correction and guidance (Ephesians 4:30). - Jack Hayford, "Repentance," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1293.

The simple but life-changing act of repentance is still our first move in assuring our salvation and the lifestyle needed for our growth and fruitfulness:

 "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord," Acts 3:19.
"Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" - James 1:21-22.
"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" - Ephesians 4:30.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, thank You for making a way to You available through repentance. As Your follower, please help me to live in the daily repentance of obedience and Spirit-intimacy. Amen.

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


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Consider the benefits

This 'memory aid' hangs in our living room. It was made by Christians in Vietnam, many of whom have been persecuted for their faith.  

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 103:1-22

TO CHEW ON: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits.” Psalm 103:1-2

Do you sometimes awaken in the morning besieged by first thoughts of uneasiness, foreboding, dread? I must admit that even in smooth stretches of my life, this is my experience way too often. One of the best ways to dispel this anxious fog is to do just what our verses today say: “Bless the Lord and think on His benefits.”

David lists many of them in this passage:
  • He forgives our sin. Can you imagine how heavy life would feel if you had to live it under the guilt of the wrong things you had done?
  • He heals our physical diseases. Not only has He designed our bodies to rejuvenate themselves but over the years people have made all kinds of discoveries about the body and healing so that nowadays there is a pill for practically everything. And He is also the God who can heal miraculously.
  • He satisfies our mouths with good thing so that we have the strength to carry on. I think this means more than just good physical food. I take it to mean a supply of good things mentally and spiritually, so that we have renewed energy for life and work.
  • He knows our human vulnerabilities, deals with us like a sympathetic father.

Now add to that list of benefits your own personal list. Here are some items that come to mind:
  • A wonderful husband and family.
  • Citizenship in Canada – a nation of freedom and peace.
  • A beautiful, comfortable home.
  • A church where I am challenged and where I have a place to serve.
… I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Whatever your life situation today, spend some time remembering “all His benefits.” It will lift you up in ways that nothing else can.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for who You are and all Your benefits to me. Help me to live within an atmosphere of remembrance and thankfulness today.

MORE: Memory aids
God instituted many physical and dramatic aids to help us remember Him and what He has done for us.

- The Israelites were to celebrate the Passover as a remembrance of their delivery from Egypt.

- The High Priest had stones inlaid on the shoulders of his his ephod as a remembrance of each tribe in Israel.

- The people were to put fringes on their clothes to remind them of God's commandments.

- We celebrate the Lords Supper to remember Jesus death.

- Moses instructed Israelite parents to attach God’s word to their bodies (the first salvation jewelry?) and write it on the doorposts and gates of their houses.

Do you wear things or decorate your house with any aids that help you remember God and His benefits to you?

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

Friday, February 26, 2016

Attitude turnaround

Desert in the Middle East (Image: ejaugsburg/Pixabay.com)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 63:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water…
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips." Psalm 63:1,5



Do you notice how David goes from being spiritually hungry and thirsty to satisfied and full in the space of four verses? Let's delve into this psalm for a bit to see how he does it.

At first:
Notice the occasion and setting of the writing: "A psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah." No wonder he's thinking "dry," "thirst," "no water"! He is on the run from King Saul and hiding out in an arid place of caves and only parched vegetation. The opening of this psalm reflects his nasty circumstances.

How does he turn himself around? These are some things he does:

1. "So I have looked for You in the sanctuary…"  - Psalm 63:2:
I see the word "sanctuary and I think "church" or other sacred building. But David is far from the Tabernacle. What "sanctuary" could he be referring to?

[The Hebrew word translated "sanctuary" is qodesh . It means apartness, holiness, sacredness, separateness of God, of places and of things.]

Since David couldn't make the trek to the actual sanctuary I would imagine he entered the God's sacred presence much like we do when we meet with God in our daily devotions at home—using his imagination, directing his thoughts to God's "power and glory" and all His attributes, getting distracted from his worries and complaints by soaking in God's presence.

2. "My lips shall praise You…" - Psalm 63:3
David speaks praise out loud, with his mouth.

3. "I will lift up my hands in Your name…" - Psalm 63:4:

David continues praising with even more expressiveness. Lifting hands can mean many things—surrender, trust, pleading, adoration, or loyalty (as in a type of salute).

4. "I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches" - Psalm 63:6:
David's attitude turnaround affects even how he spends the hours he can't sleep or the time he's trying to stay awake through the night watch of guard duty. Instead of worrying, he meditates on God, recalls God's help and presence, and rejoices in God's protection ("Your wings") instead of worrying.

Next time circumstances overwhelm us with how poor and needy we are, let's try out some of David's techniques to return ourselves to the place of plenty:
- Enter the sanctuary of God's presence.
- Praise with our lips and bodies.
- Rein in our thoughts and focus on Him
instead of worrying, especially during the trying times of night.


PRAYER: Dear Father, please help me to make a habit of turning my thoughts to You in difficult circumstances and, like David did, to praise You, worship You and trust in Your ability to see me through. Amen.

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


Thursday, February 25, 2016

God's international building

Flags of the world
Image: gerait / pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 5:5-6:15

TO CHEW ON: "Even those from afar shall come and build the temple of the Lord…" Zechariah 6:15


After a series of more visions, the crowning of priest/king Joshua (obviously a type of Christ), the proclamation of the Branch's rule (we talked about that HERE), Zechariah comes again to the subject of the temple rebuild and an interesting detail: "Even those from afar shall come and build the temple."
Who are "those from afar"?

