Thursday, March 31, 2016

Metaphors for Messiah

Tent anchored with tent pegs (Image: pixabay.com)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 10:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "From him [Judah] comes the cornerstone,
From him the tent peg,
From him the battle bow
From him every ruler together." Zechariah 10:4


In this passage, which Bible scholars believe to be prophetic of Messiah, we get some interesting metaphors. Messiah is likened to a:

"Cornerstone": As part of a building, the cornerstone can be ceremonial but is most often used in the Bible to signify an essential, indispensable, and basic element of the Kingdom of God. Jesus referred obliquely to Himself as the cornerstone in Matthew 21:42-44, Paul referred to Jesus as the cornerstone in Ephesians 2:20, as did Peter in 1 Peter 2:6-8.

"Tent peg": Israelites used tent pegs in much the same way we do: "…the [tent] covering is spread over poles, which are fastened in the ground. The edges of the cover have leather loops, to which are attached cords of the tent, which are sometimes stretched out tight and fastened to the ground by means of iron or wooden pins…" - James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 244, 245.

"Battle bow": "The war bow used in fighting" - Easton's Bible Dictionary.

"Ruler" - This is not so much a metaphor as a statement of how Messiah is related to the people. He is the ruler of rulers. I like how the Amplified Bible puts this verse: "Every ruler shall proceed from him" - Zechariah 10:4 AMP.

My Bible's notes give this cryptic interpretation of Zechariah 10:4:
"The Messiah is the cornerstone, the tent peg on which humankind's destiny hinges, the battle bow that conquers, and the ruler over all" - D. W. Shibley, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. l259.

Is Jesus, who we believe is the fulfillment of these Messiah prophecies, these things to us:

- Our cornerstone—the  foundation and essential element of our faith (Ephesians 2:19-22)?

- Our tent peg—that earthly connection of our human tent to God the Father (Romans 14:8)?

- Our battle bow—the weapon by which we conquer our own sinful bent and wage war on the sin around us (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)?

- Our ruler—the boss of bosses to us (Galatians 2:20)?



PRAYER:
Dear Father, thank You for Jesus, who fulfilled these Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament and is still at work in the world and in me through the Holy Spirit. May He be my cornerstone, tent peg, battle bow and supreme ruler 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.

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)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Heaven - a fabled or real destination?


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 65:17-66:6

TO CHEW ON: "For behold I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind." Isaiah 65:17

I used to subscribe to "A Word A Day" a five times per week article that focused on interesting words. At one point the featured words were all names of what writer Anu Garg called "fabled destinations, places that exist only in our collective imagination." He included the Land of Oz, Shangri-la, the Garden of Eden, utopia and cockaigne. On reading today's passage, I think the "new heaven and new earth" the prophet describes would fit right in. Only, as people of faith, we resist the implication that this is a "fabled destination" existing only in imagination. Instead, we believe that the description is of someplace real, and that someday we will actually experience its delights.

Let's take a minute to note them:

1. New heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17). A brand new creation? That's what it sounds like.

2. It will be a place where regrets and bad memories don't come to mind (Isaiaj 65:17).

3. There will be an abundance of joy ("the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying" Isaiah 65:18,19).

4. There will be longevity (Isaiah 65:20).

5. There will be productive, satisfying work (Isaiah 65:21,22).

6. Families will be blessed (Isaiah 65:23).

7. God's responsiveness will not be hindered (Isaiah 65:24).

8. Even members of the animal kingdom that now prey on each other will coexist in peace (Isaiah 65:25).

When will these things happen? A footnote in my Bible says, "These conditions will likely begin during the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6)."

With our feet firmly planted on earth and our lungs full of the oxygen of here and now, it's easy to be cynical when reading such a description. It does all sound like someone's hopeful imagination gone wild. Until we look our mortality square in the face. As Joni Eareckson Tada says in her book Heaven:
"We really don't believe it's all going to end, do we? If God hadn't told us differently, we'd all think this parade of life would go on forever.
"But it will end. This life is not forever, nor is it the best life that will ever be. The fact is that believers are headed for heaven. It is reality. And what we do here on earth has a direct bearing on how we will live there. Heaven may be as near as next year, or next week; so it makes good sense to spend some time here on earth thinking candid thoughts about that marvelous future reserved for us." p. 15

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these glimpses of Your future for me. Help me to live with their reality in mind. Amen.


MORE:  Victor Hugo at 80+

"When Victor Hugo was past eighty years of age he gave expression to his religious faith in these sublime sentences:

'I feel in myself the future life. I am like a forest which has been more than once cut down. The new shoots are livelier than ever. I am rising toward the sky. The sunshine is on my head. The earth gives me its generous sap, but Heaven lights me with its unknown worlds.


'You say the soul is nothing but the resultant of the bodily powers. Why, then, is my soul more luminous when my bodily powers begin to fail? Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart. I breathe at this hour the fragrance of the lilacs, the violets, and the roses as at twenty years. The nearer I approach the end the plainer I hear around me the immortal symphonies of the worlds which invite me. It is marvelous, yet simple."

Quoted in Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman (May 31st 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.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What a teacher!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 24:33-53

TO CHEW ON: “And He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” Luke 24:45


The resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples numerous times. Their conflicted states of mind when they saw Him are evident by His words to them: Peace to you,” “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? He knew they needed convincing that He really was Jesus. And they needed an understanding of the meaning of His life and death. They had had the right idea of His identity (Messiah) but the wrong idea of what kind of kingdom He would establish and how He would do it.

Jesus taught them how His life and death fulfilled plans of a kingdom way bigger than any they had imagined – one that would encompass “all nations” Luke 24:47. He showed them how it was all there, in the prophetic Old Testament Scriptures. His explanation helped them 'get it.'

Still today we have blind spots about what God’s plan is about. Various teachers get on their various hobby horses to expound their views of how it works. Emphasis on certain Bible passages can lead to beliefs that the Gospel is mainly about personal prosperity or gaining God’s favor by living a prescribed outward lifestyle. Putting faith in human ideas that seem to make more sense than God’s, can lead to a lopsided gospel that focuses on God’s mercy and grace to the exclusion of His holiness, righteousness and justice.

