Saturday, April 30, 2016

God brings us, not over but through

"Peter Released from Prison by an Ange" from Treasures of the Bible - Early Church
"Peter Released from Prison by an Angel" - from Treasures of the Bible

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 12:6-25

TO CHEW ON:
"… he (Peter) declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. … And he departed and went to another place." Acts 12:17

I have sometimes wondered, as I read this story and others in Acts, why God didn't do the entire job—here get the angel to deliver Peter out of danger completely. Instead, he just brought Peter through the prison gates, down the first street and poof! he was gone (Acts 12:10).

After telling his story to his friends at Mary's house, Peter had to use his common sense and decide what to do next. It was obviously not safe to stick around so, though it was the middle of the night, he "departed and went to another place" - Acts 12:17.

Perhaps this is how we should expect God to work in our lives too. He can, and sometimes does intervene miraculously when the situation is beyond us. But He doesn't do for us what we can do for ourselves, or take us permanently out of trouble and persecution. It is commonly thought that Peter died by crucifixion.

However, no doubt because of his own experience with it, Peter left us with some powerful benefits of suffering in his first letter:

  • It proves the authenticity of our faith - 1 Peter 1:6,7.
  • Suffering for righteousness brings a blessing - 1 Peter 3:14.
  • It purifies us - 1 Peter 4:1.
  • Through suffering we identify with Christ in a unique way - 1 Peter 4:12,13.
  • In suffering we experience the Holy Spirit and God's glory - 1 Peter 4:14, Acts 7:55.

So, it's not that God can't do the whole job, but that He knows we'll get a greater benefit from going through the tough stuff than floating over it.

PRAYER: Dear God, when I'm in the middle of a hard patch, please help me to remember that You allow suffering for my good—even though it doesn't feel good at the time. 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, April 29, 2016

Barnabas—extraordinarily ordinary

Paul and Barnabas sent - Artist unknown
Paul and Barnabas sent - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 11:19-12:5

TO CHEW ON:
"For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." Acts 11:24

In the New Testament we have many major characters like Peter, John, and Paul on whom we often focus. But there are also minor ones like Barnabas—a man Luke describes as "a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith." What qualities of character and action did he have to merit such a description? In our reading today Barnabas lives out five.

Barnabas was:

Perceptive.
We can conclude this because the disciples chose him to check out what was happening in Antioch with the new Greek converts. And when he got to Antioch, he recognized that God was at work there (Acts 11:22,23).

Positive and encouraging.
What he saw when he arrived in Antioch made him glad and he encouraged them all (Acts 11:23).

A worker who served the crowd.
He rolled up his sleeves and pitched in, working beside the original evangelists. His faith and Holy Spirit-empowered life accounted for many more conversions (Acts 11:24).

A worker who focused on one.
He remembered that new convert Saul, the one everyone had earlier feared because of his reputation for persecuting believers. But Barnabas had trusted him and introduced Saul to the fellowship in Jerusalem sometime back (Acts 9:26-30). Now he went to Tarsus to fetch Saul and add him to the Antioch ministry team (Acts 11:25,26).

Honest with money.
When Agabus prophesied a famine for Judea the believers (now called Christians) took up an offering and sent Barnabas and Saul to Judea with it.

I don't know what you picture when you hear that someone is full of the Holy Spirit and faith. A person who performs miracles? A powerful orator? Someone who lives a notch above us everyday plodders?

I love this picture of Barnabas whose life is a demonstration of how ordinary are the qualities the Spirit uses: discernment, a positive encouraging attitude, a work ethic, an awareness of others' strengths and where they could be of use in the church, and reliability and honesty.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Barnabas. Help me not to spurn the lowly character qualities that, when empowered by Your Spirit and faith, can enable us to accomplish much in 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.






Thursday, April 28, 2016

A divine tatoo

Alpha and Omega
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 21:22-22:5

TO CHEW ON: "And they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads." Revelation 22:4

Two wonderful things about the future of the redeemed ones in heaven (our future) stand out in these verses:

1. "They shall see His face…"
Looking at God in the face is certainly something people could not do in Old and New Testament times (Exodus 33:20). Though some prophets had visions of God (Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 1:1), looking at Him face to face was something Bible writers only anticipated (Psalm 17:15; Isaiah 33:17).

But here, in his vision, John sees what he has looked forward to: "…but we know that when He is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" - 1 John 3:2.

Seeing His face, writes my Bible commenter, means "The redeemed enjoy perfect fellowship with God and the Lamb" - Earl Wesley Morey, notes on Revelation, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1846.

2. "… His name shall be on their foreheads."
A divine tattoo!

We mark things in this way now. Cattle are branded with their owner's mark to show whose possession they are. Slaves were once tattooed or physically marked in some way. Revelation 3:12 also speaks of such a mark: "He who overcomes … I will write on him the name of My God ... And I will write on Him a new name."

Such marks, say my Bible's footnotes, show "… possession by God, a spiritual citizenship, and a reflection of the character of Christ" - Ibid, p. 1822 (emphasis added).

Won't that be grand! No more barriers to seeing Him face to face, but marked as His possession and having His character!

"For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" - 1 Corinthians 13:12.

PRAYER: Dear God, what a thing to look forward to! Help me to be an "overcomer" in this life as I anticipate perfect fellowship with You in heaven. Amen.

MORE: We Shall Behold Him - sung by Sandi Patti




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

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Day of the Lord is coming

credit cards and open padlock
"The day of the Lord is coming
like a thief in the night" - 2 Peter 3:10
Photo courtesy RGBStock.com

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 14:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Behold the day of the Lord is coming…" Zechariah 14:1

What a heavy duty ending to the book of Zechariah! For a moment I thought I was reading Revelation. My Bible's study notes echo that sentiment, describing this chapter: "… it coincides with many of the events in Revelation. The nature of the language, like that in Revelation is apocalyptic (highly symbolic, prophetic language" - D. W. Shibley,  Zechariah study notes, New Spirit-Filled Life  Bible p. 1262.