The author of my Bible's study notes understands these to be "… believing Gentiles who submit to the Messiah" - D. W. Shibley, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1255.

Though God's plans and promises are obviously spoken to and over the Jews, especially in the Old Testament, there is a thread of promise to Gentile nations, flowing through the whole Bible. Some places we catch glimpses of it:

  • God promised to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham - Genesis 12:3.
  • "Strangers" join Jacob in the land to enjoy God's mercy - Isaiah 14:1.
  • All "these (who) gather together and come to you…" are compared to Israel's bridal ornament - Isaiah 49:18.
  • Jeremiah talks of a time that Gentiles, having found their belief systems "worthless and unprofitable," will come to You (Messiah) from all over the earth - Jeremiah 16:19.
  • The prophet Zechariah refers in several other places of the Gentiles joining the LORD and becoming His people - Zechariah 2:11; 8:23.
  • We remember, of course, the post-resurrection saga of Gentile acceptance of the early church. Some places it's talked about are Acts 10:43, 11:1; 13:48; 15:7; 28:28.
  • Apostle Paul brings this blessing-on-the-Gentiles chain full circle when he hearkens back to Abraham and tells us plainly that the blessing comes through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, received through faith: "That the blessing of Abraham might come up on the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith… There is neither Jew nor Greek … for you are all one in Christ Jesus" - Galatians 3:14,28.
  • And so the heavenly voices in Revelation can issue this triumphant cry of international unity:
"The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever" - Revelation 11:15.
So we see that whether we're Jews or Gentiles, we have a part in God's plan and are part of His building project!


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You that Your salvation is for everyone and anyone in every race, nation and location. And thank You for the Jews, through whose family line You came. Amen.

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


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Encouragement to quitters

"Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem" - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 4:1-5:4

TO CHEW ON: " 'The hands of Zerubbabel
Have laid the foundation of this temple,
His hands also shall finish it.
Then you will know
That the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.' " Zechariah 4:9


You will recall that Zechariah was prophesying to exiles who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. They had begun rebuilding the temple but due to opposition, discouragement, and distraction had abandoned the job.

Zechariah's vision and words concern Zerubbabel—the governor—who had begun the build but quit midway through. The Message Bible puts our focus verse in everyday language:

"'Zerubbabel started rebuilding this temple and he will complete it. That will be Your confirmation that the God-of-the-Angel-Armies sent me to you' " Zechariah 4:9 MSG.

In addition to this encouraging prophecy to quitter / procrastinator Zerubbabel, two other thoughts from our reading jump out at me. To Zerubbabel and all of us who are tempted to quit or lay aside the assignments we've been given, I believe God would say:

1. "For who has despised the day of small things…" - Zechariah 4:10.
Don't judge the worth of a project by its small beginnings or its humble originator. There are no small jobs or insignificant people in God's family. I'm reminded of Paul's picture of the church as a body with no part more important than any other (1 Corinthians 12:12-24).

Leslyn Musch says of this verse in her "Truth-In-Action Through Zechariah" article: "Give yourself wholeheartedly to the things that God is asking you to do, and trust that He will bless. … Remember as you are faithful with little, God will entrust you with more  (Matthew 25:21)" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1265.

2. " 'Not by might or by power but by My Spirit,' says the Lord" - Zechariah 4:6
We can't do these things on our own. If ours are God-given assignments, we need His help to complete them and fit them into His grand design.

Musch again: "Ask God to fill you to overflowing with His Holy Spirit. The picture given is of an endless supply of oil representing the Holy Spirit" - Op. Cit, p. 1264.

PRAYER: Dear God, where I have given up or postponed doing those things You have asked of me, please forgive me. Help me to apply to these tasks these encouraging words of their significance and Your help. Amen.

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


Sunday, February 21, 2016

"I do not know you"

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem - James Tissot
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem - James Tissot
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 13:22-35

TO CHEW ON: “But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.’....O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” Luke 13: 27,34

“He is not safe, but he is good.” I'm thinking this description of the lion Aslan from C. S.Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe might be a caption for today’s reading.

The Jewish leaders thought they had God all figured out. In their theology, His favor was on the Jews. The very fact that someone was born one, and especially if that one tried to keep the law, guaranteed them a ticket to paradise with God.

In our reading today Jesus' teaching puts the boot to that notion. His illustrations of the narrow gate and broad gate and entry through only the narrow,  His stories of people coming to the Master of the house claiming familiarity only to be turned away from the door by, “I do not know you,” would breathe a chill into any heart. But simple knowledge of Him as a person when He was on earth, or about Him and His teachings now, was not and is not enough to secure us a place with Him in heaven. Here He seems dangerous – someone who will act in a way they (and perhaps some of us) would never expect.

A few verses later, though, we see Him weeping over Jerusalem, longing to protect her people like a hen protects her chicks. His goodness is shown in His tender love for even those who reject Him.

What a cameo of God – on one hand finding it necessary to exclude people from heaven because they refuse to come His way, on the other weeping over those same people.

So what is God’s way of coming? It is through Jesus (John 14:6). We must admit our sinfulness and inability to be acceptable to God on our own. (Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 64:6). We need to realize that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin (Romans 5:8). When we accept and believe this about ourselves (John 3:16,17) and come to Him His way, we will never need to fear hearing those dreaded words – “I do not know you.”

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for making a way back to God for me. Help me to not only come to You for salvation, but to live my life on earth by the principles of Your kingdom. Amen.

