Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The synergy of old and young

"Visitation" by Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464)
(From the Art and the Bible site)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:26-45

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.'" Luke 1:45

(In our church's Wednesday morning women's meeting we've just had a series of lessons on women in the New Testament who interacted with Jesus. The series ended with the story in today's reading.

Gwen, the woman who presented this lesson, is one of our church's beloved matriarchs. For many years she was in charge of our women's ministries and now in her 80s and retired, she still teaches home Bible studies and befriends and mentors women of all ages. She left us with a handout and I credit her and her teaching handout for many of the ideas in today's devo. I have her permission to share.)


We see in this story a beautiful example of an intergenerational relationship. Though the angel never told young Mary to visit elderly Elizabeth, the information he dropped—that Elizabeth was pregnant—was enough, so that after the angel left, Mary hurried to visit her relative.

Her visit was a blessing to both of them. Though the Bible doesn't explicitly state some of these things, we can readily infer them from the what we read and the situation.

Visiting Elizabeth did much for Mary.

- Mary saw for herself that the angel's words were true. Elizabeth was pregnant!
- Mary needed a godly woman to believe her story, believe in her and confirm what God was doing.
- From Elizabeth Mary got godly input, prayer, comfort, encouragement and guidance.
- Together they revisited the scriptures.
- During these three months Mary had time to take in what had happened to her and to prepare for the difficult days ahead.
- Elizabeth modeled focus and faithfulness to her.

But Mary's visit also blessed Elizabeth.
- Humble Elizabeth was amazed that Mary would come to her (Luke 1:43).
- Her welcome was loving and accepting.
- She was sensitive to the Holy Spirit (discerning). On Mary's arrival, Elizabeth gave a word of knowledge (spoke truth) and encouragement to Mary for her faith and obedience (Luke 1:41,42,45).
- Her worshipful and God-centered welcome paved the way for Mary's song of praise (Luke 1:46).
- Mary's visit assured Elizabeth she was part of God's plan and still valuable and useful despite her advanced age.

(I would love to have been a spider in the rafters, watching these two interact during their three-month visit, wouldn't you?)

In the church of today, the story of Mary and Elizabeth illustrate how we as older and younger women can get along and more—can bless each other.

1. We can love each other, and pray together.
 

2. We can share the Bible, listen, and ask God to reveal truth to us.
 

3. We can share experiences in openness and honesty.
 

4. We can affirm each other instead of judging.
 

5. Of course, we know how to do all this in confidence (don't we?).

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me as part of the older generation to be open to relationships with younger women like Elizabeth was with Mary . Amen.
 

MORE: The Feast of the Visitation:
Today the church celebrates the Feast of Visitation. The liturgy of the day begins with this collect:
"Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
For an added treat, here is British poet Malcolm Guite's  "Hidden Joys: A Sonnet for the Visitation."


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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, May 30, 2016

Our prayers—part of God's eternal purposes



"Gabriel Visits Zacharias" - by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
(Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, 
Candler School of Theology, Emory University”)


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:5-25

TO CHEW ON: "But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.'" Luke 1:13


This story of John the Baptist's beginnings give us a sense of God putting into action ancient and detailed plans. God used the assignment of a lifetime—Zacharias's one opportunity to burn incense in the Holy Place—to deliver, through Gabriel, a life-changing message.

From Zacharias's viewpoint, this was an answer to a very earthly, marriage-long prayer—to have a son.

To God, though, it was way bigger. It was an essential part of preparing for the climax of a plan first announced in Genesis 3:15. Bits of this plan are strewn through the Old Testament. Picking out elements from our story:

Nazirite:
Gabriel, in his description of John's style of life ("...drink neither wine nor strong drink" - Luke 1:15) referred back to the lifestyle of a person separated to God, a Nazirite described way back in Numbers 6:2,3.

Elijah:
Gabriel went on to say that Zacharias's offspring (John) would prepare the way for Him (God's special messenger) "… in the spirit and power of Elijah" - Luke 1:17.

We remember Elijah, the prophet who wasn't afraid to confront Ahab. He lived out of the public view during a three-year drought, and then clashed with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel and begged the Israelite onlookers to again follow God. After that, we remember how Queen Jezebel threatened his life.

John too would end up living in seclusion and then calling people to repentance, pointing out Jesus as Messiah, and baptizing Him. His bold confrontation of Herod for his immorality ended in him being beheaded at the request of Herodias, another royal consort.

The prophecy of Malachi:
Gabriel quoted the Old Testament prophet Malachi (who also referenced Elijah) " 'He (John) will also go before Him "… to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…" ' " Luke 1:17.
Compare with Malachi's words:
"Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers" - Malachi 4:5,6.

John's birth was indeed an answer to Zacharias's prayer but it was also so much more!

I like to believe that God's purposes are similarly interwoven into the lives of us believers; that the things we pray for (and if we're attached to Jesus—He in us, us in Him—even our prayers are His ideas - John 15:7) lead to answers that help complete His work and purposes on earth just as Zacharias's prayers for a son did.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, thank You for this glimpse into the workings of Your ways. Help me to trust that You are similarly working Your eternal purposes through the prayers and answers to pray in my life. Amen.

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


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ultimate authority

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 7:1-10

TO CHEW ON: " '…But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, "Go," and he goes; and to another "Come," and he comes; and to my servant "Do this," and he does it.'" Luke 7:7-8

We know intuitively that in order to get action on an issue—from better service in a store to a change n the laws of the land—we need to appeal to the people who have the authority to make those changes [authority - the right to command and to enforce obedience; the delegated right or power, authorization; the official or group having administrative control in a specific area].

In our story today, the servant of a Roman centurion begged Jesus, through Jewish friends of that centurion, to come to the home of his boss and heal his sick son. While Jesus was on the way, the centurion's friends came with a strange request. They asked Jesus, on behalf of their Roman friend, not to come, but instead to simply give the command to heal. The centurion's rationale: Just like he (a Roman solder with rank) had the power and authorization to get things done by simply commanding the soldiers under him, so he recognized that Jesus had authority over sickness: "Just say the word and my servant will be healed" he said. 