How can we know that what we believe is truth? I would suggest three principles - two of them modeled by Jesus in this passage:

1. Jesus used the Scriptures. In His time this was the writings of the patriarchs and prophets. He frequently quoted the Psalms, Isaiah and other writers. God’s truth is based on the Scriptures and that means all of it, not just proof texts.

2. We need God as our teacher. Here the disciples’ teacher was Jesus - God the Son. Our teacher, now that Jesus has ascended to heaven, is God the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13; John 14: 16-17, 26)

3. We need to line up our lives with what we know; the word for that would be obedience. Romans 1 gives us a sobering picture of what happens to our “understanding” when we live in disobedience.

PRAYER:
 Dear Holy Spirit, please open my understanding to comprehend God's plan and my part in it. Then fill me with the power to share it with others.

MORE: I believe that two ways the Holy Spirit uses to teach us what the Bible means is through the use of our own common sense and  the wisdom of others. An article titled “22 Principles of Biblical Interpretation: How to Eliminate Apparent Bible Contradictions” begins:

“One of the major reasons why people have different ideas concerning what the Bible says is that they use different rules or standards for interpreting it. We believe that the following principles, called “canons of interpretation” are essential to understand and apply if there is to be any hope of Christians getting to the truth when they read the Bible.”
It suggests some excellent principles to use when interpreting the Bible.

"22 Principles of Biblical Interpretation: How to Eliminate Apparent Bible Contradictions" 

Are there any of these principles with which you disagree?

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

Monday, March 28, 2016

Open my eyes

"Supper at Emmaus" - Rubens
"Supper at Emmaus" - Rubens
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 24:13-32

TO CHEW ON: "But their eyes were restrained …. Then their eyes were opened…" Luke 24:16,31


This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible, perhaps because it's been my experience.

It's the third day after the crucifixion. Two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, deep in discussion about what has lately happened with their rabbi, Jesus. At one point they're joined by a stranger. He asks them the subject of their sad conversation. They explain it all—what Jesus was like, their hopes for and in Him, His very recent death by crucifixion, followed by the mysterious disappearance of his body, and the hearsay sightings of Him, alive.

He listens and then He speaks. I love how Henri Nouwen tells this next part in his little book With Burning Hearts—A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life.

"He speaks of things they already knew: their long past with all that happened during the centuries before they were born…. It was an all-too-familiar story. Still it sounded as if they were hearing it for the first time.

The difference lay in the storyteller! … The loss, the grief, the guilt, the fear, the glimpses of hope, and the many unanswered questions that battled for attention in their restless minds, all of these were lifted up by this stranger and placed in the context of a story much larger than their own. What had seemed so confusing began to offer new horizons; what had seemed so oppressive began to feel liberating; what had seemed so extremely sad began to take on the quality of joy! As he talked to them, they gradually came to know that their little lives weren't as little as they had thought, but part of a great mystery that not only embraced many generations, but stretched itself out from eternity to eternity" - p. 45,46 (emphasis added).

And isn't that what we discover too when we meet Jesus? After we've dumped on Him our whole sad situation, He opens our eyes to our place in a story much bigger than our own. And we begin to understand that there is a reason for the hardest parts of our lives, while other aspects, those that we've nurtured perhaps to make us feel good about ourselves or look good in the eyes of the world, don't really fit and should be heaved overboard.


PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, please open my eyes. Help me to see Your story and my place in it as it relates to my circumstances and the everyday situations that I face. 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, March 27, 2016

Pinch me - is this really happening?

He is risen! He is risen indeed! (An Easter coloring page) - Image: pixabay.com

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 24:1-12

TO CHEW ON: “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” Luke 24:11

Joanna  woke before it was light. Her first moments in the sweet forgetfulness of just-waking were pleasant. But then the heavy sense of something wrong returned. Oh yes. Jesus, her rabbi, friend and hero, was dead (Luke 8:1-3). 

Ugly scenes replayed in her memory: Word that Jesus had been arrested. The terrifying bloodthirsty shouts of the mob. Jesus bruised, bloody and half-naked, dragging His cross through the city. Soldiers nailing Him to the wood and hoisting the structure upright on Golgotha. Hours hanging there. The uncanny darkness. His last agony-filled cries. His last labored breath. Dead.

Now she disentangled herself from her coverings. It was early but their errand demanded the cover of pre-dawn darkness. Dressed, she picked up the bundle of embalming spices and hurried out to meet the others at the appointed place.

Their discussion of their oversight in forgetting to bring someone to roll away the heavy stone from the tomb entrance stopped as the site came into view. The mouth of the grave was black – open. What? Who?

They went in. No body. Instead, two men in shining clothes. Their words – “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen!” – it took a while for them to sink in. It couldn’t be, could it?

Incredulous and filled with questions they returned to the others with the news of what they had seen and heard. Some recalled His predictions of just this happening. Others were suspicious of the Jews and the Romans. It took hours, days and numerous post-death appearances by Jesus before they were all convinced He really had risen.

The disciples’ reluctance to accept this incredible good news shouldn’t surprise us. For Jesus’ death and resurrection had changed everything – and it takes a while to recast paradigms and rebuild frames of reference. Now His teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven took on a new significance. His explanations of who He was and what He had come to accomplish began to make sense. He was a triumphant king, but in an altogether different way than they had expected Him to be. He had paid the price for sin. He had conquered death.

Joanna probably awoke the next morning – and the next and the next – with the sense you and I feel on the morning after our favorite team has won the Stanley Cup, or the World Series, or the Brier or the Scotties, or our favorite athlete has won a gold medal at the Olympics, or we had just successfully birthed (after months of anticipation, and hours of painful labor) a baby!

PRAYER: Thank You, Jesus, for all that Your death and resurrection accomplished for the world – and for me. Please give me a greater appreciation for their meaning and significance. Amen.


MORE:
See What a Morning (Resurrection Hymn)” Stuart Townend



Today the church celebrates Easter. Ponder and enjoy the liturgy for Easter.

Collect that begins the service:

"O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Be afraid of the dark

Image: Jingoba / pixabay.com
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 23:26-56

TO CHEW ON: “Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened.” Luke 23:44-45a


Darkness is not a real, tangible thing. Rather it is the absence of something real, tangible and measurable – light. There can be degrees of darkness with complete, utter darkness being the complete and utter absence of any light.

God’s first positive act of creation, which began to bring order to the chaos of earth, was to create light (before He created the sun, moon and stars (Genesis 1:2,3), which brings up the question – what was that light like; did it emanate from something, or somewhere, or Someone?).