Besides its similarity to Revelation, I am struck by the phrases and scenarios in Zechariah 14 that sound familiar. We find something very similar in other places in the Bible:

- The gathering of all nations: Zechariah 14:2 compare Joel 3:2.
- The return of Messiah - Zechariah 14:4 compare Acts 1:9-12.
- A battle in a valley - Zechariah 14:4,5 compare Joel 3:2.
- A time of terror and running away - Zechariah 14:5 compare Matthew 24:16-20.
- The Lord returns with His saints - Zechariah 14:5,6 compare 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17.
- There will be unusual and untimely darkness - Zechariah 14:6-7 compare Matthew 24:29.
- A river flows from Jerusalem - Zechariah 14:8 compare Ezekiel 47:1-12.
- The Lord is king over all the earth - Zechariah 14:9 compare Revelation 11:15.
- Jerusalem survives - Zechariah 14:11 compare Jeremiah 31:40.
- A time of panic and confusion is coming - Zechariah 14:13 compare Matthew 24:10.

As we read these predictions of terrifying judgment that echo through the pages of the Bible, how should we respond?

One thought that keeps occurring to me is—we've been warned. When God gives prophetic visions with so many similar elements to different men across the ages, and Jesus Himself predicts them, it's only a matter of time before these things will come about. So we'd best be prepared.

How do we get ready? Jesus ended His prophecy about end times in Matthew with three parables about being ready.
  • We need to be like the five wise virgins of Matthew 25:1-13 by keeping our lamps full of oil, that is, our lives full of and available to the Holy Spirit.
  • We need to be like the good servants in Jesus' parable of the talents of Matthew 25:14-30 by faithfully stewarding what we've been given of gifts and opportunities.
  • We need to be like the sheep in the final judgments scenes recorded in Matthew 25:31-46, busy extending mercy to those whose plight breaks the heart of God.


PRAYER: Dear God, please burn into my consciousness the inevitability of the Day of the Lord. Help me to live today and each day with that day in mind. Amen.

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


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Fiery refining

Liquid gold
Liquid gold - Courtesy RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 13:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "I will bring one-third through the fire,
Will refine them as silver is refined,
And test them as gold is tested
They will call on My name;
And I will answer them.
I will say, 'This is My people';
And each one will say, 'The Lord is my God' " - Zechariah 13:9


This chilling prophecy was fulfilled in the near term for Israel in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was overrun and sacked by the Romans. The connection is clear because of the picture of the struck shepherd and scattered sheep (Zechariah 13:7) that precedes it. Jesus, who referred to Himself as the shepherd (John 10) quoted words from Zechariah 13:7 to warn His disciples of what would happen with them when He would be struck down (Matthew 26:31). The disciples were scattered first at His crucifixion, and after the establishment of the church by persecution. Jerusalem was destroyed by fire, as predicted.

However, I believe we can view this prophecy of refining as something that is for the entire church age. "No clearer picture of Jesus and His suffering church is given in the Old Testament" says the Reformation Study Bible comments on verse 9.

As we look at some of the places the Bible mentions refining / testing, we see the methods  God uses to refine and what He wants to accomplish.

  • Job's test (through a complete turnaround in fortunes and bad health to boot) was to prove what he was really made of (Job 23:10).
  • The writer of Proverbs talked of God's correction as a proof of His parenthood and love (Proverbs 3:12).
  • Isaiah spoke of God's "hand against you" that was meant to "purge away your dross and take away all your alloy" —a picturesque way of saying God's tests are a way to rid us of all that isn't the real thing (Isaiah 1:25).
  • In another place Isaiah talked of testing in the furnace of "affliction" (Isaiah 48:10). "Affliction" - oniy means "affliction, poverty, misery."
  • In our passage the refining through fire was meant to bring the tested ones back to God. They pray, He answers, and they are reunited in a new identity and loyalty (Zechariah 14:9).
  • In Malachi the ministering tribe—Levites—were refined so that their ministry would be acceptable (Malachi 3:3).
  • Peter talked about faith developing through testing—faith that showed itself to be genuine and that results in "praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7).
  • Peter further reminded us to expect such testing rather than be surprised by it (1 Peter 4:12).

Testing, affliction, refining through fire… I don't particularly want them. You probably don't either. Still, such tests will probably come our way in one form or another.

I love the challenge in Paul Baloche's song "We Will Hold On." In the first stanza he speaks of the kind of tests we've listed above—being "persecuted and reviled ..."

In Stanza 2, he talks of another kind of test—one that might be more familiar to many of us: "We are tested by the blessing / With all the comforts of the world surrounding" (emphasis added).  That's a test that's much more to our liking, though probably as telling a test as any and as easy to fail.  For the temptation is to think we don't need Him and try to get by on our own.

Whatever test comes our way, let's accept the challenge of the Bible to stay with God. As Baloche puts it: "We will hold on to Your love" - Paul Baloche ("We Will Hold On" from the CD Glorious, Integrity Music, © 2009).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to pass all the tests You send my way. Be very close to our brothers and sisters around the world whose lives are a series of fiery refinings. May I be prepared for a time when the same may be true of me. Amen.

MORE: "We Will Hold On"



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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, April 25, 2016

The importance of BELIEF

Jesus appears to Mary - Artist unknown
Jesus appears to Mary - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 16:9-20

TO CHEW ON: "'He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.'" Mark 16:16

The word "believe" in one form or another occurs seven times in our reading. The dictionary defines believe as: "To have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so."

What did these disciples believe or disbelieve? There seem to be two matters:
- That Jesus had actually appeared to those who told of seeing Him.
- That Jesus was who He said He was and could do what He said He could do (implied by what he says in Mark 16:16).

Their belief or lack of it affected them in several ways:


1. It made a difference in their relationship with each other. I'm sure wedges appeared in their friendships when they didn't believe the accounts of the eye witnesses—Mary Magdalene and the Emmaus disciples.

2. It affected their own spiritual health and receptivity. Jesus "… rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart" - Mark 16:14.

3. Their belief or unbelief had the potential to determine their salvation and eternal destiny - Mark 16:16.

4. It affected their ability to do miracles. Jesus promised signs following and confirming the word preached to those who "'...believe...'" - Mark 16:17.