Jesus was impressed. This Gentile Roman soldier recognized something that evaded the Jews and especially their leaders. The Gospel writers got it though. Their writings are full of the many aspects of Jesus' authority:

  • They reported that Jesus taught with authority (Mark 1:22).
  • He took authority over crowds  and activities in the temple (Matthew 14:19; Matthew 21:12).
  • He commanded evil spirits with authority (Luke 4:36).
  • He demonstrated His authority over nature by stilling storms, multiplying food, healing people from sickness, and even raising them from the dead (Mark 4:37-39; Matthew 14:19-21; Mark 2:8-12; Luke 7:11-15).
  • He had authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6).
  • Jesus was aware of and declared His authority, as did God the Father (Matthew 28:18; Mark 9:7).
  • The exciting part of all this is that we are implicated in Jesus' authority. On the basis of His authority, He sends us out to fulfill His great and final assignment (Matthew 28:18-20).

In the light of all this, two questions come to mind:

1. Do you and I recognize His authority over all the areas in which He demonstrated and declared that He had/has it? Do we really believe He has authority over nature, sickness, death? Do we claim His authority over sin and dark spiritual forces?

2. Do we let His authority operate in and through us? Do we speak, pray, and minister with authority?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You have all authority in heaven and earth. Help me to live every day under Your authority and as an agent of Your authority. 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, May 28, 2016

Jesus woos us

Jesus Preaches from a Ship - Alexandre Bida
Jesus Preaches from a Ship - A. Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 5:1-16

TO CHEW ON:
"So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him." Luke 5:11


It's fascinating to watch Jesus woo the disciples (who were not yet disciples) in this passage.

His popularity with the crowd needed a bit of a stage that provided both visibility and distance. A boat would be just the thing. He chose Simon's (Peter's), asked him to interrupt his net-washing and "put out a little from the land" and taught the crowds from there.

Imagine being the one from whom this upstart asked such a favor. I wonder, did Peter feel annoyed that Jesus just commandeered his boat for several hours, or honored and flattered?

It didn't end there, though. After the teaching session, Jesus turned His attention from the crowds to the boat owner. He told Peter to move to deep water and start fishing. Peter, probably still smarting from the previous unsuccessful night, started to argue but then changed his mind and did as Jesus said.

A great miraculous catch followed. "They" (Peter and probably his brother Andrew) got help from partners James and John to haul in the multitudes of fish. At Jesus' next words "'Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men,'" Peter was completely smitten. He (and his partners) "...brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him" - Luke 5:11.

I would love to have interviewed Peter and asked him, what was going on in his mind and heart that synchronized with Jesus' actions and words to cause this life change in him.

Perhaps he was wondering how he could continue looking after his family's needs with such unpredictable fishing luck. Jesus had just showed him His supernatural power in that department.

Perhaps he'd been wishing, all his life, to live for something bigger and had for some time been questioning the usefulness of what he was doing. Jesus told him he would "catch men." Peter may not have completely understood, but would surely have been intrigued.

We don't know. But we do know that on that particular day in Peter's life, Jesus ticked all the boxes and the decision to follow Him was easy.

On listening to people's stories of how they come to Jesus, I've noticed something similar. Jesus woos us in different ways. Sometimes it's through unaccountable blessing. Sometimes it's via an inner search for more purpose and meaning. Sometimes Jesus is the last option to stop a downward spiral that, if something doesn't change, will lead to destruction.

Let's pray for friends, colleagues, and loved ones who have yet to meet Jesus, that He will continue to work His wooing ways in their lives and that they will respond like Peter did.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, I see how You won Peter and his crew over in a few well-timed interventions and actions. Please continue to work that way in the lives of my loved ones who don't know You. 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, May 27, 2016

Who says so?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 1:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ." Galatians 1:11,12.


Over the next several months we'll be reading all the way through Galatians. Today we'll start with a bit of background (information gleaned from the Introduction to Galatians in my New Spirit-Filled Life Bible authored by Jerry Horner).

Author: Paul

Date written: A.D. 55-56.

Recipients: A group of churches in a region of Asia Minor (not just once city) called Galatia. It included towns of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

Occasion: After a meeting in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1). Scholars aren't sure which meeting Paul referred to—the one described in Acts 11:27-30 or the one in Acts 15.

Purpose: Paul wrote to contradict prominent people in the Galatian churches who insisted that Christians must continue to observe parts of the law (like circumcision) to be assured salvation.

To truly understand the scope of the change Paul will be talking about in this letter, let's put ourselves in the place of his readers. Their only Bible was the Old Testament. In it practices like circumcision were required. But new development were being debated and promoted by the apostles. They contradicted some of the key teachings of Judaism, like the need for circumcision, the old food prohibitions, and the need for animal sacrifices.

And so we come to the question Paul's readers would legitimately ask: "Who says this changes now?"

The Bible subtly answers that:

1. The risen Jesus conducted a sort of Kingdom of God Ministry school for the disciples. During the 40 days (between His resurrection and ascension) He spent time with them "… speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" - Acts 1:3; Luke 24:13-35, 44,45. So He may have planted the seeds of change during this teaching time.

2. Of course we read the experience of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10, which led to changes in enforcing Jewish food rules and the acceptance of Gentile believers.

3. Here Paul, who was not one of the original twelve apostles (and so didn't hear Jesus' teachings first hand) made a bold claim. His assertion was that the teaching he was about to give them came through the revelation from Jesus Himself (Galatians 1:11,12). He doesn't say how that revelation came—a vision, a dream, an audible voice. But his claim alerted his readers to the fact that what followed should be taken seriously.

What about us today? Does Jesus still give people in our time new revelations of the gospel?
Through the centuries Christians have worked through this, and determined, No. We believe that revelation is completely contained within our 66 Bible books.

One of the requirements necessary for a writing to be included in the Bible was that it be the writing of an apostle. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology chapter "The Canon of Scripture" says:

"It is primarily the apostles who are given the ability from the Holy Spirit to recall accurately the words and deeds of Jesus and to interpret them rightly for subsequent generations. … Furthermore, those who have the office of apostle in the early church are seen to claim an authority equal to that of the OT prophets" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 60.

And so we trust the early church councils—groups of believers who determined which writings should be included in the canon of the Bible and believe that the Bible's revelation to us is complete and reliable.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for the Bible, our standard for Christian life and practice. Thank You for all those who have preserved it, copied it, and translated it Amen.