This physical phenomenon of light and darkness is used throughout the Bible in a symbolic way, where light is equated with God and darkness the absence of God. At various times (this being one of them) God sent or allowed supernatural darkness. Another such time was the ninth plague of Egypt when the darkness was so thick the people felt it, couldn't see each other, and were confined to their homes for three days (Exodus 10:21-23).

I imagine there was some of that quality of palpability and isolation to the noon to 3:00 p.m. darkness that accompanied Jesus' death on the cross. Did He feel cut off from God as He hung there?  In Matthew’s telling of this incident just after he describes the darkness, come the words of Jesus: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” ( (Matthew 27:45,46) ). This was the utter darkness of God having withdrawn Himself completely.

It’s easy to shrug this off as a phenomenon that has nothing to do with us. But it does.
- The power of darkness controls us before we come to God (Colossians 1:13,14).
- Our preference is for darkness (John 3:19).
- When we come to God we pass into the realm of light (Ephesians 5:8-13).
- But even here we can quench light by living in darkness (1 John 1:6). 
- Jesus warned against the possibility of being thrown into darkness that lasts forever (Matthew 25:14-30).

How awesome and frightening must have been the darkness on the day of Jesus’ death with its effect on even hardened soldiers. His identification of what made it terrible – God’s absence – is instruction to us. The more God has of us, and we of Him, the more there is no room for darkness.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for enduring the agony of the darkness of God’s absence to buy my salvation. Help me to live always in Your light.

MORE:  Today some churches celebrate Holy Saturday, others the Vigil of Easter
  • The liturgy for Easter Vigil is HERE.
  • The liturgy for Holy Saturday is HERE. It begins with this collect:
"O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now 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.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Remorse

Image: pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL:  Luke 22:54-23:25

TO CHEW ON:“So Peter went out and wept bitterly.” Luke 22:62


Jesus had recently predicted Peter would deny Him. At the time Peter protested, “Lord, I am ready to go with you, both to prison and to death.” Now, hours later, a mere servant woman and a couple of men, identifying Peter as a Jesus-follower elicited three vehement betrayals: “I do not know Him… I am not (one of them)… I don’t know what you’re talking about (in response to “…this fellow was with Him” - Luke 22:57, 58, 60.

The rooster crow was the ping – that and Jesus’ long, knowing look. They reminded Peter of their conversation – and he was filled with remorse: “The keen or hopeless anguish aroused by a sense of guilt; distressing self-reproach.”

Have you been there? I know I have – full of sorry, gripped with guilt, wondering why I let that person down, was silent and failed to clearly state my loyalty to Jesus, again neglected to live up to my ideals.

I guess the issue is not whether or not we’ve done something to make us remorseful, but the effect we allow it to have on our lives. In Peter’s case, when Jesus took him back to that day in a pointed conversation  (though He never made a direct reference to Peter’s betrayal - John 21:15-19), it was an acknowledgement that the betrayal was indeed real and significant. Peter needed to say the words, “I love you.” Jesus’ acceptance of Peter’s profession made things right between them and allowed Peter to forgive himself. Then Jesus restored him to even greater responsibility.

Jesus gave Peter a glimpse of who he really was by allowing this remorseful situation, and He does that for us too. When we let Him (and ourselves) down, we see how easily we can blow it. But when we return to Him, and acknowledge our betrayal, He is there to restore us (1 John 1:9), though now way less confident in ourselves, more needy of Him, like He restored Peter.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to have a realistic view of my weaknesses. May my remorse teach me to draw on Your strength, and be less confident of mine. Amen.

MORE: Good Friday

Today is the day we remember Jesus' death on the cross for us. We call it "Good Friday." The Good Friday liturgy begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now 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.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pray!

"Sleep of the Disciples" - Alexandre Bida (1813-1895)
"Sleep of the Disciples" - Alexandre Bida (1813-1895)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 22:24-53

TO CHEW ON:“And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail…’” Luke 22:31-32


If we look at the Bible as the story of the fight between good and evil, God and Satan, is it any wonder that Satan’s tracks run all through the account of Jesus’ passion, when the time of bruising heels and heads had come? Yesterday we saw how Satan entered Judas’ heart. In today’s reading that cagey serpent is working behind the scenes to “sift” Peter. Later on in the Garden, his wiles are in evidence again. Jesus finds the disciples sleeping while he has been agonizing in prayer and He warns them, 'Why do you sleep? Rise and pray lest you enter into temptation.'


I sometimes wonder if we would be so nonchalant about our faith if we saw what was happening behind the scenes in the realm of the spirit. We can’t – and that’s probably a good thing. But we know there is a battle going on. And we have been given a means of attack and resistance. It is prayer. Telling of Satan’s request for Peter, Jesus said,But I prayed for you that your faith should not fail.” When He finds the disciples sleeping, Jesus urged them, Rise and pray…

How do our prayers work to deflect, weaken, or hinder Satan’s attacks and keep him from victory in our lives and the lives of others? I don’t know. But I do know that we have our orders.

Luke 21:36
Ephesians 6:18
Philippians 4:6
Colossians 4:2
1 Thessalonians 5:17

PRAYER: Dear God, forgive my casual attitude toward prayer. Please remind and help me to use this weapon more faithfully and intentionally. Amen.

MORE: Maundy Thursday

Today the church celebrates Maundy Thursday. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:

"Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now 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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sinister entry

"Judas returns the money" - James Tissot
"Judas returns the money" - James Tissot
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 22:1-23

TO CHEW ON: “Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains how he might betray Him to them." Luke 22:3-4

How chilling those words, “Then Satan entered Judas…” How sobering their continuation, “… (Judas) Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.” If a member of Jesus’ closest circle was not immune to Satan’s entrance how all the more must we be vigilant against it.

The tendency is to think of Satan’s entering and controlling someone as a bizarre paranormal thing, evidenced by spooky behaviors  or a cursed, sickly life (Luke 8:26-33, 1-3). But I believe it can be a lot subtler than that.

We need only think of our “besetting sin.” Do we struggle with anger, or find ourselves often covering our tracks with deceit, or letting bitterness cloud our outlook? There is a section in Ephesians which mentions specific sins Holy Spirit-controlled followers of Jesus are to “put away.”