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

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

The upward call

Image: wdietz / pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 3:12-4:1

TO CHEW ON: "Not that I have already attained or am already perfect, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me." Philippians 3:12

For those of us who believe God has a plan and purpose for each individual life, this is an interesting verse to puzzle over and explore. It sounds like Paul here is striving ("press on") to  understand ("lay hold of") that destiny, purpose, or life work for which God "laid hold of" him (love the wordplay!).

Don't we all want to discover the same thing? Why did God draw me to Himself yet leave me on this earth? How am I meant to spend my time here?

Pressing toward the goal of the resurrected life


A question we ask as we begin to slice and dice this verse is, what is Paul referring to when he says, "Not that I have already attained" - Philippians 3:12? To what has he not attained?

A hint of what he is striving to attain is found in Philippians 3:11 (the verse just before our reading): "… if by any means I may attain to the resurrection of the dead."

He seems to be telling us he hasn't attained to the resurrection of the dead (obviously, because he's not dead) but also, if we read further on, that to a point this resurrected life can be realized in this life ("Nevertheless to the degree that we have already attained…" - Philippians 3:16) though the real essence of it is to come ("For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior … who will transform our lowly body…" etc. Philippians 3:20,21). So he appears to be striving, as much as possible, to live the resurrected life during his mortal life.

How to make progress toward that goal


Paul goes on to list some things he does to make progress toward the goal of living the resurrected life here on earth:

  • He leaves the past behind - Philippians 3:13.
  • He keeps the goal in mind, that final goal of getting "the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." In other words, receiving God's commendation for fulfilling the destiny for which he was saved - Philippians 3:14.
  • He works for unity with fellow Christians - Philippians 3:15,16.
  • He seeks to live what he preaches, i.e. set an example that others can follow - Philippians 3:17.
  • He reminds himself of his real citizenship - Philippians 3:20.

In the light of today's passage I ask myself, what is my goal? What is yours? Some earthly glory or perk, comfort or pleasure? Or does it involve some of the things Paul dreams of: God's "Well done"? The resurrection life future, and present? And what does how we live say about the goals we really have (not just claim to have)?


PRAYER:
Dear God, please tattoo permanently into my spirit the truth of my identity and destiny in You. Help me begin living out the resurrected life here on earth. Amen

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


Friday, February 19, 2016

Choose to linger


person in praise,  hands raised, music superimposed
Image: mccartyv / Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 27:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "One thing I have desired of the Lord;
That I will seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple."  Psalm 27:4



"This desire of David gives us a key to understanding why he was a 'man after God's own heart,' and so beloved and blessed by Him" says Dick Iverson, writer of my Bible's commentary on the Psalms (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 706).

Several other Bible characters also come to mind when we think of people desiring to linger in God's presence.

Moses spent days on end with God ("So the Lord speaks to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend" Exodus 33:11). When he returned to everyday life from these times he covered his face with a veil to shield the Israelites' eyes from the glory that shone there (Exodus 34:29-35).

Simeon and Anna
, two senior citizens of Jesus' day, seemed to have experienced that intimacy. Both were in the temple the day Jesus' parents presented Him to God. Of Simeon Luke says he was "… waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him … So he came by the spirit into the temple" (Luke 2:25,27). Similarly Anna, the elderly widow "… who did not depart from the temple but served God with fasting and prayer day and night"  was there (Luke 2:37,38). To these two God told His secret, giving them a glimpse of Jesus—Messiah—and allowing them to hold Him, bless Him, and spread the news of Him (Luke 2:28-32,38).

And there was Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus. She sat at Jesus' feet, drinking in what He said and who He was while harried Martha fretted in the kitchen. When Martha complained and asked Jesus to put Mary to work, Jesus said, "'Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her'" - Luke 10:39-42.

The word "chosen" pops out at me (and, from our focus verse, "desire," "seek," "dwell," "behold," and "inquire"). For as spending time with God was an intentional choice for David, Moses, Simeon, Anna, and Mary, so it is for us. I ask myself, when given the array of ways to spend my minutes, hours, days, how much do I choose to spend with the Lord, beholding His beauty in the temple of His presence?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to tune out the noise and clamor of my life and spend quality and quantity time with You. Amen.

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

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

The horror of darkness

"The Plague of Darkness" by Gustave Dore

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 15:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold horror and great darkness fell upon him.
Then He said to Abram: Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years." Genesis 15:12,13


Have you ever had a dream from which you awoke with pounding heart, in a sweat of fear, about to scream? Abram's dream of darkness here may have been of that type. It seems the horror and darkness he felt were connected to the content of the dream itself—a prophecy of Israel's years in Egypt.

Remind you of anything? What about the ninth plague where God told Moses He would send "...darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt" and it came about - Exodus 10:21-22.

Such supernatural darkness came on the earth another time too—in the middle of the day of Jesus' crucifixion: "Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over the land" - Matthew 24:45.

Darkness is mentioned a lot in Scripture.
  • It is figurative of punishment.
* Israel was threatened with darkness for ignoring the prophets - Micah 3:6.
* Jesus said the faithless Jews of His day would be "cast into outer darkness" - Matthew 8:12.
* Peter talks of a place of punishment that is made of "...the blackness of darkness forever" - 2 Peter 2:17.
  • It often describes the actions and lifestyle of the spiritually lost and confused - Matthew 6:23.
  • But God's light dispels it - John 1:5.
  • Though our natural inclination is to prefer darkness... - John 3:19.
  • ... it is something we can choose to come out of - Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:8
  • and live in light - 1 Thessalonians 5:4,5.