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


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Faith showdown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 18:20-39

TO CHEW ON: 
"And Elijah came to all the people and said, 'How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' But the people answered him not a word." 1 Kings 18:21


After three long years of no rain, Elijah was determined to make its return as dramatic an event as he could. He challenged the 400 prophets of Baal to a prayer duel on Mount Carmel. The citizens came in droves to watch. Before they got started Elijah threw out the challenge: whichever god would answer the prepared sacrifice by sending fire would be the one worthy of worship.

We know the story—how the Baal prophets carried on all day, beseeching, dancing, even cutting themselves. All for nothing. And then, how Elijah made the task even harder by dousing his offering with water. (He had his nerve—or maybe it was his faith in action—using 12 pots of such precious water in this way!)

We can learn a lot from Elijah about faith and prayer as we watch him.

1. All or nothing: Elijah made the stakes clear. Either God would answer and prove Himself real or He wouldn't and show Himself a sham (1 Kings 18:21, 24). There was no third option. Elijah gave himself no way to save face should God not answer.

2. God's rep: Elijah made sure the people knew Who was behind the last three years of misery and that he had only been a spokesman for God. He told them the purpose behind the exercise: to turn them back to God (1 Kings 18:36-37). Thus when God did send fire, the people worshiped Him, not Elijah (vs. 38-39).

3. Finish the job: Elijah completed the unsavoury task of destroying the Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:40).

4. Unwavering faith: Elijah's faith was so unequivocal, he spoke to Ahab as if the rain could start falling any moment even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky (1 Kings 18:41).

5. Humble prayer: Elijah "bowed down on the ground and put his face between his knees" (1 Kings 18:42).

6. Persistent prayer: Do you suppose Elijah felt a niggle of doubt when God didn't answer after his first prayer, then his second, his third… We don't know how much time passed between when Elijah started praying and the clouds appeared (1 Kings 18:43-44). Perhaps several hours. At least enough for Ahab to have a decent picnic.

7. Supernatural ending: As if the whole fire-throwing, rain-sending demonstration wasn't spectacular enough, God gave Elijah strength at the end of this long, arduous day to outrun Ahab's horses. He beat the king to the Jezreel gate.

One thing seems clear from all this: Elijah had a mighty tight and intimate relationship with God to enable him to act with such confidence. It brings to mind the verse: "…the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits" Daniel 11:32.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to know You better. I want to be a person to whom You entrust "exploits." 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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

God's covert operators

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 18:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "And Ahab had called Obadiah, who was in charge of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. For so it was, while Jezebel massacred the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets, and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water.)" 1 Kings 18:3-4

Here's an interesting scenario. Ahab married Jezebel, a Sidonian princess. Fanatical in following the religion of her homeland—Baal worship—she commanded the massacre of all Israel's prophets of God.

But one of Ahab's chief servants (the one in charge of his house) was a dedicated servant of Yahweh. He secretly hid 100 of those prophets from Jezebel. Tucked away in a couple of caves, he had made sure that these God-followers got bread and water for the duration of the famine.

This modus operandi was not untypical. Some other instances when God placed His person in the top echelons of government were Joseph, Esther, Daniel, and Nehemiah. In each case the person stayed loyal to God and wielded unusual power and influence for good.

God still works in this way. In early April this year I attended the MLA's Prayer Breakfast in Victoria (our province's capital city). It was so encouraging to see members from all political parties there, acknowledging that they needed more than just their own wits and intelligence to govern well. I think of these folks as covert operators, undercover agents for the Kingdom. They are working on the side of all that is good for the benefit of all of us.

We're told to pray for our leaders in any case (1 Timothy 2:1,2).  How much more should we do this for those leaders who are also part of the "household of faith" (Galatians 6:9,10?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for putting people who love and fear You in positions of power in my country and city. I pray for the ones I know ______ (name them) today. When I am critical of government, please remind me to pray for leaders instead of complaining. Amen.

MORE: William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) is another example of a person of faith in a position of influence. He worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery and saw his dream come true just weeks before he died.The Abolition Project website describes how he got involved in politics and why he decided to stay there after his conversion:

"He enrolled at Cambridge University and became friends with William Pitt. At the age of 21, Wilberforce was elected to Parliament.  He was well suited to politics as he was an extremely eloquent speaker and very witty. In 1783, he met James Ramsay and, for the first time, discussed slavery. Around 1884-6, he underwent a gradual but 'intense religious conversion' whilst traveling with a friend. He considered leaving Parliament but his friend and mentor, John Newton, advised him against this, so, instead, he decided to serve God in public life."

 Read the entire article.

Amazing Grace  is a 2007 movie about Wilberforce's life.

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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, May 24, 2016

Zarephath Hospitality

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 17:8-24

TO CHEW ON: 
"So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which he spoke by Elijah." 1 Kings 17:15-16

God's response to Israel's wicked King Ahab was to whisper a prophetic message of no rain for three years in the ear of a man from Tishbe. Elijah, that man, delivered the message to the idolatrous king and then ran for his life. He eventually skipped the country to Sidon, where God told him he would find a widow woman to feed him.

Put yourself in the place of that woman. She was gathering sticks for the fire that would cook her last meal when this sight of a man approached her and asked not only for a drink but for food. The audacity! Yet, his promise (using words like "Thus says the Lord") that if she fed him, she would have a never-ending supply of food was attractive. What could it hurt? She took him in.

I am impressed with her hospitality. In our society of panhandlers and people living on the street, can you picture yourself doing the same? Of course there is a level of hospitality—extending the generosity of our home to those we know—that is safer. But do we do even that?

Do we invite our friends from church, the folks we meet while delivering our kids to school, our neighbors, over for a meal or coffee? Do we even take the time to stop and chat (the first step of hospitality: giving a few minutes of our time, attention and interest)?

The story of Elijah and the widow isn't finished, though. One day her son became ill and died. "Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to kill my son?" (1 Kings 17:8) the grief-stricken woman sobbed.

Elijah carried the child's limp body to his room. There he pleaded with God for the his life—and the boy revived.

Here we see another thing about hospitality. In addition to giving us the satisfaction of company and the joy of sharing, it boomerangs back on us in blessings, sometimes greater in number and scope than we ever gave out in the first place.