Before we're too hard on the disciples, though, let's look at ourselves. When we hear a story of an instant healing, or of someone having a vision, or of some unexplainable escape from disaster, do we believe the account, or in our hearts pooh-pooh it? Do we really believe that a person's faith in Jesus, or their disbelief, affects their eternal destiny? Do miracles confirm our ministry? Maybe we too are guilty of unbelief and hard hearts.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I confess I have been guilty of unbelief and having a hard heart. I want my faith to be an asset to Your Kingdom and the church. 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, April 24, 2016

Tabernacle thoughts

Inage: Noel_Bauza / pixabay.com
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 21:1-21

TO CHEW ON:
 “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people, God Himself will be with them and be their God.’” Revelation 21:3


Portable homes range from pup tents that weigh ounces to grand motorized coaches that are all but castles on wheels. However, even the grandest doesn’t compare to the tabernacle (skene – tent) of God, shown to John in his Revelation vision.

Throughout the Bible the tabernacle signifies God’s dwelling place. He gave Moses instructions on how to make the first physical tabernacle on Mount Sinai – an elaborate tent made with specific materials and completely dis-assemblable. The Israelites carried it with them during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, putting it up at each extended stop. God’s glory hovered over it and so possessed the Holy of Holies, no unsanctioned person could go into it and remain alive.

When Solomon built the temple, the physical portable tabernacle was retired. But Bible writers continue to refer to it:
  • David talks about being hidden in God’s tabernacle in the time of trouble (Psalm 27:5).
  • The writer to the Hebrews explains how Christ’s sacrifice on the cross brought an end to the need for the High Priest’s yearly visit into the most sacred Holy of Holies. No longer did he need to go into that room of the tabernacle (or temple) with a blood sacrifice to atone for sins. (Hebrews 9:6-15)
  • God spreads his tabernacle over the saints who come out of the tribulation in Revelation 7:15.
  • The beast blasphemes it in Revelation 13:6.
  • And in Reveation 15:5 “the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.”
In our reading today, a heavenly voice declares to John that God’s tabernacle is with men. Then John sees an indescribably beautiful city – the New Jerusalem – also called His bride, descending from heaven. It’s an incredible sight to picture and even more incredible to think that we will someday be a part of such an event!

Until then, though, God has a far humbler tabernacle. Us. You and me. Though the exact word “tabernacle” isn’t used, we are plainly told in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 that we are God’s dwelling place. What an honor, privilege and responsibility!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to begin to grasp the significance of being Your dwelling place on earth. Help me to live accordingly. Amen.

MORE: Michael Card sings “The New Jerusalem




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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.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Doubting nothing"

Peter in the house of Cornelius - by Gustave Dore
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 11:1-18

TO CHEW ON: “‘Then the Spirit told me to go with them doubting nothing.’” Acts 11:12

“In my lifetime I have had certain, if few, remarkable instances of the presence of God,” writes David Adams Richards in his book God Is: My Search for Faith in a Secular World. “From my very earliest days, I recognized this presence now and again…These instances most often came in ways I least expected from the time I was a child.” (God Is. David Adams Richards, Location 732 – Kindle Version)

Richards goes on to relate incident after incident where happenings from his life spoke to him of divine providence, with events dovetailing in amazing ways.
  • As a youth he was in a high speed car crash but escaped without a scratch while a school buddy was killed in a freakish traffic mishap going a mere 30 miles per hour. 
  • He came across a gift he had meant to give his dying mother 20 years to the day after her death. 
  • A stray paper poking from between books on his shelf turned out to be a photograph. It was a picture of a little girl and her mother – the girl he and his wife helped look after when her immigrant mother discovered she had brain cancer. In the picture, the mother, whose cancer had just been discovered, was still beautiful. He found it years after the mother’s death, but only an hour before the girl, her father and grandmother were to arrive to visit (they had moved back to Europe).

In our reading today Peter, when called to task by the Jerusalem apostles over eating with an uncircumcised Gentile (Cornelius) had exactly such a miraculous “coincidence” to relate. His vivid vision, followed by Cornelius’s servants at the door, and the readiness of Cornelius and his family to hear what Peter had to say convinced the apostles that this new development was actually a God-thing: “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God saying ‘then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life’ Acts 1:18.

Have you had such evidences of God in your life? I have. For example, I often find that things I read or hear relate directly to something I am writing. I will find a quote that catches my eye in a book or internet article and the next day that very idea presents itself in the Bible reading for this devotional or some other piece I’m writing.

Let’s watch for the many ways God tells us, “I am here – right beside you, going with you through this day.” Let’s gratefully accept the signs of His presence “doubting nothing.”

PRAYER: Dear God, Thank you for these little assurances of Your presence. Help me to be alert to them, and acknowledge You in them today. Amen.

MORE: Looking for God
David Adams Richards is an award-winning Canadian writer. He is most known for his fiction. His writing, which has been compared to that of William Faulkner, has won many awards (Governor General’s, Giller Prize).

Links to articles about God Is.

"Canada's literary community gets religion all wrong" by David Adams Richards - excerpts from God Is.

"Author finds God is in the details" by Stuart Laidlaw

God Is by David Adams Richards (available from Amazon.com)

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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, April 22, 2016

How impartial are you?

The Baptism of a Centurion" by Michel Corneille the Elder - 17th Century
 The Baptism of a Centurion" by Michel Corneille the Elder - 17th Century

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 10:34-48

TO CHEW ON: “Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.’” Acts 10:34

Though Canadian society pays lip service to being impartial, discrimination is all around us. We make judgments about people on the basis of the color of their skin and their ability to speak the language of the country (here, English). We fawn all over entertainers and sports heroes while heaping scorn on folks in other professions simply because of the career they’ve chosen. (Currently it’s fashionable to dump on the police and politicians. Of course TV evangelists are always suspect, as is anyone who speaks out on the wrong side of subjects where political correctness reigns.)

Thankfully God sees through all veneers. He doesn’t give us more points if our skin is white or colored, speak perfectly or brokenly, dress with fashion savvy or in the dumpy clothes we’ve hung onto since the '80s. He sees past our variegated pasts, our personality quirks, and the lines, wrinkles and gray hair that declare us past our best-before dates.