If there is anything that ties all of these thoughts together, it is the idea that darkness is a picture of life without God. No wonder God was so hurt and disappointed when the Israelites, en-route to Canaan, repeatedly wanted to turn around and return to Egypt. Unfortunately, all too often they are a picture of us, wanting to go back to the old ways of darkness, not realizing that that place is, finally, a place of total horror and godforsakeness.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for dispelling the darkness of our spiritual condition and destiny by sending Jesus. Help me to resist the lure of darkness whenever it tempts me. Amen.

MORE: The world's light
"Then Jesus spoke to them again saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life" John 8:12.

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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, February 17, 2016

Jesus the BRANCH

Statue of crucified Jesus against the branches of a tree
Image: Peggy_Marco / Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 3:1-10

TO CHEW ON:
"'For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH.'" Zechariah 3:8

As the writer of my Bible's introductory notes on Zechariah promises, we find pictures of Messiah (Jesus) in this book. In our reading today He is called "BRANCH."

Other prophetic references to Messiah by this name show us that as the Branch:
  • He would be a descendant or branch of Jesse (King David's father) - Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 25:5; 33:15. (Following this lineage and going back even father than Jesse is the source of the "Jesse Tree" commemorations we often see and take part in during Advent.)
  • He is "beautiful and glorious" - Isaiah 4:2.
  • He is a fair king and a righteous judge - Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15.
  • His rule brings peace and cooperation to and between the civil and religious realms (He is called both King and Priest) - Zechariah 6:12,13.

This picture of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Messianic Branch prophecy is interesting, but does it have any useful application to our lives? I think it does.

A branch is a living part of nature. As a healthy appendage of a tree, shrub or vine it grows, leafs out, forms buds that open into flowers and bear fruit.

When Jesus is referred to as the branch, we are reminded of our connection to Him. Paul talks of that in Romans 11 where he refers to Israel as an olive tree. Some branches have been broken off because of their unbelief and other branches (Gentile ones) were grafted in. Indeed, the branches of ethnic Israel are also able to be reattached (Romans 11:11-24). In other words, regardless of our nationality, we can be attached to Jesus the Branch.

Branch imagery also reminds us of the fruitfulness that comes as a result of our union with Jesus. There is a beautiful description of it in John 15. There as we, secondary branches, stay attached to Jesus the main branch ("true vine") we bear fruit, are guaranteed answered prayers, and glorify the Father (John 15:1-8).

How wonderful to be a part of this family tree!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the beautiful picture of Jesus as the main Branch and me attached to Him. May the sap flow freely between us 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, February 16, 2016

God's protection

Image: waldomiguez / pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 1:18-2:13

TO CHEW ON: "'For I,' says the LORD, 'will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.'" Zechariah 2:5


Accompanying Zechariah's encouragement to the people to rebuild the temple, indeed all of Jerusalem, is his prophetic promise to the people of God's protection. The picture here (Zechariah 2:4,5) is of a town so bulging with people they spill out the city walls. But they don't need to worry about safety. God says: "'I will be a wall of fire around her and I will be the glory in her midst.'"

This scene takes us back to the exodus when the Egyptians pursued the Israelites to take them back into slavery. God used a cloud or wall (of light, darkness, fire) to protect the people from their enemies then, and here is His promise to do it again (Exodus 14:8,9, 19, 20, 24-28).

This situation reminds us as well of the heavenly army God sent to protect Elisha and his servant at Dothan when the King of Syria set out to capture him - 2 Kings 6:17.

There are many many verses in the Bible that promise God's protection to those who put their trust in Him. Some of my favorites:

 "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him" - 2 Chronicles 16:9.

"The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them" - Psalm 34:7

"He shall cover you with His feathers
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shilled and buckler.

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,

Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
And then thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you." Psalm 91:4-7

Let's claim God's protection today!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that "Your hand is not shortened that it cannot save, Your ear not heavy that it cannot hear" the cries of those who are Yours. Amen (quoting Isaiah 59:1).

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


Monday, February 15, 2016

God finishes what He starts

Image: Skitter Photo / StockSnap.io
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore, thus says the Lord: 'I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy;
My house shall be built in it,' says the LORD of hosts,
'And a surveyor's line shall be stretched over Jerusalem ' "- Zechariah 1:16


In the city where I used to live, there was a massive commercial building that was never finished. Whenever I drove by it, I looked for signs of progress but saw only deterioration. The bare wood walls became grey and weathered in the rain. The tattered wrapping around unused building materials waved in the wind. Tall grass obscured the foundation. The scene in today's reading is similar.

On their return from a 70-year exile in Babylon, the Jews had enthusiastically begun to rebuild the temple. But their efforts soon slowed under Samaritan opposition. The Samaritans eventually got an order from the ruling Persian king for the Jews to stop construction altogether. And so for twelve years the temple sat there a half-built sorry sight and reminder of their inability to finish the job.

It was into this situation that Zechariah spoke. His prophecies rekindled hope. His beautiful vision of angelic riders reporting on the peace of the earth (Zechariah 8:8-11) was followed by encouragement to again take up the temple project because God had determined it would be built - Zechariah 1:16,17.