Karen Burton Mains in her book Open Heart, Open Home tells of a period of time their home was hounded by problem after problem. That year she experienced firsthand the fruits of the hospitality lifestyle she had advocated and modeled in front of their parishioners. Here is her paraphrase of Matthew 25:31-4.

"For I was weary, and they dusted and cleaned and scrubbed and laundered.
For I was fatherless…and they tilled his soil with me in our helpless womanity, praying over the man-sized gas cultivator and stubbornly willing it to do a week's work in a day.
For I was hungry, and they brought stews of the products of the good earth, and hand-kneaded bread, and apple pies from the fruit of the backyard trees.


For I was imprisoned by despair and they sat on my bed and wept as I wept, and brought guitars to concert me privately…


For I was aggrieved by the broken world and they picked up my dropped baton and made the race with my battered friends for me. They sent prayers against the marred days and performed miracles over unwieldy faucets and the bent things that populated my heart.


For I was helpless and they mothered my children, buying circus tickets and planning bike hikes, making sure the days were special for growing up.


For I was bereaved from bearing too much pain in others, finding no room for my own and they sent me to restore in the mountains and rest in the sea.


Yea, as they did this all for me, they did it unto Him who sent me."


Open Heart, Open Home: The Hospitable Way to Make Others Feel Welcome & Wanted by Karen Burton Mains p. 120-121 (1976 edition).

PRAYER: Dear God, please grow a hospitable spirit in me. May I be a conduit through which Your blessings can flow to others, and to which Your blessings will flow from others to 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.

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

Do we provoke God?

Elijah confronts Ahab - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 16:29-17:7

TO CHEW ON: "Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. " 1 Kings 16:33

Provoking God? It sounds serious!

A brief survey of Bible passages that speak of provocation tell us some of the things that provoke God.

God is provoked by:

  • Unbelief and refusal to act in faith—what the Israelites did when they balked at entering the Promised Land despite all the miracles along the way - Numbers 14:11.
  • Rejecting His appointed leaders—the way Korah, Dathan and Abiram challenged the leadership of Moses and Aaron - Numbers 16:30.
  • Rebellion—the way the Israelites often acted during their wilderness trek - Deuteronomy 9:7,8,22; Psalm 106:7.
  • Idol worship - Deuteronomy 31:20,29; 1 Kings 14:9; 16:26,33 (our focus verse); Jeremiah 7:18.
  • Scoffing at God's work—what Sanballat and Tobiah did over Nehemiah's wall - Nehemiah 4:6.
  • Breaking covenant with Him and refusing to keep His law ("testimonies") - Deuteronomy 31:29; Psalm 78:56.
  • Words against Him - Isaiah 3:8.
  • Sacrilegious things in a holy place - Ezekiel 8:3.

The results of provoking God throughout Israel's history were serious:

  • The Israelites were doomed to wander for 38 more years in the wilderness - Number 14:23
  • Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and their families were destroyed for challenging God's appointed leaders - Numbers 16:31,32.
  • Ahab's provocative ways led to three years of drought- 1 Kings 17:1.
  • Nehemiah seemed concerned that the scorn of his detractors would lead to discouragement of the workers - Nehemiah 4:5.
  • Israel's idol worship led to the temple's destruction by a foreign power - Ezra 5:12.
  • Provoking God also led to Israel's exile - Jeremiah 8:19.

Though it's easy for us to look down our noses at the fearful and rebellious Israelites or idolatrous Ahab, another read-through of the list of things that provoke God in relation to our setting may demolish some of that smugness.

- Are we ever guilty of unbelief and refusing to act in faith?

- Have we ever rebelled against the leaders God has placed over us?

- Do we have idols? Not silver and gold images, perhaps, but other things like work, people's praise, money, etc. that compete with God for first place in our hearts?

- Have we ever scoffed at what others report as God's work?

- Have we ever been disdainful of sacred things—by what we've said?  By what we've done?

Yes, God is long-suffering and merciful. Jesus has paid for these sins with His death. But still our provocations may have consequences.  What a shame to miss out on His best, to assign ourselves, by our attitudes, words, and actions, to seasons of wilderness wanderings, drought, and exile.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to be sensitive to what pleases and what provokes You. I have been guilty of unbelief, rebellion, idolatry and more. Help me to see these things that provoke, grieve and displease you—as sin. 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, May 22, 2016

Will persecution stumble us?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 15:26-16:15


TO CHEW ON: "These things I have spoken to you that you should not be made to stumble." John 16:1

What "things" is Jesus referring to?
  • That the world will hate them (John 15:18,19).
  • That they will be persecuted (John 15:20).
  • That they will be hated without a cause (John 15:25).
  • That the Holy Spirit will be their Helper (John 15:26).

["Parakletos = called to one's side, intercessor, comforter, helper, advocate, counsellor ... The Holy Spirit leads believers to a greater apprehension of gospel truths. In addition to general help and guidance, He gives strength to endure the hostility of the world system" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1472.]

We in North America have had it pretty good in the persecution department. In many cases our forefathers fled to Canada and the U.S. from religiously oppressive regimes for the reason that they wanted to live in place where they could worship according to their convictions. As a result for several generations the prevailing culture of North America has been sympathetic toward Christians.

But that's changing. Read the comments under pro-Christian articles in secular media and you will often see scorn, mockery, disdain, name-calling, even hatred for Christianity and Christians.

As Jesus warns here, let's not let that reaction cause us to stumble—in confusion, discouragement, fear, intimidation. Because:
  • It's what we should expect - John 16:4.
  • It's part of our inheritance - John 15:18,19.
  • It proves whose we are - John 15:23.

Rather, let's claim the help of the Holy Spirit

  • To remind us of Jesus' predictions about such treatment - John 14:26.
  • To assure us that we belong to God's family - Romans 8:16.
  • To tell us what to say - Mark 13:11; Luke 21:14,15.
  • To give us boldness - Acts 4:29-31

PRAYER: Dear God, I don't like abuse, scorn, or ridicule. Please help me to have the spirit of Jesus under such treatment—of wisdom and Holy Spirit boldness. Prepare me now for what the future holds of negative reactions to Christ-followers. Amen.

MORE: Persecution.org

The website Persecution.org monitors persecution of Christians around the world. A little snooping around on that site shows us that though persecution in North America happens, it occurs much less frequently than in many other countries.