Here he saw the sincerity of Cornelius’s heart. He saw how this Gentile had acted on the knowledge that he had, proving himself a man of prayer and generosity. As a result when God sent Peter to Cornelius to explain the gospel more fully and baptized him and his household with the Holy Spirit, He gave Cornelius a gift that was probably beyond anything this Roman centurion had imagined.

Impartiality is a godly attitude. God is:
- Impartial to worldly rank, power and wealth. Job 34:18-19
- Impartial in lavishing good natural gifts on all mankind. Matthew 5:44,45
- Impartiality regardless of nationality. Acts 10:34-36
- Impartial between Jews and Gentiles. Romans 2:9-11; Romans 10:12
- Impartial in ways we don’t always understand. Matthew 20:13-15

The standard for us as God-followers is to be impartial too. We are to be:
- Impartial in the face of wealth and position. Leviticus 19:15
- Impartial in judgment. Deuteronomy 1:17
- Impartial in the face of the temptation to make an unjust, though popular judgment. Proverbs 18:5
- Impartial in appointing leaders. 1 Timothy 5:21-22
- Impartial in loving and accepting our Christian brothers and sisters. James 2:1-9

Though we will never have the insight into people that God has, we can cultivate His generous, fair heart of acceptance and love. Showing impartiality (like God and Peter showed to Cornelius) is another way we can fit in with His grand purpose of helping to further His kingdom on earth.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize prejudice and bias in myself. Help me to see others through Your eyes. 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.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Who scripts your life?

Image: pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 10:17-33

TO CHEW ON: "And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together." Acts 10:27

I love the sense of order and planning that fills this story—divine, not human order and planning.

Peter's thrice repeated vision, followed by the explicit instructions of the Holy Spirit (Acts 21:19,20), followed by the arrival of Cornelius's servants and Peter's trip to Caesarea with them, followed by his meeting of Cornelius, hearing his story and seeing the crowd gathered in anticipation of his arrival—it all feels scripted. That's because it was, by God the Spirit Himself!

Suppose Peter had done what I am too often prone to do? What if he had rationalized away the vision (I sure get crazy when I'm hungry), doubted the voice of the Spirit (it's probably just my imagination), and refused to drop everything and go with Cornelius's servants (but my day is all planned)? But he didn't and we have the wonderful story of Acts 10 with its reverberations down to our day as a result.

A snippet from the devotional book I read last night comes to mind. In his meditation on James 4:5, Rick Renner concludes:
"So make your relationship with the Holy Spirit your top priority. Don't give Him a reason to feel betrayed by or envious of other things in your life that have taken His place. Get to know the Holy Spirit's voice in your spirit so He can help you set your life in order. Make sure every area of your life is under His loving control" - Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek, Kindle Location 3791.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, I want to get to know You so well that I always recognize Your voice. Then help me to have a willing spirit that allows You to script 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.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Erecting memorials on our knees

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 10:1-16

TO CHEW ON: “About the ninth hour of the day, he saw clearly in the vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And when he observed him he was afraid, and said, ‘What is it Lord?’ So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial to God.’ Acts 10:3,4

It has become customary in the last few years to erect roadside memorials near the sites of accidents where people have died. You’ll find such fading crosses and makeshift cairns along many a Canadian roadside and street. Though at first they are surrounded by flowers, teddy bears, cards and other bits of memorabilia, the continued care of some surprises me. It probably shouldn’t, because it’s not unusual to want to keep the memory of a loved one alive. A tidy, well-maintained memorial is testimony to the fact that someone wants the world to keep remembering the person they loved.

The angel who came to Cornelius called his alms and prayers “a memorial before God.”

[Memorial [mnemon – here mnemosunom]: means mindful, to call to mind, to make mention of. It is also translated recall, remember, remembered, remembering, thinking.]

In the Bible a memorial is usually a reminder to us (humans) about some aspect of God and our relationship to Him. Feasts (the Passover, the Lord’s Supper) are called memorials (Exodus 13:9, 1 Corinthians 11:24). They remind us of God’s action on our behalf. The memorial manna sample was a reminder of God’s care in giving the Israelites  daily food (Exodus 16:32). The extravagant anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary of Bethany at Simon's dinner was the memorial she left to us as someone who loved well (Matthew 26:13). Here, though, the memorial goes the other way. Cornelius’s alms and prayers reminded God of him (Acts 10:4).

I believe our prayers operate in the same way. It’s comforting to think of petitions uttered on behalf of friends, kids, family members, communities, countries, leaders, even the world as little crosses beside the streets of heaven – little reminders to God: Don’t forget Susie with cancer, Doug the prodigal, Chad the missionary, my Prime Minister, the victims of current natural disasters… Let’s keep praying and maintaining our memorials as strong, fresh, and urgent before God.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for this picture of my prayers. Help me to understand the seriousness and necessity of them. Amen.


MORE:
"Why cannot an omnipotent God, knowing our needs, supply them without waiting for our prayers? He could, of course, but that is not His plan for His children on earth. Instead, He has dared to arrange it so that He is actually dependent upon us in the sense of prayers being necessary and all-important to the carrying out of His will on earth." Catherine Marshall - The Helper, 1978.

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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, April 19, 2016

Faith food

Jesus at the Feast of Dedication - James Tissot
Jesus at the Feast of Dedication - James Tissot
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 10:22-42

TO CHEW ON: ‘I told you and you do not believe…. But you do not believe because you are not My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow me.’” John 10:25-27

When the Jews surrounded Jesus in the temple during the Feast of Dedication demanding “'If you are the Christ tell us plainly,'” they had one goal – to get Jesus to incriminate Himself. They were not asking for proof of His deity in order to reassure themselves that He was God and believe in Him. They were not even looking to Him as a potential Messiah to free their nation from the Romans. They completely overlooked the miracles that pointed to the fact He was no ordinary man. All they wanted was proof (again) from His own mouth, of blasphemy. Then they planned to arrest Him and get rid of Him as a rival.

The same teachings and miracles of Jesus referred to when talking to the Jews had a far different effect on the “many who came to Him… and believed in Him.” The difference: a willingness to believe.