These are common, run-of-the-mill sins that we all have no doubt been caught in at some time or other: lying, anger, stealing, corrupt talk, bitterness, wrath, clamor, evil speaking with malice. Right in the middle of that list (immediately after the reference to anger) are these words: “nor give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:24-32). Doesn’t this warning imply that we are at risk of giving Satan entrance when we cultivate these behaviors and attitudes?

How tiny it starts as the devil squeezes into that sliver-thin crack of our dissatisfaction, takes more territory as we augment our complaints with imaginings, then cements them in us when we voice them to others (compounding our sin as we influence them to join us on this destructive path). How big it eventually ends. In Judas’s case he betrayed his best friend. It earned him the very woe of Jesus (Luke 22:22).

We do well to follow Peter’s warning: "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

PRAYER: Dear God, I want no one but You in my life. Please sensitize my “spiritual antennae” to the presence of anything that would give Satan opportunity or entrance into my life. Amen.

MORE: What happened in Judas’ mind and heart to make him regret what he’d done (Matthew 27:3-10)? Once the betrayal was accomplished, did the devil’s strong influence leave him? Or had he rationalized that his action would force Jesus’ hand to reveal Himself as king and when that didn’t happen, he realized the immensity and gravity of what he’d done? What do you think?


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

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

No need to flaunt, prove, or push

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 2:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men." Philippians 2:5-7

Nowadays the common wisdom is if we want people to buy our product, patronize our business, or read our writings, we must get noticed. Thousands give advice on how to establish our presence on the internet using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, and a myriad of other ways to generate buzz and business.

I wonder how Jesus would have handled all this. What would He have put on His Facebook update? What would He have tweeted? What would He have written on His blog? Would He even have been online?

I love what a sidebar article in my Bible says about Jesus' humility:

"Chrlstlike humility is manifested in the freedom of God's Son to affirm the fullness of all God has placed in Him, without needing to flaunt, prove or push it through self-advancement. Jesus' complete absence of any need to "clutch" for power or attention is manifest humility" - Fuchsia Pickett, "Christlikeness," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1662 (emphasis added).

Though media pundits do advise us to exhibit interest in others the underlying motivation is often selfish. The hope is that the attention will be reciprocated and we will get what we are after—something for ourselves.

There was no such self-service in Jesus' humility. He exchanged the role and status He had in heaven ("...made Himself nothing" - Philippians 2:7 NIV) and gave the ultimate (His life) in order to buy us back to God.

His humility did result in exaltation, though—an honor higher than any person could give, bestowed by God Himself (Philippians 2:9-11).

Our Bible commenter helps us understand how this call to be humble works for us:
"Just as Christ's humility received ultimate exaltation (Phil. 2:9-11), so our call to 'humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up' points to the way for the rise of God's highest purpose in each of us (James 4:10). Humbling ourselves opens us up to increased grace (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5), and childlikeness is the doorway to the dynamism of 'kingdom come' in our life and service (Matthew 18:4)" Fuchsia Pickett (source quoted above, emphasis added)

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your humility, shown when You relinquished all Your rights, even the right to live. Help me to begin to understand what true humility is and how to live it in 2012. Amen.

MORE: Humility quotes
"The reason we see hypocrisy and fraud and unreality in others is because they are all in our own hearts. The great characteristic of a saint is humility—Yes all those things and other evils would have been manifested in me but for the grace of God, therefore I have no right to judge" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, June 22nd reading.

"The passion of Christianity is that I deliberately sign away my own rights and become a bond-slave of Jesus Christ." Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, November 3 reading.

"Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves” - Tim Keller (quoted by John Piper in "The Shy Virtue of Christmas."

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

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


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Monday, March 21, 2016

A song for all us lost sheep

"Christ, Savior of Mankind" - Unknown Flemish master, 1590s, Alabaster.
"Christ, Savior of Mankind" - Unknown Flemish master, 1590s, Alabaster.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

TO CHEW ON: "All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned every one to his own way
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:6

Our reading today is the final Servant Song. I don't think there's any doubt about who the Servant in it is; it's obviously Jesus. My Bible's notes say about this grand passage:
"It is one of the greatest passages in the Bible, the mountain peak of Isaiah's book; the most sublime messianic prophecy in the O.T. relating to so many features of Jesus' redemptive work" - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 936.
In it we see a multitude of prophecies:
  • Jesus' incarnation and early life: "He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant ... a root out of dry ground" - Isaiah 53:2.
  • His rejection: "He is despised and rejected... He was despised and we did not esteem Him" - Isaiah 53:3.
  • His suffering: "His visage was marred more any any man .... He was wounded ... He was bruised...", He suffered "chastisement" and "stripes" - Isaiah 52:14; 53:4-5.
  • His death: "He was cut off from the land of the living... they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death" - Isaiah 53:8-9.
  • His triumph and exaltation: "He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high .... Kings shall shut their mouths at Him .... Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong" - Isaiah 52:13,15; 53:11-12.

    Significant is Isaiah's explanation of how Jesus will be the substitute lamb—that sacrifice for sin that will appease a holy God (Isaiah 53:4-6). I love how he makes it personal, implicating even himself in this unthinkable action:

    "All we like sheep have god astray, we have turned every one to his own way and the He has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

    And that is, finally, the personal message of Jesus' passion for each one of us. He didn't die because of some theoretical idea. His death wasn't to restore a blurry mass of people. It was an "offering for sin" for me and you because we "turned to our own way" and are full of "iniquity" and have no merit of our own on which to approach God.

    All these thousands of years later, this Servant Song still has significance and application to each one of us on the most personal level. Jesus still invites us to come to Him and promises that God will accept us on the merit of His (Jesus') life, death and resurrection. Hear Him say it Himself, using the imagery of sheep and shepherds:

    "I am the door of the sheep ... I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture .... I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly" - John 10:7-10.

    PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You that You who had no sin became sin for me that I might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Help me to forsake sin every conscious moment and to live the life of rich abundance You promise. Amen.