You can read news about persecution of Christians throughout the world as you search for news by country.

Bible Drive-Thru


Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Hope - Love connection

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 5:1-11

TO CHEW ON:
"Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:5


Hope cannot only exist but thrive in us because of the quality of God's love. It is the agapé love that Paul describes so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8. A sidebar article in my Bible explains this love:
"Agapé denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable good will that always seeks the good of the other person, no matter what he does. It is the self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object. Agapé is more a love by choice than philos which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotions. Agapé describes the unconditional love God has for the world" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Live Bible, p. 1556. (Emphases added.)

This love, Paul says, "… has been poured out in our heart."

I see two implications:

1. We receive this love from God.
The quality of this love means we can have hope because God's intentions toward us are always and only for our good. This love is not contingent on how loveable we are or on us doing anything to earn or keep it.

Paul lists some of our inadequacies to earn or achieve this love further on:
  • "...when we were still without strength" Christ demonstrated this love by dying for us - Romans 5:6. 
  • "... while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" - Romans 5:8. 
  • "... when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God..." - Romans 5:10. (Emphases added.)

2. We give this love to others.
Doesn't that follow? If our hearts are full of this love, won't it flow out to others, and back to God. John, in his letters, kneads the necessity of our love for each other into the dough of everyday life.
  • "He who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him" - 1 John 2:10. 
  • "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother - 1 John 3:10. 
  • "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" - 1 John 4:7. 
  • By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" - 1 John 5:2. (Emphases added.)

So, if we're wanting more of that agapé love in our lives, how do we get it?

I believe as we read about, meditate on, and accept by faith God's love for us, our ability to love Him and others will expand. And, we need to remember that while agapé love is supernatural, we have a part to play in it. It is also loving by choice. It is a love of the will rather than the emotions. It is a love we choose to nourish in our lives.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, please grow hope in me by helping me to understand the breadth of Your love for me, and by choosing to love all those around me in the way You love 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.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Earth-keepers

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 8:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "You have made him (man) to have dominion over the works of Your hands; 
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen --
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas." Psalm 8:6-8



Though I find myself resisting the messages of tree-hugger, save-the-earth organizations like the Sierra Club, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society because of their lack of balance and extremist ways,  many of their warnings are worth listening to. I often disagree with their motivations and methods, but they are definitely on the side of preserving nature from mankind's carelessness and greed—something God gave humankind responsibility for when He said to Adam: "…have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:28). As a sidebar article in my Bible puts it:
"The world literally stands or falls based on the actions and stewardship of human beings….we should never be satisfied to dwell on a mere lower level of creaturely existence, but strive to live at the highest and fullest level of our human nature. God designed for man a more noble destiny than creation could ever bestow. We should continue to explore what it is to be human, made in the image and likeness of God and given dominion (stewardship) over all the Earth."
Charles Blake /Jesse Miranda "Twin Truths: Man's Dominion and Responsibility" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 691.

It's not hard to find green initiatives with which to align oneself. The trouble is, many of them arise out of world views that are anti-Christian in their origins (Naturalism, Materialism or Pantheism for example) and lead finally to their own brands of idolatry (e.g. the reverence with which our society treats animals).

Still, the fact remains that in general we humans (Christians included) are doing a lousy job of stewarding the earth. Which is why I think we're wise to go along with local initiatives that are for stewardship wherever, in good conscience, we can—things like recycling, obeying bans on cosmetic pesticides, treating pets and work animals with kindness, picking up after ourselves etc.

As each of us does his or her part, we can make a difference. In this one thing, at least, we find ourselves on the side of political correctness, even though our actions may flow from a motivation many eco-warriors would find unacceptable. 

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to do my part in stewarding Your magnificent creation. Amen.

MORE:
 Eating close-to-home
Eating foods produced close to home is one green initiative that is growing in popularity. It's based on the desire to limit the need for transporting foods from afar and all that that entails. The 50-mile Diet encourages people to eat only things grown within a 50-mile radius of where they live.

Simply In Season carries a similar message. This colorful (and gorgeous!) spiral-bound cookbook was commissioned by the MCC, and helps North Americans identify and prepare foods that are local and in season.

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



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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wisdom and the Creator

"He drew a circle on the face of the deep" 
Sand artistry by Valentina Beyard (V. Nesdoly photo)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 8:20-36

TO CHEW ON: "When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep …
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman
And I was daily His delight
Rejoicing always before Him."  Proverbs 8:27,30

Have you ever watched a sand artist perform? Using a table which has a shallow layer of sand on it (and which is usually lit from the bottom so observers can watch her movements), the artist's deft fingers and hands create scenes that become faces, then symbols, back to scenes as she draws in the sand.

That's the kind of picture I imagine here as God creates, only on a massive and real scale. He "draws a circle on the face of the deep" and we have earth (attesting to its roundness long before Magellan's voyage or satellite photos). He goes on to settle the mountains in place, craft the fountains, make a boundary for the seas. All the while Wisdom looks on "as a master craftsman; and I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him."

Can't you just see it? The creative trinity (for Jesus, the Word [John 1:1-3,14] and the Holy Spirit were present [Genesis 1:2] at creation) feeding off each others ideas, adding their own, laughing in excitement, delight, and admiration at their ingenuity. In fact, some have suggested that "Wisdom" in Proverbs 8 is the Holy Spirit talking:

"She (wisdom) is speaking to God in Proverbs 8, on her own, and God is working through Wisdom in the creation of the world. They are one! The Father created the world through the Son in the power of the Spirit" - explains theologian Dr. Jurgen Moltmann (quoted by Trudy Beyak in The Mother Heart of God, p. 218. 

My Bible's commenter says about this section: "God's wisdom … has been likened to a woman, is identified as the Eternal One and the life-giver who, according to the New Testament, is Jesus (John 1:1,2; 11:25)" - John Garlock, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 813.

I take two things with me from today's reading:

1. We do well to explore and delight in God's creation.
One of the reasons I enjoy my camera so much is because it lets me capture images of this world's beauty. I have a photo blog where I share some of my photos. Come by sometime! Every aspect of God's creation we study—from the tiniest building blocks of matter to the vastness of outer space—demonstrates His wisdom and becomes reason to praise.