The same is true for people of our generation. Though we don’t have Jesus in person as they did, we have the Bible. I’m sure you’ve noticed its different effects on people. Some laugh it off as a collection of archaic writings that have nothing at all to say to them. Others read it with reservations and attempt to twist it to say what they want it to say. Still others consider it truth, the very words of God. To them it is direction for life and hope in death. Whatever one’s perception of Jesus and what He said according to the Bible, it hinges on one thing: a decision to believe - or not.

How do we come to that point of belief? How do we encourage it in others? Through exposure to the Bible. John Piper says:
“The Word of God begets and sustains spiritual life because it begets and sustains faith: “These are written,” John says, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31). “Faith comes from hearing,” writes the apostle Paul, “and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The faith that starts our life in Christ and by which we go on living comes from hearing the Word of God.” - John Piper, Desiring God, p. 146 (emphasis his).

If you are having trouble believing in and hearing the voice of your Shepherd, spend time in the Bible. Read it, memorize it, think about it, do it. Your exposure to God’s word will plant the seed of faith and grow it into the desire and ability to live an obedient life.

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to hear Your voice. Help me to read, understand and obey Your Word. Amen

MORE: At the age of 19 Abraham Piper, son of John Piper, was an avowed atheist. He came to faith one morning by reading the book of Romans. His advice to parents with prodigal kids:
"When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple of lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation—better than any correction—is for them to see Christ’s joy in your life.


Don’t stress out when you’re composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child’s inbox. God’s Word is never useless."

Read his story: “Let Them Come Home.

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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, April 18, 2016

Do you know His voice?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 10:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." John 10:4

"If Christians do not know when God is speaking they are in trouble at the heart of their Christian lives," says Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God (Workbook p. 90).

In our passage today Jesus compares Himself to a shepherd leading a flock. The members of His flock, He assures the disciples, know His voice.

The Bible says a lot about God's voice — hearing it, recognizing it, responding to it. If we count ourselves members of His flock, we do well to study what the Bible says about these things, to make sure we do recognize that it's His voice we're hearing. From a brief (and incomplete) study, here are some distinguishing things about God's voice:

1. He first comes to you and me as a guest. Jesus asks ("if anyone hears My voice") to be given admittance to our lives (Revelation 3:20).

2. His voice is personal
  • He knows your name and my name, and what drives us (Acts 9:3-5).
  • His call is our opportunity to acknowledge Him and what He is to us (John 20:16).
  • Listening to His voice becomes the key to our destiny, as Saul/Paul discovered - Acts 22:14.

3. His voice speaks words of life to our death (Luke 8:52-54; John 5:25).

4. His voice speaks truth (John 18:37).

5. His voice comes with probing questions - "What do you want me to do for you?" He asked the blind men (Matthew 20:32).

6. His voice may come to us in new tones. John heard it as a trumpet and as the sound of many waters (Revelation 1:10,15).

7. It is, above all, a loved, welcome, joy-inspiring voice (Song of Songs 2:8; John 3:29). We respond to it any time we hear it, even letting it awake us from sleep (Song of Songs 5:2).

8. It is a voice that we come to recognize as reliable, trustworthy, and safe to follow (John 10:4,16,27).

I ask myself, do I know God's voice in these ways? When He speaks, do I respond with quick obedience?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to always recognize Your voice and to be a fruitful hearer (Luke 8:15). Amen.

MORE: Respond Immediately
"When God spoke to Moses, what Moses did next was crucial. After Jesus spoke to the disciples, what they did next was paramount. What you do immediately after the Spirit of God speaks to you through His Word is critical. Our problem is that when the Spirit of God speaks to us, we want to debate. Moses engaged in a long discussion with God (see Exodus 3:11-4:13), and it limited him for the rest of his life. After that discussion Moses had to speak to the people through His brother Aaron (see Exodus 4:14-16).

Regularly review what you sense God has been saying to you. If God speaks and you hear but do not respond, a time could come when you do not hear His voice. Disobedience can lead to a "famine of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11-12). - Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God Workbook, p. 96.
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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, April 17, 2016

The mystery of miracles

Peter Raises Dorcas - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 9:32-43

TO CHEW ON: "All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord … This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord." Acts 9:34,42

I love how these miracles, performed through Peter, led to chain reactions. The healing of the paralyzed Aeneas resulted in conversions in Lydda and Sharon. When Dorcas died a short distance away (in Joppa) the disciples sent for Peter. (Did they expect him to raise her from the dead, I wonder?) She came  back to life and word spread all over town and resulted in many more conversions.

A sidebar article in my Bible explains:
"There is a clear pattern in the NT in which evangelism or even mass evangelism follows demonstrations of God's kingdom power (Mark 16:14-20; Acts 5:12,14; 9:35,42 [our reading]; Acts 13:14-12; 19:11-20)" - Todd Hunter, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p.1508.

Possible reactions to miracles:

However, demonstrations of God's kingdom power (miracles) do not always result belief. In a Sunday sermon several weeks ago, the speaker at my church named six possible reactions to miracles. These were reactions when Jesus healed the man born blind (John 9:2-38). These reactions could follow the miracles we see today as well:
  • Logic - reaction of the disciples in John 9:2.
  • Tradition - reaction of the neighbours in John 9:8.
  • Religion - reaction of the Pharisees - John 9:13.
  • Unbelief - reaction of the Jews - John 9:18.
  • Fear - reaction of the man's parents - John 9:20.
  • Belief - reaction of the healed man - John 9:25, 35-38.

Why doesn't God give me a miracle?


Finally, I ask myself—and you—these questions about miracles:

1. What is my attitude toward God when He denies a miracle? I can think of many, many people who have prayed for a miracle but it hasn't happened.

2. Is there a way to convince God to perform one? Does my faith, obedience, prayer and fasting, etc., have everything to do with it? Anything to do with it?

3. The purpose of God sending a miracle, or not, isn't, according to the Bible, mainly concerned with my well-being, comfort, release from pain and suffering, prosperity etc.