    MORE: Prophecies fulfilled

    Did the prophecies of Isaiah's come true? Indeed they did. A handy table in my Bible details the prophecies in today's reading with their fulfillment:

    - He will be exalted - Isaiah 52:13
    Fulfilled - Philippians 2:9

    - He will be disfigured by suffering - Isaiah 52:14; 53:2
    Fulfilled: Mark 15:17,19

    - He will be widely rejected - Isaiah 53:1,3
    Fulfilled - John 12:37-38

    - He will bear our sins and sorrows - Isaiah 53:4
    Fulfilled - Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 2:24-25

    - He will make a blood atonement - Isaiah 53:6
    Fulfilled - Romans 3:25

    - He will be our substitute - Isaiah 53:6,8
    Fulfilled - 2 Corinthians 5:21

    - He will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment - Isaiah 53:7
    Fulfilled - John 10:11

    - He will be buried in a rich man's tomb - Isaiah 53:9
    Fulfilled - John 19:38-42

    - He will justify many from their sin - Isaiah 53:10-11
    Fulfilled - Romans 5:15-19

    - He will die with transgressors - Isaiah 53:12
    Fulfilled - Mark 15:27; Luke 22:37

    - From "The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:12)" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 937.

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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.

    Bible Drive-Thru


    Sunday, March 20, 2016

    The Suffering Servant

    Image: Hans_Hofer / pixabay.com
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 50:1-11

    TO CHEW ON: "'For the Lord God will help Me;
    Therefore I will not be disgraced;
    Therefore I have set My face like a flint
    And know that I will not be ashamed.'" Isaiah 50:7


    In this third Servant Song (Isaiah 50:4-9) we see the human and suffering Servant. It's not hard to recognize parallels from this passage in Jesus' and His life.

    • From Isaiah: "'The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned…'" (Isaiah 50:4)
    From Jesus' life: already by the age of 12 He was known for His words. In them He demonstrated:

    - Understanding: "And all who heard Him were astonished ad His understanding and answers" - Luke 2:47.

    - Grace: "So all … marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of HIs mouth" - Luke 4:22.

    - Authority: "… His word was with authority" - Luke 4:32.

    - Life: "'The words I speak to you are spirit and they are life'" - John 6:63.

    • From Isaiah "… a word in season to him who is weary" (Isaiah 50:4):
    Jesus said: "'Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest'" - Matthew 11:28.

    • From Isaiah: "'He awakens Me morning by morning…" (Isaiah 50:4)
    It was said of Jesus: "Now in the morning having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed" - Mark 1:35. See also Luke 5:16. 

    • From Isaiah "'I gave My back to those who struck Me, / And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; / I did not hide My face from shame and spitting'" (Isaiah 50:6):
    This happened to Jesus: "So then Pilate took Jesus and had Him scourged (flogged, whipped) and they slapped Him in the face" - John 19:1,3 AMP.

    And this: "Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands…" Matthew 26:67.
    • From Isaiah "'For the Lord God will help Me; / Therefore I will not be disgraced; / Therefore I have set My face like a flint / And I know that I will not be ashamed'" (Isaiah 50: 7):
    Compare Jesus' words from the cross: "'My God, My God, why have You forsaken me…'?" - Matthew 27:46 (when it seemed that He had been disgraced) to this triumph after His resurrection: "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth…'" Matthew 28:18-29.

    There is something very reassuring about finding these prophetic words about the Servant's (Jesus's) suffering and eventual victory. Keeping them in mind as we read the story of Jesus' passion helps us understand that what happened that weekend in Jerusalem 2000+ hears ago was a planned, intentional chain of events, put into motion by the God who loves us and in this way purchased our salvation.

    He knew/knows our lives in the same prophetic, beforehand way. We are not some chance or random blip on the radar of time, but planned pieces of the puzzle that is making the picture God has designed and knows from eternity past.

    PRAYER:
    Dear God, thank You for this picture of Jesus, given hundreds of years before the cross. Help me to trust Your plan for me, especially when it seems to make no sense. 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.


    Saturday, March 19, 2016

    Jesus and family loyalty

    The Finding of the Savior in the Temple by William Holman Hunt
    The Finding of the Savior in the Temple by William Holman Hunt - 1860
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 2:41-52

    TO CHEW ON: "And He said to them, 'Why did you seek Me? Did you know know that I must be about My Father's business?'" - Luke 2:49

    Joseph Seeks Jesus
    The annoyance of calling and getting no answer
    soon changes to anxiety,
    panic to heated words
    “I thought you said he was with us.”
    “Why didn’t you make sure?”
    “You’re positive he’s not with Elizabeth
    Zachariah and John?”

    Mary and I leave the caravan din
    of flickering fires and comforting supper smells
    head back to Jerusalem with heavy, urgent steps
    eyes sweeping hillsides and ditches.
    At dark we stop in a wayside inn
    where the night is a toss
    of anxiety and self-recrimination:
    After seeing him through everything
    how could I lose him now?


    Next morning in the city
    we comb the markets, revisit inns
    head back to relatives
    asking everyone
    “Have you seen our son
    twelve, about so tall,
    named Jesus?”

    Two days like this and well into the third
    exhausted Mary stumbles on the stones
    I hold her sobbing, trembling form
    and know we must go to pray.
    The temple courtyard at dusk is deserted
    but for a knot of rulers in deep discussion
    Mary stops. “It’s his voice!”
    Goes running over – “Jesus!
    Why have you done this to us?”

    He stands, steps away from them...
    I, weak with relief am thinking
    how can I put three days of anxiety
    into words that won’t hurt,
    when he says
    so innocent and surprised:
    “Why did you seek me? Did you not know
    that I must be about my Father’s business?”

    Now it is I who am lost.

    © November 18, 2010 by Violet Nesdoly

    This poem meditation expresses what strikes me most about this story—how Jesus and His mission affected His parents. I imagine Joseph felt a stab when Jesus said, in effect, You're not my real father. Just as Mary must have felt one earlier at hearing the prophetic words of Simeon about Jesus' future (Luke 2:34,35).

    After this temple incident the 12-year-old Jesus bent to His earthly parents' wishes and it sounds like from this day on was a model child. But again in adulthood, He repudiated family ties for kingdom loyalties. He shrugged off His family's rights to Him when His mother and brothers tried to take Him home when His ministry had stirred up controversy (Mark 3:31-35). And He taught that discipleship loyalty superseded family claims (Luke 14:26).

    What does this mean for us, now?

    If we're young and have our lives before us, this may be our permission to follow the voice of Jesus first in making life's choices, even over parents, counselors etc.