Besides this prophecy giving hope to those post-exilic Hebrews, we might apply its message to our lives. In her "Truth-In-Action through Zechariah" commentary, Leslyn Musch says about Zechariah 1:16,17:
"Understand that the New Testament believers are now the house of the Lord, the dwelling place of His Spirit. Receive God's mercy and comfort. Have confidence that the Lord will complete the good work He has begun in you (1 Corinthians 6:19; Philippians 1:6)" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1264.

If it seems to you that your plans, hopes and dreams have been half-realized, your life house has been abandoned mid-build for whatever reason (sickness, family troubles, financial ruin, etc.) take heart. God's word to you today is: "My house shall be built…" Put your hope in God who finishes everything He starts. Quoting the verse Musch refers to above:
"Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." - Philippians 1:6.

PRAYER:
Dear God, I believe You will finish what you have started in my life. Show me how to cooperate with You to bring this about. Amen.

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


Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Scripture weapon

Bible and sword
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 4:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "But Jesus answered him, saying, 'It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alined, but by every word of God."'" Luke 4:4

Play a little word association game with me. What do the words "wilderness," "hungry," and "test" bring to mind?

- Jesus' temptation of course—our reading today.
- And the Israelites wandering through the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt?

Jesus here quotes Moses, where he explained to the Israelites the meaning behind their wilderness testings and what God was trying to accomplish through them, specifically the test of hunger. Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 8:2-3.

Of course we know how the Israelites failed again and again. When they got hungry, they showed their lack of trust by complaining and becoming fearful and rebellious. In today's reading Jesus is experiencing the same temptation but He is overcoming it. What is the secret to His success?

My Bible's study notes give an explanation:

"Jesus' appeal to Scripture provides the clue for interpreting the Temptation narrative. Using the Word of God He is victorious over the same temptations to which Israel had succumbed in the wilderness..." - J. Lyle Story, notes on Matthew 4:4, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1294 (emphasis added).

We see the use of this weapon borne out twice more in our reading, when Jesus replies to Satan "'...For it is written...'" and "'It has been said...'" - Luke 4:8,12.

I believe capitulation to temptation can be engrained in our psyches. And so we say things like "My family has always had a problem with weight," or "Broken marriages run in our family," or "My grandmother and mother were grudge holders, and so am I"... etc. Here Jesus shows us how we can break out of the bondages of heredity, how we can change the ending to the story we've been telling ourselves about the way it has been and always will be. How? By resisting temptation with words from the Bible.

Which is why Scripture memorization is so important. For how will we be able to use this weapon  against temptation if we don't have it in our arsenal?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be more consistent with memorizing and reviewing Your word, and using it to resist temptation. Amen. 

MORE: A verse to memorize
Joshua's advice to the Israelites at the beginning of his leadership is still relevant for us, and another good arrow for your quiver. You might want to memorize it, if you haven't already:
"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success" - Joshua 1:8 (NKJV).
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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Friday, February 12, 2016

First fruits - a custom to revive?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Deuteronomy 26:1-15

TO CHEW ON: “…behold I have brought the first fruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me. Then shall you set it before the Lord your God. So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you and your house and the Levite and the stranger who is among you.” Deuteronomy 26:10-11


It is one thing to declare that we and all we have belongs to God. It is quite another to demonstrate it with action. The Israelites found this out when they were about to enter Canaan after wandering around in the desert for 40 years.

In today’s passage they were on the border of their new home and Moses was giving them farewell instructions. When they finally entered this land of legendary abundance, they were not supposed to stop trusting God. To illustrate this trust, they were to bring part of their first picking of grapes, olives, figs, wheat – whatever this land of ‘milk and honey’ produced – to God as an offering of first fruits.

Though these first fruit offerings were used to feed the Levites and the poor, that wasn’t their main purpose. Rather it was to remind the Israelites that God continued to be their source of supply. As my old New Bible Dictionary explains it:
“Their purpose was not to consecrate it but to deconsecrate it. All was God’s until the first portion had been offered and accepted in lieu of the whole. Only then was the restriction on the human use of the remains removed.” p. 1117.
Giving an offering of first fruits is no longer part of our tradition. But reviving it might not be a bad idea. There is nothing that drives home a theoretical point like a little action to illustrate it. So if you’ve entrusted yourself to God and yet continue to worry about how your needs are going to be met, maybe you should give yourself a little object lesson and in faith present a first fruit offering of your next cheque. Just saying…

PRAYER: Dear God, “I bring my tithes and offerings into the storehouse, and I believe and confess that You, Lord, open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it. I honor You, Lord, with the first fruits of my increase. I confess that my storage places are filled with plenty in the name of Jesus.” from Praying with Fire by Barb Billett, p. 91.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Safe!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 91:1-16


TO CHEW ON: “Because you have made the Lord who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.” Psalm 91:9-10

This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible. I don’t know how often I have sought it out when I have felt fearful, anxious about safety, or concerned about my health or the health of my family.

I love the images of God as protector and safe place.
  • We can live under His wings as baby birds find warmth, comfort, and safety from the elements under the wings of mother bird.
  • He is a fortress. Picture one of those castles in Europe, built on inaccessible mountainsides.
  • He is a refuge. In Israel, there were designated cities of refuge where a person could run to when accused of killing someone. Inside a city of refuge, the accused was guaranteed safety from revenge killing.
  • He is a deliverer. The picture is of someone springing the trap to loose a bird.
  • His truth is protection – both as a shield and a small shield (buckler).
  • His presence defends from personal attack, sickness and war.
  • He assigns our care to angels.
  • He transcends the natural order of nature to keep us safe.
  • He gives us a place of honor.
  • He answers our prayers.
  • He rewards us with long life.