The purpose of miracles:

Looking up the list of references under "Miracles Testify" in my Thompson Chain Bible reveals some of the pre-church and early church purposes of miracles:
  • Reveal Jesus' identity as Messiah and deity - Luke 5:7; John 3:2; 6:14; 7:31; 9:32; 10:25, 37-38; Acts 4:30.
  • Lead to awe and praise of God - Luke 7:17; Acts 3:10.
  • Lead to people believing in and coming to faith in Jesus - John 2:23; 4:53; 11:15, 45, 48; 20:30; Acts 9:34, 42 (our story).  
  • Show that God is present - Matthew 27:54; Acts 2:22.
  • Not always understood. If anyone could have used a miracle, it was the imprisoned John the Baptist. Yet Jesus never intervened on his behalf, telling him, instead, not to stumble over this - Luke 7:22.
  • Cause people to pay attention to the message of the miracle-worker - Acts 8:6.
  • Are distributed according to God's will - Hebrews 2:4.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, I believe Your miracle-working power is as strong today as ever. Help me to fit in with Your plans and if those include miracles, may You get all the 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.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Holy Spirit-Comforter

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 9:19b-31

TO CHEW ON: "Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied." Acts 9:31

After a time of hounding and upheaval the church had a period of peace and grew as its members walked in the "... comfort of the Holy Spirit." I can imagine them in almost a daze of relief as the winds of persecution eased and they experienced a stretch of smooth sailing .

In His role as Comforter, Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as Helper.

["Comfort - paraklesis - means a calling alongside to help, to comfort, to give consolation or encouragement. The paraklete is a strengthening presence, one who upholds those appealing for assistance" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1508.]

Jesus spoke to His disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit and how He would help them in John 14, 15 and 16. He said:
  • Holy Spirit would be with them forever - John 14:16.
  • He would live with them and in them - John 14:17.
  • He would teach them the things of God and help them remember these things when they needed to recall them - John 14:26.
  • He would come with authority ("sent from the Father"), speak truth and testify of Jesus - John 15:26.
  • He would be the One to convict unbelievers of sin, righteousness, and judgment (and hadn't those early Christians just seen that play out in living color in the life of Saul!) - John 16:7,8.
  • He would reveal things to come - John 16:13.

Holy Spirit Comforter/Helper is still with us today. We don't ever need to feel that we're stuck doing God's work alone. We believe that He is with us and in us. He will help us understand the things of God and bring them to our memories. He is the One who convicts unbelieving family members, friends, neighbours, and associates of their sin and their need for salvation. He can prepare us for what's ahead.

Let's walk in the comfort of the Holy Spirit today.


PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, thank You for Your comforting presence in my life. Please help me to experience You as teacher, prompter of what to say, the one who convicts of sin, prophet, and revealer of truth in Jesus and the Father. Amen.


MORE: "The Comforter Has Come" - Jars of Clay





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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, April 15, 2016

Grace to believe

Traditional Jewish man (Image: Pixabay.com)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 12:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for his only son and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn." Zechariah 12:10


In her 2015 memoir Love Triangles, Bobbie Ann Cole (a British-born Jew who recognizes Jesus as Messiah) tells the story of her sojourn in Israel where she, with her Gentile husband decided to become citizens. (For her it was called making aliyah.)

However, the cloud over the whole experience was the fact that she felt she had to hide her belief in Jesus as Messiah in order to be accepted. Though in public speeches the Prime Minister lauded Israeli democracy and tolerance, she knew of many Messianic Jews who experienced nothing but roadblocks in their attempts to become Israeli citizens. Her conclusion: "The nation whose vision I heartily embraced had a policy of waging war on Jewish believers like me" - Love Triangles, Kindle Location 1898.

The prophecy in our today's reading predicts a time when there will be a change, not only in Israel's political position from besieged to besieger (Zechariah 12:6), but also its spiritual position from rejection to acceptance of "… Me whom they pierced …"  (Zechariah 12:10).

"Me whom they pierced" sounds like Jesus.

How will this change take place? Through an outpouring of "the Spirit of grace and supplication." A sidebar article in my Bible explaining the word grace says:

"God's grace poured out upon Jerusalem enables them to look longingly and beseechingly toward their pierced King. God's grace will result in Israel's seeing Jesus as someone of infinite beauty" - Dick Mills, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1261.

I would submit that God's grace is necessary to open the eyes of not only Jewish people but Gentiles as well concerning who Jesus is, what He did, and its personal significance. Let's pray for God to pour on all our unbelieving loved ones this "Spirit of grace and supplication" even as we continue to pray for currently beleaguered Jerusalem and its peace (Psalm 122:6).

PRAYER: Dear Father, Help me to never overlook the necessity of the wooing of Your Spirit to draw people to Jesus. I pray that He will be active in the lives of my loved ones who don't recognize Jesus for who He is and what He did. 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, April 14, 2016

Responding to our shepherds

Shepherds (Image: Pixabay.com)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zechariah 11:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Then I said, 'I will not feed you. Let what is dying die, and what is perishing, perish. Let those who are left eat each others flesh.'" Zechariah 11:9


One of the contradictory things about human nature is how we need leadership yet often resist it. There is something within us that wants our own way. When a leader (parent, teacher, pastor, boss) reins us in, we push back. At such a time, sometimes a leader gives up.

That seems to be the case here in Zechariah. In explanation of Zechariah 11:9, the Reformation Study Bible says:
"The prophet is appointed to be a good shepherd, but because he is rejected, he forsakes the flock (vs. 9) As a good shepherd, the prophet is a type of the coming messianic Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who came as the Good shepherd and laid down His life for the sheep (John 19:11-18)" - Reformation Study Bible, accessed through BibleGateway.com.

The consequences of this rejection are sobering. For starters the good, but finished shepherd of Zechariah breaks his rods of Beauty and Bonds.

Remember in Psalm 23 where David says, "Your rod and staff, they comfort me"? These shepherd tools of rod and staff were used to discipline the sheep, protect them, and rescue them from danger. Though perhaps sometimes misunderstood, they were part of the shepherd's care.

Now in the face of the rebellious people these tools of discipline and care— Beauty, the covenant between God and Israel (Zechariah 11:10), and Bonds, the unity of the nation (Zechariah 11:14)—are broken.

In addition to the prophetic overtones of this passage (in it we see predicted Judas' betrayal—compare Zechariah 11:12,13 with Matthew 26:14-16 and Matthew 27:3-10), it serves as a warning to any of us tempted to stray from our Shepherd Jesus and resist the leadership He has put us under.