    For us who are parents, I see the words RELINQUISH, of children, grandchildren all over these passages.

    PRAYER:
    Dear Jesus, help me to be loyal to You first, above any person, and then to allow those in my life that same freedom. Amen.
    MORE:
    "We put sensitive loyalty to relatives in the place of loyalty to Jesus Christ and Jesus has to take the last place. In a conflict of loyalty, obey Jesus Christ at all costs." ~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 27 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.


    Friday, March 18, 2016

    Servant to the Gentiles

    Flags of the world (Image: geralt/pixabay.com)

    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 49:1-13

    TO CHEW ON: "Indeed He says,
    'Is it too small a thing that You should be My Servant
    To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
    And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
    I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles,
    That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.' " Isaiah 49:6


    In this second servant Song we see another side of the Servant's mission.

    Often in the Old Testament, God's servant is Israel. In fact, that's the "servant" this passage speaks about first - Isaiah 49:3. But then the speaker (God) shifts His attention to "My Servant"—capitalized in my NKJV Bible which puts the names and pronouns of deity in upper case. His mission is to not only "raise up the tribes of Jacob" and "restore the preserved ones of Israel" but also be a "light to the Gentiles" and "My salvation to the ends of the earth" - Isaiah 49:6.

    As a bringer of salvation to all, this Servant will be (Isaiah 49:7-12):
    • Given respect and worship by kings and princes.
    • Preserved to realize His destiny.
    • A covenant between God and people.
    • Freedom for prisoners
    • Light for those living in darkness.
    • One who shepherds and protects his flock.
    • A herald of good news.

    I believe the fulfillment of this prophecy was Jesus. He believed that of Himself, for He read words from Isaiah 49 in Luke 4:18,19 and then said, "'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4:21).

    He spoke of the wine at the Last Supper as a symbol of the new covenant (Luke 22:20).

    In other places He declared Himself the light of the world (John 8:12) and the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-30).

    And like Isaiah's prophecy detailed, His first assignment was to the Jews (Matthew 15:21-28), but the charge He left with His disciples included bringing word of Him and salvation to the world (Acts 1:8).

    If we are Gentiles (and I am one), the Servant's mission of bringing non-Jews into right relationship with God is a truth we hold dear. It means He accepts us. It clarifies our vision about the truth of Jesus as the way to God for all people in a culture that says all belief systems are equally valid and lead to a good end. And it spurs us on in missions giving and prayer for the world.

    I'm sure you, like I, long to finally see the culmination of the Servant's mission to the Gentiles as envisioned by John in Revelation: "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.

    PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for taking sin's death sentence for everyone—Jew and Gentile alike. I anticipate the day when the nations of Earth give You worship. 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.


    Thursday, March 17, 2016

    Meet the Servant

    Image: aschenputtel / pixabay.com
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 42:1-13

    TO CHEW ON: "Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
    My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
    I have put My Spirit upon Him;
    He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles." Isaiah 42:1



    In today's passage we read the first of what Bible scholars call the Servant Songs of Isaiah. GotQuestions.org defines these:

    "There are four “Servant Songs” of Isaiah that describe the service, suffering, and exaltation of the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. All four songs show the Messiah to be God’s meek and gentle Servant. He is a royal figure, representing Israel in its ideal form; He is the high priest, atoning for the sins of the world. Isaiah predicts that this Servant of the Lord would deliver the world from the prison of sin. In the royal terminology of the ancient Near East, a servant was a “trusted envoy,” a “confidential representative,” or “one who is chosen.” The Servant Songs are found in Isaiah 42:1–9; Isaiah 49:1–13; Isaiah 50:4–11; and Isaiah 52:13—53:12" (read entire article...)

    I am sure there are many scholarly approaches we could take to discovering the riches of these songs, but I'm going to look at them personally and devotionally, through the lens of Jesus being their fulfillment—the Servant that these songs celebrate.

    The Servant involves all of God.
    This first song is rich in all of the Godhead. All of the trinity is here: The speaker, God the Father, who "puts upon" the Servant (God the Son) the Spirit - Isaiah 42:1. Later the Servant qualifies to receive God's glory (which He will not give to another) - Isaiah 42:8.

    The Servant is gentle.

    I have heard the Holy Spirit described as a gentleman. That is certainly how He appears here as the Servant empowered by the Spirit administers justice, but with a soft voice and unshowy ways - Isaiah 42:2. He is also gentle with the hurting and frees the most tightly bound - Isaiah 42:3,7.

    The Servant is trustworthy.

    He stands for what is right and true, and is the means by which God keeps His promises - Isaiah 42:3,6.

    The Servant is creative.

    He was active with God in creation - Isaiah 42:5 and will be the catalyst of new things - Isaiah 42:9.

    I invite you, as I am doing, to let this first Servant Song be salve to your spirit today. Do you need gentleness? Jesus is gentle. Do you crave truth and righteousness? Jesus is that too. Do you need to know you have put your faith in someone who can and will keep His promises? That's Jesus. Do you need His creative activity in your life? Ask Him to be Creator in your circumstances.


    PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for this beautiful picture of Your willingness to serve God the Father, and us. Help me to find comfort and hope in Your abilities today. 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.


    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    Coming!

     Image: “Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, 
    Candler School of Theology, Emory University”

    Triumphal Entry


    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 19:28-48

    TO CHEW ON: "Then as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.' " Luke 19:37-38


    Imagine being part of this crowd, cheering the arrival of your king. Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey was well understood by the Jewish people. They recognized Him as their long-anticipated Messiah. Their shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” was from prophetic Psalm 118 .

    The second part of their welcome, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,"  haven’t we heard it somewhere before? Yes indeed – at His first coming. It was the praise of the angels as they announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:14). 

    There is another coming. It hasn’t happened yet. Two men “in white apparel” (angels? prophets or patriarchs in a heavenly form?) predicted it the day Jesus’ ascended into heaven: “This same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

    Are we expecting His return as some were looking for His first coming (Luke 2:25-26)?  Are we awake and alert (Matthew 25:13), scanning the horizon for signs that it may be soon (Matthew 24:3-13)? Do we love the thought of His return  to the extent we would celebrate it as the crowds celebrated His entry into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday (2 Timothy 4:8)? Am I ready? Are you? How sad if it should be said of us as Jesus said of the citizens of Jerusalem: "'... you did not know the time of your visitation' " - Matthew 19:44.

    PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be ready for Your return, should You come again before I die. Even so come Lord Jesus. Amen.


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

    Tuesday, March 15, 2016

    Dominion

    "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea" - 
    words from Zechariah 9:10 are carved 
    into Canada's Peace Tower, in Ottawa, Ontario
    Image: werner22brigitte / pixabay.com

    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 9:1-17

    TO CHEW ON: "... He shall speak peace to the nations;
    His dominion shall be from sea to sea,
    And from the River to the ends of the earth." Zechariah 9:10


    Who is the "He"  and "His" Zechariah talks about here? The answer is just above today's verse in Zechariah 9:9:
    "Behold your King is coming to you;
    He is just and having salvation
    Lowly and riding on a donkey,
    A colt, the foal of a donkey."

    Immediately we see the scene of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday. And we realize it's Jesus, Messiah, who Zechariah is talking about. He is the One with the dominion.

    [Dominion - moshal means sovereignty, jurisdiction, rulership. Moshel (noun) comes from mashal (verb) that means to rule, govern, reign, have dominion, exercise authority. "This verb conveys the thought of a strong and sovereign ruling over one's subjects" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1258.]

    The extent of Christ's past, present, and future dominion are spoken of in other places in the Old and New Testaments.
    • The prediction of Messiah's dominion is not original with Zechariah. The exact same words are found in Solomon's prayer of Psalm 72:8.
    • His rule comes from Zion and the psalmist invokes victory over enemies through it - Psalm 110:2.
    • Isaiah's prophecy again corroborates that this ruler is Jesus:
    "For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace - Isaiah 9:6 (see also John 3:35).
    • Isaiah also speaks of this governance going on forever - Isaiah 9:7 (see also Daniel 4:3).
    • This Messiah rule is powerful, done with a "strong hand" - Isaiah 40:10.
    • His dominion is international, everlasting, and indestructible - Daniel 7:14.
    • It is a rule that brings and enforces peace (our focus verse - Zechariah 9:10).
    • While He was on earth, Christ showed that He had power over nature - Matthew 8:27.
    • He had power over sickness and disease (and commissioned His disciples with power to heal) - Matthew 10:1.
    • He also had power over unclean spirits - Mark 1:27.
    • He has dominion over the church - Ephesians 1:22.
    • He is now seated at the right hand of God where heaven's citizens, its authorities and powers, are subject to Him - 1 Peter 3:22.

    Let's keep this picture of Christ's ultimate dominion in mind as we hear and watch our seemingly out-of-control world on the daily news, and experience firsthand the devastation of the fall (Genesis 3:14-19).


    PRAYER: Dear Jesus, these predictions of Your ultimate dominion over everything give me hope and security in a world that sometimes feels doomed and dangerous. Help me to live with an alive expectation of Your dominion. 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.





    Monday, March 14, 2016

    Seeing Jesus

    Image: Aitoff / pixabay.com
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 12:12-26

    TO CHEW ON: "Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip who was from Bethsaida of Galilee and asked him saying, 'Sir, we wish to see Jesus.' " John 12:20,21


    The scene was a Messiah-seeker's dream. Jesus' good reputation from raising Lazarus had spread so that when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9), He was accompanied by an adoring crowd. The significance of this act would not be lost on any Jew in the crowd familiar with Old Testament prophecy. They saw Him as their expected Messiah—a savior from Roman rule.

    But now Greeks, proselytes who worshiped with the Jews to the extent they were allowed, came to Philip asking permission to see Jesus too. Jesus' answer to Philip and Andrew is puzzling: "'The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.'" What does that have to do with their request to see Him?

    The invitation to see Jesus weaves through John. Jesus first issued it when two disciples met Him for the first time and asked, "'Where do you stay?'"  His answer: "'Come and see'" - John 1:39. Later the same Philip from our story answered Nathanael's question about Jesus: "'Can any good come out of Galilee?'" with "'Come and see'" - John 1:46. Then the Samaritan woman invited her neighbours to check out Jesus with, "'Come, see a Man who told me all things I ever did'" - John 4:29.

    The people of Jesus' day saw Him as a human marvel of miracle-working and mind-reading wisdom. As He rode into Jerusalem, they saw Him as their Messiah. However, in our passage today we are ushered into a whole new stage of "seeing' Jesus. The IVP Commentary explains it well:

    "When Andrew and Philip announce the coming of the Greeks something wondrous happens. It triggers the moment the reader has been anticipating since the story began: Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (v. 23). As with all his cryptic sayings, this response addresses the issue, but it does so in ways incomprehensible at the time. He does not speak directly to the Greeks, but he speaks of their place in his community in the future. For he reveals that it is time for his death to take place, through which a great crop will be produced (v. 24) as he draws all men to himself (v. 32)" - The IVP New Testament Commentary Series  accessed through Biblegateway.com.

    Jesus calls his death "'glorification.'" How can death on a cross be considered this?

    "It may seem strange to refer to Jesus' death as a glorification. But the death is at the heart of the Son's revelation of the Father, for God is love and love is the laying down of one's life (cf. 1 Jn 4:8; 3:16). So in the cross the heart of God is revealed most clearly" - Ibid.

    In this time of our preparation to celebrate Jesus' passion, let's review the significance of these scenes and teachings from Jesus' life and "see" in Him God's love, willing to be sacrificed as a seed so we could have eternal life.

    PRAYER:
    Dear Jesus, thank You for this image of You as the seed of a God of love, willing to sacrifice Yourself so we could have life. 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.


    Sunday, March 13, 2016

    Our very costly oil

    Arab perfume bottles
    Image: debdebdeb / pixabay.com
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 12:1-11

    TO CHEW ON: "Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil." John 12:3

    Some of the questions that come to me as I read this story are:
    - What was special about spikenard oil and why did Mary have it on hand?
    - What was she intending to do with it?
    - Why anoint Jesus' feet?
    - What would motivate her to give such an extravagant gift?

    Study Bibles to the rescue!

    According to my New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, "Spikenard was a valuable and fragrant ointment derived from the dried roots of the herbal plant called nard. By the first century A.D. it was already being imported from its native India in alabaster boxes because of its costliness" - Siegfried Schatzmann, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1465.