Why all this special attention? “Because you have made the Lord who is my refuge, even the most High, your dwelling place.” (91:9)

A sidebar article in my Bible sheds light on "refuge" and "dwelling place":

[“The word makhseh translated “refuge” means “a shelter,” “a place of trust,” and derives from the root khawsaw meaning “to flee for protection,” “to confide in.”

Maween translated “dwelling place” indicates “a retreat.” It derives from the root 'onah which describes the security of “intimately dwelling together in marriage.”]

When we make the Lord our refuge and habitation by trusting Him – taking our cares, fears and needs to Him; by seeking His counsel, spending times of refreshing with Him, and by loving Him and walking closely with him through every day, we enter into a sheltered place of promise….New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 758 – Nathaniel M. Van Cleave.)

Do we dwell in God like that? Do any of the images of God as savior and protector resonate with us? Let's take those pictures with us today. Let's revel and relax in His care today.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your intimate knowledge of and care for me. Help me to confide in You and make You my retreat. I make You my safe place today. Amen.

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


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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I'm sorry. Please forgive me

"David Asking Forgiveness" by Julius Schnorr Von Carolsfeld (1851-60)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 51:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:17


Psalm 51 is David's eloquent prayer of repentance, prayed after the prophet Nathan confronted him with God's reaction to his role in the Bathsheba affair. I wonder, had he been avoiding God in the interim? Or had he carried on as usual, pretending everything was fine between them? Now that he knew things weren't fine, a lot of seemingly pent-up realizations came bubbling to the surface:

  • He's been feeling dirty: "wash me thoroughly ... purge me with hyssop ... wash me..." (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10). My Bible's footnotes explain, "The Hebrew word for wash (vs. 10)  is not the one used for the simple cleansing of a dish in water but rather the washing of clothes by beating and pounding them" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 727.
  • His sin has been bothering him—even if he squelched it down pretending it was no big deal: "...my sin is always before me..." (Psalm 51:3,4).
  • He admits that he deceived himself and needs God's help for that not to happen again: "Behold You desire truth in the inward parts / And in the hidden part you will make me know wisdom" (Psalm 51:6).
  • His sin has sucked the joy out of life: "Make me hear joy and gladness .... Restore to me the joy of Your salvation" (Psalm 51:8,12).
  • It has silenced his praise: "O Lord, open my lips / And my mouth shall sing aloud of Your righteousness" (Psalm 51:15).
  • He fears God's Spirit has left or will leave him: "Do not cast me away from Your presence / And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me" (Psalm 51:11).
  • He has a renewed realization that God is holy and not someone with whom to toy: "Have mercy upon me, O God ... Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed" (Psalm 51:1, 14).
  • No bargaining, he gives God carte blanche to deal with him over this sin: "Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion" (Psalm 51:18).

I would suggest that David's reactions to his uncovered sin are frequently ours as well. That's why Psalm 51 is often our destination when we've sinned and we're needing to confess and repent.

May our words be as sincere, our spirits as broken, our hearts as contrite as David's appear to be when we read or recite this sacrifice of confession and repentance.

PRAYER: Dear God, You know how easily and often I sin and feel the same emotions as David expresses here. Help me to be as repentant as he was. May I learn from these times so that "truth in the inner parts" and wisdom in the "hidden part" become my lifestyle. Amen.

MORE: Ash Wednesday
Today the church commemorates Ash Wednesday. Here is the Collect that begins the Ash Wednesday liturgy:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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




Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Veiled or unveiled?

The rending of the veil - 1890 by William Bell Scott (1811-1890)
“The rending of the veil” 1890 by William Bell Scott (1811-1890)
Copyright © 2016 Peter Nahum. All Rights Reserved.

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:5

TO CHEW ON: “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Moses had been away from the camp for a long time. His second 40-day absence didn’t end in a golden calf though, but a golden face. The joy that Aaron and the people of Israel felt when they saw the familiar figure approach turned to fear as he got closer. Something had happened to his face. It shone so brightly they could scarcely look at it. The time Moses had spent with God and the intimacy of their fellowship resulted in God’s visible glory remaining evident on his physical features (Exodus 34:29-35).

This is the incident to which Paul refers in this passage, so rich with veil imagery. Out of consideration for the people, Moses got into the habit of covering his face with a veil after he had spent time with God. That way the people didn’t have to fear him – or damage their eyes.

Paul refers to other types of veils here too. There is the veil of understanding (2 Corinthians 3:14-15). God the Holy Spirit is the One who removes that barrier to belief in Jesus by helping us make sense of the Bible (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).

The "veil taken away in Christ" (2 Corinthians 3:14) is the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the temple. Only select priests could go behind the veil into the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant sat and God’s glory rested. But at Jesus’ death that veil was torn in two. Now anyone can come to God.

That’s why we can approach Jesus face-to-face now. Actually Paul describes our interaction with Him as “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.” Jesus, the physical man, was God’s glory reflected in a human form.

As we study His face and His life, and make Him our example in attitude and action, an amazing thing happens. We ourselves are transformed, through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, into carriers of His glory.

Just as Moses didn’t realize his face shone, you might be unaware of the glory of God’s presence on you. But as you exalt Jesus, God’s light shines through you, illuminating dark hearts and drawing the veil from puzzled faces.