His ways may sometimes seem harsh but His wounds are wounds of love, the rod and staff of wise care. Contrast that with the shepherds that God gives the people over to in  Zechariah's time—uncaring, callous toward the vulnerable, unresponsive to the needs of the flock, selfish and brutal - Zechariah 11:16.

So how are we to respond to leadership? Four examples from the Bible come to mind.

  • Paul tells the Christians in Rome to obey governing authorities - Romans 13:1-7.
  •  He tells Timothy to remind his parishioners to pray for leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
  • However, the disciples also resisted the commands of the religious leaders of the day when they were told to cease preaching the gospel (Acts 5:29). 
  • Above all and in every sphere we need to recognize and respond to the voice of our Jesus, our spiritual Shepherd (John 10:4).


PRAYER: Dear Jesus my Good Shepherd, help me to submit to You and the rod and staff of the "shepherds" you have placed over me. When their leadership is ungodly, show me when to resist and when to obey even as I continue to ask You to help and guide all those in leadership over me. Amen.

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


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Living in God's house

church - house
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 23:1-6

TO CHEW ON: "… And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever"  Psalm 23:6 NKJV


"…and through the length of days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place."  Psalm 23:6 Amplified

Most of us spend only a tiny percentage of our week in church. David, the writer of this psalm, may have spent more time in the temple than we spend in church, but he surely didn't live there. So what did he mean by "I will dwell in the house of the Lord / Forever"? Isn't that even a little weird?

Let's start answering that by thinking about what happens in God's house—in David's time and still today. There is worship, praise, and thanksgiving in word, music and singing. There is prayer, repentance, fellowship, testimony, and giving.

Of course all of the things above are also things we could do in other places as well. So we might ask, could dwelling in the house of the Lord mean bringing more of what happens in church into other places, like our everyday living? Could we bring more gratitude, worship and praise expressed in singing and speaking, more sensitivity to sin and quickness to repent, more eagerness to share what God is doing with those our lives touch every day, more generosity with our time, our stuff, ourselves, our home...?

The way the Amplified Bible adds "[and His presence] shall be my dwelling place" gives us another clue concerning this type of life. How do we live in God's presence?
  • "I have set the Lord always before me" says David in Psalm 16:8, implying a conscious effort to remember God is here.
  • We cultivate a humble attitude - Psalm 34:18.
  • We concentrate on His goodness to us - Psalm 75:1.
  • We call on him (pray) - Psalm 145:18.
  • We trust Him - Psalm 73:28.
  • We purify our consciences of known sin - Hebrews 10:22.
  • We draw near to Him even when He doesn't feel near to us and suddenly we realize He was there all the time - James 4:8.
  • And of course we live in Him, He in us, as we allow His life to flow to/through us - John 15:5,7,10.

Maybe it's not so impossible, or weird, to live in God's house all the time after all!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live in Your 'house,' conscious of Your presence today. Amen.

MORE: "Better Is One Day In Your House" by Matt Redman




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

Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation - Used with permission.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

All nations, tribes, peoples and tongues


TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 7:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “After these things I looked, and behold a great multitude, 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 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’” Revelation 7:9-10


We have an annual missions emphasis month in our church, which in years past opened with a flag parade. As I watched people march in carrying the national flags from around the world, I invariably got a choke in my throat and tears in my eyes. The verse above always came to mind.

Despite what critics say about Christianity being a religion for only certain races or nations of people (and the rest should hold to their traditional beliefs and customs as a birthright for them and an anthropological curiosity for us), faith in Christ is available for and has been found and claimed by at least some citizens of almost all countries on all earth’s continents. Here John sees this multinational crowd in heaven, praising God and Jesus.

When he asks from where they come, an elder answers, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.” An end note in my Bible explains about “come out”:


“Literally ‘ones coming out’ a present participle, expressing a continuous and repeated action, not a once-for-all action. This is not a post-consummation picture. Therefore, tribulation is to some degree taking place throughout the entire church age. The great tribulation describes the acceleration and intensification of troublesome times as this age comes to an end, climaxing in the Rapture and Second coming”- Earl Wesley Morey, in the commentary on Revelation, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1827.

[The word tribulation used here (thlipsis) is the same one Jesus used to describe our lot on earth in John 16:33. It means pressure, oppression, stress, anguish, tribulation, adversity, affliction, crushing, squashing, squeezing, distress.] 

Though those of us living in free societies may label our treatment by those opposed to Christ as tribulation, books like Tortured for Christ and Kabul 24 give us instances of real tribulation in graphic color. It’s happening right now, and all around the world.

The amazing thing about the tribulation victims pictured in Revelation 7 is that they not only come through such an experience with their faith intact, but full of praise to God. When I hear or read about people living through tribulation, I often ask myself, how would I do? The persevering  power of the gospel illustrated here fills me with hope!  

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Canada where I have freedom to believe and worship according to my conscience. Please be with those who are suffering tribulation now. Help them to have the courage to persevere and hold onto their faith.

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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, April 11, 2016

Six sinister seals

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 6:1-17

TO CHEW ON:
 “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders of the mighty men, every slave and every free man hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come and who is able to stand?’” Revelation 6:15-17

Revelation 6 reminds me of some poetry. Even though I don’t understand specifics, the images and tone are enough to send shivers up and down my back.

My Bible includes notes about the interpretation of the six seals described here (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible Revelation study notes written by Earl Wesley Morey, p. 1825, 1826).

1. Seal 1 (Revelation 6:2): The white horse could be symbolic of international power politics in the form of military conquest, or it could be a symbol of Christ moving in triumph through His church during the events that follow.

2. Seal 2 (Revelation 6:3,4): The red horse is symbolic of civil war and strife.

3. Seal 3 (Revelation 6:5,6): The black horse is symbolic of economic disruption – not famine but inflation and scarcity.

4. Seal 4 (Revelation 6:7,8): The pale horse symbolizes disease and death.

5. Seal 5 (Revelation 6:9-11): The fifth seal is the souls of martyrs praying for the vindication of God’s justice. God assures them the day of vindication will come – but not until all those predestined to join them, as people who have died because of their faith, is complete. (“God is concerned for justice but even more for mercy” New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1826.)