    Why did Mary have this oil? According to the Quest Study Bible, she had purchased it to anoint Jesus' body when He did die (I'm sure not expecting it to be mere weeks later). "It was not uncommon for family or friends to spend enormous sums of money on strong perfumes and spices to mask the door of a decaying body" - Quest Study Bible, p. 1486.

    As for anointing Jesus' feet, the custom was to wash a guest's feet and anoint his head. QSB suggests that Mary (and another woman who also anointed Jesus' feet—Luke 7:37-38) felt unworthy to anoint His head.

    Recalling what had recently happened in Mary's life (Jesus' resurrection of her brother Lazarus), we can understand the gratitude and love and respect, and frankly awe, she had for Jesus. Her lavish gift (calculated to be "equivalent to the annual income of a labourer" - QSB, Op. Cit.) was her way of expressing all these feelings to the living Jesus.

    As the scene played out, what started as a private gesture soon became very public as the perfume scent filled the house, leading to both ridicule and praise.

    Applying this story to life, we in the 21st century have no physical Jesus on whom to pour our love and gratitude—for changed lives, hope for the future, help with our day to day living, healing (both physical and spiritual), etc. But we can still say thank you with the most precious gift we have—our lives. Paul makes the very comparison of our lives to perfume in 2 Corinthians 2:14:

    For most of us this is a private gift—a habitual and daily "yes" to what He asks of us. The perfume of this gift may not seem to be going anywhere. But there are sacrificed lives—which were also given in private—whose fragrance has "filled the house." people like David Livingstone, David Brainard, Jim Elliot and many others. I believe heaven will be full of the fragrance the the "very costly oil" of lives poured out for Jesus. May ours be among them!

    PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to continually give you my most valuable possession, my life, with words and actions that say "Yes, help Yourself to me." 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.


    Saturday, March 12, 2016

    Gain from loss

    germinating seed
    Image: Skeeze / pixabay.com
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 3:1-11

    TO CHEW ON:
    "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ." Philippians 3:8

    Would we, like Paul, have a list of things we've given up to "gain Christ"? Paul once had status as a model Jewish man and a Pharisee. Not just any Pharisee either but one who put hands and feet to his convictions against the upstart Christ-following sect  by hunting them down, persecuting and killing them. But the Damascus Road incident took place. Paul met Jesus. Then ".. what things were gain I have counted loss for Christ" - Philippians 3:7.

    It's a paradox: gain from loss.

    Jesus' teaching had many references to this paradox:

    To a rich young man who wanted to be perfect and assured Jesus he had kept the law, Jesus said: " '… go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me' " - Matthew 19:21.

    Later in answering His disciples' questions about what He has just said, Jesus said: " ' And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first' " - Matthew 19:29,30.

    After Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about dying, Jesus explained to Peter and all the disciples the sobering choice they were making: " 'Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it' " - Mark 8:34,35.

    Another time Jesus spoke about position and made this startling claim: " 'If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all' ” - Mark 9:35.

    Still another time He taught: " 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain' " - John 12:24,25.

    So we see that in his willingness to lose everything for the sake of knowing Christ, Paul was just tapping into the mindset of his Master.

    I ask myself, have I done that? Have you? What does it mean to "deny" myself, to "take up my cross," to "save" or "lose" my life, to "hate it" or "love it," to "count all things as loss" in exchange for knowing Christ. Does it have implications for what I do with my money and possessions, my time, relationships, goals, ambitions, the career I choose? I'll be pondering these questions today.


    PRAYER:
    Dear Jesus, please help me to understand in terms of everyday living, this paradox of gain from loss, and be willing to test it in my life. 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.


    Friday, March 11, 2016

    Liquid prayer

    Image: AndersAndersen / pixabay.com
    TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 126:1-6

    TO CHEW ON: "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy." Psalm 126:5


    We could call the crying in this psalm the "ministry of tears" or "liquid prayer" (C. H. Spurgeon). In a sidebar article in my Bible, Dick Eastman has identified six aspects of the ministry of tears that are pictured in the Bible ("Tears and Brokenness in Victorious Warfare," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 787):

    1. Tears of sorrow or suffering:

    King Hezekiah was at death's door. He pleaded with God for a longer life. God's answer:
    " ' I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. Behold I am healing you…" - 2 Kings 20:5 (AMP).

    2. Tears of joy:
    Twin brothers Jacob and Esau had been estranged for years following Jacob's deceiving their father over the birthright. Now Jacob needed to pass through Esau's territory with his family and possessions. Did Esau still want to kill him? How would their meeting go? Jacob spent the night before, wrestling with a heavenly Being. In the morning they met this way:
    "But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and hugged his neck and kissed him, and they wept [for joy]" - Genesis 33:4 (AMP).

    3. Tears of compassion:
    Jesus' friend Lazarus had died. As Jesus approached the home of his friend he was met by Mary and friends, all weeping. Even though he knew what He was going to do, in the moment Jesus was overcome by emotion—empathy, compassion:
    "Jesus wept" - John 11:35.

    4. Tears of desperation:
    Haman had convinced King Ahasuerus that it was a good idea to wipe out the Jews. The reaction of Mordecai (Queen Esther's relative) and other Jews in Shushan and throughout the land:
    "… He cried out with a loud and bitter cry … And in every province where the king's command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews with fasting, weeping and wailing" - Esther 4:1,3.

    5. Tears of travail:
    In Isaiah 42, the LORD promises to again provide help to His people. He describes the breakthrough as the the tears a mother cries when in the throes of labour pains:
    "I have held My peace a long time. / I have been still and restrained Myself. / Now I will cry like a woman in labor" - Isaiah 42:14.

    6. Tears of repentance:
    Turning from our sin to God is often accompanied by tears:
    "“Even now,” says the Lord,
    “Turn and come to Me with all your heart [in genuine repentance],
    With fasting and weeping and mourning [until every barrier is removed and the broken fellowship is restored]" - Joel 2:12 (AMP).

    Whatever kind tears we are shedding right now, we know that God sees, cares, and takes notice. In our times of weeping, we are comforted, for:
    "You number my wanderings;
    Put my tears into Your bottle;
    Are they not in Your book?

    When I cry out to You,
    Then my enemies will turn back;
    This I know, because God is for me" - Psalm 56:8,9


    PRAYER:
    Dear Father, help me in my times of weeping to turn to You for ultimate help.
    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.

    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)


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