PRAYER: Dear God, what a privilege to be a reflector of Your glory. Please show me anything in my life that might obscure it from shining through. 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, February 08, 2016

Glory that lasts

yellow sun
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 3:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious." - 2 Corinthians 3:11

Throughout the Bible we read about mortals catching glimpses of God's glory. The Israelites saw it on the face of Moses. Elisha saw it in the chariot that came down to catch up Elijah and take him to heaven. Stephen reflected and saw it during his message to the Jewish council.

Paul in his treatise to the Corinthians argues, if the Old Covenant—that system of laws he calls the "ministry of death"—led to glory appearing on Moses' face, how much more will there be glory associated with Jesus whose victory over sin and death is a final one?

In our humdrum lives, where God's presence, and certainly His glory, often seem muted at best, it's easy to lose sight of the glorious destiny that awaits us. Here are a few promises God has given us about how we will experience and participate in this glory that remains:

Matthew 13:43 - "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."

Philippians 3:21- "...who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body."

Colossians 3:4 - "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."

Revelation 7:9 - "After these things I looked, and behold a great multitude which no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands."

Revelation 22:5 - "There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these promises of a future glory that is eternal and won't fade or change. Help me to keep my sights on lasting, eternal things as I go through this transitory 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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Sunday, February 07, 2016

Words that need to sink into our ears

Image: Openicons / Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:37-50

TO CHEW ON: " ' Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.'
But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying." Luke 9:44,45



Three times in Luke 9 we see Jesus speaking of His death. In Luke 9:22, after Peter called Him the Christ (Messiah), Jesus told them, in confidence: "'The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected and be killed and be raised the third day.'"

Then on the mountain, groggy as they were, they overheard Jesus, Elijah and Moses speaking of Jesus' "decease" - Luke 9:31.

And again in our reading today, after healing the demon-possessed boy (to the amazement and marveling of the crowds) Jesus' words to His disciples were urgent and insistent: "'Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men'" Luke 9:44.

They didn't get it (Luke 9:45)!

Some questions that come to me about this story:
- Why was it so important to Jesus that they understand?
- How could they not understand such plain language?
- Are there spiritual things to which I'm similarly deaf?


One reason I can think of for the importance of their understanding was that it would prepare them for what was ahead.

As to why they didn't  understand, I believe their expectation of Messiah and his role played a big part in their inability to hear and absorb what Jesus was saying. They saw the adulation of the crowd and that part of Jesus' ministry fit in with Him being an earthly savior, so that was the belief they clung to. In fact, in the verses after Jesus pleaded with them to hear Him, they were arguing about who was the greatest, no doubt  thinking of position in His "cabinet."

Finally, I ask myself, are there things to which I am (perhaps all of us are) similarly dull? As I examine my beliefs and compare them to what the Bible says, I do see some things that make me squirm. One is Jesus' teaching that He is the only way to God (John 10:9; Acts 4:1,2 etc.). I believe it in my head, but do my actions support what I say I believe?

Then there's the whole teaching about those rejecting Him ending up in the other place—"hell"—a concept that doesn't sit at all well in modern ears. Yet Jesus Himself speaks of it at the end of the chapter in Mark that tells the very incidents we've read about in Luke. He describes a place of utter torment and separation from God: "'Where "Their worm does not die / And the fire is not quenched"'" - Mark 9:42-47.

Like the disciples, it's important that I (we) hear what the Bible is actually saying and not be swayed by human interpretations and the ideas of a culture that seek to explain away what is hard for us to accept and understand. Like the disciples, there is no excuse for us to enter the future (now and eternity) unprepared.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please open my eyes, mind, and heart to Bible truths that clash with the values of humanism or any other belief systems. Amen.

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


Saturday, February 06, 2016

God's glory brought down to earth

 Detail of "Transfiguration" by Raphael (1516-1520)
See the entire painting and read its history on Art and the Bible.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:21-36

TO CHEW ON: "Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray." Luke 9:28


Luke links Jesus' sobering words of Luke 9:23-27 (where He speaks of His death, the need for the disciples to face their own deaths daily, the Father being ashamed of those who are ashamed of Jesus and His words, and some disciples not seeing death till they see the kingdom of God) with Jesus' transfiguration. It's as if Luke is saying, With Jesus' pronouncements ringing in their ears the disciples experienced this (Luke 9:28 - 36).

How might the two be connected?

  • The transfiguration conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah underlined the fact of Jesus' impending death - Luke 9:22,31. (My Bible's Harmony of the Gospels dates the transfiguration somewhere in the beginning to middle of AD 29, about a year before the crucifixion.)
  • The disciples were given a taste of the glory Jesus referred to in Luke 9:26. The glory the disciples experienced was visible. Jesus' clothes became white and glistening. It was a glory of well-being. Peter wanted to stay in it and the disciples only became fearful as the cloud that eventually separated them from it overshadowed them - Luke 9:34. This experience gave them a foretaste of what it was like to be in God's penetrating, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-revealing presence—a place they would not want to enter with the shame of having denied Jesus and His words.
  • God's words from the cloud ("This is My believed Son. Hear Him" - Luke 9:34) supported Jesus' claim of being on the side of His Father and the angels - Luke 9:26.

And then, kathunk! The voice was silent. The cloud lifted. They were alone with Jesus. I can imagine their thoughts: What just happened? Did it really happen? What does it mean? To their credit the puzzled disciples kept this experience to themselves for the time being.

Some takeaways from this story for me, for us...