6. Seal 6 (Revelation 6:12-14): Cosmic natural disaster or disasters in the form of earthquakes and galactic events that will impact the sun, moon and stars. This last seal climaxes in the humans left alive on earth screaming for something – anything, to come between them and God’s wrath.

Lately, when hearing news of economic upheaval, or watching the ebola virus ravage whole countries in Africa, or observing scenes from natural disasters like the recent floods in India (together with hearing how they have affected people on the ground from those who live there), or watching
geopolitical disasters on TV like the thousands of Syrian refugees camped on Europe's borders in winter's cold,  I have asked – could it get any worse? This passage assures us – it can, and will!

The question for me and you, then, is what are we doing now, in the light of these coming events? Are we living awake or asleep, prepared or unprepared (Matthew 25:1-12)?  Are we recognizing the tremors that are already shaking our world – the precursors to “the big one”? (Matthew 24:3-8)  Are we busy with God’s assignments  or absorbed in our own business (Matthew 28:18-20; Matthew 24:45-51)?

PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to live with the awareness of Your plan, present and future. Help me to be expectant and wise, redeeming the time I have. 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.
 
Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Jesus—ideal missionary

Christ eating with His disciples - James Tissot
Christ eating with His disciples - James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 21:1-19

TO CHEW ON:
"So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'" John 21:15


We can learn much from Jesus, not least of which in the area of how He went about fulfilling His mission. Here, near the end of HIs time on earth, He goes about his 'job' and does it in ways that teach us about how to do our job as spreaders of the good news.

In our story we see that:

1. He went to the people.
He made the effort to interact with His disciples in their setting—the Sea of Tiberias—and early in the morning after their night shift of fishing.

2. He understood and met their needs. He realized they would be far more apt to listen if they weren't hungry and made them breakfast.  I don't  believe he served them in a manipulative way though, but out of a genuine concern for their well-being. He loved them and cared for their needs. I like to think He would have made them breakfast in any case whether they (Peter in this case) would respond positively to Him or not.

3. He dealt with outstanding issues. Here he cleared the air between Himself and Peter. We can only imagine the self-recrimination Peter had after denying Jesus. It seems he was ready to pitch the last three-ish years of following Jesus and go back to his old life. Jesus didn't pretend there was nothing wrong. Rather, He acknowledged Peter's denial by singling him out and making him face the love-loyalty issue between them.

4. He commissioned them,
here specifically Peter, to join in the work of growing the kingdom.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we try to apply these principles to our job of continuing to grow the Kingdom of God:

  • Do we  go to the people where they are? Yes, it's fine to invite folks to come to church, but we need to also seek them out on their turf—invite them for coffee, to play a round of golf, go shopping, organize playdates with the kids…
  • Do we genuinely care about people? Is our first thought meeting their needs? And is our love genuine, our attention to their needs given with a no-strings-attached attitude?
  • Do we have outstanding issues with anyone? How can we clear them up? Jesus' example of acknowledging what happened between Him and Peter in a subtle, face-saving way is worth study and thought.
  • Do we enlist the help of others? Do we see their God-given potential and plant dreams of spiritual usefulness by affirming them?

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, please help me to learn from both people in this story. I need to do the things Jesus did here. And I need, also, to be like Peter, leaving once and for all the old life of "fishing' to do kingdom work. Amen.

MORE: "So Send I You"

The hymn "So Send I You," written by the late Margaret Clarkson, came to mind as I thought about Jesus' commission to Peter. Clicking on the linked title will take you to a video of a choir from South Africa singing it. Follow along with the lyrics—and be challenged!

So Send I You

So send I you to labor unrewarded,

To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown,

To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing-

So send I you to toil for Me alone.

So send I you to bind the bruised and broken,

O’er wand’ring souls to work, to weep, to wake,

To bear the burdens of a world aweary-

So send I you to suffer for My sake.

So send I you to loneliness and longing,

With heart ahung’ring for the loved and known,

Forsaking home and kindred, friend and dear one-

So send I you to know My love alone.

So send I you to leave your life’s ambition,

To die to dear desire, self-will resign,

To labor long, and love where men revile you-

So send I you to lose your life in Mine.

So send I you to hearts made hard by hatred,

To eyes made blind because they will not see,

To spend, tho’ it be blood, to spend and spare not-

So send I you to taste of Calvary.

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

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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Ultimate worship

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 5:1-14

TO CHEW ON: “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

‘Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne
And to the Lamb forever and ever.’” Revelation 5:13-14

Who praises here? “Every creature.” [Creature (kitsma) means created thing, formation, product, the thing founded. It denotes the component parts of creation.] Here it includes every part of creation from heavenly angels to the snailfish that inhabit the oceans’ deepest depths. All of them praise God and Jesus.

The fact of sin’s impact on creation is no secret. “Cursed is the ground for your sake,” God said on the day He told Adam and Eve the consequences of their disobedience (Genesis 3:17). God used the curse of nature to discipline the Hebrews, and motivate them toward obedience (Deuteronomy 28:40-45). When the people sinned the land suffered as well as the humans who lived on it (Deuteronomy 28:15-24).

The reverse was true as well. God’s near presence caused nature to respond. When the Ark of God was temporarily stored on the property of Obed Edom for three months “the Lord blessed the house of Obed Edom and all that he had” 1 Chronicles 13:14.

But in the main, creation suffers in sin’s grip. Paul describes its response in Romans: “…creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” He speaks of a day it will be “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” In the meantime, it “groans and labors with birth pangs..."  (Romans 8:18-22).

Here in John’s vision we see that liberation. What do the liberated creatures do? Offer uninhibited, vocal praise to God and Jesus. And that is something we can do even though we still live in a world under Satan’s influence. Let’s choose to do it often, and in every situation.

PRAYER: Dear God, You deserve blessing, honor, glory and power. Jesus, thank You for taking my place as the Lamb of God. Thank You that someday even nature will join in the chorus of ultimate worship. Amen.

MORE:  Handel's Messiah Alert

Handel used words from Revelation 5:9 and 12-14 in Chorus 53: "Worthy is the Lamb" performed here by Canada's own Tafelmusik.

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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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