2. It's good to be creative.
When we are "creative," that is, organize images, words, and  matter in interesting ways (because we never truly create something out of nothing but reassemble things already made) we are demonstrating the image of God in us. I love the picture of Wisdom / Jesus beside God, "His delight" and "rejoicing before Him." Not criticizing or putting Him down but appreciating, enjoying, and cheering. It's an attitude we can cultivate toward the creative efforts of the people in our lives (and toward ourselves).

PRAYER: Creator God, I am in awe of You and Your creativity and wisdom in how You made this world teeming with life and beauty. You are AMAZING! Help me to nurture the creativity of those around me, and within myself. Amen.

MORE: Sand artist in action

Watch the sand artistry of Valentina Beyard. This is from a community Good Friday Service at our church on April 11, 2012.





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

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Shades of wisdom

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Proverbs 8:1-19

TO CHEW ON: 
"I love those who love me,
And those who seek me diligently will find me." Proverbs 8:17


This chapter, titled "The Excellence of Wisdom" in my Bible, is a poem about wisdom (actually by wisdom, for Wisdom speaks as if a person throughout).

In the part of Proverbs 8 that is our reading today, wisdom describes herself. Let's look through these 19 verses to compile a list of wisdom's attributes as stated and shown in them.

Wisdom is:

  • Bold - The way this chapter starts out with wisdom crying out from hilltops, crossroads and city gates brings to mind another kind of woman. It's as if wisdom, knowing the importance of persuading people to her way is not above using the wiles of the loose woman (Proverbs 9:13-17).
  • Prudent: "O you simple ones, understand prudence…" Proverbs 8:5,12.
  • Understanding - "… you fools, be of an understanding heart" - Proverbs 8:5,15.
  • Recognized and identified by speech - "Listen for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips will come right things" - Proverbs 8:6.
  • Truthful - "For my mouth will speak truth" - Proverbs 8:8.
  • Righteous - "All the words of my mouth are righteousness - Proverbs 8:8, 20. Wisdom also is the fear of God that "hates … the evil way" - Proverbs 8:13,20.
  • Not given to perversion - "… nothing crooked or perverse is in them" (the words of her mouth) - Proverbs 8:8, 13.
  • A clear communicator - Her words are "… plain to him who understands" - Proverbs 8:9.
  • Valuable - Wisdom's instruction is compared to silver, gold and rubies - Proverbs 8:10,11, 18, 19.
  • Knowledge - "Receive … knowledge" - Proverbs 8:10, 12.
  • Discretion - "I wisdom … find out … discretion" - Proverbs 8:12.
  • Humble - "Pride and arrogance … I hate" - Proverbs 8:13.
  • Good advice - "Counsel is mine" - Proverbs 8:14.
  • Necessary for rulers, nobles and judges - Proverbs 8:15,16.
  • A kindred spirit  - "I love those who love me" - Proverbs 8:17.
  • Discoverable - "… those who seek me diligently will find me" - Proverbs 8:17.
  • Just - "I traverse the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice" - Proverbs 8:20.
  • A means to achieve success - "That I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth" - Proverbs 8:18,21.

 What stands out for me in this list is that Wisdom—this amazing quality of the companion of the Creator and fellow crafter of the Earth (Proverbs 8:30) is available to those who seek it/her. Bible characters that were gifted with wisdom, like Samuel and Solomon, come to mind. But this gift of wisdom is also available to us moderns.

In reading Ravi Zacharias's memoir, Walking from East to West, I was shocked to discover that  all through elementary and high school Dr. Zacharias (known worldwide for his ability to understand philosophy and defend the Bible) was a miserable failure as a student. His despair at his inability to perform and his fear that he would be a failure in life and a great disappointment to his father were responsible for him attempting suicide as a teen.

But all that changed when he accepted Christ.  In his own words: "During those intense months (following his conversion), as I gobbled up every morsel of learning I could, something changed in my life, causing an about-face I never would have expected: I became a voracious reader" - Ravi Zacharias, Walking From East to West, p. 110.

I would submit that when Jesus entered Ravi Zacharias's life, one of the things he brought was wisdom.

I want to be wise—don't you? Let's take the words of Proverbs 8 and James 1:5-8 to heart and ask God for it.


PRAYER: Dear God, may I be a lover of true wisdom—one who lives wisely in thought, word, and action. 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, May 17, 2016

Creator Spirit

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 104: 19-35

TO CHEW ON: "You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the earth." Psalm 104:30

"In the realm of nature it is the role of the Holy Spirit to give life to all animate creatures, whether on the ground or in the sky and sea," says Wayne Grudem in his chapter "The Work of the Holy Spirit," Systematic Theology, p. 636.

I haven't seen much mention of the Holy Spirit as creator. But if we look at the creation story, there He is: "The earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" - Genesis 1:2.

And so we can take all of this psalm of creation (Psalm 104) as a praise song to God the Holy Spirit whose role it was to fulfill the Word of creation (John 1:1-3).

The Spirit sustains life too: "You take away their breath; they die and return to their dust" - Psalm 104:29.

Of course we can't see the Holy Spirit in His role of giving physical life without remembering that He is also the One who gives Spiritual life. Grudem again:

"Parallel with this (the Holy Spirit giving physical life) is the role of the Holy Spirit to give us new life in regeneration. Jesus told Nicodemus, 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew' John 3:6-7" p. 636.

In this same line of work, it is the Holy Spirit who:
  • Conceived Jesus in Mary's womb (Matthew 1:18,20; Luke 1:35).
  • Raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11).
  • Will give us life at the resurrection (Romans 8:11).

What dynamic, creative power we have in the Holy Spirit, who lives within us: "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" - 1 Corinthians 3:16.

PRAYER: Dear God the Holy Spirit, thank You for giving and sustaining physical and spiritual life. May I be very careful not to resist, grieve, or quench Your life in me. Amen.

MORE: The life of the Spirit in us.