1. God's  revelations, when He pulls back the curtain to show us glimpses of the divine, will line up with what He has said in other places, e.g. the teachings of the Bible.

2. We don't want to enter His presence ashamed because of our short-sighted fear of man.

3. It's okay to keep divine encounters to ourselves until we gain insight into what they mean.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, help me to live in such a way that I can someday stand unashamed before You in all Your glory. Amen.

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


Friday, February 05, 2016

More than just words

Detail of "Moses and the Tables of the Law" (1481-1482) 
by Cosimo Rosselli.
View entire painting and information at Art and the Bible.


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 34:19-35

TO CHEW ON:
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words, I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Exodus 34:27


In the first part of Exodus 34, God warns the people about compromising with and adopting the religious practices of the idol-worshiping tribes of Canaan. In today's reading God gives specific things His people can do to guard against such syncretism and assimilation.

1. Keep the feasts and in this way remember what God has done for them in the past - Exodus 34:19,20.

2. Give God a portion of their possessions and in this way acknowledge that their stuff is really all His - Exodus 34:19,20.

3. Take off one day in seven from work as a day of rest to give life a healthy balance and remind them of their ultimate dependence on God - Exodus 34:21.

4. Obey God's instructions down to the detail. God's instructions about not offering a blood sacrifice with leaven had to do with the spiritual symbolism of blood (life) and leaven (sin). Whether they understood the connection or not, they were to follow these details that illustrated spiritual truths - Exodus 34:25

Though we don't observe the same rituals today, I would submit that doing some of these things could also be faith-building practices that might serve as preventative medicine against backsliding for us.  We too could:
  • Remember our history with God, commemorating not only the Bible events (like Christmas and Easter) but remembering and retelling the stories of God at work in our lives.
  • Give regularly to kingdom projects—our church, missions, the poor. Where we put our money is, after all, a good indication of what we truly value - Matthew 6:21.
  • Rest one day in seven from our work. Besides giving us the needed physical break, this practice reminds us that our ultimate trust is in God for the success of our work.
  • Obey God's instructions about how to live and conduct ourselves. No, we don't struggle with whether there is leaven in the house or how to handle the blood of a sacrifice.  But every day we do make choices that have spiritual implications. One area  we do this is in our family relationships, where our lifestyle is a testimony to the spiritual realm - Ephesians 5:22-6:12.

As it was for the Israelites so it is for us. Belief isn't just assent and words. We need to affirm, solidify, and protect what we say we believe with our actions.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to give You not only lip service but demonstrate my loyalty to You with 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.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Corruption's comet trail

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 34:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "'Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going lest it be a snare in your midst.'" Exodus 34:12

A comet, when it enters earth's atmosphere from outer space, is pulled toward the surface by gravity. As it descends, the friction of our atmosphere increases its heat so that it soon burns, leaving a visible trail of gas and vapor to mark its passage. In much the same way sin seems to exert a gravitational pull on our spirits, and in today's reading Moses describes the comet trail of nation's descent into it.

In Exodus 34 God sets before Moses two choices for the Israelites. One is a choice to be loyal to God — thus staying well away from sin's gravitational pull in the first place. The other involves covenanting with the nations of Canaan. When the Israelites do this, Moses warns them of how they will eventually descend into outright idolatry. A covenant with the pagan nations of Canaan will involve these steps:

1. A softening toward idol worship - Exodus 34:12-14.
2. Polite (or curious?) participation ("...eat of his sacrifice...") - Exodus 34:15.
3. Intermarriage - Exodus 34:16.
4. Idolatrous practices entering the family's culture and legacy - Exodus 34:16.
5. Absorption into the mainstream culture as individuals make idols for themselves - Exodus 34:17.

This portrayal of Israel's possible descent into spiritual corruption can serve as  caution for us. Some things that we as Christians can beware of and avoid as we seek to be wholly loyal to God in our culture are:

  • Intermarrying with non-Christians.
Of course if we're not married, we can place limits on whom we would consider as a possible spouse. As for our kids, in our time and culture where we have little say in who our children marry, we can pray.

  • Dabbling in the occult.
We can avoid things like getting fortunes told, reading horoscopes, involving ourselves with occultic medical practitioners etc

  • Participating in practices that have their origins in other religions.
One popular type of physical exercise, yoga, originates in Hinduism. Though many argue that they do yoga exercises without any acknowledgement of the spiritual aspects of it, others warn that any involvement with it is not spiritually wise. Another trap might be decorating our homes with the paraphernalia of other religions - e.g. Buddha statues or shamanistic masks.

  • Allowing our culture's ideal of syncretism to infiltrate our churches and our personal lives.
No matter what our culture's wise ones say, the Bible makes it clear that not all faith journeys lead to God (John 14:6).

The warnings, above, are not politically correct — but when did God ever concern Himself with our political correctness, except to warn against it? I would much rather err on the side of caution and inherit God's blessing (Exodus 34:6,7a) than allow my life to enter sin's atmosphere and be pulled down by its gravitational force.


PRAYER: Dear God, since You don't change, I need to take Your warnings to stay away from sin and idolatry very seriously. Please help me, by Your Spirit, to become aware of and root out any idolatrous thing in my life. Amen.

MORE: Christians and yoga.

Is it permissible for Christians to participate in yoga exercises? Here are some articles to read and consider from the writings of Albert Mohler:

Yahoo, Yoga and Yours Truly

The Subtle Body: Should Christians Practice Yoga?

Help from Hindu Quarters — The New York Times on "Take Back Yoga"

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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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