We can offend the Holy Spirit and effectively staunch His blessing in our lives. We do this when we:

  • Resist Him - Acts 7:51.
  • Grieve Him - Ephesians 4:30.
  • Quench Him - 1 Thessalonians 5:19.
  • Sin against Him - Acts 5:3,9.
  • Blaspheme Him - Matthew 12:31-32. (Sometimes called the unpardonable sin. " '...blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven...' " Jesus made this pronouncement about the Pharisees who attributed the powerful work of the Holy Spirit to Satan - Matthew 12:24.)
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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, May 16, 2016

Our "very great" Creator

Satellite view of Earth (Image: Pixabay.com)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 104:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
"Bless the Lord, O my Soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great:
You are clothed with honor and majesty." Psalm 104:1


The verse above begins Psalm 104. It is a poem of praise to God the creator. In poetic language rich with metaphor the writer describes the immensity and cleverness of creation.

The Creator (God / LORD), covered with light, "lays the beams of His upper chambers." Clouds are "His chariots." Wind has "wings." "His servants (the angels) are a "flame of fire." Earth is personified as clothed with the garment of water that flees at Creator's voice and "hasten away at the rebuke of His thunder" - Psalm 104:1-6.

We know this is poetic language. But isn't even the idea behind it—a world created by an Intelligent Creator—fanciful? Didn't the world just "happen" to form itself over millions of years of chance elements coming together and separating and forming new elements? That is what our society's scientists would have us believe.

Samuel J. Alibrando doesn't buy that. Always fascinated with nature, this layman would take a leaf and say to his children, "This was an idea before it was created" - Samuel J. Alibrando, Nature Never Stops Talking, p. 11.

For years this inquisitive journalist wrote a column for his local California paper. In it he explored and laid out the wonders and intelligence of nature. In the introduction to his book collection of these columns he says:

"Personally, I see hard evidence of intelligence in every tree, every flower, every star and every single natural thing in the universe. […] While multitudes idealize the supreme wisdom of nature they, at the same time, declare it required zero intelligence to design nature, which I find bizarre.

"Just as contradictory is the fact that in the industrialized world, man considers himself the ultimate intelligence. … But note the irony in claiming that it took absolutely no intelligence to create something as incredible as man" - Ibid., p. 13.

The shame is that our children and grandchildren are being fed these anti-creationist views  every day. The science books in the library are full of them, as are the science documentaries on video and TV.

But I believe the psalmist got it right. Creation was no accident or chance process. Rather, it was the idea and act of the LORD who is indeed very great. Let's not be silenced about this by the pooh-poohing voices of a science community whose theories are built on a need for a much greater leap of faith than required to believe that an intelligent Creator was behind the existence of matter and people.

PRAYER:
Creator God, You are indeed very great! All we learn about the world through our investigations into its elements and creatures only increases our amazement at Your intelligence and the wisdom needed to put it all together. Amen.
 

MORE: Oxford professor and scientist Dr. John Lennox spoke on the topic "Is God Really There?" on the radio program Haven Today, April 11-15, 2016. In those segments he made a persuasive case for the existence of God. You can listen to these segments by selecting the appropriate dates on this page.

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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, May 15, 2016

Wind, Fire, Words of the Spirit

Descent of the Holy Spirit - Dore
Descent of the Holy Spirit - Dore
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 2:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. There appeared to them divided tongues of fire and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:2-4

Three elements jump out at me as I read this thrilling passage of the Holy Spirit's coming on the day of Pentecost:

Wind

Wind was the sound of the Spirit's coming. Wind is that invisible unpredictable force of nature we all know. It is associated with the Spirit in other places in the Bible.
  • Think back of creation where "The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2). The writer of my Bible's notes on Genesis explains:  "Hovering connotes sweeping or moving rather than staying stationary. The Holy Spirit is the 'executive arm' of the Trinity so He was quite active as God spoke each word" - R. Russell Bixler,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 4.
  • Jesus referred to the invisible, unpredictable wind when He spoke to Nicodemus about being born again: " 'The wind blows where it wishes and you can hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of he Spirit' " John 3:8.

Fire

Fire was the sight of the Spirit's coming. Controlled fire is a friend and powerful tool, but uncontrolled it's dangerous. God's presence is often linked with fire in the Bible.
  • In the Old Testament God spoke to Moses from a fiery bush (Exodus 3:2).
  •  He lingered over Israel in the wilderness in a nighttime cloud that looked like fire (Exodus 13:21,22).
  • And God descended on Mt. Sinai in fire, shielding the Israelites from His presence in a thunderous cloud of smoke (Exodus 19:18). 
  • John the Baptist predicted Jesus would baptize "... with the Holy Spirit and fire" - Matthew 3:11.

Words

Tongues were the shape of the Spirit's flames and the result was everyone present "began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." The Holy Spirit and words are linked in other places too.
  • When the Spirit came on the seventy elders who were to be Moses' helpers, they prophesied (Numbers 11:25). 
  • Joel predicted, "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughter shall prophesy…" (Joel 2:28). 
  • Jesus told the disciples to wait for the Spirit who would give them witnessing power (Acts 1:8). 
  • And it is through the Holy Spirit that we have the Bible writings (2 Peter 1:21).

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit's coming. As we ponder our own lives relating to the Spirit's presence, let's keep in mind how His empowering and working through us is wind-like. We can't control Him. What He accomplishes through us is done according to His sovereignty.

His presence in our lives is fire-like in its cleansing, powerful, helpful, sometimes dangerous ways.

Its evidence in our lives is words—words of prayer, praise, song, witness, teaching, encouragement, verbally and through all kinds of media.

PRAYER: Dear God thank You for sending the gift of the Holy Spirit who lives in me (1 Corinthians 3:16). May this be supported by the wind, fire, and words that emanate from my life. Amen.

MORE: Day of Pentecost.


Today is the Day of Pentecost or Whitsunday. Here is the Collect that begins the day's liturgy:

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of 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.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

When the next step is "wait'

"Peter and the Believers" by Christoph Weigel
Image from Pitts Theology Library

Peter and the Believers by Christoph Weigel
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 1:12-26

TO CHEW ON:
"These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." Acts 1:14

Before He chose His disciples, Jesus spent all night in prayer. In our reading today, the believers were at a crossroads in spiritual time. Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit "not many days hence." And then He ascended into heaven.

And so the group of faithful—the eleven remaining apostles, the women that accompanied Jesus, His mother and brothers (about 120 in all)—waited in an upper room. Three things stand out about their gathering:

1. Unity:

They met "with one accord." [The word is homothumadon. It means " being unanimous, having mutual consent, being in agreement, having group unity, having one mind and purpose. The disciples had an intellectual unanimity, an emotional rapport, and volitional agreement in the newly founded church. In each of its occurrences homothumadon shows a harmony leading to action" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1490.] Their unity must have had Jesus rejoicing  (John 17:20, 21).

2. Prayer:

They spent time in prayer. The NKJV says "prayer and supplication." When we supplicate, we ask humbly, by earnest prayer, beg, entreat.

3. They did the next thing:

Their one-accord prayer meeting led to a recognition that there was something they needed to do to fulfill scripture, that is, replace Judas (Psalm 109:8). And so they did the next thing as they waited for the Holy Spirit's coming.

We too can braid these three strands into our personal lives and the life of the church. They are a good trio to keep in mind whenever we arrive at a personal or church bend in the road. (When we're wondering whether to apply for a different job, sell the house and move, build a new church, etc., maybe it would be a good idea to also actually take a break from regular life as we do the above, like the disciples seemed to do here.)

Staying united, keeping short accounts with each other and with God; praying much and earnestly; and doing the next thing God shows/tells us to do are also things we can do throughout our entire sojourn on earth as we await the big-picture fulfillment of God's promises and plans for us. 


PRAYER: Dear God, it's hard to wait for the return of a prodigal, the prospering of a business, the revival of a church, the healing of a mind or body … Help me to follow the example of these early Christians in my times of waiting. Amen.

MORE: "Wait on God and He will work"
"Wait on God and He will work, but don't wait in spiritual sulks because you cannot see an inch in front of you! Are we detached enough from our own spiritual hysterics to wait on God? To wait is not to sit with folded hands, but to learn to do what we are told" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest - August 1 reading.
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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Abide

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 15:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "'Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.'" John 15:4

The word "abide" occurs nine times in the span of eight verses of today's reading (John 15:4-10) all in red-letters in my Bible, i.e. the teachings of Jesus as John recalls them. When Jesus repeats a word that many times, we do well to take notice.

The English word "abide" means: 1] to remain, continue, stay; 2] to have one's abode, dwell, reside; 3] to continue in a particular condition.

The Greek word transliterated abide (meno) means to remain, abide: 1] in reference to a place, to sojourn, tarry; 2] to continue to be present; 3] to be held, kept, continually; 4] in reference to a station or condition, to remain as one, not become another or different.


Keeping these definitions in mind, let's burrow down a bit into what Jesus tells us about abiding.

1. It goes both ways. We abide in Jesus and He abides in us - John 15:4.

2. Abiding in Him is the only way we can bear fruit (He uses the metaphor of the branch connected to the vine) - John 15:4,5. The fruit we bear out of this abiding brings glory to God - John 15:8.

3. If we don't abide in Him—aren't connected to Him in a branch-vine way—we'll wither and find ourselves "'...cast out...'" - John 15:6.

4. Abiding in Him changes us at a very foundational level
—a thought level ("'…My words abide in you…'")that leads to right praying and answered prayer - John 15:7.

5. This abode is a home of love - John 15:9.

6. This love leads to our obedience
- John 15:10.

John talks about abiding in his letters as well. References there add even more depth to our understanding of what it means to abide:

7. When we abide in Jesus, He is our example of how to live - 1 John 2:6.

8. Our abiding in Him helps us to face the future with confidence, including looking forward, without shame, to His return - 1 John 2:28.

9. Abiding in Him equals not sinning
- 1 John 3:6. I read this as not that we will never sin, but that we aren't cavalier about sin, we don't live in sin, it isn't our lifestyle.

10.  Abiding includes believing the doctrine Jesus taught about His connection to God - 2 John 1:9.

I love the peace, contentment, loyalty, and perseverance the word abide conveys. When we abide in Christ we're stable, rooted, not looking to move to another spiritual home. Not only that, but as we live with the sap of our creator God flowing through us, our prayers are answered and we bear fruit!

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, help me to realize, day to day, this abiding connection with You in love, obedience, answered prayer, and fruitfulness. 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, May 12, 2016

Painfully conformed


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 8:18-39

TO CHEW ON:
"For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." Romans 8:29

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

It's likely you have at some time quoted the above to comfort a person who is grieving, reassure the one who is confused, or remind the one who has just suffered a seemingly senseless tragedy that God has things in hand and everything will work out okay. I know I have.

But when we say those comforting words, do we think to add on verse 29? It really is a continuation of the thought and helps to answer the question "Why are these painful things happening?"

The little word "For" at the beginning of verse 29 signals the connection between the two. The verse goes on to state that the "all things" we are experiencing (that are supposedly "working together for good" - Romans 8::28) have a purpose and that purpose is that we, whom God knew before we were ever on the scene would accept Him and be born into His family, will "be conformed" to the image of His Son (Jesus).

The idea of conformity is not an especially attractive one, at least not  to us in our individualistic culture. My Funk and Wagnalls dictionary defines conform: 1] to be or act in accordance; show identity or resemblance; correspond; to conform to a specification; 2] to adhere to conventional behavior; 3] to make the same or similar; 4] to bring into harmony or agreement.

How do we make things conform in life?
  • If the thing is made of wood, we carve, mill or sand it. 
  • If it is made of plaster or cement we pour it liquid into a mold. 
  • It it is metal we heat it until we can hammer or even pour it into the desired shape. 
  • If it is a tree or plant we prune it, that is, cut it. 
  • If it's a life that God is conforming to the image of Jesus ...?
Perhaps the list of stressors Paul names further on is something we should expect rather than be surprised by as God subjects us to His process of conforming:

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" - Romans 8:35,37.

PRAYER: Dear God, I know the goal of my life is not my happiness, comfort, ease, prosperity, success or any number of other things I so readily go after. Rather, it is to become like Jesus. Help me to see the painful things that enter my life in the light of this. Amen.

MORE: Handel's Messiah Alert

Words from three verses of today's reading are included in Handel's Messiah. Follow along with the soprano soloist as she sings "If God Be For Us" - Chorus 52 (sung here by the Brisbane Concert Choir).

Lyrics from Romans 8:31, 33, 34:
31. If God be for us, who can be against us? 33. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. 34. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.




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

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